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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Deputy Fisheries Head Arrested in Crab Probe


Yury Moskaltsov

When Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov let slip during a news conference last week that Yury Moskaltsov had been arrested, he quickly corrected himself. But it was clear that the deputy head of the State Fisheries Committee's days were numbered.

It didn't take long: Moskaltsov was detained by prosecutors Tuesday on suspicion of participating in a scheme to illegally catch and sell more than $6 million worth of crabs.

The prosecutor's office declined to comment Wednesday, but the affair has already shed new light on the extent of corruption in the fishing industry.

Kolesnikov said Tuesday that three people have been arrested in the case and "several others will soon be charged."

Joining Moskaltsov in the scheme, he said, were the director of Magadan's state fishing research institute, Alexander Rogatnykh, and Viktoria Tikhachyova, a former assistant to Magadan Governor Valentin Tsvetkov, who was gunned down in broad daylight on Novy Arbat in October.

Kolesnikov said the case grew out of evidence that came to light as a result of the investigation into Tsvetkov's murder, which has yet to be solved. Tsvetkov himself is also alleged to have been involved.

Moskaltsov's detention was given heavy coverage by local media Wednesday, but it is still unclear who ended up with the $6.2 million. What is known is that the money came from the sale of 2,200 tons of crabs caught in the Sea of Okhotsk near Magadan from September to December, and that Rogatnykh is believed to have masterminded the scheme.

Scientific quotas are issued to institutes that study shellfish and fish populations, as opposed to the commercial system introduced last year in which quotas are auctioned. Scientific quotas, however, account for just 4.5 percent of all quotas -- free quotas are granted to the regions and account for 51 percent, and most of the rest are put to tender.

Additional scientific quotas have to be approved by several ministries and eventually the Cabinet.

Izvestia quoted prosecutors Wednesday as saying that Rogatnykh, together with Tsvetkov, Tikhachyova and Moskaltsov, prepared, signed and backdated a fraudulent document giving the institute additional quotas "on biological grounds."

But since institutes do not have their own fleets, they use commercial fishing firms to actually catch their quotas.

Moskaltsov's lawyer, Zinaida Batrakova, said her client did nothing wrong. "He signed, at the request of Tsvetkov and Tikhachyova, just one paper of a general nature. And when this issue was on the table, he was on vacation," she told Vedomosti.

Rogatnykh said in an interview last month that he had done nothing wrong.

"I did it to increase the volume of fish allowed to be caught in the Sea of Okhotsk, and that is why they opened a criminal case against me," he told the newspaper Vesti Magadana. "But my conscience is absolutely clear."

The total amount of fish that can be legally caught is normally established scientifically, but industry players say there was a clear need to allow more fishing in the Sea of Okhotsk last year. "Nature does not follow our bureaucracy, and whenever there are a lot of fish, they must be caught," said one.

The prosecutor's office said in the indictment that the crabs were "sold abroad for the sum of $6.2 million, causing grave damage to the state."

Half of the proceeds were paid to four fishing companies: state-owned MPDPM; Magadanrybflot and Dalrybflot, which are headed by Tikhachyova, and Dalryba, which Moskaltsov co-heads, according to Izvestia.

Seventy percent of the other half would normally have gone to the research institute and 30 percent to Natsrybresurs, which manages the commercial enterprises of the State Fisheries Committee, the newspaper said.

But Natsrybresurs' chief accountant, Marina Chiginyova, said Wednesday that her organization "never gets any proceeds from the fish sales."

The institute also got nothing, according to an unnamed prosecutor's office official quoted by Vedomosti.

Natalya Arefyeva, spokeswoman for the State Fisheries Committee, declined to comment on the case.

She did say, however, "Moskaltsov is 62 and worked all his life in this industry. It is very hard to believe that he was involved in any wrongdoing."

One official in the committee told Prime-Tass on Wednesday that operations had become virtually paralyzed, blaming the chairman, Yevgeny Nazdratenko, and his "hangers on."

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov suspended Nazdratenko from his post last month over his handling of quotas for Magadan and Primorye, where he was governor before being forced to resign by President Vladimir Putin.

Nazdratenko later reinstated himself, citing a law that allows officials to be suspended for one month, after which they must be reinstated or sacked. The government, however, has done nothing about the move, as it is planning to terminate the committee altogether as part of a bureaucratic overhaul.