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Press Release on visit to Penal Colony No. 25

27 February 2013

Press release by observer group of Chelyabinsk region Public Oversight Commission under leadership of Nikolai Shchur (D. Latypova, V. Prikhodkina, N. Shchur and T. Shchur) 

We were not originally intending to publish a press release about our visit to Penal Colony No. 25: it was a regular, scheduled inspection, there had been no complaints from the colony for a long time, nor any negative comments from relatives or other penal colonies, so we thought we'd just go there, take a look round and write up our visit, but we saw no need to issue a press release. However, circumstances have forced us to change our minds. 

On the evening before our visit we received a phone call from a well-known media outlet: 

    "Are you going to Penal Colony No. 25 tomorrow to dig up some dirt?" 
    "What? We're going there on a scheduled inspection, what do you mean dig up some dirt? 
    "What do I mean? On the fire trucks of course!" 
    "What fire trucks?" 
    "You don't know?! The colony has received a government order for fire trucks worth almost half a billion roubles!" 
    "What are you talking about? So why is that reason for a scandal?" 
    "We'll call you straight back." 

They did not call back. 

Instead of the press we did receive a call almost immediately from the Chief Directorate of the Federal Penitentiary Service. 

    "Are you going to Zlatoust tomorrow because of the fire trucks?" 
    "Why are you all obsessed with these fire trucks?" 

It was starting to get interesting. 

So when we arrive at the penal colony we see that the entire yard of the colony is covered in.... fire trucks. What is going on? We did not get to meet the colony leadership but a colonel from the Chief Directorate of the Federal Penitentiary Service said: "We're making fire trucks there!" 

Since these trucks were of no real interest to us (we have a strict plan for what we look at during our inspections: working conditions, pay, healthcare, punishment cells...) we got down to work. 

The penal colony is quiet, there are just over half the number of prisoners as the prison has capacity for so there's lots of room, and only a few of the inmates are involved in the production process, just one in seven. And the actual production, if you can call it that – two working machines in the whole colony (and they are sawing machines), not counting the grinding machine which is used to sand down the burrs from the roughcast, the dozen or so sewing machines and the closed furniture section. And that's all, none of it really doing very much. 

The manager is talking to us - but how they are welding the truck tanks here? I could not resist asking: "Where do you carry out the welding? You just have an empty workshop, your welding equipment is an electric household welder, and the bending machine you showed us is rusty, covered in dust and can't bend sheet metal, where are the cylinder tanks? What are you really up to?" Okay, you bend the cylindrical part (I still don't understand how and on what?), and where do you press the bedplates? "We can't do bedplates, we buy them in. Then we do the welding," the colonel / manager replies. I suddenly remember how in Soviet times the scientist Borys Paton was awarded the Lenin Prize for installing large-diameter pipes for welding (think cylinder tank) – why were they given if a prisoner using a triple electrode can do an entire side in one go with a ???? "We do welding," the manager insists. "And I'm the Pope," I think to myself. 

Afterwards, as we were signing the certificate in the head's office, we were given a memorandum (which we didn't ask for) about these fire trucks – a very unusual document, let me add – just right for Navalny. I especially liked this part: 

"Due to the deadlines for fulfilling the government contract and the need to use up all the budget allocations for 2012 on the purchase of fire trucks in accordance with the requirements of the legislation of the Russian Federation (The Budget Code of the Russian Federation) by the end of 2012, the bulk of the development of the fire trucks has been handed over to OJSC Prioritet. In addition, the production of parts and components in the Technical Certification and Education Centre of Penal Colony No. 25 will not be possible in 2013 because of the completion of all offset costs, including on salaries and the formation of the balance sheet for 2012 as of 1 March 2013." 

In case this is unclear to anyone, I'll explain. 

The Chief Directorate of the Federal Penitentiary Service for Chelyabinsk, through whatever connections it has, got hold of a government contract to produce 100 fire engines. The government order, according to the document, is worth 410,154,100 roubles, so in other words one fire engine will cost us, the taxpayer, 4,101,540 roubles. 

So that they didn't have to hold a tender, the Chief Directorate of the Federal Penitentiary Service placed this order with its Penal Colony No. 25 in Zlatoust, which, as we saw, is not capable of so much as assembling a screwdriver, let alone manufacturing motor vehicles: it has neither the physical workforce (we were also shown the certificate detailing the available professions) nor equipment. That is why the colony says: "Hey guys, we have to balance our books by 1 March, so we can't assemble the trucks and so we have to give the task of assembling them to someone else, the government order has to be fulfilled after all." And everything is handed over to OJSC Prioritet, who swoops to the rescue like a guardian angel. (The company's calendar hangs on the wall of every office in the penal colony.) 

I picked up the phone and called this company up. I simply wanted to know how much it cost them to produce a fire truck, turnkey ready. They replied: "It depends on the configuration, but it'll set you back about 3.5 million tops, there's no surcharges on top of that, we're not a showroom." 

Without having to resort to advanced mathematics I make out that the "split" ("bribe," "margin," "kickback," call it what you will) comes to 600,000 roubles per truck. If you want you can convert that into dollars, and then multiply it by 100 (there are 100 fire engines). Or you could multiply it by 3 times 100 since there is talk that if this order "goes well" there will be another one, this time for 300 trucks. 

I finally understood what the media and even the Chief Directorate of the Federal Penitentiary Service, who sent along the colonel to talk to us, were getting so excited about. And we like idiots were just going there to inspect our punishment cells... 

Incidentally, the punishment cells and everything else were all in good order. Or that is nearly all in good order: in some cells it was stuffy, in some cells it was damp, privacy was not always respected in the latrines, but what is all that compared to those millions of dollars, if you do the right multiplications? 

Nikolai Shchur, 
Chelyabinsk region Public Oversight Commission