Reserve employees cleared of sentence
The Kamchatka Regional Court overturned the verdict against four employees of the Kronotsky Reserve (Kamchatka). Previously, they were found guilty of embezzling state funds allocated for cleaning up the territory of Soviet man-made waste, and sentenced to imprisonment for terms of three to five and a half years. Local authorities and Russian environmental organizations stood up for the convicts, and the prosecutor's office during the appeal hearings itself asked to replace the real term with a suspended one. The case was returned for retrial by a different panel of judges - experts fear that the defendants may again be found guilty if the public forgets about the situation.
The Kamchatka Regional Court on Tuesday canceled the sentence for four employees of the Kronotsky Reserve. They were released in the courtroom on bail. The case was returned to the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky court for retrial by a different panel of judges.
Recall, employees of the reserve were accused of embezzlement of state funds allocated for the elimination of environmental damage. Until the middle of the 20th century, exploration work was carried out on part of the territory of the reserve and military units were located. As a result, the land was contaminated with tons of oil and oil products, abandoned equipment and machinery. In 2015, the state allocated money for cleaning, the tender was won by the Ecology company. A year later, the management of the reserve reported that more than 1,000 tons of garbage and barrels with fuel residues, as well as soil contaminated with oil products, were removed from the territory.
However, in 2018, Ecology director Vitaliy Drozd was detained on suspicion of extortion and fraud, and this situation had nothing to do with the reserve. Having made a deal with the investigation, the businessman stated that he allegedly participated in the theft of budget money intended for cleaning the reserve.
As a result, the investigation concluded that Ecology won the tender illegally, and the cost of waste removal was overstated several times. Moreover, according to the investigation, hundreds of tons of garbage were not taken out - they were allegedly simply buried on the territory of the reserve. The deputy director of the reserve, retired FSB colonel Alexander Ilyin, also made a deal and testified against his colleagues. Vitaly Drozd and Alexander Ilyin pleaded guilty to embezzlement and were convicted in a special order in 2020, receiving suspended sentences. Other employees of the reserve were charged with embezzlement in the amount of 454.6 million rubles, which the contractor admitted to stealing. Under investigation turned out to be Deputy Director for Science and Tourism Roman Korchigin, Head of the Scientific Department, Candidate of Sciences Daria Panicheva, Deputy Director for Finance Oksana Terekhova and Deputy Director for General Affairs Nikolai Pozdnyakov. The former director of the reserve, Tikhon Shpilenok, who had died by that time, was declared the leader of the organized criminal group.
Process called wide public outcry. In support of the reserve staff spoke Governor Vladimir Solodov, while the regional Ministry of Nature insisted that the defendants were “not an organized criminal group”, but “employees of the best reserve in Russia who did their job.” More than 60 environmental organizations and associations asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to take the matter under personal control.
The case was considered by the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky City Court. During the process, the defense provided documents, photographs and videos confirming the fact of cleaning the territories and removing garbage. Moreover, the court refused to conduct a study of the areas of the reserve, where, according to the investigation, garbage was buried.
And in July 2022, the employees of the reserve were found guilty of embezzlement using their official position, organized by a group, on an especially large scale (part 4 of article 160 of the Criminal Code). They were sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to five and a half years.
The court also satisfied the prosecutor's claim in the amount of 454.6 million rubles. and the claim of the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation in the amount of 16.8 million rubles. on the recovery of the damage caused from the defendants in the criminal case.
Consideration of an appeal began at the end of 2022. It was accompanied by the results of a study of the territory of the Kronotsky Reserve, which, by order of the head of the Ministry of Natural Resources Alexander Kozlov and the order of the reserve, was carried out in autumn by specialists from Moscow State University. M. V. Lomonosov, Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Volgograd University. Scientists have not found traces of burial of hundreds of tons of garbage in the protected area, which the investigation announced.
As lawyer Irina Dyachenko told Kommersant, on Monday, during the debate, the state prosecution itself asked to change the punishment for the employees of the reserve - from a real term to a suspended sentence. The next day, the court overturned the verdict and returned the case for retrial by a different panel of judges. Ms. Dyachenko clarified that only the operative part was announced in court, so the reasons for the court's decision are still unknown.
“This is great evidence that the judicial board heard us,” said Ms. Irina Dyachenko. “This is a victory for the defense and the public. In the form in which the case was considered by the court of first instance, it will no longer remain. The lawyer believes that the new trial may be long - after all, the court will have to conduct expert studies. “Earlier, the court denied us this - supposedly the examination can cause damage to nature,” she says. “But experts from Moscow State University showed that it is possible to conduct an examination without damage.”
The cancellation of a sentence in a criminal case on embezzlement of state funds is a certain rarity, which cannot but attract the interest of the professional community, says Daniil Gorkov, a lawyer at the Criminal Defense Firm.
In “ordinary” criminal cases, regional and equivalent courts rarely overrule district court verdicts on appeal, agrees Nikolay Titov, a lawyer and co-founder of atLegal law firm. Usually high-profile cases attract increased attention; already in the first instance, they are studied especially carefully and, if errors are found, the case is often sent for review in order to avoid the annulment of the sentence in a higher instance. At the same time, the expert believes that "the chances of an acquittal are insignificant." “It can be assumed that the goal is to delay the consideration of the case,” says Mr. Titov. “When the relevance of the case decreases, the district court will issue a guilty verdict, which will not be canceled later.”