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Russia arrests another ex-governor Mikhail Men: an unremarkable lawmaker, but a prominent bureaucrat and a lasting administrator

Source: Meduza
Alexander Shcherbak / TASS

Acting with special permission from the Federation Council, state investigators arrested Mikhail Men on Wednesday, November 18, on charges of embezzling 700 million rubles ($9.2 million) from the Ivanovo region, where he served as governor from 2005 to 2013. The ex-head of Russia’s Construction Industry, Housing, and Utilities Sector Ministry, the son of a famous priest, and currently an auditor for Russia’s Accounts Chamber, Men isn’t expected to spend long in jail, an anonymous source told the news agency Interfax. Instead, detectives reportedly plan to ask a judge to release him on his own recognizance. Meduza reviews Mr. Men’s eventful biography.

The charges

Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee says Mikhail Men facilitated the theft of 700 million rubles in government money allocated in 2011 to support small businesses. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison, but Men says he’s innocent and insists that there’s been some misunderstanding.

According to Attorney General Igor Krasnov, Men abused his gubernatorial powers and recruited Pavel Konkov (his future successor) to borrow 1 billion rubles ($13.2 million) from the Finance Ministry, the lion’s share of which was then transferred through a public foundation (without any agreement with the Finance Ministry) to a subsidiary of “Prodo,” one of Russia’s biggest meat-processing companies and very much not a small business. Governor Men was allegedly in cahoots with the subsidiary’s managing director and a senior executive at Prodo. 

Earlier this year, in the summer of 2020, Prodo suddenly and unexpectedly repaid the Ivanovo regional government’s 700-million-ruble loan to its subsidiary. Pavel Konkov, meanwhile, was arrested in 2019.

From elections to backrooms

Despite his well-known, assassinated preacher father, Mikhail Men didn’t stand out in the State Duma after becoming an elected lawmaker from the Yabloko liberal opposition party in 1995. He came into his own politically as an executive, not a legislator, getting his first taste of this work in 1999, when he was elected alongside Boris Gromov as the Moscow region’s lieutenant governor. 

Mikhail Men (center) is sworn in as the Moscow region’s lieutenant governor alongside Governor Boris Gromov
Anton Denisov / TASS

After two years, following legislative reforms that abolished his position as an elected office, Men left the Moscow region’s administration and joined Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov as his deputy mayor, turning on his old boss (Gromov) in what politician Boris Nadezhdin described to Meduza as “a battle between boyars.” 

After Men spent a few more years managing interregional, interethnic, and interreligious relations in the capital, President Putin tapped the 45-year-old to serve as acting governor in Ivanovo. According to Vitaly Ivanov’s book, “Glava Subekta Rossiiskoi Federattsii” (Head of the Russian Federation’s Constituent Territory), senior Kremlin official Vladislav Surkov personally lobbied for Men’s appointment (the two men had apparently bonded over their shared love of rock music). 

When he started as Ivanovo’s governor, Mikhail Men staffed his administration mostly with outsiders who had no local connections — a practice in Russia that was novel at the time but has become common today. In office, Men built a particularly strong relationship with Prime Minister and future President Dmitry Medvedev, whose love of Plyos (a town on the bank of the Volga River in the Ivanovo region) is now notorious, thanks to evidence collected by anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny suggesting that Medvedev owned a lavish mansion in the area through a charity foundation. 

Governor Mikhail Men during an interview at his home on January 23, 2006
Dmitry Lebedev / Kommersant

President Medvedev frequented Plyos, and Governor Men credited him with boosting the region’s tourism industry and kickstarting sweeping improvements to the area’s infrastructure. By the time Men left office, the Ivanovo region’s investment-attractiveness rating had spiked from 45th to 19th nationwide.

Mikhail Men got along with Medvedev so well that he was invited to join the latter’s cabinet after the 2012 “castling” and Medvedev’s reversion to prime minister. Hired to administer Russia’s Construction Industry, Housing, and Utilities Sector Ministry, Mr. Men helped resettle people from condemned buildings, designed a new system for overhauling apartment complexes, and developed projects to create more comfortable urban spaces. He also cracked down on shared-equity construction, a poorly regulated approach to financing housing construction that has defrauded many co-investors over the years.

Governor Mikhail Men and Dmitry Medvedev’s wife, Svetlana, at a cultural center’s opening in Plyos
Vladimir Smirnov / TASS
Mikahil Men at a government cabinet meeting on October 20, 2017
Alexander Astafiev / Russian government press service / TASS

In 2019, after he was shuffled out of Medvedev’s 2018 cabinet, Mikhail Men passed on a job that would have put him at the helm of a new environmental regulator working mostly with landfill reforms. Despite public pronouncements about his likely appointment, he ultimately landed at Russia’s Accounts Chamber as an auditor, joining the parliamentary body with former Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin. (At the time of this writing, the Accounts Chamber has declined to comment on Men’s arrest, saying it awaits the investigation’s findings.) For now, Men keeps his position at the Accounts Chamber. (Firing him would require another parliamentary resolution.)

Boris Nadezhin told Meduza that he thinks the case against Mikhail Men is “political.” Men’s successor in Ivanovo, Pavel Konkov, was arrested back in 2019 and there have already been convictions in that case, making it strange, Nadezhin says, that investigators would carry out another arrest now. “There’s some kind of fight going on under the rug,” he told Meduza. “You can find something on any official in any regional administration to launch a case. It’s some kind of elite infighting; it’s not a war on corruption.”

Story by Andrey Pertsev and Farida Rustamova

Summary by Kevin Rothrock

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