Seventeen Governors under surveillance of law enforcement authorities
Seventeen Russian Governors are facing criminal prosecution for bribe-taking. The rest of them may be jailed any time for exceedance of official powers. At least, Nezygar (@russica2) Telegram channel claims so citing an unidentified source in the law enforcement structures. However, according to that source, it is currently prohibited to prosecute top-level officials. In 2018, the operatives had only searched offices of Vice Governors or Deputy Ministers – not their bosses. The CrimeRussia found out what supreme functionaries are on the hook of the law enforcement authorities and may be immediately indicted if the President orders so.
Shortly after the New Year, influential Nezygar (@russica2) Telegram channel has published sensational news: "Operatives have gathered evidence sufficient to convict 17 Governors, while others are waiting for a signal". This information was provided by some source in law enforcement structures well-aware of the forthcoming criminal cases against many regional heads in Russia. According to him, the anti-corruption purge affecting even federal functionaries has been ‘put on hold' after searches in the residence of Andrei Belyaninov, ex-Head of the Federal Customs Service (FCS) of Russia.
Andrei Belyaninov was in charge of the FCS since 2006. On July 26, 2016, his office and country home have been searched in the framework of the alcohol smuggling case. The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) has also questioned Belyaninov as a witness in the case against Dmitry Mikhalchenko. In the course of the searches, large amounts of cash were seized in the residence of Belyaninov: 10 million rubles ($149.9 thousand), $400 thousand, and €300 thousand. In addition, expensive pens and antique paintings – probably, authentic pieces of art – were found. Belyaninov retained his witness status – but two days later, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev removed him from office. On December 1, 2017, Belyaninov has been appointed the Chairman of the Management Board of the Eurasian Development Bank.
Since then, operatives of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation had detained only second- and third-level officials. The only exception was Alexey Ulyukaev, Minister of Economic Development, arrested in November 2016 after a visit to the office of Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin. A bag with $2 million marked by a special substance was found in his car. According to the investigation, Ulyukaev had extorted this sum for a positive conclusion of the Ministry of Economic Development in relation to the acquisition of a share in Bashneft by Rosneft. The ex-Minister denies any guilt. In December 2017, he was sentenced to eight years in a maximum security penal colony and a fine of 130 million rubles ($1.9 million); the fine has already been paid.
Alexey Ulyukaev and Igor Sechin
The source of Nezygar channel claims that officials of the Presidential Executive Office have allegedly convinced Vladimir Putin that the prosecution of top-rank functionaries may destabilize the elite groups. In fact, the Kremlin has imposed a ‘moratorium’ on arrests and prosecution of Governors.
Six regional heads were arrested in the last few years on suspicion of corruption: Vyacheslav Gayzer, ex-Head of the Komi Republic; Nikita Belykh, ex-Governor of the Kirov Region; Aleksander Khoroshavin, ex-Governor of the Sakhalin Region; Mikhail Yurevich, ex-Governor of the Chelyabinsk Region (put on the wanted list); Aleksander Soloviev, Head of the Udmurt Republic; and Leonid Markelov, ex-Head of the Mari El Republic (the two latter Governors have been detained after the story with Belyaninov).
According to the investigation, Markelov has received, via his trusted aide Natalia Kozhanova, over 235 million rubles ($3.5 million) from Nikolai Krivash, founder of Akashevskaya Factory, as a bribe for ‘patronage’ and assistance in the provision of state subsidies for agriculture development. Taking the luxury lifestyle of the ex-Head of the Mari El Republic, it should be neither the only nor the largest bribe received by him. Local residents have nicknamed Markelov Leonid Velikolepny (Leonid the Magnificent). The value of assets seized from him is some 1 billion rubles ($15 million). According to The CrimeRussia
sources, authentic pieces of art put on the wanted list and a lifetime edition of Aleksander Pushkin with author's autograph note were found in one of the apartments belonging to the ex-Head of the Mari El Republic. On April 6, 2017, Leonid Markelov, who was in charge of the Mari El Republic for 16 years, has been removed from office. A few days later, a criminal case has been instituted against him under part 6 of Article 290 (bribe-taking on an especially large scale), part 5 of Article 291 (bribe-giving on an especially large scale), and Article 291.1 (mediation in bribery) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. Markelov denies any guilt and started writing poems in detention. His trial is scheduled for 2019.
The criminal case against Aleksander Soloviev, ex-Head of the Udmurt Republic, has been instituted on April 4, 2017. The former road construction specialist has been charged with two especially grievous crimes stipulated in part 6 of Article 290 the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (bribe-taking by a functionary on an especially large scale). According to the investigation, in 2014–2016, Soloviev received a bribe in the amount of 139 million rubles ($2.1 million) and a share in a commercial organization worth 2.7 million rubles ($40.5 thousand) from representatives of companies building bridges across the Kama and Buy Rivers near Kambarki, Udmurt Republic. Aleksander Zabarsky, General Director of Mostostroy-12 Limited Liability Company, has given to Soloviev the main portion of these bribes. A number of companies affiliated with Zabarsky and involved in the implementation of the construction concession agreement are mentioned in the case file as well. The Head of the Udmurt Republic had promised to provide ‘patronage’ to the concession operators in exchange for the bribes. On the same day, the Russian President has removed Aleksander Soloviev from office for loss of trust. The FSB launched an inquest; it resulted in a number of criminal cases, including a case against Soloviev initiated after the visit of the President to the Udmurt Republic. Vladimir Putin arrived to the region to launch the bridge across the Kama River and was displeased by the fact that the bridge was incomplete and hadn’t even passed the state expert assessment. The President ordered to find out whose fault was it. Later, the ‘road king’ of the Udmurt Republic has partially admitted some bribe-taking episodes – but not for the entire amount of 139 million rubles ($2.1 million) incriminated to him. The Soloviev family controls the construction industry in the republic; his relatives and friends are in charge of virtually all road construction enterprises in the region. According to the FSB, the former official owns a deluxe seaside mansion in Alicante, Spain. The criminal case against him has been transferred to the Zav’yalovsky District Court of Izhevsk in December 2018.
No persons holding ranks higher than the vice-gubernatorial level were arrested in 2018. “Many Governors understood this – operative data collected by the law enforcement structures indicate that they continue pulling off corruption and fraud schemes. They are not afraid of punishment anymore and embezzle public funds even more actively,” – Nezygar channel claims. According to its source, the operatives are just waiting for a signal from the President – but for some reason, he is holding off. The ‘execution list’ currently includes 2 Governors from the Northwestern Federal District, 6 regional heads from the Central Federal District, 2 Governors from the Urals, and 3 from the South. “The most critical situation is observed in the Volga Federal District after the departure of Mikhail Babich. Evidence sufficient to arrest 4 Governors has already been gathered. The main cash flow for the bribery of Moscow officials goes from there,” – the channel reports.
Nezygar does not provide specific names, but, taking the past insider information leaks, it is easy to compile the list of Governors facing prosecution.
Yuri Berg, Governor of the Orenburg Region, has hastily left on a two-week vacation after the arrest of Mikhail Maslov, Minister of Agriculture and Vice Premier of the Regional Government, and his supposed accomplice Viktor Zheleznov, a local businessman and head of a pig farming complex, in June 2018. The Minister is suspected of embezzlement of some 100 million rubles ($1.5 million) (part 4 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). This refers to subsidies allocated by the Ministry of Agriculture to the agro-industrial complex for construction and modernization of agricultural enterprises: a portion of the budget funds was siphoned off via dummy companies. Orenburg Mayor Evgeny Arapov and his deputy Gennady Borisov have been arrested in August 2018 on suspicion of bribe-taking. The investigation believes that they have received 600 thousand rubles ($9 thousand) from the head of a construction company for ‘patronage'. Later, Arapov has been charged with another episode involving an apartment worth 1,320,300 rubles ($19.8 thousand) and granted to him as a bribe. But in the beginning of 2019, the ex-Mayor has been released – allegedly, for making a plea deal. The arrests in the team led by Berg may indicate that the operatives are flanking the Governor.
Sergei Morozov, Governor of the Ulyanovsk Region, who is rated one of the worst regional heads on a regular basis, was never directly involved in corruption scandals. But there are plenty of questions to the Governor with regards to his family. Elena Morozova was repeatedly rated one of the 10 richest Governors’ wives in Russia. She has earned a multimillion capital while being on maternity leave and owns a deluxe real property in Switzerland. In 2013, the apartment with a living space of 104 square meters belonging to Morozova was disclosed in the Governor’s income and asset declaration. Then it allegedly was sold – but the sale proceeds were never reported in subsequent declarations. Elena Morozova is the founder of First Regional Real Estate Agency (PRAN) Limited Liability Company. PRAN assists builders with the issuance of construction and reconstruction permits and commissioning of facilities. The company also represents its clients in governmental institutions, including the Committee for Municipal Property and Land Resource Management, Architecture, and Urban Development of the City of Ulyanovsk. Residents believe that the spouse of Sergei Morozov makes good money acting as an intermediary between the developers and regional authorities. In fall 2018, Sergei Morozov has officially divorced – apparently, to quell such speculations. This was the second marriage of the Governor. Vladimir Uiba from the Federal Biomedical Agency (FMBA), a henchman of Golikova, is eager to supercede Morozov in the Governor’s chair.
Boris Dubrovsky, Governor of the Chelyabinsk Region, has already lost the Kremlin's support. The ‘garbage scandal' in Chelyabinsk has effectively ruined his political career. But the law enforcement authorities are concerned not about his poor management skills – but about corruption in the Governor's family and close circle. Boris Dubrovsky created a small business empire making money on governmental contracts. Companies controlled by him have already captured the profitable construction market and are currently seizing the waste treatment market in the region. Enterprises belonging to Governor's son Aleksander Dubrovsky are flourishing on governmental contracts as well. For instance, on May 17, 2017, Irina Gladkova, Minister of Environment of the Chelyabinsk Region, has signed a contract with Center of Communal Services Limited Liability Company. Center of Communal Services was the sole bidder at a tender held to select the regional solid domestic waste operator for the Magnitogorsk cluster. However, the company intends to delegate the waste management operations to subcontractors – who somehow hadn't participated in the tender held by the Regional Ministry of Environment. Center of Communal Services belongs in equal shares to its two cofounders: Sinai Limited Liability Company and Novatek Limited Liability Company. Boris Dubrovsky, Governor of the Chelyabinsk Region, is the sole proprietor of Sinai Limited Liability Company, while Novatek Limited Liability Company belongs 100% to his son Aleksander Dubrovsky. Chelyabstroykomplect Limited Liability Company, that had earlier belonged to the businessman-turned-Governor, also used to generate good profits for him. In addition, Boris Dubrovsky used to own Spaceship Consulting S.A. offshore company mentioned in the Panama Papers. But as of today, no claims can be brought against Dubrovsky senior – he is a cofounder of only two small companies. On the other hand, the business of his son is growing at an exponential rate. Dubrovsky junior administers three companies and owns – either fully or partially – 19 more organizations. The local branch of the Federal Antimonopoly Service is wondering why companies controlled by Aleksander Dubrovsky are winning the most profitable governmental contracts. On August 30, 2018, the Federal Antimonopoly Service of Russia has instituted a criminal case against the Governor of the Chelyabinsk Region, Regional Ministry of Roads and Transport, and Yuzhuralmost company for conspiracy at road repair tenders. Violations totaling over 8 billion rubles ($119.9 million) have been identified in 29 tenders.
Vasily Golubev, Governor of the Rostov Region since 2010, was involved into many episodes detrimental for his career. The law enforcement authorities had already approached him in relation to kindergartens. According to the Governor’s program, 100 preschool institutions had to built in the region by the end of 2015. The majority of these institutions had to be built at the public expense, while a few ones – using funds provided by investors. The municipality was supposed to purchase the kindergartens after their completion. The Rostov Regional Mortgage Corporation (RRIK) had acted as the customer in the construction of 10 kindergartens. Construction companies, suppliers and banks acted as investors. The contracts were distributed without tenders because the funding was received from non-budget sources. Later, the regional government had to purchase these kindergartens at artificially high prices. In the framework of the swindling case instituted in relation to the construction of preschool institutions, the office of one of the Governor’s deputies was searched. According to the source, that fraud had directly implicated Golubev and his subordinates – but, for some reason, the investigation got stalled. The accounting documents have been sent to Moscow for expert assessment – but results of that assessment were never disclosed. On September 18, 2013, Aleksander Chebanov, Head of Stroykom Limited Liability Company, was convicted to a prison term following a large-scale inquest. Aleksander Andryushchenko, General Director of the Rostov Regional Mortgage Corporation (RRIK) Open Joint Stock Company and Deputy of the Novocherkassk Municipal Duma from Edinaya Rossiya (United Russia) Party, had also attracted the attention of FSB operatives – but later he has stated that no investigative actions were carried out against him.
According to The CrimeRussia sources, only the intervention of high-ranked Moscow ‘patrons’ has saved Vasily Golubev.
Closest associates of Golubev were also involved in corruption scandals. Take, for instance, the high-profile trial of Elena Skidan, ex-Minister of Labor and Social Development of the Rostov Region, and her former deputy Mikhail Medvedev. The court found the officials guilty of abuse of official powers and infliction of damages to the regional budget in the amount of 86 million rubles ($1.3 million) (part 3 of Article 285 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). According to one of the versions, Skidan has delivered the ‘kickback’ to the regional leadership. The prosecuted officials could decide to testify against the Governor – therefore, measures were taken to ‘save’ them from real prison terms. On November 28, 2016, Vasily Golubev, Governor of the Rostov Region, has dismissed his deputy Sergei Zhukov, Head of the Department for Combating the Corruption, “for loss of trust”. The commission of the Presidential Executive Office has virtually forced Golubev to sign this order after seizing and reviewing documents pertaining to the work of the official appointed to this post less than a year ago. Numerous violations involving conflicts of interest were identified. The large-scale fire destroying private homes in the center of Rostov-on-Don has also adversely affected the career of Golubev. City residents believe that arsons had been committed in the interests of developers having close ties with the Governor. However, the investigators have concluded that there were no deliberate arsons on Teatralny spusk. Governor’s wife Olga Golubeva is the founder of a number of companies operating in Moscow and the metropolitan area. Kremlevsky Bezbashennik (Kremlin Daredevil) (@kremlebezBashennik) Telegram channel claims that Vasily Golubev has an American Green Card. Kolkhozny Storozh (State Farm Watchman) (@kolhoznystoroj) channel has disclosed the ‘high patron’ of the Rostov Governor: “his friend general Andrei Stryzhakov, who was in charge of investigation in Rostov in 2007–2014 and later took charge of investigation in the Southern Federal district. After 2014, Stryzhakov was appointed the head of a new department at the central ICR headquarters handling the most high-profile criminal cases in southern Russia. But in late December, Stryzhakov was removed from office by a decree of Vladimir Putin”.
It is hard to list all corruption scandals involving Marina Kovtun, Governor of the Murmansk Region, in one article. Kovtun, nicknamed Tsaritsa Zapolyar’ya (Polar Empress) by the public, has been appointed to this post in April 2012. She was nearly dismissed in the first year of her governorship over skyrocketing housing and utility fees. But Kovtun shifted the blame on Gennady Mikichura, Minister of Energy and Housing and Utility Sector of the Murmansk Region, and municipal heads. The scandalous attempt to acquire sport utility vehicles for the regional government for the total amount of 27 million rubles ($404.7 thousand), including two jeeps worth almost 3 million rubles ($45 thousand) each, made in October 2015 is also well remembered. Police general Igor Batalov was considered a loyal henchman of Kovtun. Together, they were making fishing and hunting trips to most distant and undisturbed locations using the helicopter belonging to the Administration for the Murmansk Region of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation. In May 2018, Batalov was removed from office. Kovtun also maintains friendly ties with federal companies – she allows them to enter the region and grab significant portions of its market. In exchange, the companies ensure the career growth of Governor’s children. For instance, her daughter Marina Kovtun junior recently became employed with Rosneft, while son Aleksander Kovtun had worked up until recently in Siberian Coal Energy Company – the one chosen to heat the Murmansk region with coal.
Marina Kovtun never tries to save on luxury – both at work and during business trips. In July 2017, FSB operatives have searched the Government of the Murmansk Region and over 20 commercial organizations in the framework of a swindling case pertaining to governmental contracts signed to provide supplies for the operations of the Government and Governor of the Murmansk Region. After the searches, Georgy Blagodel'sky, First Deputy Head of the Department for Support of Operations of the Government of the Murmansk Region State Regional Budgetary Enterprise, has been arrested. His former boss Eduard Nikrashevsky was also remanded in custody. Interestingly, the spouse of Blagodel'sky said after the arrest of her husband that the millions of rubles allegedly embezzled by him were spent exclusively on personal needs of Marina Kovtun. In the same year of 2017, FSB operatives detained Igor Babenko, ex-Deputy Governor of the Murmansk Region, and Svetlana Povericheva, Head of the Administrative Office of the Government of the Murmansk Region. According to the investigation, they were involved in large-scale embezzlements of funds from a charitable fund for personal gain and misappropriations of funds allocated for the needs of the regional government. Elena Semenova, Head of the Logistic Support Department of the Government of the Murmansk Region, told during questioning that meat, fish, fruits, and alcohol had been repeatedly delivered to the helicopter intended for ‘air trips' of guests from Moscow. The banquets were served onboard. The products were purchased using funds donated by commercial structures for charitable purposes.
Sergei Levchenko at a hunting trip
Sergei Levchenko, Governor of the Irkutsk Region, is facing criminal prosecution for the immoral and cruel killing of a bear sleeping in the winter lair. Of course, this is not a corruption crime – but it vividly characterizes Governor’s personality. Nikolai Nikolaev, member of Edinaya Rossiya (United Russia) Party and Chairman of the Committee for Natural Resources, Property, and Land Affairs of the State Duma, believes that “the murder of a hibernated bear by two shots in the head is a deplorable deed for a Governor, Siberian, and man”.
It is unlikely though that the Governor is convicted for this crime. In addition, as a member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), Levchenko enjoys certain privileges – this is how the authorities demonstrate the presence of ‘opposition’ politicians in the circles of power.
For his entire life, Oleg Kozhemyako, ex-Governor of the Sakhalin Region, has been making a living on Preobrazhenskaya Base of Trawling Fleet Public Joint Stock Company. Governor's wife, son, and twin sister own in total 93.14% of shares in that enterprise. Experts estimate the portfolio belonging to the relatives of Kozhemyako at $400–430 million. By the way, the spouse is not mentioned in his income and asset declaration. According to open sources, the revenue of Preobrazhenskaya Base of Trawling Fleet in the year of 2017 was 6.499 billion rubles ($97.4 million) (in 2016, it was 6.894 billion rubles ($103.3 million)), while its net profit was 243 million rubles ($3.6 million) (in 2016, it was 1.019 billion rubles ($15.3 million)). According to the official reports of the public joint stock company, in 2018, its share in the fisheries sector of the Russian Far East was 13%. However, taking the efforts made recently by the federal center to appoint Kozhemyako the Governor of the Primorsky Krai, it is unlikely that he is questioned by operatives any time soon.
The political appointees of the Kremlin have a special status; therefore, ‘young Governors’ deployed to their posts 2–3 years ago would likely avoid criminal charges. Political experts believe that their prosecution may adversely affect the President’s image.
Heads of the new regions wallowing in corruption also enjoy the special status. Officials in Crimea and Sevastopol are arrested and dismissed on nearly a monthly basis. The Telegram channels believe that Sergei Aksenov and Dmitry Ovsyannikov have been under suspicion for a while – but there was no command to prosecute them yet. “Corruption schemes and ‘kickbacks’ in these regions of the Southern Federal Districts went beyond all limits. In Crimea, the team led by Aksenov is so greedy, that not only Russian entrepreneurs – but sparse foreign companies as well – are canceling investment projects in the republic,” – Kolkhozny Storozh (@kolhoznystoroj) channel claims. But these regions are ‘display windows’ for adjacent states, especially Ukraine. In addition, Aksenov was reportedly involved in a series of raiding takeovers of assets from local businessmen.
“The law enforcement authorities are ready to jail 17 Governors for bribes any time. All other regional heads in Russia can be convicted for exceedance of official powers – absolutely all of them,” – the source of Nezygar concludes.
It is necessary to keep in mind however that not all forecasts of this Telegram channel come true. The surprising ‘information leak’ could be, in fact, a warning to the regional heads. Hopefully, they get the message.