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‘She absconded from the investigation’ Russia’s former deputy education minister stands accused of embezzling millions of rubles. She’s also nowhere to be found.

Source: Meduza
Vyacheslav Prokofiev / TASS

Russia’s former deputy education minister Marina Rakova was charged with fraud in absentia and put on a wanted list, Interior Ministry spokesperson Irina Volk confirmed to TASS on Friday, October 1. Rakova, who is currently Sberbank’s vice president, reportedly stands accused of embezzling 50 million rubles ($688,000) in state funds when she worked for the Education Ministry in 2019. Citing a source in law enforcement, TASS reported that Russian investigators are working to verify reports that Rakova may have left the country for Ukraine. Sources also say detectives plan to ask a court to arrest Rakova in absentia. On Thursday, a Moscow court has jailed three other suspects in connection with the case.

On Wednesday, September 29, reports emerged that Russia’s former deputy education minister Marina Rakova — who is now vice president of Sberbank — was under investigation for fraud. An informed source told Interfax that the criminal case against her was opened on August 9, on charges of embezzling state funds allocated to a federal education program.

Investigators believe Rakova is responsible for the theft of 50 million rubles ($688,000), RIA Novosti reported, citing a source in law enforcement. While serving as deputy education minister in 2019, Rakova allegedly lobbied for the allocation of funds to the Education Ministry’s Foundation for New Forms of Education Development. In turn, the foundation hired the Moscow Higher School of Social and Economic Sciences as a subcontractor. The two contracts were paid for but supposedly not completed. Sources say that investigators plan to review another series of contracts, totaling 150 million rubles ($2 million), in the near future. 

On Thursday, the Moscow Higher School of Social and Economic Sciences confirmed that it was one of the contractors for the Foundation for New Forms of Education Development. The school said that it would give “full cooperation to representatives of the Interior Ministry,” who are carrying out an inspection at the institution in connection with the case.

Rakova was directly involved in establishing the Foundation for New Forms of Education Development. A former employee of the Agency for Strategic Initiatives (ASI) told Meduza that Rakova approached the organization in 2015 with a proposal to create a network of children’s technoparks (dubbed “Quantoriums”) across the country. She led the project herself for a period of time and “when it became clear that the project had taken shape” the foundation was created to implement it, the former ASI employee said.

Today, there are “Quantoriums” operating in 84 regions, teaching industrial design, technical English, mathematics, robotics, and programming, with a portion of the programs financed by the state budget. The former ASI employee told Meduza that the criminal case came as a surprise to him. “We felt that [the program] enjoyed support at all levels, both in the presidential administration and among state officials, and was strongly supported by First Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Belousov,” he said.

Investigators searched Rakova’s home on Wednesday. RIA Novosti published two short videos showing investigative activities underway at both her home and office. The news agency also reported that searches were carried out in the offices of some Sberbank employees who had worked with Rakova at the ministry and went with her when she joined the bank.

Since then, Rakova seems to have disappeared. A source told RIA Novosti on Thursday morning that investigators had been unable to get in contact with her since the previous evening. “She turned off all her phones and left her residence. She stopped talking with her family. She also did not come to work,” the source said.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Irina Volk confirmed to TASS on Friday that investigators had charged Rakova with fraud and that her whereabouts were unknown. “The investigator has decided to press charges against the defendant based on Article 159.4 of the Russian Criminal Code (fraud). Since she absconded from the investigation, she has been put on a wanted list,” Volk said.

“Law enforcement agencies are working to verify reports that Rakova could have left for Ukraine after she had been engaged in investigative activities. She was not taken into custody following a search of her home. Her ID documents were not seized,” a law enforcement source told TASS. The source added that investigators plan to ask a court to arrest Rakova in absentia.

On Thursday, Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court jailed two of Sberbank’s top managers as suspects in the fraud case involving Rakova. Former Foundation for New Forms of Education Development director Maxim Inkin and his former deputy Evgeny Zak were remanded in custody for two months. Kristina Kryuchkova, who used to serve as executive director at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, was also jailed.

Rakova served as Russia’s deputy education minister from 2018 to 2020. She resigned voluntarily in March of that year. The day after she stepped down, Sberbank CEO Herman Gref introduced her as the new vice president of the bank. At Sberbank, Rakova leads the Digital Education Platforms division, as well as the subsidiary OOO SberObrazovaniye (SberEducation Ltd.). In late March 2021, reports emerged that Rakova might be tapped to lead the educational publishing house Prosveshcheniye Publishers. Sberbank acquired a 25 percent stake in Prosveshcheniye in May.

Sberbank said it would appoint an executive to replace Rakova on an acting basis for the duration of the investigation.

We won’t give up Because you’re with us

Story by Grigory Levchenko

Translation by Carol Matlack

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