New case against Skolkovo exec, cops question opposition MP’s $750,000 lecture fees
Skolkovo executive Aleksey Beltyukov passed the money to MP Ilya Ponomaryov (of the opposition Fair Russia party) over one-year period – from February 2011 till February 2012 - and these actions could qualify as large-scale embezzlement, the press service of Russia’s top law enforcement body announced in a Friday statement.
In Russia these charges carry a punishment of up to 10 years in prison.
The announcement came on the next day after Investigative Committee agents conducted a major search at the Skolkovo Foundation and questioned several of its senior managers, including President Viktor Vekselberg – one of Russia’s richest businessmen with estimated worth of $18 billion.
However, on Thursday investigators said that their visit to the foundation was connected with a different criminal case – the alleged embezzlement of 24 million rubles ($800,000) by former head of the Skolkovo financial department Kirill Lugovtsev.
As for the probe against Vice-President Beltyukov, law enforcers claim he tried to cover the embezzlement by preparing a contract under which Ponomaryov had to read 10 lectures for $30,000 each and prepare one research paper for a fee of $450,000. The agents said they were “checking information on the lectures that were actually read by the MP and also the scientific value, originality and the basis behind the scientific suggestions made in his research.”
On Friday afternoon the Investigative Committee reported that
they managed to verify only two of Ponomaryov’s lectures, of which
one lasted 12 minutes and the other 18 minutes. These lectures were
the MPs speeches at a Public Chamber session in Moscow and at the
St Petersburg conference dedicated to ‘electronic government’. The
agency also said that they found out that Ponomaryov had not
attended at least one lecture he was paid for.
Ilya Ponomaryov said in a radio interview that he had received money from Skolkovo, but the contract was genuine and all his actions were legal. He also said that the case against him was politically-motivated and added that it would be sad if the whole Skolkovo project perished because of the anti-corruption steps.
The main suspect, Andrey Beltyukov, also said in comments to news agencies that the case was “as far from the criminal code as possible.”
“We really hired Mr. Ponomaryov and really paid him some money, but we hold that we had a solid foundation to do so,” he added.
It should be noted that the probe into Ponomaryov’s Skolkovo contract was commenced after the Investigative Committee received an official address from another Russian MP – the head of the Liberal Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
Zhirinovsky openly accused his colleague of corruption, saying that the lectures were never delivered and therefore Ponomaryov defrauded money from the state budget (Skolkovo is financed mainly by the state).
Additionally, Zhirinovsky claimed that Ponomaryov had not mentioned the Skolkovo contracts in his income declaration, which is a criminal offence in Russia for a parliamentarian. Ponomaryov shrugged off these charges, saying that he never concealed anything and his declarations always included all of his sources of income.
Ponomaryov also attempted to target Zhirinovsky with countercharges, saying that the LDPR leader had organized a “divorce of convenience,” by splitting with his spouse only on paper shortly before filing the income declarations in order not to mention the property registered in her name.
Zhirinovsky replied that he had never registered his marriage in a civil body and is only married according to church law.