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Police in Kabardino-Balkaria have begun an audit of the republic’s state Centre for Standardisation, Metrology, and Testing, seizing documents and questioning staff on the activities of the management. The audit comes after a number of former employees dismissed by the centre’s director, Sultan Eshtrekov, complained that the former MP was forcing employees to hand over a part of their salaries.
A source in Kabardino-Balkaria’s police told OC Media the audit had been in progress for around a month.
Several former employees who were dismissed by the institution described to OC Media abuses committed by Eshtrekov but said they were afraid of openly criticising him.
Eshtrekov is a former member of Kabardino-Balkaria’s Parliament and former head of the republic’s Zolskiy District.
The Centre for Standardisation which he heads is responsible for checking food quality standards, carrying out radiological monitoring, maintaining medical equipment, and checking the accuracy of measuring instruments.
One former employee of the centre, Aslan, told OC Media that after Eshtrekov’s appointment as director, dramatic changes took place.
‘Eshtrekov never worked in our field’ Aslan said, ‘during the first days after his appointment, he thought we did meteorology, not metrology — that is, the weather forecast!’
Aslan said that the new director began his tenure with a programme of ‘staff optimisation’ — with layoffs as well as pay cuts.
‘A number of the centre’s employees were taken off staff and given lower salaries, and now they work on a contract basis. Contracts are renewed monthly, and these employees are constantly afraid of being fired’, Aslan said.
‘He feels as if he is absolutely untouchable’, another former employee, Zhanna, told OC Media. ‘Eshtrekov, as a former MP and district head, has many connections and influential friends at the top, as well as in judicial and supervisory bodies, so he says openly that he is not afraid of the checks and seizures, and that he will somehow find and “sort out” those who “snitched” on him to the police”.
Renovation without tender
Boris, another former employee, told OC Media that officers from Kabardino-Balkaria’s Department for Combating Economic Crimes were conducting the audit and that they have already discovered a number of instances of embezzlement of public funds.
‘After interviewing the centre’s employees about the building’s windows — which, according to documentation were replaced three consecutive times — it became clear that the windows of the Centre for Standardisation building had never been replaced at all’, Boris said. According to him, the audit uncovered that many of the construction projects accounted for in the documentation such as repairing the roof and garage were not actually carried out.
Boris said the director had violated Russian law by ‘replacing’ the windows at a cost of almost ₽200,000. Legally, a contractor hired for a project costing more than ₽100,000 can be hired only after an appropriate tender is issued.
The authorities have ‘already discovered this violation’, according to Boris.
One of the organisation’s former drivers told OC Media that a VAZ-2107 car was repaired at the company’s expense, decommissioned, and sold by the director. According to the former driver, the cost of the car’s repair to the centre significantly exceeds the revenue from its sale.
Another dismissed driver told OC Media that for three years during Eshtrekov's management, the ZiL special vehicle from the centre’s garage was repaired five times, and the last two repairs happened within two weeks of each other.
Appeals to investigate Eshtrekov were also received by the Kabardino-Balkarian People’s Control, a local non-governmental organisation whose members conduct their own investigations into allegations from citizens of abuses and violations of the law by state officials.
In its Facebook group, the Kabardino-Balkarian Republican People’s Control claimed that ‘according to the applicants, the head of the [Centre for Standardisation] imposed illegal dues on employees. People, in addition to this plan, have to give him a certain amount of unaccounted cash on a monthly basis’.