MOSCOW, April 9 (Itar-Tass) — Volgograd officials and lawmakers have found themselves in the centre of a scandal. The well-known fighter against corruption, Alexei Navalny, has turned to the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office and Investigative Committee (SK) with a request to check the sources of funding of a visit to Italy of governor Sergei Bozhenov, who has been in office for less than 100 days, more than 40 members of the regional Duma (parliament), the regional government officials and their families. The Italian tour participants have said they will pay for it personally and accused the Internet media of falsifying the facts.
The charter plane Bombardier CRJ-200 on April 5 took off from Volgograd’s Gumrak airport to Italy, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta. There were more than 40 deputies of the Legislative Assembly, officials of the regional government, as well as members of their families on board. Governor Sergei Bozhenov was among the passengers.
The press service of the regional government reported that the deputies and the head of the region were invited to the Apennines by consular correspondent of Italy in Russia Ferdinando Camoirano and a group of Italian entrepreneurs who intend to establish economic ties in the field of agriculture between the Volgograd region and Tuscany.
The Volgograd-based website Vysota 102 (v102.ru), which is a consistent critic of the governor, shortly after the charter plane’s takeoff, posted a video which shows how cars of the officials and parliament members who are going to Italy are pulling up at the airport’s building. Although this video does not contain any real compromising materials, the fact of the simultaneous demonstration of tens of expensive cars to a song of Toto Cutugno made the video and the very theme of the Italian voyage a hit on the Russian Internet. The lack of reliable information about the visit to Italy from the very beginning gave rise to a wave of incredible rumours. Vague and sometimes contradictory comments from representatives of the regional authorities, from which one could not immediately understand the purpose of the visit of the governor, MPs and officials to the town of Montecatini Terme, only made the Italy trip story more scandalous. It is noteworthy that all the official commentators carefully avoided the issue of coincidence of Sergei Bozhenov’s birthday, which falls on April 8, and the visit time.
The leader of the Communists in the Volgograd region’s Duma, Nikolai Parshin, who refused to travel to Tuscany, confirmed that the lawmakers themselves paid for the travel and that it cost them about 70 thousand roubles. According to the newspaper, salaries of the region’s Legislative Assembly MPs are currently ranging from 100 to 120 thousand roubles per month.
Despite these statements, Volgograd experts have critically assessed the decision of Sergei Bozhenov to celebrate his birthday in the company of lawmakers and officials abroad. “This is a political mistake, which can seriously damage the governor’s image and cost him dear,” political scientist Andrei Mironov told the publication. “For Bozhenov it was not a very happy birthday, I think he will yet not once regret the holiday in the Apennines.”
In 2009, President Dmitry Medvedev obligated the leadership of his administration, as well as security ministers, to inform the president about the place and time of their holidays in a written form, Vedomosti reports. After the strange story of the big “corporate party” of the Volgograd officials who chartered a flight to Italy on a picnic with their wives and children, it seems that this requirement should be extended also to governors, as well as to the heads of regional governments and regional parliament members.
Stories of the kind have been made public also in the past, the newspaper said. For example, about FSO Director Yevgeny Murov in Courchevel, about the governor (now former) Pavel Ipatov sailing around Sicily in a yacht, it said. However, now public figures have to defend themselves more often. The Moscow Patriarchate had, the same as Volgograd functionaries, to justify itself for Patriarch Kirill’s expensive Breguet watch: it first disappears, then appears, and then disappears again from official photographs.
Why high-status consumers have now to make excuses more often? The publication asks. Probably, there are several factors for this. First, the degree of information transparency has increased, for which technological progress should be thanked. Second, the society’s tolerance to corruption among high-placed official is diminishing. Third, the authorities’ policy towards corrupt “profit” practices is changing. Now an official can still receive proceeds from corruption, but he must learn to justify them, so as not to spoil the image of the anti-corruption campaign that is conducted by top officials.