Tula region Governor Vyacheslav Dudka was prevented from flying to Dubai by FSB agents, who took him off the plane and delivered him for interrogation to the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation. Investigators were looking into the Tula Governor's role in extortion of a 40 million bribe from the GRINN corporation. The people of Tula are now waiting to see whether the regional leader will be jailed or released. Vyacheslav Dudka claims it was all an act of revenge on the part of the corrupt officials he had exposed. True, he had never been noted for fighting embezzlement before. On the contrary, he made short shrift of those who raised their voices against the growing corruption in the region.
Suspicions arose back in the spring of 2009 when the local Deputy Vladimir Timakov said that "he had never seen such rampant corruption… as under Governor Dudka." His excessive vigilance cost Vladimir Timakov 1.5 million roubles in moral damages to the Tula regional Governor, who sued him for slander. In spite of the harsh ruling, ever new facts corroborating the "slanderer's" words (published by Novaya Gazeta - A.M.) are coming to hand.
In 2009, the region was swept by a wave of arrests of municipal leaders, half a dozen of whom were caught soliciting bribes. They were all Tula governor appointees.
In January 2010, the Director of the regional Department of the Environment, Aleksei Lazarev, who reports directly to Dudka, had a brush with the law. A businessman claimed that Lazarev had solicited a bribe of 3 million roubles for his boss. Obviously, the minerals extraction guarantees promised by Mr Lazarev in exchange for the bribe could only have been granted by the Governor. During the trial, the Governor's environment chief took all the blame on himself.
In August 2010, a new high-profile case was initiated in the Tula region. It had to do with shenanigans involving purchase of medical equipment, described by President Medvedev as "brazen theft of government money". Among the 20 regions whose reputations were smeared by this affair, Tula set the "record": the prices for a Toshiba Aquilion 16 CT scanner were overstated nearly four-fold. The sole accused in this case, the Director of the Medical Department, Yevgeny Yudin, was charged with misspending public money. Nevertheless "in drawing up such programmes… a single person cannot hide a major 'kickback' in the cost estimate," according to Tula journalist German Churshukov… Such things cannot happen without the Governor being involved."
While these and similar cases were being handled by the Tula law enforcers, Vyacheslav Dudka was above suspicion. But on 1 January, a major touch was added to the corruption picture in the Tula region. A bribe of 40 million roubles was found in the possession of Viktor Volkov, Director of the regional property management committee. This was what the GRINN corporation was charged for allocation of land plots. Federal investigators were brought in to look into that serious crime.
Once out of reach of Mr Dudka, Volkov was more logical in his testimony than the two previous accused had been. He admitted to taking money for the Governor. The theory looks highly plausible: documents on land allocation are signed by the regional Governor personally.
During an investigative experiment in early February, Volkov indicated the place where he was to deliver the briefcase with the millions: it was Vyacheslav Dudka's country house in Bogucharovo. Naturally, the Investigative Committee's next step was to summon the Tula Governor for an interrogation.
However, handing the summons to the addressee proved to be a problem. In response to a fax message sent by the Investigative Committee to the Regional Administration on 25 February, the Tula bureaucrats sent a cable saying that the Governor was on leave from that very day. FSB sources claim, however, that Vyacheslav Dudka was at his office, as confirmed by pictures posted on his official website on 25 February. An attempt to hand over the summons by personal delivery also failed. Instead of visiting the investigator, Mr Dudka bought a ticket to fly abroad. As a result, the security men had to detain the Tula Governor on board a plane about to take off for Dubai. He was delivered for interrogation - so far only as a witness - straight from Moscow's Domodedovo Airport.
Mr Dudka said he was going to the Emirates for surgery, an odd choice because the oil kingdoms are not regarded as a medical Mecca. But Dudka knows Dubai and Abu Dhabi from the time he worked at the Instrument Building Design Bureau: the Emirates often ordered arms from it. Could it be that the witness, sensing trouble, decided to hide out in a pre-prepared "nest"?
For several days, the whereabouts of the Tula Governor were shrouded in mystery. On 4 March, he failed to attend a United Russia party interregional conference in Bryansk. "It's a pity, I would have questioned him hard as former head of the Interior Ministry," quipped Boris Gryzlov.
However, by 5 March, Vyacheslav Dudka had recovered from the shock and launched a media counteroffensive. He declared publicly that some "destructive forces" on whose toes he had trodden were seeking to force him to resign. The Tula Governor said that he was "fighting corruption and corrupt officials were fighting him." To prove his credentials as an anti-corruption crusader, Dudka cited the arrests and sackings of a number of Tula officials, particularly the recent sacking of the Mayor of Tula, Alisa Tolkacheva.
As for the arrests of the above-mentioned Tula officials, Dudka can claim only to have appointed them, but not to have forced them to leave their posts. Tolkacheva's case is a different story.
The Mayor of Tula was appointed to her post after the municipal elections in March 2010. Tolkacheva's candidacy was approved by the regional branch of United Russia and by its Supreme Political Council. All the parties in the city Duma loyal to the Governor had voted for her. In the first six months, the relations between the regional Governor and the Tula Mayor were idyllic.
However, as the leader of the city's Yabloko branch, Filatov, told Novaya Gazeta, "in early September, members of United Russia told me that Alisa might be expelled from the party for failing to approve an important commercial deal." In October, the behind-the-scenes intrigues spilled out into the open. The docile majority in the regional Duma voted to strip the Mayor of her salary and demanded that she vacate her job. Although, under the Tula Charter, a mayor cannot be impeached before he or she has served two years, the impeachment procedure was completed by 2 March. An odd kind of gift for International Women's Day for the first woman mayor in the history of that weapons-making city. None of the deputies was willing to speak in public about the U-turn in the attitude towards Tolkacheva.
In spite of the information blackout, the cause of the conflict is well documented. In August, a proposal to mortgage some of the city's property landed on Tolkacheva's table. The Mayor was asked to pledge 3300 square metres of property to support a loan to loss-making enterprises. The property, with a market price of at least 70 million roubles, was almost certainly meant to redeem the 25 million credit by ACB Obrazovaniye (Education). Tolkacheva thought the scheme was corrupt. She wrote to Vyacheslav Dudka, refusing to sign the deal.
What happened next has been described by Tolkacheva: "I was asked by Volkov (the man who was to be arrested four months later - A.M.) to mortgage the property and the leader of the regional United Russia branch, Yegor Atanov, also put pressure on me… Then the Governor called, shouting… what he would do to break me." The result was a six-month political crisis when forces loyal to Dudka sought to remove the recalcitrant woman mayor. Her only fault was to refuse to endorse a dodgy scheme for privatising city property in the interests of a commercial bank. This "anti-corruption campaign" had the blessing of the Tula Governor…
As we can see, Volkov and Dudka were in cahoots over the mortgage. It is hard to believe that the 40 million bribe from the GRINN corporation was any different.