“The operatives had called and texted somebody.” Who orchestrated raid on Nefteyugansk Administration?
Nefteyugansk Mayor Sergei Degtyarev calls the events, that have taken place in the ‘Rosneft capital’ on January 24, 2019, “an attempted raiding seizure of power”. The personnel of the Mayor’s Office became hostages of law enforcement operatives and spent the entire day at the point of their submachine guns. Stiff pressure was put on the legitimately elected Mayor who had to check into the hospital. Concurrently with the ‘masked show’ behind closed doors, an information attack was unleashed on Degtyarev accusing him of nearly all capital sins. Why have the governmental media launched a smear campaign against the Mayor? Who is the mastermind behind the raid on the City Administration? And why Degtyarev fears to share the fate of his predecessors?
On January 24, 2019, people in camouflage came to the Municipal Administration of Nefteyugansk, the third largest city of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District. They have locked the building entrance under the pretext of rodent extermination. An announcement was posted on the door stating that the City Hall is closed due to deratization. However, the ‘mice and rats’ were exterminated not by the Sanitary and Epidemiological Service – but by operatives of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) and Federal Security Service (FSB).
Witnesses describe further events as a forcible takeover of the City Hall. Aitynai Naimanova, attorney for Nefteyugansk Mayor Sergei Degtyarev, told journalists that masked operatives in camouflage have stormed into the building during a conference held by the Mayor. They demanded the audience to turn off and surrender their cell phones and prohibited the people from leaving their seats. In fact, all persons present in the City Administration at that time became “hostages of armed people unable to move; even the women had to visit the washroom accompanied by armed convoys”.
Nefteyugansk Mayor Sergei Degtyarev
According to Naimanova, “officers of the Municipal Administration had remained at the point of the submachine guns until 9 p.m. Only one of the assailants has promptly presented his service ID – it was lieutenant colonel Anton Even’evich Tishchenko, an officer of the Fourth Investigations Department of the Main Investigations Directorate of the ICR. In addition, Vladik Khismatullin, Head of the Nefteyugansk Department of the FSB Directorate for the Tyumen’ Region, was among the raiders. He and the investigator from Yekaterinburg had commanded FSB troopers from Nefteyugansk and Surgut and people in unidentified uniform – probably, National Guard officers. It is also known that all the protocols were drawn up by major Semachev from the Nefteyugansk Department who has spent the entire day sitting at the computer in the reception room”.
FSB officers near the office of Sergei Degtyarev
The operatives announced that they have to carry out investigative actions and started searching offices of the Mayor and his deputies. “They had opened all drawers, bags, and closets,” – the city head says. The officers have even searched the briefcase of Degtyarev containing his personal belongings. Then they seized from the Mayor’s office several bunches of documents, an iPad, and a telephone. “Everything was done without witnesses. What a lawlessness!” – the lawyer resents. Degtyarev claims to have no idea what were the troopers looking for: “I sincerely don’t know. The volume of documents seized from me is a nonsense. Some of the seized documents were prepared for discarding”.
Nefteyugansk City Hall
The legitimately elected Nefteyugansk Mayor was notified that he is going to be “questioned”. According to Naimanova, all questions pertained exclusively to deals involving Sergei Lagoida. Up until September 2018, this former FSB officer was a Vice Mayor of Nefteyugansk responsible for finance, economy, and liaison with law enforcement structures.
According to insider information, Lagoida was a henchman of Aleksei Shipilov, First Deputy Governor of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District (Yugra), who has infiltrated his people in law enforcement structures of several cities in the region. All henchmen of the First Deputy Governor are former law enforcement officers; after their arrival, terminations of directors of municipal enterprises and mid-level employees have begun.
Sergei Lagoida, ex-Vice Mayor of Nefteyugansk
The Mayor of the ‘Rosneft capital’ decided to oppose the expansion of Shipilov and terminated Lagoida “for loss of trust”. This caused a conflict between Degtyarev and the regional official. Lagoida has disputed his termination through court action – but lost the litigation. Naimanova claims that the operative and investigative actions carried out on January 24 were a result of a complaint filed by Lagoida.
During the searches in the City Hall, Nefteyugansk residents were wondering about the events taking place behind closed doors. Various rumors started spreading, while journalists were actively disseminating these speculations. Some media outlets claimed that Sergei Degtyarev has already been detained on suspicion of bribe-taking and abuse of official powers. Other reported that, in the midst of the searches, Aleksei Shipilov has arrived at the Municipal Administration and suggested Degtyarev to submit a voluntary resignation letter. Allegedly, the 47-year-old city head got ill after that conversation and was urgently admitted to the hospital – either with a hypertonic crisis or extremely high blood sugar level.
Aleksei Shipilov, First Deputy Governor of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District (Yugra)
There were plenty of hypotheses explaining the searches and supposed institution of a criminal case. One of the main versions discussed by the media accused Degtyarev of machinations with municipal lands. Allegedly, the Nefteyugansk Municipal Administration has sold, with the support of the Mayor, a land lot in Neighborhood 9a of the city to a commercial structure – Modern Administration Technologies Limited Liability Company – at an artificially low price. The land for complex residential construction was sold at the nominal cost of 1.2 million rubles ($18.3 thousand) – while its market price was over 243 million rubles ($3.7 million). The Nefteyugansk Municipal Administration submitted an application to the Yugra Arbitration Court to recognize the agreement of purchase and sale of the lot null and void – but the Mayor has allegedly signed the plea of waiver. "Degtyarev had supported the land deal as best as he could. He tried to withdraw the lawsuit from the court and then launched a large-scale information campaign to protect the ‘investors'. In fact, this was about the protection of profits derived by local officials–businesmen and Deputies, including several top managers of Rosneft-Yuganskneftegaz Limited Liability Company, both former and current. The oilers had actively invested ‘kickbacks' received by them into local projects, – UgraPro.ru portal reported citing its source. – Because of that deal, Degtyarev may be charged with abuse of official powers and bribe-taking (Articles 285 and 290 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). And this is just the beginning; the evidence is sufficient to lock up a half of Yugra".
In the meantime, events were escalating in the blocked Municipal Administration. “Some people were questioned with the use of restricted measures; some were intimidated; some deprived of legal defense; while some forcibly restrained without medical aid,” – Degtyarev describes the situation behind closed doors.
According to the Mayor and other witnesses, during the searches in the City Hall, the operatives had kept hold on their cell phones. They were calling and texting all the time – as if they had coordinated their actions with some unknown mastermind behind this raid. The people in camouflage were taking pictures and sending those to somebody – and the photos had immediately appeared in regional and Ural media outlets.
Degtyarev and other officers of the Nefteyugansk Administration have no doubt that it was a part of a pre-planned information attack carried out with the support of the official Yugra media. “The Internal Liaison Department of Yugra was instructed to provide informational support for that story since the arrival of the law enforcement operatives to the Municipal Administration. In other words, they had covered this entire story. This implies collaboration between the media outlets controlled by the regional authorities and law enforcement structures. Only they had received photos of the events taking place inside the building and disseminated false information about investigative actions and evidence seized in the course of the searches,” – the Mayor says.
Shipilov arrived at the Nefteyugansk Administration late in the afternoon. According to Naimanova, the high-ranked regional official “had a lengthy conversation with the people in charge of this operation behind closed doors”. Then Shipilov told Degtyarev that he has arrived as per Governor’s instruction and requested the Mayor to submit a resignation letter. «He said: “What is going on here puts the system in jeopardy; therefore, you have to leave the system”. I asked him when should this end. Shipilov responded: “This will never end, but you must not put the system in jeopardy,”» – the Mayor remembers.
"Prior to offering Degtyarev to submit a resignation letter, Shipilov had shown him printouts of articles published in the media on that day and calling him a corrupt official and bribe-taker. He had even turned on the TV and showed news about the searches in the City Hall and arrest of the Mayor – thus, putting pressure on him," – Dmitry Tret'yakov, Deputy of the Nefteyugansk Municipal Duma, says.
However, all the efforts to intimidate the Nefteyugansk Mayor were in vain. Degtyarev refused to resign in the absence of official charges laid against him. Then Shipilov told him that a criminal case is forthcoming – because the law enforcement operatives don’t carry out such operations without a reason. And, allegedly, the only chance for Degtyarev to avoid criminal prosecution was to resign voluntarily. Shipilov presented to him the story of Oleg Kovalevsky, ex-Mayor of Pyt’-Yakh, as an example: Kovalevsky had issues with the law enforcement structures – but after his voluntary resignation, “everything became fine”.
After the conversation with Shipilov, the Nefteyugansk Mayor has indeed got ill and was hospitalized a hypertonic crisis. According to Naimanova, while Degtyarev was in the hospital, his apartment has been searched. “The search continued until 2 a.m.; the operatives had behaved offhand and even broke the child’s glasses”.
The media reported, citing insider information, that unregistered rifles were found in the apartment of Degtyarev – so, the Mayor is facing another criminal case under part 1 of Article 222 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (illegal storage of firearms). One of the local outlets wrote that valuables, over $70 thousand in cash, and almost 6 million rubles ($91.4 thousand) were seized during the search. However, both Degtyarev and his attorney claim that this is information is false. Neither firearms nor valuables were found. "They have seized three receipts: on the door, on the kitchen, and one showing that I had deposited on my account 700 thousand rubles ($10.7 thousand) after the sale of the garage. The home was literally turned upside down. I had never seen such a frenzy in relation to a non-existing criminal case. It seems that these people have no idea of operative, investigative, or procedural actions," – professional lawyer Degtyarev comments on the situation.
On January 25, it was officially announced at a session of the Yugra Government that the Nefteyugansk Mayor is on the sick leave. Acting Mayor Andrei Pastukhov has taken charge of the city. On the same day, Degtyarev has refuted claims that he allegedly was charged with abuse of official powers or any other offenses. The city head has stated that no charges were laid against him. The Mayor abstained from comments on his health condition.
On January 30, the head of the ‘oilers’ city’ has held a press conference – the first one after the raid – and accused the FSB Directorate for the Tyumen’ Region of attempted change of power in the Municipal Administration. “My opinion is unambiguous – it was an attempted raiding takeover of power because these actions are inconsistent with the current criminal–procedural legislation,” – the Mayor said.
Degtyarev considers Vladik Khismatullin, Head of the Nefteyugansk Department of the FSB Directorate for the Tyumen’ Region, the person in charge of that operation. Allegedly, it became his ‘discharge chord’ before the retirement. “Administration personnel had heard his phrase about the ‘discharge chord’. Too bad, we had earlier asked Khismatullin to do his job – but he ignored our requests. And finished his career with such a disgraceful ‘discharge chord’,” – Degtyarev says.
The Mayor also considers his former deputy Lagoida one of the beneficiaries of the special operation: "Lagoida has done a lot of things in Nefteyugansk, including corruption and antimonopoly offenses, – the antimonopoly committee confirms this, – Degtyarev explains reasons behind the termination of Lagoida. – For instance, the Prosecutor's Office established that he had provided false information on his temporary residential registration".
Degtyarev believes that the main mastermind behind the events, that have occurred on January 24, is Shipilov. The regional official had tried not only to force Degtyarev to resign – but also to reinstate Lagoida at his previous post in order to lobby his appointment the Mayor later.
The attempt to institute a criminal case against Degtyarev in relation to the sale of municipal lands has failed. It turned out that the lot in Neighborhood 9a was sold to Modern Administration Technologies Limited Liability Company during the rule of previous Nefteyugansk Mayor – Vyacheslav Archikov. “For those familiar with the details of that deal, the absurdity of this story was obvious. The problem of Degtyarev was the delay with the lawsuit filing – he has done this only after a request from the Prosecutor’s Office of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District. By now, the land has been returned to the municipal ownership. Therefore, no charges can be laid against the current Head of Nefteyugansk,” – the witnesses say. Apparently, the masterminds behind the raid were well-aware of this, too. The City Hall personnel present at the searches noted that the operatives had paid no attention to documents of the Department of Urban Planning and Land Relations – although it was directly involved in the sale of that lot.
The Nefteyugansk Mayor has emphasized at the press conference that he was never involved in land machinations incriminated to him and “has nothing to repent before the city residents”. “It was not me who had sold that land. Instead, I have initiated its return to the city,” – Degtyarev said in an interview to a local media outlet given in the hospital. The Mayor insists that he never was a bribe-taker – but had always fought against corruption: “If there were something, they would come with an already instituted criminal case. I had never taken bribes and don’t recommend this to others”.
Members of the Nefteyugansk Public Council and Deputies representing Edinaya Rossia (United Russia) Party have supported the Head of the Municipal Administration. They have submitted a petition to the national leadership and heads of law enforcement agencies asking to carry out a legal evaluation of the actions of the operatives and Aleksei Shipilov, First Deputy Governor of Yugra. “We would like to ask you to confirm the status of the Nefteyugansk Mayor, evaluate the recent events, assess the actions of Aleksei Shipilov, First Deputy Governor of Yugra, involved into the forcible takeover of the Municipal Administration, examine the actions of the law enforcement operatives, and provide information on charges laid against Degtyarev,” – the petition states.
The City Hall personnel and representatives of Nefteyugansk public organizations have also produced a petition to President Vladimir Putin and heads of law enforcement agencies asking to react to the “forcible takeover” of the Municipal Administration. Authors of the document claim that, during the searches, FSB operatives have breached 6 Articles of the Russian Constitution. In addition, “the seizure was accompanied by an information campaign launched to disseminate false information about the events taking place in the building”.
The authors of the petition have analyzed the situation and concluded that the governmental media – Novosti Yugry (Yugra News) Publishing House founded by the Government of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District and Yugra TV and Radio Company financed from the regional budget – were the primary sources of the false information. Furthermore, “today, the Nefteyugansk people remain in the ‘information vacuum’, while the public outrage with the ongoing lawlessness and lack of meaningful explanations is growing,” – the authors insist.
City residents also sign the official petition produced by the public organizations of Nefteyugansk. So far, 5 thousand people have endorsed the document.
If Degtyarev manages to withstand the information and forcible attack, he may become one of the few Nefteyugansk Mayors not ruined by this post. Ordinary people believe that the Mayor’s chair is cursed. In the last 24 years, misfortune has been plaguing the city heads. Vitaly Sevrin, Head of the Nefteyugansk Administration in 1993–1996, was convicted to 8 years behind bars in 2005 for bribe-taking on an especially large scale. Vladimir Petukhov, elected in 1996 at the first direct mayoral elections in city’s history, was killed 2 years later on the way to work. According to the investigation, functionaries of Yukos Oil Company were the masterminds behind this murder.
Slain Vladimir Petukhov
His tomb monument
In 2005, a criminal case was instituted against the next Nefteyugansk Mayor – Viktor Tkachev – for abuse of official powers; he was sentenced to 4.5 years behind bars conditionally. During the investigation against Tkachev, Dmitry Egortsev was the Acting Mayor; in 2005, he was severely wounded in the lobby of his home. His successor Igor Gribanov was found dead in his apartment in 2006. The official version of his death is carbon monoxide poisoning. Sergei Burov, the next Nefteyugansk Mayor, had been charged with multimillion embezzlements – although later, the charges against him were dropped. The next Mayor, Vyacheslav Archikov, is among the few ones who have left this post without reputational losses. His successor Vitaly Burchevsky had to resign after being convicted for drunk driving.
Viktor Tkachev, ex-Mayor of Nefteyugansk
Interestingly, Degtyarev, then-head of a law firm, had defended Tkachev charged with abuse of official powers. At that time, he failed to save the Mayor of Nefteyugansk from conviction. According to members of the Nefteyugansk Public Council, the events of January 24 resemble summer 1998 – shortly before his death, Mayor Vladimir Petukhov was pressurized by the management of Yukos Oil Company.
Today, Degtyarev cannot guarantee that he avoids the fate of his predecessors. «Generally speaking, it is possible to crucify anybody. I saw Tkachev who was my client, saw Kovalevsky who went on the run, and saw two heads of Pyt’-Yakh who burned themselves out and died – Vesnin and Ryabikhin. The system uses different methods of pressure. But I know other people as well – they are doing their job regardless of anything. On January 24, one of the operatives said in my office ten times: “Do you understand that, after two months in the office, a criminal case may be instituted against any Mayor?” I responded that it is possible to dig something against a city head in two weeks and even in two hours. Everything depends on where are we going. Go ahead, dig, » – Degtyarev concludes.