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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Government Loses Control of No. 5 Airport

State Duma deputies from Novosibirsk on Thursday accused a Property Ministry official of bribery and called for a criminal investigation after the government inexplicably lost control of the nation's No. 5 airport.

The government owns 51 percent of Novosibirsk's Tolmachevo Airport and controls six of nine board seats. On Thursday, at a board meeting to select a general director for the airport, the Property Ministry had instructed one of its officials to use all six votes to reject the resignation of current general director Vyacheslav Shatalin and extend his contract.

But that official, Alexander Yadrennikov, did not show up, so the chairman of the board, Property Minister Farit Gazizullin's adviser Alexander Borodin, commandeered the votes and gave the job to another candidate, Andrei Lobkin, whom the government wanted to be Shatalin's first deputy.

Deputies Galina Strelchenko and Nikolai Kharitonov immediately sent a telegram to Transportation Minister Sergei Frank urging him to annul the vote because, they said, Borodin and a Moscow company that has built up a 38 percent stake in the airport, Promyshlennoye Razvitiye Group, or PRG, were working in concert and money likely changed hands -- an accusation both parties denied.

Sibir, in which the Property Ministry has a 25.5 percent stake, had lobbied hard to get its first deputy general director, Alexander Vindermut, appointed head of the airport, a move PRG was firmly against.

"This is really a fix that can only be explained by [Borodin's] personal interest," Strelchenko said. "He has been manipulating state property. There is a lot of money involved and anything can be done for money."

In a telephone interview after the vote, Borodin brushed off the allegations.

"I chaired the meeting, but I did not see the government order [to extend Shatalin's contract]," Borodin said.

Yadrennikov was not available for comment.

Tolmachevo Airport is the headquarters of No. 2 national carrier Sibir and handles more than 1 million passengers a year.

The government views the airport as a key hub in future passenger and cargo transit between Europe and Asia after a planned $170 million overhaul, which includes a new terminal and airstrip, is completed.

Shatalin offered to resign as general director earlier this year amid rising tensions between PRG and Sibir, which accounts for more than 60 percent of the airport's traffic.

Sibir on Thursday also accused Borodin of collusion with PRG.

"We feel that Borodin fixed the vote in violation of the government's resolution," Sibir deputy general director Mikhail Koshman said by telephone from Novosibirsk.

Roman Trotsenko, president of PRG subsidiary Moscow River Shipping Co., denied the allegation.

"We did not bribe anyone," he said. "It does not make any difference to us who the general director is as long as it is not Vindermut."

Trotsenko said Sibir is trying to bankrupt the airport so it can eventually own it.

Sibir general director Vladislav Filyov on Tuesday denied that accusation: "We are so intertwined that if the airport is in a predicament then [so are we]. We are Tolmachevo's only true friend."