Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 December 2019

Russian officials face prison for embezzlement at Putin’s space station

Federal investigators announced on Sunday that they have referred at least 42 embezzlement probes to the Russian courts, with a further 58 already sentenced

A view of the launch pad at the Vostochny Cosmodrome outside the city of Uglegorsk, Russia. AFP
A view of the launch pad at the Vostochny Cosmodrome outside the city of Uglegorsk, Russia. AFP

Russian President Vladimir Putin has lashed out at rampant corruption the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a pet infrastructure project that has lost at least 11 billion roubles (Dh633 million) to corruption.

Federal investigators announced on Sunday that they have referred at least 42 embezzlement probes to the Russian courts. The Investigative Committee, which is Russia’s equivalent of the FBI, said that another 58 people have already been sentenced to prison for “embezzlement, swindling or exceeding official powers”.

Speaking at a government meeting last week, Mr Putin spoke angrily about the disappearance of millions from the Vostochny project.

"A hundred times people were told 'work transparently'. But no. They're stealing hundreds of millions," the president said.

The Russian government’s investigations into corruption at the Vostochny Cosmodrome are unusual given the high levels of corruption within the ruling elite, who are rarely held accountable. Transparency International, an advocacy group that aggregates levels of corruption globally, ranks Russia 139th out of 180 countries.

Among those to have been jailed is the former head of federal construction agency Dalspetsstroy, Yury Khrizman, who is serving an 11-year sentence. Mr Khrizman is responsible for 5.2bn roubles worth of losses, the investigative committee said.

Federal investigators also jailed former head of the state agency for special construction project Alexander Nikitin for costing the project some 665m roubles.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has said that of the 11bn roubles stolen by officials, 3.5bn had been recouped as part of the investigations.

Mr Putin oversaw the first launch at the cosmodrome, located near the border with China, in April 2016. The site is the first in Russia built for commercial space launches and was described by Mr Putin during a visit this September as “the country's most important construction project”.

Prior to the construction of cosmodrome, with a total estimated cost of 4.7bn roubles, Russia had continued to use the Soviet-era Baikonur Cosmodrome located in Kazakhstan, a close ally of the Kremlin. However, the construction of the new launching station within Russia’s borders is regarded as securing the Kremlin’s long-term technological interests.

Dmitry Rogozin, head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, was barred from entering the US in January for a meeting with Nasa officials following an outcry from US politicians who were critical of his support for Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014.

The spate of delays that surrounded the construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome is being repeated at a variety of large-scale infrastructure projects in Russia, where officials are struggling to spend allocated funds. According to the Accounting Chamber, federal spending for infrastructure projects reached only 52 per cent of earmarked funds.

This, says Russian columnist Leonid Bershidsky, is because Russian officials are afraid they will be accused of misappropriating government money. In a recent Bloomberg column, he wrote that Russian bureaucrats and subsidy recipients “are regularly arrested and sentenced for misspending government funds, even when they have achieved satisfactory results”.

Updated: November 19, 2019 09:40 PM

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