|09VLADIVOSTOK79||2009-07-16 05:10:00||UNCLASSIFIED||Consulate Vladivostok|
VZCZCXRO8639 RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHCHI RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFK RUEHFL RUEHHM RUEHIK RUEHKSO RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHNAG RUEHNP RUEHPB RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSK RUEHSL RUEHSR RUEHYG DE RUEHVK #0079/01 1970510 ZNR UUUUU ZZH R 160510Z JUL 09 FM AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1175 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE RUEHZU/ASIAN PACIFIC ECONOMIC COOPERATION COLLECTIVE RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 1279
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 VLADIVOSTOK 000079
1. Authorities have arrested long-time consulate contact
Colonel Aleksandr Astafyev, the Director of Witness Protection
Center and deputy head of the Primorye UVD. He was arrested in
his office on June 16 on fraud charges, and is currently in
pre-trial detention. Astafyev is a close POL/ECON contact and
participated in a State Department sponsored International
Visitors Program devoted to fighting corruption. He is a well
known speaker at seminars organized by the Far Eastern National
University's Organized Crime Study Center (OCSC) and had
received a grant from the OCSC to write about violent corporate
takeovers in Primorye.
Detained on Fraud Charges
2. Poloff and FSN discussed the case with OCSC Director Vitaliy
Nomokonov, who is sure the criminal case against Astafyev is a
result of his research pointing to high-level officials,
specifically regarding the hostile takeover of Vladivostok's
OGAT Transport Company and the murder of its director. He
explained that the spurious fraud charges are based on the
purchase by a sponsor of a sofa, an air conditioner and a
computer for use in his office. Though all these items were
registered officially in the UVD inventory list, authorities
assert that they were unauthorized.
Fearing For His Life in Detention
3. In pre-trial detention for a month, Astafyev told Nomokonov
that he fears for his life. Astafyev's lawyer Yaroslav Redin
filed an appeal with the Kray court to release him from
detention on the grounds that the non-violent charges do not
require immediate incarceration, which a judge denied.
Nomokonov is hoping that increased public attention to the case
will help keep Astafyev from being killed while in detention and
is pushing local journalists to publish information about
Astafyev. One local newspaper ran two long articles about the
arrest. He expressed hopes that U.S. journalists will also be
interested in this human rights case.
4. On July 15 Astafyev passed a note to the U.S. Consulate
through his ex-wife, again expressing concern for his life. In
the note he wrote that investigators searched his apartment,
confiscated all photos from his two trips to the U.S., and
impounded the personal computer containing the report which
listed facts and names of high-level officials involved in
hostile takeovers in the Russian Far East. The note ended with
the words "Please, help me!!! I need assistance. I wanted to
help Russia fight corruption. I was so naive to write about it
in my grant paper and that's why I have such troubles. SOS! Save
me, help, please."
Long a Target of Corrupt Officials
5. Astafyev's position against corruption made him a target for
officials threatened by his work and he has been under official
investigation several times, though no charges were ever brought
until now. In the mid-1990s his research led to the arrest of
future Vladivostok mayor Vladimir Nikolayev, who was then head
of the "Winnie Pooh" organized crime group in Vladivostok. Last
year he coordinated a fraud and misappropriation investigation
against Primorye Governor Sergey Darkin and had an order to
arrest the governor, though Darkin managed to have the
investigation derailed after a visit to Moscow.
Murder Warnings Ignored by UVD
6. After the dissolution of the Anti-Organized Crime Department
in 2008, Astafyev was appointed head of the Primorye Kray UVD's
Witnesses Protection Center. In late 2008 Astafyev warned
Primorye UVD Head Andrey Nikolayev that the business conflict
involving the OGAT Transport Company would lead to murder.
According to Astafyev, Nikolayev put his report in a safe and
refused to investigate. Shortly thereafter the company's
director was murdered in an apparent contract killing. Among
the names he reported as being involved in the matter were
Aleksandr Sarkisov and Andrey Vasilchenko, who work with the
Russian Far East branch of the Ministry of Interior, and
Anatoliy Tyazhlov, who was the former head of the Khabarovsk
FSB, a former advisor to Primorye Governor Sergey Darkin, and
founder of an Anti-corruption NGO.
Several Anti-Corruption Crusaders Beaten
7. During the months before his arrest, Astafyev began to
expect violence against him and always entered his apartment
building with his side gun in hand. There have been several
VLADIVOSTO 00000079 002.2 OF 002
beating attacks against law enforcement officers investigating
hostile takeovers in the past several months, two of which
resulted in death while two other victims needed intensive care.
The official cause of death for one of the officers was
"accidental fall", though the blow that killed him was located
on the top of his skull. According to Nomokonov, Astafyev left
home earlier than usual one day and saw a man with truncheon in
his hand waiting for someone.
8. Nomokonov described his colleague as a man with a sincere
desire to fight corruption and respect for the rule of law,
mentioning that Astafyev once refused to shoot Chechen prisoners
of war when ordered to. Olga Pak, a former journalist for
Zolotoy Rog, has known Astafyev for seven years and stated that
Astafyev is naive in his sincere fight against corruption and
has many enemies in the UVD. Another contact mentioned that
Astafyev wrote his legal dissertation himself instead of
purchasing one which is common practice.
9. COMMENT. Astafyev is the second anti-corruption figure to
make the news this month, following the five-year prison term
handed to former Far Eastern Customs Directorate Chief General
Ernest Bakhshetsyan (reftel). Both cases should be included in
the annual Human Rights Report and are indicative of the fact
that investigating corruption is acceptable to authorities as
long as it doesn't point too high up the power hierarchy.
Mention of this case in dealing with Russian officials on
corruption would be appreciated and we hope that Astafyev finds
allies in the Western and Russian press.