Leader of the Movement to Defend Khimki Forest Meets with French Police
On November 22, the leader of the Movement to Defend Khimki Forest, Yevgenia Chirikova, was interviewed by the Central Service for the Prevention of Corruption in Nanterre, France. In the summer of 2014, the defenders of Khimki Forest, together with NGOs Sherpa and Bankwatch, submitted a joint lawsuit to the French prosecutor in Nanterre, alleging corruption in a Moscow-Saint Petersburg highway project, for which a subsidiary of the French construction company Vinci is the concessionaire. French justices were informed about offshore schemes allegedly used to transfer money withdrawn from the Russian Pension Fund and the Russian Federation’s budget through a subsidiary of Vinci into different offshore zones, including a Cyprus-based company belonging to Arkady Rotenberg.
The lawsuit was accepted by the French prosecutor’s office, and the investigation began with interviewing witnesses, which includes Chirikova.
In the interests of the investigation, we cannot share detailed information about the questioning. But it should be noted that French investigators reacted very seriously to the case of possible corruption ties between Russian authorities and Vinci. The interview lasted four hours, with the investigators interested in the details of the role of Vinci and its subsidiary organization “NWCC” in the Moscow-Saint Petersburg highway project. There is reason to believe that the tender for the project was illegally won, which may have occurred as a result of a behind-the-scenes agreement between high-ranking officials of the Russian Federation and Vinci leadership.
Suspicions have arisen about the true role of Vinci in the project. Vinci has tremendous experience in construction around the world, but its involvement in the project did not reflect its experience. In fact, the highway project did not have the following key components:
-Investment. This is possibly the first public-private partnership in the world in which the concessionaire made such a small share of money from the project’s implementation (about 10%).
- New engineering design technologies. The project was designed by Russian project designers without accounting for modern global standards of sustainable development.
- New methods of construction. Construction was carried out by Russian companies, using the labor of unqualified workers, which resulted in injuries and even fatalities during construction.
- Respect for the laws of the Russian Federation. The new highway was designed under the conditions of a complete legal ban on any construction in Khimki forest. The implementation of the project resulted in gross interference into Russian legislation, requiring the urgent and unlawful removal of articles from the forest and land codes, which were “interfering” with the implementation of the project.
- Attention to social and environmental aspects. The project was implemented with gross human rights violations, construction was accompanied by violence, and dozens of people were injured, including an independent journalist, Mikhail Beketov, who was paralyzed and later died from injuries sustained in an attack reportedly connected with his activities investigating the highway project.
- Transparency. The concession agreement between Russia and NWCC, a subsidiary of Vinci, has been hidden from the Russian public.
-Solutions to transport problems. Although the Moscow-Saint Petersburg highway was constructed, it is not being fully utilised because people cannot afford the high tolls. Therefore, the acute problem of traffic congestion on the toll-free Leningrad highway remains. The very transportation issues that the highway was supposed to address have not yet been resolved.
Thus, there are reasons to suspect that the true purpose of Vinci’s involvement in the Moscow-Saint Petersburg highway project was not to solve a transportation problem in Russia at the highest international standards, but to participate in a corruption scheme that benefits the interests of oligarchs who comprise Putin’s inner circle.
Unfortunately, achieving justice and addressing corruption through the court system in Russia is not possible, but there is hope for the European justice system, which has no interest in the corruption of Western business by the Putin regime. The French investigation into the participation of Vinci in the Moscow-Saint Petersburg highway project is ongoing.
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Photo credit: Митя Алешковский (Mitya Aleshkovsky)