"One can say I'm a wealthy woman." Elena Skrynnik gets her $61m back 

"One can say I'm a wealthy woman." Elena Skrynnik gets her $61m back
Elena Skrynnik

After the prosecutor's office of Switzerland removed an attachment from the former Minister of Agriculture's bank accounts, Elena Skrynnik ensured in court that the Russian search engine Yandex removed links to information discrediting her dignity and business reputation.

When considering the claim filed by Head of the Institute of Agrarian Policy Elena Skrynnik against Yandex on August 21, the Moscow Regional Court upheld the decision of the Odintsovo Court.

"Yandex LLC shall stop issuing links that refer to mislead information posted online about Elena Skrynnik, who served as Minister of Agriculture of Russia from 2009 to 2012," the ruling of the Moscow Regional Court of August 21, 2017 says.

The verdict stand as a precedent in the Russian judicial practice. «This is a vivid example of a powerful judicial precedent that helps to strengthen the chances of protecting one's rights to all who suffered from the dissemination of unreliable, negative information on the Internet,» a message on Elena Skrynnik’s official website says.

It is noteworthy that Skrynnik's claim against the Internet aggregator was the culmination of a long-term correspondence. Initially, Yandex had refused to remove from search requests four references to publications from 2015 on the criminal proceedings allegedly instituted against Skrynnik over money-laundering. They said that as a member of the government, Elena Skrynnik used to embezzle money using fraudulent schemes.

First, she referred to Yandex (through a special form on the website) the decision of the court, which found this information unreliable and diminishing her business reputation. But the search engine did not accept the applicant's arguments and closed only one of the 4 links.

However, when Switzerland terminated the investigation against the ex-minister and lifted the arrest from her accounts holding $61 million in early August 2017, Skrynnik became worried about her reputation in the media space and launched an offensive in the Russian court. As a result, the court did not heed Yandex’s lawyers, who believed that the applicant must file separate claims against each distributor of false information, and took the side of Skrynnik.

At the moment, Elena Skrynnik needs her reputation restored like no other. Today she heads the International Independent Institute of Agrarian Policy founded by her and the foundation APK-2050, which develops the strategy of the agro-industrial complex and is engaged in business.

However, the ex-head of Ministry of Agriculture had taken a number of steps to whitewash her reputation much earlier, as the CrimeRussia in 2015.

After her bank accounts were attached as part of the criminal case over money laundering initiated in Switzerland in 2013, Skrynnik began to cooperate with Business Communications PR agency, which promoted the ex-minister's media image of an expert and analyst in the field of agriculture, macroeconomics, import substitution, and food security. Subsequently, the lawsuit with Yandex became part of her rehabilitative campaign when she was a witness in the high-profile corruption scandal surrounding the embezzlement in Agroleasing, headed by Skrynnik from 2001 to 2009, prior to her being appointed as the minister.

In mid-2000, the Audit Chamber of the Russian Federation revealed fraud with agricultural equipment in Rosagroleasing. The price of tractors and harvesters for agricultural facilities, which was paid from the federal leasing fund, increased by almost 40% to the producer's price, although the margin did not exceed 18%. The prosecutor's office also found out that payments on the company's supplies were made to bank deposits and offshore accounts; at the same time, the equipment was often purchased from intermediary firms rather than from manufacturers. Skrynnik was questioned as a witness in the Rosagroleasing case in February 2013. Two months later, her former deputy in the Ministry of Agriculture, Aleksey Bazhanov, was detained; he became a defendant in the case of embezzlement of 1.1 billion rubles ($18.7 million) from Rosagroleasing. The Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation asked the Swiss authorities to verify the accounts of Bazhanov as part of the case. However, the Swiss law enforcers also took interest in the accounts of Skrynnik herself. As a result of their detailed study, the officers discovered economically unjustified and suspicious transactions worth more than $140 million.

The former official denied that she had such accounts, let alone the funds. In one of the interviews, responding to the question whether she considers herself rich, Skrynnik resented, saying “One can say I'm a wealthy woman.» However, a few days ago, Aleksey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund recalled the former official’s habit to live in grand style – even before she became a minister.

The fund noted that Skrynnik's fascination with $50k Birkin bags made of crocodile leather (Elena Skrynnik actually had two such bags) and diamond watches did not at all correlate with Skrynnik's incomes as minister during three years. 

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According to the anti-corruption declarations, the incomes of the minister dropped inexorably; for example, in 2009, she made 10,835,573 rubles ($184.9 thousand), whereas in 2012, her income was 6,426,404 rubles ($109.6 thousand). The amount of private cars and the yardage of the property belonging to the minister decreased proportionally (from 4 cars in 2009 to 1 in 2011 and from 6,240.2 to 567.3, respectively). Despite the fact that during the years of work as a minister, Skrynnik did not indicate a house bought in France in 2006 in the declarations.  

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Elena Skrynnik's manor in France

The Anti-Corruption Fund estimates its price at 8 million euros, although, according to Advisor to Rosagroleasing General Director Evgeny Zelensky, 8 million was the amount that was paid at the time of purchase in cash (!), whereas the entire estate of the former official is estimated at 10.8 million euros.

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