For the second time in less than five years, a mayor of Daghestan's capital, Makhachkala, has been detained over a suspected criminal offense.
Police detained 51-year-old Musa Musayev on January 19 following searches of his home and office. Investigators allege that he illegally transferred over 81 million rubles' worth of land in Makhachkala to a public company for a paltry 1.1 million rubles ($19,427) in March 2016.
Musayev has already categorically rejected the anticipated charge against him of inflicting serious damage on the republic's budget by exceeding his authority.
"I have done nothing over the past 2 1/2 years except try to serve my people and fatherland," the independent daily Chernovik quoted him as saying after a court hearing on January 21 at which the judge remanded him in custody for 10 days.
Russian and Daghestani analysts nonetheless see Musayev's detention as the first move in a sweeping and systematic purge of senior officials suspected of corruption that has been expected since October, when Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed Vladimir Vasilyev, the former head of the United Russia State Duma faction, as acting republic head in place of Ramazan Abdulatipov.
Daghestan has long been a byword for endemic official corruption, possibly explaining why, in one of his first addresses to the regional parliament, former police Colonel General Vasilyev singled out as one of his most important priorities ensuring that the organs of state power in Daghestan revert to functioning within the law.
Musayev has degrees in finance and law. Over the past two decades, he has worked in the republican Finance Ministry (headed at that time by Abdusamad Gamidov, now acting prime minister) and in the Makhachkala municipal-finance department under Mayor Said Amirov, who is now serving a life sentence on charges of terrorism and commissioning contract killings. In September 2013, Abdulatipov named Musayev minister of construction, architecture, and housing, and in July 2015 acting Makhachkala mayor.
Shortly after he was confirmed as mayor in October 2015, Musayev vowed to transform the city completely within three years. The population of Makhachkala has doubled, from 350,000 to 700,000, since the late 1990s, but the provision of housing and municipal services has failed to keep pace with that expansion. The shortfall was met in part by the construction of illegal apartments blocks, often on land acquired illegally.
Musayev began his tenure as mayor by cracking down on such irregularities, announcing in September 2015 that he had already annulled 200-300 mayoral decisions made in violation of regulations on the sale and lease of municipally owned land. But it is unclear whether any further action was taken: In October 2016, Chernovik challenged Musayev to specify how many illegally constructed buildings had actually been demolished. Musayev countered by accusing the press of focusing exclusively on negative phenomena while failing to praise such initiatives as the planting of new flowerbeds.
Musayev's performance as mayor drew criticism in other respects, too. The municipal budget deficit increased to the point that, in Musayev's words, the city was on the verge of default. Provision of such elementary services as public transport, garbage collection, and clearing snow from the streets went by the board. In December 2016, Abdulatipov told Musayev outright he was not satisfied with the way Makhachkala was run and demanded the dismissal of its three district mayors. By early 2017, Musayev ranked last in a rating of mayors of the capitals of Russia's 88 federation subjects.
At that juncture, Abdulatipov had already warned Musayev that he would be fired if he failed to improve the provision of basic municipal services, the news portal Caucasian Knot reported in February.
Musayev's professional reputation was dealt a further blow by a high-profile court case involving his son Badrudin. In September 2017, a district court found Badrudin not guilty of assaulting and injuring a police officer who detained him after a minor traffic accident. The prosecution, which had demanded a five-year prison term, appealed that ruling, and in mid-January 2018 Daghestan's Supreme Court annulled it and called for a new investigation.
Rumors that Musayev and other senior municipal officials were suspected of malpractice began circulating in early December; Chernovik on January 19 quoted an unnamed source close to the investigation as saying that the criminal case opened against Musayev "is only the beginning" and that the total number of buildings constructed in Makhachkala in violation of planning regulations was several hundred.
Whether Abdulatipov, who reportedly signed off on the land deal in question and who has publicly spoken up in Musayev's defense, is also under suspicion remains unclear.
Musayev has not yet been formally charged with any crime, but the article of the Criminal Code cited by investigators on causing serious financial damage by exceeding one's official authority carries a possible sentence of up to 10 years.
Nor is the investigation into Musayev's actions likely to remain an isolated case. Just days before he was taken into custody, Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika dispatched to Makhachkala a group of 38 federal prosecutors. Three of them, according to journalist Milrad Fatullayev, will assess the performance of the Makhachkala municipal authorities. According to Vasilyev, they will focus not only on suspected illegal sales of land but also on security problems, the energy sector (the city owes billions of rubles in unpaid gas bills), reactions to residents' complaints, and wage arrears. The other investigators, Fatullayev told Caucasian Knot, have been tasked with investigating the state of affairs in various republican ministries.