Viktor Yakovlev, ex-Minister of Housing Services and Utilities in Astrakhan Region, built water supply system on paper
Corruption scandals shake the Government in the Astrakhan Region on a regular basis. This spring, Ekaterina Lukianenko, the ex-Minister of Social Development and Labor in the Astrakhan Region, was found guilty of bribe-taking. A new scandal has erupted in fall – Viktor Yakovlev, the Vice Premier of the Government in the Astrakhan Region for Life Supporting Infrastructure and Environmental Security, was placed under investigation. The official is suspected of exceeding official powers during the implementation of the Clean Water governmental program.
Many experts link the close attention of law enforcement authorities to the Government in the Astrakhan Region with the ongoing struggle for power within the regional political elite. Both Lukianenko and Yakovlev – as well as other officials accused of corruption crimes in the last two–three years – are members of the team of the Governor Aleksander Zhilkin. Every time the Head of the Astrakhan Region distances himself from former teammates placed under investigation, he loses his political weight.
The richest Minister
A few years ago Viktor Yakovlev was unofficially named the richest Minister in the Astrakhan region. Rumors circulated that the civil servant wears Tourbillon watch worth $100 thousand. However, the official has refuted all such assertions in an interview to the local Fakt i Kompromat (Fact and Blackmail Materials) web portal as well as information about kickbacks allegedly received by some superior officials of the housing and utility sector from contractors.
According to the income declaration posted on the web site of the Astrakhan Regional Government, Viktor Yakovlev has earned 1.8 million rubles in 2015 and owns a home with the living space of 360 square meters and a Ford Explorer, while his spouse earned 8.7 million rubles and owns a Cadillac SRX. This is in addition to several land lots and other real properties.
Viktor Yakovlev has been employed with governmental authorities since 2006; earlier he was a Principal General of Astrvodokanal Municipal Unitary Enterprise. He worked as the Deputy Mayor in Astrakhan for Housing Services and Utilities up until 2008 and then has transferred to the regional government. In the period of 2009–2015, the official was the Minister of the Housing Services and Utilities in the Astrakhan Region. The next step in his career was the position of the Vice Premier of the Government in the Astrakhan Region for Life Supporting Infrastructure and Environmental Security.
Publications about a criminal case initiated against the official were a total surprise for most people living in the region. Viktor Yakovlev was charged under part 2 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Exceeding Official Powers). On September 28, 2016, searches have been performed by the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) in his current office, in the Ministry of the Housing Services and Utilities in the Astrakhan Region where he used to work before, and in the regional office of the Building Inspection Service.
It is necessary to note that, while being the Minister of the Housing Services and Utilities, Viktor Yakovlev had admitted the need for strict control over his Ministry by watchdog agencies and enforcement structures.
“This control sanitizes the work of the Ministry, disciplines us, and makes us more accurate. The number of errors and violations has been reduced thanks to this,” – said Viktor Yakovlev in his interview to Punkt-a.info web portal.
Apparently, at that time, law enforcement authorities had no solid reasons to initiate a criminal case against the Minister – but now they definitely have some.
Why a criminal case?
The criminal case against the Astrakhan official is related to his activities at the previous workplace. Being the Minister of the Housing Services and Utilities, Viktor Yakovlev used to supervise the implementation of the Clean Water governmental program in the region in the period of 2010–2014 and the perspective plan until 2017, which was approved by a Decree of the Regional Government № 258-P of June 21, 2010.
The total cost of the program was over 16 billion 653 million rubles; out of this amount, over 7 billion rubles had been provided by the federal budget. A large-scale project to supply residents of rural settlements in the Astrakhan region with drinking water had been developed. It included construction of water mains and sewage treatment facilities, upgrade of water-pumping stations, and improvement of hydrotechnical facilities and sewage systems.
Although the City of Astrakhan is located on the Volga River, the water supply issue is critical for many residents of the region. In most settlements, water distribution networks were built in the Soviet period and are very worn-out by now. A separate problem is water supply in the western zone of steppe lakes where rural settlements of the Ikryanoe, Narimanov, and Liman districts are located. Residents of this zone are dependant on the spring flood: in spring the Volga River fills the isolated steppe lakes with water. Should the floodwater level be low, a drought is inevitable.
The Clean Water program was supposed to resolve the water supply issue in rural settlements of the Astrakhan region, but it has been implemented mostly on paper. Still, this did not prevent the local officials from using the budget funds in full.
According to Kaspyinfo.ru web portal, Viktor Yakovlev is suspected of exceeding official powers during the implementation of a governmental contract for the total amount of 21 million rubles. According to the investigation, back in 2013 the official had signed a work completion certificate for reconstruction of sewage treatment facilities in Ikryanoe settlement – although nothing was actually done. The contractor, Kanalvodstroy Production Commercial Firm Limited Liability Company, has received the payment from the budget. By the way, Pavel Grigorshev, the General Director of this company and the former Deputy of the Astrakhan Regional Duma, is currently a suspect in criminal case related to swindling on a large scale.
The reconstruction of sewage treatment facilities in Ikryanoe settlement was the rock on which the former Minister of Housing Services and Utilities in the Astrakhan Region had stumbled. There is a glaring contradiction between the official reports and harsh reality.
On January 6, 2014 the web site of the Astrakhan Regional Government has optimistically reported the progress in the Clean Water program implementation. In particular, it stated that the first stage of the project to reconstruct sewage treatment facilities in Ikryanoe settlement at the cost of 22.5 million rubles is ongoing to ensure continuous water supply for 10,343 people.
This publication looked weird, taking that the work completion certificate for this project had been signed by Viktor Yakovlev back in 2013. According to the documents, the sewage treatment facilities have been already reconstructed, and the contractor received the payment.
In fact, no works had been done – neither in 2013, nor in 2014. Ikryanoe is still lacking sewage treatment facilities – although Viktor Yakovlev, then-Minister of Housing Services and Utilities, has paid 21 million rubles of budget funds to Kanalvodstroy for their reconstruction.
Pavel Grigorshev has failed Viktor Yakovlev
Pavel Grigorshev, the General Director of Kanalvodstroy Production Commercial Firm Limited Liability Company and concurrently the Deputy of the Astrakhan Regional Duma, is a very special person. Currently he is a suspect in several criminal cases. His troubles started in 2015, when three his subordinates and a business partner – Alla Sokolova, the General Director of Consulting+ Limited Liability Company – had accused him of swindling.
According to the Regional Prosecutor’s Office, Pavel Grigorshev was found guilty under part 3 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Swindling committed by a person through his official position). It was proven in court that in September 2010, the Deputy of the Astrakhan Regional Duma has convinced three employees of his company to take personal credits for the total of almost 2.1 million rubles and promised to pay out the loans personally. Then Grigorshev spent the money and never repaid the loans. In July 2015 he was sentenced to 4 years in a general regime penal colony.
Pavel Grigorshev, the Deputy of the Astrakhan Regional Duma
Alla Sokolova, the General Director of Consulting+ Limited Liability Company, is another victim of Pavel Grigorshev. Operatives of the ICR have found that in September 2012, the business lady had addressed the colleague asking to assist in the installation of a new water tower, which was stored disassembled in Sokrutovka village of the Akhtuba district. The business partner has deceived the woman claiming that the tower must be first transported to the production facility of Kanalvodstroy Production Commercial Firm Limited Liability Company for assembling. After the transportation, the businessman has appropriated the tower.
In order to conceal his crime, Pavel Grigorshev has brought to Sokrutovka another non-functional hydrotechnical facility. Overall, Consulting+ Limited Liability Company has sustained damages for the amount over 670 thousand rubles.
This year, another criminal case has been initiated against Pavel Grigorshev under part 4 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Swindling on an especially large scale).
The law enforcement authorities believe that in December 2013, Pavel Grigorshev has forged work acceptance certificates and cost reports and received, on the basis of those, over 4.9 million rubles from the budget of the Astrakhan region. The funds were allocated for a governmental contract – Kanalvodstroy was supposed to build a water-pumping station, but failed to fulfil its obligations. However, similarly with the reconstruction of sewage treatment facilities in Ikryanoe, the Ministry of Housing Services and Utilities in the Astrakhan Region has paid the contracted amount.
In addition to this episode, ICR operatives have uncovered other machinations with budget funds allocated for the Clean Water program and ultimately came to Viktor Yakovlev, the former Minister of Housing Services and Utilities of the Astrakhan Region. It can not be ruled out that Pavel Grigorshev, being a suspect in three swindling criminal cases, started testifying against high-ranked kleptocrats in the regional Government. The businessman could either be promised a lighter sentence, or he might not be willing to accept a sole responsibility for all the wrongdoings. One way or another, but it was Pavel Grigorshev who has got Viktor Yakovlev into trouble.
It is necessary to note that the son of the General Director of Kanalvodstroy Production Commercial Firm Limited Liability Company has also recently become a suspect in a corruption criminal case. Being a deputy of the Astrakhan Regional Duma, Pavel Grigorshev junior was charged under item (b), part 3 of Article 291.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Mediation in bribery effected on a large scale).
The investigators have determined that on March 24, 2016, Natalia Yakusheva, thebHead of the Administration in the Leninsky District of Astrakhan, had received from a local businessman a bribe in the amount of 300 thousand rubles for a permission to install a non-stationary car wash in the Babaevsky neighborhood. Pavel Grigorshev junior acted as an intermediary between the businessman and the official. Both himself and Natalia Yakusheva have been arrested red-handed by the Regional Directorate of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation during the transfer of money.
It is quite possible that the General Director of Kanalvodstroy started actively collaborating with the investigation after the arrest of his son.
So far, there were no official announcements of Viktor Yakovlev’s resignation or removal from his post due to the criminal case. The Vice Premier continues performing his duties in the Astrakhan Regional Government as usually. For example, on October 4–6, 2016 he is planning to be in charge of a staff training in civil defense.
The Governor Aleksander Zhilkin and Viktor Yakovlev
The announcement about the criminal case against the Vice Premier of the Astrakhan Regional Government has been made after the elections. Apparently, the law enforcement authorities were holding this information to avoid damaging the positions of Edinaya Rossia (the United Russia) Party in the region – because every corruption accusation against a high-ranked official diminishes the public trust to this party.
Viktor Yakovlev joined the team of the Governor Aleksander Zhilkin in 2008. There was a lengthy and bitter struggle for spheres of influence between the head of the region and Sergey Bozhenov, the Mayor of Astrakhan in the period of 2004–2011. Yakovlev, then-member of the City Administration responsible for the housing and utility sector, was unable to come to an understanding with his boss and decided to side with Zhilkin.
Recently Ekaterina Lukianenko, the ex-Minister of Social Development and Labor in the Astrakhan Region, was found guilty under part 6 of Article 290 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Bribe-Taking by a functionary on an especially large scale) and sentenced to 4 years in a general regime penal colony and fine of 52 million rubles.
On June 4, 2015, the Kirovsky District Court of Astrakhan has closed a criminal case against Ivan Nesterenko, the ex-Minister of Agriculture of the Astrakhan Region, due to the expiry of the period of limitation. The high-ranked official was accused of negligence that caused damages of 30 million rubles to the state budget. The investigators started looking into activities of the former Minister because of machinations with state subsidies for Astrakhancky Product Open Joint Stock Company, which was later privatized.
The following people have lost their positions in the Astrakhan Regional Government following anti-corruption inquiries: Viktor Chalov, the Minister of Health; Nina Popova, the Head of the Agency for State Property Management in the Astrakhan Region; and Irina Tarasova, the Minister of Culture, whose spending of budget funds on restoration of historical and architectural monuments raised questions from law enforcement authorities.
Viktor Yakovlev is not the first nor the last official who has attracted the attention of watchdog agencies by similar machinations.
Apparently, the regional law enforcement structures are steadily tightening the noose around the Governor of the Astrakhan Region by charging with corruption more and more high-ranked officials from his inner circle.
After the arrests of ministers and billionaires, the business elite has understood – no one is invulnerable in Russia anymore. Recently industrial giant Power Machines Open Joint Stock Company has been shaken – the surprising arrest of its General Director by the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation amid the escalating international ‘turbine’ scandal has resulted in a criminal case and high-profile resignation.
The Moscow lawyer filed a lawsuit asking the Ministry to explain on what grounds parliamentarians are being paid colossal amounts, while the majority of Russian pensioners "drag out a half-subsistence existence."