Former Minister of Transport Maxim Sokolov, who later became vice-governor of St. Petersburg, gives certain businessmen, to earn money on special conditions. Not without the participation of Sokolov, some businessmen managed to make good money on projects that became a headache for the city authorities for many years to come.
Since the end of February 2021, the Committee for Environmental Management of St. Petersburg has opened public discussions of a large-scale development project for reclamation of territories in the north-western part of Vasilievsky Island (V.O.), as well as the construction of residential complexes, shopping centers and social infrastructure. The hearings were initiated by LLC “Specialized developer“ LSR ”together with Moscow-based LLC“ EcoSky ”. LSR Group acquired the right to reclaim parts of the territories and construction in September 2020 after buying out a plot of 143 hectares from Terra Nova (owned by Sberbank), which is implementing the Marine Facade project. The deal amounted to 2.98 billion rubles and became the largest in the land market over the past few years.
The acquisition by LSR of the site took place under strange circumstances. PJSC Sberbank wanted to sell the asset in the form of Terra Nova due to the large debts of the company. In 2019, the bank announced an auction, setting the initial cost of the lot at 4.5 billion rubles. Applications were accepted until October 18, 2019, and the auction itself was supposed to take place in November. The auction interested all the largest developers of St. Petersburg - PIK, Setl Group, Etalon, FGC and others. But for unexplained reasons, the day before the deadline for accepting bids, the auction was canceled. Investment experts then explained the cancellation of trading by a possible revision of the conditions for the sale of an asset by the bank itself, or by the presence of a player in the market, ready to pay an amount greater than the initial one. But in reality this did not happen, a year later it became known about the redemption of part of the site by LSR for 2.98 billion.
This is hardly a coincidence. Note that the sudden cancellation of the auction took place against the background of discussion of the upcoming changes in the staff of Smolny. In the fall of 2019, they started talking about the fact that Maxim Sokolov, the former head of the Ministry of Transport and at that time the first deputy general director of LSR Group, Andrei Molchanov, could become the vice-governor for investments. Suspicions were strengthened when the ex-minister met with Governor Alexander Beglov in November. The media tried unsuccessfully to find out what the politicians were talking about. Sokolov himself did not disclose the subject of the conversation, but stated that he was a representative of one of the largest developers in the city, which has many interests in St. Petersburg. At that time, "LSR" was already reclaiming territory on the V.O. The ex-minister, as a representative of the company, spoke about the prospect of developing this direction since 2018 and was not going to dwell on the existing project. In December 2019, Sokolov was officially approved as Vice Governor, and in 2020 LSR Group signed a contract with Terra Nova to buy out the site.
In the context of a series of events that have occurred, it cannot be ruled out that Sokolov could use his own status, connections and influence the cancellation of the auction on the eve of his appointment to a new position. For the most part, this could be done in the interests of a group of businessmen - Vitaly Yuzhilin, Andrei Molchanov and Sergei Matvienko, who clearly have their own projects in St. Petersburg and a strong relationship with the current vice-governor since the early 2000s.
"Cash alluvial" at the "Marine Facade"
The Marine Facade project, consisting of the construction of a passenger port and the reclamation of 476 hectares of new territories, began to be implemented in 2005. Its executor was the First Quantum holding and its member companies - LLC "Management Company" Marine Facade "(project management), LLC" PSA "Perspektiva" (licensing, approval and reclamation of territories, a subsidiary of MC "Marine Facade"), JSC " Passenger Port of St. Petersburg ”(the developer of the port itself) and CJSC“ Terra Nova ”(strategic investor, main contractor). According to media reports, the main beneficiary of the work of First Quantum was a businessman and at that time State Duma deputy Vitaly Yuzhilin. Even then, information appeared among developers that Sergei Matvienko could be an interested party in the transaction. He really could provide powerful support, since from 2003 to 2010 he was vice president of the "clan" bank "St. Petersburg", and later became a shareholder of the bank and remains so to this day. In addition, the businessman was respected by the officials of St. Petersburg. "Marine Facade" was one of the many development projects that interested the businessman at that time. At the start of the project, his participation was not advertised. But later, the bank of the ex-governor's son became an official partner of Morskoy Fasad and is still it.
Today, the "secret beneficiary" has become apparent. For 2021, the beneficiary of Lotus Group with the company's assets is Bank Saint Petersburg, whose shareholders include Sergei Matvienko. It is interesting that the hotel in Pavlovsk barracks was never built. Difficulties arose due to the long process of changing the owner and changes in the project documentation. At the moment, a new project from "Studio 44" is undergoing state examination. As a result, a historic building has been idle for 12 years in the city center, which could have brought profit to St. Petersburg in the event of a legitimate competition and the appointment of a reliable investor. Or a cultural monument could become a museum.
But instead it turns out that Sokolov and his partners gave the building to private hands for a pittance? The direct payment under the agreement with the city was only $ 1 million. According to experts, in the event of a sale through an auction, St. Petersburg could receive for the object from 18 to 30 million dollars.
Feudalism on the high road
The surname of Sokolov and his friends continues to figure in urban projects to this day. One of these facilities is the Western High-Speed Diameter (WHSD) highway, a large federal project that dates back to the days of Sokolov's work in the early 2000s in St. Petersburg. Under Governor Matvienko, he launched the early stages of the construction of the highway, and subsequently oversaw the WHSD as Minister of Transport. The concessionaire and operator of all sections of the WHSD road within the framework of a public-private partnership is the Northern Capital Magistral (MCC) company. One of the main partners and co-owners of MCC (50%) are the structures of VTB Bank.
VTB received the status of a strategic investment partner of the city in September 2009, when Maxim Sokolov was still the head of the Investment Committee. Who, if not an official, ensured the favor of the authorities and the compliance of the normative documents on the project with the commercial interests of their friends.
According to the PPP, the city pays the MCC the lost profit from its budget. We are talking about paying the difference between the minimum guaranteed revenue of the concessionaire and the actual collection of money for travel along the WHSD - this is about 3.7 billion to 5.2 billion rubles a year. Every year, the discussion of the city budget in the St. Petersburg Legislative Council and the approval of payments led to a scandal. The deputies criticized Smolny, believing that the concessionaire was already making money, and the city should not compensate for anything. The administration explains this by the fulfillment of the obligations assumed under the agreement. True, we and our colleagues were unable to find the content of this agreement. This circumstance is a subject for criticism. The secret of guaranteed profits laid down by the concessionaire became the cornerstone. The accounting system for vehicles passing through the WHSD is unclear, the true structure of income and expenses is unclear. Therefore, it is not known whether the volume of claims that the concessionaire makes to compensate for the "lost profit" is legitimate.
In 2020, Smolny made an attempt to solve the problem. In order not to make payments directly from the budget in favor of the MSS and to avoid scandals, the government handed over to JSC WHSD obligations to pay compensation to the concessionaire under the guarantees of the city. In July of the same year, WHSD JSC entered into an agreement with the Eurasian Development Bank, which opened a credit line for the company for 6 billion rubles. Shortly after the opening of the line, the company requested the first tranche of 1.6 billion to compensate MCC. In fact, the appearance of the WHSD JSC aggravated the situation, but did not solve it. If earlier the deputies could somehow control the compensation of the MSS allocated from the budget, then with the advent of the joint-stock company, this opportunity disappeared. Now the request for funds passes by the authorities of St. Petersburg. AO directly requests money from the bank for the MCC. When the limit ends, the city will be obliged to compensate not only the funds on the allocated credit line, but also the interest on them. But now the officials and deputies have no need to argue about the amount of compensation for the WHSD concessionaire.
As a reminder, the competition for the selection of a concessionaire for the construction of the WHSD was held in 2008, when Maxim Sokolov headed the Committee for Investments and Strategic Projects. Later, VTB Bank, which owns half of the MCC, entered the construction project, where one of Sokolov's partners was vice president in 2004, and from 2006 to 2013 was the CEO of VTB-Development.
Meanwhile, residents pay more and more for traveling on the WHSD every year. Today it costs 1,000 rubles ($ 13.5) to travel all sections of the route by car if paid in cash, although the authorities once promised a fare of 30 rubles ($ 1). For comparison, the cost of a full trip on the M-11 "Moscow-St. Petersburg" highway, subject to certain conditions, can cost 940 rubles. In addition, the center of St. Petersburg is a cluster of dilapidated, empty and decaying buildings. And the inhabitants of the developed territories of the alluvium on Vasilievsky Island have been waiting for gardens, roads and squares for decades.