Who could be interested in death of Deputy Health Minister of Tatarstan?
An ordinary corruption scandal suddenly turned into a criminal case raising numerous questions. The primary suspect, who hasn’t even been charged yet, died under mysterious circumstances a day before the questioning. A few days earlier, that suspect had publicly promised to collaborate with the investigation.
The body of Elena Shishmareva, Deputy Minister of Health of the Republic of Tatarstan, has been discovered by her son. A week earlier, operatives of the Administration for Combating Economic Crimes of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Republic of Tatarstan, jointly with the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation have searched her residence and office. The female official is suspected of swindling in the amount of 5 million rubles ($86.5 thousand). The criminal scheme was based on voluntary-compulsory career development courses – the medical institutions of the republic had to send their personnel to such courses otherwise facing a considerable reduction in financing, including slashing of funding for acquisition of medicines. The official had denied all allegations, and on February 3, 2018, the court has put her under home arrest. On November 7, Shishmareva was supposed to come to the investigator for questioning – but she did not show up. Her mobile phone was unavailable as well.
The body was found in the sauna of a country home in Stolbishchi village where Shishmareva used to live together with her son. Eight knife wounds in the neck, slashed carotid artery, blooded kitchen knife... The preliminary version of the death is suicide – although no suicide note was found. People close to her say that Elena Shishmareva was lately depressed and two days before the incident had asked her son to forgive her “for that situation”.
Home of Elena Shishmareva in Stolbishchi village where her body was found. Photo: Vechernyaya Kazan
Currently the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) is carrying out a pre-investigation probe into the death of the high-ranked official. Foul play has been ruled out for now. The main argument is that no traces of other people were found on the scene – the investigation believes that at the time of suicide (12–1 p.m.), Shishmareva was at home alone. However, the brutal manner of the suicide has already sparked numerous questions. For instance, why has the detained official chosen knife to take her life – despite the presence of numerous painless ways to commit suicide? People familiar with her unanimously state that Shishmareva was a calm, well-balanced, and reasonable person; such an outrageous death is not consistent with her temper and rather seems a murder disguised under suicide.
According to relatives who had communicated with forensic experts on the scene, there are several inconsistencies in the suicide version. The body was found near the bench in the sauna, while the pool of blood was near the shelf – more than one meter from the body. The knife was also found away from the body. The number of stabs (eight!) seems strange as well – although experts claim that such suicides are known to the forensic medicine. Allegedly, people lose the self-preservation instinct after one–two stabs and continue stabbing themselves until they hit a vital organ or bleed out.
Elena Shishmareva in court. Photo: Business Online
Still, this explanation seems far-fetched – but otherwise the investigation has to admit that a person who ‘knew too much’ was killed under its very nose. No one has doubts that Elena Shishmareva knew a lot. “I am the most interested person to explain my actions and decisions to the investigation. I am ready to collaborate,” – she said in court. Now people say that the swindling episode pertaining to the career development courses may become a starting point for a whole bunch of corruption cases involving the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Tatarstan. The deputy minister possessed complete information about financial flows in the agency. Therefore, the question is: was the death of Shishmareva caused by the pressure put on her by the investigation in order to obtain required information and testimonies against her superiors, or somebody was unhappy with the willingness of Shishmareva to share all the information known to her with the investigation
52-year-old Elena Shishmareva had an economic education – in 1987 she has graduated from the Kazan State Finance and Economics Institute and started working as a Senior Accountant in the Centralized Accounting Department of the Republican Clinical Hospital. Since 1994 – the Accountant General of the Republican Clinical Hospital. Since 2003 – the Head of the Planning and Economic Department of Tattekhmedfarm State Unitary Enterprise. Since 2005 – the First Executive Deputy Director for Economic Issues of the Compulsory Medical Insurance Fund State Enterprise. In May 2011, has been appointed a Deputy Minister of Health of the Republic of Tatarstan. Had supervised the government medical benefits scheme and program “Healthcare Development in the Republic of Tatarstan until 2020”. Her achievements in the Ministry of Health include salary hikes for the medical personnel and participation in the Friendly Polyclinic Project.
The fraud scheme that has ruined the career of Elena Shishmareva and ultimately claimed her life had worked as follows. According to the Republican Investigations Directorate of the ICR, in 2015–2017, being a Deputy Minister of Health, the official had exceeded her official powers and, acting for mercenary reasons, literally forced heads of subordinate medical and preventive treatment institutions to sign contracts with Progress Institute, send their accountants and economists to take career development courses there, and promptly pay for their training. The organization to deliver the training courses was chosen for a reason – Elena Fakhrutdinova, a friend of Shishmareva, was in charge of it. In total, 374 contracts worth 8.721 million rubles ($150.9 thousand) have been signed for friendship's sake in three years. The cost of training for one specialist was some 42 thousand rubles ($726), which is way too high. The ICR and Administration for Economic Security and Combating the Corruption of the MIA for the Republic of Tatarstan believe that a large portion of these funds – the supposed difference between the real cost and overcharged prices in the amount of 5.159 million ($89.3 thousand) – has been siphoned off under fictitious contracts to individual entrepreneur Fakhrutdinova for further cashing-out. Not all accounts belonging to Fakhrutdinova have been identified yet.
46-year-old Elena Fakhrutdinova is an individual entrepreneur since 2007; she specializes in construction business services and provides intermediary services to Progress Institute for Continuing Education by signing contracts for methodological support of educational process. She is known in the academic community as a Doctor of Economics and Professor at the Human Resource Management Department of the Institute of Management, Economics and Finance of the Kazan Federal University. Fakhrutdinova has economic and legal diplomas as well as 23 years of academic experience.
It is necessary to note that the above courses were not the first governmental contracts awarded to Elena Fakhrutdinova by the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Tatarstan. In 2016, her individual enterprise had acted as a contractor for the regional forensic medical examination bureau. The rendered services included the preparation and delivery of theoretical classes “Economic analysis of financial and economic activities of an enterprise” for the personnel and delivery of theoretical and practical studies on accounting record-keeping in governmental and municipal institutions for the bureau personnel. The total cost of the two contracts was 82.2 thousand rubles ($1.4 thousand) and, unlike the situation with Progress, it hasn’t raised any questions.
Entrepreneur Elena Fakhrutdinova, a friend of Elena Shishmareva. Photo: Business Online
The personnel and management of the education institution have confirmed that they were surprised with a large volume of training programs delivered to the Ministry of Health. Accountant generals had to be away from office for 100 hours and more, while accountants – for 80 hours. On one hand, this professional training was necessary – the Russian federal standard and legislation require all the accountants to confirm their qualification by 2020, while their employers have either to pay for the training or reimburse costs incurred by the employees. But in that particular case, the people were trained literally ‘under the lash’. Their reluctance to receive training had a simple explanation: training topics were often unrelated to the real work – for instance, people specializing in payroll had to listen to lectures about material equipment. Still, Progress Institute for Continuing Education Autonomous Noncommercial Organization had never experienced a shortage of trainees because Elena Shishmareva had directly lobbied its interests. The deputy minister was responsible for budgeting funds allocated for medical institutions of Tatarstan. Using her official capacity, she made it perfectly clear for the management of all republican medical institutions: in order to get her endorsement for acquisition of medicines and equipment required for hospitals and further budget funding without any issues, the institutions must send their accountants on training courses on a regular and prepaid basis. Those who fail to do so won’t get her endorsement even for the essential limit of medicines. Therefore, the republican clinics had no choice but to spend significant money on training of their accounting personnel on a regular basis.
Elena Shishmareva in court. Photo: Business Online
The public displeasure with pointless expensive courses had to be unleashed at some point. All attempts of medical institutions to clarify with the Ministry of Health and Progress Institute for Continuing Education when this ‘budget extortion’ is about to end were in vain. And in the end of 2017, an anonymous complaint has been submitted to the investigative authorities. On February 1, 2017, after a number of probes, the Investigations Directorate in the Republic of Tatarstan of the ICR has instituted a criminal case against unidentified personnel of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Tatarstan suspected of swindling on an especially large scale and exceeding official powers. Searches were performed in the ministry. The state has been recognized the victim. On the same day, Elena Shishmareva, Deputy Minister of Health of the Republic of Tatarstan, has been questioned. After the questioning, the investigation has arrested her as a suspect. However, no charges were laid against the official yet – the investigators had intended to charge her with embezzlement of almost 5 million rubles ($86.5 thousand) from subordinate medical institutions.
According to sources, a chat in Telegram messenger has failed the deputy minister. This closed chat was entitled "Corporate Healthcare" and its members were accountant generals of republican clinics.
The online community was used not only for communication and experience exchange. Shishmareva had published on a regular basis the following message: “Dear colleagues! Pursuant to the governmental decree, career development courses are held for personnel of economic departments and accountants of medical and preventive treatment institutions”. The messages had specified the conditions of participation in the training seminars – an institution had to send two–three employees to a private education center – and provided the cost of these seminars. The courses were delivered by two organizations: Mir Nauki (World of Science) Publishing House Limited Liability Company and Progress Institute for Continuing Education Autonomous Noncommercial Organization. According to Focus.kontur.ru, both organizations have the same legal address: 24 Vishnevskogo street, Kazan. The director of both companies is Vyacheslav Soloviev, while their owner is Elena Korochkina. The total income of the organizations for the year of 2017 was 10.3 million rubles ($178.2 thousand). According to The CrimeRussia source, operatives of the MIA Administration for Combating Economic Crimes have searched offices of these companies. Interestingly, the work records of both organizations have no references to any governmental contracts, at least, published ones (governmental customers can make acquisitions up to 100 thousand rubles ($1.7 thousand) on a sole-source basis and without publication). Progress Institute for Continuing Education had participated in two public tenders: training for the personnel of the Ministry of Labor of the Republic of Tatarstan worth 184 thousand rubles ($3.2 thousand) in 2015; and short-term career development courses for the Kazan-based Center for Support of Operations of the Treasury of Russia Federal Budgetary Institution worth 30.1 thousand rubles ($520) in 2017. However, the contracts were awarded to other bidders. Korochkina is also the sole proprietor of PRO100PROFI Limited Liability Company specializing in supplementary education of children and adults and having income less that 1 million rubles ($17.3 thousand) and Profstandart Limited Liability Company having a loss of 7 thousand rubles ($121) at year-end 2017. The operatives of the MIA Administration for Combating Economic Crimes have found out that Progress, Mir Nauki, and individual entrepreneur Fakhrutdinova are affiliated with the Deputy Minister of Health – although the details of their ties remain unknown yet. Supposedly, all the contracts to hold training seminars were signed and paid via the company of Fakhrutdinova. Fakhrutdinova claims that she had never managed Progress directly and only acted as a contractual partner in this scheme.
Elena Fakhrutdinova in court. Photo: Business Online
The investigation believes that the budget funds were allocated for the personnel training and then ended up on accounts of individual entrepreneur Fakhrutdinova. Therefore, in three years, Elena Shishmareva and Elena Fakhrutdinova have siphoned off 5.1 million rubles ($88.2 thousand) from the budget. It can’t be ruled out that not only Shishmareva was involved into this scheme, but other Ministry of Health officials as well. The investigation of this case has just begun. Of course, the sudden death of the main suspect may delay the investigation considerably. By the way, immediately after the death of Elena Shishmareva, it was reported that her direct superior Adel Vafin, Minister of Health of the Republic of Tatarstan, has been dismissed. But later the Press Service of the President of Tatarstan has refuted this information. Not all people trust the refutation though. In mid-January 2017, a similar situation had arisen with regards to the resignation of Artem Zdunov, Minister of Economy of the Republic of Tatarstan. It was reported that Zdunov relocates to Daghestan to become its Prime Minister. The Press Service of the Ministry of Economy had initially refuted this – but almost three weeks later, Zdunov has resigned and was appointed the Prime Minister of Daghestan.
Adel Vafin, Minister of Health of the Republic of Tatarstan. Photo: Tatar-Inform
Sources believe that the episode pertaining to the training of accountants is not the last one in the investigation ongoing in the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Tatarstan. In late 2017, auditors of the Kazan Kremlin, prosecutors, and operatives of the MIA Administration for Combating Economic Crimes had already worked in the ministry. No public announcement were made yet about exposed conflicts of interest and governmental contracts awarded to companies affiliated with the ministry management. However, in January 2017, the media wrote about a pretty interesting tender held on a sole-source basis. A governmental contract worth over 10.14 million rubles ($175.4 thousand) was signed with the Kazan (Volga Region) Federal University to carry out an education internship entitled “Healthcare system management through the example of the Republic of Singapore” for the republican senior executives. The customer is the Tatarstan Education Development Institute State Autonomous Continued Professional Education Institution – a subsidiary of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Tatarstan. The contract has been signed on the basis of the agreement of the parties and an Ordinance of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Tatarstan of January 12, 2018 (the document can’t be found on the official web site of the Tatarstan Government or in the regional regulatory database). Out of the total contract cost, over 1.88 million rubles ($32.5 thousand) were allocated for the round trip to Singapore for 19 participants. It is necessary to note that such costly internships at the budget expense are not unusual in Tatarstan. In September 2017, the republican medics had studied the best world practices at an international conference “Global Quality Standards: From Idea to Practice—The Mayo Clinic Experience”. The customer was the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Tatarstan; the republican budget has paid over 7 million rubles ($121.1 thousand) for that conference.
In December 2017, Ivan Gushchin, Deputy Head of the Executive Office of the Head of the Republic of Tatarstan for Anti-Corruption Policies, said that the Ministry of Health was among the most corrupt in the republic. Some chief physicians are concurrently heads of medical organizations and have conflict of interest, while the Human Resources Department of the Ministry “does not bother to carry out a check”. 45% of the Tatarstan residents have reported corruption among the doctors and health care workers in 2017, while 10.7% of the population claim that the medical personnel must be ‘rewarded’ for everything. In late January 2017, another scandal has erupted in the republican health care system – ambulance personnel held a protest rally due to massive embezzlements in the emergency response service.
Memorial service. Photo: Business Online
In the light of the above, the question arises again: what information could late Elena Shishmareva – who was in charge of all the financial flows in the Ministry of Health – provide to the investigation?
And who could be interested to silence her?
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