Buying your way into politics with gifts. What could Russian State Duma MP face for buying votes?
There is a scandal gaining momentum in the Altai Krai. It is concerned with MPs giving away presents. First rumors of vote buying began circulating a year ago. It is worth mentioning Aleksandr Mastinin was the first to breed resentment. Mastinin is a former MP. He was convicted of embezzlement. It was he who revealed specifics of campaigning in Altai in a letter to Russian Investigation Committee Head Aleksandr Bastrykin.
The letter hit former Altai Krai Legislative Assembly Head Lyudmila Shevchuk hard. She had been the Head of the Region parliament since April of 2008. Mere days before the New Year, Shevchuk suddenly took a vacation only to later resign. At least Stepan Bosyak who was appointed the acting Assembly Head claimed he was surprised by having to urgently take office after the New Year holidays starting from January 9, as well as by Lyudmila Shevchuk’s vacation. Shevchuk resigned due to health issues, according to her resignation letter. Rumor has it that her health issues are due to results of a police investigation into alleged violation committed by the Assembly.
The public got a peek of what was going on in end-March. That is when a Russian Investigation Committee inspection against Shevchuk was reported. The inspection was instituted under Article 144 (Report of a Crime) of the Criminal Procedure Code of the Russian Federation. A decision will be taken based on Article 145 (Decisions Taken Based on Inspection of a Report of a Crime) of the Code once the inspection is complete. The Committee employees did not specify what triggered the inspection. In Altai, rumor has it the pre-trial inspection was instituted due to the vote buying scandal; MP Ivan Loor presented gifts to potential voters not long before the Duma elections. He bought the gifts using the Assembly’s budget. Loor had been the Assembly Head for several years. It is possible Shevchuk may have had something to do with the vote buying since the 2 are family.
Ivan Loor first began working as a tractor driver in 1976. He was appointed the Head of the Town of Ob arm of the Plotnikovsky State Farm after graduating from technical school. Loor was appointed the Head of the Transmashevsky State Farm in 1982. He worked as the Plotnikovsky Head from October 1986 to April 1997. Loor began working at the Central Office of the Administration of the Head of the Altai Krai in April of 1997. He worked as a legal advisor there until 2001. Then, Loor became the First Deputy Head of the Altai Krai Main Agricultural Department. He was appointed the Head of this Department and Vice Governor in 2004 after Mikhail Evdokimov won gubernatorial elections. Loor was elected to the Altai Krai Legislative Assembly as a United Russia representative and was appointed a speaker. He was elected a Russian State Duma MP and was appointed the Head of the Subcommittee for Agricaltural Budget and Tax Policies in September of 2016.
Loor’s good reputation was negatively impacted in May of 2016. It was due to Aleksandr Mastinin. Mastinin also worked as an MP. Mastinin was in the pre-trial detention facility at the time. He was accused of breaking part 3 of Article 33 (Organization of Commission of a Crime) part 4160, (Misappropriation or Embezzlement) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. May we remind you that Mastinin was the Head of the Rodnoy Barnaul Company from January to October of 2009. City of Barnaul residents paid the Company for housing and public utility services. The Company management moved a portion of the money through affiliates instead of transferring them to the following resource providing companies: Barnaul Vodokanal, Barnaulskaya Gorelektroset, and Kuzbassenergo. More than 12 million rubles were stolen in such a manner.
The MP had been fleeing from prosecution since 2013 to finally get arrested in the Sheremetyevo International Airport in June of 2015. He showed ID issued to Valery Grach. Another criminal case was later opened against him for illegal border crossing. However, Mastinin remained an MP. He can only be stripped of his position if he resigns voluntarily or after being convicted of a criminal offence, according to a law on Altai Krai Legislative Assembly MPs status. The runaway MP had no intention to resign voluntarily, claimed the criminal case against him was politically motivated and pushed forward by his opponents, and began carrying out his parliamentary duties from prison.
Mastinin wrote a letter to Russian Investigation Committee Head Aleksandr Bastrykin in May of 2016. A copy of the letter is published on Facebook. Mastinin argued Ivan Loor may have committed a crime and asked for an investigation. The MP learned about possible crime from an article by Kapitalist, a famous Internet Magazine. Mastinin carried out an inspection of his own. He came to a conclusion that the Assembly bought household appliances for Loor to gift to potential voters. The appliances were bought using budget money. The gifts were allegedly meant for the 2016 September Assembly elections. In his letter, the arrested MP pointed out the purchase was obviously of a corrupt nature; “gifts” are of no use for gaining the Assembly’s objectives. He also explained that there is a “special transparent procedure” in place for MPs to encourage someone. The procedure “includes discussion and approval of an award specifically by MPs so everyone – recipients, MPs, and local residents – knew who was awarded what for having done what”. In his case, MPs were left guessing who the expensive notebooks and home cinemas were for.
Use of funds for dubious purposes could be made possible by embezzling and documenting expenses as 2015 annual bonus payments for the Assembly employees, according to the MP’s information. He also thinks while being a public agency Head, Loor violated articles 160 (Misappropriation or Embezzlement) and part 2286, (Exceeding Official Powers committed by a Person Holding a Government a Government Post of a Subject of the Russian Federation”) of the Criminal Code. Mastinin knew one of the articles quite well, since he was accused of breaking the latter. The MP asked Bastrykin to institute an investigation into what was mentioned in the article and react accordingly, as well as to answer 2 question: who decided to buy the “gifts” and who they were for?
Mastinin’s letter and media outlets’ articles led to an internal inspection of the Assembly. It ended up in finding scapegoats and reprimanding those who executed the orders; a usual outcome for Russian public officials. At the same time, the Department for Supervision and Audit of the Committee of the Financial Administration of the Assembly was spontaneously inspected. The inspection got very interested in local awards presented to Rodninsky District village workers by Assembly speaker Ivan Loor in April of 2016. There is a special law in effect in the Altai Krai establishing a documentation procedure that goes along with awarding someone. The Assembly Credentials Committee decides whether to awards someone or not upon receiving propositions from a district or a company. If it approves a proposition, it should then be also approved by the Assembly during a meeting. It is illegal to awards someone with certificates of merit or letters of recognition until all the steps are completed, since otherwise it would mean MPs have not yet decide to do so. The Assembly did not approve awards for the Rodninsky District. That is why they did not meet the requirements and were de-facto presented personally by Assembly speaker Loor. This was sure to raise a lot of question. First, Loor did not buy the gifts from his own pocket. Instead, he used parliamentary money. The Credentials Committee did recommend the Assembly to approve awards for the Rodninsky District. However, it was not more than just a recommendation that did not have legal force; the Assembly had yet to hold a meeting. The most interesting bit is, however, that Ivan Loor presented the gifts in the very same district that he wanted to represent in the Duma by winning the elections. It is worth mentioning that it did not end up being the only campaigning innovation the Assembly Head introduced. The Assembly bought large batches of household appliances later stored right in the Assembly building, according to Kapitalist’s data. The appliances were bought using budget money. Yet, no tender was held since the appliances were to be given to people during campaign rallies; one cannot exactly add such a goal to tender rules.
Assembly Head Lyudmila Shevchuk Lyudmila Shevchuk took a medical leave after the Department for Supervision and Audit examined these facts. However, some employees of the Assembly got into real trouble after the Investigative Committee also got interested in the gifts. Employees of the Investigative Committee were confirmed to have confiscated documents from the Assembly parlors. After that, they instituted an investigation against Assembly Head at the time.
It is worth mentioning that it is not the first time that Loor tried to bribe people into voting for him in the Assembly history. He was accused of crooked campaigning as far back as in 2011. He personally presented every pensioner with a gift – a mug with his business card inside - during celebration of the International Day of Older Persons in the Bobrovka village. It would have seemed ok if not for the fact he had already begun campaigning for a seat in the Assembly.
Ivan Loor was also accused of promoting his cronies. For example, Natalia Kuvshinova who was suddenly appointed the Head of the Youth Parliament of the last Duma. Another example is previously mentioned Lyudmila Shevchuk who was appointed the Assembly Head immediately upon her relative Loor’s appointment to the Assembly.
It has yet to be known what the outcome of “the case of Loor’s gifts” will be. But it is possible the MP will be accused of a criminal offence which will lead to him losing his parliamentary privilege.
According to the investigation, having taken a five-billion loan ($88.7m) from Sberbank in 2008, the owner of Pavlovskgranit deliberately split up the assets of the company so that creditors could not bring a charge against him to court.