It is May 4, 2011. Spring has already begun in the international year of the forest while the Khimki Forest in Russia might see its end signed and sealed this month. But Russian activists have continued their actions to defend Khimki forest also today by carrying out a citizens’ inspection (RU) to prevent the still illegal felling of trees (see the video). All this in spite of previous violence and harassment by the police during similar actions in the past two weeks.
Gennady Gudkov, deputy chairman of Russian State Duma Committee on Security, in charge of corruption issues in Russia, was present during the action, at which new illegal tree felling was indeed discovered.
Gudkov’s attendance is particularly relevant in the context of recent research into some of the contractual and corporate circumstances of the Khimki Forest’s planned destruction. The study published by CEE Bankwatch Network and the Movement to Defend Khimki Forest is placing serious doubts over the integrity of the 2008 tender process for the Moscow–St. Petersburg motorway, in which only one bidder qualified.
The research has also revealed that the concession-holder for the motorway project – the North West Concession company (NWCC), led by French construction giant Vinci – consists of a whole network of companies, ending up in the British Virgin Islands, where it is impossible to obtain information about shareholders. The beneficiaries of NWCC’s lucrative contract are thus hidden from public scrutiny, raising important questions about the legality and genuine public benefit of the contract.
On Monday, May 2, Evgenia Chirikova, the leader of the Movement to Defend Khimki Forest, was present in Paris during the Vinci annual general meeting. Chirikova was supported by French Green MEP Karima Delli in her attempt to engage in a dialogue over human rights abuses committed in Russia during the clearing of the route for the motorway.
While the two women were prevented by police from getting anywhere near the building hosting the Vinci meeting, they were eventually able to submit to a Vinci representative a petition against human rights abuses in Khimki, signed by more than 20,000 supporters, and the Bankwatch research showing NWCC’s links to offshore companies.
Last week, approached by business ethics charity Business and Human Rights on the issue of human rights abuses caused by the Khimki motorway construction, Vinci denied any responsibility. In their official response, the company said, „we deny any relation to such events and have no knowledge of a link, should there exist any between them and (…) more generally the project as a whole.”
Nevertheless, with intensified international media attention and an increasing number of citizens worldwide signing petitions demanding Vinci to exit the project, pressure is mounting on the company to take responsibility for human rights abuses committed to promote a project it will profit from.
Never miss an update
We expose the risks of international public finance and bring critical updates from the ground – straight to your inbox.