MOSCOW, August 21 (RIA Novosti) – Three officials working in southern Russia last year when more than 170 people died in flash floods were sentenced to up to six years imprisonment Wednesday for criminal negligence by failing to provide adequate advanced warning to local residents.
A court in Russia’s Krasnodar Region, where the floods took place, gave the former head of the Krymsk urban district, Vasily Krutko, six years in prison. Former Krymsk Mayor Vladimir Ulanovsky received 3 1/2 years, and the former deputy head of the district's emergency response department, Viktor Zhdanov, got 4 1/2 years. Irina Ryabchenko, who headed the nearby village of Nizhnebaksanskaya, avoided jail time with a 3 1/2-year suspended sentence.
The three imprisoned former officials will serve their sentences in prison colony “settlements,” the least strict form of Russian penal colony where prisoners are allowed to move relatively freely and even go home on vacation.
Lawyers for Krutko and Ryabchenko said that their clients would appeal.
The four officials were removed from their postitions shortly after the floodwater swept through the town of Krymsk overnight in July last year. As well as criminal negligence, the judge also said three of the defendants forged documents after the flooding to try to absolve themselves of legal responsibility.
“Those defendants attempted to escape justice by preparing, signing and backdating documents that they believed would free them from accusations,” Vladimir Markin, spokesman for Russia’s Investigative Committee, said earlier this week.
The former officials, however, maintained that they had done nothing wrong.
“I did everything that was possible, and I regret that I could not have done more. I have a clear conscience before my voters and before the residents,” Ryabchenko said Wednesday.
The emergency response to the flooding was widely perceived as inadequate, slow and marked by incompetence. Officials were strongly criticized in a crisis of public trust in the aftermath, and the local governor was heckled and shouted down during a tour of the area.
Wednesday’s sentencing took place against a backdrop of serious flooding in Russia’s Far East, with officials warning that the city of Khabarovsk, which has more than half a million residents, could be evacuated if the Amur River’s water level continues to rise.