Totally whacked. ‘Golden toilet’ of Yamal Governor declared information weapon
The passion for luxury has again failed Dmitry Kobylkin, Governor of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District. This time, he has been caught with luxury plumbing. Novaya Gazeta newspaper has published a document stating that a designer Italian toilet bowl worth 8 million rubles ($135.7 thousand) was purchased for the luxury residence of the regional head. After the escalation of the scandal, the Yamal Government has promised to sue the journalists and named the news a ‘fake’. It is difficult, however, to believe that Kobylkin became a victim of the information war. In fact, a ‘golden toilet’ would perfectly fit into the interior of the Governor’s ‘close’ country home.
On November 10, Novaya Gazeta newspaper has published news immediately disseminated by dozens of media outlets. The newspaper has made public a document stating that a ‘golden’ toilet bowl was purchased for the residence of Dmitry Kobylkin, Governor of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District. The custom-made plumbing masterpiece from alabaster porcelain has been produced in Italy. Its cost – 8 million rubles ($135.7 thousand) – equals the cost of two one-room apartments in Salekhard. The order has been paid for by a non-profit organization – Yamal Regional Innovation and Investment Fund – whose sole founder is the Department of Innovation and Science of the Administration of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District.
According to the published document, the ‘golden toilet’ has been installed in Yamalsky Hotel and Transport Complex located 10 km from Salekhard. This complex is also known to the local people as Neelovckie Dachi or Governor’s ‘close’ county home. According to Novaya Gazeta, members of Dmitry Kobylkin’s family are the sole users of that establishment. In other words, only they are entitled to sit on the porcelain masterpiece bought for 8 million rubles ($135.7 thousand).
Other media outlets had repeatedly confirmed that Yamalsky Hotel and Transport Complex is intended exclusively for the Governor and his entourage. Moskovskij Komsomolets specified that this is just a ‘close’ country home of Kobylkin, while his ‘distant’ rural residence is Varchaty recreation base.
Novaya Gazeta claims that Neelovckie Dachi has undergone capital renovations in 2013–2014 and the editorial office possesses documents confirming this. 95.5 million rubles ($1.6 million) had been directly allocated from the budget for that purpose. Moskovskij Komsomolets provides the same amount and states that the furnishing cost was even higher – 102 million rubles ($1.7 million), including a TV set for 1 million rubles ($17 thousand), audio system for 377 thousand rubles ($6.4 thousand), and chandelier for 300 thousand rubles ($5.1 thousand).
The tender documentation pertaining to the renovation of the ‘close’ country home provides details reflecting the taste and status of its future owner. For instance, the conference room had to be decorated with “white wood with artistic carvings encrusted with decoration wood veneer depicting local ethnic themes”. In addition, “pillars with cannelures made of massive wood and decorated with column caps with carvings depicting local ethnic themes” had to be mounted on the walls. “Ceiling cornices must be decorated with carvings depicting elements of the Yamal Flag”. The description of one of the numerous halls in the Governor’s residence is of interest as well. The tender documentation states as follows: “This hall must be filled with hand-made details carved of massive wood, figures of mammoths and deer, and fen berry leaves repeated also on wooden panels on the walls, chairs, and the table”.
Znak.com has also confirmed the information on the renovation tender and provided its reference number on the governmental acquisitions web site: 0190200000313001663. Not only has this news portal reproduced word by word the information published by Novaya Gazeta, but provided more details as well, including chairs with hand-made carving and upholstery made of fabric shot with silver and depicting deer on the back and carved window ledges covered with gold.
Yamalsky luxury hotel complex also known as Neelovckie Dachi
The tender has been carried out and the works completed. However, Kobylkin apparently was not fully satisfied with the results. The Governor has ordered to finalize the details – for instance, replace the not-so-luxury plumbing. The regional head has also decided to completely re-renovate the sauna with the total space over 100 square meters. The total cost of the ‘finishing touches’ was 18.4 million rubles ($312.1 thousand). The Yamal Government decided to play it safe and instead of paying for these works directly, transferred the funds from the regional innovation and investment fund.
After the wave of publications about the ‘golden toilet’ of Kobylkin, the Yamal Administration has stricken back. Natalia Khlopunova, Press Secretary of the Governor, has named the information publicized by Novaya Gazeta a “fake” and characterized the article as “another series of lies and distortion”. According to her, the documents were false and provided wrong amounts and facts. The representative of Kobylkin claimed that the “first series of lies” in this year was a video posted on the web site of Novaya Gazeta showing “a person resembling the Yamal Governor fishing in Taimyrsky State Nature Biosphere Reserve. That news was also dubbed “fake” in Yamal despite extensive documentary evidence.
Khlopunova has officially confirmed the fact of plumbing repairs in Yamalsky Hotel and Transport Complex. But allegedly the works had been performed several years ago. The repairs were large-scale indeed because the hotel “is among the best in Salekhard and must meet high-level comfort and safety requirements”. Exclusive Italian plumbing was required for “guests with high demands”. But allegedly the 8 million rubles ($135.7 thousand) were spent not on a single toilet bowl – but on plumbing replacements and repairs in the entire Yamalsky hotel. The Government was ready to prove this with documents. And Governor Dmitry Kobylkin allegedly does not reside in that complex.
Khlopunova has emphasized that Yamal Regional Innovation and Investment Fund founded by the Department of Innovation and Science of the Administration of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District is going to sue the journalists. “The fund is already preparing its lawsuits. Anti-defamation lawsuits have been filed against participants of this smear campaign ongoing since the beginning of the year and estimated at dozens of millions of rubles”. According to the Press Secretary of the Yamal Governor, Gefest (Hephaestus) company, the contractor who had performed the works in Yamalsky Hotel and Transport Complex, is also going to file a forgery and defamation lawsuit.
Khlopunova has questioned the authority of Irek Murtazin, the author of the article. The Press Secretary of Kobylkin has reminded that the journalist was sentenced to a prison term several years ago for slander and incitement of hatred after the publication of false information about the death of Mintimer Shaimiev, then-President of Tatarstan, in his blog. The Yamal Government is going to seek criminal prosecution of Murtazin for the publication about the ‘golden toilet’ of Dmitry Kobylkin.
Loyal media outlets rushed to support Khlopunova and defend the Governor. Federal Press claims, citing its experts, that upon analyzing the photos used in the article about the Governor’s expensive acquisition, they have concluded that the pictures were edited in Photoshop by a user with the name “Irek”. Znak.com has published a statement of the Head of Gefest (Hephaestus) Limited Liability Company claiming that the document was false. “This is a forged acceptance certificate. It has nothing to do with the reality. Our lawyers are preparing lawsuits in this regard,” – Denis Kremlev, Head of Gefest Limited Liability Company, said. Znak.com also supports the version that all the attacks against the Governor are orchestrated by Yamal businessman Oleg Sitnikov who has lost a portion of his business and profitable crossing on the Pur River because of Kobylkin (The CrimeRussia wrote about this earlier). The Regions Club has suggested a similar version and declared the ‘golden toilet’ of Kobylkin an “information weapon”.
Dmitry Muratov, Editor-in-Chief of Novaya Gazeta, gave an unexpected trump card to the defenders of the Yamal Governor. He was in charge of the newspaper for 22 years, and three days after the publication about Kobylkin has announced his resignation. Some media outlets have commented this as follows: “According to the official version, he got tired, while insiders stay that this was the last straw for the sponsors of Novaya Gazeta. It is one thing to expose shady affairs of power brokers and it is a totally different thing to publish blatantly fabricated and biased materials”.
Novaya Gazeta has responded categorically to all the accusations and stated that it possesses not two pages, but an entire bag of documents – and the content of that bag raises numerous questions “not to the Governor of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District but to the Presidential Anti-Corruption Directorate”. The journalists decided to start from the toilet bowl – although, for example, in addition to it, cast iron tiles “from Turgenev’s home” worth 319 thousand rubles ($5.4 thousand) per square meter were used for the renovation of Neelovskie Dachi in 2016: 12.4 square meters of tiles in total at the cost 3.9 million rubles ($66.1 thousand).
Novaya Gazeta was also surprised why does Denis Kremlev posing as the Head of Gefest Limited Liability Company claim that the documents are false. In fact, this enterprise has a new General Director – Vladimir Agafonov – for a while already. Furthermore, the company was sold to Viktor Kalinin, a Ukrainian citizen, in March 2017. The editorial office has noted that such ‘moves’ are normally performed before the liquidation of an enterprise. In the end, the newspaper has promised to continue its inquest into the strange renovation of the Governor’s residence in Salekhard.
The Yamal Governor cooks soup with Arctic
So, who is right and who is wrong in this confrontation – the team of Kobylkin or the opposition newspaper? To answer this question, The CrimeRussia has reviewed the history of tenders carried out by Yamalsky Hotel and Transport Complex State Budgetary Institution. The list of items purchased at the public expense it pretty long – but truly surprising is not the number of acquisitions, but their cost. The price of one bedding set purchased for Neelovckie Dachi was 7 thousand rubles ($118). The price of one set of billiard balls – almost 30 thousand rubles ($505). A TV set has been purchased for 1 million rubles ($17 thousand), audio system for 377 thousand rubles ($6.4 thousand), and chandelier for 300 thousand rubles ($5.1 thousand). Almost 500 thousand rubles ($8.4 thousand) were spent last year to produce ice statues; this year this amount has increased to 600 thousand rubles ($10.1 thousand).
The cost of kitchen equipment is breathtaking. One electric mincing machine in the Governor’s food unit costs 65 thousand rubles ($1095) – and there are several such machines there. Each kitchen knife costs 7 thousand rubles ($118), Armenian saj pan – almost 10 thousand rubles ($168), mixer – 23 thousand rubles ($387), blender – 22 thousand rubles ($371), meat cutting machine– 96 thousand rubles ($1.6 thousand)... Even ordinary microwave ovens were purchased for 16 thousand rubles ($270) each. The coffee machine was purchased for 96 thousand rubles ($1.6 thousand), coal boiling tank – for 55 thousand rubles ($927).
The entertainment of guests visiting Neelovckie Dachi is also pretty costly for the budget. Huge amounts are paid for swimming pool cleaning and “fleet maintenance” on a regular basis. Each transport unit in this ‘fleet’ is pretty expensive as well: a propeller-driven sledge for 3.2 million rubles ($53.9 thousand), aircushion vessel for 4.8 million rubles ($80.9 thousand), catamaran for 334 thousand rubles ($5.6 thousand), waterjet boat for almost 2 million rubles ($33.7 thousand), and two snowmobiles for 400 and 500 thousand rubles ($6.7 and 8.4 thousand). The fleet also includes numerous ‘small items’ – swamp buggies, snowmobiles, etc. – that aren’t cheap at all. For instance, the cost of the Governor’s tent used for outdoor recreation is 130 thousand rubles (2.2 thousand). Of course, this is nothing in comparison with the Italian toilet bowl for 8 million rubles ($135.7 thousand), but the governmental acquisitions web site shows only the official purchases – not the ones paid for via ‘pocket’ funds.
Yamalsky Hotel and Transport Complex pays millions of rubles on a regular bases for “transportation by helicopter”. Of course, the high-ranked quests of Neelovckie Dachi fly at the public, not their own, expense. A portion of that money goes to Kryl’ya Arktiki (Arctic Wings) company co-founded by Aleksander Ermakov, Head of Sterkh (White Crane) Fund and organizer of the legendary flight of Vladimir Putin followed by a flock of white cranes. In recognition of this merit, Ermakov became a member of the Council of the Federation representing the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District – but he still continues making money on ‘high fliers’.
It would be logical to suppose that Yamalsky Hotel and Transport Complex purchases foods of relevant quality for its guests. It is difficult, however, to track down the exact assortment. For instance, what could be concealed under an acquisition entitled “Alcoholic product – 1 item”? But the price heats the imagination – 2.7 million rubles ($45.5 thousand).
After reviewing the official list of expenses pertaining to the furnishing and maintenance of Neelovckie Dachi, you can’t help but incline to the opinion that the journalists are right. And a toilet bowl for 8 million rubles ($135.7 thousand) does not seem a ‘fake’ anymore – it would perfectly fit into the interior of Yamalsky hotel. Especially taking that Kobylkin has a possibility to purchase such luxury items bypassing the official procedures. The Auditing Chamber of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District hadn’t checked the expenses of Yamal Regional Innovation and Investment Fund – that has paid for the plumbing wonder – since 2012. However, during the last audit, the total amount of subsidies not supported by reports confirming the designated use of funds was 916.7 million rubles ($15.4 million), while the total amount of funds received by the fund from the budget was 3.8 billion rubles ($64 million).
It is necessary to keep in mind that the foregoing refers only to the ‘close’ country home – while there is Varchato recreation base as well. Moskovskij Komsomolets describes this residence, citing renovation documentation possessed by the newspaper, as follows: “The total cost of the property is 236 million rubles ($4 million). The complex includes two guest homes with the living space of 793 and 1440 square meters, several homes connected with the bathhouse by covered walkways, a separate house for the personnel, and hangar for the hydroplane. Three swamp buggies, three snowmobiles, three four-wheelers, and several leisure boats have been purchased for the recreation base. Its interiors include hand-made mirrors and wine glasses in the bar worth 5 thousand rubles ($84) each. The total amount spent on clothes for the guests is 9 million rubles ($151.6 thousand). According to the delivery acceptance report for assets, the territory of the base also accommodates a bathhouse tank and a chapel. Interestingly, the tank is twice as expensive as the chapel – 5.3 and 2.6 million rubles ($89.3 and $43.8 thousand) respectively.
Dmitry Kobylkin observes his region
The personal tastes of the Governor also suggest the that Novaya Gazeta may be right. Kobylkin could well order a toilet bowl for 8 million rubles ($135.7 thousand) because he had repeatedly demonstrated his passion for luxury in the past. Shortly after his appointment in 2013, the Head of Yamal has ordered to charter six Canadian aircraft with VIP interior. Of course, an official using CRJ-200LR Bombardier planes with 50 passengers seats at the cost of 175.5 million rubles ($3 million) won’t content himself with ordinary plumbing. After all, it is so easy to pay for the purchase via one of the numerous non-profit funds established in Yamal.