Inskoy Pit to ruin political career of Kuzbass Governor? Myths and reality
Since November 2016, political experts and media demonstrate keen interest to the Kemerovo region and its leader. High-profile terminations and arrests of regional officials and law enforcement officers, the illness of the Governor, and his disappearance from the public sight have sparked numerous rumors and speculations. According to the most recent prognosis, Tuleev has to testify as a witness in the ‘Inskoy Pit case’ and potentially faces jail.
The reason for such a long shot was some list seized from the apartment of Sergei Kalinkin, the ex-Head of the Investigations Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) in the Kemerovo region. This became known on August 13, at a court session held to extend the detention term for the general. It was announced that the evidence has been discovered during an additional search. The investigators found a daily planner with a list showing names and amounts of money allegedly received by Nadezhda Gobruseva, common-law spouse of Kalinkin, in the first days after his arrest. The list includes Kuzbass businessmen, subordinates of Sergei Kalinkin, and the Governor. The document entered into the first volume of the case file as page № 217 states as follows: “Zimin brought 300 thousand ($5 thousand) on November 14; Vanchin gave 100 thousand ($1.7 thousand) for the lawyer; withdrew 180 thousand ($3 thousand) from the salary bank card on November 16; Governor gave 50 thousand ($841) on November 16; Oleg Evgen’evich gave 110 thousand ($1.8 thousand) on November 17”. Margarita Shandrova, a defense attorney for Sergei Kalinkin, explained that the money was given “to support the family” of her client (Sergei Kalinkin and Nadezhda Gobruseva have a 4-year-old son) and this has nothing to do with the factual allegations. Upon entering the list into the case file, the state prosecution asked the court to extend the detention term for the suspect because his release may obstruct the investigation, including the planned questioning of Governor Aman Tuleev as a witness. The question is: what could be the reason for questioning Tuleev? Is this about his name on the seized list? Or, perhaps, about his involvement into the attempted raiding takeover of a coal enterprise committed by his subordinates?
The scandal with Inskoy Pit occurred in November 2016. The CrimeRussia had repeatedly covered this story. At that time, searches were performed in offices and residences of supreme Kuzbass officials. The following persons have been detained in the framework of the case pertaining to the extortion of 51% of shares in Razrez Inskoy Joint Stock Company: First Vice Governors Aleksei Ivanov and Aleksander Danilchenko; Yelena Troitskaya, Head of the Department of Administrative Structures of the Administration of the Kemerovo Region; coal oligarch Aleksander Shukin; his confidant Gennady Vernigor; general Sergei Kalinkin, Head of the Investigations Directorate in the Kemerovo Region of the ICR; and two his subordinates.
Currently Sergei Kalinkin is the only main suspect remanded in custody, while the others are under home arrest. The case is investigated by the 5th Investigations Directorate of the ICR based in Novosibirsk. According to the investigation, in July 2016, Kalinkin, acting in the interests of the Vice Governors and Shukin, had instituted a criminal case against Anton Tsygankov, owner of the control block of shares, and then detained him for 48 hours. In that period, other members of the criminal group had also put pressure on Tsygankov demanding to sign the transfer deed for Inskoy Pit shares worth 1 billion rubles ($16.8 million).
Kemerovo tycoon Aleksander Shukin
24 hours after the high-profile arrests, Aman Tuleev has held a press conference. Everybody had expected the Governor to resign amid the scandal. But instead of leaving the office, the head of the region called the arrest of his deputies Aleksander Danilchenko and Aleksei Ivanov “absurd” and provided his vision of the situation with Inskoy Pit and role of the regional authorities in that story. According to Tuleev, his deputies had fallen victims to their desire to help people and insufficient knowledge of legislation nuances (for reference: Aleksei Ivanov was the Vice Governor for Coordination of Law Enforcement Authorities; he used to work for many years as a specialist in economic crimes in the Administration for Combating Organized Crime of the General Administration for the Kemerovo Region of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation and then became the Head of the Regional MIA Administration for Combating Economic Crimes). Tuleev said that the actions of Moscow-based enforcement agencies had targeted in that situation him – the Governor: “Nobody needs them [the accused officials]. Most probably, they need the Governor. I have been feeling this for a while – two years; a big fight is ongoing”.
Video: Aman Tuleev comments the situation with Inskoy Pit (November 15, 2016)
In summer 2016, small coal enterprise Inskoy Pit was on the verge of bankruptcy. Due to engineering errors, the pit wasn’t mining coal for almost 1.5 year; this resulted in multimillion salary arrears and credit indebtedness. On July 8, 2016, the miners, outraged with a four-month salary delay, refused to descend underground. There was a risk that the entire mine joins the crew on strike – and Kuzbass remembers very well potential implications of miners’ strikes. The rail wars of 1998, when the miners had, in fact, paralyzed the railway transportation in the country and almost impeached President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Kiriyenko, would never be forgotten. In order to ease the social tension and assist the owners with debt repayment, functionaries of the Regional Administration have arrived to the Inskoy pit. The Regional Prosecutor’s Office has initiated a criminal case for non-payment of salaries. Concurrently businessman Aleksander Shukin became aware of the situation. One of his coal mines – Gramoteinskaya – was located in the same Belovsky district with Inskoy Pit. Following a request from the Regional Administration, technical specialists from Gramoteinskaya mine had been dispatched to the pit to assist in fracturing the coal bed in order to commence mining operations. Announcements that Shukin has started negotiations with the mine owners to purchase the enterprise appeared in the media. The Regional Administration has paid a portion of the salary arrears from a regional charitable fund (it is rumored that Shukin had transferred the required amount to this fund). But the negotiations on the possible acquisition of the enterprise have fallen through (if there were any negotiations at all), and a raiding takeover attempt was made. The takeover scheme was absolutely clear and tested for decades in the region (starting from the ousting of Metallurgical Investment Company (MIKOM) controlled by brothers Zhivilo from the Kuzbass market). The Regional Administration under the leadership of Tuleev had contributed to changes of ownership of private companies more than once. For example, in 2007, after explosions in two mines, Tuleev said that the management of EVRAZ, a steel making and mining company, had promised him to eliminate the possibility of such incidents, and soon EVRAZ became the owner of Yuzhkuzbassugol (operator of the mines). It is unknown though whether the raiding scheme was pulled off at the instigation of Tuleev (who could be interested in the friendship with oligarch Shukin at that time), or with the connivance of the Governor, or without his involvement at all...
In summer 2016, the small coal enterprise was on the verge of bankruptcy
The scandal has severely undermined the positions of Tuleev. According to “Rating” Center for Informational Communications, in February, the Kuzbass leader has lost as many as 57 positions in the Governors Rating and dropped from the 6th place to the 63rd one. The experts whose opinions were used to calculate the rating linked the decline in popularity of the Kemerovo Governor with the corruption scandals involving his deputies Aleksei Ivanov and Aleksander Danilchenko. Then other regional functionaries and law enforcement commanders have joined the elimination race. In the period since February and until August, many key regional figures have stepped down – either due to the institution of criminal cases against them or amid perspectives of criminal prosecution. And the question is: if all the regional structures are plagued by corruption, how can the Governor be honest?
Vice Governors of the Kemerovo Region Aleksei Ivanov and Aleksander Danilchenko
Amid the scandal, the disappearance of Aman Tuleev from the media space had just fueled the flame. Since April, the Governor stopped making public appearances. Later it became known that this was due to the illness, spine surgery in Germany, and lengthy post-operative rehabilitation period. But the Administration of the Kemerovo Region had kept silence for while, which has sparked rumors and speculations. The people remembered that July 1, 2017 was the 20th anniversary of Tuleev’s governorship and started discussing his resignation. A list of potential successors and contenders for the ‘soon-to-be-vacant’ position has been produced – and it included obviously fake figures. Journalists from some federal media outlets had attended the last session of the Regional Council held prior to the summer holidays expecting the Deputies to announce the Governor’s resignation (although such matters are beyond the scope of authority of the people’s representatives). Interestingly, but all the fuss around the nonexistent resignation of Tuleev has surprisingly boosted his popularity – according to the Governors Rating, the Kuzbass leader currently holds the 49th position. On August 12, the Governor of the Kemerovo Region has returned from Moscow where he had been undergoing medical treatment, and now – according to his administration – he is ready to resume the work. At least, remotely.
Aman Tuleev was born in 1944. He has been officially in charge of Kuzbass since 1997; however, he used to hold various superior posts in the region since 1990. Tuleev is one of the last remaining political heavyweights of the ‘Yeltsin era’ with a federal background: he had been running for presidential elections three times and in 1996–1997 was the Minister for Cooperation with CIS Countries of the Russian Federation. Upon becoming the Governor of the Kemerovo Region, he has enacted a ‘manual control regime’ and created an original socialist model including numerous social support programs. In 2015, he was elected the Governor for the fifth term by gaining an overwhelming majority – almost 97% of votes with the election turnout over 80%.
In view of the above, it is highly unlikely that Tuleev is prosecuted in the framework of the ‘Inskoy Pit case’. On the other hand, his witness testimony would likely be in line with his earlier statements made at the press conference in November 2016. In fact, it was planned to question him as a witness at that time – but due to some reasons, the investigators did not do this.
The federal center still needs Tuleev.
Although the positions of Tuleev have been shaken, this turned out to be insufficient to remove him from office (provided that the current events are parts of a complicated scheme plotted by some figures to clear the way for their own plans). It would be unwise for the Kremlin to make sharp changes in a region able to go on strike any time – especially prior to the elections. It is a paradox, but despite the authoritarian power system, high out-migration rate (people leave the region en masse), high taxes, and regular mandatory levies imposed on businesses “for the benefit of the region and Kuzbass residents” (some small and medium businessmen have already moved their legal addresses to adjacent regions, while others are seriously considering this), many people in Kuzbass still believe that without Aman Tuleev, the Kemerovo region is doomed. Lots of residents (not only retirees) consider the Governor the sole protector of their interests and blame corrupt officials for betraying his trust. For example, people sincerely think that the hike of public transit fees affecting even the privileged retirees has been purposively made during his medical leave – because if the Governor were aware of this, he would never allow to offend his people. During the 20 years of Tuleev’s rule, strong ‘ Stockholm syndrome’ has developed in the region. His authority is sufficient to calm down any political or economic conflict and even its preconditions. The love for the regional leader is not shown nowadays as vividly as in the mid-1990s – but this does not mean that it has faded away. Both the ordinary people and representatives of the regional elite feel themselves obliged to the Governor.
It is highly unlikely that Tuleev is prosecuted in the framework of the ‘Inskoy Pit case’.
The speculations made by those ‘aware’ of the fate of Tuleev seem meaningless. Any prognosis must be based on a strong rationale. With regards to Aman Tuleev, it is necessary to understand that, despite all the detrimental events in the region during the last year, the federal authorities still rely on him – otherwise, a new Governor would arrive to Kuzbass back in November 2016, immediately after the scandal with Inskoy Pit. According to Anton Gorelkin, Deputy of the State Duma representing the Kemerovo region, “the arrests of Governor’s deputies in fall 2017 were exactly what that seemed to be – struggle against corruption. It was not a sign from the Kremlin to anybody. It was not somebody’s intention to replace the supreme authority in the region. It was an exposure of several corrupt officials and their prosecution”. Therefore, the federal center still needs Tuleev – at least, until the presidential elections or expiration of his current term. What other regional leader in Russia can ensure such a high percentage of votes for the ‘right’ candidate? Tuleev possesses the required experience in such a difficult region as Kuzbass. Therefore, there is no alternative to the current Kemerovo Governor. One does not swap horses while crossing the ford – regardless of somebody’s desires and ambitions.