Kostyukov's Empire, or How to Earn Millions on Housing and Utilities

Kostyukov's Empire, or How to Earn Millions on Housing and Utilities

Photo: https://og.ru/

COVID-19 pandemic which mobilized the Russian economy and society became a game-changer for several sectors and spheres of life. These days, special responsibility fell on doctors, drivers, energy, social and public utility workers who all came under pressure.

The scope of services to the population was reconfigured. Gas, power and heat supply systems are undergoing a test of strength as residents go into self-isolation. Despite the difficulties, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin ordered the Ministry of Construction and several other agencies to prepare proposals by July 1 on modernization of public utilities infrastructure in the Russian regions. All these steps seem to be reasonable. However, chances are those who want to grab a chunk of the municipal budget will try to make a good profit from this project one way or another. This investigation is about one of such “teams.”

It is no secret that the housing and utility sector featherbeds crooks and swindlers of all stripes as does the building industry. Every year, prosecutors report more than 300,000 violations in housing maintenance and utilities and file hundreds of criminal cases. Criminal schemes are used to park the money received for payment of services in offshore tax havens, steal through illegal transactions or embezzle budget funds. However, corruption schemes are rarely supported by numerous documents and reliable information on every detail of the arrangements and transactions.

These juicy stories hit the news. For example, the Ulyanovsk scam where 90 million rubles ($1.21 mln) worth of utility bill payments were transferred to dummy accounts. Or the Zhilishchnik Moscow's State Budgetary Institution, the “regular supplier” of smearpieces (tens of criminal cases over sham contracts, 50% overcharging on heating bills etc.). Mega scams include 4-billion-dollar “projects” of Novosibirskenergo owned by former minister Mikhail Abyzov who is under arrest, multi-billion-dollar scandals around the group of energy companies of Renova in Perm, Tver, and Komi (as part of the Gaizer case). These examples are countless.

The housing and utilities sector of the Moscow region is a real paradise for swindlers and their patrons. We have already reported on the illegal utility bills increase in Balashikha, lawlessness of real estate developers, privatization of forest plots in elite locations for further construction, and district authorities’ unwillingness to deal with garbage dumps. Alas, the Naro-Fominsk district is no exception. Today, we’ll look into the theft of a boiler house that services several settlements and withdrawal of budget money (which actually belongs to the community) to third companies, covered up by officials and prosecutors of all ranks.

For the record, this is a fully documented journalistic investigation. We decided to start it after media reports on the same people involved in a number of scandals in the Nizhny Novgorod, Lipetsk, Samara, Novosibirsk, and other regions. When we began to collect materials on them, it turned out that the most outrageous story in terms of its impudence, lawlessness, and friendship with rogue cops happened some 60 kilometers southwest of Moscow.

Stumbling block of a boiler house

There is boiler station No 50 in the Naro-Fominsk district. Located in the town of Selyatino, a former workers' settlement, it is the largest boiler facility in the area with 7 units and one of the largest in the Moscow region. It provides hot water and heating to the residents of Selyatino and neighboring settlements. It was built from 1966 till 1978 and like other Soviet-era infrastructure facilities has become rundown over the past 30 years. Deteriorated equipment and heating systems with an average depreciation rate of 40%, the lack of qualified personnel, understaffed shifts, and low wages have made it a ticking bomb for the local residents. This is not just a metaphor.

In 2012, one of the boilers burst. It was never repaired as envisioned by the fine Program for the Comprehensive Development of Public Utility Infrastructure of the Selyatino urban settlement for the period 2011-2015, approved by the Council of Deputies resolution № 11/28 of 22.11.2011 and signed by Selyatino’s Mayor E.N. Golubev. The lower wall of the boiler became so thin over time that it could not withstand the high pressure and burst. It was only by happy coincidence that none of the employees were nearby at the time of the accident.

Two more boilers exploded in September 2015 and January 2016. Hot water cuoffs became routine in the fall. It was difficult for Mr. Golubev to save face. He said in one of his interviews in the summer that “the boilers were overhauled and additional high-frequency pumps were purchased.”

Who was responsible for the boiler house at the time? Who owned it? Selyatino administration resolution No. 578 of November 16, 2012, says that “boiler house No. 50 is on the books of NTEK.” Our story begins with this company from this moment.

Bear in mind that the story contains a lot of dates, names, companies’ names, and information about shares. It is necessary to clearly show the mafia “octopus”that entangled not only Naro-Fominsk district but also other regions of the country. Of course, there will be names and surnames of the main characters as “heroes must be known by their faces.”

According to official documents, Naro-Fominsk Heat and Power Company was registered in Naro-Fominsk, Moscow Region, on May 18, 2006. On September 06, 2016, the legal address was changed to the Saratov region. This was done for a reason. The new address is 2 A, room. 1, Microdistrict 2, Novokuzensk, Novokuzensk district, Saratov region. We believe that it is no secret that the farther away from the center, the weaker the control of regulatory bodies, both tax and law enforcement agencies, is. In the case of any problems, the “solution” to them is easier to find. This is exactly the reason why the legal address of NTEK was changed before the start of the“controlled bankruptcy” procedure of the rundown boiler house No.50.

From July 14, 2009, to March 26, 2015, Sergey Eremin (let's remember that name) was CEO of the NTEK company. A total of 87.58% of the company shares belonged to NTEK, while the rest were owned by Energoservice Company Elektromekhanika, registered in St. Petersburg. This firm, in turn, was 100% owned by Infrakhit Montazh, also registered in St. Petersburg. Alexander Lopatko was its CEO and owner since April 10, 2012. On September 15, 2014, he headed Elektromekhanika and left his post on July 28, 2016 when the company was acquired by Infrahit Montazh.

In 2015, Infrahit Montazh purchased the boiler station from NTEK (that is, in fact, from itself) for 108 million rubles ($1.46 mln.) It might have seemed that a long-awaited investor had finally come to the town boiler house and housing and utility infrastructure, who would help pay off the debts to Gazprom Mezhregiongaz-Moscow. Infrahit Montazh and Elektromekhanika appeared in the region together with the new district head and his advisor on housing and utilities Alexander Kostyukov, a man of action who reportedly took control of people's cash flows for heat energy.

Kostyukov and his partner E. Kruglov (we will tell you more about him later) are among the main characters of our investigation.

So, the scheme started working. The most interesting fact about the first boiler house deal is that Infrahit Montage did not pay any money.

Two months later, on August 21, 2015, Infrahit Montazh, headed by Lopatko, sold the boiler plant to SK-Alliance, registered in St. Petersburg (sale and purchase agreement No. 01/KP/08-2015.) People’s cynicism in what happened next is amazing. The thing is that Artem Yakunin, a founder and CEO of SK-Alliance, suddenly passed away on March 6, 2016. Since the heirs did not immediately declare their rights to the shares of this legal entity, the company came to the attention of lawyer S. Vasilyev, who receives information on unclaimed property from dishonest employees of the tax inspection in St. Petersburg. The circumstances were ideal. Any documents might be signed on behalf of a deadhead, including backdated ones. No one would dispute the signature or clarify the circumstances. In case of inconvenient questions from the law-enforcing bodies, it would be always possible to shift the blame on the deceased. Seems very convenient.

This was implemented by S.Vasilyev at the suggestion of Kostyukov and Kruglov, real cynics and uncompromising profit seekers.

The buyer then had the late A.Yakunin’s signature put on the sale and purchase contract retroactively.

Of course, the money was not paid in 2015, and the rights to the property were not registered, which is quite unusual in transactions of this kind. However, it can be easily explained. The sale and purchase contract might be signed retroactively, but it is impossible to retroactively make registration in the Federal Service of State Registration, Land Register, and Mapping (Rosreestr). The list received by SK-Alliance looked impressive. We will present it entirely as it appears in the materials of the criminal case (we will tell about it a little later):

1. building (fuel oil pumping station), with a total area of 17.10 sq.m., cadastral number 50:26:0200101:1183;

2. building (fuel oil pumping station), with a total area of 51,8 sq.m., cadastral number 50:26:0140601:861;

3. building (hangar), with a total area of 406,2 sq.m., cadastral number 50:26:0200101:1196;

4. building (fuel oil pumping station), with a total area of 32,8 sq.m., cadastral number 50:26:15:01037:001;

5. building (chemical depot), with a total area of 103.8 sq.m., cadastral number 50:26:0200101:1182;

6. building (heat supply pumping station), with a total area of 107.2 sq.m., cadastral number 50:26:0200101:1165;

7. building (booster pump station, heat supply station of the hospital campus), with a total area of 32.3 sq.m, cadastral number 50:26:014601:1083;

8. building (boiler house), with a total area of 2,500.50 sq.m, cadastral number 50:26:0200101:1262;

9. land plot, with a total area of 4300 sq.m., cadastral number 50:26:0200101:1117;

10. movable assets (pumps, heaters, fans, etc.) specified in the list appended to the sales contract.

The total sum of the contract amounted to slightly more than 110 million rubles ($1.48 mln).

The dead can write

Let's dwell a bit more on the situation around SK-Alliance, in which, as it turns out, the dead have the remarkable skill to put their signature on the necessary documents.

In early March 2016, Artem Yakunin, the 27-year-old CEO of SK-Alliance, flew to visit his parents in Yelizovo, Kamchatka. On March 6, 2016, he went out on the porch for a smoke and suddenly got cardiac failure. Death occurred immediately, and the ambulance was unable to help. On March 10, the Petropavlovsk Registry Office issued a death certificate(series I-ML No. 572560) which launched the most outrageous part of this entire story.

Before his death, Artem Yakunin did not appoint anyone to the position of CEO in accordance with the established procedure and did not dispose of any shares in the company. The trust management relations had not been formalized with anyone. His sister Elena Skorik was the only heir. In August, she submitted an application for inheritance to E. Melnikova, a notary of the Notary Chamber of Kamchatka Territory (inheritance file No. 29/2016). Eventually, she became the sole heiress of 100% of the capital of SK Alliance, as evidenced by a certificate of right to inheritance dated 15.02.2019 (41 AA 0642130).

While Elena Skorik cried over her loss and did not know what to do with her brother's business, the fate of SK ALLIANCE was decided by others.

The above-mentioned Messrs. S.V. Vasilyev and A.M. Lopatko chose a suitable legal entity, per Kostyukov and Kruglov’s orders.

The things got going.

There are a few details to the portrait of Kruglov. He has been Kostyukov’s associate and partner from the very first energy “projects.” He is Number Two in a huge network of companies that work for Kostyukov. They both headed Regional Energy Management Company. Kruglov headed Interregional Processing Center and the company of the same name, Unified Information Settlement Center, Unified Collection Service, Domtelecom, and Domkom Management. In these firms (and many others) he owned from 30 to 100% of capital. A. Kostyukov was his partner.

In August 2017, Kostyukov and Kruglov purchased a legal entity Atlantika from KB Egida Legal Agency, a professional registrar and seller of ready-made companies, and appointed Liliana Ten as Atlantika CEO on August 2, 2017. She had been CEO and bankruptcy trustee of 24 (!) companies, including those where another protagonist of our investigation, Pavel Zagainov, worked as director general. Lopatko and Kruglov were acquainted with him. Zagainov’s lawyer, quite accidentally of course, had represented in the courts the interests of ...Atlantika.

Let's leave Atlantika for a moment and return to SK Alliance. The fake decision signed by the deceased A.Yakunin on the appointment of Tatiana Ukhova (Matsko), born in 1973, to the post of SK Alliance CEO appeared on September 14, 2017. Ukhova belongs to the proxies hired as heads of shell companies for a modest salary of 30,000-40,000 rubles a month in the mid-2010s. At the same time, they were assured that they would not need to sign any important documents. Prior to her “headship” in SK Alliance, Ukhova earned modest sums of money at a recruitment agency, Pskovvtormet, and other firms.

At the time of the fraud, Ukhova, who worked as a telephone receptionist, was looking for part-time work. She did not want to work for MLM companies. On August 27, 2017, she was offered through social media to work as caretaker CEO until the sale of the firm, without signing anything and receiving a stabe salary plus 2,000-3,000 rubles per each attendance. She accepted the offer.

After the first fraud the swindlers launched the main scheme. They submitted to the Interdistrict Inspection of Russia № 15 in St. Petersburg, located at St. Petersburg, Krasnogo Tekstilshchika street, 10-12, bldg O, the documents for state registration of changes in respect of SK Alliance. For some reason, the tax authorities believed the fake and Ukhova became CEO of SK Alliance. A corresponding entry was made in the Unified State Register of Legal Entities.

Then, clearly at the behest of the project initiators, Ukhova came to St. Petersburg to issue powers of attorney to several people whom she says she never saw or only knew by name as they phoned her and gave her instructions. So, she gave a power of attorney to represent the interests of SK Alliance withthe tax authorities and passed the bank-client system details and documents of the opened account to a certain girl named Anna.

She also issued a power of attorney in the name of P. Zagainov who prepared and submitted a set of required documents to territorial office № 17 of Federal Service for State Registration, Cadastre, and Cartography in the Moscow region. They were necessary to register the ownership of SK Alliance of the above-mentioned property. The contract of sale with Infrahit Montazh dated 21.08.2015 was the supporting document. On October 2, 2017, the corresponding entry appeared in the registry.

The next events happened very fast. On October 6, the signature of SK Alliance CEO Ukhova appeared on the contract of sale and purchase No. 01/KP/10-2017 with Atlantika, which allegedly bought all movable and immovable property and equipment of boiler house No. 50 for 268,821,000 rubles ($3.63 mln), i.e. 2.4 times more expensive than the price at which Infrahit Montazh sold it to SK Alliance. Later on, Ukhova said that she had not signed this contract which means that the signature on it had been forged.

At this stage, the signature of the late Yakunin was used again. By power of attorney from Tatiana Ukhova, Decision No. 1/2017 of the sole participant of SK Alliance, A. Yakunin (deceased, as we recall, on March 6, 2016) of 05.10.2017 on approval of a large transaction between SK Alliance and Atlantika was prepared and subsequently submitted to the Rosreestr Agency for Moscow region together with other documents required for state registration of ownership rights.

Three days later, on October 9, 2017, Tatyana Ukhova and Liliana Ten signed a statement on acceptance and transfer of all boiler house property under this contract. On October 24, based on the documents submitted to the Rosreestr branch in the Moscow region, the title of Atlantika to the aforementioned property complex was registered.

Atlantika paid the money to SK Alliance. But ... only 30 million rubles ($404,700), because the authors of the scheme did not intend to pay in full. Tatyana Ukhova withdrew all of this money within days to the accounts of firms associated with Mr. Kostyukov or controlled by him. In particular, almost 23 million rubles ($310,270) were sent to the accounts of Stroimontazhservis for major (!) repairs of the boiler house building in Naro-Fominsk, allegedly accomplished in 2017.

We cannot say for sure but it is very likely that this facility was never overhauled (by the way, what facility? Clearly, it was not “boiler house #50,” as it had not yet been purchased by a municipal unitary enterprise. Let us leave this information to the competent authorities, who might be interested in the results of our investigation.

In the end, the criminal group came in possession of the SK Alliance property worth more than 100 million rubles ($1.4 mln).

Who, where, to whom, and how much

The final chord of this multi-move combination rang a month later, on November 15, 2017, when Atlantika sold the boiler plant to the Teploset municipal unitary enterprise based in Naro-Fominsk (contract No. 50K-2017). The price of the deal was 270 million rubles ($3.64 mln).

From April 24 of the same year, 2017, the post of Teploset CEO was held by the above-mentioned Sergei Eremin, who headed NTEK in 2009-2015, associated with other companies of Alexander Kostyukov and Evgeny Kruglov. Of course, Atlantika received all 270 million of the budget money for the boiler house.

A question arises why Teploset bought only the boiler house, without networks and other integral elements. There are a lot of questions to Teploset and the Naro-Fominsk district administration: did anyone check the contract for technological expediency? After all, not the whole complex was put up for sale (as it should be in these situations) but only a part of it. It is like an engine for a car without chassis.

There is one more important detail. Atlantika, with Liliana Ten as its CEO, served as a sort of transit point through which funds received as a result of various machinations, not only “the Naro-Fominsk Boiler House case,” were distributed to the accounts of companies linked to one and the same person, Alexander Kostyukov. Once again, please be patient, we will only give some examples.

December 22, 2017:

- 82 million rubles ($1.11 mln) were withdrawn to the account of the Regional Elevator Company affiliated with A.V. Kostyukov through Kommunalshchik.

December 29, 2017

- 6.1 million rubles ($82,289) were withdrawn to the account of Arctic City, The sole participant is Regional Energy Management Company, which is 100% owned by A.V. Kostyukov;

- 11.5 mln ($155,135) to the account of Regional Energy Management Company (no comments);

- 5 million rubles ($67,450) to the account of the Prestige-Policy Insurance Group (the main beneficiary is A.V. Kostyukov).

On December 25 and 29, 2017, 80 million rubles ($

1.08 mln) went to the accounts of a certain Covilet (A.V. Kostyukov is its CEO and sole owner.) in February and March, another 40 million rubles ($539,600) were transferred in two tranches.

There were also three payments on March 7, 13, and 24, 2018 to the accounts of DomCom Invest for a total of 39 million rubles ($526,110). A.V. Kostyukov is its CEO and the sole owner of Arctic City.

In particular, Covilet LLC, where A.V. Kostyukov is 100% founder and CEO, started the procedure of voluntary liquidation in the middle of April 2020. A.V. Kostyukov was appointed liquidator.

From 2013 to 2016, this company had zero turnovers and no employees. Then the above-mentioned tranches came in for a total of 120 million rubles ($1.62mln), and the turnovers dropped to zero again. Three years later the company was liquidated.

Judging by the published accounting documents A.V. Kostyukov contrived to pay himself dividends from the received money, as the budget funds for the NTEK-owned boiler house went to his account.

The same situation happened with the notorious company DomCom Invest which is in the process of liquidation since 22.04.2020. Isn’t it an attempt to cover one’s tracks?

We have collected a long list of payments to Kostyukov’s “group” of companies. ADS, affiliated with Kostyukov through DomCom Management got 10 million rubles on January 19, 2018, while ADS of the Sovetsky district had two transactions for more than 30 million rubles on February 26 and March 21, 2018, and for 37 million rubles in two transfers from March 7 and 13, 2018 to RLK, affiliated with Kostyukov through Kommunalschik. And so on and so forth. The money for the asset was not transferred to the first seller NTEK nor to Infrahit Montage. It was kept on other accounts. Why?

NTEK continued to accumulate debts. If it had sold the boiler facility directly to Teploset, the result would have been quite different. To be more precise, the entire amount of 268.8 million rubles ($3.63 mln) would have gone into the bankruptcy estate of NTEK and would have been distributed among the creditors, first and foremost by the tax inspectorate, and secondly among other creditors. However, this, as we understand it, did not happen.

We do not even ask whether taxes have been paid on all these and other sums; the answer is clear in advance.

Two egg baskets for Kostyukov and Kruglov

SK Alliance was not left alone even after 270 million rubles arrived at the accounts of Kostyukov’s firms generously allocated from the budget of Naro-Fominsk district for boiler house No. 50. Two more schemes were designed which made it possible to “earn” tens of millions of rubles.

Scenario 1. “Noble blackmail.” On December 10, 2018, that is, a year after Atlantika purchased the boiler house from SK Alliance, Infrahit Montazh suddenly “recollected itself.” Alexander Lopatko, its CEO and owner, is a close friend of Kostyukov. The company issued a claim in the amount of 100,930,310.30 rubles ($1.36 mln).

Scenario 2. “Debts.” This option was used when it was necessary to cover up the hostile takeover of SK Alliance. As the raiders insisted, Tatyana Ukhova issued clearly unfunded liabilities (including promissory notes) worth more than 10 million rubles ($135,050) to Kostyokov-controlled companies.

As a result, lawsuits were initiated and a subsequent attempt was made to launch bankruptcy proceedings against SK Alliance. Stroytrans, the plaintiff, claimed 356,895 rubles ($4819.9.) This can be easily explained. Apparently, Kostyukov's gang wanted to cover tracks. The fact that he “left footprints” there is evidenced by the attempt to appoint the well-known Sergey Vasilyev as the interim manager of SK Alliance. His candidacy was proposed by Stroitrans in its bankruptcy petition on February 21, 2019.

Since July 28, 2018, Vasilyev, registered at the address apt.11, 20, Northern Avenue, St. Petersburg has been the bankruptcy manager of ...NTEK. Previously, he had worked for 45(!) companies and holdings. In 2015-2016, he worked together with Kostyukov in the Sozvezdiye housing and utilities company. His wife owned a 50% stake in Stroymontazhservis which got, as you remember, 23 million rubles from SK Alliance out of 30 million received from Atlantika.

There is one interesting detail. Applications for court orders to collect debts on false promissory notes to SK Alliance were put forward by Atlantika and Infrahit Montage at the same time in April 2019 which also raises some flags.

The story above clearly shows that a number of transactions made between NTEK, InfraHit Montazh, SK Alliance, Atlantika, and Teploset were a scheme implemented by A.V. Kostyukov and E.I. Kruglov, with the sole purpose to pot money received from the sale of the boiler house, without allowing their distribution between the legal recipients: the budget of the Russian Federation and NTEK creditors.

This is evidenced by an unusually short period of transfer of ownership of the property complex (2 months for negotiation and registration of 3 transactions), the connection of all the participants with A.V. Kostyukov and E.I. Kruglov, the presence of deceased signatories in the scheme and the attempt of S.V. Vasilyev (the bankruptcy manager of NTEK) to bankrupt SK Alliance. However, the key fact is the distribution of funds received from Teploset for the benefit of companies directly or indirectly owned by A.V. Kostyukov and his partner.

Alexander Kostyukov is undoubtedly a smart person. If law-enforcers ever come to talk to him, it will not be easy to crack him. As they say, he never puts all his eggs in one basket.

In the case of the housing and utilities sector in the Naro-Fominsk district, he made sure in advance that the whole scheme would have two vectors. He divided the complex, which supplies heat to residents and businesses, into two parts: the boiler house and the heating networks. It is obvious that one cannot function without the other, and no one needs it separately. This is where the bet was placed on.

Back in 2015, when Kostyukov was an advisor to the head of the district on housing and utilities, NTEK leased the network (heating networks) to Resursosnabzheniye. On September 1, 2017, it was bought by the above-mentioned Atlantic. A little earlier, Sergey Eremin, a new head of Teploset, already known to us as one of the key players in Kostyukov’s scheme, leased the networks from Resursosnabzheniye. Moreover, he paid for the lease in full. Again, the money went to the accounts of Kostyukov’s and Kruglov’s firms.


Let's summarize some of the activities of A.V. Kostyukov, E.I. Kruglov, and their team on the boiler house deal.

First, let's recall the key participants of the scheme by name, and then let's move on to the figures.

We can clearly see how our characters are connected on the basis of their roles:

1. NTEK, S.V. Vasiliev, the bankruptcy trustee and lawyer of Kostyukov. On top of that, he

- was proposed as bankruptcy manager of SK Alliance in a fictitious bankruptcy attempt, and

- was the recipient of 23 million rubles sent from the SK Alliance account for non-existent works to the account of Stroimontazhservis belonging to his wife.

There are reasons to believe that this amount is S.V. Vasilyev's fee for the work done for Kostyukov.

2. InfraHit Montazh with A. M. Lopat as its CEO. In Zhilservis, based in the town of Alexandrov, the same person is appointed as CEO. V.V. Pushkin, close to A.V. Kostyukov, is the nominal founder of many companies under his control and the founder of Zhilservis.

3. SK Alliance. The founder passed away, its CEO T.U. Ukhova is a nominee director. The property was registered on the strength of power of attorney by P.N. Zagainov who is close to A.V. Kostyukov and E.I. Kruglov as a “supplier” of nominees.

4. Atlantika. Its CEO L.Ten is a nominee director and founder of a number of his companies.

Now let’s talk about the damage to the state. The figures speak for themselves.

Firstly, the debts of NTEK in the amount of 304.7 million rubles, including 55.25 million rubles in taxes, have not been paid off.

Secondly, VAT payable from the amount of 255.8 million rubles on the contract between Atlantika and SK Alliance (a total of 268.8 mln rubles, including 13 mln rubles for the land plot) in the amount of 39.02 mln rubles was not paid.

Thirdly, profit tax on the difference between 268.8 mln rubles and 108 mln rubles in the amount of 27.3 mln rubles was not paid.

Total direct loss to the state amounted to RUR 55.25 + 39.02 + 27.3 million = 121.57 million, not counting other NTEK creditors, the lion's share of which were state-controlled companies.

We think it's no secret that such a "scheme" is impossible to pull off in full view of everyone, without first obtaining the support of those who are responsible for monitoring compliance with the law, preventing crime and prosecuting offenders.

We do not give up our own people

It would seem that with numerous crime stories it is extremely easy to run an expose on the criminals, credit where credit's due, return the property to its rightful owner, obtain the unpaid taxes and remove corrupt officials of all stripes. Kostyukov and his associates appeared in many awful stories related to utilities, with the participation of the jailed ex-Minister Mikhail Abyzov. However, as further events showed, the situation in the Naro-Fominsk district is somewhat similar to the mid-90s. The local criminals there, albeit they are in white-collar uniform, are the best friend of some of the former and incumbent public servants.

In 2019, SK Alliance employees decided to see justice done after all. By that point, the position of figurehead Ukhova had become more than strange. Her former supervisors occasionally stopped communicating with her and giving her instructions over the phone. Company representatives sent an application for inspection and initiation of criminal proceedings (on all of the above-mentioned facts, from document forgery to with theft of assets) to Lieutenant General V. Paukov, head of the Main Directorate of Internal Affairs of Russia in Moscow Region. They outlined the main points of the case with references to all the documents.

On July 26, the Russian Interior Ministry Investigative Department in Naro-Fominsk Municipal District issued a resolution to initiate criminal proceedings under Part 4 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. The investigator went to St. Petersburg to meet with Ukhova. She said that she did not know much and that she had only signed a few documents. He also met with an Atlantika representative. On August 20, the investigator suddenly learnt that the criminal case on which he had been actively working was cancelled on August 5. The city prosecutor, Senior Counsellor of Justice A.M. Pashkov, signed the cancellation order retroactively. The pretexts for cancellation are as ridiculous as they are untenable. The case, according to Pashkov, is not of criminal nature. He said that it was a dispute between economic entities and, therefore had a purely civil nature. Property damage had not been confirmed. By and large, it was a regular fudge.

Pashkov apparently relied on high-ranking patrons. He violated the law recklessly and did what he was told without regard for the law or common sense.

How could it happen? The fact is that he does have such a patron, though such people traditionally prefer to keep in the shadow. His name is Alexander Lychagin, 3rd Class State Counselor of Justice, and, until recently, Prosecutor of the Astrakhan Region. He was born in the town of Zhukovsky near Moscow in 1976. From 2010 to 2013, he was a prosecutor... of the Naro- Fominsk district. Then he worked as deputy prosecutor of the Moscow region until December 2015. It was he who is said to have phoned Pashkov, asking him to cover up the case. By the way, according to the information at our disposal, Kostyukov said as much in his “inner circle.”

It was not only in his native Moscow region and Naro-Fominsk that Alexander Lychagin “left traces.” He became “famous” for his unearned income at his last place of work in the Astrakhan Region. Here is a quote from an open letter (February 2020) from his current subordinates to the Prosecutor General of Russia: “The personnel policy of the regional prosecutor led to faulty operation of the watchdog agency. This is confirmed by the recent visit of A.V. Kikot, Deputy Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation for Southern Federal District, during which blatant facts of inaction and abuse of law by prosecutor A.G. Lychagin were revealed in the sector of housing and utilities.”

Employees of the regional prosecutor's office openly stated: “There are facts of illegal initiation and termination of criminal cases in supervision over the procedural activities of investigative bodies, which have public resonance at the regional level.” To put it simply, the regional prosecutor covered up those who had to be covered up and denigrated the unwanted. Apparently, the former paid handsomely and returned the favor. At the same time, Lychagin reported on the criminal cases in the sphere of housing and utilities filed in the summer of 2019, of which 29 were sent to courts in the reporting period.

As a result, the General Prosecutor's Office on March 16 began an inspection of Lychagin's official activities focusing on numerous facts of personnel repression and sources of income for the purchase of a yacht and a coastal cottage in an elite settlement. The inspection had a predictable outcome: Lychagin was retired, although he received 20 monthly salaries and extra pay for his rank.

Nothing is yet known about his new employment in the status of a pensioner during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it is unlikely that a “golden parachute” and quiet departure from Astrakhan will bring Lychagin the peace of mind he seeks. He has become an ordinary citizen like the majority of Russians, and, therefore, must bear full responsibility, including criminal responsibility, for his actions. He is not the country's former president or even a retired judge. Former prosecutor Lychagin does not have any immunity. By the way, most recently, six judges were stripped of immunity upon recommendation of the Investigative Committee. One of them will be charged with robbery, and the other with fraud and mediation in a large bribe. Lychagin’s “skeletons in the closet” are bigger. All the more so, since all the materials of the cases connected with him are absolutely available, and we have only told about one of them. So, maybe it is time for Bastrykin's subordinates to clean up the prosecutor's office stables, not just the courts’.


In general, we have to admit that prosecutors, businessmen, lawyers, and judges are not a bad background for a criminal empire. A solid one. We will tell about other episodes in the life of Kostyukov’s gang and the participation of famous people in it in another part of this investigation.

At the end of this one, let us note that our main task is not only to show criminal schemes in the housing and utilities sector and to name the participants, so that specialists, seeing this information, have a reason to institute proceedings. It is not only the law enforcement agencies that have to get interested but the whole society, all of us. According to some estimates, up to 35% of all money circulating in the sphere of housing and utilities has a corrupt or illegal component. So, the government, apart from the problems with the novel coronavirus infection, needs to think very carefully and decide what is more important: to continue pressurizing people with taxes, bans, restrictions, and other draconian measures without offering anything that would constructively improve life, or at least bring order into the housing and utilities sector. The figures for the damage caused to people and the state on a daily basis are enormous. Back in 2011, the interior minister said that by one parameter alone, namely, overstated tariffs, the damage amounts to about 40 billion rubles ($540.2 mln) a year! To understand the scope of the problem, let us give a simple example, also in terms of one parameter. There are about 60,000 kilometers of heating mains in Russia. One-third of them are in a deteriorated condition. Every year, less than 1% of the length is replaced. The entire replacement needs 2.5 trillion rubles ($33.76 bln). 1% is equal to 25 billion rubles. If we stop theft and corruption in the housing and utilities sector, it would be possible to replace not only heating systems with one budget line but to install gas services over the entire country and to renovate it at the same time. But... 40 billion for one parameter... Do you realize the scope of embezzlement? And how many of these “parameters” are there? The situation is unlikely to change drastically today as there is a legion of Kostyukovs and Lychagins in Russia.

Finally, all the above-said is only the beginning of the story of “adventures” of misters A.V. Kostyukov and E.I. Kruglov. We have more to tell and show you, but in order not to overload you with reading, we decided to make a series based on this story. To be continued...

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