‘Right hand’ failed Head of Khakassia Viktor Zimin
A corruption scandal is escalating in the Republic of Khakassia. Vladimir Byzov, Head of the Administration of the Head of the Region and former officer of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation, has been arrested for swindling with acquisitions of medical equipment. He had created an organized criminal group involving several local officials. Damages sustained by the budget due to operations of this criminal group are almost 200 million rubles. But damages to the reputation of Viktor Zimin, Head of the Republic of Khakassia, could be even worse. The main question is: was Zimin aware of the machinations performed by the second most powerful person in the region or not?
On the evening of December 28, 2016, operatives of the Investigations Directorate in the Republic of Khakassia of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) have arrested Vladimir Byzov, Head of the Administration of the Head of the Region.
Vladimir Byzov was born on January 2, 1964. In 1989, graduated from the Abakan State Pedagogical Institute with a major in History; then graduated from the Novosibirsk State Academy of Economy and Management with the major in Jurisprudence. Since 1989, served in the Committee for State Security of the USSR (KGB) and then in the FSB in different regions of Russia: from the North Caucasus to High North. Since 1997, held senior positions. Holds a rank of colonel. Has been awarded an Order of Courage and Order of Military Merit. During his service in the FSB, had been supervising anti-corruption operations. In September 2011, has been appointed Deputy Head of the Administration of the Head of the Republic of Khakassia. In April 2014, became the Head of the Administration of Viktor Zimin, Head of the Republic of Khakassia. In the beginning of December 2016, has been awarded an honorary title “Meritorious Jurist of the Republic of Khakassia”.
Three other officials of lower ranks have been arrested together with Byzov: Igor Arokin, Head of the Interdepartmental Center for Acquisitions State Budgetary Institution of the Republic of Khakassia (subordinate to the Ministry of Acquisitions); Inga Meluzova, Deputy Head of the Interdepartmental Center for Acquisitions State Budgetary Institution of the Republic of Khakassia; and Svetlana Kazachenko, Head of the Interdepartmental Center for Acquisitions Department. In addition, four directors of commercial organizations operating under control of the officials listed above have been arrested: Aleksander Giter (territorial manager for the Republic of Khakassia of R-PHARM Joint Stock Company); Petr Kozar (founder of Modern Diagnostic Systems Limited Liability Company); Dmitry Lashkov (director of Tela Limited Liability Company); and some businessman Rukosuev (it is unknown yet who specifically is this person).
Vladimir Byzov, Head of the Administration of the Head of the Republic of Khakassia
A criminal case has been initiated against eight members of the organized criminal group. All the detained officials are suspected of crimes under part 4 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (swindling committed by an organized group on an especially large scale through the official position). The Investigations Directorate in the Republic of Khakassia of the ICR has reported that one of the officials (according to a CrimeRussia source, it is Vladimir Byzov) is also suspected of crimes under part 6 of Article 290 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (bribe-taking on an especially large scale). The directors of the commercial companies are suspected of crimes under part 4 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (swindling committed by an organized group on an especially large scale through the official position).
According to the investigation, in the period since December 1, 2015 and until December 27, 2016, members of this organized criminal group had been running a swindling scheme with acquisitions of medical equipment, medicines, and supplies for budgetary health care institutions of the Republic of Khakassia. All the products had been purchased at artificially high prices. According to the CrimeRussia source, winners of the governmental tenders were paying the officials a standard ‘kickback’ in the amount of 10% of the contract cost. The Investigations Directorate in the Republic of Khakassia of the ICR reports that over 195 million rubles have been embezzled from the budget using this scheme.
The investigation believes that Vladimir Byzov had received a bribe for assistance in securing governmental contracts for commercial organizations controlled by one of the detained directors. The sum exceeding 17 million rubles had been given to him between June 8 and August 30, 2016. The CrimeRussia source has noted, however, that Byzov was not arrested red-handed during the handover of the bribe – the investigation only has a testimony provided by Petr Kozar. This businessman has been actively collaborating with the investigation from the very beginning; he claims that he has given the 10% ‘kickback’ in the amount of 17 million rubles to Byzov in three installments. Therefore, the investigators do not have hard evidence. Hopefully, the guilt of the high-ranked functionary would be proven anyways: both female officials from the Interdepartmental Center for Acquisitions have already confirmed the words of Kozar. Both Inga Meluzova and Svetlana Kazachenko started giving confessions after being remanded in the pretrial detention facility. Therefore, Byzov is facing a severe punishment: deprivation of liberty for a term of up to 10 years under one Article of the Criminal Code and up to 15 years – under another Article. The CrimeRussia source has emphasized: if the functionary is convicted, at least partially, the Republic of Khakassia would reconfirm its ‘red region’ status meaning that its law enforcement authorities won’t tolerate any wrongdoing, even if the offences are committed by their former decorated colleagues.
Charges have been already laid against all the detainees. Searches have been performed in their offices and homes. On December 29–30, 2016, the court has imposed pretrial restraints for the suspects: detention for the period of two months.
During the court sessions dedicated to the pretrial restrictions, it was announced that over 25 million rubles, bonds, and valuables “of unknown value” have been seized from Byzov in the course of the searches. Interestingly, an expensive pen worth 300 thousand rubles was seized from an official with the average annual income of 3 million rubles.
Ekaterina Kovaleva, Secretary to Byzov
On January 9, 2017, 26-year-old Ekaterina Kovaleva, a Secretary to Byzov, has been arrested in the framework of this criminal case. She was charged under part 5 of Article 33 and part 4 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (complicity to swindling committed by an organized group on an especially large scale through the official position). According to the CrimeRussia source, over 12 million rubles have been seized from Kovaleva during the search. The young woman with a relatively small salary was unable to explain the origin of the money found in the garage. The court has ruled to detain Kovaleva for the period of two months as well.
The arrest of Vladimir Byzov, the second most powerful person in the region, who was nicknamed the ‘right hand’ of the Head of the Republic of Khakassia and ‘Grey Eminence’ of the Regional Administration, has inevitably cast a shadow over Viktor Zimin. Was the Head of the Region really unaware of the machinations performed by his subordinate and resulting in damages to the budget exceeding 200 million rubles? Or he actually was aware but kept silence – because of the important mission entrusted to the Administration of the Head of the Region and personally to Vladimir Byzov: run election campaigns for the President of Russia and the Head of the Republic of Khakassia in 2018?
Viktor Zimin, Head of the Republic of Khakassia
Viktor Zimin has commented the arrest of his subordinate to the local media pretty neutrally: “I has been informed about the criminal case initiated against Vladimir Byzov. The relevant authorities perform their duties in the framework of their powers. The results of this work would be provided to the public”. However, the backstage reaction of Zimin was much more emotional; he said that this is “a disgrace in the eyes of the entire country”.
During the 9 years of the Zimin’s rule, corruption scandals had occurred in the local administration on a suspiciously regular basis. For example, in 2014, the following persons have hastily left the Zimin’s team: Vladislav Nikonov, Head of the Administration; Yuri Lapshin, First Deputy Head of the Administration and Minister of Finance; Tatiana Krasnova, Minister of Economy; Boris Varshavsky, Minister of Industry; and Ivan Vagner, Deputy Head of the Republic of Khakassia and Minister of Agriculture. Ivan Vagner has been charged with swindling, abuse of official powers, and illegal participation in business activity. According to the investigation, the total damages sustained by the budget due to illegal operations of this Minister exceeded 2 billion rubles; however, the judge has reduced the amount of damages to 40 million rubles. The criminal case has been successfully ruined in court in almost every respect; ultimately, Vagner got a conditional sentence and was pardoned in the courtroom. His criminal record has been cleared, and the disgraced official resumed work in the Regional Government: Zimin appointed him Acting Minister of Agriculture, thus, returning Vagner back to his previous sphere of activity.
In 2015, two Ministers from the Zimin’s team have been criminally charged: Sergei Novikov, Minister of Construction and Housing and Utilities Infrastructure; and Semen Aeshin, Minister of Finance. Semen Aeshin has been charged with exceeding official powers: according to the investigation, the official was responsible for misuse of 2.25 billion rubles allocated for construction of a perinatal center in the framework of a federal program. It is still unknown though whether Aeshin would be convicted or, similarly with Vagner, granted amnesty in the courtroom. The criminal case against him has been continuing for so long that many people in the region have already forgotten that the acting Minister of Finance is, in fact, under investigation.
Sergei Novikov, Minister of Construction and Housing and Utilities Infrastructure of the Republic of Khakassia, has been charged with exceeding official powers in the framework of a swindling criminal case related to embezzlements of funds from Khakresvodokanal State Unitary Enterprise of the Republic of Khakassia. Oleg Baziev, Chairman of the Republican Goskomtarifenergo, is another suspect in this criminal case. The investigation is still ongoing, but it is already possible to forecast that the ex-Minister would likely get off cheaply. Following an application from the investigation, the court has initially remanded Novikov in custody – but then suddenly decided to release him under the written pledge not to leave. Then the investigation has reclassified the criminal case under a lighter Article of the Criminal Code – initially, the official had been accused of swindling. Interestingly, immediately after the reclassification of the criminal case, Valery Markov, father of the investigator handling the case against Novikov, has been appointed Deputy Head of the Republic of Khakassia. There is no hard evidence, however, that these two events are somehow linked to each other.
The criminal case against Byzov is the first such incident that Zimin likely won’t be able to hush up. So, the emotional backstage reaction of the Head of the Republic of Khakassia is pretty understandable. After losing his ‘right hand’, Zimin might lose the trust of the federal center as well. The reputation of a reliable and convenient functionary had helped him to get off the hook many times – for example, after the major fires in Khakassia, when the construction of new housing for fire victims had, in fact, been failed, which resulted in a number of criminal cases against construction contractors. Now Zimin could also be blamed for an unprecedented state debt of the republic: as of December 1, 2016, the region was owing in total 21.7 billion rubles. Would the arrest of Byzov become the last straw to break the career of the ‘unsinkable’ politician? Actually, this is unlikely. On January 10, 2017, the Bureau of the Committee of the Khakassia Branch of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation has submitted a petition to the President of Russia requiring to dismiss Zimin “due to the corruption among officials appointed by him to high posts in the republic and due to the failure of the staffing, socio-economic, and budget policies in the republic”. The reaction of the federal center to this petition is unknown yet; no one can say whether it results in his early dismissal or not. But it is more than likely that Zimin is about to lose good positions in the rating of Russian governors.