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Moscow Times
October 5, 2009
Chubais Blamed for Dam Disaster
By Alex Anishyuk and Alexandra Odynova

Anatoly Chubais, the former CEO of Unified Energy System, tops a list of six officials accused of neglect and making bad decisions in a much-anticipated report on the cause of the August dam disaster that killed 75 people.

The report, released Saturday by the industrial safety watchdog after a monthlong delay, says Chubais was among the six officials “conductive to the disaster” at the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydropower station on Aug. 17.

The report also blames TGK-1 CEO Boris Vainzikher and Valentin Stafiyevsky, head of RusHydro’s southern division, as well as former Energy Minister Igor Yusufov, former Deputy Energy Minister Vyacheslav Sinyugin and Anatoly Dyakov, who headed a commission that launched the dam in 2000.

The 141-page report directly links Chubais to the accident because he signed off on documents approving its launch in 2000. At the time, Chubais headed UES, the state electricity monopoly that he finished dismantling last year.

“Under order No. 690 dated Dec. 13, 2000, … UES chairman Anatoly Chubais approved the act of the central commission to launch the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydropower complex without a comprehensive evaluation of the data on Sayano-Shushenskaya’s operations,” says the report by the Federal Inspection Service for the Environment and Technology.

Chubais, who is widely disliked among Russians for his role as the architect of Russian privatizations in the 1990s and now heads state-run Rusnano, confirmed that he had signed the documents in 2000. “I’m responsible for everything that took place in the field during my time in office,” Chubais said in a statement posted on his official web site late Saturday.

He said the plant had already been working for 20 years when he signed the papers, adding that officials had been forced to take many risks in 2000 because of a lack of money. He said waiting for funds to replace ­crucial equipment at the plant would have “meant a catastrophe for the economy of Siberia and millions of residents there.”

It was not immediately clear why Chubais had issued the order so many years after the RusHydro-run plant actually began operating.

Saturday’s report also accuses 19 people of failing in their duties to prevent accidents at the plant, including Vasily Zubakin, the acting chairman of RusHydro’s executive management board; Alexander Toloshinov, who headed the plant from 2002 to 2006; and Nikolai Nevolko, who headed the plant when the disaster occurred in August and currently works as Zubakin’s adviser.

The report, however, promises not to have a decisive impact on the official investigation into the disaster.

“Investigators can take into consideration the commission’s conclusions, but only checks ordered in the course of the official investigation will be decisive in the case,” a law enforcement source told Interfax on Sunday.

The industrial watchdog’s chief, Nikolai Kutin, also voiced caution about whether his report might lead to any criminal charges.

“Our state is a democratic one, and therefore it is the court that defines who is guilty,” he told reporters Saturday. “For our part, we study the technical causes of the accident that were in the making for a long time, and that is why you will find a relatively large number of names, both from the plant management and RusHydro, as well as senior officials who made decisions affecting the stability and security of the plant’s operation.”

None of the officials mentioned in the report had resigned or been dismissed as of Sunday evening.

Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko, who is also chairman of RusHydro’s board of directors, told reporters Saturday that he would shuffle the staff at RusHydro but Zubakin, the acting chairman of the executive management board, was not to blame for the disaster.

The head of a group representing relatives of those who died in the accident, Nikolai Zholob, criticized the report as incomplete, saying at least 30 officials should be named as responsible, Ekho Moskvy radio reported.

RusHydro officials and other people named in the report could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Kutin also described in detail what had happened the day of the accident. He said part of a turbine unit weighing 1,500 tons had flown 14 meters into the air after the screws holding it down had come loose, causing flooding and debris that killed dozens of workers in seconds.

He said Sunday on Vesti state television that his watchdog would finish inspecting the country’s hydropower plants in November, a probe ordered by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin shortly after the accident.

Several electricity analysts declined to comment on the accident report Sunday, saying it was more about politics than the power sector.

Stanislav Belkovsky, a one-time Kremlin insider who works at the Institute for National Strategy think tank, said he agreed with the conclusions of the investigation but doubted any officials would face trial.

He added that the accusations against Chubais suggested that a struggle had broken out for control of the hydropower sector. “The real goal behind the accusations is not to blame everything on Chubais again but to reduce the influence of his team over the hydropower sector,” he said.

He speculated that Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and RusAl owner Oleg Deripaska might be on one side, and among the close allies of Chubais whose influence was in the balance was Sinyugin, the former deputy energy minister who now oversees hydropower in the Energy Ministry.

“Although Deripaska and Sechin are not close friends, their interests meet here,” he said. “They both would like to get hold of hydropower. Sechin wants to control RusHydro, while Deripaska wants to get additional leverage to provide cheaper energy for his plants and also get access to new investment projects.”

Irina Khakamada, a former State Duma deputy who coheaded the Union of Right Forces party together with Chubais in 2001, said she also saw Sechin’s hand in the report.

“The investigation was guided by Sechin, and it is known that Chubais and Sechin are rivals,” she said.

Khakamada stressed that there was a difference between being named as a responsible party in the report and being called guilty.

Calls to Sechin’s office and RusAl were not immediately answered Sunday.

Communist and Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers harshly criticized Chubais on Sunday.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, said Chubais and the other five officials should be relieved of their current duties, charged and jailed. “As for Chubais, he will do the same things at Rusnano that he did as the head of UES,” Zhirinovsky said on Ekho Moskvy.

Communist Duma Deputy Sergei Obukhov said the report backed his party’s belief that Chubais was to blame. “His reformation of the electricity sector broke the system,” he said by telephone.

Chubais, 54, has been blamed for problems before. As the minister in former President Boris Yeltsin’s government responsible for state property, he supervised the shady privatizations that saw key state enterprises sold for kopeks to well-connected businessmen in the 1990s.

Later as Kremlin chief of staff, he helped engineer Yeltsin’s re-election campaign in 1996 but once again found himself in the middle of a scandal when campaign staff were detained attempting to smuggle $538,000 in cash in a box out of the White House. A re-elected Yeltsin dismissed Chubais from his new post as finance minister in 1997 for receiving with four other officials an advance payment of $90,000 from a publishing house to write a book titled “The History of Russian Privatization.”

During his stint at UES from 1998 to 2008, Chubais was questioned by prosecutors over a major blackout that left part of Moscow and its neighboring regions without electricity for hours on May 25, 2005.

Saturday’s report is likely to add to the public’s dislike of Chubais. Chubais survived an assassination attempt in 2005 that prosecutors have blamed on nationalists.

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