Under white crane’s wing. FSB can’t do nothing with Governor Vladimirov
Vladimir Vladimirovich Vladimirov became the Governor of the Stavropol Krai after staging the flight of his namesake – President Vladimir Putin – at the head of a flock of white cranes on the Yamal Peninsula. For almost five years since then, the Stavropol krai has been trying to get rid of such a ‘gift’. The region is plunging into crisis, corruption is flourishing, while officials from Governor’s close circle are prosecuted one by one. Local residents believe that law enforcement structures have declared a war on Vladimirov. Why can’t the FSB do anything with the Governor? And why is Moscow ignoring numerous requests to terminate Vladimirov?
On November 4, 2018, cossacks of the Cossack Line of the Stavropol Krai have held a Civil Forum of the Stavropol Krai. The participants have discussed the situation in the region, adopted a resolution, and submitted it to Vladimir Putin. The main requirement of the cossacks was to dismiss Vladimir Vladimirov, Governor of the Stavropol Krai. On November 7, the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) joined the protest of cossacks – who normally are loyal to the authorities. The Stavropol Branch of the LDPR has carried out a public event with the following slogan: “Vladimirov, go away! Don’t torment the region”. In early 2018, the opposition – to be specific, the Russian United Democratic Party "Yabloko" – had also demanded to replace the regional head.
Despite their political differences, all opponents of Vladimirov concur that he is responsible for the drastic worsening of the socio-economic situation in the region. The main complaint against the Governor is the corruptness of his close circle. “For almost four years, declining living standards and lawlessness of officials have been observed, while corruption is flourishing at all levels of power,” – the cossacks’ resolution states.
Vladimir Vladimirov was born in 1975 in Georgievsk, Stavropol krai. In 1997, graduated from the Ufa State Petroleum Technological University. In 2006, graduated from the Tyumen State Oil and Gas University. In 1997–2007, held senior positions in various oil producing and processing organizations. In 2010, was appointed the First Vice Governor of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region. In 2012, has organized, in the framework of Flight for Hope Project, the delta flight of the Russian President with white cranes. In September 2013, was appointed the Acting Governor of the Stavropol Krai by an order of Vladimir Putin. In September 2014, has been elected the regional head. Married, has three sons and a daughter.
In fact, since the ascension of Vladimirov to power in the Stavropol krai, corruption scandals erupt in the region one after another.
Over the last year, a number of high-ranked officials from Governor’s close circle have been arrested. For instance, in July 2017, a criminal case has been instituted against Igor Vasiliev, Minister of Construction, Road Industry, and Transport of the Stavropol Krai, appointed to this post by Vladimirov. Vasiliev has been charged with three episodes of abuse of official powers (part 2 of Article 285 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). According to the investigation, the former Minister has abused the official powers “on personal grounds in order to meet the set targets” while providing subsidies to the Prigorodny Rural Council and resort city of Kislovodsk. The Minister has unreasonably imposed a state of emergency to be able to award road repair contracts without tenders. The court is currently examining this case.
Igor Vasiliev, ex-Minister of Construction, Road Industry, and Transport of the Stavropol Krai
In the course of the investigation, it became known that Vasiliev has made a fortune embezzling budget funds allocated for road construction. Relatives of the former Minister were the official owners of a three-storey mansion – humble in appearance but luxurious inside. The experts have estimated the home itself at 158 million rubles ($2.3 million) and its furniture at 20 million rubles ($294.3 thousand). These amounts don't include vintage stairs, leaf gold, and deluxe Italian chandeliers. The Minister's passion for luxury is vividly illustrated by the following fact: the inside court of the home was paved with heated tiles.
After the removal of Vasiliev from office, his first deputy Andrei Lazutkin has taken up the position. But in August, only a month after the appointment, he has been charged under part 1 of Article 286 (exceeding official powers) and paragraph “c” of part 5 of Article 290 (bribe-taking) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. The investigators believe that in August 2016, the official has awarded two governmental contracts worth over 335 and 50 million rubles ($4.9 million and $735.8 thousand) without tenders and received a bribe from a contractor during the construction of the Stavropol Clinical Perinatal Center. The contractor performed renovation works worth 200 thousand rubles ($2.9 thousand) in the apartment of Lazutkin; in exchange, the Deputy Minister assisted him in endorsing bills for the perinatal center construction.
Shortly after that scandal, a new one has escalated. In March 2018, a criminal case has been instituted against Elena Kil’pa, First Deputy Minister of Economic Development of the Stavropol Krai. Similarly with her colleagues from the Ministry of Construction, Road Industry, and Transport, the female official has been charged under Article 285 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (abuse of official powers). According to the investigation, in December 2015, Kil’pa has awarded a governmental contract “to create media content for promotion of goods produced in the Stavropol krai, including a branded portal on Runet and branded YouTube channel, to an enterprise”. The official signed the work acceptance certificate without carrying out an expert assessment, and the payment in the amount of some 9.9 million rubles ($145.7 thousand) was transferred to the contractor. However, later it became known that the market cost of the works was only 950 thousand rubles ($14 thousand) – i.e. the budget has lost some 9 million rubles ($132.4 thousand) due to the fault of Kil’pa.
Elena Kil’pa, ex-First Deputy Minister of Economic Development of the Stavropol Krai
Interestingly, immediately after the institution of a criminal case against Kil’pa, her former boss Andrei Murga, Deputy Chairman of the Government of the Stavropol Krai, has resigned. Insiders explained his resignation as follows: Murga was a friend of detained Lazutkin and rushed to quit to avoid sharing his fate. Furthermore, the criminal case against Kil’pa has been instituted based on materials found in the course of searches in the office of Lazutkin.
Kil’pa’s former boss Andrei Murga, ex-Deputy Chairman of the Government of the Stavropol Krai
Then journalists found out that Murga had strong reasons to avoid the attention of the law enforcement authorities – his family was among the richest in the Stavropol krai. His wife has a Land Cruiser and a Lexus in Spain and keeps chequing accounts at Banco Bilbao and Banco de Sabadell. Murga controls, via relatives and business partners, the Stavropol Brewery, EuroOtel Hotel, Yugo-Zapadny (Southwestern) Trade Center, and Ital Pizza company. The Prosecutor’s Office of the Stavropol Krai had already given Murga a reprimand for “failure to disclose in tax and income declarations revenues derived from securities and bank deposits belonging to the spouse, Murga’s involvement with noncommercial organizations, involvement of his spouse with a number of commercial organizations, and a vehicle belonging to the spouse”. Still, the official continued concealing a portion of his assets. Therefore, Yuri Turygin, Prosecutor of the Stavropol Krai, has submitted last year a supervisory application to the Governor requesting to terminate the Deputy Chairman of the Government. However, Vladimirov refused to dismiss Murga – he resigned voluntarily, and this precaution saved him.
Instead of Murga, another Governor's protege has got under blow. In April 2018, a month after the arrest of Kil'pa, the police have detained Zaur Abdurakhimov, General Director of the Development Corporation of the Stavropol Krai State Unitary Enterprise of the Stavropol Krai, in the Krasnodar airport. In 2015, Kil'pa has awarded an overpriced governmental contract to create media content to this very structure established as per order of Vladimirov. According to the papers, the Development Corporation has created a web site and filled it with content in less than a day. On the same day, Kil'pa has posted another tender worth a similar amount of money – 9.9 million rubles ($145.7 thousand) – on the governmental acquisitions web site. The contract involved promotion of certain products of the Stavropol krai under the import substitution conditions. The structure led by Abdurakhimov has won the second contract as well and reported its completion on the same day. Within two days, the contractor allegedly managed to carry out a tender for regional producers, develop software for online voting, attract 200 volunteers to taste local products, produce 11 programs for federal radio stations, etc.
Zaur Abdurakhimov, ex-General Director of the Development Corporation of the Stavropol Krai State Unitary Enterprise of the Stavropol Krai
Abdurakhimov has been charged with swindling on an especially large scale (Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). Chances are high that the subordinates of Vladimirov currently remaining under investigation won’t get away with conditional terms. Unlike many other regions, the law enforcement authorities of the Stavropol krai are determined to put corrupt officials behind bars. For instance, Vasily Lyamin, ex-Minister of Education of the Stavropol Krai, has been sentenced to 7.5 years in a maximum security penal colony for the extortion of 1 million rubles ($14.7 thousand) from the Director of the Kislovodsk Multidisciplinary College in exchange for keeping him at that post.
Why the officials from Governor’s inner circle are always in the cross hairs? Many experts believe that this series of arrests indicates that, in the course of his governorship, Vladimirov failed to find common grounds with the law enforcement structures. “There is a conflict, and it is pretty obvious – because strong Governors maintaining a dialog are normally warned in advance about complaints against their subordinates who are subsequently fired,” – political expert Dmitry Fetisov says. After the arrest of Vasiliev – believed to be one of the key figures in the team of the Stavropol Governor – political expert Anton Chablin concluded that Vladimirov himself is the primary target of the law enforcement authorities. “It is not 100% clear what law enforcement agency is it. The officials were arrested by different institutions. But most probably, the Governor has a conflict with the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation,” – Chablin believes.
Perhaps, this is why not only officials of the regional government – but all civil servants ready and willing to work with Vladimirov are in the cross hairs. For instance, Valery Evlakhov, Director of Vodokanal (Water Services Company) State Unitary Enterprise, has been arrested in October 2017 and charged with bribe-taking (Article 290 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). According to the investigation, Evlakhov had demanded money from a commercial organization for a certificate confirming compliance with technical specifications required to commission a water conduit. In October 2017, he received the required ‘reward’ – the water conduit and a tie-in camera worth over 4 million rubles ($58.9 thousand).
What has Vladimirov to do with this story? The point is that Evlakhov was considered a Governor’s protege. Similarly with the ex-Minister of Construction, Road Industry, and Transport, Evlakhov was appointed to his post following an initiative of the regional head. Therefore, political experts believe that Evlakhov has fallen a victim to the conflict between Vladimirov and law enforcement structures. Furthermore, the Director of Vodokanal has been arrested on his birthday – this was a symbolic ‘gift’ not only to the Governor’s henchman, but to the regional head himself. The criminal case against Evlakhov has been instituted on the basis of materials received from the Regional FSB Directorate – this indirectly confirms the conclusions of Chablin.
The arrests of Governor’s Envoys also look like an attempt to undercut Vladimirov. Immediately after his appointment the Acting Governor of the Stavropol Krai in 2013, Vladimirov has introduced a new institute to the region – Governor's Plenipotentiary Envoys. Many experts thought at that time that this was just a sinecure for officials he could not merely remove from power. However, it turned out that it is not only difficult – but also dangerous for life to be a Plenipotentiary Envoy of Vladimirov.
In 2013, the Stavropol Governor has appointed seven Plenipotentiary Envoys – one for each territorial unit. Andrei Utkin, ex-Vice Mayor of Stavropol and ex-Speaker of the Regional Duma, had represented the Governor in eastern districts of the region. In April 2017, Utkin has been charged under Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (exceeding official powers). According to the investigation, the official has arranged the admission of a local businessman’s daughter to the medical university without competition and secured a governmental grant for her education. In December 2017, another criminal case has been instituted against Utkin under part 3 of Article 30 and part 4 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (swindling on an especially large scale). The operatives found out that Utkin and two his accomplices had offered a Stavropol businessman to dismiss – in exchange for a bribe – the criminal cases instituted against him under Article 159 (swindling), Article 160 (misappropriation or embezzlement), Article 174 (legalization (laundering) of funds acquired by other persons illegally), and Article 199 (evading payment of taxes) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. All the three suspects have been arrested right-handed during the handout of the bribe.
Andrei Utkin, ex-Vice Mayor of Stavropol
In January 2018, a criminal case has been instituted against another Plenipotentiary Envoy of Vladimirov – Sergei Batynyuk, who used to oversee resort towns of the Stavropol krai. In the middle of the month, the official has retired with honor – and a few days later, operatives detained Batynyuk during the handout of a bribe in the amount exceeding 12 million rubles ($176.6 thousand). The retiree has been charged under part 4 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (swindling on an especially large scale). On November 7, the indictment has been transferred to the court. The investigators established that Batynyuk has accepted a bribe from the director of a local company – allegedly to deliver it to law enforcement officers. The ex-Envoy had promised the businessman to save him from prosecution for tax evasion – but instead just pocketed the received money.
Another Plenipotentiary Envoy of Vladimirov – Sergei Batynyuk
A month later, in February 2018, the third Governor’s Plenipotentiary Envoy – Aleksander Korobeinikov – died under mysterious circumstances. He was found in his yard with a gunshot wound in the chest. The personal driver of the official has discovered the body. Some media outlets suggested that Korobeinikov has taken his own life to avoid being prosecuted similarly with Utkin and Batynyuk.
The investigators failed to reconstruct the incident. The death of Korobeinikov remains as mysterious as the murder of Sergei Bondarenko, Deputy Director of the FSB Directorate for the Stavropol Krai. In July 2016, the FSB lieutenant colonel was found in his home with stab wounds. Kommersant newspaper wrote, citing its sources, that Bondarenko was the Deputy Director for Economic Cases and supervised the most high-profile corruption inquests. The public still remains unaware who has murdered the FSB lieutenant colonel and why.
An interesting coincidence – at that time, law enforcement operatives have nearly closed in on the best friend of Vladimirov – Vladimir Vdovin. The Stavropol Governor has persuaded him to relocate from the Yamal Peninsula to the south and appointed the Director of Stavropolkraivodokanal State Unitary Enterprise of the Stavropol Krai. In July 2016, the Governor’s protege has been removed from office and charged with neglect of duty and misappropriation of monetary funds. The investigation found out that after the relocation to the Stavropol krai, Vdovin has settled in an official mansion purchased for 17 million rubles ($250.2 thousand) at the expense of Stavropolkraivodokanal. In addition, he had received a monthly compensation in the amount of 40 thousand rubles ($589) for allegedly incurred rental costs. Furthermore, the friend of Vladimirov has leased Skachki water intake facilities in the town of Pyatigorsk from two local residents at a price of 22 million rubles ($323.8 thousand). As a result, the state enterprise sustained losses in the amount of 7 million rubles ($103 thousand) – because there was no need to lease these facilities at all.
In March 2018, the Leninsky District Court of Stavropol found Vdovin guilty under part 3 of Article 160 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (misappropriation or embezzlement committed by a person through his official position) and sentenced him to three years behind bars conditionally, fine of 10 thousand rubles ($147), and deprivation of the right to hold senior positions for two years.
Official mansion where Vdovin used to live
It is hard to say whether the death of Bondarenko and virtual collapse of the case against Vdovin in court are interrelated. It is known though that the law enforcement authorities could not overcome the friend of Vladimirov for a while – and had to engage supreme powers into the conflict. Despite the criminal case, order of the Prosecutor’s Office, and court verdict obliging to annul the acquisition of the mansion purchased for Vdovin, he continued living in the home bought by the state unitary enterprise and maintaining the residence at its expense. Only after a direct question – “Why is Vdovin ignoring the law?” – asked by a local journalist to Putin at Pravda i Spravedlivost (Truth and Justice) Forum, the case has finally started moving forward. The Governor’s friend was removed from the cushy job and convicted – albeit conditionally. Too bad, but addresses to Putin don’t help to get rid of the Vdovin’s patron – Governor Vladimir Vladimirov.