Putin begins his purges with a top secret anti-corruption unit nicknamed “Smerch”


September 28, 2015

Sergey Tikhonov


Translated by Kristina Rus

Anti-corruption campaign [in Russia] has acquired a systemic nature. Russian security structures created a special unit tasked with conducting a total sweep of regional elites.

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Mass consciousness works in amazing ways. For a long time Russian society demanded to begin widespread jailing of thieving, corrupt officials, embezzlers and bribe-takers. But it has overlooked the beginning of systematic work in this direction. The actions of security forces in the Sakhalin oblast and the Komi Republic, of course, became a high-profile event, but caused a surprisingly weak resonance. Moreover, experts and political analysts have been scrambling to argue, who of the influential entities in the Federal government and large capital crossed the road of arrested governors. Another popular version involves intra-elite split in the Kremlin and a sharp increase in the security block [siloviki] and specifically Bastrykin Alexander, the chairman of the Investigative Committee of Russia, who supposedly at his discretion decided to launch a reboot of power structures on the ground.

But it seems that politics have nothing to do with this situation. The very nature of law enforcement actions against regional bosses points to a systemic approach and the absence of influence of local or federal elites. For the first time in the history of Russia current governors are arrested, but most importantly — “under the knife” went all participants of the alleged criminal associations, the top of the bureaucracy pyramid. In Komi the accused are not individuals but an organized crime group of persons, although it is clear that such a charge can be applied to the former mayor of Makhachkala Sayid Amirov, and the head of Sakhalin, Alexander Horoshavin. Hundreds of less high-profile cases against officials of administrations, deputies, mayors, not visible at a superficial glance from the federal level, suggest that the work is carried out systematically, and fewer people remain untouchable.

«С Хорошавиным пришлось хорошо повозиться — далеко сидел и глубоко закопался. Схемы откатов и взяток были настолько грамотно продуманы, что работать пришлось целых полтора года, а в его команду внедрили своего человека, снабженного спецаппаратурой» zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzztitul2.jpg

Our assumption is confirmed by a special investigation, about which we contacted the representatives of the Investigative Committee, informed about some of the nuances of anti-corruption campaign. According to them, within “the system” was created a secret structure with special powers, which is not even accessible to the top of the Investigative Committee. Among the operatives it has already been jokingly nicknamed SMERCH by analogy with Stalin’s infamous secret service, fighting the enemies with harsh, but effective surgical techniques.

To get a chance to talk with the operatives who work closely with this particular group, it was necessary to get permission at the highest level (naturally, we could not see the faces of the oper-henchmen or else there is no point of the whole venture). Of course, on strict conditions of anonymity and non-disclosure of investigation secrets. After all possible checks of my humble person we met over a cup of coffee in the little diner at the “Kiev” train station [in Moscow]. 

“Why all the secrecy? After all, even high-ranking chiefs of the FSB don’t know about your existence?” — I asked the first question. And heard an unexpected historical analogy in return, “Think about it. For the same reasons why investigative structures were created in the thirties and forties. At first it was due to harsh necessity to sweep the elite before the threat of war, and then directly during the war itself, which, by the way, thanks to skillful diplomacy has been pushed off for several years. On the ground there were [regional] party tsars, former militants of the civil war, who had to be put in their place, and elites — swept, and very quickly. Then the local law enforcement authorities, as today, have tangled into one crony knot with these elites. Therefore any attempt to take down any high-handed thief-boss stumbled on betrayal and clean-up of evidence”.

Александр Зарубин сделал стремительную карьеру от мелкого воришки и торговца пиратскими дисками до генерального директора компании «Ренова» и серого кардинала Республики Коми. Ныне в бегах zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzztitul3.jpg

Photo: Alexander Zarubin had made a fast career from a petty thief and dealers of pirate CDs to the General Director of company “Renova” and the gray cardinal of the Republic of Komi. Now on the run.

I was primarily interested in answers to the questions, who in the Governor’s garden will be next for jailing and how big is the garden at all. Corruption fighters did not disclose details of the campaign, but gave a clear warning to all small-town elites: 12 governors are under investigation, eight “under the gun”. That is, “the dig” has already begun, very deep and unbeknownst to the suspects themselves. Local investigators are not used, so the thieves do not manage to cover the traces of crimes and seek protection of their patrons in Moscow, as it often happened before — criminal cases were stopped after the intervention of certain influential persons. This is what happened in Sakhalin in 2012, when the FSB investigation team after the audit of the Accounting chamber and verifying the information was ready to fly to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk for the head of mister Horoshavin, but the case was hushed up due to the intervention of a very influential person whose name the detectives asked me not to mention.

“No one can contact us even through the generals of Prosecutor General, they, poor things, do not know to whom to turn, – ironically smiling, the younger investigator expressed his sympathy with the thiefs. — We had to sweat a lot with Horoshavin – he dug in deep. The schemes of kickbacks and bribes were so well thought out that we had to work for as much as a year and a half, and had to implant our own man into his team, equipped with special surveillance equipment”.

Operatives try to make the arrests of criminal gangs in the regions  unceremoniously on the same day so that the associates could not hide or destroy evidence. However, In Sakhalin due to extreme entanglement of criminal schemes, the mission was extended for several months. First the entire law enforcement structure was replaced. On March 11, 2014 the chief of UMVD  [police] of the Sakhalin region Vladislav Belotserkovsky was detained, from their office were released the prosecutor of the Sakhalin region and the head of FSB, general-major, Igor Struchkov. And immediately began arrests of officials of municipal level — the mayor of Okha was taken into custody as well as several other members of the team Khoroshavin at a lower level. And on March 4 of this year they took down the backbone of the crime ring — the governor, his advisor Andrey Ikramov, assistant Boris Usachev and head of the secretariat, Vyacheslav Gorbachev, under the supervision of intelligence services flew to Moscow for further investigative procedures. Arrests and detentions continued for two months. Today there are 18 people from Sakhalin behind bars in Moscow, including virtually the entire top of the local government. And according to investigators, this is not the end — under suspicion are at least 12 officials and businessmen of the region.

According to my sources, “a special group” has direct access to the President and reports personally to the first person of the state about the situation in different regions.

В ходе обыска в кабинете главы Коми Вячеслава Гайзера следователи обнаружили пачку денег и коллекцию дорогостоящих часов. Потрясенный засадой оперативников губернатор едва не выбросил сейф из окна на головы прохожих zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzztitul4.jpg

Photo: During the search in the office of the head of Komi Vyacheslav Gaizer, the investigators found a stack of money and a collection of expensive watches. Shaken by the ambush the Governor almost threw the safe out of the window on the heads of passers-by.



A prominent role in this work plays the network of the Popular Front [civic anti-corruption organization]. It has offices in each region and in some places these offices are already quite effective. In addition, at the federal level the PF monitors the situation in different spheres, from housing to deforestation and regularly produces serious analytical materials. Anti-corruption projects of the Popular front, first of all – the project “For fair procurement”, gives a lot of information, useful for public assessment of the work of the institutions of government and law enforcement agencies. Some of the information is widely published, but there is also classified information. This work is so significant that, to our knowledge, the co-chairman of the central headquarters of the Popular front, Alexander Brechalov, who is responsible for anti-corruption projects, received very serious threats.

The choice of targets is not handed down from above as you might think. The group has freedom of action, which is limited by only one conceptual requirement. “We were told to first take the fattest cats, who have lost their heads from unchecked power, — said the major. — Sakhalin “devil” wasn’t shy to store entire potato sacks of money at home, and in his ‘principality’ introduced the rule that any more or less large business in order to operate normally, had to give him a tidy sum. Otherwise it would be strangled by local security forces. From state contracts Horoshavin took 30 percent kickbacks. Although he can’t compete with Gaizer, who went up to 70%”.


Please go to Expert and use Yandex translate to read about Gaizer’s case, the head of Komi republic


It is worth mentioning that besides the Governor of Sakhalin Alexander Horoshavin and the head of the Republic of Komi Vyacheslav Gaizer, in 2015, on suspicion of bribery, fraud or other corruption-related crimes a number of other officials were arrested. For example, on February 4th, Vice-Governor of Krasnodar Krai, Vadim Lukoyanov and former Kuban Vice-Governor, Alexander Ivanov, March 26 — the Vice-Governor of the Chelyabinsk area, Nikolay Sandakov. August 4th — the first Deputy Chairman of the government of the Ivanovo district, Andrey Kabanov, August 10 — Vice-Governor of Novgorod region, Viktor Nechaev. For more than a year remains in prison on suspicion of abuse of power the first Vice-Governor of the Omsk region, Yuri Hamburg.

And, judging by the attitude of the “special group” it is to be continued…

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