One man in the field is no warrior: Why Primorskii Krai Governor attracted attention of law enforcement?
Closest associates of Vladimir Miklushevsky have been criminally charged. How has this situation come about? Is the Governor himself facing a prison term? The CrimeRussia has attempted to sort things out and find answers to these questions.
Vladimir Miklushevsky, the Governor of the Primorskii Krai, has attracted close attention of law enforcement authorities. In the last six months, four people from his team have become under investigation. The CrimeRussia has performed its own analysis of the situation and estimated the chances of Miklushevsky to follow in the steps of his former colleague Aleksander Khoroshavin.
Ex-Governor Khoroshavin is under investigation
Governors Khoroshavin and Miklushevsky have a lot in common: both governmental functionaries are being steadily driven into a corner with numerous corruption cases initiated against their subordinates. This scheme is often used by the Russian law enforcement structures: first, the operatives capture minor swindlers and bribe-takers close to the top-rank functionary and then the investigators offer the detained suspects a choice: either testify against their boss or go to jail.
The situation is truly alarming for the Governor of the Primorskii Krai. In the last six months, four people from his team have become under investigation: Avershin, the Aide to the Governor and Chairman of the Mining Operators Union; wife of Mitkin–Spokoinov, the ormer Aide to the Governor; and two Vice Governors – Ezhov and Sidorenko. So, what are the possible implications for the Governor in this situation?
Such things never happened and now again...
The fate of Sergei Dar’kin, the previous Governor of the Primorskii Krai, was determined in December 2011, when local businessman Andrei Goldobin told Vladimir Putin, then-Premier of the Russian Federation, on live television about the catastrophic level of corruption in the region. According to the businessman, Dar’kin was personally responsible for this.
Residents of the Primorskii Krai had participated several times in live teleconferences with Vladimir Putin
Traditionally, issues raised on live TV are resolved immediately – and two months later Dar’kin had to resign. He managed, however, to leave quietly and peacefully, without scandals and high-profile criminal cases. According to the official version, the ex-Governor has resigned due to health reasons. Apparently, the consent to leave voluntarily has allowed Dar’kin to avoid a harsh audit of his performance during the period of governorship.
On February 28, 2012, Dar’kin resigned, and as early as on March 10, 2016, a new Governor has been introduced to the Legislative Assembly of the Primorskii Krai. It was Vladimir Miklushevsky, President of the Far Eastern Federal University and former Deputy Minister of Education and Science of the Russian Federation.
The situation was pretty complicated for the new Governor. On one hand, Dar’kin was accused of corruption in public – so his successor had to launch a zero tolerance anti-bribing crusade; on the other hand, the ex-Governor has resigned due to personal reasons – so the new head of the region could not make any drastic changes or put blame on his predecessor.
After resignation from the Governor’s post, Sergei Dar’kin has found a job in the Council of the Federation
The new Governor has immediately started a hardline and uncompromising ‘sweeping purge’. One of the first steps taken by Miklushevsky was a reform in the regional administration: in eight months, almost all Vice Governors have lost their posts; four of them later attempted to appeal their termination in court. His relations with the local elites were uneasy as well: in March 2012, Deputies of the Legislative Assembly of the Primorskii Krai had attempted to introduce amendments to the legislation limiting Governor’s powers with regards to the appointment of his deputies. The reaction was tough: the amendments had been rejected, and a month later, a criminal case has been initiated against Evgeny Ovechkin, the Chairman of the Legislative Assembly of the Primorskii Krai, under part 3 of Article 159.4 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Swindling in entrepreneurship on a large scale). In a month, Ovechkin has voluntarily resigned from his post, and soon the criminal case against him was dismissed. The support from the federal authorities has strengthened the confidence of Miklushevsky in his righteousness.
This was not the end of the confrontation – another conflict has escalated around the candidacy of Viktor Gorchakov, aggressively pushed by Miklushevsky to be elected the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. This resulted in severe clashes between the Legislative Assembly and the head of the region during the adoption of the budget for the year of 2013.
The new Governor had carte blanche from the federal authorities for any anti-corruption actions – but during the four years of his rule, he was involved into a greater number of corruption scandals than Dar’kin in 10 years of his governorship.
In February 2014, journalists of Novaya Gazeta have found a tender to purchase two American Bell 407GX helicopters, priced at $4.3 million each, and a Canadian DHC-6 airplane worth $9.6 million at the governmental acquisitions web site.
According to Miklushevsky, Bell 407GX racing helicopters were required for rescue operations
The governmental acquisitions web site had stated that the main purpose of the new aircraft was air medical service. Then the web site of the regional administration has published a justification why these helicopters were required: according to experts, they were the best in their class. Interestingly, one of the experts was Dmitry Rakitsky, a pilot–trainer in Istra Flight Club Aviation Training Center, who had taught the basic helicopter piloting course to a full namesake of the Governor of the Primorskii Krai a few months ago. Some V.V. Miklushevsky has completed only the initial training course (at the cost of $12,200), while the cost of the full training program was $31,141. Due to this strange coincidence, the local media have suggested that the helicopters might be purchased not for the region, but for the personal needs of the Governor.
The next scandal was also linked with the Governor’s passion for flights. In January 2016, readers of Dalnevostochnye Vedomosti (Far-Eastern News) newspaper have accidentally watched the following scene: the local elite, including Vladmir Miklushevsky; Ilia Mitkin, the General Director of Hockey Club Admiral; and Aleksei Avershin, the Chairman of the Mining Operators Union of the Primorskii Krai, were getting into a Robinson helicopter staying near the governmental residence on Devyataya street. The passengers had bottles with alcohol in their hands, including champagne Moet Chandon.
REN TV: Governor Miklushevsky had a picnic in helicopter
In the very beginning of 2017, right after the New Year holidays, another unpleasant story occurred with the Governor. Miklushevsky decided to follow the tradition established by the national leaders to celebrate the New Year in the homeland and announced this in public. On January 1, 2017, the head of the region has published a photo on Instagram showing him walking the dog in his residence. But the local media have uncovered that, in fact, the Governor had celebrated the holidays with his family in Dubai. The cost of one-way flight ticket during the holiday season was some 350 thousand rubles.
Such episodes demonstrate the luxury lifestyle of the Governor amid the deteriorating situation in the region. For instance, governmental subsidies to large families, veterans, and public healthcare have been cut during the rule of Miklushevsky; the housing program for orphaned children is on the verge of failure – while the annual funding of the regional administration is 3 billion rubles.
The scythe struck a stone
Vladivostok Mayor Igor Pushkarev was one of the main rivals to the Governor. The two officials had numerous discussions, dedicated inter alia to such issues as extermination of stray dogs, and engaged into a fierce conflict over two unitary enterprises – Primvodokanal and Primteploenergo – that Miklushevsky intended to privatize. At that time, the conflict had been defused through closed-door negotiations – but this was just the beginning of the perpetual struggle.
In the following years of their joint work, various compromising materials against both politicians, including corruption and self-promotion accusations, had appeared in media on a regular basis. Local political experts believe that the Governor and Mayor of the regional capital were paying for publications with damaging information against each other. For example, shortly after the scandal with the ‘champagne flight’ of the Governor and his friends, a printout of the budget spent on the media campaign dedicated to that story has leaked to the Internet. The total cost of the smear campaign was 16.5 million rubles, including sponsored articles in Kommersant and other newspapers, two Deputies’ inquiries, fees of Moscow-based coordinators, etc. According to political expert Roman Permyakov, Vladivostok Mayor Pushkarev was the customer who had ordered this smear campaign targeting the Governor. It is difficult to say whether this was the case or not – but a few months later Pushkarev has fallen under investigation.
On the night of May 31, 2016, the Vladivostok Mayor has been arrested by the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation and escorted to Moscow. On the morning of June 1, 2016, law enforcement authorities have searched the office and residence of the Mayor as well as two enterprises belonging to members of his family (Vostoktsement Limited Liability Company and Vladivostoksky Butoshebenochny Zavod Open Joint Stock Company), Dorogi Vladivostoka (Vladivostok Roads) Municipal Unitary Enterprise, and its Director Andrei Lushnikov.
Vladivostok Mayor Pushkarev was arrested on suspicion of bribery in a profit-making organization
According to the joint investigation of the FSB and Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR), Pushkarev had given a bribe of 1.4 million rubles to Lushnikov, the Director of the Municipal Unitary Enterprise, and then Dorogi Vladivostoka started purchasing construction materials from Vostoktsement Limited Liability Company controlled by Andrei and Vladimir Pushkarev – brothers of the Mayor. The total cost of the contracts signed between the Vladivostok Municipal Administration and Dorogi Vladivostoka since the beginning of 2011 and until July 2015 was 7.14 billion rubles. The Vladivostok Mayor has been charged under part 3 of Article 285 (abuse of official powers entailing grave consequences) and part 3 of Article 204 (bribery in a profit-making organization) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. The pretrial detention period for Pushkarev has been recently extended to February 2017. The official denies any guilt and refuses to make a deal with the investigation.
Petr Khanas, Director of the Far-Eastern Consulting Center, has commented the situation with the scandal-ridden Governor.
Famous political expert Petr Khanas in cautious in his forecasts of the political future of Miklushevsky
Petr Khanas believes that the current situation is a logical outcome of actions by Miklushevsky and the team led by his close aide and political technologist Ilia Spokoinov–Mitkin (Zeldovich). Spokoinov had been repeatedly listed among the top 20 best political technologists in Russia. In the past, he used to work with prominent politicians, including late Mikhail Evdokimov, the Governor of the Altai Krai. His influence over the head of the region could be illustrated by an episode when Evdokimov, during an interview to NTV, has blurted out to his opponents: “Jackoffs, God forgive me!” – while Mitkin reacted instantly: “No emotions, Mikhail Sergeevich, the recording is still on...”
According to Petr Khanas, the political technologist used his Governor’s Aide status to deploy ‘his own’ people to critical positions in the region and handled state and business affairs at his own and sole discretion. Some sources claim that he used to charge money for arranging meetings with the Governor. In addition, Mitkin and his wife Marina Sviridova have seized control over the regional media market and credited all the achievements of the previous Governor to Miklushevsky, thus, ‘inflating the information bubble’. But at some point, this ‘bubble’ has burst – and the high popular rating of the Governor plunged down.
Political technologist Spokoinov (Mitkin) is currently hiding in Latvia
Khanas states that Miklushevsky, who was appointed the Governor in 2012, had only one but crucial resource – support from the federal authorities. The purpose of this support was to decriminalize the region. The expert believes that Miklushevsky has completely failed this task – his actions just redirected the corruption flows to new beneficiaries.
Some Governors manage to stay in power for decades and even contravene the federal center in some matters – but, unlike Miklushevsky, they have support of local elites. Since the first days of his governorship, he had been putting pressure on the local authorities – performed staffing changes without their consent, pushed through amendments beneficial for him and rejected proposals from his colleagues. His conflict with the Vladivostok Mayor and subsequent criminal prosecution of Pushkarev have demonstrated to everybody: Miklushevsky is not going to make compromises.
There are so-called ‘popular leaders’ relying on public support and acting in the interests of the ordinary people – but Miklushevsky has failed to become such a leader: his positive image in media controlled by Mitkin has been ruined by economic issues in the region, continuous scandals, and high-profile arrests of people from his inner circle.
Ultimately, Miklushevsky has been left with nothing: his confidants are under investigation; Spokoinov has sensed trouble and is not going to return from the New Year holidays in Latvia; the federal authorities have become dissatisfied with the failure of his main mission and revoked their support; local authorities are outraged with the fate of Pushkarev and ready to fight the Governor to the end; while the public is displeased with endless corruption scandals.
Still, Petr Khanas does not think that Miklushevsky is about to become a ‘new Khoroshavin’ and end up in jail. Firstly, it is unknown whether the federal authorities are ready to ditch him. Only the President can make a decision to fire a Governor – but so far, he hasn’t made this step, which is a good sign for Miklushevsky. Secondly, although the criminal cases have been initiated against his close aides, so far, law enforcement authorities have no questions to the Governor. Real troubles might start for the head of the region, should any of the suspects testify against him. Thirdly, the Federal Acts On Priority Development Territories and On the Free Port Vladivostok are currently being implemented in the region. Horses are not to be swapped in midstream – so it would be unwise to introduce a new Governor (and a new management team) at this time.
In other words, while Governor Miklushevsky is free and holding his post, he might have a chance to consider the signals ‘from above’ and somehow rectify the situation in the region. On the other hand, it can’t be ruled out that all the chances are already missed by him – and the Governor is heading towards a comfortable cell in Matrosskaya Tishina Pretrial Detention Center, next door to his former colleagues.