Tragedy in Karelia: Whose fault is it and what to do?
Karelian Deputies believe that Elena Reshetova, director of Syamozero Park-Hotel camp, had such a powerful "cover" that local authorities could do nothing with it. But those who know the camp director personally insist that Reshetova is a victim of circumstances.
Media had described in great detail the tragedy that occurred on June 18, 2016 on the lake Syamozero in Kareilia. During a night boat trip, a raft and two canoes with 47 children and four group leaders from Syamozero camp capsized because of the storm. Due to the incident, 14 children drowned, 36 people were rescued, five teenagers hospitalized.
It was reported that some children managed to swim ashore on an island in the center of the lake, where they had to wait 12 hours for help. The local branch of the Ministry of the Russian Federation for Civil Defence, Emergencies and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disasters (EMERCOM) had sent a storm warning to all residents; however, the camp management decided not to cancel the scheduled trip and did not notify the rescue services of it.
"If the camp had notified EMERCOM of the rafting on the lake, rescuers would escort them. Or alternatively, the rescuers could prohibit the rafting due to weather conditions," – TASS reported citing the EMERCOM press service.
The camp director Elena Reshetova and her deputy Vadim Vinogradov spoke by phone after the incident and decided not to notify EMERCOM to avoid possible liability. "They decided not to call to the rescue service. They thought the situation would resolve by itself," – Vladimir Markin, Head of the Directorate of Media Relations of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR), said.
Later they were arrested, together with Anatoly Kovalenko, Head of the Karelian Regional Office of the Russian Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor), and three camp instructors. On June 25, 2016 the ICR has laid charges against Reshetova and Vinogradov under part 3 of Article 238 (provision of services that resulted in death of two or more persons) and against Kovalenko under part 3 of Article 293 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (negligence). The court has detained the suspects until August 19, 2016.
One of the instructors was released during the investigation proceedings; the investigation did not request any restrictions for the others yet. A criminal case has also been initiated against a paramedic of the Emergency Department of the Suoyarvskaya Central District Hospital, who had taken a call from a participant of the boat trip. She ignored his request for help and did not register the call in the emergency calls journal, neither did she notify the hospital administration, police, and rescue services. She is charged under Part 3 of Article 293 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (negligence that resulted, by imprudence, in death of two or more persons).
The camp is closed pending further court decisions, and the investigation authority has legally terminated operations of the respective limited liability company.
Was it an abuse of discretion?
Charges laid against Anatoly Kovalenko, Head of the Karelian Regional Office of Rospotrebnadzor, are linked with a warning issued two weeks ago by the local prosecutor’s office to Maksim Dvoinikov, the executive director of the camp. The warning stated that Syamozero camp does not comply with sanitary requirements and children’s rights are violated there. However, despite the warning, Kovalenko has issued a sanitary-epidemiological certificate to the camp management stating that Syamozero Park-Hotel Limited Liability Company meets the state sanitary-epidemiological requirements and standards.
"They continued issuing permits to this organization to run operations related to summer recreation of minors. According to the investigation, such attitude and improper execution of duties by Anatoly Kovalenko and other officials was one of the causes of the tragedy," – the ICR noted.
The prosecutor’s office advised that during the inspection, expired food products were found in the camp kitchen, while "the premises looked like dens of homeless people"; in addition "fire extinguishers were missing in the camp, and first aid kits were not fully equipped".
Kovalenko might be not the only accessory to the tragedy. After the Kareilan incident, it became known that officials in Moscow were aware of unsatisfactory camp inspection results; however, for three years straight Syamozero Park-Hotel was winning summer recreation tenders for orphans and children from needy and troubled families.
The Moscow trace
The Karelian summer camp tender was announced by the Department of Labor and Social Protection of the Population of the City of Moscow; its cost in 2016 reached 45.5 million rubles. Requirements to the "ecological-ethnic-adventure" camp were signed by Tatyana Barsukova, deputy head of the department, and included "controlled challenges" (solitude, silence, thirst) for children aged 14–15 with the purpose to "build up teenager’s character".
After the tragedy, the first to raise the alarm was Ilya Shumanov, the head of the Kaliningrad Regional Center of Transparency International Russia, who found out that the tender for a contract with the Moscow Department could be conducted with violations. The fact is that a competitor of Syamozero Park-Hotel in this tender was KareliaOpen Company founded by some Galina Lisina who, according to Life.ru, is the mother of Elena Reshetova.
According to the Consolidated State Register of Legal Entities, there are obvious links between the two companies: Reshetova is the director of both Syamozero Park-Hotel Limited Liability Company and KareliaOpen Limited Liability Company. Furthermore, the chapter in the terms of reference describing solitude and silence challenges was copied from the KareliaOpen web-site, where a similar survival program is named "School of Robinsons".
According to the Russian Federal Tax Service web-site, KareliaOpen had tax arrears in excess of 1000 rubles as of beginning of June, while Belie Nochi (Nightless Nights) Limited Liability Company – another entity registered in Reshetova’s name – did not provide tax reports for more than a year. In addition, the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resource Usage of the Russian Federation (Rosprirodnadzor) had repeatedly fined Syamozero Park-Hotel Limited Liability Company for noncompliance with environmental regulations.
Still, the Reshetova’s company managed to win tenders held by Moscow authorities, one by one, for a few years; the total cost of contracts signed with her is 110 million rubles. Vladimir Petrosyan, Head of the Department of Labor and Social Protection of the Population of the City of Moscow, while commenting camp inspection results, noted that the Moscow authorities never had any claims against Syamozero. However, he declined to discuss complaints from parents that the children were fed with expired products in this camp and had to live in tents due to insufficient accommodation space in rooms.
Who is Elena Reshetova?
Many aspects still remain unclear with regards to the inspections in Karelian camps, however, one thing can be asserted almost 100%: local authorities were aware of the violations. For example, Irina Petelyaeva, a Deputy of the Karelian Legislative Assembly and Head of the Regional Branch of Spavedlivaya Rossia (The Just Russia) Party, stated this on the air of "Pust Govoryat" TV show.
“We have been crying out since 2012. Repeated prosecutor’s checks <…> in 2015 the court of appeal overturned [them]. It turned out, they were checked for nothing; it turned out, there were no violations. <…> Prosecutor’s office repeatedly visited the camps, but this woman [Elena Reshetova] had a very good "cover". Such a high-level ‘cover’ that even the Karelian Prosecutor’s Office couldn’t do anything,” – she said.
It is known that Elena Reshetova, director of Syamozero Park-Hotel, inherited the hotel business from her husband, Yuri Reshetov, whom she first met in 1987, in the High School of Komsomol where future senior executives were studying. At that time, Reshetov was already involved into outdoors scouting and engaged his spouse, too. In the 1990s he started a business, while Elena was working in governmental structures related to mass media and information support. According to Gazeta.ru, she acted as the founder of companies (apparently, Syamozero and Belie Nochi) actually managed by her husband.
In 2008 Yuri Reshetov died in a car accident, and Elena has become the head of all their joint companies. She was repeatedly charged for various violations; for example, in 2011 she was suspected of forging signatures of her late husband on a contract for allegedly performed works. Gazeta.ru sources say that, by doing so, Reshetova "tried to lighten the debt burden that had fallen on her shoulders".
Still, her companies were winning children’s recreation tenders conducted by local and Moscow authorities again and again. The income of Reshetova’s companies varied from 20.9 million in 2012 (SPARK data for KareliaOpen,) to 34 million in 2013.
A voice in defense
After the tragedy on the Lake Syamozero, media lashed out at Elena Reshetova and other camp management and uncovered numerous violations. However, her former coursemates from the High School of Komsomol believe that the incident was not her fault, and she became a victim of circumstances.
"As soon as the tragedy occurred, all watchdog agencies immediately began finding numerous violations, while some business competitors of Reshetova suddenly started criticizing the government procurement legislation," – they say. – "But we know Elena for many years, we know what a person she is: raising four children alone, caring of her sick mother. She would never put health and lives of children to risk".
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).