Clinging to power by all means. What is Aman Tuleev about to lose? 

Clinging to power by all means. What is Aman Tuleev about to lose?
Tuleev managed to take charge of the regional parliament Photo: The CrimeRussia

The tragedy in Zimnyaya Vishnya Trade Center has exposed many problems and nuances hushed up in the Kemerovo region for certain reasons. Take, for instance, Aman Tuleev – once the perpetual leader favored both by the federal center and general public and awarded the “People’s Governor” title specifically invented for him by local Deputies. However, on March 25, 2018, it became clear that the popular appreciation of Tuleev is conditional and mostly fictitious. Many unexpected questions have suddenly popped up as well.

First of all, people want to know why had Tullev been clinging to power for so long? Was it his personal desire or stance of some forces behind his back not interested in any changes in the regional politics?

On April 1 (the Fools' Day!), the regional head has resigned unable to bear “the heavy moral burden” – but nine days later, he returned to the politics as the Chairman of the Regional Council of People’s Deputies “ready to work for the benefit of Kuzbass”. Kind of: “I got tired – I resign; I got rested – I return.”

How has ‘refreshed’ Tuleev, currently bound to a wheelchair, managed to take charge of the regional parliament concurrently ousting young and perspective politician Aleksei Sinitsyn, who has voluntarily resigned (according to some sources, the ex-Governor promised Sinitsyn a chair in the Council of the Federation)? Tuleev became a Kemerovo parliamentarian not only contrary to the interests of leaders of federal political parties, but also contrary to the legislation. Maksim Uchvatov, member of the All-Russia People’s Front, has already addressed the Prosecutor General’s Office and Central Elections Commission asking to check the legitimacy of the ex-Governor’s election to his current post and legality of his Deputy’s mandate.

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Aleksei Sinitsyn voluntarily stepped down in favor of Aman Tuleev

During the elections to the Regional Council of People’s Deputies, Tuleev was on the top of the parliamentary list of Edinaya Rossia (United Russia) Party. After the ‘grand’ victory (apart from members of Edinaya Rossia, only two people representing other political parties – the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia and Spavedlivaya Rossia (Just Russia) – became Deputies of the Regional Parliament), then-Governor has delivered his mandate over to Valentina Ivanchenko, the second person on the Edinaya Rossia list. According to the Law of the Kemerovo Region № 24-OZ of February 14, 2007, an elected Deputy, who has decided to withdraw from a mandate, must submit a relevant application to the elections commission. Such a withdrawal can not be reversed. But apparently, there are some unwritten laws in the Kemerovo region contradicting the written ones. Despite the impossibility to become a Deputy again, Tuleev, has got a mandate with the unanimous support and common applause. 

It can’t be ruled out that the masterminds behind this scheme have capitalized on the fact that the majority of voters have no idea of the regional laws and Deputies’ duties. Interestingly, a vacant mandate was waiting for Aman Tuleev since October 20, 2016. At that time, Van Vai-Chen, member of Edinaya Rossia, General Director of Eligomed Holding private medical clinic, and reportedly personal doctor of Tuleev, has stepped down. The date of this resignation is important – 20 days later, a major scandal has broken out in the region in relation to the extortion of shares of Razrez Inskoy (Inskoy Pit) (The CrimeRussia repeatedly wrote about this story earlier). As a result, Tuleev’s deputies Aleksander Danilchenko and Aleksei Ivanov; several other functionaries of the Regional Administration; Sergei Kalinkin, ex-Head of the Investigations Directorate in the Kemerovo Region of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR), and two his subordinates; and local oligarch Aleksander Shchukin patronized by Tuleev in the recent years have been prosecuted. Therefore, the resignation of Vai-Chen in that moment, so difficult for the Governor, was a very friendly and timely gesture. 

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Deputy Van Vai-Chen

Apparently the scenario “how to step down from the Governor’s office but still stay in power” was already actively planned and discussed in October 2016. It was impossible to predict the outcome of the investigation at that time and guarantee that Tuleev is not charged or that the Kremlin does not strongly recommend him to resign. The parliamentary powers and immunity could be very useful for the politician with a 20-year-long service record and tarnished reputation.

But ultimately, the troubles originating from Razrez Inskoy haven’t really affected Aman Tuleev – and the ‘rescue plan’ was postponed until now.

It is necessary to note that the Kuzbass power brokers have also wiped boots on another provision of the Law “On Elections of the Council of People’s Deputies of the Kemerovo Region” earlier approved by them. According to the law, a mandate can be transferred to another person only within 14 days after the resignation of its previous holder. The period between October 20, 2016 and April 3, 2018 obviously exceeds this limitation. The Constitutional Court has also upheld the impossibility to regain the Deputy’s status after voluntary resignation: “a person, who has got a Deputy’s mandate and, thus, exercised the passive electoral right, may not expect to get another Deputy’s mandate based on results of the election that has already taken place”. In other words, to became a Deputy again, a person must participate in the next election on the same basis as everyone else. But the henchmen of Aman Tuleev don’t really care that the withdrawn mandates must be ‘frozen’ until the next election campaign – they need him right here, right now. They were rushing to appoint Tuleev the Speaker so much that have violated another regional act (Charter of the Region) stipulating the mandatory Deputy’s oath.

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Aman Tuleev

Why are the power brokers trying to keep the ex-Governor in power by all means – aside from the interests of coal and industrial holdings that have found common language with Tuleev long ago? There is another important factor – public opinion. According to it, a significant part of Kuzbass people still believe that the life in the region is great thanks to Tuleev. This is why his name can be used by political forces – at least for some time. According to the statistics published by the local ‘pocket’ press, the Kemerovo region features the highest salaries, lowest utility fees, most comprehensive lists of benefits for all population categories, highest tax collection rate, lowest unemployment level, etc. in comparison with other Russian regions. In full concordance with these data drummed into heads of Kuzbass residents for years, Aman Tuleev said during his accession to the Speaker’s post that he hands the region over to Interim Acting Governor Sergei Tsivilev with peace of mind, “in excellent condition, with money”, and with a team of professional managers personally chosen by him. And this despite the fact that a few days earlier, Vladimir Putin has publicly assessed the performance of Tuleev’s team by putting it on the 73rd place in the rating of Russian regions.

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Sergei Tsivilev, Interim Acting Governor of the Kemerovo Region   

So, what is the condition of the region in the end of the 21-year-long rule of Aman Tuleev? The real statistics does not look that optimistic. The high tax collection rate (according to the Regional Tax Service, 154.7 billion rubles ($2.5 billion) have been collected for the year of 2017; this is 59% higher than for 2016) has a simple explanation: in the framework of their agreement with the regional authorities, coal mining companies – primary taxpayers of Kuzbass – pay taxes for the next year in advance. In other words, the major enterprises, who have already prepaid their taxes, won’t pay anything in the next year, and the regional budget won’t be replenished. The increase in trade observed in the recent years (the number of countries importing Kuzbass coal has increased by 20% – from 83 to 107 – in four years) also has a sad explanation: the coal exporters compensate the drop in prices on the world market by increasing the sales volumes. In 2014, 117 million tons of coal were sold for $8899 million, while in 2016, 128 million tons of coal were sold for only $6798 million. It is not surprising therefore that the coal production – both underground and in open pits – is growing, the number of mines and pits increases, and the region is steadily transformed into a moonscape. Some coal pits approach settlements; since the last year, people have been staging protest rallies on a regular basis, blocking access to heavy trucks loaded with coal, and demanding to prohibit mining operations that affect adversely the human life and environment.

By the way, a few months ago, Aman Tuleev has called these people “ruffians”.

The increasing number of oncological diseases has been registered in settlements adjacent to coal pits. With regards to the healthcare, its level is currently so low in some medical institutions that people prefer to pay for treatment in neighboring regions. For instance, cancer patients use any opportunity to receive treatment in Tomsk – although Kemerovo has its own oncological clinic. 

Of course, not everything in the region was deteriorating throughout the years of Tuleev’s rule – new enterprises were launched, jobs created (although other jobs were cut), schools and kindergartens built, import substitution programs implemented, significant cultural events conducted, etc. But overall, the region ceased to be lucrative not only for those willing to relocate to a new place, but for its native residents as well. According to the Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat), as of early 2018, the average nominal gross salary in Siberia was 33.91 thousand rubles ($556) per month. In Kuzbass, it is 33.38 thousand rubles ($548) per month (in reality, the figures vary from 5 thousand rubles ($82) unofficially paid to janitors to hundreds of thousands earned by top managers). In the three leading Siberian regions – the Krasnoyarsk krai, Irkutsk region, and Tomsk region (where, according to the propaganda spread in the Kemerovo region, living standards are lower) – the average nominal gross salaries are 40.6, 38.0, and 37.9 thousand rubles ($666, $623, and $621) respectively. And of course, by the corruption level, the Kemerovo region is far ahead of its neighbors.

The corruption has merged with the power and became an element of the system.

Resolution of any issue – from enrolling the child to a kindergarten to launching, for instance, a trade center – requires connections and money in Kuzbass. This vicious circle results in such incidents as the fire in Zimnyaya Vishnya Trade Center. In the last three years, people depart from the region en masse – this is the main political and economic performance indicator of the regional authorities. Those willing to develop their business and education, improve professional and cultural level, or just earn money literally flee from Kuzbass. In 2015, the number of people leaving the region had exceeded the number of people arriving to it by 1941 person; in 2017 – by 4130 persons. This is just the official statistics, which is three times lower than the unofficial one: many people leaving the Kemerovo region still have the permanent residence address there and are not counted. All of the above clearly indicate that the region is declining – not least because of the ‘skillful’ management policy of the regional authorities. There is some illusive light at the end of the tunnel though – this week, Interim Acting Governor Sergei Tsivilev started purges of staff. Four Vice Governors, who had held their posts for years during the rule of Tuleev, were dismissed: Valery Tsoy (healthcare), Elena Zhidkova (agriculture), Aleksei Kozhevin (law enforcement), and Dmitry Kudryashov (roads and housing and utility sector) – as well as a few lower-ranked officials. The remaining deputies of Tsivilev have been demoted to Interim Acting Vice Governors. People are joking that Tuleev has already started vacating seats in the Regional Council of Deputies for his fired henchmen. 

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Valery Tsoy

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Elena Zhidkova

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Aleksei Kozhevin

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Dmitry Kudryashov

How has the wealth of the “People’s Governor” changed in these years? Media outlets started actively discussing the income and assets of Tuleev after his resignation. Reportedly, the former head of Kuzbass has addressed Regional Prosecutor Pavel Bukhtoyarov asking to protect his honor and dignity by “checking his income, costs, and assets, and providing an official response to the information spread by the media”. The ex-Governor does not consider himself an oligarch.

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Pavel Bukhtoyarov, Prosecutor of the Kemerovo Region

Tuleev, who has been awarded the “People’s Governor” title in 2011 by a law enacted exclusively in the Kemerovo region (there are no other “People’s Governors” in Russia), is entitled for life to tax-free monthly benefits in the amount of 50 thousand rubles ($820) adjusted on the annual basis in accordance with the inflation rate and a number of other privileges. In addition to the regular pension, he is going to receive 25 thousand rubles ($410) per month for the title “Honorary Citizen of the Kemerovo Region” and some 170 thousand rubles ($2.8 thousand) per month for being a honorary citizen of 12 towns and 7 districts of Kuzbass. The ex-Governor is entitled to have an assistant and office and, most importantly, use the guarded residence in Mazurovo township – so-called ‘Governor’s residence’ –for the rest of his life. It is necessary to note that point 4 of the law approved back in 2011 has been revised by the Deputies. The original version had no references to a ‘countryside residence’ at all. The version dated May 12, 2012 has added an entire paragraph to point 4: “The Governor, who has ceased his powers, and his spouse are provided for life and free of charge with a guarded residence belonging to the Kemerovo region that was used by the Governor as the official residence on the date of the termination of his powers, or another residence with a living space of at least 93 square meters located in Mazurovo township of the Kemerovo region”. The version dated October 8, 2015 stipulates as follows: “The Governor, who has ceased his powers, and his spouse are provided for life and free of charge with a guarded residence belonging to the Kemerovo region that was used by the Governor as the official residence on the date of the termination of his powers”. This residence consisting of 12 homes, bathhouse, and pond was subject to an inquest carried out by Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.

It is clear now why the most recent version of the law on “People’s Governor” omits any references to the living space of Tuleev’s residence. What “93 square meters” are we talking about if the residence, in fact, is a comfortable mini-village? The total size of only three its cottages, out of the 12, is over 1 thousand square meters. The residence occupies 14 ha and includes, in addition to residential homes, some 40 household outbuildings – cellars, stores, laundry, boiling station, artesian well, water tower, etc. A special power line and gas pipeline have been laid to the residence and a cellular tower erected. In addition to the lands granted to Tuleev for life, he has got 70 thousand square meters of fenced woodlands seized, according to Navalny, illegally. But who would find this out and check under different, more favorable for the ex-Governor, circumstances?

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Residence of Aman Tuleev

According to the income and asset declaration of Aman Tuleev for the year of 2017, his annual salary was 1.6 million rubles ($26.2 thousand) (to compare, in 2016 he has earned 2.089 million rubles ($34.2 thousand)). Apparently, the relatively law amount is linked with his almost 6-month-long absence in the office due to a surgery and lengthy rehabilitation. This hasn’t really affected his wealth though – in 2016, the total official income of the regional head was 5.42 million rubles ($88.8 thousand), while in 2017 – 5.2 million rubles ($85.2 thousand) (4% less). The total income of Tuleev includes numerous benefits for the titles of “People’s Governor” and “Honorary Citizen”. The number of his bank accounts has increased: in 2016, the regional head had 971.1 thousand rubles ($15.9 thousand) on two ruble accounts, while in 2017 – 59 thousand rubles ($967) and €1.8 thousand on three accounts. 

Elvira Tuleeva, wife of the Kuzbass ex-Governor, has earned 17.784 million rubles (291.5 thousand) in 2017 – this is 4.7 times more than in the previous year (3.758 million rubles ($61.6 thousand)). According to her declaration, the main income pertains to the sale of a home with a living space of 491.7 square meters for 16.63 million rubles ($272.6 thousand). However, Elvira Tuleeva has already sold a home with a living space of 491.7 square meters in 2016 – although for 3.47 million rubles ($56.9 thousand). She has 13.3 million rubles ($218 thousand) on five bank accounts – while in 2016, Tuleeva had 4.6 million rubles ($75.4 thousand) on two accounts. The origin of the two homes with the same living space sold in 2016 and 2017 raises questions – because the total list of assets belonging to the Tuleev family hasn’t changed. The spouses own 2 apartments with living spaces of 137.8 and 90.9 square meters and a parking garage 18.6 square meters in size. They don’t have any vehicles. The family uses a home with a living space of 281.5 square meters standing on a lot 1.78 thousand square meters in size. All their properties are located in Russia. In the light of the possible double sale of the same home, Tuleev’s request to check his income submitted to the Prosecutor’s Office in order to squash rumors about his ‘overwhelming wealth’ may further harm the ex-Governor’s reputation – already tarnished after the fire in Zimnyaya Vishnya Trade Center.

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Aman Tuleev with his wife

Many people in the region believe that in addition to the officially declared income, Aman Tuleev may have direct ties with the coal business. This aspect of his activities is thoroughly concealed because the law prohibits governmental officials from running a business. However, according to some sources, shares in operating coal mines and pits, leased land lots, and certain assets in Moscow bring clan Tuleev $100 to $300 thousand per day. Compromat.ru portal alleges that Tuleev may control 46% of shares in Yubileinaya mine acquired by him through the official powers. His involvement into offshore coal trade schemes can’t be ruled out as well. Revenues gained from sales of millions of tons of Kuzbass coal were reportedly siphoned off to Cyprus-based offshore companies during his rule. If that is the truth, his unwillingness to vacate the Governor’s chair for so many years is quite understandable. Major coal companies, that have divided the region long ago, are not interested in any changes in the circles of power because new Kuzbass authorities may disrupt the existing balance.

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Yubileinaya mine

P.S. Not only the wealth of Aman Tuleev has recently shocked the Kuzbass residents. In the framework of the inquest into the fire in Zimnyaya Vishnya Trade Center, Aleksander Mamontov, Head of the Kemerovo Region Directorate of EMERCOM, has been searched. It turned out that the 48-year-old major general owns 8 real properties, including a countryside mansion with a living space of 530 square meters standing on a lot 1.5 thousand square meters in size surrounded by a pine forest. Realtors estimate the value of the three-storey home at some 30 million rubles ($491.8 thousand). The estate also includes a two-storey guest house. 

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Mansion of Aleksander Mamontov, Head of the Kemerovo Region Directorate of EMERCOM

The mansion is located near the home of another major general – Konstantin Antonkin, Head of the General Administration for the Kemerovo Region of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia. Antonkin remains in custody in the Novosibirsk Pretrial Detention Center since August 2017 for bribe-taking on an especially large scale – he has received this home as a bribe. Mamontov also has a country home and 6 apartments in Kemerovo that officially belong to his relatives. The properties are located in the center of the city and leased out. According to the official version, the general has received the above real estate from his father-businessman – although nobody had ever heard of that person. Therefore, it would be logical to suppose that the Head of the Kemerovo Region Directorate of EMERCOM either runs a business instead of fulfilling his duties, including provision of fire safety, or gains illegal revenues (e.g. by abusing his official powers). It is necessary to note that Aleksander Mamontov has been holding ‘cushy jobs’ since 1996 – he was a deputy division head in the Technical Service, division head in the Technical Service, Head of the Economic Service, Head of the Department of Fire Equipment and Resource Provision of the Kemerovo Region Directorate of EMERCOM, etc.

Law enforcement operatives claim that during the searches, Mamontov had behaved not like an officer: threatened to resign, used obscene language, called the searches a personal insult, and promised to avenge it.

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