When Putin ordered up new hospitals, his associates botched the operation

MEDICAL KIT: A new hospital in Perm, some 1,150 km (720 miles) east of Moscow, pictured in January. The facility, opened in February 2012, was part of Moscow’s push to spend more on areas such as health and education. REUTERS/Maxim Kimerling
Comrade Capitalism series, part 2: The president’s allies won contracts to build new medical centres across Russia. They failed, and the project hit $700 million in cost overruns

Русский язык (Russian translation)

PERM, Russia – At the foot of the Ural Mountains stands a symbol of how even the best intentions in Russia can enable well-connected individuals to bleed money from the state. It’s a modern hospital built in this industrial city of a million people, and intended to be a flagship of a grand project to improve the country’s healthcare.

The hospital’s chain-smoking director, Sergei Sukhanov, loves his new facility, the Federal Centre for Cardiovascular Surgery, which has beds for 167 patients. He also admires Russian President Vladimir Putin, who championed the hospital and whose letter of thanks to the surgeon adorns his office.

“It’s a huge gift to the Perm region,” said Sukhanov in his new white office. “It’s like we’ve moved from a one-bedroom apartment to a five-bedroom apartment.”

But a Reuters investigation shows the hospital, and a $1 billion construction project of which it was part, were also business opportunities for Putin’s allies. While it isn’t clear whether they managed to turn a profit, their involvement cost Russian taxpayers dearly.

A previous article detailed how two associates of Putin profited from selling high-tech medical equipment to the Russian state and sent money to Swiss bank accounts linked to the building of a lavish estate near the Black Sea.

Those two men, Nikolai Shamalov and Dmitry Gorelov, also had stakes in two companies that received contracts to build a series of hospitals around Russia. The undertaking later led to accusations of “unjust enrichment” against one of the companies. That company ended up going bust, owing around 860 million roubles ($26 million) to the state. Hundreds of people lost their jobs.

Corporate records show there was another major investor in the two building companies: Rosinvest, a Russian investment firm owned by offshore entities.

In 2010 Sergei Kolesnikov, a businessman who used to work with the two Putin associates, went public with a claim that Rosinvest was ultimately controlled by the Russian leader himself. The role of Rosinvest in Putin’s $1 billion health project, however, hasn’t been previously reported.

Kolesnikov says that Putin owned an offshore entity called Lirus Investment Holding, which had ultimate control of Rosinvest. He told Reuters that he knew this because he “participated in the creation” of Lirus. Lirus was a Liechtenstein company that, he said, was owned through bearer shares – securities that don’t record the name of the owner.

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