Irkutsk State Agrarian University land vandalized in Irkutsk Region. Who is to blame – Mayor or Rector?
The City of Irkutsk Mayor’s downfall began with a scandal. the Lizhnya Rossii (Russian ski-track) Russian National race almost got canceled; a cottage community was suddenly discovered on the University land in the way of the trail. It was the Mayor, who allowed the community construction. However, things were to get even worse. The land ended up being bought by effectively one company tied to a local member of parliament. It later came to light that several dozen hectares of federal land owned by the University were reallocated in such a fashion.
The region’s Government proposed that West-Baykal Inter-District Prosecutor’s Office investigated whether the deals were legal, as well as possible corruption. The investigators came to the following conclusions: the land was a public property; reallocating it to the community was illegal; the Irkutsk District signed it off to the community in 2013 at the Mayor’s request. The District Administration and University were searched in the summer of 2014. Some of the documents concerning the deal were confiscated. The investigators found out that there were other cottage communities built on federal land owned by the University; the supervisory body ended up filing claims against construction of 12 such communities. The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation opened several criminal cases based on the prosecutor’s inspection results. Igor Naumov, the Irkutsk District Mayor, ended up being the main defendant.
The Irkutsk land is in high demand; it is subject to countless illegal acquisition attempts. Those interested in the land are usually people of power having ties with to law enforcement agencies; criminal cases opened against them often fall to pieces as early as during preliminary investigation. This case was likely to follow suit. However, it entered the Investigative Committee under Andrey Bunev, the new Committee Head at the time.
Photo: Andrey Bunev, the Head of the Office of Investigations of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation in the Irkutsk Region
The Mayor faced serious accusations under 4 criminal cases after a year-long investigation; one case is concerned with swindling on an especially large scale; 3 others – with the part 3 of Article 286 (Exceeding Official Powers with the infliction of grave consequences). The bureaucrat faces up to 20 years in jail in total. Damage to budget done by the mayor is estimated at 40.000.000 rubles. He is accused of illegal federal land reallocation to 3 cottage communities (Misovoe, Listopad and Solnechnaya polyana). The University used the land on a permanent and unlimited basis prior to illegal land parceling. Land parceling was mostly carried out through changing status of farm and forest lands to settlement, non-profit gardeners' partnership, and non-profit cottage community partnership ones, allowing housing construction. It was often done through legal loopholes. Many hectares of forest and field land ended up being construction sites. A private company bought out individual land lots (about 42 hectares in total) from all the members soon after Mr Naumov reallocated land lots to Solnechnaya polyana members free-of-charge. The Investigative Committee is in the process of identifying people who deceived the government in order to obtain land ownership. The investigation is still underway. The investigators believe the amount of criminal cases may grow up to 12, since that is how many cottage communities have emerged alongside the Baykal Tract in recent years. That is the exact number of illegal land reallocations the 2014 prosecutor inspection revealed.
Igor Naumov was arrested on July 1, 2015, following search in the District Administration. He was sentenced to house arrest soon, resigning almost immediately afterwards. He got his measure of restraint changed to imprisonment in pre-trial detention facility on December 31. However, he got his measure of restraint changed yet again in February 2016; this time to travel restrictions.
Who are the people who received public land thanks to Igor Naumov, one may ask? The investigators searched the Obedinenie Ermak CJSC owned by Oleg Geevsky, a former member of the Irkutsk parliament, as a part of their investigation. They found out that Misovskoe is located within the boundaries of Ershovsky vodozabor (Ershovsky water inlet) and the Irkutsk Reservoir water reserve, the second belt of the protective sanitary zone of the Irkutsk water-supply source. The Lizhnya runs there, too. The Misovskoe land lots were distributed between Irkutsk election committee members and Mr Geevsky’s confidants. His son built himself a house on one of such lots located on the river bank. He acquired 2 land lots with the total area of 3918 m2 on April 21, 2014 without paying for them as a non-profit cottage community partnership member, despite the law providing for free-of-charge allocation of only 2000 m2 in such cases.
The non-profit cottage community partnership land parceling layout. Photo by: IrkutskMedia Russian Information Agency
Igor Naumov did not consider the land reallocation illegal during the Lizhnya scandal several months before his arrest. “I am not commenting on the new Irkutsk District non-profit cottage community partnerships, since nothing has been decided yet. We can get back to it when we have rulings to talk about. It is not aliens from the Moon who apply for land lots for construction and development of non-profit cottage community partnerships; they are native Irkutsk residents who were born and grew up in the capital of the region. They are 30 y. o., so they started thinking about land lots out in the nature where they could take their families, growing children, etc. That is a normal and objective process”, he said.
The Mayor Igor Naumov did not comment on reasons for native Irkutsk residents to sell their land lots to the Akkordo LLC either. The company is registered at the same address as the Obedinenie Ermak CJSC and 10 other companies with Ermak in their names, too. That is the place that was searched. It is worth mentioning that Igor Geevsky is one Akkordo directors.
Several other famous in Irkutsk people are among Misovsky land lots owners together with the son of the former member of the Irkutsk parliament. Elena Topichkanova, a district election commission №702 reservist, and Anna Barankevich, a district election commission №740 member, are among them. Their land lots happened to be in the Lizhnya way. It is very popular race in Irkutsk; thousands of local residents participate in it. The Irkutsk District Mayor ruling №260 as of January 23, 2014 was one of the reasons for land reallocation to the said people.
Photo: Oleg Geevsky, the former member of the Irkutsk Parliament
The investigators also suspected Gennady Takalandze, the University Rector and an interesting personality, to be a part of the land swindling scheme. He became the University Rector in 2011. He worked as the University deputy rector for housekeeping before that. Being the skillful housekeep, Mr Takalandze started looking for new ways of making money once at the office. That was him who signed off several dozen thousand hectares of the best University hunting lands to the Irkutsk Region. Not a single hectare was signed off before his appointment, although many people tried to get hold of the land. The Irkutsk Region Department for Protection and Use of Wildlife, a governmental agency, put the land up for auction right away. It was bought by private capital and remained out of public domain for 49 years. However, the Federal Antimonopoly Service of the Russian Federation overturned the auction results. Mr Takalandze started looking for new ways of making money. These land lots appeared to be the ideal solution for his search.
The land near Irkutsk has always been in demand. It's estimated that there are about 400 non-profit cottage community partnerships founded half a century ago around the city. The demand for cottages is higher than supply since it is a contemporary fashion trend among well-to-do people to live in cottages and have other cottages near the city. At the same time, construction companies lack building land within the city severely. All this combined makes price for the local land very high.
Some started talking about people in power began receiving offers to buy very tempting land lots in the Irkutsk District not long before the Lizhnya scandal. It is worth mentioning the University owned them at the time. The University received the right to use the land on a permanent and unlimited basis in 1992; it needed it for educational purposes, since it trains agrarians and hunting game managers. However, it turned out the University did not need this much land for that, and the head started reallocating it. Misovskoe received a land lot through which the race was supposed to go. Gennady Takalandze removed the land owned by the Russian Federation from the cadastral register and nullified its former status, according to the Prosecutor’s Office.
Photo: Gennady Takalandze, the Irkutsk State Agrarian University Rector
He did all that without asking the owner, i.e. the Government, or the Federal Agency for State Property Management in the Irkutsk Region, to be more precise. He then submitted the documents to the Irkutsk District Administration. Igor Naumov, the District mayor, signed them. The Investigating Committee opened a criminal case against Gennady Takalandze under the part 1 of Article 286 (Commission by an official Actions which transcend the limits of his powers and which involve a substantial violation of the rights and lawful interests of individuals or organisations, or the legally-protected interests of society and the State) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation based on finding of the prosecutor’s inspection conducted in response to illegal use of federal land. Takalandze’s testimony resulted in Igor Naumov, the Irkutsk District Mayor, becoming a new suspect. The University Rector was arrested for breaching his travel restrictions in Moscow in August, 2015. His arrest was followed by searches in the University. Oleg Logashov, the member of the local Parliament and the Head of the Vostochto-Sibirskoe geodezicheskoe predpriyatie (a geodetic company) CJSC was arrested in Irkutsk the same day. He was a business partner of Igor Naumov, according to the investigators. He helped him illegally reallocate the land lots using his position. The University Rector was suddenly requalified as a witness and joined the Witness Protection Program several weeks after his arrest. It could have been thanks to him becoming one of the key informants for several cases of illegal reallocation and subsequent selling of Irkutsk land, some say.
However, he had to resign. The Irkutsk Government told the savant he is not desirable as the University Rector anymore in plain language; that they did not want him to damage the University’s reputation. Moreover, 2 new financial scandals concerning Mr Takalandze broke. The public affairs office of the Federal Bailiff Service of the Russian Federation in the Irkutsk Region published information on Gennady Takalandze having a 28.000.000 rubles debt to an Irkutsk resident; he borrowed the money from her and refused to give them back even after a court ruling. He was forbidden from leaving the country, with money being withheld from his salary on account of the debt repayment as the result. However, Mr Takalandze mismanaged not only his private, but the University funds, too. The University owed 9.500.000 rubles in debt to its employees under his administration, according to the investigation results. It is worth mentioning the Ministry of Agriculture of the Russian Federation overseeing the University always transferred funds in full and in time.
Gennady Takalandze left the Russian Federation; it seems plausible he did not want to wait until new inspections found even more violations. The key witness called the Investigation Committee this summer, saying he was not going to continue cooperating with the investigation, according to a source close to the investigation. He has fled to Germany or Georgia, some say. It is unlikely the countries extradite him. Georgia simply does not collaborate with Russia. As for Germany, Russian investigators managed to explain what Mr Takalandze is accused of only this month. The Investigative Committee opened several criminal cases (under the Swindling on an especially large scale, Abuse of Official Powers, and Non-Payment of Salaries articles) only a few days ago as a result of the Prosecutor’s investigation. The cases were opened based on just the fact the crimes were committed. However, the former Rector is mentioned in every single one of them. The University faced its first financial problems when it could not pay for construction and repair works in 2015; Mr Takalandze was the one who ordered the works in the first place. The University also owes to the Pension Fund and Federal Tax Service of the Russian Federation. The University could not pay scholarship allowance and salaries to its employees in 2015 and the beginning of 2016 due to lack of funds. Scholarship allowance was only paid in March follwing a student protest. The University and its dormitory were cut off of warming and electricity for non-payment on April 11, 2016, due to its 18.000.000 rubles debt. This all makes the former Rector extradition seem inevitable. It is possible he becomes a defendant in the Lizhnya case, too.
In the meantime, investigators keep working while the main witness is out of their reach; they keep discovering new crimes related to the land lots swindling. Specialist cannot even estimate how much land was illegally reallocated. It will only be possible once the investigation is complete. The number of accused is unclear, too. It is clear Igor Naumov could not possibly act on his own. However, it will only be possible to tell how much people were involved in the swindling scheme once the investigation is complete.
Photo: Igor Naumov, the Irkutsk District Mayor
It has already been established that the District Mayor’s Office gifted land to not only the abovementioned non-profit cottage community partnerships, but to the following ones as well: Udacha, Zvezda, Svetly, Novy, Petrovsky, Zhuravli, Puteets, Khrustalny, and Priangarie. It has also been established that the Mechta non-profit cottage community partnership received its 12 km of the Baykal Tract land illegally. Igor Naumov, the former Irkutsk District Mayor, is also suspected of participating in the swindling scheme. A new criminal case was opened against him on the allegations of abuse of official powers and theft on an especially large scale. Local government bodies illegally reallocated Baykal Tract land for several years, according to the regional Prosecutor’s Office. The land belongs to the Russian Federation and is meant for the University students training and postgraduate studies. The local government removed the land from the cadastral register and illegally reallocated them to certain people. The total of 13.9 hectares of land located at 12 km of the Baykal Tract was illegally reallocated; this part of the Tract is now known as the Mechta non-profit cottage community partnership. It is a safe guess the land lots were not meant for housing construction, since they were only sold to certain people; it was done very fast and for very little money.
The land lots were sold numerous times, according to the supervisory agency. It is possible it was done in order for illegal reallocation to look legal, as well as for land lots to be purchased by buyers of good faith eventually. Illegal purchase and sale deals were made through close relatives and confidants of a certain public officer who cannot be named for legal reasons. The same person would represent both the buyer and seller. It has also been established that the majority of deals involved a particular person; they are a relative of the first people to receive the land lots. The land lots are now owned by end buyers; they are the defendants in the cases opened by the state agencies.
On a related note, this is yet another instance of illegal reallocation of federal land. Numerous identical lawsuits demanding deeming the rulings on changes to land status or incorporation of land into settlements’ territory made by the Mayor’s Office, the Irkutsk Parliament and municipals authorities’ illegal flooded after the Federal Forestry Agency of the Russian Federation suddenly became involved with the case. The Irkutsk District court has about 1 400 cases now; 41 of them were submitted by the West-Baykal Inter-District Prosecutor, others – by the Federal Forestry Agency territorial directorate. No more than 6% of the land lots were loaned, according to the Unified State Register of the Real Estate Property of the Russian Federation data. The case was open in order to re-establish the Russian Federation as the land owner. The Mechta non-profit cottage community partnership is now under control and is investigated by the regional Government agencies. People who own cottages there have all the documents for their land. However, all the present day residents will have to move out if court finds the change to the land status illegal. The Prosecutor’s Office assures the owners that their houses will not be demolished. However, how can a private house stand on federal land?
It is yet to be known whether the present day owners stand a chance to legally obtain rights for their land lots despite the local government contemplating the possibility.