Sweeping purge of Novosibirsk governmental structures – clampdown on corruption ties between local elite clans and their ‘patrons’ in law enforcement agencies?
Two governmental structures – judicial and watchdog agencies – have been ‘decapitated’ in the Novosibirsk region. The sweeping purge of the Regional Prosecutor’s Office was not as severe as the media had reported – but the key figures have already been removed from office. In fact, the large-scale unscheduled inspection carried out by a commission dispatched by the Prosecutor General’s Office has just begun. Who else is going to resign ‘voluntarily’? Who has initiated the sweeping purge of the watchdog authority? And what high-profile corruption cases are forthcoming?
Anonymous sources have reported a large-scale sweeping purge of the Prosecutor’s Office of the Novosibirsk Region prior to any official announcements. On October 7, some local media outlets wrote, citing their insiders, that several key figures had to leave the office. Vladimir Falileev, Prosecutor of the Novosibirsk Region, left on vacation on October 8 and won’t return until the end of the month. Vladimir Tokarev, Head of the Administration of the Prosecutor General’s Office in the Siberian Federal District, who was the Prosecutor of the Novosibirsk Region in 1991–2008, has been appointed the Acting Regional Prosecutor.
Vladimir Falileev, Prosecutor of the Novosibirsk Region
Lyubov Kuz’menok, First Deputy Prosecutor of the Novosibirsk Region, has resigned voluntarily. Kuz’menok was considered a powerful figure in the region – as influential as her boss: she had governed the work of the watchdog authority in many fields. On October 8, Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika has accepted the resignation of Kuz’menok. Her name has already been removed from the list of deputy prosecutors on the official web site of the Prosecutor’s Office of the Novosibirsk Region.
Andrei Turbin, Deputy Prosecutor of the West-Siberian Prosecutor’s Office for Transport, who was a Deputy Prosecutor of the Novosibirsk Region up until the end of September, has resigned as well. According to Oksana Gorbunova, Senior Assistant to the West-Siberian Prosecutor for Transport, on October 8, “the Prosecutor General has accepted the voluntary resignation of Turbin due to superannuation”.
The CrimeRussia source in the law enforcement structures confirmed the above resignations and provided some details. According to the source, the supreme officials of the Prosecutor’s Office of the Novosibirsk Region had been summoned to Moscow back on October 5. Kuz’menok and Turbin arrived at the Prosecutor General’s Office and had a very unpleasant conversation there. Following that conversation, they were offered to submit voluntary resignation letters.
Our source believes that the sweeping purge of the Regional Prosecutor’s Office is not over yet – it is just the beginning. Falileev has already submitted a voluntary resignation letter – now he is facing either termination or demotion and transfer to another region. Tokarev won’t be the Acting Regional Prosecutor for long – this is an interim appointment. The source abstained from naming other candidates for dismissal – all decisions will be made based on the findings of the Moscow inspectors.
The commission dispatched by the Prosecutor General’s Office and chaired by Yuri Ponomarev, Deputy Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, has already arrived to Novosibirsk. It includes over 40 representatives of the federal watchdog authority. They are reviewing all activities of the Prosecutor’s Office of the Novosibirsk Region for the last three years.
Journalists hadn’t waited for the inspection results and reported, citing their insiders, new terminations in the watchdog authority. For instance, Mikhail Askerov, Deputy Prosecutor of the West-Siberian Prosecutor’s Office for Transport, has replaced Turbin in the Prosecutor’s Office of the Novosibirsk Region in late September. On October 8, local media outlets reported that he has also submitted a resignation letter. However, his resignation was not accepted, and Askerov may retain his post. On October 10, the federal media confirmed this information.
According to the media, the following people are leaving office: Vladislav Mandryko and Sergei Medvedev, Deputy Prosecutors of the Novosibirsk Region, and Novosibirsk Prosecutor Denis Ferents. Vyacheslav Gimadi, lawyer for the Anti-corruption Foundation, confirmed the resignation of Ferents on his Facebook page.
However, a representative of the Regional Prosecutor’s Office refuted the information about these terminations. “I officially state that all these persons are at their workplaces and continue working,” – Dmitry Lyamkin, Senior Assistant Prosecutor of the Novosibirsk Region for Media Liaison, said.
In addition, the journalists have ‘fired' Berdsk Prosecutor Roman Sivak – and he had to refute this information personally.
Berdsk Prosecutor Roman Sivak
Although the purge of the watchdog authority is not as large-scale as the insiders and media claim, it is evident that the federal prosecution authority is displeased with the performance of the Prosecutor's Office of the Novosibirsk Region. The termination of the three supreme regional prosecution officials confirms this. Now the people are wondering what could be the reasons behind this purge.
Several versions have been suggested. According to one of those, the Regional Prosecutor’s Office has dissatisfied the federal center by interfering into the construction of Arena Ice Palace. This facility has to be completed before the start of the 2023 World Junior Hockey Championship. But the Prosecutor’s Office of the Novosibirsk Region, acting in the interests of local political groups, has launched an inquest into the legitimacy of the land allocation for the ice palace, thus, putting its commissioning at risk.
Ice Arena design
However, it is difficult to believe that such an incident could result in the termination of several high-ranked prosecution officials. Normally, one person is designated the scapegoat and assumes the entire responsibility. Therefore, the version explaining the resignations in the Prosecutor’s Office by searches and document seizures carried out in the Regional Court on September 10 seems the most plausible one.
In late July, Viktor Chirkunov, Head of the Regional Department for Support of Justices of the Peace, and his deputy Sergei Sokolov have been charged in the framework of a criminal case instituted for frauds with governmental contracts. The inquest has been launched following an initiative of the Regional Directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation. Chirkunov and Sokolov have been charged with embezzlement of more than 2.5 million rubles ($38.2 thousand) allocated from the budget to purchase appliances and air conditioners for courts.
Viktor Chirkunov, Head of the Regional Department for Support of Justices of the Peace
In the course of the inquest, it was suspected that Rimma Shatovkina, Chairperson of the Regional Court, had obstructed the investigation and could be involved in the machinations. On October 3, Shatovkina has unexpectedly withdrawn her application to extend the term of office and prematurely resigned from her post. This indirectly confirms the version stating that the FSB has claims against her.
Prior to the searches and seizures of documents, the reappointment of Shatovkina was considered a done deal – although in May 2018, the Chairperson of the Regional Court had to answer to corruption allegations. According to The CrimeRussia source, a complaint was filed against Shatovkina – she and her deputies Tatiana Rytikova and Elena Pilipenko have been accused of suspicious ties with Aleksei Tolokonsky, son of Viktor Tolokonsky, ex-Head of the Novosibirsk Region and Krasnoyarsk Krai. There were other allegations against Shatovkina as well – she had reportedly issued artificially high bonuses to judges and pocketed the difference. In addition, the Chairperson of the Regional Court was accused of lobbying interests of her relatives: Shatovkina has arranged the appointment of her daughter a Judge of the Arbitration Court of the Novosibirsk Region and her brother – a Justice of the Peace in Pyatigorsk.
Rimma Shatovkina, Chairperson of the Novosibirsk Regional Court
It can’t be ruled out that in the course of the inquest against Chirkunov and Sokolov, the FSB operatives have got some questions not only to the supreme officials of the Regional Court – but to functionaries of the Regional Prosecutor’s Office as well. The above ‘voluntary’ resignations could be caused by validated operative information about actions inconsistent with the prosecutor’s status. On the other hand, no official statements were issued in relation to unlawful activities of the resigned prosecution officials or their links with the criminal world.
Many experts explain the resignations in the Prosecutor’s Office of the Novosibirsk Region by the redistribution of spheres of influence in the region and struggle between law enforcement agencies for control over megaprojects and federal investments.
However, The CrimeRussia source believes that the true reasons behind the current events lie beyond the regional boundaries. If this is a ‘war', then it is waged between the old local elite groups and federal authorities. It is not a coincidence that the key figures have been replaced in the two governmental structures – judicial and watchdog agencies – at once. Such decisions can't be made at the regional level, without the consent of Moscow. Normally, such situations mean that the federal center gives a free hand to the new regional head and assists him in disrupting the ties between local elite clans and their ‘patrons' in the law enforcement structures.
In this particular case, it means that Moscow trusts Andrei Travnikov – who was appointed the Interim Acting Governor of the Novosibirsk Region in October 2018 and subsequently has been elected to this post in September 2018.
Travnikov never had ties with local political and economic clans because he had never visited the Novosibirsk region prior to the appointment its Interim Acting Governor. During the first year of his governorship, Travnikov has figured out who is who and identified primary targets for decriminalization of the region. It was unwise to take any action before the elections; therefore, all criminal cases and terminations have been postponed to late September – early October. After the sweeping purge of the Regional Court and Prosecutor’s Office, it is logical to expect a series of high-profile criminal cases against figures well-known in the region.
People storm the Regional Prosecutor’s Office
The commission dispatched by the Prosecutor General’s Office suggested local residents to submit their complaints about violations of the law. The reception had been scheduled to October 12 – but as early as on October 11, a huge crowd has gathered in front of the Prosecutor’s Office. The people have lined up since the early morning.
Novosibirsk residents have been trying to convey to the federal authorities their displeasure with the regional watchdog agency for a while. They had staged protest pickets against "the cover-up of corruption schemes, including those pulled off by Novosibirsk-based organized criminal groups, longstanding inaction, and use of double standards in the protection of citizens' social rights". Now, after the interference of forces interested in the cleansing of the law enforcement structures, the people of Novosibirsk have a chance to be heard.