Why did not kangaroo court ruling convince Primorsky Krai residents Vladivostok Mayor is guilty?
Vladivostok Mayor Igor Pushkarev was arrested on June 1, 2016. A year later, the former Mayor feels certain he will succeed in proving he is innocence. Meanwhile, observers point out details suggesting the last year case against him was bogus. Why do many Primorsky Krai residents believe the former Vladivostok Mayor fell victim to dirty politics?
June 1, 2017 marked exactly a year since Vladivostok Mayor Igor Pushkarev was arrested. He spent the years in pre-trial detention facility, only leaving it to go to court hearings, and only under police escort. However, Pushkarev keeps insisting he fell victim to dirty politics. “And I keep insisting I am innocent! I am going to prove it in court”, the former Vladivostok Mayor wrote on his Facebook page.
The criminal case against Pushkarev was opened on May 31, 2016. The Mayor was suspected of violating articles 290, part 6 (“Bribe-Taking on an Especially Large Scale”), 285, part 3 (“Abuse of Official Powers Entailing Grave Consequences”), 204, part 2, item “a” (“Bribery in a Profit-making Organisation Committed by a Group of Persons by Previous Concert, or by an Organised Group”) of the Russian Criminal Code. CEO of Dorogi Vladivostoka Andrey Lushnikov is the second defendant. Dorogi Vladivostoka is owned by Vladivostok. He was arrested the day after Pushkarev. He is accused of violating article 204, part 3 (“Bribery in a Profit-making Organisation”) of the Code. Lushnikov also spent the year in pre-trial detention facility.
The Dorogi Vladivostoka Public Company bought overpriced construction materials from the Vostoktsement Group of Companies in 2009-2014, according to investigators. Vostoktsement is owned by Pushkarev’s family. Andrey Pushkarev gave his brother Igor a 45 million ruble bribe in exchange for profitable contracts. Dorogi Vladivostoka suffered 158 million rubles in damages as a result. Moreover, Dorogi Vladivostoka ended up in more than 800 million rubles worth of debts as a result of working with the Pushkarev brothers.
Igor Pushkarev is also guilty of bribery in a profit-making organization, according to the investigators. He gave Lushnikov a 1.4 million ruble bribe for him to continue buying construction materials from Vostoktsement in the framework of implementation of municipal contracts for Vladivostor roads repair and maintenance.
All the incidents listed in the case file occurred in Vladivostok. That is why the local police expected the defendants to wait for trial there. However, both Pushkarev and Lushnikov were sent to Moscow immediately after being arrested for court to impose pre-trial restrictions on them. This meant Moscow and the Russian Investigative Committee were interested in their trial to be public. Another sign they were indeed interested in it was a video that appeared on the Internet and showed Pushkarev and Lushnikov handcuffed, with hands behind their backs, as if they were terrorists, led to an airplane by armed people in masks. The video immediately went viral on the Russian Internet.
The Basmanny District Court (Moscow) determined his pre-trial restrictions and sent him to pre-trial detention facility on the same day, June 2, 2016. The Court refused to release him on a 10 million ruble bail and place him under house arrested in his Moscow apartment, as his defense team asked. It ruled in favor of investigators who believed Pushkarev both wants and is able to flee abroad.
Lushnikov agreed to a plea bargain after being arrested. He testified against the Vladivostok Mayor. His testimonies are the basis of the investigators’ charges.
Pushkarev also said he was willing to cooperate with the investigators. However, he pleaded not guilty. The money transferred to his alleged accessory Lushnikov were not a bribe but Dorogi Vladivostoka CEO’s wage, according to the Mayor. Pushkarev’s attorney Aleksandr Visotsky immediately claimed the case against his client was politically motivated. The FSB had been spying on the Vladivostok Mayor since 2010, according to the attorney. It strived to prove he was involved with illegal activities. The local investigators instituted 4 inspections. However, they failed to find any reason to open a criminal case. That is why the Committee Main Department had to step in – to cancel “failed” rulings.
All Pushkarev’s accounts and property were arrested once the criminal case against him was opened, including an apartment in Gorki-2 (a Moscow Region village) and his Vladivostok house where he lived with his family. The Pushkarev brothers did not flee from the investigators and came to every questioning. It did not bother them the local media wrote they were going to go to jail soon. Nonetheless, the media was right. The Mayor’s brother Andrey Pushkarev was arrested on June 24, 2016. He was accused of violating articles 291, part 5 (“Bribe-Giving on an Especially Large Scale”) and 204, part 2, item “а” (“Bribery in a Profit-making Organisation Committed by a Group of Persons by Previous Concert, or by an Organised Group”) of the Code.
It was Andrey Pushkarev who, being the Vostoktsement CEO, would hand money over to Lushnikov through his brother, according to the investigators. In other words, all the money Igor Pushkarev transferred to the Dorogi Vladivostoka CEO between 2012 and 2014 belonged to Mayor Igor Pushkarev’s family member. This means Andrey Pushkarev paid Lushnikov 130-140 thousand rubles every month.
Andrey Pushkarev was sent to Moscow, too. However, the investigators did not insist court sent him to pre-trial detention facility when deciding what pre-trial restrictions to impose on him; he got injured with a firework when celebrating the 2015 New Year. He had undergone 22 surgeries by the time he was arrested. However, he still is not able to drink on his own and eat regular food. That is why court simply placed him under house arrested.
More than 10 hearings were held over a year in the framework of the trial. The latest one was held on May 25. The Moscow City Court ruled in favor of investigators who asked to leave Igor Pushkarev and Andrey Lushnikov in prison for another 3 months until September 1, 2017. “The exception was made and the defendants were left in pre-trial detention facility for more than a year due to high complexity of the criminal investigation arising from a large number of ongoing investigative and procedural activities and the need for the defendants and their defense teams to read through the case file”, according to the ruling.
Igor Pushkarev believes the investigation and reading of the case file are deliberately dragged out to remove him from politics for as long as possible without having any real proof of his guilt. The Vladivostok Mayor kept to the same defense strategy throughout all the hearings. Igor Pushkarev claims he did not “help” to bankrupt Dorogi Vladivostoka. In fact, it was the other way around – he tried to save it, especially considering how critical it is for preparation for the APEC 2017.
“Dorogi Vladivostoka had already run into 25 million rubles of debts to suppliers and was close to bankruptcy by the time I became the CEO. The company simply did not have money. At the same time, we had to repair pavement, parks, pockets parks, and embankments. How would I be able to get things done otherwise? Dorogi Vladivostoka, of course. Where construction materials came from, one may ask. I personally asked my family, my brother who is the Vostoktsement CEO, to sign a contract with me; a contract that would allow me to pay for construction materials later. There was only one contract that was signed in 2008 and stayed in effect until December 2015. There has never been a single instance of any Vostoktsement subsidiary demanding to pay the bills! Everyone understood Dorogi Vladivostoka did not have money. No one tried to accumulate a big debt to later collect it. Dorogi Vladivostoka only owns office appliances, technically speaking. The facility is being rented, equipment is owned by others public companies. This can be proved by the fact it is too late to file complains under several contracts of delivery of construction materials. Yet, the supplier did not file a lawsuit”, Igor Pushkarev claimed.
Moreover, the former Vladivostok Mayor reminded that Spassktsement shareholders wrote off almost 697 million rubles worth of Dorogi Vladivostoka’s debts from July to October of 2016. Vladivostoksky Butoshchebenochny Zavod, Triliton, and Drobilno-Sortirovochny Zavod did the same (247, 7.8, and 7.9 million rubles respectively).
“Vostoktsement has written off all Dorogi Vladivostoka’s debts. I do not understand what can be viewed as me abusing official power to promote Vostoktsement’s interests and harm Dorogi Vladivostoka. If I harmed someone, it was Vostoktsement whose shareholders viewed Dorogi Vladivostoka’s debts as their social responsibly. Vostoktsement did not pay me anything for Dorogi Vladivostoka doing business with them. They had nothing to pay me for; Vostoktsement suffered losses as a result of me doing business with them and did not make any profit from this cooperation”, Igor Pushkarev emphasized.
The Vladivostok Mayor kept to the same defense strategy throughout all the hearings, saying his case is politically motivated. Pushkarev got into trouble after he challenged the Primorsky Krai authorities and Governor Vladimir Miklushevsky appointed by Moscow, according to the former Mayor. For example, he opposed Primorsky Kanal privatization and suggested evaluating sensibility of the budget spending.
It is no coincidence the police went after him mere days after he won United Russia primaries and was elected into the Krai Legislative Assemble, according to Pushkarev. No one wanted an “inconvenient” politician to become an MP.
Another argument he uses to prove the case is politically motivated is the fact it was passed off as an arrest. The video with the police and plane was not the only piece of information fed to the media to damage the Vladivostok Mayor’s image. For example, pictures of a luxurious mansion with an impressive pool with a Jacuzzi, a helipad, etc. allegedly owned by Pushkarev appeared on the Internet almost immediately. Committee Office of Public Affairs Head at the time Vladimir Markin made the following statement: “Absence of oversight and control over Pushkarev and the degree to which he took his illegal activities can be summed up in just one fact: a helipad was built in the Khanka Lake water conservation zone with a single goal in mind - for Pushkarev to take time off there”.
The scandal drew attention away from the fact the luxurious mansion turned out to be Vostoktsement’s subsidiary Spassktsement’s recreational compound. The same goes for the helicopter that was supposed to expose how corrupt Pushkarev really is.
The investigators did not bother to look into the defendant and his defense team’s arguments even once. Court dismissed Igor Pushkarev in March. He was soon accused of taking a 75 million bribe from his brother Andrey Pushkarev, too. Andrey Pushkarev hired bodyguards for his brother and security guards for the mansion with the helicopter, according to sources close to the investigators, as quoted by kommersant.ru. Moreover, Andrey Pushkarev paid for installation of modern security systems in the mansion. Andrey Pushkarev paid his brother Igor Pushkarev for signing the contract with Dorogi Vladivostoka. Igor Pushkarev took the bribe from his brother directly as well as through his trusted people. The bribe was paid in money, real estate, other property, and illegal provision of property services totaling at 75 million rubles.
The new accusations against the Pushkarev brothers are the most serious ones. They are facing up to 6-7 billion ruble fine each. Moreover, they may be barred from holding certain offices and being nominated in elections for a very long time if convicted. This will make it effectively impossible for Igor Pushkarev to return to politics.
The Committee completed the investigation into the Pushkarev’s case on May 25. It handed him 100 volumes to read through. The former Mayor only managed to read through half of them so far. “The more I read the more I am amazed by how absurd the accusations against me are. The investigators kept saying the Vladivostok Administration is the victim for 10 months. Yet, they withdrew their own claims on March 30, 2017! They are insisting Dorogi Vladivostoka is the victim now. I wonder why that is, considering Dorogi Vladivostoka profited from Vostoktsement’s activities and paid 83 million rubles in taxes. And let’s not forget is does not have a single debt to either budgets or anyone else, as evident from the Russian Accounts Chamber data, tax inspections, and accounting reports. What damage are we even talking about? And do not even get me started on absurdity of the accusation of taking a bribe from my own brother! How is it even possible?” Igor Pushkarev said.
Andrey Lushnikov and Igor Pushkarev
Many Krai residents believe the dismissed Mayor will manage to follow through with his promise and prove he is innocent. However, it will only be possible if the trial is based on legal principles.
Political scientist Pavel Nalivayko doubts it is the case: “In private, everyone says the case is politically motivated and knows what role they have at this stage. But given the current trend, the trial will be taken to Vladivostok eventually. The defense team will be the same. It will be prepared. It will have studied the case file. It will be ready to fight until the end. Even local residents will be partially ready; Pushkarev supporters are already publishing experts’ comments on the case file. As for local investigators and prosecutors, they will have to work with what they have. And what they have does not hold up even now, during hearings in Moscow. Another question is will it be that simple? Will they be able to successfully ignore facts? And even if they can – what will it take?”
It is possible the European Court of Human Rights gets involved with Pushkarev’s case; the Mayor’s defense team appealed his arrest there. The European Court took up their application in January. However, no one has any idea when it be heard.
The story with the arrest of Igor Vainshtok, creator of famous bifidok, in absentia and his escape is pretty confusing. The company founded by him still remains the largest probiotics producer in Russia and generates multimillion profits – however, somehow it was declared bankrupt. An international warrant has been issued against Vainshtok for non-payment of salaries – while the businessman calls his prosecution an element of the raiding takeover of his company that was already recognized a raidership victim in the past. Concurrently, employees of Partner Joint Stock Company created by Vainshtok claim that he has stolen not only millions of rubles from the base bank of Roscosmos – but, more importantly, the bifidok inventorship. So, whom has Vainshtok fled from?
According to the head of the state-owned company, the Russian business “rebuilt the country,” “restored the collapsed Soviet enterprises,” “returned the salary to the people,” “filled the budget with money.”