Railway Station Probe Continues to Unfold
The historic warehouse was demolished in spite of being placed under a protection order.
Published: April 24, 2013 (Issue # 1756)
A local historical preservation organization has announced they will insist on a criminal investigation into the demolition of a historical warehouse belonging to the now-defunct Warsaw Railroad Station. An activist detained following an attempt to save the 19th-century building in early February remains in custody and is facing up to 10 years in prison.
According to Alexander Kononov, deputy chair of the Russian Society for Preservation of Historical and Cultural Heritage, or VOOPIK, the building was under a protection order from the State Control, Use and Protection of Historical and Cultural Landmarks on April 1. The order forbade any work to be conducted on the site without a permit, but on April 5 demolition of the building was completed.
Speaking at a news conference at the Green Lamp press club last week, Kononov placed the blame for the unwarranted demolition on developer Adamant, despite the company’s claims of reselling the building and the plot of land it occupied to another company.
On April 2, Adamant released a statement claiming that the warehouse had been sold on March 22, and was no longer the property of Adamant. “As a result, press reports about involvement of Adamant in the demolition of the building are incorrect,” the statement concluded.
Kononov said that Adamant’s statement about the sale of the warehouse to a previously unknown company just before demolition was an “attempt to confuse the public.”
Known as Comfort, the purchasing company was described by Kononov as a “one-day firm.” Comfort was established in December 2012 and was allegedly in the process of being liquidated on March 30, once demolition had begun, he said.
Kononov presented extracts from the Unified State Register of Real Estate Property at the news event, which stated that on April 9, Adamant was the owner of both the building and the plot on which it stood.
Kononov said that the fine for illegal demolition of the building is 500,000 rubles ($16,000). Apart from the criminal investigation, VOOPIK will demand the restoration of the building to preserve the architectural complex of four warehouses and an office building.
The demolished building was one of 15 located on the site of the former Warsaw Railroad Station near Obvodny Kanal. So far five of the buildings have been examined by experts and recommended for inclusion on the regional list of properties worthy of historical preservation, said Margarita Shtiglits, an expert in industrial architecture and a member of the board at the St. Petersburg branch of the landmark cultural preservation agency.
Alya Dekonskaya, the chair of the agency’s Admiralteisky District branch, said she would ask the prosecutor’s office to begin a criminal investigation after the police dismissed her report, saying the building was not under protection.
“You feel like you’re in a swamp, with both the owner and the authorities taking the same side and backing the destruction, and you can’t do anything about it,” Dekonskaya said.
“When they were demolishing the warehouse before our eyes and as the walls were falling down, the police arrived but even they could not stop it immediately.”
The warehouse was reported as having been damaged by guards and construction workers employed by Adamant, as well as by riot police, when the authorities stormed the building on Feb. 4 in connection with a non-violent attempt to stop work on the building. The investigation into that event is ongoing, and one of the protesters remains in custody.
Denis Levkin, 20, was one of the 20 activists detained on Feb. 4 who were attempting to protect the warehouse. Levkin was charged with using life-threatening violence against two police officers and transferred from police custody to Kresty Prison two days later.
On April 2, the court extended pre-trial detention for Levkin through May 4. On Monday, the defense appealed against the extension and was denied.
Speaking to The St. Petersburg Times on Monday, Levkin’s lawyer, Gleb Lavrentyev, described the case as “political.”
“It’s obviously politically motivated, because it was a political action to defend the warehouse,” Lavrentyev said.
“We discovered that that the case is under the control of, and sanctioned by, the city’s Investigation Department of the Investigation Committee. They had to jail somebody, apparently to intimidate the rest.”
According to Lavrentyev, the investigation is about to end as there is no evidence against Levkin, except for the testimony of five police officers on the scene. A metal pipe that was allegedly used for hitting the two policemen bore no fingerprints, and a different man was seen on the video recording of the incident presented by the defense, he said.
Levkin denies all charges. “We don’t deny that they could have been beaten there, but it was not Denis who did it,” Lavrentyev said.
Meanwhile, an activist from Spasi I Sokhrani (Save and Protect), a protest group formed to defend the demolished warehouse, said that the case could be expanded to include more activists.
“Some of those who were detained then are being summoned for interrogation, which means that the case is developing quickly,” said the activist, who asked not to be identified.