‘Royal hunt’ for Russian officials. ‘Suicide’ of roe deer under hunting inspector’s snowmobile
“What is allowed to Jupiter is not allowed to the bull”. This proverb precisely describes the situation with hunting in the vast expanses of Russia so abundant with game animals. The CrimeRussia was figuring out why are high-ranked Russian functionaries allowed to ignore restrictions and potential criminal liability – while ordinary hunters face severe punishments, including prison terms, for the same deeds.
There are stiff legal restrictions on hunting and fishing in Russia. Regulatory authorities control all aspects of the favorite hobby of the Russian people: from the duration of hunting and fishing seasons to restrictions and bans on shooting and capturing rare mammal and fish species.
However, in the regions, off-season hunting and fishing in restricted water bodies are prohibited not to everybody.
Game reserves and federal strictly protected areas – forbidden for ordinary mortals – are open for governors, senior law enforcement officers, and other officials; the entire diversity of the domestic fauna is available for them to shoot or catch.
The severe legal restrictions are magically annulled for ‘special’ people. Red Book species are being shot on a commercial scale and often from a helicopter, which is strictly prohibited: argali (Altai ex-Vice Premier Anatoly Bannykh), reindeer, etc., while undisturbed Arctic char readily takes the bait in strictly protected relic lakes of Taymyr (Yamal Prosecutor Aleksander Gerasimenko).
The game leaves the den to look for the hunting man
A high-profile scandal occurred in January 2017 in the Belgorod region where the hunt is almost completely banned following an initiative of Governor Evgeny Savchenko. The head of the region has distinguished himself by prohibiting the shooting of moose and wolves, restricting the roe deer hunting, and completely banning the trapping of hamsters in 2015.
However, local residents claim that officials of the Belgorod region continue mass shooting of game animals despite all the restrictions. They are not really interested in hamsters and prefer wild boars, roe deer, and red deer that inhabit the region.
To catch high-ranked poachers red-handed, Belgorod hunters have established an initiative group patrolling the forests to clamp down on poaching.
On January 8, while patrolling the forests in the Krasnogvardeisky district, the volunteers have encountered Nikolai Evdokimov, Head of the Zonal Branch of the Administration for Environmental Security and Oversight of the Use of Wildlife Objects and Water Biological Resources of the Belgorod Region (Okhotrybnadzor), riding a snowmobile and dragging behind five roe deer carcasses. Upon seeing the people, the game warden has quickly got rid of the killed animals and fled.
The hunters have reported the incident and called police. A police squad arrived to the scene together with Evdokimov who told an amazing story to the officers. According to him, all the five roe deer “have suddenly jumped on the state inspector, threw themselves under the snowmobile”, and died on impact.
However, a brief inspection of the dead animals was sufficient for the activists to discover gun wounds on the carcasses. Aleksey Kargapoltsev, an Aide to Deputy Aleksander Starovoitov representing the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), told that the state inspector has, in fact, committed an act of poaching. Thanks to efforts of Kargapoltsev, this story went viral on social networks. The roe deer – whom Evdokimov was supposed to protect – were shot nine days after the end of the hunting season.
The Administration for the Belgorod Region of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation has initiated a criminal case under Article 258 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Illegal Hunting), which is punishable by up to two years behind bars. But there are no suspects in this criminal case. The law enforcement authorities state that “the investigation is ongoing”, but the local hunters do not believe that the Okhotrybnadzor inspector would be prosecuted. Nor do they believe that he had shot the roe deer for his own pleasure. It is still unknown whether he was alone during the shooting.
A resident of the town of Biryuch of the Krasnogvardeisky district of the Belgorod region has provided a comment to the CrimeRussia journalist on condition of anonymity (the hunter explained that he fears revenge from the officials who do not hesitate to use the administrative resource). According to him, the illegal hunting of governmental servants is a common thing in the region. Local game wardens led by Evdokimov – who was caught with roe deer carcasses – organize so-called ‘poaching picnics’ for local functionaries, high-ranked enforcement officers, and influential businessmen. The source refused to provide specific names but noted that not only district-level officials hunt in the local forests, but also their colleagues from the regional administration and even high guests from the federal center.
Deputy’s Aide Aleksey Kargapoltsev confirms the information provided by hunters from Livenka village; he says that Evdokimov has established a full-scale poaching business for those in power – illegal off-season hunting trips are booked in the district for a month ahead. At the same time, Evdokimov is known in the district as a harsh state inspector penalizing ordinary hunters for even minor violations. Kargapoltsev notes that the residents started complaining on the senior district state inspector a year ago – but mostly verbally and in private conversations.
“The people are angered, no hunting licenses were issued. The people will poach and then take pitchforks. During the entire past open season on ungulates, since November 1 and until January 1, I did not have a single chance to hunt. I had to make trips to the Kursk region and other regions,” – one of the hunters who have caught the game warden red-handed says.
The Deputy’s Aide believes that inspector Evdokimov did not even try to make up a likely story to explain the presence of killed roe deer near his snowmobile because he expected to be ‘covered’ by police officers and high-ranked hunters from the district administration whom he had frequently arranged poaching trips for. In particular, Kargapoltsev names Aleksey Shapolov, the Head of the Krasnogvardeisky District, among powerful functionaries – and devoted hunters – who might take Evdokimov off the hook.
The Deputy’s Aide, determined to expose corruption and nepotism in the district, has been struggling with Shapolov for a while. The tensions between them were so high that in February 2017, the Head of the District has filed an anti-defamation lawsuit against Kargapoltsev. The formal reason for the legal action was an article entitled “Life of outstanding people (a few more words about the Belgorod region)” distributed on the Internet by the activist and allegedly discrediting Shapolov.
While commenting on the arrest of Evdokimov, Aleksey Kargapoltsev told the CrimeRussia that “hunting is a really problematic ‘black spot’ in the Belgorod region – similarly with a number of other Russian Regions. I do not think that the Governor is involved into the hunting mayhem; as far as I know, he has no interest in hunting. But heads of district police departments, district heads, chief doctors of local hospitals, and other ‘petty elite’ are devoted hunters.
Shadow of the Governor and a communist on Maybach
However, according to the anonymous CrimeRussia source from Biryuch, the interest of Evgeny Savchenko, Governor of the Belgorod Region known for his restrictive measures against regional hunters, to the hunt might have a totally different nature. The source does not have direct evidence, but the regional authorities could be involved into the incident in the Krasnogvardeisky district.
The facts speak for themselves. Problems have started for hunters of the Belgorod region in 2015, after the appointment of Egor Krasnikov the Head of the Administration for Environmental Security and Oversight of the Use of Wildlife Objects and Water Biological Resources of the Belgorod Region.
In August 2015, Governor Evgeny Savchenko signed the Order “On the Approval of Permitted Hunting Types and Hunting Parameters” that has effectively banned hunting in the Belgorod region.
Evgeny Savchenko, Governor of the Belgorod Region
Krasnikov, a former advisor to Governor Savchenko, is a well-known person in the region. He has lost the position of a Governor’s advisor because of a scandal escalated after the beating of a driver employed with Taksopark Open Joint Stock Company, a Belgorod-based private transportation firm. A pre-investigation check has been carried out against the Governor’s advisor and the materials falling under Article 116 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (battery) were submitted to the magistrate's court. However, no criminal case was instituted – as it happens, no elements of crime have been found in the actions of the official. Still, Krasnikov had to resign from his post – but being a person from the inner circle of Governor Savchenko, he has got another cushy job.
According to the hunters, Krasnikov was appointed the ‘overseer of hunt’ to ensure that fans of illegal hunting in the regional administration may enjoy their hobby without any issues.
The source also notes another aspect in this story. On March 3 session of the regional government dedicated to environmental issues, Governor Evgeny Savchenko has submitted for discussion a proposal to introduce a 3-year moratorium on wildlife procurement in the region. Should this proposal be approved, only commercial hunting enterprises would operate in the region. The largest such enterprise – Belorechie hunting complex – is located in Korochansky district of the Belgorod region; it was created in 2005 on the basis of Mezhdurechie game reserve with the total area of 35.6 thousand ha.
The hunting complex belongs to Sergei Muravlenko, the ex-Deputy of the State Duma representing the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) and once named “modern Savva Morozov” by Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of Russian communists.
Sergei Muravlenko, the ex-Deputy of the State Duma
A former Chairman of the Board of Directors in Yukos (1997–2003), Muravlenko is known as the richest communist in the CPRF. According to the Central Electoral Commission, his income for the year of 2006 was 494 million rubles ($8.37 million). In addition, there were reports about bank deposits of Muravlenko totaling 2.5 billion rubles ($42.36 million), shares in some 40 companies, and two land lots (9.222 and 18.100 square meters) belonging to him. His declaration also mentioned Porsche Cayenne S и Maybach-57 built in 2003. Interestingly, Evgeny Savchenko had repeatedly ‘advertised’ Belorechie and called for leasing out state-owned forests to private businesses.
If the moratorium is introduced, the numerous hunters of the region would have no choice but either to go to other regions for hunting (which is inconvenient for a host of reasons) or pay for services of private game reserves. In the Belgorod region, Belorechie owned by Sergei Muravlenko, with its wild boars and red deer, is the absolute leader among commercial hunting enterprises.
It is well-known that criminals always return to the crime scene. Aleksander Stasyuk, ex-Deputy Head of Shvabe Holding, was eager to return to the company he has robbed for some 30 million rubles ($452.6 thousand). He was welcomed there with open arms and a new employment contract. Is Shvabe facing a new round of corruption scandals?