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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fraud Victims Protest Against City's Inaction

MTThe hunger strikers in Ochakovo are threatening to carry on their protest until the authorities recognize their plight.
Hundreds of defrauded apartment investors in the Moscow region town of Odintsovo demanded action from local authorities at a rowdy public meeting Friday.

The region's deputy governor, Alexei Panteleyev, promised that all those who had entrusted their money with construction firms in the town's unfinished West Gates complex, 15 kilometers west of Moscow, would eventually be provided with apartments.

Odintsovo Mayor Alexander Gladyshev called on the developer behind the West Gates complex, Vladimir Vakhania, to hand over the site to authorities so that the investors could be resettled.

"This problem can be solved in ... 2 1/2 years, but only with Vakhania's goodwill," Gladyshev said.

Vakhania also addressed the meeting, angrily defying accusations of improper conduct. His comments were greeted with angry shouts and repeated bursts of sarcastic applause.

At the same meeting, Anatoly Kucherena, head of a Public Chamber working group on real estate fraud, said he would be submitting a proposal on compensating investors to the presidential administration on Tuesday.

The Public Chamber, an advisory body set up by President Vladimir Putin, can make recommendations to the government but not initiate or approve new legislation.

These promises of action did not satisfy another group of about 30 fraud protesters in southwest Moscow who started a hunger strike Thursday in a bid to force the city government to compensate them for their investments.

"The law under consideration is just not relevant to us," said Yelena Lu-Ke-Su, one of the hunger strikers occupying an unfinished flat in the Ochakovo district. "It has been drawn up in the interests of people who invested in properties already under construction, but were then left incomplete."

The Ochakovo protesters said they were sold properties that did not exist. Another common method used by confidence tricksters is to sell the same flat several times over.

Critics of the proposed new legislation have said it will not cover many cases of apartment fraud and have complained that some officials have hijacked their protests for populist ends.

"This is sheer populism," said Anton Belyakov, head of an association that campaigns for the rights of apartment fraud victims. Kuchenera jumped on the protest bandwagon but ignored the substance of his organization's recommendations, Belyakov said.

"Anyhow, I am a member of the working group and I have not yet even seen this document," he said.

Some protesters also complained that officials had sidelined the anti-fraud proposal by sending it to the Public Chamber, a merely consultative body.

As only a recommendation, Kucherena's proposal was of no use to the protesters, said Svetlana Kuznetsova, one of the Ochakovo hunger strikers.

Despite holding a series of public meetings to protest the lack of action by the authorities, the Ochakovo protesters said current promises by officials were too little and too late.

"We have been appealing to the authorities for years now, but they have never taken any notice," Kuznetsova said. "Only once we began to organize ourselves did they respond. As soon as we began our hunger strike, Kucherena came to visit us and pled with us not to carry on with it."

Among the measures announced to combat real estate fraud, Kuchenera said last Wednesday that the Public Chamber would carry out an audit into construction projects, including ones that had not yet begun.

"Our main task will be to be to make certain that the money put into investment contracts in construction is really being used to complete projects," Kucherena told Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

The chamber's working group is also considering compiling an exhaustive list of fraud victims so that their complaints can be more efficiently addressed, Kuchenera told the newspaper.

However, such promises of action may be of little consolation to Natalya Kryukova, 20, another protester at the Ochakovo flat.

In 2003, Kryukova sold her apartment so that she and her husband could buy a cheaper place. With the money earned from the sale, they approached a real estate agency and signed an agreement to buy an apartment in a block to be built near the Ulitsa Akademika Yangelya metro station.

"They told us the apartment would be ready in a couple of months," Kryukova said. "But a year passed and we heard nothing."

However, what angers the Ochakovo protesters the most is the seeming indifference of city authorities.

"What we are doing may endanger our well-being, but [we] have no other way out," said Dmitry Karzykin, the organizer of the hunger strike.

"We are ready to carry on our protest until the very end unless we get some response from the authorities."