Aleksey Barinov facing charges
ARHANGELSK, Russia, May 23 -- Aleksey Barinov, the governor of Nenetskiy Region was arrested. The governor faces criminal charges of fraud and grand theft as part of a group of corrupt officials.
In the late 1990s, the governor served as CEO of the natural resources company "ArhangelskGeoDobicha" (Archangelsk Geological Mining).While directing this firm, Mr. Barinov allegedly appropriated several condos and garages from the corporation and forged bills of exchange and geologic research contracts. Mr. Barinov also faces charges of tax evasion. The governor's illegal profits added up to one million dollars per year. FSB investigators still don't know the grand total of the governor's illicit funds; however this arrest was just the first in a series for arrests and forced resignations for several prominent Russian politicians. In my opinion, these people are the real Russian mafia, not the petty pimps and drug dealers you hear about on Western television.
Aleksey Barinov; enjoying freedom and money
The investigation against Mr. Barinov was launched in 1999. It almost ended in his arrest in 2001, however, Barinov's connections and his acquisition of a governor's seat made him immune from prosecution. This year though, the old charges resurfaced along with new allegations, after Governor Barinov refused to comply with the Kremlin's recommendation to sack the senator from his region, Aleksandr Sabadash.
Sabadash is one of four senators that the Kremlin recommended be fired by their party leaders. Speaker of the Federal Assembly Sergei Mironov recommended that Aleksandr Sabadash (Nenetsky Region), Boris Gutin (Yamalo-Nenetskiy Region), Igor Ivanov (Primorsky Kray) and Arkadi Sarkisyan (Hakasiya) all be made to resign due to alleged corruption. Two of the senators resigned; the other two decided to fight the Kremlin, and now their time has come.
Nenetsky Region officials have argued that "there were no valid legal reasons" to demand the resignation of their Senator. This response was not welcomed by the Kremlin; first the governor of the region was arrested on the old charges, then the Federal Assembly produced legal explanations for their recommendation that the Senators be impeached.
Russian Senators are paid very well out of the federal budget and are not allowed to run their businesses while serving in the Assembly (Russia's Senate). Unlike U.S. Senators, they must actually show up for parliamentary votes. However, these laws didn't stop Senator Sabadash from running several foreign and Russian businesses and missing almost all of the Assembly sessions. On top of that, when the governor was re-elected, technically he was supposed to re-nominate Senator Sabadash to the Assembly, which he also failed to do. On May 26, Senator Sabadash resigned.
Evgeni Ischenko, looking like an oligarch
Yesterday, Evgeni Ischenko, mayor of Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) was arrested by the FSB right after his city assembly meeting. Ischenko used to serve as CEO of "Volgograd Public Systems", responsible for public utilities and sanitation in the city. Mr. Ischenko is charged with evading $1.5 million in taxes, and embezzling $9 million dollars from the city budget.
Today, President Putin personally fired MVD (militia) General-Mayor Sergei Shlyapuzhnikov. The general was caught selling fake and real "special" number plates, police and FSB IDs, and certificates with President Putin's forged signature. The general also was using his men as bodyguards for private businessmen and protecting freight for cash fees. Regular officers could make about $1,000 a day moonlighting for these gigs. The "special" blue number plates, which officially put the driver-owner above the traffic laws, were sold for $200,000 dollars each. The number plates were accompanied by fake papers and certificates. Two years ago, a legal set of number plates and documents were being sold for "only" $25,000 -- $40,000 by corrupt generals. As Moscow expands and traffic worsens, the price for driving with impunity is going up.
Read more about crazy Russian driving
It is very hard to say if these arrests and forced resignations are the start of a real Kremlin campaign against unbelievable corruption, or just a small show for the Russian people. Below is some data about previous arrests that were disclosed by the government. We all know that these cases are just the tip of a huge iceberg, but even when caught, none of the thieves received the sentence they deserved -- a nice cell next to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, ten miles from the Chinese border in Siberia.
The following is a brief list of regional governors indicted or convicted of serious crimes in recent years:
- Volgogradskaya Oblast Governor Nikolay Podgornov was arrested in November 2006 for bribery. In 1999 he was sentenced to 7 years of prison, but in 2000 he was paroled on good behavior.
- Tulskaya Oblast Governor Nikolay Sevryugin was under criminal investigation in 1997 for bribery, embezzling official funds and abusing his office. At his trial he was sentenced to time served, and then released.
- Republic Mari Al Governor Vladislav Zotin was under criminal investigation beginning on December 31, 1997 for misusing his government position and preventing citizens from voting. After losing the election he had tried to rig, Zotin was about to face a stiff sentence, but the investigation was suddenly closed due to his "poor health".
- Kurskaya Oblast Governor Aleksandr Ruzkoy was under criminal investigation for selling his government-issued apartment and faced civil penalties for libeling another official. All charges were dropped in 2002.
- Smolenskaya Oblast Governor Aleksandr Prohorov was charged with theft for building private roads on his property using state budget money. In May 2002, he lost the election and was sentenced to three years in prison; he was given amnesty and released immediately.
- The former Nenetskaya Oblast Governor Vladimir Butov was charged with misusing his government position in 2002, and later with contempt of court. Both cases were closed due to his "rehabilitation circumstances". However, new criminal charges were brought against Governor Butov later for beating up a traffic cop. Mr. Butov was sentenced to three years in prison but never served any time.
- Another Kurskaya Oblast Governor, Alexandr Mihaylov, was charged on April 25, 2002 with fraud and embezzling state budget money; on January 27, 2003 all charges were dropped.
- Tverskaya Oblast governor Vladimir Platov was charged on September 30, 2003 with misusing his government office and stealing $16 million dollars from the state budget. On December 7, 2003 he lost the election and was subsequently sentenced to 5 years in prison. After spending nearly half a year in prison, the governor was freed, and did not have to pay back any of the funds he stole from the people.
- Kamchatka Governor Mikhail Mashkovzev was charged on October 27, 2003 with gross negligence and misuse of his government position. Neither criminal case prevented him from being re-elected. On June 10, 2005 regional prosecutors dropped the charges, citing the Governor's "feeling of remorse".
- Saratovskaya Oblast Governor Dmitri Ayazkov was charged on May 17, 2004 with misuse of his position. On July 7, 2004 the charges were dropped and Governor Ayazkov resigned.
- Yaroslavskaya Oblast Governor Anatoly Lisitsin was charged on August 20, 2004 with misusing his office for illegal activities, and misappropriation of budget money. However on April 4, 2005 the charges were dropped due to the expiration of the statute of limitations.
- Samarskaya Oblast governor Konstantin Titov was charged on December 28 2004 with misuse of his government position. A few months later he copped a plea as a witness against other major criminals.
The term "misuse of the position" means openly lobbying on behalf of friends or business partners, accepting bribes, doing favors and doling out state contracts only to favored companies. As you can see, even the handful of government officials who were dumb enough to get caught never served their punishment -- everyone in Russia has a price. Also, this laundry list of sleaze might explain why most Russians were not opposed to Putin cancelling the direct election of governors.
There are plenty of well-known cases of people selling their votes for vodka and warm clothing in poor regions. Once elected, politicians in Russia enjoy legal immunity from prosecution and plenty of money to bribe their way out of trouble. Russian politicians seem to have learned these lessons very well.