Yesterday, June 26, Vinci's role in the weird Moscow – St.Petersburg toll motorway project has been discussed in the European Parliament.

Russian side has been represented by Oksana Chelysheva, Evgenia Chirikova and Nikolay Lyaskin.

Some “achievements” of the project have been vividly demonstrated by a small “exhibition” in front of the Parliament building to remind about gross human rights violation inflicted by the project. Later, the “exhibition” has moved inside the building.

MEP Satu Hassi opened the hearings with a short briefing about the problem of Khimki Forest which had been unnecessarily sacrificed for the project, despite widespread condemnation in Russia and abroad.

Evgenia Chirikova announced then the main “accusations” against Vinci from the Russian civil society:

1. Vinci does neither design nor build the motorway – it has outsourced these works to very unprofessional Russian contractors. Instead of building the motorway, Vinci has constructed a complicated network of companies from various tax haven jurisdictions. These companies have no experience in construction at all – but one of them belongs to Putin’s close friend, Mr. Arkady Rotenberg, and another – to yet hidden persons possibly connected to decision-makers on the project in the Russian Government. Thus, there are clear signs of corruption behind the project

2. During a closed meeting, representatives of Vinci’s shell company NWCC LLC demanded 5,5 bln rubles from the Russian Government as a “compensation” in case the routing of the road would be changed after President Medvedev’s decision to halt the project in 2010. Official protocol of the meeting indicates clearly that this demand is the main reason why the project has not been changed despite the availability of 10 alternative options each one allowing to save the forest.

3. Since September 2011, Vinci’s shell company NWCC LLC is the only company having an official permission for construction of the Moscow – St.Petersburg motorway ( there was no permission at all before). Therefore, it bears not only moral, but also legal responsibility for the last events around Khimki Forest, including :

- violence, that caused serious body injures to activists - ,

- unjustified arrests of activists who tried to inspect the construction site and to check documentation,

- continuing destruction of nature, including the burying of the riverbed of Kliazma (one of the vital sources of water supply for Moscow!), etc.

4.As a member of UN Global Compact, Vinci is expected to respect human rights, avoid corrupted schemes and promote sustainable development. Vinci’s activity in Khimki Forest is in clear contradiction with the principles of Global Compact. Even worse, Vinci has tried to mis-inform UN Global compact about particular issues concerning the project .

Taking this into account, Evgenia asked MEPs to take all possible actions to ensure that Vinci will leave the project.

Desislava Stoyanova, an expert of Bankwatch CEE, gave necessary explanation on the analysis of tax-haven schemes behind the project. Bankwatch CEE had not only helped Russian activists to discover the scheme – it has also played a crucial role in convincing EBRD and EIB to avoid participation in the project.

Werner Shultz, a MEP from Germany, noticed the unacceptable addiction of Vinci to projects that are perpetrated by free use of violence towards protesters.

Oksana Chelysheva provided more details about situations with oppression of environmental activists in modern Russia. She used well-known Gazaryan case as a grotesque example, where two environmentalists have been condemned to a 3-year sentence just for a graffiti on a fence the very existence of which was officially denied

Corinne Lepage, a MP from France, announced that she plans to start a campaign to exclude Vinci from Global Compact. Another French MEP – Michele Rivasi - suggested that an alliance of MEPs, French politicians, and NGOs should be created to make Vinci leave the Moscow-St.Petersburg motorway project.

It was also agreed to address European Commission with a warning about European participation in the project, as well as to invite Vinci to European Parliament just to get their own explanations about the participation in the project.

MEPs from France also decided to exercise some legal efforts on national level in order to bring Vinci to justice in France.

In her interview to Russian RBC news agency, Evgenia Chirikova said that Vinci's leave of the project would be the first step towards the preservation of Khimki Forest: “ If the project is changed, we will propose alternative options. If we stop construction works now – the forest as a whole will recover in five years and it will be hard to even find the clearing”

In the interview to RBC, Diector of Greenpeace Rusia Sergey Tsiplyonkov explained that there have been precedents where European structures stopped environmental-damaging projects in Finland and Poland – despite opposition of the local governments.

The public hearings on Khimki Forest are still an unprecedented event in relationships between EU and Russia. Meanwhile, there are yet no signs that Vinci and its Russian partner Avtodor have intentions to change anything: they have just started to dry out the mesotrophic bog and announced plans to destroy more that thousand trees in the oak grove. Perhaps the mentioned initiatives of MEPs will be able to stop the madness.

By the way, today’s discussion can have more far-reaching consequences than just the preservation of Khimki Forest. The following words of Satu Hassi give some hints of optimism: “We should change European legislation to prevent situations like today’s Vinci’s participation in the corrupted project in Russia in the future . If implemented, it could be an analog of Magnitsky Bill in the USA – but aimed against corporative violators of human and environmental rights rather than individuals”.