This article was originally published in French. Translation : George Efstratiou.
The complainants suspect corruption of public officials and insider influence. These alleged “criminal financial offences” relate to the public-private partnership contract agreed between Russian authorities and the French transnational corporation Vinci for the construction of 27 miles (43 kilometers) of motorway near Moscow. The French company, through its subsidiary Vinci Concessions Russie SA, owns 100% of the North West Concession Company (NWCC), which was created in September 2007 especially for this deal. Vinci also owns close to 40% of the consortium which will operate the toll booths of the future motorway.
“Aside from the climate of corruption which seems to have surrounded this contract from the very beginning, serious environmental harms have been reported, especially in the Khimki forest near Moscow. This is why Russian environmental activists have joined us in lodging the complaint,” states Sophie Lakhdar, director of Sherpa, an organisation providing legal assistance to victims of corporate abuse . Alongside Sherpa, among the other complainants are Russie-Libertés, who supports “the development of a democracy worthy of this name in Russia”; the CEE Bankwatch Network, a Czech NGO that monitors international financial institutions in Central and Eastern Europe; and Mobo Princip, a Russian environmental defence organisation. Among the other members of the Russian civil society is the ecological activist Evgenia Tchirikova, who has become famous for her fight against the motorway project.
This project has indeed elicited strong opposition from local civil society, particularly interested in protecting the iconic Khimki forest, which the proposed expressway will run through and destroy in part. Threats, alleged assaults, arrests, and arbitrary convictions have not discouraged activists. Journalist Mikhaïl Beketov, now deceased, had been savagely beaten following the publication of an article reporting on the corruption surrounding the motorway project.
Today, the opening of a preliminary investigation in France may contribute to shining the light on the conditions of this public-private partnership – something which would have been impossible in Russia these days.