Published with a kind permission of the Moscow
By Khristina Narizhnaya
The protection of "strategic interests, defense capability
and state security" is the reason now given by the Audit
Chamber for classifying the results of its 2008 investigation
into the alleged $4 billion worth of financial violations
by state-owned Transneft.
The alleged violations took place during the construction
of a major pipeline in Siberia in 2006, and the request to
make the document secret came from Transneft itself.
The document was partially made public by prominent blogger
and whistle-blower Alexei Navalny on Nov. 16, which resulted
in a major scandal involving officials close to Prime Minister
Yabloko opposition party leader Sergei Mitrokhin received
a letter from the chamber informing him of the decision and
posted it on his LiveJournal blog on Wednesday.
The letter said Transneft is a strategic enterprise, the
management of which "provides for strategic interests,
defense capability and state security."
"The Audit Chamber of the Russian Federation does not
have the right to make public the information that it found
while conducting its job, which comprises a commercial secret,"
the letter said.
Mitrokhin said Wednesday that Yabloko would ask the courts
that the records be made public in the near future.
"We're going to the courts," Mitrokhin told The
Moscow Times by telephone. "Do you think it's normal
to cover up financial intrigues and theft?"
Reports about building the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline
were published on the blog of the company's minority shareholder
and anti-corruption activist Navalny on Nov. 16.
Mitrokhin requested records from the Audit Chamber after
Navalny published reports accusing Transneft of stealing $4
billion. The disclosure on the Internet created a sensation,
with scores of bloggers filing online complaints to the chamber
and the Prosecutor General's Office, demanding an investigation
into the alleged wrongdoings.
Navalny has told The Moscow Times that he spent months investigating
Transneft and received documents from some people within the
company. "There are many people working in the Audit
Chamber and Transneft, and not all of them are thieves,"
he told the Moscow Times in November.
As a result, at the end of December, Prime Minister Vladimir
Putin asked law enforcement agencies to look into Navalny's
Transneft seemed to confirm the authenticity of Navalny's
documentation, saying it was part of an initiative by the
company's new leadership, Vedomosti reported in November.
The construction of the 4,857-kilometer pipeline was originally
proposed by Yukos in 2001 and started in April 2006.
Audit Chamber chief Sergei Stepashin said his office checked
the authenticity of Navalny's documents by comparing them
with its own probe, conducted in 2008 and 2009, Vedomosti
reported in November.
Stepashin said Transneft did misuse some funds for the ESPO
pipeline, but the figures were not as large as the $4 billion
claimed by Navalny.
Long-serving Transneft chief Semyon Vainshtok ¬ a career
LUKoil vice president and a Putin protege ¬ was removed from
the company under a cloud in late 2007 after it was revealed
that he had given more of the company's money to murky charities
than was paid in dividends to shareholders.
He briefly headed Olimpstroi, the state corporation funneling
billions of dollars to construction projects for the 2014
Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Denis Yevstratenko, director of Prosperity Capital Management,
a minority shareholder in Transneft preferred stock, told
The Moscow Times in November that his company had no specific
response to the reports Navalny published, but that "when
money is stolen from a company, it is a very negative thing."
Navalny said he wasn't surprised by the Audit Chamber decision
to keep the Transneft records secret.
The letter to Mitrokhin cites commercial secrets, detailed
descriptions of the equipment and threats to the Russian economy
and defense as the reasons for keeping the information from
the public eye.
"As soon as they steal a billion, talk of mobilization
and defense of the country begins," Navalny wrote in
his blog on Wednesday.
original publication in the Moscow Times
The Audit Chamber
of the Russian Federation classified the information on clandestine
dealings by Transneft as secret data. Press Release, January