Why Gray Eminence Gennady Didenko has quietly left Astrakhan City Hall?
Some officials are almost unknown to the general public. They never pose to TV cameras or make bold political statements. But they hold their positions regardless of election results and do not care of any administrative reforms. Sometimes they are called ‘Gray Eminences’. Resignations of such people often remain unnoticed – despite their significant implications. Recently Gennady Didenko, Vice Mayor of Astrakhan for Housing and Public Utilities, has voluntarily resigned from his post – an invincible official who couldn’t be dismissed even after a criminal conviction. In 2013 he was found guilty of corruption, but continued to manage the municipal communal services, despite protests from law enforcement authorities. So why has the civil servant left his lofty perch now?
Look who has left
Gennady Didenko is a professional manager. His whole past career was linked with the Astrakhan City Hall – widely known for its numerous corruption scandals.
The official, who had managed the municipal housing and public utilities system for so many years, was born in 1963 in Kamardan village of the Krasnoyarsk district of the Astrakhan region. Didenko has graduated from the Astrakhan State Technical University with a major in Heat Power Engineering, he is a chartered engineer. Being a municipal official, he received second higher education on the Faculty of Finances and Credit of the Volgograd Academy of State Service.
The career of the civil servant has been developing successfully: he worked in the Administration of the Kirovsky District of Astrakhan for 12 years and came up through the ranks to become the First Deputy Head of the District Administration. In January 2010 Sergey Bozhenov, then-Mayor of Astrakhan, appointed Gennady Didenko the Head of the Housing and Communal Services of the regional capital. The civil servant was in good books, respected by colleagues, and considered a true professional. Therefore, after the resignation of Bozhenov in 2011, Didenko has retained the position of the Vice Mayor for Housing and Public Utilities.
In March 2012 Mikhail Stolyarov was elected the Mayor of Astrakhan. Shortly after this, the municipal administration has been rumbled by corruption scandals that affected the Head of the Housing and Communal Services as well. On May 17, 2013 the Kirovsky District Court of Astrakhan found Gennady Didenko guilty under part 1 of Article 286 (Abuse of Official Powers) and part 1 of Article 293 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Neglect of Duty).
The sentence was pretty mild: a conditional 1.5 year term and fine of 100 thousand rubles. He was not even prohibited from holding municipal posts.
Despite the criminal record, Didenko continued managing the housing and communal services of the city – which was pretty normal for the Astrakhan City Hall. On November 13, 2013 the Mayor Mikhail Stolyarov was arrested for a corruption crime. Inevitable personnel reshuffles started again; four Vice Mayors, including Gennady Didenko, lost their jobs. But soon he returned to the same post and even strengthened his positions: in addition to the housing and communal services, since July 2014, the official has also began managing such lucrative spheres as construction and architecture, land and property matters, and urban amenities in Astrakhan. By the way, in 2015 Didenko appointed his daughter, Lina Kurilova, the Director of Zeleny Gorod (Green City) Municipal Budgetary Institution.
The official was holding tight the whole municipal economy; he was a true Gray Eminence. Therefore, a brief notice of his voluntary resignation posted on the official web-site of the City Hall was a total surprise for many Astrakhan residents. Viktor Korzhenko, former Head of the Department for Communal Economy and Urban Amenities of the City Administration, was appointed the Acting Vice Mayor.
According to Astrakhan-24 TV Channel, Gennady Didenko has already started a new job in the Regional Rescue and Fire Control Service (Volgospas) State Budgetary Institution.
What he was convicted for?
The criminal case involving Gennady Didenko was based on a pretty ordinary corruption episode: a contractor received budget funds, but has not performed the contracted works properly and in full.
According to the Astrakhan Prosecutor’s Office, the judgement of conviction against the Astrakhan Vice Mayor has come into effect on September 13, 2013. The court has found that the neglect of duty and exceeding of official powers by Didenko have resulted in considerable damages to the municipal budget. The law enforcement authorities failed to secure his dismissal from the City Hall – although the Prosecutor’s Office had inquired into the legitimacy of keeping a person convicted for a corruption crime on a senior municipal position.
According to the investigation, Didenko used to control spending of budget funds in the framework of the Program Capital Renovation of Apartment Buildings in Astrakhan in 2009. It was found that the Building and Construction Department № 9 (SMU-9) Open Joint Stock Company, which was making a capital renovation of the building located at 8 Lenina square, has not fulfilled its contract obligations in full. The residents were unhappy with the quality of works as well. However, the Vice Mayor has signed the acceptance certificate, and the company received over 4,324,000 rubles from the municipal budget.
The contract included repairs of the heating system, cold water supply, roof, electric wiring, and basement. SMU-9, being a contractor, performed the job with obvious defects. After numerous complaints from the residents to all instances, an independent expert assessment has concluded that the construction company was paid from the budget for work that hadn’t been performed properly.
Corrupt Mayor’s Office
The Astrakhan City Hall is an inexhaustible source of corruption scandals. The direct superior of Gennady Didenko and one of his subordinates have been prosecuted on various occasions as well.
Mikhail Stolyarov, the ex-Mayor of Astrakhan, in court
A high-profile criminal case against Mikhail Stolyarov, the ex-Mayor of Astrakhan, was widely publicized in media. Stolyarov was sentenced to nine years in a general regime penal colony and fine of 500 million rubles. It has been proven in court that Stolyarov was extorting a bribe of 10 million rubles from a businessman for allocation of land for crematorium construction. The ex-Mayor is currently serving his term in the Astrakhan Penal Colony № 6. The final verdict in this case was delivered in the cassational instance of the Astrakhan Regional Court on December 25, 2014.
On March 5, 2013 Andrey Kovalev, the Head of the Department for Communal Economy and Urban Amenities of the City Administration, was arrested while receiving a bribe. According to the Prosecutor’s Office, in May–June 2012 the official demanded directors of three commercial companies – winners of municipal contracts to repair asphalt-concrete pavement on the city streets – to give him 10% of the contracted amounts. One of the directors was not willing to pay such a kickback and addressed law enforcement authorities. Andrey Kovalev was arrested in his office during a special operation, while accepting a bribe of 450 thousand rubles.
According to the investigation, the total amount received by the official from the three contractors was 5 million rubles. The Kirovsky District Court of Astrakhan found the Head of the Department for Communal Economy and Urban Amenities of the City Administration guilty under part 3 of Article 30 (Attempted Crime) and parts 2 and 4 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Swindling on an especially large scale committed by a person through his official position). The official was sentenced to four years in a general regime penal colony and prohibited from holding positions in governmental authorities for three years.
Mikhail Stolyarov was the direct boss of Gennady Didenko, while Andrey Kovalev was his direct subordinate. It is unlikely that the Vice Mayor was unaware of machinations performed by his colleagues.
Like father, like daughter
The daughter of Gennady Didenko was appointed the Director of Zeleny Gorod (Green City) Municipal Budgetary Institution in the end of May 2015. According to an official announcement posted on the City Hall web-site, Lina Kurilova was the winner of a special competition to fill this vacancy.
Lina Kurilova (photo from a personal page on Facebook)
Initially the career of the daughter of the Gray Eminence has been developing successfully. This spring the young Director briskly reported to Oleg Polumordvinov, the Head of the Administration of the Municipal Unit the City of Astrakhan, that over one million flowers will be planted in the regional capital. It was planned to improve the city and make it green through the effective use of budget funds and greenhouse development. Lina Kurilova noted that the new design of flower arrangements in the city parks includes continuous flower planting during the whole spring–summer period.
However, in June 2016 the affairs of the young official took on an ugly look. According to Astrakhanskie Novosti (Astrakhan News) agency, a criminal case against the daughter of Gennady Didenko was initiated under part 1 of Article 285 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Abuse of Official Powers). According to preliminary findings of the investigation, Lina Kurilova’s machinations with an autohydraulic hoist rent contract resulted in damages to the municipal budget for 579 thousand rubles.
The investigation of this criminal case is ongoing, and officially Lina Kurilova still remains the Director of Zeleny Gorod Municipal Budgetary Institution. But most probably she would leave the ranks of municipal officials soon – following the steps of her father.
Rescue of the daughter or intrigues of enemies?
The resignation of Gennady Didenko is not an ordinary event for Astrakhan. It is hoped that a whole epoch – when virtually all spheres of the municipal economy were affected by corruption – would be left behind together with him. This official was the real puppet master in the City Hall, he ruled everything – while remaining in the shadow. He used to control all the levers of power; nothing could be done in the regional capital without his involvement.
Local political experts provide several different versions of Gennady Didenko’s resignation: from intrigues of serpentine enviers and struggle between clans to family issues.
Version № 1 – Political
As it is known, elections to the State Duma of the Russian Federation will be carried out on September 18, 2016. In anticipation of this event, the leader of Edinaya Rossia (the United Russia) Party could decide to purge the party ranks and remove most scandalous figures – and Gennady Didenko, convicted for a corruption crime, was one of those. Therefore, he could be told from above to resign quietly from his position.
Version № 2 – Corruption
In summer 2016 an independent commission has checked results of capital renovations in 14 apartment buildings of Astrakhan. Representatives of all stakeholders, together with contractors and experts from the Federal Environmental, Industrial, and Nuclear Supervision Service of Russia (Rostechnadzor) have inspected the buildings and spoken with residents. Apparently, not all people were happy with the quality and quantity of the performed works.
There is a speculation that Gennady Didenko decided to resign due to the past criminal case related to capital renovations in the building № 8, when he was convicted for neglect of duty and exceeding official powers. He just did not want to get into an unpleasant situation again.
Version № 3 – Family
It is quite possible that the resignation of the Gray Eminence is linked with the criminal case against Lina Kurilova. To save his child from prosecution, Gennady Didenko could promise the right person to resign in exchange for leaving his daughter alone.
Version № 4 – Nomenclature
The performance of the Vice Mayor of Astrakhan for Housing and Public Utilities had been criticized by regional authorities more than once. For example, Aleksander Zhilkin, the current Governor of the Astrakhan Region, had expressed his dissatisfaction with Gennady Didenko. According to RIA Astrakhan-Online, the Governor has accused the high-ranked municipal official of “multiyear idleness and slapdash attitude towards the housing and communal services of the city”.
Zhilkin and Gennady Didenko (on the right)
The incident was related to old wooden piles on Astrakhan quays: funds had been allocated to remove those, but the works have not commenced for several years.
There is also a speculation that Gennady Didenko was unable to come to terms with Oleg Polumordvinov, the new Head of the Administration of the Municipal Unit ‘he City of Astrakhan, who represents the Zhilkin’s team. Prior to the current appointment, Polumordvinov was Deputy Head of the Regional Government for Life Support Systems and Environmental Security.
It can not be ruled out that all the versions listed above have contributed to the resignation of Gennady Didenko. Architecture and urban development, property matters, allocation of lands, improvement of the city streets, housing and communal services – all these are really juicy pieces of pie, and different clans of civil servants are struggling fiercely for control over them. Ultimately, it turned out that the only soft spot of the influential Vice Mayor – whose career couldn’t be affected even by a criminal conviction – was his care about the daughter.
It is to be hoped that the overall situation with corruption in the Astrakhan City Hall would improve after the resignation of Gennady Didenko.