Aleksander Gusev’s ‘golden parachutists’. Scandal with payments to officials to affect new Governor of Voronezh Region?
Yuri Agibalov, ex-Vice Governor of the Voronezh Region, was never involved into scandals and mostly unknown outside the region only a week ago. But after the retirement, Agibalov became a headliner thanks to social benefits generously awarded to him by Governor Aleksander Gusev. The CrimeRussia found out that not only Agibalov, but many of his friends and relatives as well, have become wealthy retirees at the expense of the regional budget – while the newly-elected regional head has significantly compromised his gubernatorial career.
A high-profile scandal over the retirement severance pay in the amount of 23 monthly salaries granted to Yuri Agibalov, ex-Vice Governor of the Voronezh Region, and his re-appointment to the same post only two days after the resignation has attracted the public attention to the ‘golden parachutes’ problem in Russian regions.
Regional elite groups adopt laws guaranteeing them wealthy retirement at the public expense. This happens amid continuous talks about the need to cut ineffective budget expenses in the country where the average pension is currently 14.1 thousand rubles ($211) and where on October 3, the President has endorsed a retirement age increase.
The scandal with a ‘golden parachute’ granted to the ex-Vice Governor of the Voronezh Region began with a classic information leak. Nezygar (@russica2) Telegram channel has published an order signed by Governor Aleksander Gusev elected on September 9 pensioning off Yuri Agibalov due to the expiry of his employment contract.
According to the documents dated Sunday, September 16, after nine years of work in the Government of the Voronezh Region, Yuri Agibalov shall receive a lump-sum payment in the amount of 23 monthly salaries and life bonus to the pension in the amount of 75% of the average monthly salary.
Furthermore, on Monday, September 17, Yuri Agibalov has been re-appointed an Interim Acting Vice Governor with a basic monthly salary of 45.32 thousand rubles ($679) and monthly incentive in the amount of 3.1 salaries – in total, this translates into some 180 thousand rubles ($2.7 thousand) per month before taxes.
A native of the Orel region, Yuri Vladimirovich Agibalov has an economic and legal education. In 1980, he has graduated from Glinka Voronezh Agricultural Institute with a major in “agriculture economy and management”. In 1998, Agibalov has graduated from the Voronezh State University with a major in “jurisprudence”. He is a Ph.D. in Economics and senior lecturer. Since the mid-1980s, Agibalov was a functionary of the Komsomol and later – the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and held a number of party posts in the Voronezh region. In 1991, he became a Secretary of the Tsentryalny District Committee of the CPSU. In 1992, was appointed a Deputy Head of the Department for Coordination of Work of the Regional and Local Administrations. In 1994–2001, held a number of senior posts in the regional administration. In 2001–2005, was the Chief Executive Secretary of the Regional Duma. In 2005–2009, was the Head of the Administrative Office of the Regional Duma. In 2009–2014, was a Vice Governor of the Voronezh Region and Head of the Administrative Office of the Governor and Government of the Voronezh Region. In 2014, was appointed an Interim Acting Governor of the Voronezh Region. Since 2014 and until September 2018, was a Vice Governor of the Voronezh Region. Yuri Agibalov is known as a close associate and comrade of former Governor Aleksei Gordeev, currently a Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation. Agibalov had often substituted Gordeev in the office while he was on vacation or out of the region.
In response to numerous questions arisen after the scandal, Governor Gusev coolly replied that Agibalov has received what he was entitled to according to the law.
And this is true. On April 14, 2014, the Government of the Voronezh Region has approved Bylaw № 277 “Procedures for Calculation and Payment of Long Service Pensions and Bonuses to Insurance Old-Age (Disability) Pensions” regulating monetary payments to retiring officials. According to the document, the Regional Commission for Long Service Pensions approves all the required papers, carries out legal assessments, and makes decisions on lump-sum payments to retiring officials. The commission involves Deputies of the Regional Duma and specialists of the respective authorities; its composition is approved by the Government of the Voronezh Region. However, on September 7, 2018, right before the gubernatorial elections, Aleksander Gusev, then-Interim Acting Governor, has signed a statement amending Bylaw № 277, changing the commission composition, and entrusting the control over the bylaw implementation to above-mentioned Yuri Agibalov.
Gusev has explained the re-appointment of the retired Vice Governor two days after his resignation by extensive administrative experience of Agibalov essential during the transition period and formation of the new government. The regional government has assured that Agibalov won’t become a member of the new cabinet and will finally retire pretty soon. The regional government has also clarified the issue with the retirement severance pay in the amount of 23 monthly salaries: the basic salary of Vice Governor Agibalov was 11,189 rubles ($168) – so, the amount of the lump-sum payment is 223.8 thousand rubles ($3.4 thousand) before tax.
Amid the heated discussion of the “23 monthly salaries”, the public had initially overlooked the true ‘golden parachute’ – the perpetual bonus to the pension in the amount of 75% of the average monthly salary. According to Agibalov’s income and tax declarations, his annual income had steadily exceeded 4.5 million rubles ($67.4 thousand) in the last four years, while in 2014, it was over 6.5 million rubles ($97.4 thousand).
With a total income of 4,818,050.48 rubles ($72.2 thousand) in the year of 2017, the average monthly salary of the former Vice Governor, including allowances, supplements, and bonuses, was over 400 thousand rubles ($6 thousand). Now he is going to receive 75% of this amount every month as a bonus to the pension. For information: the average pension in the Voronezh region is currently 13.8 thousand rubles ($207).
Gratitude for the election
Over time, the hype started slowly waning – but on October 3, after the final resignation of Agibalov, it became known that on October 1, he has been appointed a Deputy Chairman of the Regional Anti-Corruption Commission chaired by Gusev. This made the situation truly funny and revived the public interest to it.
The officials explained the discrepancy in dates as follows: as an acting Vice Governor, Agibalov has been appointed a commission member automatically, while the order was under approval for a long time. As early as on October 2, a new order of Aleksander Gusev annulling this appointment has been posted on the online portal of the regional government.
After numerous satiric discussions of the situation at all levels – from social networks to federal TV shows – Yuri Agibalov has also expressed his stance on the scandal. The official has initiated a prosecutor’s probe against himself by addressing the Prosecutor’s Office of the Voronezh Region. According to Senior Prosecutor Mikhail Usov, Agibalov has requested to check the legitimacy of actions performed in relation to him on September 15–17, including the decision to pay him compensations due to the retirement.
According to The CrimeRussia source in a Voronezh online news portal, the honored civil servant has nothing to worry about – he had neither violated the law nor granted any benefits to himself. Furthermore, during his 20-year-long service, Agibalov was never involved in corruption scandals.
“He is a skilled and devoted governmental official who had always served to his organization and stuck to the place of work. He had never participated in any groups in the Government of the Voronezh Region,” – Galina Kudryavtseva, ex-Deputy of the Voronezh Municipal Duma, told Bloknot-voronezh.ru online portal.
Our sources in Voronezh believe that the significant political capital of Agibalov enabled him not to join any ruling clans but instead create his own one during these years. Upon retirement, Agibalov has left plenty of his proteges in the regional authorities. According to some information, the regional government includes at least 20 henchmen of Agibalov, including his close relatives, their wives, and friends.
Yuri Agibalov and Larisa Volkova, Director of the Voronezh Law College (on the right), at the opening of a new academic year on September 1
For instance, the regional media are aware that Yuri Agibalov’s daughter is employed with the Department of Awards Policy of the regional administration, his son Vladimir is a Deputy Head of the Administrative Office of the Regional Duma, his sister Larisa Volkova is the Director of the Voronezh Law College, his daughter-in-law works at the Civil Registry Office, brother’s wife used to work in the Regional Election Commission, while the brother of Yuri Agibalov was a Vice Principal of the Voronezh State Agricultural University up until recently.
Aleksander Vladimirovich Agibalov, Ph.D. in Economics
Many current officials in the regional administration owe Yuri Vladimirovich Agibalov a debt of gratitude for their careers. Taking that plenty of people loyal to Yuri Agibalov are working in the Regional Election Commission, his ‘golden parachute’ may be considered a ‘reward’ from newly-elected Governor Aleksander Gusev.
Agibalov has retired at the age of 60 – although, taking the forthcoming retirement age increase, he could continue working until 65. Some sources believe that, being an experienced manager, he may easily take a senior post in a big commercial structure where his administrative resource gained during the years of service in the regional administration would be in high demand.
A number of political experts have a consensus of opinion that the recent scandal bodes much more trouble to new regional head Aleksander Gusev.
A 55-year-old native of the Kaluga region, Aleksander Viktorovich Gusev is a chemist by education. He has been appointed the Acting Interim Governor of the Voronezh Region on December 25, 2017. On September 15, 2018, he has officially taken the Governor’s office. Since April 2009 and until September 2013, Gusev had held official positions in the Government of the Voronezh Region – he was a Vice Chairman of the Government of the Voronezh Region, Head of the Department of Industry, Transport, and Communications, and Vice Chairman of the Government for Industry, Transport, Communications, and Innovations. Prior to joining the governmental service, Gusev used to work within his specialty at senior positions; in 2007–2009, he was the General Director of Voronezhsintezkauchuk Open Joint Stock Company. Ill-wishers name Gusev a henchman of oligarch Leonid Mikhelson and suspect him of illegal possession of business, including patronage of certain agricultural holdings.
“Everything is 100% legal and, at the same time, 100% disgusting. It was done on a weekend, without publicity and doubts in the correctness of this decision," – a respondent of Bloknot-voronezh.ru has commented on the ‘golden parachute' of Agibalov.
The Center for Anti-Corruption Policy of the Russian United Democratic Party "Yabloko" has submitted to the Prosecutor’s Office of the Voronezh Region a request to check whether the decision of Gusev to award the benefits to Agibalov falls under part 2 of Article 285 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (abuse of official powers), while Ilya Remeslo, member of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation, has found elements of misuse of budget funds in this decision.
Amid the scandal, the Voronezh media have recalled other ‘golden parachutists’, including Valery Kartashov, ex-Head of the Legal Department of the Government of the Voronezh Region and author of the law on ‘golden parachutes’; regional treasurer Nadezhda Safonova; Vice Speaker of the Regional Duma Irina Tran’kova; and Vladimir Selyanin and Vyacheslav Cherepukhin, Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Regional Election Commission.
While being the Voronezh Mayor, Aleksander Gusev let Elena Muromtseva, Head of the Department of Financial and Budget Policy, to retire – and after the assignment of the lump-sum severance pay and life pension bonuses for the 15-year-long governmental service, the lady returned to the same position a few days later as an Acting Head of the Department.
All these persons are ‘parachutists’ known to the public – but prior to the scandal with pension benefits granted to Yuri Agibalov, such information had never left the office.
It is unknown who has ‘leaked’ internal documents to the popular political Telegram channel – but Governor Gusev admitted at a briefing specially held to handle the scandal that the whistleblower is (or was up until recently) employed with the regional government. Gusev has publicly admitted this because many of his former subordinates could have reasons for revenge – immediately after the election, the new Governor launched a large-scale purge of ranks in the regional government.
Aleksander Gusev publicly named the appointment of Evgeny Yurchenko a mistake – Yurchenko failed to attract promised investments to the region
In the course of this purge, the following persons have lost their posts – either due to the expiration of employment contracts or ‘voluntarily’: Aleksander Kvasov, Head of the Department of Agrarian Policy of the Voronezh Region; Ilya Sakharov, Head of the Regional Department of Communications and Mass Media; Aleksander Velichko, Interim Acting Head of the Forest Department; Ivan Shkumatov; Interim Acting Head of the Industrial Department; and Vice Governor Evgeny Yurchenko, First Deputy Prime Minister of the Government of the Voronezh Region. Importantly, all these people had to ‘jump out’ without ‘parachutes’.
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The Head of the St. Petersburg City Inspectorate of the Federal Tax Service (FTS) has left on vacation – and three days later, law enforcement operatives came at the tax authority with searches. Searches and arrests were performed in other territorial tax inspections of the St. Petersburg City Inspectorate as well. Amid these events, rumors started circulating in Smolny Palace that perpetual Valentina Koryazina is looking for a job in another governmental institution.