Public Transport as a Private Money Machine

In Syktyvkar – the capital of the Russian region Komi – the largest company  in local public transport, Alpha-Trans, went bankrupt. That’s what happens in a market economy. Or is it?

The journalist Maxim Poliakov took a closer look and found an interesting scheme, where the busses transported money directly into the pockets of a small circle of businessmen and politicians.

He published his findings in the article  “Alpha (in a ) Trance. Who Is Making a Profit out off Syktyvar’s Public Transportation?” in the 7×7 journal on October 28, 2015.

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Land Scandals in Pskov’s Border District

The properties around Lake Peipus in the Pskov district are attractive. Who gets them? Reporter Maksim Andreev took a closer look in this investigation.

The distribution of land along the shore of Lake Peipus in the Gdovsk District of Russia’s Pskov Province is the topic for Maksim Andreev’s investigation. In his project the reporter found out how, to whom, and under what circumstances elite properties were handed out. The situation surrounding the gratuitous distribution of land along the shores of Lake Peipus has already been brought to the attention of law enforcement.

In 2013, a document was passed with the name of “The Status of the Order to Hand Out Land from the Fund for Redistribution of Land Belonging to the Gdovsk District Municipality, to Companies and Individual Enterprises for the Purpose of Agricultural Production.” The gist of it is simple: companies and individual enterprises interested in taking up agriculture in the municipality’s territory can receive free unclaimed land previously belonging to kolkhozi, collective farms. But in practice, the properties are located on the coast of Lake Peipus were never used for agricultural production.

The story is Maksim Andreev’s fourth investigation in the Scoop Russia project. The investigation “A Gdovsk Anomaly” was published in Pskovinform.

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A Cheesy Story about Fake Fat

What goes into Russian cheeses?  One out of three tested cheese brands in Kaliningrad shops contained fat that did not come from milk. That was the result when the journalist Irina Krivonos bought three different cheeses and sent them to two different labs for analysis, one lab in Saint Petersburg and one in Lithuania.

Since the Russian import restrictions, implemented in August 2014, banned the sale of cheese produced abroad, there have been a lot of discussions in Russian media about what to eat. But in Kaliningrad there have been no empty shelves. Irina Krivonos chose two cheese brands made in Kaliningrad, and one imported from the mainland Russia. The two local brands were, according to the lab analysis, made out of milk. But the fat in the “imported” Russian cheese Laskava was not only milk-fat. The test in the Saint Petersburg lab put the level of milk-fat to “not less than 73 percent”, which means 27 percent could be made from other sources than milk. The result was confirmed and clarified by the Lithuanian laboratory, describing the share of non-milk fat as about 8 percent.

A widespread suspicion in Russia is that dairies are cheating customers by adding cheap imported palm oil in the cheeses. Wether the found non-milk fat consist of palm oil or any other vegetable fat, was impossible to find out in the lab analysis.

The story was published in Dvornik on December 22, 2015.

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Trust! That is What Sausages Are Made Of

How much meat does one find in the sausage? Anastasia Drozdova from Kaliningrad decided to investigate the quality of the locally produced sausages for her newspaper “Novy Karavan”. The reason is obvious.

Meat production in the region is not sufficient to cover the needs of the manufacturers of meat products. In the past, a lot of meat was imported.

A few years ago, a meat import was significantly reduced due to concerns for African swine fever . Then the economical sanctions hit Russia, and Russia answered with a ban on import of meat from the EU.

So what do sausage makers put in their products? Internal organs? Blood protein? Water? Soya beans? Anastasia Drozdova decided to find it out.

The result was – not satisfying: it is impossible to measure the meat content in the sausages. Local producers claim that their products are of better quality than those produced in the mainland Russia. Drozdova bought locally produced sausages in the store and sent it to three different laboratories for analysis.This is the story of her findings.

The article was published November 24th 2015 in Novy Karavan. Continuation of the story will be published later.

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Information on Land Allocation Evaporated

The former mayor of the Russian city of Syktyvkar, Ivan Pozdeev, has been arrested, suspected of abuse of power and embezzlement. But what has happened to the documentation?

Reporter Ekaterina Klepikovskaya tried to find out what the former mayor had actually done, and she realized that it’s almost impossible to find information on the allocation of land plots in the capital of the region Komi. Authorities also tried – unsuccesfully – to stop her research.

Her article was published 28th of October 2015 on the website komionline.

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Imprisoned by a Railroad Track

A small residential area in the Karelian village of Chalna has been cut off from the rest of the village for almost four years, because the railroad company without any warning closed a crossing and thus blocked the only road. Residents had to park at the tracks and carry all all supplies to their homes.

To add insult to injury authorities also stopped gas for heating. Residents tried all options to get the crossing open or a new small road and met a bureaucracy that would have amazed even Kafka.

The reporter Marina Bedorfas interviewed all parties involved and accompanied the residents, when they met authoritie. Finally, this summer a primitive road was constructed.

The text was published 1st of December 2015 in the 7×7 journal.

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Cultural Heritage or a Worthless Shack?

Almost 50 of the 150 old wooden houses in Vologda have been destroyed in the last two decades.

The reporter Irina Kazankina in her article ‘Without Helms’ explains what happened to one of these –  a very beautiful example of traditional building style in this  Russian town: A house with two floors on Prechistenskaya Embankment 18. It was built more than 100 years ago by a merchant  by the name of Sveshnikov and had the status of architectural landmark. But one hot summer day it burned down within a few minutes…

The article was published in Russian on 13th of November 2015.

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Insurance Companies Try to Outfox the Law

In Russia as in other countries car insurance is obligatory. But what do you do, when the insurance companies refuse to sell policies?

If you are a taxi driver this  destroys your business. And why do they refuse to sell? After all, insurance rates are skyrocketing. Sergei Markelov tried to sort things out in the article ‘A Policy of Reinsurance’, published 12th of November 2015.

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Putting a Name on the Lords of the Land

What happened with the land of Zaytsev Collective Farm after it was reorganized in 1992? In the story “Land on Paper”, investigative reporter Anna Yarovaya dug into the privatization procedures of state agricultural enterprises that happened in Karelia like everywhere else after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Anna Yarovaya investigated how and by whom hectares of land were obtained. Today the companies’ holders who own these territories are well-known Karelian residents. The role of Victor Maslyakov – ex-head of the Federal Forestry Agency and the mayor of Petrozavodsk – was also established.

The story is Anna Yarovaya’s third investigation in the Scoop Russia project. She is also a trainer and a coordinator in the project.

The investigation “Land on Paper” was published at the Interregional Online Web-Journal 7×7.

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VIPs Own Illegal Summer Houses on the Curonian Spit

The Curonian Spit in Kaliningrad is listed as a World Heritage Site and a national park. Nevertheless, investigative reporter Nikita Kuzmin found about 100 buildings, that were supposedly guest houses, cottages, hotels or recreational and medical facilities, but in reality were serving as exclusive summer houses for private persons.

Five years ago there was a campaign, run by the management of the National Park, to prosecute those who had illegally built summerhouses on the Curonian Spit. Today we can see demolition ordered by the court for only two of the buildings. All the other will continue to serve as someone’s summer paradise also this year. The journalist found the reason. The owners are famous businessmen, politicians and other VIP from the region.

Nikita Kuzmin made last year his third investigation in the Scoop Russia project. He is also a trainer in the project and the editor of the newspaper Dvornik and contributing editor of the regional news website in Kaliningrad, Russia.

Read the investigation in Rugrad and in Dvornik.

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