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How Annexation Made Crimea’s Self-Proclaimed Government Rich
30 August, 2017

When Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014, the new Russian-backed “authorities” made a promise to the public: “to win without losing anything of value.” Over three years have passed since then, but has anyone “won” anything?

On the surface it would seem not. Much has happened recently in Crimea — protests over unpaid wages, plans to resettle hundreds of Crimean families in order to implement infrastructure projects, mass legal charges demanding that ordinary citizens return land they received before the Russian occupation to the “administration of Sevastopol,” and restrictions on freedom of speech. In this environment, it would appear no one has received what they were promised.

But that isn’t exactly the case. Hromadske investigated the asset declarations of prominent Crimean separatists “officials.” Since joining Russia, many of them are living extremely well.

Vladimir Konstantinov, Speaker of the occupation Crimean Parliament

In October 2013, things were going badly for the Speaker of the Crimean Parliament, Vladimir Konstantinov. At the time, he had been knocked off the list of wealthiest Ukrainians. Bankruptcy procedures were beginning against “Console,” the main structure in his construction company. At the time, he owed around $38 million to Ukrainian banks.

Then, in 2014, Konstantinov pledged allegiance to Russia and played an active role of Russia’s occupation of Crimea. This allowed him not only to rectify his financial situation, but also to make a huge profit. In 2014, he declared a salary of around $42,000 per year. Then, in 2015, it rose $151,000. In 2016, he earned a new record income of $1.4 million.

Sergey Aksyonov, the self-proclaimed “Prime Minister” of Crimea

Serhiy Aksyonov had long supported Crimea rejoining Russia. From 2010 to 2014, he led the Crimean “Russian Unity” party. On February 27, Aksyonov became Prime Minister of the peninsula after a group of armed men in unmarked uniforms stormed the Crimean parliament. He subsequently dissolved “Russian Unity” and merged it with Moscow’s ruling “United Russia” party.

Sergey Aksyonov’s official income for 2016 was just over $42,000. But Aksyonov’s declaration also includes information about his wife Elena’s assets.

Last year, she earned 13 times more than her husband — around $560,000. Elena Aksyonova’s declaration also includes three flats and six non-residential properties, as well as a BMW.

The “Parliamentarians” and “Senators” from Crimea in Russia

“Senator” Sergey Tsekov’s income has also sharply risen since the Russian occupation — from around $68 thousand in 2014  to over $118 thousand in 2016. His real estate assets have increased, too. The separatist has acquired a 593 square meter plot of land and half a building of 58 square metres.  

“Senator” Olga Kovitidi has become wealthier. She received from $51 thousand in 2014  to $118 in 2016. Her list of real estate assets has decreased but the size of her real estate has increased.

No long ago, Konstantyn Bakharev — a new member the Crimean “parliament” — fainted when he arrived at the Kerch metallurgical plant, where workers were protesting over unpaid wages.

Unlike the metallurgical workers, Bakharev has no reason to protest: His ever-increasing salary went from around $25 thousand in 2014  to over $50 thousand in 2016.

Mikhail Sheremet, the former deputy to Sergey Aksyonov and direct head of the so-called “Crimean Self-Defence” organization, has always claimed in his declarations that he lives with his wife in a 45-square-meter dormitory.  

After the illegal election for the Russian State Duma in annexed Crimea, references to the Sheremets’ real estate disappeared completely. Mikhail Sheremet also does not own a car. However, like his former boss Sergey Aksyonov,  he has clearly married well.

In the three years of the Crimean occupation, Sheremet’s wife not only swapped her Renault Logan for a Toyota RAV 4, but her income has also increased from around $3 thousand to around $34 thousand. Her declaration also includes 10 acres of land.   

Nataliya Poklonskaya, Russian Federation State Duma Deputy (and Internet Celebrity)

After the Crimean annexation, Nataliya Poklonskaya gained fame as the self-proclaimed “Prosecutor General of the Republic of Crimea” and, oddly, as an internet meme in Russia and East Asia. She then went to the Russian State Duma in the name of fighting corruption. In her capacity as a Russian parliamentarian, she has headed the commission charged with verifying the truthfulness of other parliamentarians’ asset declarations. In March 2017, she encouraged her colleagues to fill out the declaration forms. Only two months later, her own declaration wound up at the epicenter of a scandal.

The document contains no mention of Poklonskaya’s husband, who she has discussed on social media, and no mention of automobiles or real estate. All that Poklonskaya’s declaration includes is the fact that her salary has increased from around $34 thousand a year to $42 thousand, and two state-owned apartments. One of these apartments is in Moscow. The other, in Simferopol, was purchased by the “Prosecutor General’s Office of Crimea” for Poklonskaya. But she resigned from the position of “Prosecutor General” last year. Since then, she no longer has the right to use the Simferopol apartment.

In an interview with Russian media, Poklonskaya presented evidence that she signed over her Hyundai Solaris to her father in 2015. However, if you look at her declaration for 2014, when she was already the Crimean “Prosecutor General”, there is no information about any car.

Transparency International’s Russian office conducted its own investigation and found a property likely belonging to Poklonskaya, which she did not mention anywhere in her declaration. That property is an apartment in Donetsk registered under her maiden name, Dubrovska. Nataliya Poklonskaya has not only tried to refute this information, but has also appealed to the Transparency International’s Russian office several times.  

“She reacted very emotionally. She wrote a statement to the FSB, the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor General’s Office, the deputy head of the Russian Transparency International office, Ilya Shumanov," told Hromadske.Crimea. “The contents of these statements is not at our disposal so we can’t know what’s written in them. The one thing that is clear is the fact that she wants to accuse us of libel.”

In Ilya Shumanov’s opinion, this kind of reaction is Poklonskaya’s way of getting back at non-profit organisations. This, he says, illustrates the flaws in Russia’s system for fighting corruption.

“As a non-commercial organisation that has been conducting anti-corruption investigations for a long time, we know how to behave,” he says. “But imagine what it’s like for ordinary citizens, who try to report something they know about a corrupt official.”

/Text by Serhiy Mokrushin

/Translated by Sofia Fedeczko

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