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Manhole cover racket eats city budget – Sochi authorities

by Anna Arutunyan at 12/11/2013 12:58

With less than three months left until the Winter Olympic Games, city authorities in Sochi are embroiled in a battle with an unexpected vice: the theft of manhole covers by metal scavengers.

Some 800 manhole covers were stolen in the last couple of weeks, city officials said, most of them sold as scrap metal to any one of 20 recycling companies. Each day, 30 to 50 manhole covers are stolen, forcing the city to spend money on new ones.

“I’m telling you, it’s already become a business that’s seriously harming the city,” Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov said at a meeting with authorities and members of the local metals industry on Monday, according to the official site of the Sochi administration. “We can’t buy these manhole covers fast enough [before they disappear again], and these are budget funds. If no one accepted [the manholes as scrap metal], then no one would be stealing them.”

The more metal is stolen, the more recycling plants spring up to process it, creating an illicit business cycle that is becoming increasingly costly for city authorities. Police accused metal recycling companies of being complicit in the business.

Cast iron manhole covers can sell for around $70 to over $100 each in Russia, costing the city budget tens of thousands of dollars over just a few weeks.

Three criminal cases have been launched over metal theft recently, authorities said, and fines for stolen metal range from about $125 to $1,250. Still, recycling companies continue to accept stolen scrap metal, authorities said.

“It’s clear that asocial elements are stealing covers and [metal] cables. But they’re [selling] it here in Sochi,” Alexander Belozyorov, head of a Sochi police department, was quoted as saying at the meeting. “And you’re the ones who are accepting it, meaning that each time you become an accomplice. Has any one of you ever reported that someone brought in a manhole cover? No.”

Authorities said that the problem dates back to the 1990s, but has increased with the construction boom preparing the city for the 2014 Winter Olympics. With more roads being built, there is more metal to steal, officials said.

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