Russia launches probe into scandal-ridden Vostochny spaceport 

Russia launches probe into scandal-ridden Vostochny spaceport 

Russia has launched a probe into corruption at its showcase Vostochny spaceport (pictured) on the country’s Pacific coast, amid allegations that over US$170 million has been stolen.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny has alleged that land and cars have been acquired by Dmitry Rogozin, the boss of Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency.

“A failed project that is still being built years after its deadline with a budget that has been doubled and during which billions [of rubles] were stolen: of course it should bear the name of Vladimir Putin,” Navalny said. 

The Kremlin’s mouthpiece, Tass, said construction of the second stage at Vostochny was on schedule, citing Rogozin. 

He reportedly told President Vladimir Putin yesterday (Saturday): “Up to now, we have employed more than 1,260 staff and 140 vehicles, which is fully in accordance with the project of construction. The schedule is being kept despite the fact that it is rather cold there.”

Putin launched work on the Vostochny cosmodrome in 2010 to reduce dependence on the Soviet-era Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, which has hosted space launches. Putin called Vostochny, Russia’s first national civilian space centre, the “most important construction project of national significance”.

Tass said, citing the Prosecutor General’s Office, that 17,000 violations were exposed during the construction of the cosmodrome from 2014 to 2018 and 140 criminal cases were opened. 

The news agency estimated the cost at 10 billion rubles (US$150 million). Those prosecuted included the former head of Dalspetsstroi, the general contractor for the spaceport’s construction in 2009-16, Yuri Khrizman.

Investigators said 58 employees on the cosmodrome have been sentenced for fraud, including for the purchase of low-grade concrete that led to the need for expensive launchpad repairs.

Fresh cases were announced this week. One involved claims of a firm altering rental costs for construction equipment, resulting in around US$4 million in loses.

Navalny targeted Rogozin, the Roscosmos chief, who was appointed by Putin in 2018.

The opposition firebrand identified plots in a Moscow suburb acquired by Rogozin near land owned by his relatives and former colleagues. The plots were unaffordable on Rogozin’s salary, Navalny alleged.

Rogozin said last week that he welcomed the investigation and that those involved in corruption had been removed.

Vostochny hosted its first launch in 2016 but its latest launchpads for the new generation of Russia’s Angara rockets are far from competition.

Trouble at the spaceport is nothing new. 

Workers went on hunger strike in 2015 after complaining over unpaid wages.

 

 

Vostochny. Picture credit: Wikimedia 

 

 

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