Ministry of Agriculture and Fishery in Astrakhan Region: Bribes for piscary to Yuri Tuzhilkin
Yuri Tuzhilkin, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Fishery in the Astrakhan Region, was arrested for bribe-taking. The high-ranked official had requested a bribe from a private entrepreneur for provision of fish farming sites. The Deputy Minister estimated his assistance in this matter at 50 thousand rubles. Many officials of all ranks demand bribes from businessmen for granting lease contracts on lands, holdings, real properties, or water areas.
50 thousand rubles per businessman
The name of Yuri Tuzhilkin does not appear anymore on the official web site of the Ministry. The functionary was dismissed quietly, immediately after the initiation of a criminal case.
According to the Investigations Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation in the Astrakhan Region (ICR), the civil servant was arrested on September 21, 2016 by the Administration for Economic Security and Combatting the Corruption of the Administration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation in the Astrakhan Region (MIA). Searches have been conducted in the home and office of the Deputy Minister; over 1.6 million rubles and foreign currency were found. The investigation is currently determining the origin of the money.
Yuri Tuzhilkin has been charged under part 2 of Article 290 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Bribe-Taking by a functionary on a considerable scale). The investigation has found that an individual entrepreneur had addressed the Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Fishery in July 2016 asking to assist in procurement of fish farming sites. The Deputy Minister demanded 50 thousand rubles for long-term lease of these water areas.
According to the investigation, the suspect has received the above-mentioned amount in his office on August 19, 2016. Law enforcement authorities were not aware of the bribe – otherwise Yuri Tuzhilkin would be arrested red-handed during the transfer of money. It took the Administration for Economic Security and Combatting the Corruption of the Russian MIA Administration in the Astrakhan Region more than a month to initiate a criminal case against the official.
It is necessary to note that the Regional Prosecutor’s Office has initiated an audit of legitimacy of actions taken by the police and ICR against Yuri Tuzhilkin. The watchdog authority was unable to impede the initiation of the criminal case but promised to control the investigation process.
This is an important sign – a hidden struggle is ongoing between various enforcement agencies of the Astrakhan region for spheres of influence. It can not be ruled out that influential patrons of Yuri Tuzhilkin with good connections in the Prosecutor’s Office are trying to get him off the hook. Otherwise the prosecution officers wouldn’t openly intervene into activities of their colleagues and check the legitimacy of their procedural actions.
Maximal punishment under part 2 of Article 290 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation is six years behind bars and fine equal to the thirtyfold amount of the bribe. Should the court verdict be favorable for the official, his punishment can be limited to a fine of 200 thousand rubles.
By the way, a Memorandum of criminal liability for bribe-taking and administrative liability for illegal rewards from legal entities is available on the web site of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishery of the Astrakhan Region. The Memorandum clearly defines what is a corruption crime and what the functionaries must do to avoid close attention from law enforcement authorities.
Apparently, Yuri Tuzhilkin hadn’t studied this Memorandum properly or ignored its instructions.
An ordinary official
According to Fakt i Kompromat (Fact and Blackmailing Materials) Astrakhan media portal, Tuzhilkin has a typical biography of a Russian civil servant. During the Perestroika, he was elected the Deputy of the Novotuzukleisky Rural Council of the Kamyzyak District of the Astrakhan Region. In the beginning of the 1990s, became the Head of the Fishery Collective Farm named after Karl Marx. Under his rule, the once-model fishery enterprise has not achieved any success, and in 1998 Yuri Tuzhilkin has transferred to Energonadzor (Electric Inspection Service).
Shortly after, Yuri Tuzhilkin decided to start a business and registered, jointly with his wife, the Electrotechnical Company Limited Liability Company in Kamyzyak. Currently this company, officially owned by Lyubov Tuzhilkina, provides services related to installation, repair, and maintenance of equipment and tools for measuring, control, testing, navigation, locating, etc.
In 2012, Yuri Tuzhilkin has transferred his share in the business to his spouse and become a governmental official. He was immediately appointed to a senior position in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishery in the Astrakhan Region and became a supervisor of the fishery industry. Apparently, his past experience as the Head of the Fishery Collective Farm named after Karl Marx had been taken into consideration.
Yuri Tuzhilkin (on the left, standing) at a session of the headquarters of Putina (Fishing Season) operation
The scope of his responsibilities in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishery was pretty wide: aquaculture development, saving young fish stock from isolated basins, liaison with law enforcement authorities with regards to poaching control, provision of fishing quotes for individual enterprises, membership in the Academic Council of the Federal State Budgetary Scientific Institution Caspian Fisheries Research Institute (FSBSI CaspNIRKh), etc. In other words, Yuri Tuzhilkin used to manage a major, traditional industry in the Astrakhan region. He was implementing the national fishing policy, which included not only fisheries, but also control over processing facilities.
The Director of an Astrakhan-based enterprise told the CrimeRussia on condition of anonymity that Yuri Tuzhilkin was using his official position on a regular basis. “Once a year, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishery identifies fishing quotes for enterprises. We can not exceed the amounts set by the officials. So, in order to get a required quote, we had to ‘grease the hand’ of Tuzhilkin. Those businessmen who refused to bribe the functionary, were deprived of their quotes and ruined,” – the source said.
He admitted giving bribes to the Deputy Minister because this was the only way to stay in the business. Without quotes, fishermen employed with his enterprise would lose jobs, thus, leaving their families without the only source of income available in rural areas. By the way, Yuri Tuzhilkin was accepting not only money, but valuable gifts as well.
What was Tuzhilkin demanding money for?
As said above, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Fishery in the Astrakhan Region had promised a private entrepreneur to assist with provision of fish farming sites. The official powers of Yuri Tuzhilkin allowed him to lease these water areas to the businessman for extended lengths of time.
According to the Federal Law № 148-FZ of July 2, 2013 “On aquaculture (fish farming) and amendments to individual legislative acts of the Russian Federation”, a fish farming site is a water body (or its part) used for aquaculture (fish farming).
A businessman willing to run this business can lease from the state a water area on a river or lake. Special equipment and fish pens are installed there, and then sturgeons or common fresh water fish are being farmed from eggs or fry. The production of such enterprises is already contained and does not have to be caught, and there is a sustainable market demand on it.
Yuri Tuzhilkin used to distribute sites on rivers and lakes among enterprises. Entrepreneurs had to give him bribes in order to run the aquaculture business.
Rivers, pools and isolated lakes in the Astrakhan region provide favorable, close to natural, conditions for farming of sturgeons and common fresh water fish. According to the law, fish farming areas must be distributed among businessmen through special auctions – but in reality, such decisions are normally made by profile agencies or officials supervising the fishing industry.
In addition, the above-mentioned Federal Law states that non-commercial fish farms that preserve aquatic biological resources are entitled to get fish farming sites without tenders – because the state is interested in their operations. This is another opportunity for the functionaries to demand bribes.
According to the official information available on the web-site of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishery of the Astrakhan Region, 137 aquaculture enterprises are currently operating in the region. The total area of their fish farming basins is some 30 thousand ha. 17–17.5 thousand tons of fish are produced on these farms every year.
Because the Caspian Sea and the Volga River delta are natural habitats of sturgeons, 18 enterprises of the Astrakhan region are farming beluga, Russian sturgeon, starry sturgeon, and sterlet. These fish farms produce 350–400 tons of fish and some 8–10 tons of black caviar per year.
“This is not an auction”
Although Yuri Tuzhilkin was arrested by police and immediately terminated, there is still a high demand on fish farming sites in the region – i.e. their distribution among businessmen is ongoing. For example, the next session of the commission determining borders of fish farming sites is scheduled for 2 pm on October 17, 2016. This will be the 14th such session in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishery in the Astrakhan Region in this year.
Fish farming site
In addition, the Volga–Caspian Territorial Branch of the Federal Fishery Agency of the Russian Federation has announced that the next open auction of lease contracts for fish farming sites will be held on October 28, 2016. Nine water areas suitable for fish farming will be put up for auction. Winners will get the right to sign long-term (25-year) lease contracts. Entrepreneurs willing to run the aquaculture business have been offered to submit applications for participation in the auction.
The Director of an Astrakhan-based enterprise told the CrimeRussia that fish farming sites in the Astrakhan region are, in fact, distributed by the officials.
“Everything is being decided in the offices and for bribes. Official auctions are a formality. This is not an auction if its result is known in advance. Many businessmen agree to pay 50 thousand rubles for each fish farming site because these money would pay off pretty soon. This business is profitable. The most important thing is to avoid hindrances from the functionaries,” – the General Director of the fish farming enterprise says.
Not only Yuri Tuzhilkin, but also many other Russian officials mix up the state property (lands, agricultural areas, rivers, and forests) they are managing with their personal assets. Most entrepreneurs abide by the circumstances – because without patronage from influential governmental servants, their businesses would be quickly ruined.
Tuzhilkin used to distribute quotes and fish farming sites. And although representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishery in the Astrakhan Region are currently trying to distance themselves from the corrupt official, it is hard to imagine that the regional authorities were not aware of his shady activities.