‘Cemetery mafia’ vs. general Plugin
A conflict is escalating in the largest district of the Leningrad region. The ‘cemetery mafia’ is determined to continue its illegal operations, and supreme officials of the District MIA Administration became involved in the confrontation. General Plugin, the newly-appointed Head of the MIA General Administration for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region, has no choice but to deal with this problem – the local administration has officially requested his assistance.
For a few months already, the Vsevolozhsk Municipal Administration has been trying to sort out a difficult situation. In October 2018, senior municipal officials received a weird document – an order issued by the Administration for the Leningrad Region of the Federal Antimonopoly Service annulling the open tender for cemetery maintenance and provision of funeral services. The antimonopoly agency has issued this document following a complaint submitted by Vsevolozhsk Funeral Company Limited Liability Company that claims a governmental contract worth nearly 8 million rubles ($122.4 thousand) – although it hadn't participated in the bidding officially. Still, the municipal administration had to suspend the tender as per order of the Administration for the Leningrad Region of the Federal Antimonopoly Service.
The main victim in this situation is Funeral Services Municipal Budgetary Institution founded by the Vsevolozhsk District Administration.
The conflict between the state and private companies on the funeral market goes back to the mid-2000s. The adversaries of the budget institution of the Vsevolozhsk district currently include R.K. Vechnost’ (Eternity) Limited Liability Company, Ritual Spektr Limited Liability Company, Specialized Funeral Services Limited Liability Company, and Vsevolozhsk Funeral Company Limited Liability Company. According to the Vsevolozhsk officials – signatories of the letter submitted to general Plugin – founders and owners of these companies have direct ties both with bandits from ‘the turbulent 1990s’ and supreme functionaries of the Administration for the Vsevolozhsk District of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation.
Roman Plugin, the new Head of the MIA General Administration for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region
For several years already, the Vsevolozhsk authorities have been trying to establish order at the cemeteries and eradicate overcharged fees and arbitrary imposition of ‘additional services’ by publishing official price lists of funeral services. The ‘cemetery mafia’ is unable to launch a direct assault on the municipal officials and has to act in a roundabout way. For instance, in October 2018, the Administration for Combating Economic Crimes of the MIA Administration for the Vsevolozhsk District received a complaint from Aleksander Kupkin, Director of Vsevolozhsk Funeral Company Limited Liability Company. Following this complaint, the investigators started summoning employees of the municipal funeral company for questioning. Without instituting a criminal case, operatives request personal files of the staff, copies of their labor records, and other documents from the accounting and HR departments.
The confrontation between the private operators and state funeral company has reached its peak in early winter 2018 – the Prosecutor's Office ordered the private companies to cease the unauthorized provision of burial services to local people. Since then, the situation has deteriorated further and escalated into a direct standoff between the state and private funeral homes.
The circumstances have drastically worsened after the surprising resignation of Aleksander Sukharikov, Head of the MIA Administration for the Vsevolozhsk District. Rumors circulated in the local circles of power that he was turning a blind eye to the lawlessness of the ‘cemetery mafia' – but still, for many years, Sukharikov had kept the criminal situation under control.
Aleksander Sukharikov, ex-Head of the MIA Administration for the Vsevolozhsk District of the Leningrad Region
As The CrimeRussia wrote earlier, Sukharikov submitted a resignation letter to newly-appointed general Roman Plugin, thus, making an elegant ‘affront' to the supreme commander who had scolded him. The high-profile statements made by Plugin have already caused adverse consequences. As it is known, the Vsevolozhsk district is a difficult – from the criminal perspective – conglomerate in the Leningrad region. The number of ‘authoritative' persons, Gypsy Barons, and members of ethnic communities exceeds all limits there. It is really hard to establish law and order and keep such a district under control. The thoughtless decision of general Plugin had its implications. However, some sources claim that the general had strong reasons to remove Sukharikov from the district – allegedly, in addition to the reprimand for incomplete aptitude to the position held passed upon Sukharikov after the visit of Moscow auditors, he is a relative of Sergei Umnov, ex-Head of the MIA General Administration for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region.
Sergei Umnov, ex-Head of the MIA General Administration for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region
Dmitry Sokolov, a former deputy of Sukharikov and his successor, is either unable to keep the situation under control or does not take any efforts to resolve the conflict. In any event, the local authorities got tired and sick asking the police for help and addressed the new Head of the MIA General Administration for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region. After all, the new general has no obligations to power brokers in St. Petersburg, while the stalemate in Vsevolozhsk may be beneficial for him. Now Roman Plugin possesses the most recent information about thefts of vehicles belonging to employees of the Funeral Services Municipal Budgetary Institution, damages inflicted to its assets, assaults committed against its staff, etc. According to the criminal complaint submitted to the general, no actions were taken by the MIA Administration for the Vsevolozhsk District in relation to these offenses. No checks were carried out, no results reported. The policemen hadn’t even bothered to speak with the victims.
It appears that Roman Plugin has no choice but to deal with the ‘cemetery mafia’ problem. A month ago, Deputies of the Legislative Assembly of the Leningrad Region have come to the same conclusion. At one of the sessions, the lawmakers approved in the first reading a new Bill On Burials and Funeral Industry in the Leningrad Region. If the bill passes the second reading, the rules regulating funeral services in the region may change drastically. It is necessary to note that the Deputies’ actions were caused by the lawlessness ongoing in the Vsevolozhsk district and, most probably, in other districts as well.
In the memo to the new bill, the Deputies provide the following comments on the current situation: “For more than 20 years, private companies and even business associations had been running their illegal operations in the Leningrad region without any control and contrary to the federal legislation, including inconceivable or even unaffordable fees for funeral services and charges for burial places. They sell municipal lands, and this must be stopped. Borders of many municipal cemeteries are not delineated; the burial grounds are not fenced and extend beyond certain borders trespassing on first-group forests, power lines, and agricultural lands. Many cemeteries in the Leningrad region do not have cadastral registration”.
The bill is currently discussed at the federal level, and the police may have to enforce the new law in the observable future. In Vsevolozhsk, this may result in a direct physical confrontation between the law enforcement authorities and criminal structures. No one is going to give up the funeral ‘gold mine’ in the district. Time will show whether general Plugin and Dmitry Baranov, his deputy for the Leningrad region, are able to eradicate this problem once and forever.