Participants in the meeting reported to the head of state on the investigation into the causes of the fire at the shopping mall in Kemerovo and measures on rendering aid to the victims.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ms Skvortsova, Mr Bastrykin,
We went to Kemerovo yesterday and worked there because of the terrible tragedy there.
Today I would like to return to this subject to clarify some details and moments and to hear your reports on your respective departments’ efforts.
Let us start with Mr Bastrykin…
Mr Bastrykin, how many investigators are in the city now, how many are working in Kemerovo and are appropriate specialists in Moscow being used?
Chairman of the Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin: Mr President, our team has not been reduced by a single person. There are 104 professional investigators and forensic specialists, over 40 from the central office – the most qualified specialists from the major crimes department.
The most important task, that we are almost finished with, is the inspection of the scene where the fire started.
Two main scenarios have been suggested – a malfunction of the fire safety system and, the second one is set forth by the people against whom we are bringing criminal action (these are officials and specialists) – they claim that the fire was set by someone inside the building with an open flame.
Our initial findings show that this version is unlikely. The more probable and credible version is the one of a failure of the fire safety system, the fire prevention and fire suppression system.
We ordered forensic tests in two specialized facilities in Moscow and St Petersburg where such tests are conducted – these are the extinguishing test (on the cause of the fire): this is a construction expert evaluation on whether the building could be used as a retail centre after it ceased being a confectionery. A financial and economic evaluation will be ordered regarding the expenses that should have been allocated by the founding shareholders on the conversion of the centre.
Currently, the second group of experts on economy and finance are studying the documents we confiscated from the major founding shareholders of the organisation in order to establish the legality of the building’s status and the contracts signed on all sorts of support, including of course the fire safety.
We are working in close cooperation with our colleagues from the medical facilities. The Minister, apparently, will report on the medical aspect. I would like to emphasise that we are currently working with the city officials, primarily the mayor’s office; those individuals that authorised the use of the centre in 2013. We are questioning them, confronting them; seizing any documents they issued to regulate the activities of their offices. We will also give a legal and juridical evaluation of the legitimacy of the decisions taken.
The final thing I wanted to report. We are carefully studying how the respective supervisory organisation and other agencies conducted preventive inspections starting when the centre opened in 2016. There are grounds to believe that it was done, to put it mildly, not quite in good faith.
Even the fact I reported to you yesterday testifies to that, since the fire and alarm system had been inoperative for a week; this was known to the head of the respective security agency. No measures had been taken throughout the week to rectify faults in the system.
It ultimately led to the outrageous fact, let me reiterate, that the head of the private security company, whose competence we are also checking, when it became obvious that the fire started, did not turn on the alarm system warning people that they should leave the building, whereas he himself did.
Unfortunately, a significant part of the staff, who should have helped people to leave the centre, were the first to leave the building, while people were left to fend for themselves.
And my final point. I plan to be in Kemerovo on Saturday, visit the headquarters, listen to the first results of the investigation, and meet with representatives of the victims, if necessary. The first such meeting has already taken place today with the involvement of our investigators.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Bastrykin, it goes without saying that each scenario, every scenario without exception, must be checked. But, of course, the version about trespassers is very convenient for the current suspects. This is the first thing.
Secondly, we see that regrettably false stories are appearing in the social media, including foreign ones, with a view to sowing panic mistrust and setting people against each other. Needless to say, this should not be allowed under any circumstances.
However, the investigation must be comprehensive. If one of these scenarios is confirmed it should be justified with objective information, the expert reviews that you mentioned of technical equipment, construction, finances and the like. But, no matter what conclusions the investigators reach, some things are difficult to understand, as you said – why nothing was done to fix the malfunctioning alarm system, why the fire alarm button was not pressed by hand, and why the doors remained locked. There are too many “why’s” here.
Yesterday I read a document on the inspection of this building in 2016. In particular, it was inspected by employees of the fire safety service. What does it say? It even sounds strange, “No remarks.” There are problems everywhere. Find this document, I will tell you where to get it, and identify who did this, who signed it.
Alexander Bastrykin: Yes, Mr President.
Vladimir Putin: And one more point. As usual, this investigation must be as objective as possible but it must also be transparent. If you plan to go to Kemerevo on Saturday, and hold a meeting there – the presidential envoy has already met the victims and you should meet them as well. Talk to them, hear what they think about this and how they visualize the development of the situation so you can use it during the preliminary investigation.
How much time will it take to make the expert reviews that we spoke about?
Alexander Bastrykin: Unfortunately, this process might take time. Judging by our experience, in-depth detailed expert investigation into the construction, financial and economic issues may take four to five months to provide us with substantial court evidence, and this is the difficulty.
But we will expedite the process as much as we can, we will ask our expert colleagues to create larger groups for the expert inquiries. But as I said, it may take three to four, or up to five months.
Vladimir Putin: Delegate as many people as needed to avoid delays. But the work should certainly be done at the highest professional level.
Alexander Bastrykin: I would like to emphasise that our experts will be involved, of course. But the two organisations that we mentioned, in Moscow and St. Petersburg, will be independent experts. So there will be both our expert investigations and independent expert inquiries.
We have our own resources for financial, construction and economic expert investigations but in order to prove the scenario that we arrived at – careless oversight of the construction sector and funding, and the poor quality of inspections, we need the independent organisations. So again, some extra time will be needed to receive their conclusions.
Vladimir Putin: It is essential that everybody understands that the investigation proceeds within the legal framework and disregards the official position of those involved in this tragedy.
Alexander Bastrykin: Yes, I see.
Vladimir Putin: Ms. Skvortsova, in your ministry, how are things with the casualties? This is my first question.
My second question is how long will it take to do the DNA tests? You heard people ask this question yesterday.
Healthcare Minister Veronika Skvortsova: Our Kemerovo colleagues, the Health Ministry staff, the Serbsky National Centre for Psychiatry and the Federal Centre for Forensic Medicine are all working hard.
Twelve patients remain in the hospital. An 11-year-old boy, Seryozha Moskalenko, is in the children’s hospital, we reported about him in detail earlier. His condition has improved in the past 24 hours; he is conscious and can eat and talk. His grandmother is with him and he will be transferred from emergency care to a regular ward in the next two days.
Eleven adult patients remain in the regional hospital.
Vladimir Putin: What about Vanya whom we visited?
Veronika Skvortsova: There are 11 adult patients in the hospital. This one, 18-year-old Vanya Zavarzin, is in the most serious condition. He is much better now and might be transferred to a regular ward soon. The other patients are also getting better. We are working all together toward their recovery.
We are also providing psychological consultations to the patients, and will continue doing so as long as necessary.
We are also providing psychological and psychiatric assistance to the victims’ families and to anyone who needs it. We have set up two crisis centres for round-the-clock psychological and psychiatric assistance and other medical assistance. We have settled the issue with the region about opening a psychosomatic department, because we expect that stress and psychological responses may cause functional physical change within a month. We have determined the leading institution, the Serbsky Centre, which will permanently monitor the state of all those in need in Kemerovo Region and provide the required assistance for as long as necessary.
The third issue. Forensic experts are at work. Today they have fully identified 23 victims, 22 of which were buried by their families in Kemerovo today. Another three victims are being moved, two to Tomsk and one to Krasnoyarsk. The identification of one victim with more serious injuries caused by the fire is pending.
The rest of the bodies cannot be visually identified, so we are facing very serious molecular and genetic testing. We have decided that the Serbsky State Scientific Centre for Social and Forensic Psychiatry will be responsible for this. Transport to Moscow is planned for tomorrow.
The work will continue around the clock. Evidently, it will take at least 21 days. We have reduced this from 35 days but it cannot be done faster because it is very serious and exacting work. We will do our best to finish it as fast as possible.
Vladimir Putin: Right. Do not delay it, do it as fast as possible indeed.
Veronika Skvortsova: Yes.
Vladimir Putin: We must answer these questions. The fire alarm system had been down for a week. Why did nobody fix it for a week? Why did they not turn it on manually, though the hand drive was in order? Why were the doors locked? Why were combustible materials used during assembly operations? There are many questions. It is easiest to shift the responsibility to criminals, though this line of enquiry should also be followed.
Alexander Bastrykin: We will follow it by all means.
Mr President, we are looking for witnesses, who mentioned cases of lights failing or the smell of burning wires. People had felt something was wrong. There were some problems before.
However, evidently both visitors and the proprietors got used to them and paid little attention. We will certainly deal with it as a system, why all this became possible, with the participation of the monitoring organisations that I mentioned.
Vladimir Putin: Report to me regularly on the investigation progress.
Alexander Bastrykin: Yes, sir.