The system of global economic relations is changing rapidly, and plans for the development of Russia's transport infrastructure should be fulfilled at the same high and dynamic pace, said Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting on the development of certain areas of the transport complex of the Russian Federation.
He emphasized the importance of speeding up the implementation of existing projects and launching new initiatives in the transport sphere.
“For many years, we have been consistently and systematically building up Russia's logistics capabilities and we do this with an eye to the long-term effect for domestic business and for our citizens,” Putin said.
After decades of stagnation, the Russian highway industry has indeed made a major breakthrough in the last decade or so.
Believe it or not but the man who made an invaluable contribution to the creation of Russia's high-speed road network was placed under house arrest in October 2021.
Sergey Kelbakh, who was ex-Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Avtodor state company from 2011 to 2019 and under whose supervision the vast majority of major Russian road infrastructure facilities were built, might be put in jail up to 10 years on blatantly far-fetched charges.
For example, under Kelbakh's leadership the new Moscow-St. Petersburg highway was built, the M-4 Don federal highway was reconstructed, due to which travel time to the Black Sea coast was cut in half, and the pre-design of the Kerch Bridge was carried out in record time, from February to July 2014.
It was Kelbakh who actively promoted the investment of more than 300 billion rubles ($5.34 bln) of private capital in road construction through public-private partnerships between 2010 and 2018. The program to create a backbone network of high-speed highways in Russia, which formed the basis of the Development of the Federal Highway Network federal project, was also created with the participation of Kelbakh's team.
It is all the more surprising to hear accusations against the official instead of gratitude for his weighty contribution to the development of the country's road infrastructure. They appeared after Kelbakh left his position as chairman of Avtodor and went to Russian Railways to develop public-private partnership projects.
Anyone getting into the bottom of the charges against Kelbakh will notice inconsistencies and contradictions.
The criminal prosecution of the state manager dates back to July 2019, when a case was filed against the former head of Avtodor's management board on charges of embezzlement of over 2 billion rubles ($35.60 mln) during the construction of the Central Ring Road (CRR).
However, the prosecution's position changed during the investigation. Now the official is charged with “abuse of authority.”
“The very prosecution of Kelbakh began with a report that there was information on Internet resources about the embezzlement of funds during the construction of the Central Ring Road. At the same time, there is no such report in the files of the criminal case. There is no link to this resource, nothing at all,” said the lawyer of Sergei Kelbakh Oleg Vyshinsky.
In addition, he reported that there are three episodes in the case. “Two episodes about the alleged coordination of inappropriate spending of budgetary funds for the payment of bank guarantees on the commissions of Crocus International and Ring Highway.
The third episode is allegedly illegal design works on the startup complex №2, which accordingly should have been performed in 2023,” said Vyshinsky, adding that his client had no authority to make decisions related to the construction on his own. Just as importantly, the capital in the disputed transactions was distributed later, when Kelbakh had already left the corporation.
“All the commissions that were paid on the bank guarantees were paid at the expense of these organizations,” Vyshinsky said. “Secondly, they were included, respectively, in the expenses associated with the construction, and according to the accounting and tax reports are fully reflected in the expenses of these organizations. That is, not at the expense of the budget of the Russian Federation.”
Thus, the accusations of damage to the state are absurd and unfair. It looks too implausible that Kelbakh is the only defendant in such a high-profile case. Even if one were to believe that 2 billion rubles were stolen, no one could pull such a scam on his own.
The groundlessness of the claims attracted the attention of deputies, senators and human rights activists. On 11 April, Shota Gorgadze, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, sent a letter to the head of the Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin with a request to check the evidence of Kelbakh's innocence as stated by his lawyer, but has not yet received a reply.
“Given the way the criminal prosecution of Sergey Kelbakh is conducted, I can draw only one conclusion for myself that it was ordered,” Gorgadze said.
However, the damage from the dragged-in case against the honored road builder of Russia (Kelbakh has such a badge of honor among the numerous awards) is not only a matter of injustice against a particular person.
“This criminal case will become a demonstration for every official, who from now on will be afraid to show initiative in his work,” said Federation Council member Elena Afanasyeva.
There is nothing more to add to this.