Russia charges ex-nuclear director with fraud
Russia on Wednesday announced the arrest of one its most senior former nuclear officials for allegedly pocketing state research grants and stealing other people's work off the Internet.
It was the second major corruption case to strike Russia’s nuclear industry since the head of what was then known as the atomic energy ministry was arrested on US money laundering charges in 2005.
An urgent reform of the powerful lobby led to the creation of what is today Rosatom — a state nuclear corporation that oversees Russia’s web of Soviet-era reactors and secret research institutes.
But Rosatom officials said they were still sweeping ranks to this day and on Wednesday announced the arrest of former deputy general director Yevgeny Yevstratov and his team of radiation safety technicians.
“Instead of doing their own research, the corporation’s employees downloaded scientific material off the Internet and pretended this was their own know-how,” said the interior ministry’s economic crimes chief Denis Sugrobov.
“And they pocketed the money,” Sugrobov told the RIA Novosti news agency.
Yevstratov was charged with embezzling 50 million rubles ($1.8 million/1.3 million euros) in state assistance and taking another 60 million rubles his team was supposed to have spent on a project involved in eliminating spent nuclear fuel.
He could spend up to 10 years in jail if convicted after being fired without an explanation less than four months ago.
“None of this is very surprising,” said Rosatom spokesman Sergei Novikov.
“These arrests were made with the help of our own investigation,” Novikov told AFP.
Rosatom was first plagued by controversy just under a decade ago when the US Department of Energy complained about the disappearance of $9 million it had assigned for Russian nuclear security measures.
Former atomic energy chief Yevgeny Adamov was arrested in Switzerland and convicted in Moscow three years later before quickly having that ruling overturned.
The Rosatom spokesman said the agency’s fight against corruption had since gone on “continually” and that more than 30 top executives were dismissed for graft last year.
“We have given the law enforcement authorities details about nine (corruption) cases in the first six months of the year alone,” Novikov said.
The agency has been working especially hard to polish its image in the wake of the earthquake in Japan that damaged the Fukushima plant and renewed world doubts about the merits of nuclear power.
Yevstratov’s agency was responsible for certifying equipment and making sure that each of the hundreds of Rosatom facilities operated at safe radiation levels.
President Dmitry Medvedev’s modernisation drive has been battling the waste and inefficiency characteristic of some of Russia’s largest enterprises.
Rosatom’s Public Council oversight body member Sergei Kuznetsov said he was not too surprised to hear about the arrest because Yevstratov rarely came up with new ideas.
“There are certain websites … that regularly ran articles related to what he did,” the Rosatom Public Council member told the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily.