Chelyabinsk lawlessness: FSB general vs. defiant businessmen
Igor Akhrimeev, the Head of the Directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation in the Chelyabinsk Region, might leave his post soon. Sources link together the possible resignation of the high-ranked enforcement functionary and his conflict with a number of politicians and businessmen of the Southern Urals. The local elite have literally turned against the Major General. Many opponents accuse him of laying hands on the entire region.
Normally, FSB officers avoid broad publicity. Due to the specificity of their service, their names are rarely mentioned in media. But sometimes even high-ranked enforcement functionaries become involved into major public scandals.
Promotion or demotion?
The entire career of Igor Akhrimeev has been linked with the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation. During the years of his service, the major general has got lots of powerful enemies. According to experts, currently Akhrimeev is in bitter confrontation with Boris Dubrovsky, the Governor of the Chelyabinsk Region – the high-ranked functionaries are carving up spheres of influence in the region.
The official biography of Igor Akhrimeev reflects precisely his service record. His professional development has begun in the FSB Directorate in the Novosibirsk Region. Then his career has virtually skyrocketed. After working for some time as the Deputy Head of the FSB Directorate in the Volgograd Region, in 2011 Akhrimeev has been appointed the Head of the FSB Directorate in the Irkutsk Region. The Major General has been holding his current post since May 2013.
Political experts note that recently Akhrimeev has become a key player in the Chelyabinsk region. Only Viktor Rashnikov, the owner of the Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Complex, and – perhaps – Boris Dubrovsky, the current Governor, have greater influence in the region.
Meeting of the President in the Chelyabinsk airport on December 5, 2016. From left to right: Vladimir Putin; Igor Holmanskikh, the Presidential Envoy to the Urals Federal District; Governor Boris Dubrovsky; and Igor Akhrimeev
According to some sources, the Major General is about to leave Chelyabinsk by the end of this year. The reasons behind his possible resignation include not only a long-term conflict with the regional elite, but also a scandal inside the enforcement agency due to illegal eavesdropping on a foreign businessman.
The experts note that the Head of the FSB Directorate had, in fact, been pursuing repressions against many prominent businessmen of the Chelyabinsk region. The following local entrepreneurs have sustained various losses due to his actions: Sergey Vainshtein, Alexey Krikun, Konstantin Strukov, Oleg Kolesnikov, Oleg Grachev, Konstantin Tsybko, Nikolai Sandakov, Igor Altushkin, and other businessmen.
It is quite possible that after the resignation, Akhrimeev would be employed with Sevmash shipbuilding company in the Arkhangelsk region belonging to Severny Alliance (Northern Alliance) Limited Liability Company. This enterprise builds nuclear submarines for the Russian Navy. The position of a FSB representative at the naval shipyard would be a demotion for the general because such posts are normally held by FSB colonels.
But some sources state just the opposite: the Major General is preparing to relocate to Moscow for a promotion. Allegedly, he should get a chair in the Inspections Directorate of the FSB.
If that is the truth, the Chelyabinsk business elite have no reasons to rejoice: Igor Akhrimeev would be granted powers to inspect all territorial branches of the FSB and retains levers to control the situation in the region.
Attempted to wrest business away from the ex-Governor
Igor Akhrimeev had a serious conflict with Mikhail Yurevich, the ex-Governor of the Chelyabinsk Region, who claims that the Major General tried to seize the business from his family.
According to Mikhail Yurevich, the productive assets had been attacked first – apparently, because it is easier for watchdog and controlling authorities to put pressure on those.
Mikhail Yurevich, the ex-Governor of the Chelyabinsk Region
Before coming to the politics, the ex-Governor was a major entrepreneur in the Urals. Later his assets have been redistributed within his family, which is involved into many large-scale business projects implemented in the Chelyabinsk region. Mikhail Yurevich is a founder of an agricultural-industrial holding company owning the famous Makfa brand. In 1999, he was elected the Deputy of the Third Convocation of the State Duma of the Russian Federation; in 2005 has won the mayoral elections in Chelyabinsk. In 2010–2014, Yurevich had been the Governor of the Chelyabinsk Region and was dismissed by a Presidential Order.
Master of the Chelyabinsk Region
Another blow to the career of Igor Akhrimeev was a high-profile statement made by Nikolai Sandakov, the former Vice Governor of the Chelyabinsk Region, after his arrest on suspicion of swindling. The high-ranked functionary, nicknamed Kolya Astrakhansky (Sandakov is a native of the Lower Volga region) in the local business circles, has posted a statement on his Facebook page accusing the Head of the FSB Directorate of attempted accroaching all the political and economic powers in the region.
According to Nikolai Sandakov, the Major General does not make a secret of his intention either to become the Governor or consolidate the powers, thus, becoming the master of the Chelyabinsk region. To achieve this goal, Akhrimeev has launched a large scale PR campaign to raise his personal popularity among the residents. In addition, the enforcement functionary is trying to get full control over the local media outlets, their owners, and editors.
Using his subordinates, the Major General has been collecting blackmailing materials against the key regional figures. The following persons are now totally dependent on the Head of the FSB Directorate: Evgeny Teftelev, the Mayor of Chelyabinsk; Vice Governors Sergey Shal, Evgeny Redin, and Vadim Evdokimov; Vladimir Myakush, the Chairman of the Legislative Assembly; his First Deputy Yuri Karlikanov; and a number of Deputies. All these officials have been subjects to FSB audits and now fear criminal prosecution.
Nikolai Sandakov, the former Vice Governor of the Chelyabinsk Region
Nikolai Sandakov has also accused Igor Akhrimeev of an attempt to gain personal control over heads of all regional law enforcement structures, including the court system, prosecution, and Investigative Committee. Using his influence on the judge appointment mechanism, the Head of the FSB Directorate has already put in a position of dependence several judges in the Sovetsky and Tsentralny district courts, as well as members of the Chelyabinsk Regional Court.
The former Vice Governor believes that incompetent actions of the Major General have harmed significantly the regional construction business, major agricultural enterprises, and the service industry. The level of corruption in the FSB Directorate has increased, while the effectiveness of work in specific areas decreased. There were episodes of providing protection cover for organized criminal groups specializing in car thefts, money laundering, etc. Nikolai Sandakov has openly accused Igor Akhrimeev of all these offences.
It is necessary to note that the author of the high-profile statement had been arrested in the Chelyabinsk airport on March 26, 2015. He was charged with swindling and instigation to illegal access to digital information.
According to the official statement of the Press Service of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR), in 2011–2012, Sandakov received 1.5 million rubles from Evgeny Tarasov, City Manager of the Ozersky Municipal District, and promised to ensure his appointment the Head of Magnitogorsk. In 2013, the former Vice Governor hired IT expert Aleksander Abroskin (currently hiding from justice abroad) to hack e-mail accounts of a Chelyabinsk-based political technologist and head of a department in the regional administration responsible for media liaison. Both owners of the hacked e-mail accounts had been criticizing Sandakov in the past.
Power pressure on business
According to Nikolai Sandakov, Major General Igor Akhrimeev fully controls the land market and construction business in Chelyabinsk. Not a single medium- or large-scale deal in the regional capital can be closed without his approval.
For example, in 2014, after a refusal of the management of Greenflight construction company to cooperate with the influential Head of the FSB Directorate, stiff pressure had been put on the enterprise; as a result, the largest regional developer has been brought on the verge of bankruptcy. Only the intervention of the regional authorities allowed to prevent the destruction of the company – otherwise, 9 thousand construction co-investors would be left with nothing.
Igor Akhrimeev has formed an inner circle of businessmen whose interests he is openly lobbying – while disliked entrepreneurs suffer from continuous pressure. The first group includes, among others, Boris Vidgof – who owes 1.5 billion rubles to banks but evades civil liability thanks to patronage from the Head of the FSB Directorate. Oleg Kolesnikov, the former Deputy of the State Duma and businessman, belongs to the second group, and his business is, in fact, ruined.
Sandakov believes that Akhrimeev had personally organized several raiding attacks on Remzhilzakazchik, the largest property management company in the region, which resulted in a fever on the housing and communal utility market. Together with the introduction of capital renovation fees for homeowners, this could lead to public protests – that had been avoided so far.
According to the statement posted by Sandakov on the social network, the main issue is that the major general will not bear any responsibility for his actions because all his instructions are informal, and the lack of an interior and exterior control in the FSB Directorate makes him, in fact, invincible.
Lobbied interests of a Cypriot company
Environmental activist Andrei Talevlin accuses Igor Akhrimeev in his LiveJournal of lobbying interests of Cypriot RMC Company that intends to build Tominsky Mining and Concentration Plant in the Chelyabinsk region.
The plant construction project has caused mass protests in the region; the residents believe that the new enterprise would further worsen the already-disastrous environmental situation in the Southern Urals. In the end of 2015, over 108 thousand signatures of people living in the Chelyabinsk region and outraged with the mining and concentration plant project have been submitted to President Vladimir Putin.
Protest rally against the construction of Tominsky Mining and Concentration Plant
Andrei Talevlin states that Igor Akhrimeev is actively struggling against environmental activists using all the powers of his agency. After his appointment the Head of the FSB Directorate for the Chelyabinsk Region, serious problems have begun for many public organizations and individuals opposing the plans of the Cypriot copper mining company to build a mining and concentration plant in a Chelyabinsk suburb.
The Fund for Nature and a public movement with the same name have become the first victims. Major general Akhrimeev had repeatedly asked the local administration of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation to include this public organization into the register of foreign agents. First time, the officials managed to decline the request from a powerful enforcement functionary, but his second request has been satisfied.
Akhrimeev tried to initiate criminal cases against all leaders of the environmental movement of the Chelyabinsk region due to their activities opposing the construction of the mining and concentration plant. However, the Regional Prosecutor’s Office has not approved such initiatives of the Head of the FSB Directorate.
Andrei Talevlin believes that the Major General puts interests of the Cypriot company above the national interests of Russia.
Illegal eavesdropping on a foreigner
According to well-informed sources, one of the reasons why Akhrimeev had displeased his federal superiors was an interdepartmental scandal related to the use of special eavesdropping equipment.
The incident has occurred during a business trip of a foreign entrepreneur with a diplomatic passport to Chelyabinsk. Due to some unknown reasons, that person has attracted a special interest of the major general, and Akhrimeev instructed his subordinates to plant eavesdropping devices in the Hotel Markstadt suit occupied by the foreigner. Stanislav Filatov, the Head of the Counterintelligence Department of the FSB Directorate in the Chelyabinsk Region, was in charge of the operation.
A crew of technicians had been sent to the unit of the foreign guest, but during the installation of bugs, the businessman has returned to his suit. It was a nice surprise for him to see unknown people there planting eavesdropping devices…
The unfortunate gaffe could result in an international scandal, but the foreigner turned out to be an understanding person, so there were no serious implications. Still, the incident had been discussed at the diplomatic level and became known to the superior FSB command.
According to rumors, during the investigation, Akhrimeev had put all the blame on his subordinate Stanislav Filatov – allegedly, he was acting on his own initiative. It is necessary to note, however, that such a major operation could not be performed without approval from the Head of Directorate. A report had to be submitted to the major general to get a permission to use the special eavesdropping equipment. Therefore, the investigative commission has made the right conclusions – and, as a result, Akhrimeev is about to leave his current post soon.
Of course, the Head of any territorial FSB directorate has enough powers to affect the political and economic life in the region. It is not a secret that many high-ranked officers use these powers for their personal purposes – but they take all efforts to avoid publicity. Igor Akhrimeev was an exception – he acted on a large scale and openly, thus, getting lots of powerful enemies among Chelyabinsk politicians and officials.
The prosecutors want the former Russian Federation Council member to go to prison for 14 years instead of 9 and pay a 500-million-ruble ($8.8 million) fine instead of 70 million rubles ($1.2 million).