Purgatory. Ex-Deputy of State Duma redistributes garbage market in Tambov region
Garbage riots inevitably lead to garbage revolutions. Kotovsk Mayor Aleksei Plakhotnikov, a gray but pretty dangerous person, is going to change our vision of public protests. A former KGB officer and Yukos functionary managed to survive the collapse of the oil giant and built a garbage disposal empire – concurrently, locking up two his competitors. Now Plakhotnikov intends to discipline Aleksander Nikitin, Governor of the Tambov Region.
Waste management is a national problem in Russia. The Moscow region is struggling to shut down overflowing garbage landfills; Arkhangelsk and Shies oppose the construction of new solid waste dump sites; while Tambov people support operations of the existing landfills. The public protests in the Tambov region are of modest scale – but very well-organized. Its leaders are employees of TEKO Service that had been recycling garbage in the region for years. However, in 2018, a new regional waste management operator – Tambov Network Company (TNC) belonging to the regional administration – was chosen. As a result, TEKO Service employees started sending letters to Governor Aleksander Nikitin en masse. All the 40 letters are absolutely identical – the petitioners claim that they used to make the region clean and now face a job loss.
Then it became known that the new regional operator had tried to collaborate with the complainants by leasing 12 crews from TEKO Service. The region did not become cleaner, while Tambov, according to its residents, got much dirtier. An obvious conclusion offers itself: the city may be made cleaner without TEKO Service, and this would cost less to the budget. By the way, TEKO Service is unable to explain its price formation principles to the public.
The underdog company decided to impress the Governor by its brilliant coordination of actions. The letters were delivered to the regional administration nearly synchronically. Igor Blyum, General Director of KomEk waste recycling complex, had observed this from the parking lot in front of the Government of the Tambov Region. Why was Blyum concerned about problems experienced by his competitor?
The point is that, for many years, there was no competition in the waste management industry of the Tambov region. There were three large garbage companies: TEKO Service, KomEk, and Tekhnopark. The latter one owns Tambov landfill, while TEKO Service and KomEk had transported and dumped garbage there. Tekhnopark used to belong to Galina Plakhotnikova, spouse of Kotovsk Mayor Aleksei Plakhotnikov. The close collaboration between the three companies implies that they are affiliated. The fact that Aleksei Alekseevich Plakhotnikov is the Executive Director of TEKO Service confirms this.
...and clean hands
The Kotovsk Mayor denies any allegations. Last year, the former KGB officer has earned 1.6 million rubles ($24.8 thousand). His wife has earned 28.9 million rubles ($447.7 thousand) and acquired a significant real estate portfolio. This is amazing taking that the only company belonging to her has been generating only losses since 2014. However, assuming that the ‘garbage’ assets still belong to the family, the wealth of Galina Plakhotnikova is understandable: TEKO Service, KomEk, and Tekhnopark used to be very profitable until recently.
After the garbage reform, new players entered the waste market; Tambov Network Company became the regional operator; while KomEk lost the tender. For the fairness sake, it is necessary to note that the victory of TNC was not flawless. The holding won the tender after the appointment of its former deputy director Svetlana Grigorieva the Head of the Department of Fuel and Energy Complex and Housing and Public Utility Sector of the Tambov Region. Grigorieva has personally signed an agreement with TNC stipulating the reconstruction of Bastion waste landfill; later, the Governor promised to shut it down under the public pressure.
KomEk lost the tender because of the greed of its beneficiaries. They were not used to pettifogging and prepared the project documentation on a grand scale. The term of the contract signed with the regional operators is 10 years – while KomEk calculated its cost based on a 13-year term. The Administration for the Tambov Region of the Federal Antimonopoly Service of the Russian Federation has easily uncovered the ‘mistake'; this predetermined the tender results. After the loss of KomEk, the Regional Prosecutor's Office found elements of corruption in the victory of TNC. A legal battle began. The Tambov Arbitration Court entirely upheld the stance of KomEk – which is not surprising taking that one of the judges was Mikhail Alekseevich Plakhotnikov.
The litigation escalated to the new level – and the Arbitration Court of the Central Federal District annulled the decision of the court of original jurisdiction. The Prosecutor’s Office of the Tambov Region was unable to reach the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation – even though Regional Prosecutor Vladimir Torgovchenkov had taken every effort for the sake of his old friendship with the Kotovsk Mayor. The spouse of Aleksei Plakhotnikov joined the game. For several years, she had owned Info-Yu and Mediasoyuz media companies. Info-Yu owns OnlineTambov.ru news portal praising TEKO Service and KomEk on a regular basis. According to it, the region survives only thanks to masterful waste management by Blyum and Plakhotnikov junior.
The Regional Prosecutor, a big friend of the Kotovsk Mayor, is a native of the Lipetsk region that had selected its regional waste management operator concurrently with the Tambov region. Surprisingly, but the Lipetsk people decided that Tambov-based TEKO Service would be the best choice for them. This is pretty logical taking that the tender was carried out on a sole source basis. As a result, the company of Aleksei Plakhotnikov won a garbage removal contract in Elets worth 3.9 billion rubles ($60.4 million). Such a compensation for lost profits in Tambov...
Thirsting after blood
Members of clan Plakhotnikov are skilled in political intrigues as well. After all, the former top manager of Yukos managed to survive amid the catastrophe ruining lives of many of his colleagues. What is the main nightmare for all regional heads? Of course, public protests. On December 18, 2018, KomEk and TEKO Service workers have crowded Rasskazovsky garden in Tambov. The public rally was authorized; the slogans were ‘politically correct’; and 15 minutes later, Igor Blyum has concluded the public event. Still, the Governor became nervous and called the Kotovsk Mayor ‘a political blackmailer’.
However, the very fact that Plakhotnikov has sustained a loss in his native region is pretty illustrative. In the past, all adversaries of Plakhotnikov had ended up behind bars. Take, for instance, Anatoly Tedoradze, former owner of Tambov-Resurs. In the mid-2000s, this company had specialized in oil product supplies, while former Yukos functionary and KGB officer Plakhotnikov was a Deputy of the State Duma. The Directorate for the Tambov Region of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation has laid a broad range of charges against Tedoradze in that period – from high treason to illegal attempts to take out a loan (which is not stipulated in the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). Despite the efforts of some judges opposing the framed-up criminal proceedings, Tedoradze was sentenced to a real prison term. After getting liberty, he abandoned the oil business and became a lawyer.
A Tambov Deputy threatening to leak materials compromising Plakhotnikov in the midst of the election campaign has shared the fate of Tedoradze. The personality of Grinchuk, who was earlier charged with rape of a minor and spectacularly expelled from the Liberal–Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), had affirmed the seriousness of his threats. But ultimately, he was sentenced to four years behind bars, the compromising materials were never published, and Plakhotnikov, a candidate from Edinaya Rossiya (United Russia) Party, – elected.
A lot has changed in the life of Plakhotnikov since then: he abandoned the oil business and left the State Duma. However, some of his old habits still remain – and somebody is delicately hinting Plakhotnikov senior that his time is over in the region.