Embattled RSC Energia President Lopota Suspended from Post

Energia_logoEmbattled RSC Energia President Vitaly Lopota, who is the subject of a criminal investigation for alleged abuse of office, was suspended from his post on Friday by the company’s board of directors, ending a seven-year reign over the space company.

The move appears to be part of an effort by Russia’s government to obtain majority control over Energia, of which it owns a 38-percent share. The directors elected Igor Komarov as its new chairman of the board. Komarov is chief of the Russian United Rocket and Space Corporation (URSC), the government-owned company tasked with consolidating Russia’s sprawling space sector.

Board members appointed Vladimir Solntsev as acting president to replace Lopota. Solntsev is executive director of Energia’s NPO Energomash subsidiary, which produced rocket engines.

Following the board meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin — who is in charge of the space and defense sectors — Tweeted, ““Long-awaited personnel reform in our space industry has started. Tough times require tough decisions.”

Russian media are reporting that Lopota will remain Energia’s general designer, with a final decision on Lopota’s status set for a meeting of shareholders in September. The Novosti-Kosmonavtiki website reports that Lopota has been offered the position of URSC’s vice-president for technological development.

It’s not clear whether URSC will gain a majority share of Energia during the shareholders meeting. Officials have spoken of increasing the government’s share of the company from 38 to 51 percent.

In April, it became publicly known that the Russian Investigative Committee, that nation’s equivalent of the FBI, has opened a criminal probe into Lopota’s conduct for alleged abuse of office.

Detectives found that “in 2010, Lopota who performed managerial functions at RSC Energia gave instructions to the leadership of its subsidiary, an experimental machine-building plant of RSC Energia, to grant loans to two companies participating in commercial space project Sea Launch.”

“These monetary funds should have been used as advanced payments on contracts for producing piloted spaceships within state-funded and other contracts. Meanwhile, loans were extended to affiliated organizations on terms unprofitable for Energia,” Markin said.

Thus, “Lopota’s misuse of powers in violation of interests of RSC Energia entailed major losses of more than 41 million rubles (around $1.1 million) to the state, which owns a 38% stake in Energia.

Lopota has denied the charges, claiming the investigation is based on distorted results.

“What we see now is happening under the pressure of competitors, the agenda driver forces that are deliberately distorting the results of the inspections carried out at RSC,” Lopota told ITAR-TASS in comments on the Investigative Committee’s decision to open criminal proceedings against him. “A manipulation of documents is going on.”

This situation was staged by the commission set up under the previous leadership of the Roscosmos Space Agency, he went on.

Simultaneously with the commission’s work, as it was looking into transparency of the corporation’s operation, the Audit Chamber and independent experts were conducting an inspection of their own,” reporting “excellent appraisal of the company’s activity.” “It is only the Roscosmos commission that can be blamed for distorting this appraisal,” Lopota said.

The current status of the investigation is unknown, but if Lopota is being offered a high-level post at USRC, I can’t imagine that the charges were really that serious.

UPDATE: Interfax has more details on Lopota’s promotion:

“Vitaly Alexandrovich [Lopota] has been invited to work at the URSC as a vice president for technological development,” the URSC quoted Komarov as saying in a statement.

Lopota has headed the Energia corporation for seven years, Komarov said. “A number of serious projects have been implemented over this time, and some of them have become real breakthroughs,” he said.

Komarov pointed out that, as Lopota has been offered the office of URSC vice president for technological development, combining this job with the office of Energia president would be inappropriate.

Translation: They’re dropping the investigation and kicking Lopota upstairs. Interfax also says that prior to previous reports, the Energia board suspended Lopota’s credentials as both president and general designer.