Alexander Bastrykin - about high-profile investigations and the need for stricter regulations in public procurement.
In an exclusive interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Head of the Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin spoke about the latest high-profile investigations, explaining why we need tougher standards for the organizers of fraud with public money for national projects and what the special unit for cybercrime is doing.
Alexander Ivanovich, all the media report on the initiation of high-profile criminal cases. But then there is often silence. Tell us, what about the Arashukovs case now?
Alexander Bastrykin: This criminal case has already gone to court. Along with Raul and Rauf Arashukov, 18 other members of the criminal community are among the defendants. They were charged with embezzlement of natural gas worth more than 3.8 billion rubles in the Stavropol Territory and the Karachay-Cherkess Republic, embezzlement of more than 747 million rubles under the guise of payment under contracts for work and payment of wages to relatives. The Arashukovs are also accused of organizing the 2010 murders in Cherkessk of a representative of the Cherkess youth movement and an adviser to the president of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic, who obstructed the activities of the criminal community. In total, the investigation gathered evidence on 16 different crimes committed in conditions of non-obviousness by 20 members of the criminal organization.
You always emphasize that the fight against corruption has been and remains one of the agency's priorities. What do you think is more important - to catch a corrupt person or to compensate the state for his activities?
Alexander Bastrykin: The task of identifying the property of corrupt officials, including their foreign assets, at the expense of which it may be possible to compensate the damage and ensure the execution of the sentence, remains relevant. Between 2011 and 2020, more than 90,000 (92,400) corruption cases were sent to court. The amount of damages recovered in the course of the investigation (over 10 years - note "RG") was over 34 billion rubles, and the value of the seized property is already close to 80 billion rubles.
This year, almost 4 thousand criminal cases of corruption (3,852) have been sent to court, and the value of property seized has exceeded 16 billion rubles (this is the data for 5 months of 2021).
Often this seized property includes very significant amounts seized from defendants.
What case do you mean?
Alexander Bastrykin: The criminal case against a group of former employees of the Federal Customs Service of Russia, including Alexander Kizlyk, Alexei Serebro and others, is now being considered in court. During the search of Kizlyk's place of residence, money, jewelry, gold bars, luxury watches, icons of historical value and other valuables worth more than 150 million rubles were seized. This exceeds Kizlyk's income many times over during his entire tenure, which is a violation of anti-corruption laws.
Tell us about recent corruption cases involving officials of the highest rank.
Alexander Bastrykin: One of the most recent is the criminal case against former Penza Region Governor Ivan Belozertsev, entrepreneur Boris Shpigel, who heads the BIOTEK group of pharmaceutical companies, and others. Between January and September 2020, Belozertsev received bribes of more than 31 million rubles from Shpigel, his wife and Anton Koloskov, the director of OJSC "FARMATION" through intermediaries. The bribes were paid to the BIOTEK group of companies for providing a competitive advantage in the conclusion of state contracts related to the provision of services for acceptance, quality control and shelf life, storage, release and delivery of medicines, medical products, reagents, purchased at the expense of budgetary funds for the needs of health care institutions of the Penza Region.
A verdict has been passed on Vitaly Shvedov, former deputy chairman of the government of the Astrakhan Region, and Rasul Sultanov, former chairman of the government of the Astrakhan Region, who abused their authority.
Since 2011, the amount of compensated damage exceeded 34 billion rubles, and the value of property seized is close to 80 billion rubles.
In 2018, they unreasonably attracted 6.2 billion rubles worth of commercial loans for the needs of the region, provided at high interest rates, and caused more than 400 million rubles worth of damage to the budget. Investigators found that there was no need for these loans, as income to the regional budget was coming in above the projected values. At the same time, there was also an opportunity to attract budgetary loans.
To Shvedov, as finance minister, all employees reported on the region's cash plan and how the money was being used. He signed these contracts electronically and personally supervised everything. But in the end he never admitted his guilt, unlike Sultanov. The investigation ordered financial and economic expertise, the results of which, along with other data, allowed to prove the guilt of accomplices. By the way, this is the first criminal case on the illegal attraction of commercial loans by officials.
In your opinion, is it needed to change the legislation in this area?
Alexander Bastrykin: The Investigative Committee thinks that it is necessary to supplement Article 115 of the Criminal Procedure Code with a provision on the preservation of the seizure of property imposed in the course of criminal proceedings until the actual execution is levied upon it after the entry into force of the conviction, in which the civil plaintiff's claims have been satisfied by the court, or he is recognized as having the right to satisfy a civil claim, and the issue of the amount of his compensation is submitted for consideration in civil proceedings.
Regarding the sphere of public procurement, it should be noted that there are still some shortcomings, including in terms of its legal regulation. In this connection, tougher legal norms should be additionally adopted to suppress financial fraud with public funds during state procurement, especially during the implementation of national projects and in the sphere of state defense orders.
More cases for investigators
Your subordinates have a lot more work to do recently, partly because of the fact that the investigation of crimes previously handled by various law enforcement agencies is now conducted only by the Investigative Committee. Explain to our readers what changes in investigative jurisdiction have taken place?
Alexander Bastrykin: As for the investigation of especially dangerous crimes, over the past time, the vast majority of crimes of corruption have been excluded from alternative investigative jurisdiction and transferred to the exclusive competence of the Investigative Committee.
In addition, tax crimes, as well as all grave and especially grave crimes committed by and against minors, were placed under the jurisdiction of the agency. Recently a federal law was passed that also gives investigators of the Investigative Committee the right to investigate criminal cases of crimes of small and medium gravity identified during the investigation of grave and especially grave crimes committed against minors. This bill was developed by the Investigative Committee and then submitted by the government to the State Duma. We are talking about leaving a minor in danger, involvement of a minor in antisocial activities, and failure to fulfill child-rearing responsibilities. Undoubtedly, these changes will increase the guarantees of the protection of children's rights.
A cyber investigator - it is serious
The extra work has forced important changes in the work of your agency. Can you disclose what they are related to and what they have touched in the last year?
Alexander Bastrykin: We analyze trends and the crime situation. On this basis, we take certain measures, including the staffing structure and specialization.
In 2020, the staffing structure was optimized, with the reduction of security positions, and investigative and forensic units were strengthened.
In recent years, the number of crimes committed with the use of information and telecommunications technologies or in the sphere of computer information has increased to a scale that allows us to speak of them as a threat to national security. That's why a specialized cybercrime investigation unit was created.
The relevant unit investigates crimes related to the rehabilitation of Nazism and falsification of history. There is a specialized unit investigating violations of sanitary and epidemiological rules.
In the current year, the Information Center (Information Department) began its work, which is engaged in strengthening the operational interaction with citizens through modern electronic communication channels.
The problems of many deceived equity holders in different regions remain unresolved, but this problem is in the sphere of our constant attention. For example, recently a criminal case was sent to court against Valery Markovkin, CEO of Express LLC, accused of embezzling the funds of several dozen participants of share construction in Veliky Novgorod. Given the importance of this issue in the Main Investigative Department established a unit to investigate violations of the rights of equity construction participants.
Return to the treasury
The Investigative Committee is now 10 years old. Have you calculated how many criminal cases your employees had to investigate in total?
Alexander Bastrykin: The Committee investigators have done a tremendous amount of work. Nearly one million criminal cases (978,473) were referred to the courts. Of these, over 90,000 (92,400) were corruption cases; almost 9,000 (8,985) were tax crimes; 6,880 were unpaid wage crimes; 89,511 were juvenile crimes; 3,357 were extremist crimes; and 1,138 were terrorism cases.
But you've repeatedly said that the main thing is not so much to catch the hand, as the opportunity to return the stolen.
Alexander Bastrykin: Yes, this is one of the most important tasks. We were able to achieve significant compensation for damages in criminal cases - the state and the citizens affected by the crimes, recovered almost 400 billion rubles (373.4 billion rubles), seized on the property of the accused in the amount of 267 billion 115 million rubles. The maximum damage recovery was achieved by investigators in criminal cases of tax crimes - more than 218.5 billion rubles, while the value of property seized in these cases amounted to more than 71.4 billion rubles. It is worth noting that such convincing results were achieved thanks to interagency cooperation. For example, the Investigative Committee together with the Federal Tax Service of Russia has developed and implemented methods to prove the taxpayer's intent to evade taxes, which allowed to solve the long-standing problem of insufficient data available in the materials of tax audits, indicating the intentionality of actions of tax evaders (a certain person).
It is also not uncommon in cases of banking irregularities for us to establish property that is seized. For example, during the investigation of the case of embezzlement in 2014-2017 of Bank "Ugra" one of the owners of the bank and three of its managers were criminally prosecuted. In order to compensate for the damage caused, the investigation has seized the property of the accused worth more than 523 million rubles. In another case - the embezzlement of funds of commercial bank "Credit Express" - the property of defendants worth more than 71 million rubles was arrested. This case is now being considered by court.
A certificate for an orphan
Alexander Ivanovich, you emphasize at every opportunity that protection of the housing rights of orphans and children left without parental care is an area of your special attention. What is of particular concern to you in these cases?
Alexander Bastrykin: The Investigative Committee is constantly monitoring the provision of their housing and regularly informs the country's leadership. Thanks to this, there is a positive trend in the resolution of these issues in a number of regions.
For example, last month the Legislative Assembly of Altai Territory passed a law that repealed one of the previously established criteria, under which orphaned children applying for payments to buy housing had to have a judicial act that had entered into legal force by January 1, 2019 to provide them with housing. The abolition of this condition will significantly increase the number of orphans eligible to receive payments. The same rules were previously adopted in Primorsky Territory and some other constituent entities.
As you can see, ensuring the housing rights of orphans depends not only on the economic opportunities of the region, but also on the understanding of the importance of this problem by the executive and legislative branches of the Russian Federation.
A draft Federal Law "On Amendments to the Federal Law "On Additional Guarantees of Social Support for Orphans and Children Left Without Parental Care'" has also been developed. It is aimed at expanding the forms and mechanisms for providing orphans with housing, including measures proposed by the Investigative Committee to provide those in need with housing certificates.
As far as financing is concerned, Government Decree No. 672 of 29 April 2021 assigned the issues of providing subsidies from the federal budget to the budgets of the subjects of the Russian Federation for providing housing to orphaned children to the Ministry of Construction of Russia. I hope that this decision will have a positive impact on the elimination of the accumulated arrears of housing for orphans. Our task is to immediately stop all possible fraud with the housing designed for orphans, to ensure that the budget funds allocated for the construction of a specialized fund, were used strictly for their intended purpose, and provided housing that meets all sanitary and hygienic standards.
Investigating crimes committed by terrorists and their associates is also your job. In your opinion, what is the most important thing in the fight against extremism and terrorism today?
Alexander Bastrykin: It is necessary to continue improving the legislation in the field of countering extremism in terms of suppressing the production and distribution of extremist materials on the Internet. It is no secret that young people, who in periods of self-isolation are left to themselves, often fall under the influence of extremist Internet communities that spread extremist ideology from abroad and incline individuals toward terrorism. It is no coincidence that this topic was one of the focal points of the IX Moscow Conference on International Security, held from June 22 to 24 this year.
And how to counter that?
Alexander Bastrykin: To stop such crimes at the international level it is necessary to regulate the registration and storage of encryption keys for mobile communications to effectively detect messages in messengers, which are used by extremists and terrorists. This would enable legal access to information transmitted by terrorists, as well as to information about the electronic devices they use and their whereabouts.
In addition, since it takes a long time to block resources containing information that is prohibited for distribution in Russia, I believe it is necessary to optimize this process by reducing the mechanism of interagency cooperation as much as possible so that when illegal content is detected, an Internet resource can be blocked within one or two hours. I believe that this method will allow a more rapid response to the propaganda of extremism and terrorism on the Internet.
We need to create a mechanism so that when illegal content is detected, the Internet source is blocked within one or two hours.
In addition, an even more serious approach to the prevention of such crimes is needed. And of greater importance here is the education of the younger generation, shaping them with the right values and orientations. Our Committee carries out such work not only through legal education. It includes a specialized program for children "Young Investigator", a youth movement of the same name is operating, search and archival and patriotic work is carried out with the participation of young people. However, this direction requires a systematic approach not only from the law enforcement block. This is a complex task for both the authorities and society.
And if we have already touched on the subject of the Internet, we should also mention the problem of online crimes against minors. We are taking systematic measures to suppress these facts. This year, a criminal case was sent to court against Alexander Vostrov from the Vladimir Region, who committed 31 episodes of crimes against 17 minors in 2013-2015. Through the Internet, he encouraged children to commit depraved acts by taking pictures and videos. In addition, the accused spread information about the private life of minors through the social networking site, sending these photos to friends and acquaintances of the children, encouraging them to commit depraved acts.
About the virus and long-distance interrogation
Has the spread of the coronavirus changed the work of the Investigative Committee?
Alexander Bastrykin: Of course, the pandemic, which has interfered in the lives of all citizens, has certainly made changes in our work as well. We were one of the first to systematically use video conferencing for work events. It allowed us to respond promptly to all socially significant incidents in the regions, as well as to conduct an open dialogue with citizens and members of the public, eliminating personal contact. And for this reason, among others, we have been able to keep the department's performance high, reducing the risk of illness. Now there is an active vaccination campaign in the Investigative Committee, each employee can get the vaccine in the medical center, located in the building of the agency. The regional investigative departments are taking similar measures.
At the same time, the issue of introducing new forms of remote evidence collection into the criminal process is being studied. We have prepared a draft federal law on amendments to the Criminal Procedural Code of the Russian Federation regarding the use of accessible videoconferencing systems during individual investigative actions, such as interrogation or confrontation.
Investigative actions will be conducted, for example, when a participant in criminal proceedings cannot appear in person to conduct them for health or other valid reasons, as well as to ensure the safety of participants in criminal proceedings.
This format will be convenient for both witnesses and investigators. In some cases, it will reduce the time of the investigation and will not require additional budgetary funding - because we are talking about a channel of video communication available for everybody.
An expert who is around
Alexander Ivanovich, the Investigative Committee has recently been actively developing its own expert base. Why?
Alexander Bastrykin: The most important tool to improve the quality of the investigation and reduce the time of crime investigation is the continuous improvement of forensic and expert support. This was noted back in 1963 by the famous Russian forensic scientist Ivan Filippovich Krylov in his work "Forensic Examination in Criminal Proceedings". In the Investigative Committee, it is carried out by the Main Forensics Department (Forensic Center), established in 2017, and the Forensic Expert Center, which was formed and has been in operation since July 2020.
Explain our readers, how does the Forensic Expert Center work.
Alexander Bastrykin: Today the Forensic Expert Center has about 650 employees. It conducts 18 types of examinations (including biological, accounting, fingerprinting, information-analytical, computer-technical, linguistic, tax, evaluation (cost), handwriting, psychophysiological, construction-technical, forensic, financial-analytical, phonoscopic and other).
Currently, as part of the development of video technical expertise, it is planned to introduce a new direction - the study of remote sensing images, which allows to establish the territorial changes over time, dimensional characteristics, type and condition of objects. Such expert studies are most in demand when investigating economic and environmental crimes.
I should underline that the Forensic Expert Center of the Investigative Committee of Russia interacts fruitfully with the Main Forensic Department (Forensic Center) of the Investigative Committee of Russia. For example, now, together with the staff of the Research Institute of Forensic Science of the Main Forensic Department (Forensic Center), the experts of the Forensic Expert Center of the Investigative Committee of Russia are developing new forensic techniques for the investigation of certain types of crimes.
Can they be openly named?
Alexander Bastrykin: Scientific research on 28 topical topics of investigative and forensic activities is currently underway. Among them are "Methodology of Investigation of Crimes with Signs of School Shooting", "Investigation of Past Years Crimes", "Methodology of Report Verification and Initial Stage of Investigation of Cases of Crimes Involving Manipulation of Securities Market and Illegal Use of Insider Information", "Forensic Characteristics of Serial Sexual Murders and Serial Sex Crimes", "Forensic Characteristics of Crimes Committed by Medical Workers", "Planning the Work of and Investigators at the Initial Stage of Investigation", "Organization of Appointment and Production of Repeated Forensic Handwriting Examinations", "Typical Methods of Examination of Computer Information", etc.
In addition, using the programming languages Python and R, the Research Institute of Forensic Science developed a technology based on artificial intelligence algorithms to build a search portrait of a serial offender who commits sexual crimes, identifying in the array of unsolved criminal acts the ones that are of a serial nature and committed by the same subject. For example, with the help of such technologies and DNA research, a series of rapes and violent acts of a sexual nature committed from 2014 to 2020 in several districts of Sevastopol and Yalta was uncovered. In addition, 26 murders and one attempted murder of older women, committed in 2011-2012 in 12 regions of the Central, Volga and Ural Federal Districts, were uncovered (accusing Tagirov).
With the help of artificial intelligence technology was created to build a search portrait of a serial offender and identify a serial crimes
Overall, as a result of focused work and the introduction of digital technology since 2007, over 80,000 crimes of past years have been uncovered and criminals have been punished.
Echoes of the Great Patriotic War
Alexander Ivanovich, the Investigative Committee has recently often reported on the initiation of criminal cases, which deal with very old events - about the Great Patriotic War. Tell us about the investigation of criminal cases related to the genocide of civilians during those terrible years.
Alexander Bastrykin: Within the framework of the work carried out to provide the centralized investigation and application of unified approach to the qualification of actions related to the circumstances of newly discovered crimes against civilians in the Great Patriotic War, in August last year a criminal case was opened concerning the genocide of the peoples of the Soviet Union by Nazi invaders and their accomplices during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.
16 earlier cases of massacres of civilians in the Crimea, Volgograd, Kursk, Novgorod, Orel, Pskov and Rostov regions, the Krasnodar and Stavropol regions, committed by the Nazis and their accomplices during the Great Patriotic War were merge in one criminal proceeding with this criminal case.
Taking into account the nature and specifics of the events under investigation and the need to conduct a significant amount of investigative actions, an investigative team of the most experienced investigators from the Central Office and the territorial investigative bodies of the agency was created.
In the course of investigations from May 2019 to the present, more than 98 inspections of incident sites - places of mass burial of victims of the Nazi invaders - have been conducted, and the bone remains of more than 840 persons, of whom at least 200 were children, have been exhumed.
For all recovered remains, comprehensive forensic examinations were scheduled, of which 637 have been completed. In order to establish DNA profiles of the found bone remains, 12 forensic biological examinations were performed.
In addition, chemical, art history and 13 ballistic forensic examinations of items found during the inspection of burial sites were conducted, more than 2,400 witnesses of the crimes as well as relatives of the victims were identified and questioned as witnesses and victims.
The work to establish a common evidentiary basis for a single criminal case of genocide of the peoples of the Soviet Union, to identify previously unknown sites of mass graves of civilians and prisoners of war, as well as persons involved in committing crimes against peace and security of humanity during the Great Patriotic War, continues. Including the involvement of representatives of the scientific community and specialists in the field of archives.
I want to become an investigator
Where do you get your employees from? Tell us, who prepares personnel for the Investigative Committee of Russia?
Alexander Bastrykin: We continue to actively develop departmental educational institutions, improve educational programs, and train highly professional specialists. Academies of the Investigative Committee have established a stable graduation of young officers who join the ranks of investigators. The development of the cadet movement is entering a new stage. Currently there are cadet corps in the system of the Investigative Committee in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Volgograd. The creation of a cadet corps in Sevastopol is nearing completion.
Orphans, children left without parental care, children in a difficult life situation, children from low-income families and families with many children, children of veterans of combat operations and of workers killed in the line of duty, and other categories of persons provided for by the Federal Law "On Education in the Russian Federation" are admitted to departmental educational organizations as a priority.
Besides hard and big work, what else can those who decide to go to work in the Investigative Committee of Russia expect?
Alexander Bastrykin: Only last year we bought 144 apartments in Moscow, which will be distributed as service housing among employees of the Central Office. The Committee sanatorium "Rodina" was opened in the Crimea. Now our employees, veterans and their families can afford to rest on the seashore at very reasonable prices and in comfortable conditions. Everything possible is also done for students in educational organizations, especially for orphans and children without parental care. They are additionally paid compensation - more than 14 thousand rubles per month for food; 97500 rubles per year for clothes. Payments are also provided for the purchase of educational literature and travel documents.
On July 25, our country celebrates the Day of Investigative Bodies of the Russian Federation. The editorial board congratulates you and all your employees on your professional holiday.
Alexander Bastrykin: Thank you. I would like to congratulate the investigators of all departments and especially investigators, veterans of investigation, cadets and pupils of educational institutions of the Investigative Committee on their professional holiday - and to thank them for their work! I am sure that millions of our fellow citizens will join me in saying the words of gratitude. This includes a large number of socially vulnerable groups - children, the disabled, veterans - to whom you have helped protect their rights in a variety of vital areas.
The profession of an investigator is constantly in demand and highly appreciated by society. It couldn't be otherwise.
We have the strength and desire to serve so that everyone in every corner of our country will continue to feel protected by the law.