The police of Volgograd, an industrial city on the western bank of the Volga River known historically as Stalingrad, are trying to turn the files of the pre-prosecutorial inspection of business operations by Yuriy Dergachev, CEO of EcoTechService, into a criminal case regarding large-scale fraud, probably committed by a group of people.
However, as Sobesednik weekly reports, the top executives of the regional prosecutor's office feel leery about these prospects. Is the prosecutors’ friendship with regional officials the only reason why they are trying to avoid “washing dirty linen in public”?
Over the past two years, the Volgograd region performed an ingenious multi-move combination without a hitch. Under the patronage of the top-ranking officials, its organizers earned tens of millions of rubles of profits while the residents of two districts there got environmental “time bombs” right in close proximity to their houses.
To be more precise, the residents of both Kirov district in the city of Volgograd and Svetloyarsk district in the Volgograd region remained with their environmental issues all alone. However, the documents say that environmental projects worth almost 1 bln rubles ($13,600,900) have been implemented for the residents. The monies were allocated from the federal budget.
Two Dangerous Dumps Instead of One
Residents of the neighboring Svetloyarsk district found out that the dump in the Kirov district of Volgograd would be liquidated when in July 2017, arrays of heavy transporters loaded with waste went to the local storage pond for synthetic fatty acids.
The pond is located only 8 km away from the residential sector. It has not been used since 2004, except for cases of unauthorized dumping. Over dozens of years, it has accumulated oil waste and heavy metal salts. When the environmentalists from the Svetloyarsk district saw that all this toxic slurry was simply filled with heaps of garbage, they were shocked by what they saw.
“Waste should be taken only to a landfill organized for this purpose,” said Anastasia Sergeyeva, an environmental volunteer from the Svetloyarsk district. “It should be brought there already sorted and then be disposed of in an eco-friendly way. A pond is not a landfill of this kind. From the very beginning it was a fraudulent scheme where hazardous waste from the dump in the Kirov district was moved right in front of our houses. Previously, it had poisoned the life of Volgograd’s residents. Mystifyingly, the waste has suddenly ceased to be so harmful. Under some controversial projects, the pond was covered with organic acids waste. It used to belong to Lukoil Oil Company but recently, it became privately owned.”
Sergeyeva said that while the pond was belonging to the oil plant, at least, it was under some control. When it became private, any random liquids – including absolutely harmful ones – started to be drained there, since no one guarded or controlled the area. However, the local authorities tried to convince the residents that something really useful for them was being done.
“They were telling us that the pond was being filled with waste from the Kirov landfill,” said Anastasia Sergeeva. “Allegedly, decontamination and reclamation with special with special substances took place simultaneously. At the final stage, they promised to restore the top layer of it and practically to plant a blooming garden instead of the pond. In fact, waste was simply delivered there. The necessary layers of various mixtures and ingredients for the soil were put there only partially. As a result, there is no insulating and/or flanging layer. The influent seepage to deeper layers continues. In springtime, all this – the pond’s waste and the landfill – comes with sewage to the Volga and farm fields.”
An expert study done as part of the prosecutor's inspection in February this year showed that the unperformed works to absorb the upper layer of the pond waste were equivalent of 84,96 mln rubles ($1,155,546.06.) That is, this money was simply stolen. In this connection, Yuri Dergachev, CEO of EcoTechService, is suspected of a large-scale fraud.
Contract Worth Almost 1 bln
In this story, the EcoTechService company looks suspicious at least due to the fact it was entrusted with a contract worth almost 1 bln rubles. The circumstances were as follows. On 07 June 2017, EcoTechService got a state contract for 812.9 mln rubles ($11,056,171.61) for “elimination” of the landfill in the Kirov district and elimination of the accumulation pond for the synthetic fatty acids in the Svetloyarsk municipal district. The agreement was signed with the Committee for Natural Resources, Forestry and Ecology of the Volgograd region. At the same time, EcoTechService did not have any record of successfully implemented environmental projects. On the contrary, by all indications, it looked more like a fly-by-night company. However, there was one important detail.
More specifically, the regional and district officials as well as all supervisory agencies were surprisingly loyal to that company. The timing and circumstances of how the company obtained permits look very strange. Thus, in April 2017, the license regarding the management of wastes was issued to EcoTechService in just a week, although in accordance with the regulations it usually takes up to a month and a half. At the same time, no checks of the equipment it declared had been done. No one analyzed the company's capabilities to neutralize or recycle some types of production and consumption waste.
At the same time, EcoTechService received a positive conclusion № 09/7318-17 from 07.04.2017 on compliance with sanitary and epidemiological rules and regulations of the declared operations.
The company got the green light and received almost 1 bln rubles from the federal budget, which it started using immediately.
Green Light for EcoTechService in All Spheres
How come EcoTechService (TIN 3461009667), a fly-by-night company, got a license? It had no indications of business activities in the segment of waste management. No declared equipment was installed at the site of licensed operations. Places for accumulation and collection of waste were not equipped. According to the activists, there were only a few vehicles, a minimum of equipment and personnel that were clearly insufficient for the implementation of a large-scale project for hundreds of millions of rubles. In fact, the company existed only on paper. However, all the above-mentioned facts were not an obstacle to get a contract worth 812.9 mln rubles with the approval of the regional Governor Andrei Bocharov.
As the residents of the Svetloyarsk district set up a steering group and literally bombarded the regional authorities and supervisory agencies with complaints and petitions from the first day the outrageous situation started, Bocharov most obviously was aware of what was going on. They tried to make a personal appointment with him but he didn't consider it necessary. Therefore, the order was cascaded to one of Bocharov’s deputies.
Governor Andrey Bocharov
However, that is only one side of the coin. The other question is where – or rather “in whose pocket” the environmental agencies looked into. They were supposed to make sure that the project did not harm the environment as a minimum. According to representatives of the steering group, an interesting detail was found out. The local environmental prosecutor's office saw a huge number of violations from the very beginning.
In particular, back in 2017, Volgograd inter-district environmental prosecutor announced a lawsuit to declare illegal all the actions of the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection (Rosprirodnadzor) on licensing of EcoTechService and coordinating of documentation for eliminating the Kirov landfill on the territory of the accumulator of free fatty acids in the Svetloyarsk district. However, strange things happened then, which local residents can only explain by great man-to-man friendship. The friendship of Sergei Vasilyev, the former head of Volgograd Rosprirodnadzor with the regional prosecutor Maxim Yershov as well as friendship of Governor Andrei Bocharov and Chief Environmental Prosecutor Veniamin Selifanov, his fellow countryman from the Altai territory.
Without Selifanov’s involvement, it is unlikely that checks against EcoTechService could have been cancelled and the lawsuits could have been revoked. At that moment, they were filed against the company with various courts, and the local environmental prosecutor's office was the applicant. Then, after casting off all the “court” shackles, EcoTechService started implementing the project that was a failure from the very beginning.
Environmentalists say that as expected, it ended in a real disaster for two facilities at once: for the Kirov landfill and the pond. Today, the latter is covered with a layer of waste. It means that the project for decontamination and neutralization of the pond has increased in price several times over. A total of 812.9 mln rubles have been already used.
This is the Volgograd way of solving the environmental issues -- generous spending of the federal budget’s funds with a negative impact on the environment.