Elite Kukuevka. Officials and bros carve-up biosphere reserve
In fall 2018, the Investigations Directorate in the Kursk Region of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) has instituted a criminal case against “unidentified officials of the Kursk district” in relation to large-scale construction in the conservation zone of Tsentralnochernozemny Biosphere Reserve. The CrimeRussia obtained documents indicating that local officials and criminals have seized a portion of the reserve and erected mansions there. Currently, these properties either stay vacant or are offered for sale.
As said above, last fall, criminal cases were instituted in Kursk against unidentified persons for exceedance of official powers. A few years ago, these ‘unidentified officials’ had issued some 400 private housing construction permits on lands belonging to Kukuevka village located within the 3-km conservation zone of Tsentralnochernozemny Biosphere Reserve. According to the case file, this has “adversely affected the natural complexes”.
Edge of the biosphere reserve
These lands with a total area of some 250 ha hadn’t initially belonged to Kukuevka and became a part of the village only in 2009 at the instigation of the district administration. The former arable lands have been rezoned in the framework of the national project “Affordable and Comfortable Housing” and regional programs “Rural Social Development in 2004–2010” and “Residence”. To justify the creation of a construction zone, it was noted that “the disputed area was formed after the acquisition of villagers’ land shares by some individuals (we will discuss some of them in detail below – The CrimeRussia) and then divided into 1.6 thousand parcels”.
However, the biosphere reserve management has disrupted the developers’ plans by raising this issue and ultimately terminated the construction.
It is necessary to note that the ‘individuals’ who had acquired the lands were so influential that even Aleksander Mikhailov, Governor of the Kursk Region, had tried to help them. According to his own words, Mikhailov had «addressed Dmitry Kobylkin, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation, asking to expedite the designation of a new conservation zone of the biosphere reserve taking into account the interests of owners of “more than 1000 land lots”».
However, the stance of courts and interference of the federal authorities made it possible to preserve the integrity of the biosphere reserve. The homes erected on seized lots either stay vacant or are offered for sale.
Vladimir Ryzhikov, Head of the Kursk District
So, who are these ‘individuals’ who managed to pull off such a machination at the regional level? What is their status? How could they force the Governor to advocate their interests? The people able to seize a large piece of conservation lands and legalize this must have significant powers. Vladimir Ryzhikov, Head of the Kursk District of the Kursk Region, was definitely involved in this operation – but most probably, he was just a mere executor. The CrimeRussia obtained documents listing all owners of the seized lands.
Sheet number one. Andrei Ivanovich Lifentsev is the owner of parcels listed under numbers 5, 7, 9, 11, 53-66, 94, 105, 114, and 115. He is a Deputy of the Kursk Municipal Assembly. The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) and Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation reasonably believe that he has ties with the criminal world. The parcel number 105 confirms this: a lot with the cadastral number 46:11:121203:2038 jointly belongs inter alia to Dmitry Vasilievich Volobuev (a detained gang leader), Andrei Ivanovich Lifentsev, and Vladimir Alekseevich Polin (a relative of a former deputy of the Governor of the Kursk Region).
Parcel jointly owned by Volobui, a Kursk Deputy, and a relative of a former deputy of the Governor of the Kursk Region
The lot is located right across the biosphere reserve – not only within the 3-km conservation zone, but just 500 m from the border of the core zone. It is located on the other side of a federal highway going along the edge of Alekhinsky National Park. Needless to say that such a location is very convenient for business facilities, including tire shops, gas stations, and roadside cafes. Chances are high that owners of such lots are familiar with each other and had jointly purchased the real estate in order to derive profits from it.
Interestingly, Kursk businessman Dmitry Volobuev charged with creation of an organized criminal group and owning a number of lots in Kukuevka is the most humble ‘landlord' there. For instance, above-mentioned Vladimir Polin owns parcels listed under numbers 47, 48, 49, 103, 107, 108, and 109 located along the highway. Their sizes are pretty big. Could a relative of a supreme regional official acquire these lands accidentally? No, most probably, he was aware of their value and profitability of such investments.
Dmitry Volobuev (Volobui) in court
The name of Valentina Viktorovna Vasilieva is listed as the owner of parcels 116 and 117; she is a relative of Sergei L’vovich Vasiliev, a Deputy of the Kursk Regional Duma. Both of them are cofounders of the Kursk Regional Branch of the All-Russia Organization “Center for Promotion of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Policy”.
Apparently, the powerful purchasers of the land had acted in an organized manner. The scheme pulled off by them involves, in fact, the seizure of large areas from the state, privatization of the seized lands, and their subsequent resale. Therefore, the stance of the ICR classifying such deeds under part 1 of Article 286 (exceeding official powers) and part 1 of Article 293 (neglect of duty) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (i.e. as offenses of low-to-medium severity) raises serious questions.
Such a classification may be caused by rampant corruption and conspiracy of silence. The above-mentioned Articles of the Criminal Code legally restrict the investigators in their operative and search activities. For instance, it is impossible to detain the suspects (the court won’t remand persons charged under these Articles in custody). The investigation team may procrastinate the inquest forever because the committed crimes are not officially considered grievous or especially grievous. The point is that, taking the supreme positions of the ‘latifundists’, their connections, and influence in the Kursk region, the deeds committed by them fall under part 3 of Article 210 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (creation of a criminal community (criminal organization) and participation therein committed by persons through their official positions). This criminal community definitely has its own fixers, purchasers, mediators, bandits, etc.
Currently, the investigation is protracted. There are still no suspects in this case. In the meantime, a tire shop having no waste recycling system has been launched between the highway and the biosphere reserve, in the direct vicinity of the plowed strip marking its border. The onslaught on the UNESCO protected area continues.
Tire shop near the biosphere reserve’s border
Too bad, the active stance of the Prosecutor’s Office of the Kursk Region and personal efforts of its head Aleksei Tsukanov – the initiator of the criminal case – mean very little. The work of the watchdog authority is effectively obstructed and sabotaged by some powers reaching far beyond the regional boundaries...