On May 15, official website of the Ministry of Justice of Russia published that Penza Charitable Foundation “Civil Union” was included in the register of NPOs that “function as foreign agents.”
The main reason for including it in the register was the results of an unscheduled on-site inspection which was conducted by the employees of the Penza Department of the Ministry of Justice from April 3 to 30.
As Oleg Sharipkov, the executive director of the foundation, reported earlier, the inspection was “requested by a caring citizen, a former FSB officer Alexander Tuzov, who wrote dozens of calumnies against board members and fund employees and initiated dozens of inspections (executed by the prosecution office, MIA, and the Investigative Committee)”.
Oleg Sharipkov has never hidden the fact that his organization had some financial sources abroad.
“You can see everything on the website, nothing is hidden,” he told the “7×7” correspondent. “The budget in Penza is very small so we asked the Africans for help, and for several years we received grants from South Africa, about one million a year.”
Oleg Sharipkov explained that the previous inspection of the Ministry of Justice was held in 2016, but there were no questions about the South African money then.
“Those are the same financial sources, the same activity. And suddenly here it is. I consider it as a personal disgrace of the Penza Oblast governor. For 17 years we have been raising funds for the region’s economy, from three to twenty million rubles a year. They went exactly to social programs and to areas with no investment at all. We helped schools, hospitals, the art gallery, libraries and, of course, other NGOs, supported the civic initiative. Since 2011, we have not received a single penny from the budget of the Penza Oblast. We just gave. And now “Civil Union” has become the first South African agent in Russia.”
According to Oleg Sharipkov, the inspection report of the Ministry of Justice refers to the political activities that the foundation is said to conduct.
“They highlight that I went to demonstrations against the retirement-age increase. In the report it is written exactly that I went there with my wife. But can you show me at least one retirement-age increase supporter?”
In addition, the inspection report mentions Sharipkov’s appeal to the prosecution office with a demand to check the allocation of budget funds for financing NPOs.
“As a result of my appeal to the prosecution office, some minor violations were identified,” specifies Oleg Sharipkov. “But the inspection report of the Ministry of Justice states that this was the reason why the Petersburg Politics Foundation lowered the Penza Oblast rating by 0.1 points. It means I was also to blame. At the same time, the commissions for the distribution of grants still consist only of government officials, and the money go to the same “Cossacks and Afghans”-like organizations.”
Oleg Sharipkov reckons that the status of a foreign agent given to the “Civil Union” is fixed up. According to him, before the inspection started, grantees phoned and told him what the Ministry of Justice demanded to write in the reports about foreign money of “Civil Union”.
“I am shocked and I do not understand the logic of the Ministry of Justice,” Sharipkov said. “It seems to me that expecting Penza officials to have common sense is like going on a wild goose chase.”
The aim of the last million from South Africa was a new co-working center, where local communities could organize their events for free. Taking into account the fact that a million was not enough, the funds from the Presidential Grants Foundation were also allocated for the arrangement of the center:
“Thus the money not only from South Africa, but also from the Kremlin are used. And the Ministry of Justice states that oppositionists are gathering in the co-working center.”
Alexander Tuzov, whose request initiated the inspection, is pleased with its results:
“In fact, I am personally satisfied with the decision,” he told the “7×7” correspondent. “Because I believe that if a structure receives money from abroad in such difficult times and at the same time directly or indirectly participates in political activities, this is a fair decision.”
Oleg Sharipkov does not yet know in what way the status of a foreign agent will affect the work of the charitable foundation. It is possible that organizations will be fined for up to 500 thousand rubles:
“We are now considering several options for our future including the closure of the “Civil Union”. Why feed these stupid officials with taxes?”
The Charitable Foundation “Civil Union” was founded in 2002, now it is the federal Special-purpose capital knowledge center. The Foundation actively attracts the resources of large Russian and foreign charitable funds to the region. In 2018, these were the KAF philanthropy support and development fund, the Charitable Foundation of Gennady and Elena Timchenko, Potanin’s Charitable Foundation, the Presidential Grants Foundation, the Global Fund for the Support of Community Foundations. In total the contribution of these organizations to the social sphere of the Penza Oblast in 2018 was about 14 million rubles.