No crimes were committed by Russian oil pipeline monopoly Transneft, despite accusations by popular journalist and blogger Alexei Navalny of embezzlement of $4 billion during construction of the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) pipeline, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday.
“If there were something criminally punishable, I can assure you, people would have been in jail a long ago,” Putin told Zakhar Prilepin, a writer, who asked him to comment on the alleged theft.
Accusations of embezzlement during the $25 billion construction of the ESPO, Russia’s lifeline to the fast-growing markets of Asia, were voiced by Navalny in November, with reference to an Audit chamber report.
Transneft’s head Nikolai Tokarev denied the theft, saying the company had itself discovered some abuse during ESPO’s construction and sent the results to the Audit Chamber, which valued the damage at 3.5 billion rubles ($117 million).
Navalny, who is a minority shareholder in a number of large companies, has made persistent calls for greater transparency in Russian business practices and launched an on-line anticorruption project Rospil.
Putin said he was working as the head of the presidential control directorate and conducted the checks by the Chamber of Accounts.
He cited the analogous situation in a Russian region whose governor was meant to spend funds to build housing but allocated it to healthcare. He misused the funds, but did not steal anything, Putin said, adding Transneft could have done the same thing.