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New Siloviki Customs

Published: June 27, 2006 (Issue # 1181)

When Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov was dismissed on June 1, some argued he had been too aggressive in his campaign against corruption, others that he had been too soft. But the reason for Ustinovs resignation was mundane. President Vladimir Putin had selected First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as his successor, but the siloviki clan led by Ustinov and Igor Sechin, the presidential administration deputy chief of staff, decided that Ustinov was the man for the job. Ustinov was pushed out of his job because his clan had become too powerful.

Last week, Sergei Zuyev, owner of Russias largest furniture retailers, Tri Kita and Grand, was arrested on charges of tax evasion. Its a sign of the times. It began as an ordinary turf war between Mikhail Vanin, who was customs chief until mid-2004, and the man once expected to replace him, Yury Zaostrovtsev, head of the Federal Security Services economic security department.

In an attempt to hold on to his job, Vanin demanded the companies involved in smuggling furniture into the country for Tri Kita double what they were paying the customs service to legalize their shipments. But when his agents approached the companies, they got the brushoff. Vanins boys figured that Zaostrovtsev was backing the smugglers. They opened a criminal investigation and sold the confiscated furniture for a song to their own companies.

What happened next was something else. Interior Ministry investigator Pavel Zaitsev, who headed the original case against Zuyev, was put on trial for abuse of office. Sergei Pereverzev, Zuyevs former business partner and a witness in the case, was shot dead in an apparent contract hit. State Duma Deputy and journalist Yury Shchekochikhin, who was looking into the Tri Kita affair, died in a suspected poisoning. Moscow City Court Judge Olga Kudeshkina, who acquitted Zaitsev, lost her job.

And Putin knew everything. He even appointed his personal investigator, Vladimir Loskutov, to work on the case, which already involved a dead witness, a poisoned Duma deputy and a jailed investigator. So what happened? Not much. Nearly everyone who pressured the Prosecutor Generals Office to close its original probe into Tri Kita in July 2002 for lack of evidence was also a player in the assault on Yukos.

Now the case against Tri Kita has been reopened. Some have even suggested that Ustinovs ouster was related to the case. As if Loskutov, after four years of investigative work, finally discovered the truth and reported to the president.

The Tri Kita case is extremely significant, because the words Kremlin and murder have rarely been found in such close proximity. But in terms of Kremlin infighting, Tri Kita is nothing out of the ordinary. In May, a Moscow court banned all operations and trading in preferred shares of pipeline monopoly Transneft, citing an ongoing investigation. Heads rolled in the corruption-ridden Federal Customs Service, and the tax authorities went after state-owned long-distance provider Rostelecom.

The renewed investigation into Tri Kita was not an excuse to get rid of siloviki associated with the case. It is indicative of the changing situation in this country. The so-called power vertical has been completed, and now those who built it are being purged. The original Tri Kita case posed a threat to the very foundation of the power vertical. The new case is just business as usual.

Its all about business. Why should the new boys in charge of customs leave anything for their predecessors? Tri Kita is even better than Yukos in this regard. After all, whos going to shed a tear if people like Zuyev are locked up?

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.



Friday, Sept. 19

SPIBAs newest addition to their Cultural Discoveries events is Handmade in Germany, an exhibition featuring unique handmade objects of a significantly higher quality than mass-produced items. The work of over 100 German manufacturers will be displayed during the event, which opens today in the Lutheran Church of Saint Peter and Paul on Nevsky Prospekt and runs through Sept. 28.

Saturday, Sept. 20

Starting on Sept. 18 and ending tomorrow is the Extreme Fantasy Wakeboarding Festival in Sunpark by Sredny Suzdalskoye lake in the Ozerki region of the city.

Those after something more laid back can instead head to Jazz and Wine night at TerraVino with legendary jazz guitarist Ildar Kazahanov. 12/14 Admiralteyskaya Emb.

Sunday, Sept. 21

Learn more about African culture and get some exercise during todays Djembe and Vuvuzela, a bike ride starting in Palace Square that includes several stops where riders can listen to the music of Africa or watch short films about the continent. The riders plan to set off at 4 p.m. and all you need to join is a set of wheels.

Monday, Sept. 22

Do you love puppetry? If so, then be sure to go to BTK-Fest, a five-day festival that starts on Sept. 19 celebrating the art. Contemporaries from France, Belgium, the U.K. and other countries will join Russian artists to put on theatrical performances involving a variety of themes, materials and eras. Workshops and meetings are also scheduled for a chance to discuss the artistic medium in further depth.

Tuesday, Sept. 23

Marina Suhih, Director of the External Communications Department at Rostelecom North-West, and Yana Donskaya, HR Director for Northern Capital Gateway are just some of the confirmed participants of todays round table discussion on Interaction with Trade Unions being hosted by SPIBA. Confirm your attendance with SPIBA by Sept. 22.

Kino Expo 2014, an international film industry convention, will be at LenExpo from today until Sept. 26. The third largest exhibition of film equipment in the world, the expo focuses on not only Russia but former Soviet republics as well.

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