Friend in police assists ex-Mayor of Vladikavkaz to abscond, personally coordinates via WhatsApp
Aslan Gadzaov, the Head of the Administration for Economic Security and Combatting the Corruption of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) in the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, assisted Sergei Dzantiev, ex-Mayor of Vladikavkaz suspected of embezzlement of 30 million rubles, to escape. Gadzaov and Dzantiev are friends and almost relatives. Initially, the former functionary was hiding in an apartment in Rostov; when the law enforcement services arrived there, Dzantiev was already abroad. Gadzaov had personally supervised his escape. An internal investigation is ongoing in the MIA in the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania.
The number of Russian officials absconding abroad after being charged with corruption crimes is continuously growing. Sergei Dzantiev, the ex-Mayor of Vladikavkaz, has recently joined this ‘emigrant club’. Based on his official income declaration, he was the richest Mayor in the North Caucasus. In December 2016, he was charged with misappropriation and embezzlement of 30 million budget rubles and machinations with sales of land. The former Mayor of Vladikavkaz was not willing to answer for his actions and absconded. Initially he was hiding from law enforcement in Rostov-on-Don and then fled the country.
Official and businessman
Initially, the information about possible involvement of the Head of the Administration for Economic Security and Combatting the Corruption of the MIA in the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania into the escape of the ex-Mayor of Vladikavkaz has appeared in the Ossetian segment of social networks. Alena Dzhioeva, a Facebook user, has stated that a high-ranked police officer had personally coordinated the steps of the fugitive official online via WhatsApp messenger.
Then the press service of the MIA in the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania has confirmed this information. The regional police command has initiated an administrative investigation; it is carried out by the Department of Internal Security.
Sergei Dzantiev has been put on the police wanted list in the beginning of December 2016. The former functionary and other officials of the Vladikavkaz Municipal Administration are suspected of embezzling municipal funds.
Sergei Dzantiev, the ex-Mayor of Vladikavkaz
Sergei Dzantiev is a typical example of a Russian official and businessman of the late 20th – early 21st century. During the ‘perestroika’, Dzantiev, a humble engineer in Ordzhtransstroy construction and installation enterprise, has transferred to the Apparatus of the Republican Council of Ministers. He had worked at various administrative positions, then started a business.
In the period of 1993–2005, Dzantiev had managed several construction enterprises and chaired the boards of directors of Adamon Bank and Magnit Factory. Then he returned to the governmental service and became Deputy Chairman of the Government of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania. In the period of 2009–2015, Dzantiev was the Mayor of Vladikavkaz.
In May 2016, it became known that law enforcement authorities have uncovered machinations with municipal lands committed during the rule of Dzantiev for the total amount of some 6 billion rubles. Two employees of the Vladikavkaz Municipal Administration have been arrested in the framework of this criminal case. Operatives of the Republican MIA Administration and Directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation have performed searches in the home of the former Mayor and seized documents, digital data storage devices, and valuables, including 3 million rubles in cash, over 1 kg of gold, and bank cards for undeclared accounts belonging to Dzantiev and storing over 50 million rubles.
The ex-Mayor has been charged under part 4 of Article 160 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Misappropriation or Embezzlement on an especially large scale). The former official is facing up to 10 years behind bars. Dzantiev was not willing to answer for his actions and absconded.
Friends, almost relatives
The spice of the story with the escape of the ex-Mayor of Vladikavkaz is that the police officer in charge of the investigation and searches for the suspect is the same person who had assisted Sergei Dzantiev to abscond.
Aslan Gadzaov, the Head of the Administration for Economic Security and Combatting the Corruption of the MIA in the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, told that the ex-Mayor of Vladikavkaz and a number of officials in the Municipal Administration are suspected of embezzling municipal funds on an especially large scale.
Aslan Gadzaov, the Head of the Administration for Economic Security and Combatting the Corruption of the MIA for the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania (on the left)
According to the investigation, the suspects had been illegally selling municipal lands at artificially low prices, while the new owners resold these lands at their market value – i.e. 10 times higher. The total damage sustained by the municipal budget due to the illegal operations of the Mayor was some 30 million rubles.
Lieutenant Colonel Aslan Gadzaov has been appointed to his current post in September 2016; earlier he was the Head of the Russian MIA Administration in the City of Vladikavkaz. The police officer maintained close liaison with then-Mayor of the republican capital. And it turned out that this liaison was not only work-related.
In fact, Sergei Dzantiev and Aslan Gadzaov were good friends and almost relatives. The high-ranked policeman was the best man at the marriage of the ex-Mayor’s son. The spouse of the lieutenant colonel was a niece of Rita Fidarova, former Deputy Head of the Vladikavkaz Municipal Administration and a close aide to Dzantiev.
Well-informed sources state that Sergei Dzantiev had provided various preferences to Aslan Gadzaev, including privileged sales of elite real estate and lands. In response, the police officer had allegedly ‘closed eyes’ on illegal operations of Municipal Administration officials, repeatedly soft-pedaled offences committed by the Mayor, and warned him about upcoming audits.
No one can explain at this point why a close friend of the ex-Mayor had been appointed the head of the investigation team of the MIA for the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania handling the criminal case of Sergei Dzantiev and searching for him. Perhaps, Mikhail Skokov, the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, was not aware about the links between the lieutenant colonel of police and former Mayor?..
The friendship with Aslan Gadzaov has enabled Sergei Dzantiev to abscond. According to some sources, the fugitive Mayor was hiding in Rostov-on-Don for some time. A task force of the MIA in the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania has been dispatched there. But when the police operatives have entered the apartment, it was already empty. Apparently, Sergei Dzantiev managed to fly abroad.
The investigators have supposed that somebody in the police had warned the former Mayor. The suspicion fell on Aslan Gadzaov because of his close links with Dzantiev. The Department of Internal Security of the MIA in the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania is currently performing an administrative investigation.
Conflict with Aguzarov
During his mayorship, Sergei Dzantiev was called the richest Mayor in the North Caucasus and highest-paid governmental functionary in North Ossetia.
The fugitive Mayor was a prominent member of the team led by Teimuraz Mamsurov, the former Head of the Republic. He failed, however, to establish good relations with the next President of the Republic – Tamerlan Aguzarov. In fall 2015, the Vladikavkaz Mayor has announced that he is ready to resign from this post.
Rumors about the upcoming change of power in the republican capital started circulating a few months prior to the resignation of Sergei Dzantiev. The former Mayor was repeatedly criticized by media for the poor sanitary condition of Vladikavkaz and unsatisfactory performance of the housing and utility sector. In addition, there was continuous competitive struggle for spheres of influence in the city between structures controlled by the Municipal Administration and Deputies of the Municipal Assembly.
Late Head of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania Tamerlan Aguzarov
In August 2015, Tamerlan Aguzarov has harshly criticized the work of the Vladikavkaz Municipal Administration and district administrations of North Ossetia. He called heads of local authorities “appanage princelets” and encouraged them to address issues of ordinary citizens instead of pursuing their own interests.
All these events have ultimately resulted in the resignation of Sergei Dzantiev. Then a criminal case has been initiated against him. The law enforcement authorities have arrested a former Head of the Department of Municipal Property and Land Resources of the Vladikavkaz Municipal Administration and former Senior Accountant of the Municipal Budgetary Institution for Transport and Economic Provision. The investigation believes that the former Mayor had created a criminal group in the Municipal Administration performing machinations with lands and other municipal assets.
The sudden death of Tamerlan Aguzarov on February 19, 2016 has sparked rumors that the criminal prosecution of Sergei Dzantiev would be stopped soon – especially taking that Vyacheslav Bitarov, the new President of the Republic, allegedly had friendly relations with the ex-Mayor of Vladikavkaz. People had even discussed the possible return of Dzantiev to the circles of power. But all these speculations have not come true.
It is necessary to note that the fugitive Mayor had been denying to the utmost that he was hiding from the investigation. A source close to the suspect states that “it was a surprise for him that he has been put on the wanted list – although he had never been hiding. Perhaps, Dzantiev just hasn’t been notified that he must come to the investigator because he was outside the republic when they issued a warrant against him”.
Why was Dzantiev put on the wanted list?
The criminal case was initiated against Sergei Dzantiev in May 2016, after the investigators have got a fake issue of local Vladikavkaz newspaper. An announcement of a major land sales tender was published only in one copy of the republican newspaper. Officials of the Municipal Administration have provided this fake issue to the law enforcement authorities as a proof that the tender was open and transparent. However, all other copies of this Vladikavkaz newspaper issue did not have this announcement.
The secret tender has resulted in a sale of a land lot near Ossetia health resort located in Vladikavkaz, at the town’s exit towards the Georgian Military Road, at an artificially low price. Officials from the Municipal Administration had estimated this property at 3 million rubles and sold it to a third party. Then the land lot has been purchased back by the Municipal Administration at the cost of 30 million rubles.
Ossetia health resort
In addition, in the end of June 2016, the Chamber of Control and Accounts of Vladikavkaz has published shocking results of an audit of operations of the Property Department of the Municipal Administration. The total damages sustained by the municipal treasury were over 8 billion rubles – which exceeds the annual budget of the republican capital more than twice.
The majority of the identified violations were related to illegal provision of state and municipal lands to individuals for construction. The mandatory procedure requiring to inform the population about the upcoming provision of 175 land lots with the total area over 142 hectares was breached. The total market value of these lands was almost 6 billion rubles.
Actually, machinations with lands are a normal practice for officials of the Vladikavkaz Municipal Administration. For instance, in February 2016, a criminal case had been initiated against Magomed Mildzikhov, the Deputy Head of the Property Department of the Municipal Administration, suspected of exceeding official powers. With assistance of this municipal functionary, some Triumph Limited Liability Company has become the owner of a land lot with the area of 2,300 square meters located in the strictly protected zone of the Victory Park in Vladikavkaz.
The great scope of identified offences implies that the case of Sergei Dzantiev and his former colleagues is just a tip of the iceberg. Concurrently with the announcement that a search warrant has been issued against the ex-Mayor, it became known that the Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania has managed to return two lots with the total area over 6,800 square meters to the municipality – in 2013, these lands had been illegally provided to Bezopasnost–Sankt-Peterburg company for construction of trade and office facilities. At that time, the two lots had been estimated ridiculously low by the Vladikavkaz Municipal Administration – at 80 and 240 thousand rubles respectively.
There were plenty of such shady deals during the rule of Sergei Dzantiev – so the investigation expects to add many new episodes to the case file. Therefore, it is unlikely that Dzantiev would ever return to the motherland voluntarily. Similarly with many other corrupt officials, he has disappeared with stolen money.
A redistribution of lands is quite possible in Vladikavkaz – companies that had acquired large lots for next to nothing during the mayorship of Dzantiev can be deprived of these assets.
No one in the republic was actually surprised by the story with the fugitive mayor and police officer assisting him to escape. The clan system existing in the North Caucasus – when almost all members of local elite are either relatives of friends – provides huge opportunities for corrupt officials. It turns out that ‘fellow clansmen’ can help in any situation, even when it is necessary to abscond with money abroad.
Some progress is expected with the completion of a never-ending deluxe construction project – Golden Mile residential complex. Little-known businessman Sergei Popov is about to take charge of it. Former elite co-investors rejoice – their dream to live on Ostozhenka street may finally come true. Only Oleg Deripaska is not happy with the news – Sergei Popov may attract public attention to some dark episodes in the billionaire’s biography that he would like to forget for good.