It is difficult for me to write this text, for I am obliged to be tactful and observe the proprieties, though when I first found out about the story, I was not inclined to mince my words. Nonetheless, I will try. The matter up for discussion concerns the “reconstruction” (this is the word we will have to use) of the Grave of the Unknown Soldier. Over the course of several months we investigated how budget money set aside for this project was spent, who it went to and what part was played in it all by high ranking officials.
Three strange tenders
In 2009 the decision was made to restore the Grave of the Unknown Soldier “as a part of preparatory measures leading up to 65th anniversary celebrations of Victory in the Great Patriotic War”, as official releases grandly announced. Everything, however, began more modestly, with President Medvedev giving orders in June 2009 only for a small monument to be placed in honour of cities of military glory. The position of committee chief for “the organization of measures for the establishment of a commemorative monument” was occupied by the Head of presidential affairs, Vladimir Kozhin.
Now, a small monument is not a big project and, it would seem, for this reason officials decided to restore the grave in its entirety, and then install the monument headstone. For the course of the restoration the eternal flame was transferred from Alexander Garden to Poklonnaya Hill and then returned to the Grave of the Unknown Soldier for 23 February 2010, when it was solemnly lit by Dmitry Medvedev (clearly some portion of the work was to have been completed by that time, otherwise what was the point of moving the flame back and forth and inviting the head of state?). Then on 9 May the monument honouring cities of military glory and the renovated Grave of the Unknown Soldier were unveiled by Presidents Dmitry Medvedev, Alexander Lukashenko and Victor Yanukovich. But what took place up to this point?
According to the federal register for state contracts, three principle state contracts were concluded for the reconstruction of the Grave of the Unknown Soldier. The first, 16 November 2009, was entitled “Construction and assembly work to install a monument in honour of those cities awarded the status of ‘City of Military Glory’, in Alexander Garden” (the document can be viewed on the Novaya Gazeta website). Filling the role of state client was the presidential affairs department (DPA). The tender was, as is often the case, cancelled because only one application for participation was received, belonging to that very same DPA’s Unitary Enterprise (UE) Construction Association, with which an agreement was concluded to the sum of 85 million roubles (approx. 3 million USD).
The second state contract, 28 April 2010, was entitled “Additional work to complete a combination of construction and assembly work to install a monument in honour of those cities awarded the status of ‘City of Military Glory’, in Alexander Garden” (the document can be viewed on the Novaya Gazeta website). This time as well the tender was cancelled and the contract concluded with the very same solitary participant, the Construction Association of the presidential affairs department, for the highest possible cost of more than 91 million roubles.
The third, 5 May 2010, was entitled “The performance of additional design and exploratory work to install a monument in honour of those cities awarded the status of ‘City of Military Glory’, in Alexander Garden” (the document can be viewed on the Novaya Gazeta website). The tender was cancelled as before, and a contract concluded for the highest possible cost (980,000 roubles – approx. 3.5 thousand USD) with the sole participant, Mosproject-2 UE.
Notice carefully a few key points. The contract for “construction and assembly” work is worth 85 million roubles, while for some reason the contract for “additional construction and assembly” work comes out to 91 million roubles. Secondly, exploration and design of a project always comes before work beings, though in the case of the Grave of the Unknown Soldier the contract for “additional design and exploratory work” was signed a week after the contract for “additional work” to complete the reconstruction. To get to the bottom of these riddles on the consumption of budgetary funds, we must read through certain documents very carefully.
How to use 90 million in 10 days
For a start we’ll take a look at the documentation relating to the final tender: for additional design and exploratory work (the document can be viewed on the Novaya Gazeta website). The draft proposal was approved by the Deputy Chief of DPA’s Capital Construction Board Vladimir Leshchevsky, who is presently being investigated for criminal proceedings relating to bribes accepted from the businessman Valery Morozov. Here is a list of exploratory work that had to be carried out: create exploratory shafts to investigate foundation; carry out laboratory soil analysis; develop project estimate documentation for the renovation and restoration of the area surrounding the eternal flame including: the disassembly and replacement of granite stones; arrangement of drainage system; mounting of granite block with text from presidential edict”… In the very same draft proposal it is written that work was to be concluded by 15 May 2010.
So it turns it out that on 9 May, the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus unveiled a monument for which granite slabs had been replaced and a headstone with cities of military glory installed, and at the same time, for the whole of the next week someone thoroughly inspected the foundation, studied the soil and developed design estimates with thoughts of how to take apart and replace the granite slabs?
Mosproject-2 General Director Mikhail Posokhin explained to Novaya Gazeta that the design estimates had been fulfilled in December 2009, while in the course of construction and assembly work it had become necessary to carry out further investigations, which were also completed in December. And in January 2010 all estimates were passed along to the client so that work could be performed.
And this is a very interesting point: if the project was ready to go in January 2010, why did the presidential affairs department have to carry out a tender on 5 May for “additional” investigations, one day before handing over the site?
Now for documentation relating to the tender for “Additional work to complete a combination of construction and assembly work” on the Grave of the Unknown Soldier. I remind you that the state contract was signed with the DPA’s Construction Association UE for the highest possible cost (91 million roubles) on 28 April 2010. In the draft proposal (approved by the very same Vladimir Leshchevsky) it is written: work to be completed by no later than 6 May 2010. And now could someone who works in construction please explain how it is possible to use 91 million roubles and “complete a combination of construction and assembly work” in less than 10 days on a site like the Grave of the Unknown Soldier? I suppose it’s possible if you were being offered to dust the bronze helmet. But let’s take a look at the draft proposal, which includes a list of the “additional work”: replacement of finishing slabs with red granite, 50 sq. m. with reconstruction of foundation; preparation and assembly of two pavilions for honour guard with a device to warm the floor; replacement of black labradorite slabs surrounding eternal flame, 49 sq. m… and that is far from being the full list.
Looking at the draft proposal, one can be tempted to ask: where did all this “additional” work come from? Why was it not included in the first contract for reconstruction back in November 2009, or did the presidential affairs department not initially foresee that it would be necessary to replace the granite surrounding the eternal flame or install two pavilions for the honour guard?
An official from the DPA helped us answer this question by providing Novaya Gazeta with a financial statement from the DPA’s Construction Association UE which shows when, for what and in what volume the Construction Association paid for work on various sites (the document can be viewed on the Novaya Gazeta website). In order to understand what 91 million roubles were spent on for the “completion” of reconstruction, let us look at a list of additional work that was planned for the ten day span and compare with data from the financial report.
For example, the draft proposal called for the preparation and assembly of two pavilions for the honour guard. The financial statement shows us that the posts were handled by the company PKP Velko-2000, the work costing 978 thousand roubles. The work was set to start on 1 February 2010 and to finish by 19 February 201 0. So the question arises: if the posts were already installed in February, how could they once again be included in the contract for 28 April two months later, and what was the money, allocated as if the posts did not yet exist, spent on?
The draft proposal called for the replacement of granite slabs, including those in front of the memorial and surrounding the eternal flame. The financial statement shows us that granite stones and slabs were taken care of by Geostar Engineering. The cost of the work came out to 50 million roubles. The work was to begin on 4 February 2010 and end 80 calendar days later, that is approximately by 15 April. The question that arises is: if work on the restoration and laying of the new granite was already complete by the middle of April, how could it have been included in the contract for 28 April, and what was the money allocated for this work spent on?
In order to ascertain whether the information in the financial statements was in accord with reality, Novaya Gazeta contacted the management of the companies that carried out the work. Here’s what they had to say.
Victor Markov, Commercial Director of PKP Velco-2000:
Our company prepared and assembled pavilions for the honour guard. Deadlines were extremely tight, but in a month we had everything prepared and assembled. The structures were prepared around the 20th or thereabouts of February, in time for the holiday and the return of the eternal flame to Alexander Garden.
Sergei Vorobyov, General Director of Geostar Engineering:
Our company was commissioned to perform the main combination of work to restore and reconstruct the Grave of the Unknown Soldier in Alexander Garden: the restoration of the granite blocks, replacement of granite slabs and steps, as well as the instalment of the monument and headstone for the hero cities. Work began in January 2010, and the first stage was finished by 23 February, when Dmitry Medvedev lit the eternal flame, which had returned from Poklonnaya Hill. The main difficulty with performing the work was that the reconstruction had to be carried out in winter and to meet extremely tight deadlines, which created additional technical problems. All of the main renovation and restoration work was completed by the middle of April 2010, and the time remaining before the Victory day anniversary was spent on landscape gardening and improving the appearance of the territory surrounding the memorial.
And so now we have come to the most important part, for which I spent so long initiating you into the casuistry of draft proposals and state contracts. Basing my conclusions on the information from the financial statement and the comments made by the company chiefs, I conjecture that the work that allegedly had to be performed 10 days before handing over the site, it would seem, had been completed earlier, and so 91 million roubles could be spent on anything you want except for “completing” the reconstruction of the Grave of the Unknown Soldier.
Zhitomir granite via Voronezh
And now: the characters. The head of Construction Association UE of the presidential affairs department, which won the contracts for the reconstruction and “completion” of reconstruction of the Grave of the Unknown Soldier, was Igor Bondar from 2009 until 2011. As Novaya Gazeta was told by a few employees of the DPA and businessmen working with the Construction Association, Bondar is originally from Ukraine and joined the Unitary Enterprise in 2008 as senior deputy, the protégé of that very same Vladimir Leshchevsky. In 2009, Bondar became head of Construction Association, and the reconstruction of the Grave of the Unknown Soldier took place under his control.
According to archive material from the administration of the Moscow tax service, Igor Bondar was general director and founder of the company Granitostroy until at least 2008. After going over to the DPA’s Construction Association, his former company – what a coincidence! – received a large contract from the DPA: according to the federal register for state contracts, in November 2008, Granitostroy concluded a deal to perform contract work to complete construction on the dormitories in the Olympic village in Sochi’s Orlyonok children’s centre. The contract was worth 728 million roubles.
Today, the chief owner of Granitostroy, according to the unified state register of legal entities, is Vyacheslav Lyapin, who also founded Antan together with Igor Bondar. In response to a call we placed to Granitostroy and a request to be connected to Bondar, we were told that he rarely comes into the office. And in response to a direct question about whether Igor Bondar was owner of Granitostroy before 2008, we received an evasive “perhaps”.
On Granitostroy’s website it is written that the company was created in 1992 jointly with the Kiev based company Intro-Plus, which belonged to Igor Bondar’s brother, Oleg Bondar, according to the official biography of the latter. From 2007 to 2010, Oleg Bondar was mayor of the small Ukrainian town Irpin, and during his time as mayor was victim of three attempts on his life.
Granitostroy’s website also talks of the company’s own factory in the Ukrainian city of Zhitomir, Sokolovsky Karier, which produces granite. And it was this very factory that supplied granite for the reconstruction of the Grave of the Unknown Soldier.
President of Sokolovsky Karier, Fyodor Lashkul, confirmed for Novaya Gazeta that the factory’s main partner is Granitostroy, which is using granite from Zhitomir for its “sites in Sochi” as well. “Last year,” Fyodor Lashkul continues proudly, “the eternal flame in that garden of yours, that granite’s all ours. We worked for three months to get it ready by 23 February. Those are all from our supply… Your mausoleum too – half of Moscow is ours!”
According to the Ukrainian register of legal entities, since 2000 72% of Sokolovsky Karier has belonged to Oleg Bondar’s Kiev company Intro-Plus, which played a role in the foundation of Granitostroy. As representative of Intro-Plus, Oleg Bondar himself was chairman of the factory’s supervisory council, while Igor Bondar was a member of the supervisory council and minority shareholder with a 0.14% interest. According to Sokolovsky Karier’s accounting, Igor Bondar occupied these positions in the factory until at least September 2010, which is to say at the very same time that he managed the DPA’s Construction Association.
It would appear that Igor Bondar remains close to the Zhitomir granite producer to this very day. According to the Ukrainian register of legal entities, Sokolovsky Karier is presently owned by a Cypriot company represented by Vyacheslav Lyapin, Igor Bondar’s old partner from Granitostroy and Antan.
…In spite of the fact that the granite producers and its buyers enjoy such close ties and shared financial interests, the stone had to overcome a very difficult path to make it from Zhitomir to Moscow.
Novaya Gazeta was able to obtain a bill of lading, thanks to which is it possible to trace the stone’s course from the factory to the Grave of the Unknown Soldier (the document can be viewed on the Novaya Gazeta website). Indicated as the shipment sender was Sokolovsky Karier, with Alexander Garden as the point of delivery. So far so good. But suddenly there is some bad luck. For some reason the indicated receiver for the shipment was not Construction Association DPA, but rather an unknown firm by the name Spets Project from Tsyurupy Street in Voronezh. So we get the following route: Spets Project from Voronezh seemingly purchases granite from Zhitomir’s Sokolovsky Karier, and then Moscow’s Construction Association UE seemingly purchases the granite from Spets Project. According to the financial statement showing Construction Association’s expenses, Spets Project got almost 25 million roubles for their part in the delivery of the granite.
By looking at a map of Russia and Ukraine, one can easily see that the road from Zhitomir to Moscow is a direct one passing along Kiev Highway for approximately 1,000 km. So it begs the question: why maybe a detour of at least 500 km to Voronezh, and why couldn’t Construction Association DPA purchase the granite directly from the factory, choosing instead to use the services of a middleman? The only hypothesis that springs to mind is this: the more middlemen, the greater the margin accumulating on their bill for the generous Russian anniversary budget.
All the more since people closely connected to Construction Association’s former chief, Igor Bondar, responsible for the reconstruction of the Grave of the Unknown Soldier, were also found in Voronezh’s Spets Project. According to documents from the Voronezh tax service, the owner of Spets Project at the time of its registration was Konstantin Levin, who, in the words of a former employee of the presidential affairs department, worked for some time as the head of a department in Construction Association, and was in effect Igor Bondar’s assistant.
Novaya Gazeta contacted Igor Bondar at the beginning of May. He told us that he was busy with the holidays, and asked us to call back after 9 May, though he did not reply to any of the many phone calls we placed last week.
The president’s hangar
The Grave of the unknown is not the only government site on which companies and people closely related to the managers of Construction Association DPA have made money. Since 2006 Construction Association has been building “hangar complex Rossiya at Vnukovo”, or as the people call it, “the president’s hangar”. The way construction has been carried out there is very reminiscent of the way it was carried out for the restoration of the Grave of the Unknown Soldier. In 2006 the first state contract was concluded for 2.7 billion roubles. Two years later, in October 2008, a second state contract was concluded, this time for “additional contract work to build hangar complex Rossiya at Vnukovo” for 1.1 billion roubles.
Novaya Gazeta was able to obtain a list of payments and accounts from Construction Association for subcontractors building the “president’s hangar” (the document can be viewed on the Novaya Gazeta website). From the financial statement it is clear that 1.5 billion of the 3.8 billion roubles allocated for construction went to Granitostroy, whose founder and general director was that very same Igor Bondar. Moreover, judging by the information in the agreements, Granitostroy began to receive money in 2006, before Igor Bondar even joined Construction Association DPA, though the greater part of the payments was made in 2008, when Bondar became senior deputy of Construction Association.
The list of subcontractors includes another company with close ties to the management of Construction Association: Kirbet. In 2008 and 2009 this company was assembling ventilation, automation and installation systems in the hangar, for which it received 23 million roubles. According to the unified state register of legal entities, Kirbet was founded by Sergei Kharitonov. It says on the website of Construction Association UE that he managed the business before Igor Bondar, from 2006 to 2009.
According to the federal register for state contracts, Kirbet also took part in the reconstruction of a complex of buildings in the Old Square, where the presidential administration is located, as well as renovations in the White House. Altogether, according to the register, Kirbet concluded 22 state contracts between 2006 and 2010 with the presidential affairs department to a sum of 736 million roubles. And this is without taking into account subcontracting agreements…
Sergei Kharitonov told Novaya Gazeta that Kirbet had concluded contracts with Construction Association long before he became chief of a state company, after which these contracts were simply finished by Kirbet. As far as the conflict of interest is concerned, Sergei Kharitonov sees nothing wrong so long as everything is built and “carried out within budget and according to standards”. “Moreover,” Kharitonov continues, “on such big sites, there’s never just one side taking part, there are always lots of inspection workers. If it’s written in the budget that a brick needs to be laid for one rouble, and it was laid for one rouble, and done well, than there can be no conflict of interests. Now, if the brick isn’t in place, or if some other material is in its place, then there’s a conflict of interests.” And even if that brick is going to be laid by a company belonging to the director of a state company, it’s not a problem. “This isn’t a western country yet,” Sergei Kharitonov concludes.
So forget about the president’s hangar, the White House, the many palaces of high ranking officials and Olympic Sochi! But listen, can’t you as least leave alone the grave of the unknown soldier, a place sacred to millions of people?
P.S. The presidential affairs department reacted in a surprising manner. More than a week ago we sent an inquiry to Vladimir Kozhin. On 3 May we received a letter from his press-secretary, Victor Khrekov: “In response to your inquiry I would like to appeal to you with a request that you learn to respect Russian law from the first and stringently carry out the resolution of the court. Only after this will we see to answering all of the questions you might wish to ask”. Mr. Khrekov was unequivocally hinting at the resolution of Basmanny Court in an action by DPA and Vladimir Kozhin against Novaya Gazeta for the article “The second time in a Row” (Novaya Gazeta, No. 74, 12 July 2010). The court obliged us to publish a retraction of certain statements and pay Kozhin 130 thousand roubles. Without commenting on the court’s decision, we appealed to Victor Khrenov with a request that he study the law himself and the process of execution of court resolutions. We received from the bailiff the writ of execution with Kozhin’s settlement account only at the end of last week, and so the money was transferred on Friday, 13 May. And the retraction, by agreement with the bailiff, will be published today.
Victor Khrekov, for whom, it would appear, the process of execution of court resolutions is something unfamiliar, promised to consult with his management. We have yet to receive a reply.