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.
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.