Tuesday, August 04, 2015


Allies Speak Out On Behalf Of Daghestani Strongman, Muftiate Maintains Distance

Andrei Vinogradov appeared in Moscow's Basmanny District Court on July 29.

Liz Fuller

The accusations of murder, attempted murder, and “financing terrorism” leveled against two prominent Daghestani political figures have mobilized thousands of people in their support -- including Ramzan Kadyrov. The Kremlin-backed head of Chechnya has publicly implied that the charges are unfounded; he described one of the men, former Olympic wrestling champion Sagid Murtazaliyev, as “a genuine patriot and a true son of Russia” and as his “brother and loyal friend.”

Kadyrov is not the only prominent figure to rush to the men’s defense. Former Daghestan Deputy Prime Minister Rizvan Kurbanov denounced the deployment of federal security personnel backed by armored carriers to search the homes of Murtazaliyev and his brother-in-law Andrei Vinogradov, head of Daghestan’s northernmost Kizlyar municipal district, as both illegal and a colossal waste of public money. Kurbanov appealed to Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika to clarify who initiated the criminal case against Vinogradov and Murtazaliyev, and on the basis of what evidence.

Kurbanov further argued that it is “inadmissible and wrong” that the Investigative Committee, which is subordinate to the Prosecutor-General’s Office, should be “beyond criticism.”

Kurbanov -- who is now a member of the State Duma, Russia’s lower parliament house -- is close to Kadyrov.

Following a search of his home early on July 27 that reportedly yielded a number of unregistered firearms, Vinogradov was transported to Moscow, where he was formally charged and remanded in pretrial detention for two months.

Murtazaliyev’s whereabouts are unclear. The independent weekly Chernovik reported that he was alerted to the impending criminal case by senior law-enforcement officials over a month ago and immediately left Russia. On July 30, allies announced that he had been in Dubai but later traveled to Germany for knee surgery and was recuperating there.

According to Kurbanov, Murtazaliyev underwent knee-replacement surgery on July 20.

Sagid Murtazaliyev speaks at a rally in 2005Sagid Murtazaliyev speaks at a rally in 2005
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Sagid Murtazaliyev speaks at a rally in 2005
Sagid Murtazaliyev speaks at a rally in 2005

On July 29, two days after the searches and Vinogradov’s detention, some 3,500 to 4,000 people attended a rally in Kizlyar in support of him and Murtazaliyev. Murtazaliyev had served as Kizlyar municipality head from 2007 to 2010, when he was named to head the Daghestan subsidiary of the federal Pension Fund. Speakers at the rally said that Murtazaliyev had revitalized the district’s stagnating economy and personally funded the construction of several schools and kindergartens. They credited Vinogradov with mobilizing police and security personnel in 2010-2011 to crack down on the North Caucasus insurgency. In 2013, the Kizlyar municipal council was ranked as the most effective in Daghestan.

Rally participants adopted a resolution addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin listing the two men’s merits and achievements and questioning the charges against them. Daghestan Pension Fund employees likewise addressed an appeal to Putin to intervene on behalf of Murtazaliyev, describing him as “a brilliant leader” and “one of Daghestan’s most worthy sons.”

In light of Murtazaliyev’s imputed ambition to become mayor of Makhachkala, Daghestan’s capital, his supporters linked the move against the two men to the municipal elections to be held in September. That hypothesis is dubious, however. True, Murtazaliyev is said to have made clear several years ago that he wanted that post. But in the interim, the rules have been changed, and direct elections for the post of mayor have been abolished.

Moreover, since the spectacular arrest two years ago of then-Mayor Said Amirov, Republic of Daghestan head Ramazan Abdulatipov has scrupulously abided by the unwritten agreement that the post of Makhachkala mayor is reserved for a Dargin. (The Dargins are the second-largest of Daghestan’s 14 titular nationalities after the Avars, who account for some 29 percent of the total population of 3 million. Both Abdulatipov and Murtazaliyev are Avars.)

Furthermore, it is clear from the detailed account of the house searches and Vinogradov’s detention given by Chernovik that the decision to move against him and Murtazaliyev was taken in Moscow, not Makhachkala, and that Daghestan’s law-enforcement agencies were kept in the dark until after the event.

The weekly goes on to examine two alternative explanations for the criminal case against Murtazaliyev and Vinogradov, taking into account that the charges against them of the murder of two officials in Kizlyar in 2010 were reportedly based on new testimony from the men who were tried and sentenced for those killings. If those men were induced to implicate Murtazaliyev and Vinogradov, it is unclear how and by whom.

The first alternative explanation is that the charges were orchestrated by Amirov, who was sentenced in July 2014 to 10 years in prison on a charge of plotting to kill Murtazaliyev by downing his plane with a ground-to-air missile. Murtazaliyev was a key witness for the prosecution at Amirov’s trial and had told an interviewer in 2013 that a senior official had taken out a contract on him.

But it is questionable whether Amirov, who is now being tried on separate charges of murder and terrorism, still exercises enough influence to engineer a criminal case against his nemesis. Chernovik cited unnamed sources as saying that consent to do so was facilitated by a $6 million sweetener.

The second hypothesis, floated earlier by Moscow-based analyst Konstantin Kazyonin -- and considered by Chernovik to be more plausible -- is that the accusations against Murtazaliyev are a move to discredit his patron Kadyrov.

The weekly surmises that a faction in Moscow including senior members of the federal security bodies and the National Antiterrorism Committee may be out to curtail Kadyrov’s power, which already extends beyond the North Caucasus. Murtazaliyev was a key component of Kadyrov’s influence across the north of Daghestan, and his elevation to the post of Makhachkala mayor, had it taken place, would have given Kadyrov indirect control over the city.

In his first public comment on the affair to date, Abdulatipov affirmed on July 30 that insofar as the crimes of which Vinogradov and Murtazaliyev are suspected “took place so long ago,” meaning several years before Abdulatipov’s appointment in January 2013 as republic head, assessing whether or not the charges against them are justified is problematic.

Abdulatipov acknowledged Vinogradov’s contribution to Kizlyar’s “notable achievements in the sphere of socioeconomic development” and Murtazaliyev’s positive track record as head of the Daghestan branch of the Pension Fund. At the same time, he stressed his single-minded commitment to weeding out corruption and ensuring that the republic’s leadership is composed exclusively of “competent, law-abiding persons of integrity.”

On August 3, Abdulatipov said the arrests of Vinogradov, Murtazaliyev, and Buynaksk municipal district head Daniyal Shikhsaidov, the son of parliament speaker Khizri Shikhsaidov, and the criminal case opened against Kizilyurt municipal district head Bagautdin Adjamatov are part of a comprehensive crackdown on embezzlement of budget funds and collaboration with the North Caucasus insurgency.

Abdulatipov warned against convening mass meetings in support of persons charged with such offenses, and advised government and municipal officials who want to lobby on behalf of friends or relatives they believe have been wrongly accused to resign in order to devote themselves full-time to such efforts.

The Spiritual Board of Muslims of Daghestan, with which both Murtazaliyev and disgraced former Deputy Prime Minister Abusyupyan Kharkharov reportedly have close ties, has similarly made clear in a statement on August 4 that it cannot and will not intervene with state bodies on behalf of officials accused of breaking the law.


Kadyrov's Daghestani Crony Wanted On Suspicion of Murder, 'Financing Terrorism'

Sagid Murtazaliyev (right), a former free-style wrestler, speaks at a rally in Daghestan's Kizlyar district in June 2005.

Liz Fuller

Russia's Investigative Committee reportedly plans to issue an international arrest warrant for former wrestling champion Sagid Murtazaliyev, who currently heads the Daghestan subsidiary of the Federal Pension Fund. Murtazaliyev is suspected, together with Andrei Vinogradov, the head of Daghestan's northernmost Kizlyar district, and businessman Omar Asadulayev, of two murders, one attempted murder, and financing terrorism.

On July 27, Murtazaliyev's dacha on the outskirts of Makhachkala was cordoned off by security personnel in armored vehicles and searched.  Earlier the same day, federal security personnel detained Vinogradov after a search of his home reportedly yielded quantities of unregistered weapons and drugs. Vinogradov, whom the daily Kommersant identifies as Murtazaliyev's brother-in-law, was transported by helicopter to the federal Interior Ministry regional base at Mozdok for interrogation.

Murtazaliyev, who is reportedly in Dubai recuperating from surgery, is quoted as describing the searches as undertaken for political reasons. He declined to comment further.

Murtazaliyev, 41, is one of Daghestan's most colorful and influential political figures. Born in Makhachkala, he trained from an early age as a freestyle wrestler. He won the 1999 World Championships in Ankara and a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Sydney in 2000.

On his retirement from wrestling, Murtazaliyev entered local politics. He was elected to the republican parliament in March 2003 and as head of the Kizlyar municipality in March 2007. Magomedsalam Magomedov, at that time Republic of Daghestan president, appointed Murtazaliyev as head of the Daghestan office of the Pension Fund in March 2010. That regional office was designated the best in the North Caucasus in 2013. 

Murtazaliyev has come to be regarded as one of the republic's political heavyweights, not least thanks to his close relations with Moscow-based oligarch Suleiman Kerimov and with Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov. At the same time, the Pension Fund office in Daghestan has made headlines on several occasions. In late September 2013, it was searched and documents confiscated, giving rise to rumors of embezzlement of maternity benefits. Less than a year later, it was reported that up to 100 Pension Fund staffers had been pressured to resign "voluntarily." That figure was subsequently revised downward to eight. 

Meanwhile, Murtazaliyev was a key witness for the prosecution in former Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov's trial last year on a charge of plotting an act of terrorism. Amirov, together with his nephew Yusup Dzhaparov, was found guilty of having co-opted Magomed Abdulgalimov to obtain a ground-to-air missile with the aim of shooting down a plane in which Murtazaliyev would be traveling. The motive imputed by the prosecution to Amirov, who categorically rejected it as unfounded and preposterous, was that Amirov regarded Murtazaliyev as a political rival.

In recent months, however, there have been reports that Murtazaliyev is a possible candidate for the post of Makhachkala mayor in the elections due in September.

Observers initially suggested that the homes of Vinogradov and Murtazaliyev may have been searched in connection with an incident in March 2012 in which five men were killed in a shoot-out in Kizlyar in which Vinogradov's bodyguards were implicated. The bodyguards stood trial but were acquitted. It is not clear, however, whether and how Murtazaliyev was involved.

Analyst Konstantin Kazyonin for his part suggested that either Republic of Daghestan head Ramazan Abdulatipov wanted to sideline Murtazaliyev in the run-up to next month's municipal elections or that Moscow might be planning to use Murtazaliyev as a means of compromising and weakening his patrons (meaning Kadyrov and Kerimov).

The charge of financing terrorism that the Investigative Committee plans to bring against Murtazaliyev almost certainly relates to the widespread and well-documented practice of "zakiyat," whereby the North Caucasus insurgency funds its activities from the proceeds of blackmailing both local businessmen and officials.

Tags:Daghestan


Is Chechen Stability Tenable Or Deceptive?

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov

Liz Fuller

For the past seven years, Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov has been perceived as exercising total control over his fiefdom, thanks to a handful of ruthlessly competent aides, to the extensive police and security network subordinate to him, and to seemingly limitless financial subsidies from the federal center courtesy of his mentor and idol, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A recent report by the International Crisis Group, titled Chechnya: The Inner Abroad, questions that perception, however. The executive summary acknowledges that Chechnya under Kadyrov has become "a virtually independent polity, with its own ideology, religious policy, security structures, economy and laws."

At the same time, it suggests that the apparent peace in Chechnya "is fragile, a result not only of highly personalised governance reliant on repression and arbitrariness that Moscow tolerates and covers up, but also economic inequality, poor social infrastructure, lack of genuine reconciliation and almost full impunity for abuses."

There are at least five factors that, singly or collectively, could over time weaken Kadyrov.

The first is the North Caucasus insurgency, some of whose fighters have reportedly transferred their allegiance from the Caucasus Emirate (IK) proclaimed in late 2007 by then-Chechen Republic Ichkeria President Doku Umarov to the terrorist grouping Islamic State (IS). The commander of the Chechen insurgency wing, Aslan Byutukayev (aka Amir Khamzat), was reported in mid-June to have sworn allegiance to IS head Abu-Bakar al-Baghdadi. IS formally acknowledged that oath of allegiance on June 21.

It further claimed to have received analogous professions of allegiance from the former Caucasus Emirate wings in Ingushetia, Daghestan, and Kabardino-Balkaria. Days later, an IS spokesman announced the creation of a North Caucasus subsidiary.

Whether the militants in Chechnya have in fact unanimously aligned with IS, and how many of those that did so have left Chechnya to fight in Syria, is not clear, however. Some Daghestani fighters still remain loyal to Magomed Suleymanov (aka Amir Abu-Usman Gimrinsky), the Daghestani who was chosen earlier this year to replace Umarov’s slain successor as Caucasus Emirate head, Aliaskhab Kebekov. The position of the Kabardino-Balkaria-Karachai insurgency wing is similarly unclear.

As recently as December, Chechen fighters staged a major attack on Grozny apparently on orders from Byutukayev, briefly occupying the central press and media building and a nearby school and killing 14 police and security personnel. Young men were still "heading for the forest" to join the insurgency two months later.

But by then, IS was apparently already perceived by at least some Chechens as either more attractive ideologically than IK or as a potentially more effective means of displacing Kadyrov. Kadyrov himself indirectly confirmed in early February a report that the black jihadi banner was painted on a wall in his home village of Tsentoroi, together with the words, in English, "Khosi-Yurt is support ISIS."

The transfer of allegiance between IK and IS works both ways, however. Earlier this month, Salakhuddin Shishani, the former head of Jaish al-Muharijeen wal-Ansar (JMA), together with a group of fighters from the North Caucasus, pledged allegiance to Suleymanov, and are calling themselves the Caucasus Emirate in Syria.

The second factor is widespread popular alienation and resentment, not only at the economic inequality and poor social infrastructure noted by the ICG, but at the concentration of political power in the hands of Kadyrov and his trusted cronies, the imposition of a bizarre synthesis of traditional Sunni Islam and selected elements of Chechen Sufism, and the arbitrary brutality of the Chechen security forces toward anyone whose loyalty to the Kadyrov regime is deemed even remotely questionable.

That resentment has surfaced twice in the past six months. In late February, three men apparently tried to blow up the dam of a reservoir southeast of Grozny. 

And in late May, young men in the village of Zakan-Yurt, west of the capital, clashed with police who had assaulted three young women in head scarves.

The third factor is the disinclination of the Russian leadership, and of Putin personally, to be seen to condone unquestioningly Kadyrov's most egregious statements and decisions. Shortly after the militant attack on Grozny in December, Putin made clear his disapproval of Kadyrov's injunction to expel insurgents' relatives from Chechnya and torch their homes.

In late April, Russian Investigative Committee (SKR) Chairman Aleksandr Bastrykin intervened to quash a criminal case launched by the SKR's Chechen subsidiary into the circumstances under which Djambulat Dadayev, a Chechen suspected of having committed a crime in Stavropol Krai, was pursued to Grozny and gunned down there by Stavropol police and personnel from the federal Interior Ministry's Temporary Operative Grouping of Organs and Sub-Units (VOGOiP) in Chechnya. Outraged at not having been informed in advance of the operation to apprehend Dadayev, Kadyrov issued orders to the Chechen security forces to "shoot to kill" in the event that police from elsewhere in Russia appeared in Chechnya without giving prior notification.

While such moves indicate that there are apparently still red lines that Kadyrov is not permitted to cross, the leeway permitted him and the extent to which Moscow is prepared to turn a blind eye to his most outrageous and provocative statements may well change, especially if the threat to southern Russia posed by IS is perceived to be growing and Kadyrov is regarded as a key component of the strategy to counter it. Federal Nationalities Minister Igor Barinov identified IS last week as one of the most serious problems Russia faces.

The fourth factor is the limited number of experienced, effective, and trusted officials on whom Kadyrov can rely to maintain "order" and run the economy. The death late last month of longtime parliament chairman Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov set in motion a reshuffle of Kadyrov's most trusted henchmen that highlights that dearth.

Presidential and government administration head Magomed Daudov was elected Abdurakhmanov's successor despite a lack of any relevant experience. Grozny Mayor Islam Kadyrov, 28, a distant cousin to Ramzan, took over from Daudov as administration head. 

Islam Kadyrov served previously as an aide to Ramzan and as minister for property and land. Ramzan has described him as experienced, knowledgeable, determined, demanding both of himself and his subordinates, and capable of working well with other people. 

Some observers, however, attribute Islam Kadyrov's appointment to the key post of administration head to Ramzan Kadyrov's desire to expand the influence wielded by members of his own family and/or to his valuing absolute personal loyalty above all other qualities. It was pointed out that young men of Islam Kadyrov's generation have only the haziest memories of the period prior to the 1994-96 war and have come to maturity pinning their hopes for peace and stability first on Ramzan's late father, Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov, and then on Ramzan himself, to whom they are consequently fiercely loyal.

Two further appointees combine loyalty with expertise and experience. Muslim Khuchiyev, 42, was named to replace Islam Kadyrov as acting Grozny mayor. Khuchiyev had previously served in that capacity from 2007-12, when he was dismissed for imputed serious violations of land legislation that never materialized into a criminal case and subsequently appointed economic and regional-development and trade minister. In that capacity, he focused specifically on seeking to attract international investors.

Abdula Magomadov, 52, Khuchiyev's predecessor as head of that mega-ministry from 2003, returns to that post, having served for the past three years as deputy prime minister. Magomadov is arguably one of the most qualified, competent, and experienced members of Kayrov's team, having begun his career in the Chechen government in 2001.

The fifth factor is the continuing impact on the Russian economy of Western sanctions, which have necessitated cuts in budget spending of up to 10 percent. Granted, the Chechen leadership is cushioned from the effects of such cuts by having at its disposal alternative financial sources in the form of the Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov Regional Charitable Fund. But if spending cuts result in wage arrears to budget-sector employees who are nonetheless required to continue making mandatory "voluntary" monthly contributions to that fund, public discontent is likely to become both more widespread and more vocal.

In addition, cutbacks on investment will negatively affect Kadyrov's stated plans to create 20,535 new jobs this year alone and to reduce unemployment by 2018 from the current (official) level of 15.3 percent to 5 percent.

Meanwhile, real-estate prices in Grozny fell by 10.9 percent during the second quarter of 2015, the steepest drop anywhere in Russia. That trend will hit not only those Chechens who hope to sell their homes and emigrate to escape the Kadyrov regime, but also senior officials close to him who have invested in property.

Whether and to what extent Kadyrov is aware of these potential threats, and how seriously he takes them, are not easy to say. He has, after all, invariably responded with indiscriminate brute force to any perceived challenge to his authority, and continues to do so. Young men whose appearance gives grounds to suspect Salafi sympathies, or who travel to neighboring Daghestan to attend Friday Prayers at mosques there, are routinely detained and roughed up.

The human rights watchdog Memorial estimates that at least 100 people were detained for questioning in the wake of the reservoir-dam bomb in February. 

As for IS, in recent months Kadyrov has repeatedly downplayed its military capabilities, even after the reports that it has established a subsidiary in Chechnya. He nonetheless mobilized Interior Ministry special-purpose forces (spetsnaz) twice within 24 hours last week for special antiterrorism drills, citing the need for them to be prepared to repel attacks by terrorists operating individually or in small groups. (State Duma Defense and Security Committee Deputy Chairman Frants Klintsevich says that move was illegal, insofar as the spetsnaz are subordinate to the federal Interior Ministry Directorate and Kadyrov is not empowered to give them orders.)

Like the mass antiterrorism meeting convened in late December, which was attended by up to 10,000 members of the police and security forces, last week's exercises may well have been intended primarily to substantiate the perception in Moscow that Kadyrov is supremely capable of deflecting any threat to the North Caucasus, whether real or imaginary. 


Georgia Passes Controversial Banking Law Despite International Criticism

New banking legislation could exacerbate latent tensions between Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili (left) and President Giorgi Margvelashvili.

Liz Fuller

The Georgian parliament adopted on July 17 in the third and final reading by 80 votes to 19 a legal amendment transferring responsibility for banking supervision from Georgia's  National Bank to a specially created new agency that would be wholly independent of it.  

It is not clear to what extent the final version has been modified to address criticism from international financial organizations, which deemed the original draft law "not prudent."  

The vote also risks exacerbating the latent tensions between Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, who expressed approval of the draft amendment, and President Giorgi Margvelashvili, who has indicated that he will not sign the bill into law. 

The draft amendment, submitted to parliament in late May by two members of the majority Georgian Dream (GD) faction, envisages stripping the National Bank of its powers to supervise the entire banking sector and transferring those powers to a new Financial Supervisory Agency. That body would be headed by a seven-person board, of which the National Bank chairman will be an ex officio member; he may not, however, serve as the board's chairman, who will appoint the head of the agency. The remaining six board members are to be selected by the parliament. 

The chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Budgetary and Financial Issues, Tamaz Mechiauri, who co-authored the bill, implied that the rationale for it was as much political as economic. He claimed that the current composition of the National Bank board is detrimental to the interests of the current leadership. (All but one of its members were appointed prior to the advent to power of GD in the October 2012 parliamentary elections, and Mechiauri implied that their loyalty is to the former ruling United National Movement.)

Mechiauri further argued that depriving the National Bank of supervisory functions would discourage efforts by unnamed persons to speculate on fluctuations in the national currency, such as have taken place over the past six months. Georgian Dream founder and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili laid the blame for the depreciation of the lari squarely on the National Bank and its chairman, Giorgi Kadagidze.

Critics Have Reservations

Business organizations, however, rejected Mechiauri's line of reasoning as an attempt to make the National Bank the scapegoat for those economic policies that had contributed to the loss in value of the lari. They also expressed concern over the impact of the proposed change, warning that the bill poses a threat to the business and investment climate, and to the concept of banking secrecy.

Transparency International Georgia expressed reservations, too, saying it is "incomprehensible how the stable functioning of the financial sector will be promoted without banking supervision which includes monitoring of capital adequacy, external inspection, asset classification, operational risk management, and provisioning requirements among other issues, which directly relate to the stability of the financial sector… Stripping the National Bank of its supervision functions will inhibit it from carrying out its duties as set out in the constitution." 

President Margvelashvili's economic advisor, Giorgi Abashishvili, perceived "political reasons" behind the bill. He described the banking sector as one of the most robust components of the Georgian economy and asked why it should be necessary to fine-tune a mechanism that already functions perfectly well. 

Abashishvili has also pointed out that amending the law on the National Bank without prior consultation with the European Union and European Central Bank constitutes a violation of Georgia's commitments under the Association Agenda it signed with the EU last summer. 

International financial organizations too were perplexed by the proposed changes. Azim Sadikov, resident representative in Tbilisi of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), called in a written statement in early June for "proper consultations with key stakeholders and international experts," and affirmed the IMF's readiness to provide assistance. 

Three weeks later, the IMF, together with the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Asian Development Bank, addressed a joint letter to Prime Minister Garibashvili and parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili explaining why they consider the proposed new model "not prudent"  and fraught with "substantial risk to the independence and quality of supervision and to coordination with monetary policy."

They explained that "the tendency after the 2008-2009 global financial crisis has been to place banking supervision inside the central bank to strengthen linkages between monetary policy and financial stability. Such coordination is particularly important at this time, when the banking sector could come under strain from a slowing economic [sic] and Lari depreciation. Since Georgia is a small country, with only a limited number of financial sector professionals, having bank supervision inside the central bank has the added advantage of keeping specialized expertise under one institution, which contributes to efficiency and quality."

Presidential Veto?

The four organizations made clear that "we cannot support the initial legislative proposal," and unequivocally urged keeping banking supervision within the National Bank. They added that, if the decision is nonetheless taken to remove that function from the National Bank of Georgia, "it will be crucial that your proposals address the concerns raised above;" that they would be in line with the Basel Core Principles for Effective Banking Supervision; and that "the quality of supervision is not weakened during the transition to a new agency."

Despite that advice, which Garibashvili described as "very useful,"  the Georgian parliament passed the bill in the first reading three days later by78 votes to one. 

Usupashvili for his part declared on July 10 that parliament would not pass the bill in the second and third readings until "mutual understanding" had been reached with the financial institutions that had criticized it. There has been no subsequent report of any such agreement being reached. 

But Nodar Ebanoidze, one of the authors of the original amendment, told lawmakers on July 16  that the final version has indeed "been brought closer" to international standards, and the responsibility of the new supervisory body has been made even more stringent. 

There has been no comment on the passage of the law from the Tbilisi representation of the IMF. 

Should President Margvelashvili make good on his threat to veto it, the parliament is empowered to override that veto by a minimum of 76 votes. 
 


Second Former Daghestani Deputy Prime Minister To Stand Trial

Former Daghestani Deputy Prime Minister Abusupyan Kharkharov (center, file photo)

Liz Fuller

Abusupyan Kharkharov, who served from February 2013 to June 2014 as Daghestan's deputy prime minister with responsibility for investments and regional policy, is to stand trial together with three other former officials and two businessmen on charges of embezzlement, abuse of their official position, and money-laundering. 

Meanwhile, the trial continues behind closed doors at Daghestan's Supreme Court of Magomedgusen Nasrutdinov, whom then acting republic head Ramazan Abdulatipov appointed as deputy prime minister simultaneously with Kharkharov. Nasrutdinov pleads not guilty to charges of large-scale embezzlement.

Like Abdulatipov, Kharkharov, 48, is an Avar. But he first made a name for himself as a protege of Magomedali Magomedov, the Dargin who ruled Daghestan as State Council chairman for 19 years before stepping down in 2006 at the age of 75. Kharkharov was appointed general director of the Makhachkala port in 1998, but reportedly incurred the Magomedov clan's wrath by pledging his loyalty to Magomedali's successor as Republic of Daghestan president, Mukhu Aliyev, an Avar. When then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proposed Magomedali's son Magomedsalam to succeed Aliyev in 2010, Kharkharov was dismissed as port director, whereupon he devoted his energies to the Karat transport, logistics, and media holding he had founded in 1993. 

Magomedsalam Magomedov was himself constrained to step down in late January 2013 before completing his full presidential term. Abdulatipov, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin named to replace him, immediately brought both Kharkharov and Nasretdinov (then minister for industry, energy and communications) into the government as deputy prime ministers. 

The reasons for Kharkharov's dismissal from that post a year ago were never spelled out. A few months earlier, one blogger had characterized Kharkharov disparagingly as someone "with a finger in every pie, adept at securing favorable TV coverage for himself, but who never completed anything he started."

Konstantin Kazyonin, editor in chief of the news agency Regnum, on the other hand, noted Kharkharov's two main strengths: the support he enjoyed in mountainous rural areas where Avars (Daghestan's largest ethnic group) constitute the majority of the local population, and his exceptionally close ties with the Sufi-dominated Muslim Spiritual Board of Daghestan. Possibly on the basis of that perceived broad-based support, the independent weekly Chernovik included Kharkharov in early 2014 on its shortlist of 12 candidates for the honorary post of "People's President." Kharkharov's boss, Prime Minister Abdusamad Gamidov, did not figure on that list.

Case Against Ex-Mayor 'Falling Apart'

The charges against Kharkharov stem from his activities as Makhachkala port director. He is suspected, together with his then deputies Magomed Ertsalov and Nonna Trifonova, former First Deputy Minister for Land and Property Relations Feliks Aliyev, and businessmen Aznaur Amirov and Igor Ryzoglazov, of having appropriated and illegally sold three cargo vessels in 2006-07 and pocketed the proceeds. The damage to the republican budget was estimated at half a billion rubles ($8.8 million at the current exchange rate).

The nature and extent of the evidence against the six amassed by the federal Investigative Committee can only be guessed at. But constructing a water-tight case against a person or persons deemed to pose a threat either to the status quo or to powerful vested economic interests is apparently not a major consideration in Daghestan, judging by how the prosecution's case in the ongoing second trial of former Makhachkala mayor Said Amirov is reportedly falling apart.

The case against Nasrutdinov too is fabricated and politically motivated, according to his lawyers

Nasrutdinov is 48, and a Kumyk (the third largest ethnic group in Daghestan after the Avars and Dargins). A lawyer by training, he spent most of his career in Daghestan's gas industry, which his father had played a major role in building up. 

Nasrutdinov was apprehended in January 2014 at Moscow's Vnukovo airport, questioned, released, then arrested the following day and formally charged. He was held in pretrial custody in Moscow until the start of his trial in early April 2015. 

He is accused of engineering an illegal deal in 2002 between the open joint-stock company Dagestanregiongaz, of which he was then head, and Daggaz Ltd., of which he was a shareholder and board chairman. Daggaz reportedly purchased from Dagestanregiongaz at the knockdown price of 58 million rubles gas distribution networks with a market value of 197.73 million rubles. 

It was the third time Nasrutdinov had been charged in connection with that particular deal. A charge of abuse of his official position brought against him in August 2012 was dropped, and a Makhachkala district court immediately dismissed as illegal and unfounded.

Daghestan's Supreme Court had similarly acquitted Nasrutdinov in 2009 of an earlier charge of embezzlement.

After the case against him was dropped in August 2012, Nasrutdinov convened a press conference at which he explained that the sale of the gas distribution networks in 2002 was in line with a federal government decree banning any single entity from simultaneously selling and transporting gas.

He also said he believed current or former Kavkazregiongaz officials whom he declined to name had engineered the criminal case him in retaliation for public statements he had recently made incriminating North Caucasus gas distributors in the illegal theft of gas and withholding a sizeable proportion of the money paid by individual customers for gas supplied. (As of August 2014, Daghestan owed the distributor Gazprom Mezhregiongaz Pyatigorsk over 25 billion rubles). He outlined a proposal for creating a single gas distribution company for Daghestan that would bypass the existing intermediary companies and thus eliminate the colossal discrepancy between the amount individual consumers had paid, and the amount actually received by the suppliers.

Some analysts attributed Nasrutdinov's arrest last year to conflicts within the gas industry that have nothing whatsoever to do with the perennial jockeying for power, money, and influence between the various Daghestan interest groups.  

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According to Chernovik journalist Magomed Magomedov, Nasrutdinov fell foul of the Gazprom subsidiary Pyatigorskregiongaz, one of four suppliers of gas to Makhachkala.  Nasrutdinov's lawyers reminded Chernovik in March that Nasrutdinov had raised the systematic theft of gas from Daghestan's distribution networks with then North Caucasus Federal District head Aleksandr Khloponin on more than one occasion. 

Other analysts suggested to the news portal Caucasian Knot that Nasrutdinov's arrest may have been connected to Abdulatipov's plans to create a separate Daghestan oil and gas company that Nasrutdinov would have been ideally qualified to head.

Abdulatipov announced Nasrutdinov's dismissal as deputy premier shortly after his arrest in Moscow, but said the reason for it was Nasrutdinov's failure to act on orders Abdulatipov had given him the previous September to prepare the sale of Daghestan's gas distribution networks to Gazprom.


Daghestan’s Interior Ministry Targets State Broadcaster

Daghestani Interior Minister Abdurashid Magomedov

Liz Fuller

In an in-depth interview four years ago focusing on the problems of the North Caucasus, Moscow Carnegie Center staffer Nikolai Petrov characterized Daghestan’s Interior Ministry as an independent actor, rather than an integral component of the republic’s political system, and at the same time as “a fortress under siege” motivated by the need to defend its own corporate interests.

Whether in defense of those interests or of his own reputation, Interior Minister Lieutenant General Abdurashid Magomedov has ordered the confiscation of documentation and computers from Daghestan’s State TV and Radio Corporation, apparently in retaliation for a July 5 TV program in which former Interior Ministry and Prosecutor’s Office personnel discussed arbitrary detentions and the recourse by police to “forbidden methods,” meaning the use of beatings and torture to extract incrimination evidence from innocent suspects.

That program was hosted by anchorman Aleksey Kazak, who serves simultaneously as an expert for the Russian State Duma’s Nationality Committee, and was one of a series focusing on the Interior Ministry.

According to Magomed Magomedov (no relation to Abdurashid), a correspondent for the independent Chernovik daily, Interior Ministry personnel had been invited to participate in earlier discussions, but declined to do so. 

Citing information received by the ministry’s Administration for Economic Security and Countering Corruption that pointed to possible violations of the law by unnamed leading State TV and Radio Corporation officials, the interior minister ordered the confiscation of all relevant paperwork and computer files dating back to January 1, 2013. Current Republic of Daghestan head Ramazan Abdulatipov was first appointed to that position in late January 2013.

Kazak posted a scanned copy of Magomedov’s edict on his Facebook page, adding that he hopes the instances of police brutality he publicized will be scrupulously investigated. He further professed certainty that “our cause is just, and justice will triumph!”

This is not the first time that Daghestan Interior Ministry personnel have attempted to bring to the attention of the Russian leadership widespread abuse and corruption within that body. Two years ago, in March 2013, four serving or former Daghestan Interior Ministry officers discussed those failings at a press conference in Moscow convened by the human rights watchdog Memorial after having spent the previous six months trying without success to gain an audience with federal Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev. 

One of the four, police Colonel Salikh Gadzhiyev, said he had informed the Daghestani Interior Minister (he did not specify whether he meant Abdurashid Magomedov or one of his predecessors) more than once of the kind of abuses that were taking place, but the minister failed to take any action. 

Gadzhiyev further alleged at that press conference, and more recently in an interview he gave to Chernovik, that police posts can be purchased. The going rate varies, he said, from 350,000 to 400,000 rubles ($6,207-$7,093) in Makhachkala to 450,000-500,000 rubles in the southern town of Derbent. 

Gadzhiyev listed a number of measures he considers essential to improve the functioning of the Interior Ministry. They include renouncing illegal methods in the ongoing campaign to neutralize the North Caucasus insurgency; eradicating corruption within the ministry and improving its image; holding senior officers responsible for violations committed by their subordinates; and strengthening the ministry’s administration for internal security and making it independent of the minister. (In 2014, that department detained 30 ministry officials for soliciting or accepting bribes, and brought criminal charges against 60 others.  

Gadzhiyev, a grandfatherly figure who wrote a dissertation on “Theoretical and Practical Aspects of Classifying Abductions," first started publicizing corruption within the Interior Ministry in 2008. He was fired in June 2013, three months after the Moscow press conference, and is currently working on his doctoral dissertation, entitled "Problems of Organized Crime, Extremism, Terrorism and Corruption and the Fight Against Them in the Republic of Daghestan.” 

Kazak told Caucasian Knot on July 10 that the Interior Ministry probe of the state broadcaster’s activities, which began two days earlier, focused on the accounts and personnel departments, and that the police officers involved were making every effort to proceed with maximum correctness.

Chernovik correspondent Magomed Magomedov opined that Kazak must have received prior approval from a senior republican official for his overt criticism of the Interior Ministry. At the same time, he expressed doubt that Abdulatipov has any interest in direct criticism of minister Magomedov, who has served in that post since August 2010. If that is indeed the case, giving the green light for Kazak’s whistle-blowing programs may have been intended as a warning to Abdurashid Magomedov to take steps to curb the excesses of his more gung-ho subordinates. 


Georgian Parliament Votes On Interior Ministry Reform

Georgian Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri

Liz Fuller

One of the campaign pledges of the Georgian Dream (KO) coalition in the run-up to the 2012 parliamentary elections was to split up the country’s hugely powerful Interior Ministry, abolishing some departments and separating the security and intelligence bodies that had been subsumed into the Interior Ministry in 2004.

 

On July 3, 2015, almost three years after the election victory that brought KO to power, lawmakers passed on the second reading a package of legislative amendments that provide for the creation by August 1 of a new State Security Service with responsibility for counterterrorism, counterintelligence, electronic surveillance, and anticorruption measures.

 

Announcing the proposed reform to parliament two months ago, Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri said it will “provide for the deconcentration of excessive power within [a single ministry] and will have a positive effect on the efficient protection of human rights.”

 

More Reforms To Come?

 

Deputy Interior Minister Levan Izoria subsequently explained that the decoupling of the security and intelligence bodies constitutes just the beginning of a more extensive process of institutional reform within both the Interior Ministry and the security service.

 

Civil society and human rights groups have nonetheless expressed concern about individual  provisions of the draft amendments, as have some lawmakers from the Republican Party and other members of KO. They point to the apparent duplication of some duties, given that in addition to its intelligence-gathering and analytical functions, the Security Service will also be empowered to launch its own investigations and detain suspects, hitherto the preserve of the police.

 

Those groups had earlier criticized the Georgian authorities’ failure to solicit the input of “independent experts” in drafting the legislative amendments. 

 

They also registered alarm over the retention of the Soviet-era practice whereby the Interior Ministry maintains a network of agents within strategic institutions such as the public broadcaster and the communications regulatory commission.

 

Deputy Interior Minister Levan IzoriaDeputy Interior Minister Levan Izoria
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Deputy Interior Minister Levan Izoria
Deputy Interior Minister Levan Izoria

The Interior Ministry initially argued vehemently against abolishing that function. But in response to criticism from the Republicans, the wording of the amendments was fine-tuned to make the procedure “far more transparent and in line with international practice, according to Izoria.

 

Specifically, a government decree will stipulate norms and procedures required to protect security and data at “high-risk” state and private entities, which in turn will conclude a formal contract with the State Security Service. 

 

Some lawmakers still say those changes do not go far enough. Parliamentarians from the former ruling United National Movement voted against the amendments, as did the Free Democrats, who quit Georgian Dream in November 2014. Major revisions of the wording during the third and final reading are not permitted.

 

The new State Security Service will have a staff of 4,000 and be funded this year from the Interior Ministry budget. Its head, who may not be a member of any political party, will be selected by the prime minister and approved by parliament by a minimum of 76 votes in favor. He will serve a single six-year term.

 

How the ongoing reform process will impact on the day-to-day duties of Interior Ministry personnel, some of whom are reportedly apprehensive at the implications, is not clear.

 

Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, who as then-interior minister reaffirmed in late 2012 KO’s commitment to the proposed division of the Interior Ministry, assured his former subordinates a month ago that the authorities “will not do anything that could weaken the country.”

 

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.