Feast in time of plague canceled. Yakutsk Mayor gains popular support and hatred of law enforcement officials
Within just a few months, Sardana Avksentieva became known to the entire country. For waging an open war on the lavish lifestyle of public servants, the Head of Yakutsk has been nicknamed ‘Mayor of healthy people'. This unofficial title caused a sharp reaction of law enforcement structures – FSB operatives came to the Mayor's Office.
On November 28, 2018, operatives of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation have surprisingly come to the Mayor’s Office of Yakutsk. The unexpected guests arrived to review the work of the Agency of Culture and Artistic Education of the Mayor’s Office. In fact, the cultural sector recently became of utmost interest for the FSB. The expenses associated with it are pretty high, while the importance of costly cultural events is difficult to measure. Still, the goals of the law enforcement authorities are sometimes even more cloudy than any creative idea.
Take, for instance, the annual festival “Winter begins from Yakutia” launched on December 1. It was planned to spend 800 thousand rubles ($11.9 thousand) on a fashion show presenting fur coats designed by Irina Krutikova. The show was supposed to be private – only for those able to afford such fur coats.
However, new Yakutsk Mayor Sardana Avksentieva has promptly canceled the lavish presentation and used the saved money to purchase inter alia air cleaners for schools.
Despite the suggestion of Avksentieva to pay more attention to local producers, the Yakutsk beau-monde was still optimistic – at least those employed with the Mayor’s Office. A tender has been posted on the governmental acquisitions web site to stage children’s Le Corsaire ballet in Yakutsk at the cost of 1.5 million rubles ($22.4 thousand). The above-mentioned Agency of Culture and Artistic Education was the customer. However, Sardana Avksentieva has canceled the expensive order a few days after its publication. So, what drew the operatives to the Mayor's Office of Yakutsk? Their visit has surprisingly coincided with another major acquisition.
Maksim Artemiev, ex-Head of the Yakutsk Administrative Office
On November 26, Avksentieva canceled a tender to throw a New Year banquet for the Yakutsk Administrative Office Municipal Budgetary Institution. The officials were going to feast in style. The menu included Lulah kebab made of colt meat, nelma and omul starters, national meals, and other delicacies. In a personal conversation with the Mayor, Maksim Artemiev, Head of the Yakutsk Administrative Office (and concurrently the chairman of the tender commission), was unable to explain the gastronomical predilections of his colleagues and had to resign voluntarily.
Authority with a human face
It is necessary to note that such excesses are not new for the Yakutsk Administrative Office, while New Year's corporate parties worth hundreds of thousands of rubles and always organized by Individual Entrepreneur Nadezhda Tskhai became a good tradition there. However, after the coming of Sardana Avksentieva – who had promised during the election campaign to cut the expenses of municipal officials – to the Mayor’s Office, such an acquisition looked like a personal challenge to her. The cost of the ill-fated banquet – 795.9 thousand rubles ($11.9 thousand) – closely matched the cost of the canceled fur coat show. In that context, the arrival of FSB operatives may signal an open declaration of war against the new Mayor. In fact, the officials of the old municipal administration have a lot to lose.
During the election campaign, Sardana Avksentieva has announced her readiness to tighten the belts at the expense of the municipal officials.
Nobody in the Mayor’s Office of Yakutsk had taken her calls for optimization seriously at that time and dismissed those as trivial leftist populism. However, ordinary people have believed Avksentieva and made the right choice. The three months of mayorship made her famous nationwide.
The reduction of public transit fares was the first significant step of Avksentieva that made her a ‘Red Mayor' in the public view. The next step was the cancellation of above-mentioned ‘cultural events' for the elite. Finally, Avksentieva has fulfilled her election promise and put up for sale four deluxe vehicles. Three Toyota Land Cruisers and a Nissan Patrol shall bring at least 7 million rubles ($104.5) to the municipal budget. The funds will be used to create a social taxi service.
The sale of the SUVs and dismissal of an official for his passion for delicacies made Avksentieva a popular hero. Internet users nicknamed her ‘Mayor of healthy people'. And this is not only because of a few canceled acquisitions. After the coming of Sardana Avksentieva to the Mayor's Office, the municipal authority gained a human face. It is impossible to imagine a Vice Mayor personally apologizing to the citizens for mistakes of the city administration in Moscow. However, such things currently happen in far snowy Yakutsk.
License to overindulge
The officials could not forgive Avksentieva for an infringement on the ‘holy cow’ of the bureaucracy – overindulgence and demonstrative luxury. Perhaps, it was the skyrocketing popularity of the ‘Red Mayor’ that has brought the law enforcement operatives to the Mayor’s Office – because, in the past, they had completely ignored it despite strong reasons to look closely at some things happening there. This is not even about New Year’s feasts of municipal officials – lovers of free nelma. These parties pale by comparison with expenses of former Mayor Aisen Nikolaev – who had openly financed the business of his wife at the budget expense.
State-owned Almazergienbank chaired by Mayor’s wife Lyudmila Nikolaeva had been funding the construction of Stroitelny (Constructional) Trade and Expo Center for several years. Taking the sorry state of the bank and flourishing of Stroitelny Trade and Expo Center, it looks like Almazergienbank has funneled all its resources into this project. The income generating commercial facility partially belongs to Stroitelny Rynok (Construction Market) company. Up until 2016, Lyudmila Nikolaeva had owned 20% of its shares. The Fist Lady of Yakutsk had also owned 25% of shares in Stroitelny (Constructional) Trade House – the second co-owner of the trade and expo center. Two years ago, Nikolaeva has profitably sold her shares in the both companies. However, the multimillion profits gained by the First Lady haven' been reflected in her income declaration. The Prosecutor's Office found out that the female banker has parted with her businesses for only 4.5 thousand rubles ($67).
Aisen Nikolaev used to patronize not only his spouse – but certain construction companies as well. His proteges could enter any construction site. This is how the construction of a school for disabled children was derailed in Yakutsk. The Mayor’s Office had no money to demolish outbuildings on the lot (the sale of expensive vehicles was out of the question at that time). Therefore, the developer has performed this job and received the land allocated for the school as a payment. The legal battles in connection with the inclusive school are still ongoing, while Nikolaev has been promoted to the Acting Head of the Sakha Republic.
Now he looks from above at the ‘resentment’ of the former colleagues outraged by the arrival of a team led by Sardana Avksentieva. This team involves representatives of the construction business as well. In the past, this wouldn’t embarrass anybody – but the presence of people with construction experience in the close circle of the ‘Mayor of healthy people’ drives the previous municipal administration berserk. In this context, the visit of law enforcement operatives is a pretty menacing sign.
The Investigations Directorate in the Leningrad Region of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) is going through turbulent times. After an unexpected replacement of the supreme command, the winds of change started blowing. Colonel of justice Pavel Vymenets, the new acting head of the agency, launched personnel reshuffles. According to sources, all means are used to purge the ranks from corrupt officers, including collection of compromising materials and denunciations.