Abkhazia: $15.2m-embezzlement suspected in solar batteries project

Abkhazia: $15.2m-embezzlement suspected in solar batteries project
Photo: Kommersant daily

MIA investigators are checking a company through which budget allocations which budget to the Sukhumi Physics and Technology Institute.

MIA has suspected embezzlement of more than 1 billion budget rubles ($15.2 million) allocated about 10 years ago by Rosatom (Russian corporation that specializes in nuclear energy) for the development of new types of solar batteries, reports Kommersant daily. The researches had been carried out at the Sukhumi Physics and Technology Institute in the Republic of Abkhazia. The investigative theory is that works were overestimated, and the allocated funds did not reach the addressee. 

According to some sources, a criminal case for embezzlement on an especially large scale (item 4 of article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation) was opened. Officers of MIA’s 4 Directorate that deals with safety and security arrangements at nuclear, chemical, and space facilities are working on the investigation.  

The investigators are checking the contract that was tied up 10 years ago. According to the contract, Rosatom allocated 1.5 billion rubles ($22.8 million) for the development of new types of silicon-based solar batteries. It was decided to do researches at the Sukhumi Physics and Technology Institute that needed support after the Abkhaz–Georgian conflict. 

From the Russian side, money was transferred through the State Research and Development Center for project expertise and technology. The Sukhumi Physics and Technology Institute along with OOO ERA-SFTI founded in March 2008, by a scientist Boris Lobza were the deliverees. MIA assumes that in 2008-2009, the Abkhazian company was supposed to receive about 1.5 billion rubles ($22.8 million) through GNTTS EPT. The investigators, however, believe that the real contract price was about 300 million rubles ($4.5 million), and the rest of the money disappeared. 

According to Karoteka.ru database, GNTTS EPT existed in 2002-2003 and was affiliated with Minatom. Then, ANO Nauchno-tekhnichesky centr ekspertiz was founded. It was closed down in 2015. Both structures were headed by Larion Lebedev who also founded ANO NTTS ekspertiz proektov i tekhnology in 2009. The latter was headed by Vadim Frolov since 2009. NTTS EPT carry out works on Rosatom’s orders. Its state contract’s portfolio is more than 1.5 billion rubles ($22.8 million). With that, state contract’s portfolio of NTTSE was, according to Karoteka.ru database, only 12.8 million rubles ($194 thousand). GNTTS EPT was registered in Minatom’s building on Bolshaya Ordynka street in Moscow. Later, Rosatom was registered there, as well. Subsequently, the company’s successors moved to another place. 

It was reported that the successor company GNTTS EPT had been searched in a case on embezzlement during development of solar batteries. Its executives were interrogated. Vadim Frolov refused to comment upon the situation. 

Boris Lazba, the head of the Abkhazian OOO ERA-SFTI said that he knows nothing about the searches carried out in Moscow. He noted that the company had worked under a technical instruction in which it received money on a permanent basis. However, he didn’t manage to indicate the exact amount. Lazba also noted that many issues occurred while cooperating with Moscow due to inconsistencies between Russian and Abkhazian legislation. In particular, banks wanted to transfer money not directly, but through Tbilisi. Moreover, Rosatom considered SFTI as an area for researches and manufacturing of solar batteries at an industrial scale, and they were interested in ERA-SFTI to check their own capability as a research team. 

In Lazba’s words, the project took 2 years to accomplish. With that, it had been controlled by both Russian and Abkhazian sides. From the Russian side, Lebedev and Frolov, as well as Rosatov representatives, had visited the spot. The scientist emphasized that all financial issues were clean as for the Abkhazian side. In his words, Abkhazian Prosecutor-General’s Office had concerns about SFTI accusing its executives of avoiding taxpaying. However, another Institute’s employee states that this issue was connected to the fact that there’re mismatches in the legislation, and they managed to solve the issue. 

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