Head of RSC Energia Targeted in Criminal Investigation

Energia_logoThe Russian Investigative Committee, that nation’s equivalent of the FBI, has opened a criminal probe into the conduct of RSC Energia President Vitaly Lopota for alleged abuse of office, according to media reports.

Detectives found that “in 2010, Lopota who performed managerial functions at RSC Energia gave instructions to the leadership of its subsidiary, an experimental machine-building plant of RSC Energia, to grant loans to two companies participating in commercial space project Sea Launch.”

“These monetary funds should have been used as advanced payments on contracts for producing piloted spaceships within state-funded and other contracts. Meanwhile, loans were extended to affiliated organizations on terms unprofitable for Energia,” Markin said.

Thus, “Lopota’s misuse of powers in violation of interests of RSC Energia entailed major losses of more than 41 million rubles (around $1.1 million) to the state, which owns a 38% stake in Energia.

Lopota has denied the charges, claiming the investigation is based on distorted results.

“What we see now is happening under the pressure of competitors, the agenda driver forces that are deliberately distorting the results of the inspections carried out at RSC,” Lopota told ITAR-TASS in comments on the Investigative Committee’s decision to open criminal proceedings against him. “A manipulation of documents is going on.”

This situation was staged by the commission set up under the previous leadership of the Roscosmos Space Agency, he went on.

Simultaneously with the commission’s work, as it was looking into transparency of the corporation’s operation, the Audit Chamber and independent experts were conducting an inspection of their own,” reporting “excellent appraisal of the company’s activity.” “It is only the Roscosmos commission that can be blamed for distorting this appraisal,” Lopota said.

It’s difficult to know what to make of these claims. There is so much corruption in the aerospace and defense sectors — and Russia in general — that it’s hardly a surprise that allegations are being made.

However, did Lopota really commit a criminal act here? The loans supposedly lost money for Energia because the terms were too favorable. Is that really a crime? Were there kickbacks involved? Did Lopota and other individuals materially benefit? Or could the loans have been unfavorable in the short run for Energia, but a good long-term investment in keeping the recipient companies in operation?

I have a hard time trying to judge the accuracy of any sort of criminal charges against anyone in Russia. The legal systems seems so corrupt that the leadership can throw anyone in jail for almost any reason. And they have done so in the past.

RSC Energia is the leading rocket and space company in Russia. Is this an effort by the Russian government to gain control over the company, as has happened in other industries? Are they trying to oust the president, put someone else in, and increase the government’s share in Energia?