Hennadiy Trukhanov. Photo: nv.ua
Odesa is not only the “Pearl of the Black Sea” with sun and beaches. In the city downtown, one can also find protesters’ tents in front of the local city council. Rarely do sessions of the city administration headed by mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov pass quietly.
In fact, the key reason that regularly prompts activists to take to the streets of Odesa is the mayor himself, who is a former member of the Party of Regions, elected to the current post in May 2014 and re-elected in fall of 2015.
Looking at Trukhanov’s Facebook page, one may think that he lives the life of an honest and responsible official; awarding talented school graduates with commemorative watches bearing city symbols or handing over apartments to large families.
However, let’s leave alone the virtual Truknhanov and talk with Odesa activists who can tell how the mayor earns on parking lots and never-ending reconstructions through shell companies.
Once we start inquiring about the mayor from international investigative journalistic teams, we find out that Trukhanov’s past is connected to the international drug and weapon business. Moreover, quite recently he became the subject of a global investigation regarding Panama offshore companies. These documents confirmed that Trukhanov is a holder of a Russian passport [illegal by Ukrainian law]. This available information should be sufficient to not just dismiss Trukhanov from his post, but also to take him to court. However, the dirt that has been dug up has not affected his position at all – he continues sitting in the mayor’s chair quite confidently.
“Trukhanov obtained a carte blanche to rule the place in exchange to his resisting separatism in Odessa,” says odesite Arkadiy Topov, a member of the Democratic Alliance party, who deals with monitoring corruption risks. This opinion is supported by other opponents to the mayor.
On the day of the scheduled city council session on 30 June 2016, Novoye Vremya witnessed around 200 activists carrying Democratic Alliance, Syla Lyudei, and Svoboda party flags who were voicing their protest against Trukhanov’s policy next to the city council walls. Around a hundred members of law enforcement including policemen and national guards surrounded the building. Activists accompanied by songs pounding from loudspeakers were chanting slogans “Down with Gena!” and tried to break through the cordon to enter the session resulting in clashes with security forces. Luckily none was seriously injured.
The previous day, Trukhanov held a special undeclared session. With the prevailing number of 51 out of 64 possible votes, the deputies lowered urban land rental rate evaluation parameters from 600 to 403 UAH per square meter. Anti-corruption activists are convinced that in reality the land has not become cheaper and now more rent and sales money will go into the pockets of officials headed by the mayor via kickbacks.
However, on June 30, when outraged fighters against corruption gathered under the windows of his administration, Trukhanov started the City Council sitting with a neutral issue of heating systems, saying that the city administration had been looking for investors for two years, but failed to find any so far.
The mayor’s opponents assume that he was looking at the wrong place: just half an hour later he commanded to place UAH 300 mn of budget surplus in a bank deposit. On the whole, the city has 600 million UAH of free funds as a result of performance above target, but Truhanov still continues looking for creditors.
In the city council, the mayor feels like a duck in water – while hundreds of his opponents protest in the streets, inside the city council his opposition is next to none. His own fraction Doviriai Spravam has 27 seats. Another 12 belong to Trukhanov’s friendly Opposition Bloc. The Odesa department of Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc (BPP) also has 12 seats. Just on June 30, the BPP lent its support to the mayor in 85 out of 86 cases, with dozens of land sale and lease decisions being adopted in a package in each case.
It did not take too long for the deputies to adopt the documents regarding road repair and it is important for the mayor because after his coming to power, the city expenses for this budget item have grown disproportionately to the budget increase. The majority of tenders for streets modernization go to the company Rost. Rost is owned by Trukhanov himself via Virgin Islands companies Macon Assets Ltd, Corderoy Trading Ltd, along with other offshores. This information became available thanks to the leak of Panama offshore documents registrar Mossack Fonseca, published by an international team of investigative reporters in April 2016 year.
George Schumacher, a deputy of Trukhanov’s fraction, prior to being elected to the City Council where he is actively engaged in budget issues, was heading Rost. He is also a shareholder in Virgin offshores. Another Rost shareholder is Oleksandr Zhukov, the legend of the Odesa criminal world and currently a resident of London and father-in-law of the famous Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.
Last year, Rost won tenders for UAH 150mn, this year – already 370mn. This group competes with other companies run by its former employees and people close to Trukhanov at the auctions. Thus, quite a large share of procurement belongs to the Autostroi company headed by Viktor Gnezdilov, former Thai boxing coach, who is close to the Odessa mayor via this sports federation, headed by the mayor himself.
Building sand is procured from the Squo company controlled by Trukhanov’s daughter Katherine.
Rost’s direct competitor is the state-owned Odesa Oblavtodor which is practically not involved in tenders, but when it wins, it orders construction from the same Rost.
And that’s not all. Trukhanov started forcing entrepreneurs who rent or own façade buildings to lay tiles in front of their buildings. Trukhanov showed his personal example by laying tiles in front of the sections of municipal buildings. However, according to the Anti-Corruption Office in Odesa, the city council, buys tiles for the price of 600, 800 or even 2,000 UAH per square meter, while the market price does not exceed UAH 200.
Moreover, the head of the local anti-corruption office Oleksiy Chornyi told that the city council rents most of Odesa parking lots with the discount of 60-90%, and among the tenants are notable sports clubs, controlled by Trukhanov himself.
Entrepreneurs turn to him regarding fees for various services on behalf of the city council, like placing auto coffee-shops in the streets of the city for UAH 500 per year as a bribe, or restaurant tables on the sidewalk for around UAH 50,000 per season. “If all the charges, and that is almost UAH 5 bn, went to the Odesa budget, it could be three to four times bigger,” concluded Chornyi.
Businessmen are extremely cautious when commenting on Trukhanov’s activities, and they have their reasons for it.
Irina Soloviova, who is that owner of 6 tailoring repairs and key cutting stalls protested against the aggressive attitude of the city administration towards business. As a result, unknowns burned her Volkswagen Passat CC. Even the fact that the parking was guarded did not help. She also received direct threats to her life.
Most of all Soloviova resented the fact that the city council ordered those who wanted to put a stall to obtain special permission from the Office of Consumer Market Development Management. This is despite the fact that the Cabinet of Ministers requires only two documents for placing stalls: a passport from the Department of Architecture and agreement with the land property owner.
It is impossible to obtain permission from the Department of Consumer Market honestly, said Soloviova. “Some person came over to pay on the spot in order to get the necessary document. Officials are not afraid of anything and simply typed the amount on a calculator,” she said.
Soloviova has gathered around herself a group of businessmen and held several briefings for the press. Then vice-mayor Oles Yanchuk, who manages the stalls sector, opened a separate consulting agency on Pushkin Street, which officially received payment for the desired permit in the city council. The mayor’s office itself does not issue such documents, finding many reasons for it.
The person from the wicked 90’s
Trukhanov’s past looks even more exciting than his present.
An internal report of Italian police dated 1998, quoted by the American Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, listed Trukhanov as a member of the Alexander Angert (nicknamed Angel) criminal group along with Leonid Minin. According to the police, the group was engaged in collecting taxes from the oil trade and was also involved in the cocaine business. As for Minin, he cashed in on the illegal sale of Russian weapons to Africa. This discovery was even covered in the reputable British newspaper The Guardian.
Trukhanov was Minin’s security guard, says Oleksandr Sibirtsev, an Odesa journalist who specializes in criminal issues In 1992, the 27-year old Trukhanov retired from the army holding the rank of captain and made friends with Angert and Zhukov. They put him in charge of the security company Kapitan, said Sibirtsev and that was the beginning of the future mayor’s career. “If you have ever been seriously engaged in criminal activities, then you can’t just get out of this circle,” emphasized the journalist. “However Angel and Zhukov are not engaged in criminal life anymore, they have already legalized themselves as businessmen. So Truhanov just continues to listen to them as chiefs ”
In the Panamanian offshore documents, Trukhanov’s Russian passport was found. In response, the mayor of Odesa posted in social networks a reference received from the Russian consulate in Odesa stating that he was not a citizen of Russia. The SBU later reported back that it found no proof of his having a Russian passport either.
To add to the murkiness of the situation, the Italian police report also indicated Trukhanov had a Greek passport in the name of Hennadios Ozopulosa, which he used while traveling in Europe.
Novoye Vremya attempted to check the information regarding the past and present of the Odesa mayor from the town governor himself but failed. Repeated requests for an interview with Truhanov were ignored, and his phone remained silent.
A suitable figure
Despite the scandalous reputation, Trukhanov has robust support from two key forces – the support among voters in Odesa and the Kyiv authorities.
Having become a deputy of the Ukrainian parliament in 2012 and having the support of the residents of the largest and poorest district of Odesa, he confidently won the mayoral elections in 2014. One year later, he repeated the success, taking 51.3% of the vote.
Trukhanov’s success in Odesa can be explained by the crisis of leaders, explains Anatoliy Boiko, the head of the Odesa branch of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine. “It is clear and comfortable for the Odesites who wanted to be sure that the mayor would not be guided by the requirements of Maidan,” said the expert.
However, after a series of revelatory materials, Trukhanov’s rating has dropped to 30%, according to Gennadiy Chyzhov, a political expert who monitors the situation in Odessa. But this is still potentially good enough to win the next elections, which can take place in 2017, according to the Rada’s new amendments.
It would be possible to remove the mayor if the Ukrainian Rada has the nerve to investigate his past and present misdemeanors, say anti-corruption office representatives. For instance, if he was charged for economic crimes in the sphere of local purchases.
During the period Prosecutor Davit Sakvarelidze headed the Odesa Oblast prosecutor’s office, there were several investigations against Trukhanov. However, as soon as the President controlled Prosecutor General removed Sakvarelidze, all the investigations regarding the mayor came to a standstill.
The failure of Government in Kyiv to resolve the Odesa issue prompts Anti-Corruption office leader Oleksiy Chornyi to assume that the president and the mayor hold a secret non-aggression pact.
“In 2015, Trukhanov agreed with Poroshenko through the president’s party member [odessite Alexei] Goncharenko that he would not be removed, possibly in return for his promise not to allow the creation of an “ONR” [“Odesa People’s Republic,” a Russian-promoted separatist project similar to the Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics” – Ed]. Poroshenko supposedly saw no alternative to Truhanov, so the bet was placed on him,” concludes Chornyi.