Russian officials arrested for extorting money from pilots: reports

Federal Air Transport Agency

The Russian Federal Agency for Air Transport (Rosaviatsiya) has been shaken by another corruption scandal, according to reports from Russian media. 

According to numerous witness statements, obtained by various Russian newspapers, some Rosaviatsiya workers have been revoking pilots’ licenses and demanding bribes before they can be reinstated. 

An offer one can’t refuse  

The problem began in 2013, following a change in the agency’s leadership, Russian newspaper Izvestiya writes. According to anonymous pilots interviewed by Izvestiya, some pilots began to receive news that their licenses had been revoked due to “made-up reasons,” such as data that was supposedly missing from documentation.  

Soon after losing the license, pilots would reportedly receive a call from an unknown person offering to “solve the problem” for a sum of 1.5 million rubles ($23.600).  

A similar story has been shared by other pilots interviewed by news website, where it was claimed that the agency would sometimes go to great lengths to find reasons to revoke the licenses.  For example, after the deadly crash of a Boeing 737 near Kazan Airport (KZT) in 2013, all pilots who were trained by Chelavia flight school had to be retrained when bad training was determined to be one of the causes of the crash.  

Years later, and despite having retrained in other schools, pilots who had originally received training at Chelavia would have their licenses revoked due to having trained at the blacklisted school.  

These pilots would also receive a mysterious call, offering to “solve the problem” for the same amount of money.  

Series of arrests  

Both Kommersant and report that, according to their sources, the extortion was organized by the head of Rosaviatsiya’s flight operations branch, Maxim Kostylev. Kostylev was fired from Rosaviatsiya in July 2022 due to another unrelated corruption scandal.  

On October 7, 2022, one of Kostylev’s accomplices Maxim Pavliuk was arrested by officers at Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), according to Kommersant. Nataliya Mitina, a customer service employee who allegedly called the pilots to extort the money, was also arrested.  

Referring to sources within the service, Kommersant noted that the FSB had received multiple reports from pilots whose money was being extorted, and then performed a sting operation to apprehend Pavliuk and Mitina.  

All the abovementioned Russian media publications state that the alleged extortion operation, managed by Kostylev, was much larger and involved other Rosaviatsiya employees, some of whom were recruited to be informants by the FSB.  

A series of scandals  

According to Izvestiya, the pilots sent numerous complaints to Russia’s General Prosecutor’s office, accusing Rosaviatsiya’s management of unlawful behavior and asked that the situation with the licenses be reviewed.  

However, the Prosecutor’s office redirected the complaints back to Rosaviatsiya’s management, asking the service to solve the issue, Izvestiya writes.  

The newspaper also alleges that the process of revoking the licenses was authorized by Rosaviatsiya chief, Alexander Neradko. However, the scandal was not the only large-scale corruption involving Neradko to take place this year. In March 2022, the head of State Air Traffic Management Corporation (SATMC), Rosaviatsiya’s arm responsible for navigation services, was prosecuted for providing his relatives with fictitious high-paying jobs in the agency and conducting other illegal activities.   

Some Russian media channels claimed to have evidence that the scheme was conducted under Neradko’s guidance. There were reports that the Russian government had been considering replacing Neradko.  

Shortly after the case, Neradko was hospitalized following an alleged biking accident which left him with multiple injuries and with no memory of the accident, Russian media reported.   

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