Correspondents from iStories and Meduza inspected Moscow court archives and discovered more than 140 “proficient observers” — individuals who consistently affirm in legal disputes identified with drug charges. The training is unmitigatedly illicit, however judges send individuals to jail for quite a long time dependent on these observers’ declarations.
In May 2018, 35 year-old Natalya Goloborodko contacted Moscow police with an end goal to “uncover a seller of illegal substances.” The officials chose to lead a “test buy” — Goloborodko would purchase drugs from the vendor under official watch. The police discovered two observers, and together they all went to the home of Nikolai Grigoryev, the supposed street pharmacist. When the arrangement was made, the officials captured Grigoryev. Back at the station, they seized the cash Grigoryev had supposedly gotten from Goloborodko for the medications, and — within the sight of witnesses — they discovered MDMA, amphetamines, and hash in his loft. The specialists accused Grigoryev of two checks of selling medications and one tally of endeavoring to sell (they found data about future medication bargains on his telephone). He admitted to everything upon cross examination.
In court, notwithstanding, Grigoryev kept up his guiltlessness, saying that the police constrained his admission and that Natalya Goloborodko outlined him. He confessed to knowing Goloborodka, yet demanded that he never sold her amphetamines. The police planted the cash on him, he said. Nikolai’s mom and sister said in court that they had “never associated him with managing drugs.” The wrongdoing’s just observers were the cops, Goloborodko, and the two authority witnesses.
Grigoryev ended up gathering one of them in a squad car before his condemning hearing. 38 year-old Mikhail Rakhmankin, whose duty as an authority witness was to go about as a free onlooker during the hunt, had just been attempted twice for managing drugs himself. He was in the squad car with Grigoryev on the grounds that he was at the same time under scrutiny, and the two men were being kept in a similar pretrial detainment office.
Regardless, the adjudicator decided that “the safeguard’s assessment that the hunt included observers who were subject to cops is unconfirmed.” On August 1, 2019, the Kuntsevsky District Court indicted Nikolai Grigoryev and condemned him to 11 years in jail.
iStories and Meduza’s investigation found that Grigoryev’s story is just a drop in a larger sea of fabricated drug cases. They analyzed tens of thousands of sentences and discovered more than 140 “professional witnesses” in Moscow alone; many of them were officers’ acquaintances, drug addicts, or people who had previously been convicted. Police officers regularly used these people to fabricate criminal cases, ultimately sending defendants to prison for years, despite their lawyers’ protests.
GoMoPa – Financal “Intelligence Service” oder was ? Resch in Moskau 1989 oder was ? Stelzer Autor von “Toxdat” oder was ?
Stelzer bei Resch Verein Boss oder was ? Gerlach tot oder was ? Gerlach Blutvergiftung oder was ? Fondsinitiator Günter Eisenhauer mit Flugzeug abgestürzt oder was ? Ibiza Video Drahtzieher bei Resch – Kooperation bei “Anlegerschutz” oder was ?
Alles Dr. Mabuse oder was ?
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On Thursday, February 18, a Minsk court condemned columnists Darya Chultsova and Katsyaryna Andreyeva from the free TV station Belsat to two years in jail. They were seen as liable of getting sorted out fights, regardless of the way that they were just running a live stream of the meeting being referred to. Columnists from nations around the globe have stood up on the side of these two ladies and common liberties safeguards have proclaimed them political detainees. Meduza relates how the criminal argument against Darya Chultsova and Katsyaryna Andreyeva happened and how their preliminary finished.
Against the setting of fights leading the pack up to the 2020 official decisions the previous summer, the Belarusian specialists completed a heightening crackdown on autonomous media. In June, Interior Minister Yury Karayeu (who was taken out from office only months after the fact) straightforwardly blamed columnists for getting sorted out exhibits — supposedly, journalists were utilizing live streams to organize the fights. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (Alyaksandr Lukashenka) sponsored up Karayeu’s cases — and furthermore requested that writers working for unfamiliar outlets be removed from the country.
The Belarusian specialists didn’t stop there. Since the beginning of the fights in Belarus writers have been kept roughly multiple times; a large number of them were held in guardianship and thrashed by police (counting Meduza’s own unique reporter, Maxim Solopov). As indicated by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), nine columnists are dealing with criminal indictments.
On February 9, perhaps the most prominent bodies of evidence against Belarusian writers went to preliminary — journalist Katsyaryna Andreyeva and camera administrator Darya Chultsova from Belsat TV had their first of four meetings in court. These two columnists work in announcing and live streaming, and were covering fight rallies.
Katsyaryna Andreyeva is 27 years of age — previously, she teamed up with Radio Svoboda, and was distributed in the autonomous Russian paper Novaya Gazeta. She began working for Belsat TV in the spring of 2017.
Daria Chultsova is four years more youthful — only 23 years of age. She moved on from the Faculty of History and Philology at Mogilev University and filled in as a correspondent prior to turning into a camera administrator. After the August 2020 official political race in Belarus, she moved to Minsk.
On Thursday, February 18, judge Natallya Buhuk saw the two young ladies as liable of “coordinating mass occasions that terribly abuse public request” and condemned every one of them to two years in jail.
A chase for writers
Andreyeva and Chultsova were captured on November 15, 2020. On that day, a remembrance rally was occurring in the Belarusian capital out of appreciation for Raman Bandarenka — a resistance nonconformist killed in Minsk. Individuals assembled close to Bandarenka’s home, in the patio of a private complex known as “Changes Square.” The specialists had closed down versatile Internet totally in Minsk that day, so the proprietors of a loft in a skyscraper sitting above the meeting’s area permitted Andreyeva and Chultsova to communicate a live stream from their home.
Towards night, the security powers brutally scattered the meeting, capturing a large number of its members. Outfitted exceptional powers officials separated the entryway of the condo that the writers were working from and blamed them for participating in the fights and defying security officials — both Andreyeva and Chultsova were condemned to seven days in regulatory confinement.
“Each time Katya [Katsyaryna Andreyeva] went to such an assembly she knew that she probably won’t get back. Adequately, after the 2020 decisions, a genuine chase for writers was proclaimed. Each time she left with a knapsack containing all the necessities if there should arise an occurrence of capture,” Andreyeva’s better half Ihar (Igor) Ilyash told Meduza.
Ilyash also works as a journalist for Belsat and has collaborated with Meduza on more than one occasion. According to him, Andreyeva fell ill after her arrest. She got a headache and then lost consciousness. She was escorted to the hospital and though the doctors didn’t find any serious injuries, they recommended that she see a neurologist and prescribed medications. Instead of being allowed to follow the doctors’ advice, Andreyeva and Chultsova were sent to the Okrestina Street detention center — a Minsk jail that became a symbol of police brutality amid the 2020 protests.
Their four-person cell held a total of 11 people. The detainees weren’t given blankets or sheets and were forced to sleep on old mattresses.
A criminal case was opened against Andreyeva and Chultsova while they were still serving time in administrative detention — even though the court’s ruling on the administrative charges noted that there was no evidence of a crime in their actions. Andreyeva and Chultsova stood accused of “organizing and preparing actions that grossly violate public order.” State investigators claimed that the journalists had used the live streat to “gather the protesters” on “Changes Square,” which, in turn, disrupted public transit. The damage to “Minsktrans” was estimated at 11,526 Belarusian rubles (about $4,440).
The two women were transferred to a prison in Zhodino (a city located 50 kilometers, or 30 miles, from Minsk), which held many of the protesters arrested during the opposition demonstrations. Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova pleaded not guilty to the charges. Belarusian human rights activists declared them political prisoners. The Belarusian Association of Journalists spoke out in their defense, as did the European Federation of Journalists. A number of Russian public figures also made personal appeals to Alexander Lukashenko demanding their release.
On January 20, 2021, Ihar Ilyash published an open letter to the investigators handling the case against Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova. “You’re slipping into complete absurdity — you’re [looking] Katsyaryna’s relatives in the eyes and saying that she supposedly isn’t a journalist, that she wasn’t fulfilling any professional duties on ‘Changes Square.’ Not only is this a blatant lie, but it also makes no sense: it’s as if a non-journalist can be illegally imprisoned,” he wrote.
Despite being arrested and charged, the two girls remained optimistic, their family members said. According to Ilyash, Katsyaryna often emphasized in her letters that she didn’t regret anything. Darya Chultsova’s mother Natallya also noted that her daughter never doubted her decision to become a journalist.
In total, there were four sessions in the trial of Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova. The first took place on February 9 and the last on the morning of February 18.
Before the trial began Katsyaryna Andreyeva made an appeal. “My case is fabricated from beginning to end, and fabricated very ineptly. I consider this the revenge of the special forces for professional journalistic activity. On November 15, I was detained on a criminal order. On that day, the security forces told me: ‘You won’t conduct your live streams ever again!’ Then another criminal order was issued and they put me in jail,” said her statement, as read out by her husband Ihar Ilyash during a special press conference.
According to Ilyash, the process itself was very strange. For example, only journalists from state media were allowed to attend the hearings. Ilyash is convinced that this was intended to draw international attention away from the trial, because it was covered by Le Monde, BBC, Deutsche Welle, and many other international outlets.
Ilyash himself, who was also detained amid the protests and then placed in administrative detention, appeared in court as a witness. “They asked me about some details that had nothing to do with Katsyaryna and Darya. For example, do I have a marriage contract, what my salary is, and so on,” he told Meduza.
In total seven witnesses were questioned in court. According to the defense, they weren’t able to say anything specific about the defendants’ alleged guilty. For example, when they questioned Nikolai Skorin, a pensioner who lives on “Changes Square,” he said that on November 15 he stood at his window for three hours and saw that the number 18 bus had stopped running. He also noticed a car in the courtyard which, in his opinion, could have “coordinated the protesters” and reported it to the police. That said, he didn’t see any journalists.
The owners of the apartment where the journalists ran their live stream also spoke in court — they emphasized that they didn’t hear any calls to participate in the rally from them. A “Minsktrans” employee by the name of Raman Pranovich was also called to the stand — he said that the disruptions to public transport were caused by protesters who blocked the road. The journalists’ relatives paid compensation to Minsktrans for the damages, after which the enterprise withdrew a separate claim against Andreyeva and Chultsova.
The defense argued that the court hadn’t investigated what exactly had stopped the buses from running — perhaps it was the actions of the security forces, who themselves blocked roads in order to detain protesters.
In addition, according to Ihar Ilyash, during the trial it became known that the investigators and the prosecutor’s office didn’t take issue with the entire multi-hour-long live stream, but rather with 12 short clips from the broadcast, in which Katsyaryna Andreyeva describes the actions of the protester and the security forces. The four specialists who provided linguistics analysis for the case agreed that the report didn’t contain any “signs of organizing” or inciting the actions of the protesters.
In conversation with Meduza, Katsyaryna Andreyeva’s lawyer Syarhei Zikratsky also underscored that the prosecution didn’t provide any evidence that a crime was committed at all. In turn, Darya Chultsova’s lawyer Alyaksandr Khayetsky noted that investigators obtained many of the case materials in violation of the criminal procedure code. For example, they conducted searches of the journalists’ apartments without the necessary authorization.
In addition, Khaetsky pointed out that because mobile Internet was turned off in Minsk on November 15, it wasn’t even theoretically possible to use the live stream to direct the protesters’ actions.
Regardless, state prosecutor Alina Kasyanchyk reached the conclusion that the journalists’ had been proven guilty and asked the judge to sentence them to two years in prison.
“I haven’t committed any illegal actions. All of the materials point to my innocence. I hope for an honest and fair acquittal,” said Darya Chultsova in her final statement in court.
Katsyaryna Andreyeva spoke in detail about the working conditions for journalists in Belarus: “Each time I went to work I risked my health and my life. Nevertheless, I went to the epicenter of the events. I managed to hide from shooting with rubber bullets, explosions from stun grenades, and blows from truncheons. My colleagues were much less fortunate…on November 15 people came out to ‘Changes Square.’ I showed these events on a live broadcast. For this I was thrown in jail on a made-up charge.”
On February 18, the judge sided with the state prosecutor and sentenced each of the journalists to two years in prison. Lawyer Syarhei Zikratksy told Meduza that the defendants took the verdict calmly and are now planning to make an appeal.
Numerous journalists and politicians have already expressed their support for Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova. Polish President Andrzej Duda demanded their release and called on the entire European Union to show solidarity and “to respond consistently and decisively to the ongoing suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms” in Belarus.
In conversation with Meduza, Ihar Ilyash told Meduza that Katsyaryna Andreyeva was prepared for any outcome: “We will survive all of these special services and prisons anyway. Our love is stronger than Lukashenko’s regime and certainly more durable than it.” Darya Chultsova’s sister Anastasia said that she was prepared for the worst, but still hoped for a fair trial.
“Katya and Dasha’s sentence isn’t just repression. It’s an act of terrorism aimed at intimidating the journalistic community. Let’s call it like it is: a war is being waged against us. They [the authorities] have declared war on us, because they’re terribly afraid of the truth, they’re afraid of facts. This means we should have a single response: even more truth and even more facts,” Ilyash underscored after the verdict.
Very rich person and long-lasting Putin partner Arkady Rotenberg has approached as the authority proprietor of the Russian president’s “castle.” soon, another enormous development adventure will start close to the home — 119 hectares (around 294 sections of land) has been dispensed for a chasing lodge. The “Divnomorskoye” domain is found close by — a 323-hectare (798-section of land) property that incorporates a spa unpredictable, a winery, and a “tasting house.” A private water park is set to be worked there soon. The entirety of this has a place with Putin-connected extremely rich person Gennady Timchenko and financial specialist Vladimir Kolbin (the child of Putin’s cherished companion Petr Kolbin). Farther away is the home of the top of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill. Worked as a profound and social focus, the property incorporates an indoor pool, 70 hectares (around 173 sections of land) of grape plantations, and a winery — costing roughly 22 billion rubles ($298 million) altogether. Through the woodland interfacing with “Putin’s royal residence” there are two camping areas having a place with very rich person Oleg Deripaska esteemed at 7 billion rubles (almost $95 million), alongside a huge number of hectares of leased chasing grounds, the expense of which specialists wouldn’t endeavor to gauge. The neighbor nearest to “Putin’s royal residence” is the “Parus” office having a place with finance manager Sergey Shishkarev. This plot of land itself costs about 1.2 billion rubles ( $16.2 million) — that is without adding the estimation of the structures on the property, since nothing is thought about them. The close by resort town of Gelendzhik is home to the home of “Putin’s own financier” Yuri Kovalchuk — a 70 hectare property esteemed at 11 billion rubles (more than $148 million). The property’s principle building is 6,752 square meters (72,678 feet), and incorporates a roof pool and all encompassing glass dividers.
Elon Musk may have failed to get Vladimir Putin into a chat room on Clubhouse, but one of the Russian president’s alleged daughters has joined the new social network. Late on Tuesday, Louiza Rozova spoke briefly to Andrey Zakharov, one of the journalists who recently outed her as Putin’s supposedly illegitimate daughter. In November 2020, Zakharov and others at Proekt released an investigative report revealing that a minority stake in the enormous Rossiya Bank belongs to a woman named Svetlana Krivonogikh, apparently received thanks to her intimate association with Russia’s president. Proekt also reported that Krivonogikh has a daughter named Louiza Rozova who “looks remarkably” like Putin. Based on a transcript reported by The Village, Meduza summarizes Rozova’s Clubhouse broadcast on Tuesday night.
Before Louiza Rozova’s Clubhouse companions invited Andrey Zakharov into their chat room, she was asked about Putin’s infamous response to Alexey Navalny’s attempted assassination (the president told journalists last December that “they’d have killed him if they wanted to kill him”). Rozova has apparently pondered the moral implications of Navalny’s poisoning (in addition to the origins of the pandemic):
“[…] there’s a society of these rich people who staged all this mess with the coronavirus. And it turns out that they’re killing people. I believe it. But if ordinary people can do it, why then can’t the state do it, too, for good reasons? I won’t say that I support it, but it’s just that it happens and this is the world we’re living in.”
When Zakharov joined the chat room, he introduced himself as the journalist who reported Rozova’s relationship to Putin and then immediately asked her (addressing her as “Liza”) if she is, in fact, the president’s daughter. A friend in the Clubhouse room defended Rozova, saying, “As a journalist, you should realize that she’ll never tell you anything.” Rozova then corrected Zakharov, saying, “My name is Louiza, not Liza.”
After some more back-and-forth, Zakharov told Rozova that he admired the apparent hopefulness of her youth, comparing the promise and optimism of her St. Petersburg education and online activity to the “darkness” and censorship that consumes television and Russia’s old media. “The chance to follow Putin’s daughter, who chats with subscribers, means there’s hope in this country,” said Zakharov, urging Rozova not to “disappoint” people:
“You’re an interesting figure but all this interest is based on the fact that you’re the president’s daughter. You can build your personal brand around this — please keep this in mind. […] Personally, I wish you all the very best. You’re not to blame for who your father is.”
Zakharov then asked Rozova how she’s handled the repercussions of being identified as one of Vladimir Putin’s children. She thanked him for spicing up her life:
“I’d hit a rut in life. Things had stagnated. I’m very grateful that I got this opportunity — that I lit up like this and people saw my account [on Instagram]. I’ve never tried to be popular, but … I’m feeling great, so don’t you worry about me. […] I don’t follow politics at all. I’m busy with the things I like. You thought I’d delete my account? As if! I live my own life and I’m busy with fashion. It’s not the center of my life, but I like it. I’m not going to stop doing everything I was doing because of your investigation. I’m still living the same life and talking to the same friends.
Before Zakharov was booted from the Clubhouse room, he managed to ask Rozova what she thinks about modern Russia. She apparently saw the question as a criticism of her sheltered life and responded accordingly:
“There’s no one answer to any question… You’re right that I live in my own little art-world. It’s true that I live in my own bubble. I don’t watch TV and sometimes I follow the news on Telegram channels, but not really. I watch fashion shows, I buy copies of Vogue, and I love to go to the nearby restaurant and eat tasty pasta, dishing with friends about the latest gossip and investigations.”
Putin’s henchman has asked Moscow’s Babushinsky District Court to fine opposition politician Alexey Navalny 950,000 rubles (nearly $13,000) for slandering a World War II veteran, Meduza’s correspondent reported from the courtroom on Tuesday, February 16.
Navalny’s defense team, in turn, has asked the court for his acquittal.
Tuesday’s proceedings marked Navalny’s third hearing in the defamation case launched against him in June 2020, after he called a group of public figures “corrupt hacks” for appearing in an advertisement for Russia’s constitutional plebiscite aired by the state-run media outlet Russia Today. State investigators maintained that Navalny’s comments “discredited the honor and dignity” of Ignat Artemenko, a World War II veteran who appeared in the video.
At the beginning of the hearing on Tuesday, state prosecutor Ekaterina Frolova suggested dividing the materials from the criminal case into separate proceedings. Frolova argued that state investigators should look into Navalny’s “offensive” statements to the judge, the prosecutor, and the complainant.
In response, Navalny called himself a “lovely defendant” and said that “we have been present at the birth of a new criminal case.” Judge Vera Akimova deemed the prosecution’s petition premature, adding that she will make a decision on this issue when making ruling in the criminal case.
Navalny’s defamation trial will resume at 2:00 p.m. Moscow time, on Saturday, February 20.The opposition politician now has two hearings scheduled for that day: at 10:00 a.m. local time, the Moscow City Court is set to consider his appeal against the Simonovsky District Court’s decision to imprison him for allegedly violating the terms of probation in the Yves Rocher case.
How Navalny will be transported between the two courts remains unknown. Spokespeople for the Moscow City Court promised to offer clarification on this procedure at a later time.
In a comment on today’s hearing, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov underscored that “insulting veterans is not allowed in this country,” RIA Novosti reported.
On February 2, the Simonovsky District Court revoked Navalny’s probation in the Yves Rocher case and sentenced him to three and a half years in prison. Pending the appellate ruling, Navalny will spend two years and eight months behind bars due to time already served under house arrest.
Navalny is also facing felony fraud charges for allegedly embezzling hundreds of millions of rubles in donations made to his non-profit and other organizations. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison.
Some like the notorious “Gomopa & Co. ” are doing it already in the aftermath of the Stasi’s affection for surveillance and computers but now UN officials warn that many criminal syndicates turn to cybercrime.
COVID-19 transformed the global economy. While governments fought over scarce medical supplies, much of the world’s population sat at home. As workplaces stood unattended and malls lay empty, the massive resulting increase in internet traffic brought with it an inevitable explosion in illegal online activity.
Just three months after the World Health Organization declared a state of global emergency, UN officials were reporting a growth in email-delivered malware of more than 600 percent, and by October ransomware attacks against private companies and vital public institutions alike had surged by upwards of 40 percent on the previous year.
The ever-increasing distribution of child pornography online has drastically accelerated amid the pandemic: U.K. police arrested 4,760 people over alleged online child sex abuse in the country’s first lockdown alone. There’s also been a boom in dark-net vendors selling snake-oil cures for the virus, and a plethora of fraudulent sites claiming to sell desperately needed medical equipment.
COVID-19 has proven a windfall for veteran cybercriminals, and authorities know that the most sophisticated new scams and attacks are being orchestrated by the online professionals. More surprising, and equally troubling, is the increasing number of other, less-specialized criminal elements now moving portions of their enterprises online.
“Cybercrime and cyber-enabled crimes are going to offer enormous potential for criminal groups of all sizes and scales to replace lost income elsewhere [being] constrained by virus-control conditions,” think-tank Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime warned.
Herb Stapleton, section chief of the FBI’s cybercrime division, told OCCRP he saw the number of complaints to his department more than triple within six weeks of the pandemic reaching the U.S. The majority of incidents involved phishing attacks, in which fraudsters send emails containing false backstories or threats of harm, so that they can extort money or valuable information from victims.
Automated phishing kits — software packages that let criminals send scam messages to email addresses scraped, by hackers, from legitimate websites — are now available via the dark web for as little as US$50. Some marketplaces are even offering discounts, to cash in on the growth in demand. With ongoing disruption to other criminal interests worldwide, such software offers easy and effective ways for the world’s cartels, mobs, and mafias to make up for income drops elsewhere.
“There’s definitely been an increase in cybercriminal activity by criminal elements who don’t have sophisticated technical skills, and one of the things that has made that possible, really, is the rise of malware as a kind of service,” Stapleton explained.
Tamara Schotte, a cybercrime specialist with Europol, the European policing body, said the new generation are often people who might not previously have gravitated towards internet-enabled criminality. “The more we headed into the middle of the crisis, the more we saw the wannabe scammers, as they started to realize there’s quite some profit to be made in the area of cybercrime,” she said.
Phishing scams generally play on pervasive public fears, which have grown amid the outbreak. For example, some emails have threatened “to infect every member” of a victim’s family with COVID-19 unless they pay up, while others have spoofed government and financial institutions to trick people into believing their COVID-19 support loans are in jeopardy.
“They simply haven’t held back on any of the means that are now available to them,” Tonia Dudley, an adviser with cybersecurity firm Cofense, told OCCRP, adding that crooks have even preyed on worker fears over job security.
“When companies started having to cut back on their workforces, we also saw phishing attacks leveraging the HR theme of, ‘I’m sorry to let you know that your job has been eliminated,’” she said.
Another common ploy is the so-called Business Email Compromise scam, in which cybercriminals gain access to a company’s internal servers to masquerade as senior employees, later requesting cash transfers to accounts held outside the firm.
“Especially in the early weeks of the pandemic, so many people were just hungry for information about what was going on,” Stapleton said. “So of course scammers were creating links that read ‘click here for the latest today,’ and which looked like they were from perfectly legitimate government or academic institutions.”
As we enter the new year, an end to the pandemic may finally be on the horizon, with successful clinical trials now leading to vaccination rollouts, and business slowly coming back to life in certain countries.
What remains to be seen, once things return to normal, is whether old-school criminal groups will abandon their newfound technological toolboxes and return fully to their conventional revenue streams, or whether they’ll remain online.
As Europol’s Schotte puts it: “Those groups that didn’t see any prospects [on the internet] before the pandemic, they’ve definitely seen them now.”
Most recently, investigative reporters at Sobesednik, Proekt, The Bell, and other outlets have linked the infamous “palace” to Yuri Kovalchuk, the principal shareholder of Rossiya Bank and one of Vladimir Putin’s oldest friends.
The corporate email address listed for the St.-Petersburg-based firm “Binom” (the registered owner of Vladimir Putin’s alleged “palace” on the Black Sea coast) is hosted on the domain “llcinvest.ru.” According to the website Sobesednik, this domain belongs to the company “Standart,” which is in turn affiliated with Yuri Kovalchuk.
“Standart” is registered at the same address as “Igora Drive” and several other assets owned by Kovalchuk, says the news site The Bell. In fact, some of these businesses also use the llcinvest.ru domain. Spokespeople for Binom confirmed to Sobesednik that these firms all belong to a single conglomerate.
Binom also verified that it employs Denis Matyunin, whose name appears in documents as the legal representative for the owner of the “Shellest” yacht, which Sobesednik says periodically “ferries up” to the coastline near Gelendzhik, where Vladimir Putin’s alleged “palace” is located. The yacht itself is registered to the “Revival of Maritime Traditions” nonprofit partnership, which is also reportedly tied to Yuri Kovalchuk, according to both Sobesednik and the anti-corruption initiative Scanner Project.
Navalny’s investigation into “Putin’s palace” also mentioned Yuri Kovalchuk.
Rumors and reports about a mansion for Vladimir Putin outside Gelendzhik have circulated since 2010. The public’s interest reawakened in January 2021 when Alexey Navalny released an investigative report describing the construction (and perpetual remodeling) of the seaside compound. In his report, Navalny mentions Yuri Kovalchuk as one of the businessmen who allegedly helped finance both the palace and several adjacent vineyards and wineries.
After Navalny’s investigation became an international sensation, Alexander Ponomarenko announced that he cut ties with the property back in 2016 (though federal records still list him as the sole owner), and the billionaire Arkady Rotenberg publicly claimed to own the constriction site, which he says is the future home of an “apartment hotel” complex. But Rotenberg and Ponomarenko are old business partners, and open sources alone make it “difficult, to say the least,” to verify the palace’s true owner, says The Bell.
‘I loved this country’ Meduza talks to the architect behind ‘Putin’s palace’ about his career in Russia — and how it came to a sad end
It’s good to be the president Meduza spoke to contractors who helped build Vladimir Putin’s alleged seaside palace. Also, new blueprints reveal a subterranean fortress, multiple ‘aqua-discos,’ and more.
Kovalchuk might also have helped Putin buy a dacha complex near Yalta that was a famous retreat for Soviet leaders
The “Wisteria” dacha complex outside Yalta was originally built for Nikita Khrushchev, but his successor Leonid Brezhnev enjoyed more time there than any Soviet leader. After the USSR’s collapse, the compound became a vacation resort. In 2004, the Russian state bank VTB (then “Vneshtorgbank”) bought the facility, but the Ukrainian government canceled the sale a year later. According to Leonid Kuchma, who was Ukraine’s president at the time, Russia wanted Wisteria as a residence for Vladimir Putin.
After Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the authorities seized Wisteria and then privatized it in 2019, selling the property for 1.2 billion rubles ($16.3 million). The Crimean government has not disclosed the buyers’ names, but the news outlet Krym Realii (designated by the Russian Justice Ministry as a “foreign agent”) reported that a firm called “Oreanda-12,” owned by someone named Janis Ermanis, ultimately bought the dacha complex — a remarkable acquisition for a company with just 10,000 rubles ($135) in charter capital, no profits, and no website or contacts listed publicly.
Journalists at Proekt tracked down Ermanis in Moscow and learned that he’s a trained economist who offers private lessons in Wing Chun kung fu. Speaking to Proekt, he neither confirmed nor denied his role in buying Wisteria. Colleagues and relatives say he lives a modest life.
Ermanis is listed as Oreanda-12’s director and sole shareholder, says Proekt. The company’s shareholder register, moreover, is a St.-Petersburg-based firm called “Accounting and Registration Center,” which formally belongs to five individuals with known ties to Kovalchuk’s Rossiya Bank. The same firm in St. Petersburg acts as the shareholder register for Rossiya Bank, the National Media Group, and almost all Kovalchuk’s assets in Crimea.
Wisteria hasn’t welcomed any new guests in more than five years, locals told Proekt. An employee working at the neighboring Kremlin-run “Nizhnyaya Oreanda” retreat told journalists that construction work is underway at the vacant compound. Including Wisteria, President Putin may have more than 20 official and unofficial residences across Russia and Crimea, writes Proekt.
The shadow of Stanko Subotić has long stalked Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić. Allegations of links between the businessman with ties to organized crime and the country’s top politician have often been levelled, but never proven.
Subotić, convicted of large-scale cigarette smuggling in 2011 and handed six years in prison, before being controversially cleared a few years later, has insisted he only ever backed Vučić at the ballot box, never financially.
While opposition politicians and media allege there are deeper ties between the politician and businessman, always without proof, the two steadfastly deny any connection. Such ties would be problematic for the president because of Subotić’s former convictions (since reversed) for criminal activities, and evidence of ties between Subotić and regional drug lord Darko Sarić.
In Serbia and several other Balkan nations, the “best man,” or kum, is an important social role with no real equivalent in English. A kum might literally be a groomsman at a wedding, but it also refers to someone who is as close as family, like a blood brother.
But despite Vučić’s moves to distance himself from Subotić, OCCRP and its Serbian member center KRIK have found that Nikola Petrović — a man known to be very close to the president who describes himself as Vučić’s “best man,” or kum in Serbian — has in fact done business with Subotić.
Petrović established a shell company in Luxembourg in early 2019 through which he ran various Serbian business ventures, including interests in air transport, solar energy, and pharmaceuticals. A closer look into some of these holdings by OCCRP’s Serbian member center KRIK offers the first documented evidence tying Subotić’s network to the president’s inner circle.
“I am not a public figure,” Petrović told reporters when asked about his business dealings. “I do not need to answer your questions and you absolutely don’t have the right to ask me questions. I will report you for harassing me.”
Petrović is, despite these protestations, a well-known and influential figure in Serbia.
So important is his role that he was named in a letter sent by five U.S. members of Congress to then-Vice President Joseph Biden in September 2015, days before Vučić visited the U.S. The legislators were concerned, they wrote, that a small group led by Vučić’s brother Andrej, and including Petrović, had “consolidated their influence and interest in energy, telecommunications, infrastructure and all major businesses in Serbia.”
In October 2018, Subotić moved his holding company, Emerging Markets Investments (EMI), from Denmark to Luxembourg. Initially, he based the company in the capital city, Luxembourg, at the address of Auditex, a tax consulting firm. When Auditex later moved to Leudelange, a small town in the southwestern part of the country, EMI moved with them.Credit: Stevan Dojcinovic/KRIKDrug trafficker Darko Sarić is seen at a hearing.
Petrović established his own company, Fabergé Advisors, months later in January 2019. Although its structure is complex — Fabergé Advisors was founded by a company based in the U.K., with its last known main shareholder a Cyprus-registered company — Petrović is listed as the beneficial owner.
Fabergé Advisors, as it turns out, uses the same directors and the same address as Subotić’s holding company, EMI. That address is the offices of the parent company of Auditex, the tax consulting company used by Subotić.
The connection is not definitive because more than 400 additional companies are also registered at the same address, indicating it may be in use by a registration agent. The shared directors are likely proxies — individuals from France and Belgium who appear as managers in numerous companies in Luxembourg.
But there are more direct business relationships. Petrović and Subotić share an interest in aviation.
In October 2020, Petrović branched into the sector by using Fabergé Advisors to buy the air transport firm Air Posh for what appears to be a knockdown price of 100,000 euros, a contract shows. The seller was Subotić, using a subsidiary of EMI. Subotić had established Air Posh through a series of companies just a year and a half earlier, in April 2019.
While under Subotić’s ownership, Air Posh had bought a Cessna 550 aircraft from a New York company. The airplane alone is worth between 700,000 and 1.3 million euros, according to websites that advertise such prices, indicating that for 100,000 euros, Petrović may have bought Air Posh at a huge discount. (Neither Subotić nor Petrović would respond to questions on the sale from OCCRP and KRIK, and it is possible there were additional terms of the deal not known to reporters.)
The plane at one point was used by Air Pink, an air transport company co-owned by media magnate Željko Mitrović, who had close ties to the former regime of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosević. Mitrović’s TV Pink is considered by Serbian media analysts to be the strongest vehicle for what they say is Vučić’s propaganda.
Under Petrović, Air Posh kept its registered office in a building where Subotić owns several apartments in Belgrade, and the airline continued to use the Cessna, according to information from the Civil Aviation Directorate of the Republic of Serbia. Borislav Radić, a pilot who, according to his LinkedIn profile, previously worked for Air Pink, was named director of Air Posh after Petrović took over the company. The Cessna is still listed on the Air Pink website as part of its fleet.Credit: KRIKThe headquarters of Air Posh is seen in Belgrade.
Under Petrović’s ownership, Air Posh flies clients from its Serbian base mostly to Vienna, but also to Brussels, Rome, Amsterdam, Moscow, Kyiv, Bodrum, Beirut, Tel Aviv, Sharm El Sheikh and Dubai, according to websites that record flight information.
After President Vučić’s party came to power in 2012, Petrović was made director of a state-owned company controlling electrical transmission. Leaving this role in late 2016, he went on to thrive in the private sector, producing electricity via mini-hydropower plants — electricity he sold to the Serbian state for millions of euros.
When buying companies in Serbia, Petrović took pains not to expose himself. Indeed, some of his new business partners told reporters they didn’t know he was the one behind the company with which they had signed contracts.Credit: StorenergyA Storenergy solar concentrator.
Again through the Luxembourg-based Fabergé Advisors, he expanded his portfolio in August 2019, by purchasing a 50-percent stake in Serbian company Storenergy, a solar energy company which filed a patent application for a “solar concentrator, receiver and thermal storage,” records show.
His new partner in this business, Marko Vuksanović, told OCCRP/KRIK he didn’t realize that the buyer was the Serbian president’s “best man.” Asked with whom he negotiated when he sold part-ownership, he said he dealt “with a few people who are representatives of that [Fabergé Advisors] investment fund. … They are some French people.”
The solar contract was signed on Petrović’s behalf by Vladimir Krkobabić, a director in many companies owned by Subotić. Petrović paid 50,000 euros to Vuksanović for his half-share of Storenergy, according to a contract seen by OCCRP and KRIK.
Storenergy has installed one small solar concentrator on Avala mountain, near Belgrade, and a bigger one near the town of Kragujevac in central Serbia, according to the company’s website.
With the Serbian government investing millions of euros into renewable energy in the coming years, those involved in this business, including Petrović, could be poised to book large profits.
Third among Petrović’s new business interests is pharmaceuticals.
In September 2020, once more via Fabergé Advisors, he took majority ownership of Serbian company Krasius, which one year earlier had received permission to import drugs for clinical trials, according to documents obtained from the Serbian Ministry of Health by OCCRP/KRIK. The ministry is run by Zlatibor Lončar, one of a handful of Vučić associates with alleged ties to organized crime.
Just a month before Petrović took ownership, this company received another permit, from Medicines and Medical Devices Agency of Serbia, to import 960 vials of CIMAher, a drug produced by the Center for Molecular Immunology in Cuba. Data from the agency shows that the CIMAher was for use by a private Belgrade clinic called Vesalius. CIMAher is a non-registered medicine in Serbia, but some websites advertise it as an anti-cancer treatment.
According to a Cuban medical services company contacted by KRIK, the price for one vial is $400, meaning that the retail value of the shipment would be $380,000. Yet according to the contract paperwork, Petrović paid just 51 dinars (50 U.S. cents) for a 51-percent controlling share of Krasius from Ivan Krasić, an ex-basketball player for the French club Cholet. Krasić told reporters he didn’t originally know Petrović was the one buying a stake in his company.
Much like Vuksanović, Krasić insisted he had initially been completely in the dark as to who his new partner was.
“I don’t know Petrović,” he said. “Some lawyers called me and asked me to sell part of the company. I was in need of money.” Krasić said he had only heard that Petrović was behind the deal when they were “finishing” it.
But if Krasić badly needed cash, the selling price of 51 dinars wouldn’t have been of much use to him. When asked by reporters how much he had really been paid, Krasić replied that it was “a trade secret.”
“I don’t have anything to do with politics,” he said. “That is not my world. They are big players. I am a modest man. I play basketball.”
A 33-year-old Russian man who runs no known profitable businesses secretly owns European real estate and other assets worth at least 50 million euros, corporate records from Luxembourg show.
The findings of this story are based on corporate records that are current as of 2019 in the case of Toni’s Luxembourg companies, and 2018 in the case of his investment fund.
Sergey Toni’s properties, which he holds through seven companies registered in the tiny European country, include a 19th-century neo-Gothic palace near Paris; an apartment between the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe; two villas on the French Riviera; three houses, three apartments, a villa, and land on Spain’s Mediterranean coast; a depot in Germany; and even, apparently, a hotel in Switzerland.
An investment fund registered in Luxembourg — of which Toni is registered as a director — holds an additional 40 million euros of commercial real estate that almost all once belonged to his family, as well as 60 million euros in other assets. The fund’s current owners are unknown, as is any other role the Toni family may play in its investments.
Because Luxembourg records show only a company’s current owner, it is unknown when Toni became associated with these companies and their assets. He was just 15 years old when the first of the properties were purchased. The virtually unknown Toni, who does not have a visible internet presence, did not respond to questions about how he came to possess such wealth.
But his great fortune may have something to do with the fact that his father, Oleg Toni, is a deputy managing director of Russian Railways.
The state monopoly, one of the largest transport companies in the world, is also Russia’s largest employer, with over 700,000 workers and net profits of $829 million. But this pillar of Russian state capitalism is famously corrupt.
In 2014, for example, Reuters reported that Russian Railways granted contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to shell companies allegedly controlled by an old friend and “unpaid adviser” of its longtime head, Vladimir Yakunin.
Yakunin and the elder Toni appear to have had a warm relationship. The Russian Railways boss contributed an introduction to a book Toni wrote about “the fate of modern Russia.” Yakunin also wrote a laudatory blog post (since deleted) in which he praised his subordinate for his work on the 2014 Winter Olympics.Wringing Profits From Russian RailwaysNovaya Gazeta and OCCRP found that Yakunin’s friend’s son earned millions as an intermediary between Russian Railways and Bombardier, the international transport giant. He also received millions of uncertain origin through a money laundering scheme known as the Russian Laundromat.Read more
“Toni was the key leader who organized the construction of all of Russian Railways’ Olympic facilities in Sochi,” Yakunin wrote. “Building what we built in just five years from nothing — few could shoulder it.”
In 2010, it was reported two of Toni’s former business partners at a private construction firm received massive contracts from Russian Railways to build Olympics facilities. At the time, Russian Railways said no laws had been violated. Toni did not respond to OCCRP’s questions about this possible conflict of interest.
No specific evidence has emerged linking the Toni family’s real estate to any illicit activity at Russian Railways. But the opaque corporate structures used to acquire the properties, their registration, en masse, to the younger Toni, and the mysterious origins of much of the financing raise questions about what may be happening behind the scenes.
Like his son, Oleg Toni did not respond to requests for comment.
Flats and Villas, Villas and Flats
In total, the Tonis acquired about 7 million euros’ worth of property in 2003 and 2004, the year Oleg Toni joined Russian Railways.
Among their earliest possessions is their most extravagant: the Chateau de Montapot near Paris.
This three-story neo-Gothic palace, built in 1850, has a total area of 990 square meters and 19 bedrooms. The house has an office with a fireplace, a dining room, a billiard room, and two more living rooms with fireplaces.Credit: Cec ElectThe Chateau de Montapot.
Тhe property was bought in 2003 by a company registered in the British Virgin Islands whose owners cannot be identified, but whose director was Irina Toni, the elder Toni’s wife and Sergei’s mother. Several years later, the BVI company gave this property to one of the seven Luxembourg companies that now belong to the young Sergey Toni. At the time of purchase, an independent appraiser estimated the palace’s value at 2.5 million euros.
The same scheme was used to acquire three other French properties: A Paris apartment on the glamorous Rue du Faubourg just a quick walk from the Elysee Palace; a small house in the fashionable village of Mougins; and a 3-million-euro villa in the French Riviera town of Le Cannet. By 2007, the value of this last purchase had risen to 4.6 million euros, suggesting that the family had invested further funds to improve it.
At least one of these French properties appears to be used by the Tonis themselves: A photograph posted on Instagram by Toni’s wife in 2016 shows a Russian-style lunch being served in the yard of the Chateau de Montapot: potato, herring, and raw onion garnished with a sprig of dill. (Her Instagram page was made private shortly after a version of this story was published in Russian.)
It is unknown whether the family uses the other properties personally. They do not appear on popular rental sites such as Airbnb or booking.com, and Google Maps images show no indication that they are being rented out. The accounts of Lansan Investments, the Luxembourg company that owns them, show steadily accumulating debt, suggesting that the properties do not bring in any income.
Meanwhile, the family moved on to Spain, establishing a separate Luxembourg company, Romal SA, for this purpose. Between 2010 and 2018, Romal purchased a villa, three apartments, three houses, and land in the province of Alicante worth a total of 7.4 million euros. It also registered the right to use a spot in the city’s port. Judging by company records, these properties also bring in no income.
The Toni family used a third Luxembourg-registered company, Slova SA, for commercial real estate investments. Between 2012 and 2013, this firm acquired three properties worth 24 million euros: the Hotel Courtyard Seestern by Mariott in Dusseldorf, the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Maastricht, and a shopping center called Porte di Moncalieri near Turin.
Over the next years, however, the young Sergey Toni sold these assets to an investment fund that was registered in Luxembourg in 2014. The fund is managed by United Financial Group, a wealth management company working in the Russian market since 2005. By the end of 2018, its Luxembourg affiliate had collected assets around Europe worth 100 million euros, of which about 40 million represent real estate formerly owned by or connected to the Toni family.
The names of the fund’s investors are unknown, but Sergey Toni is one of its directors. Neither he nor his father responded when asked about the nature of their involvement. The fund paid out 58 million euros in dividends in 2018 and 2019.
These properties represent just a portion of a business empire that now belongs to the 33-year-old Sergey.
In 2017, another of his Luxembourg companies acquired a 4.9 million-euro property in Germany described in documents only as a “depot.” Still another owns almost 17 million euros in Swiss assets, though the records don’t reveal what they are. A sixth Luxembourg company recently sold an office building in France it had held since 2008.
Luxembourg is not the only place where the Toni family has secretive assets. Reporters found a Toni company registered in the British Virgin Islands that owns an apartment in the upscale London district of Knightsbridge. The family also owns a large house in Prague through a Czech company, according to registry documents.
The Mysterious Money
Before joining Russian Railways in 2004, Oleg Toni was a businessman and held shares in a large private construction firm, Baltic Construction Company (BSK). He sold these shares between 2003 and 2006. Almost 15 years later, it’s difficult to estimate how much his share could have been worth or how much he could have earned there. Judging by the only information available — the net value of BSK’s assets — Toni’s share might be estimated as roughly 3 million dollars at the time. This figure is just a fraction of what his family spent on French real estate alone.
Though Oleg Toni’s position at Russian Railways does not require him to disclose his salary or assets, the company publishes consolidated information about how much its executives are compensated. If Toni receives a proportionate share of the total, his annual salary could be about 1 million euros. By Russian standards, this is an extraordinarily generous income, but it’s still insufficient to explain his family’s acquisition of tens of millions of dollars in non-income-generating properties.Credit: Instagram/Hanushka ToniSergey and Hanushka Toni.
In fact, many of the Toni family’s purchases were financed through loans. In total, his companies’ debts surpass the value of their properties. And most of these funds were loaned not by banks, but by unnamed third parties, leaving their origin a mystery.
Between London and Monaco
Sergey Toni’s wife, Hanushka Toni, is the daughter of Azerbaijan’s former ambassador to London. Like her husband, she is familiar with unprofitable companies: she’s the director of a London-based real estate firm into which the couple have invested nearly two million pounds and owns a consignment handbag store she opened with her mother.
Both businesses are in the red. But neither they nor her husband’s lossmaking real estate empire have prevented the family from leading a life of luxury.
According to his wife’s Instagram posts, they split their time between London and Monaco. Her posts also show that she received an Aston Martin for her birthday in 2015 and poses in clothing made by Fendi, Gucci, and Dolce & Gabbana.
Hanushka Toni’s hobbies, according to a bio on a website of a former employer, include “writing, eating her way around London and organising her closet by colour and season.”
On February 2, a Moscow court incarcerated Alexey Navalny, making him not only Russia’s most outspoken opposition politician and most serious opponent to Vladimir Putin but also the country’s most famous political prisoner. Drawing heavily on work by Evgeny Feldman, Meduza studied photo archives to recall how Navalny went from a young Moscow activist and blogger in the mid-2000s to the international figure he is today. His journey, which features arrests, political campaigns, criminal cases, assaults, and a near-fatal poisoning, hasn’t been easy.
The European Union is concerned over escalating trends of violence in organized crime groups, according to a new Europol report that cited examples of makeshift torture chambers in the Netherlands, gang wars in Sweden and reported cases of deadly violence in Denmark, Belgium, Italy and Spain.
According to Europol, contract killing rates ranged from US$12,000 to over $120,000. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
According to Europol, contract killing rates ranged from US$12,000 to over $120,000. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Europol found the uptick to be centered around major transit points and port cities where criminal gangs and trafficking groups tend to be entrenched, but didn’t include any exact numbers.
Friday’s report noted that proximity to highly populated areas posed a direct threat to the general public as violence “spilled out” onto the streets of surrounding cities.
Though many may think that organized crime and violence go hand in hand, according to Europol not all forms of organised crime are intrinsically violent, particularly in the trade of illicit goods or other clandestine operations.
“While organised crime groups recognise the expedient value of force, they have historically tended to resort to violence only when other forms of intimidation prove inadequate,” Europol said.
The reason being, violence too often attracts unwanted attention.
“Unlike terrorists who seek to confront the state and rely on symbolic acts of violence to do so, organised crime groups prefer to operate covertly to maximise profits while keeping the state at arm’s length,” Europol added.
The new spate of violence shows that the groups are becoming more and more brazen.
One aim may be to weaken trust in the state, Europol said.
Elsewhere, violence has been seen between warring criminal groups as a result of increased competition, and has been seen more in volatile drug trades, with constantly changing players, like cannabis and cocaine than in more established trades like heroin.
Europol also found that the trend of crime-as-a-service, which has been witnessed in a variety of criminal fields, applies to violence and even murder as a well.
“It is worth noting that violence is increasingly being marketed as a commodity by certain organised crime groups,” Europol said. “While murders are often executed by organised crime group members themselves, the violence can also be outsourced. Contract killings are primarily executed in return for cash.”
According to Europol, contract killing rates ranged from US$12,000 to over $120,000, but found that in many EU member states younger, less experienced criminals were increasingly accepting lower rates for murder.
“This trend is unlikely to decrease in the short term as violence will thrive from organised crime opening to diversity and competition, becoming more digitized and expanding its global reach,” said Jari Liukku, Head of Europol’s European Serious Organised Crime Centre.