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REBELLIOUS PRISONER. CHAPTER FIVE

BILLIONAIRES STORIES

BILLIONAIRES STORIES

When I returned to the waiting chamber to Mikhalchenko and Ponomarev and said that the judge had reduced the duration of custodial duration, they laughed,

“Circus!” A regular one.

I have read and heard a lot about these billionaires. They are a bit younger than me, about 47 years old. They are definitely very bright and talented people, incredibly charismatic and charming. I listened to them with my mouth wide open while they interrupted each other to tell me about their cases and business and personal life on the outside in detail and living colour. We spent more than ten hours together; time flew by like a minute. Given the transfer, it was more than thirteen hours because we went to the Moscow City Court on the way back. Boris Korevskii, Mikhalchenko’s deputy, accompanied us in the prison truck on the way to the Basmannyi Court and back. We are of the same age; he looks like a well-educated man with good manners. He is tall and well-built, contrary to Mikhalchenko and Ponomarev, who are approximately of the same built, plump and quite short. 

Korevskii told us how Nikita Belykh had behaved in prison and dispelled the myth about his lord-like manners and arrogance. He was simple and sociable and adhered to his own principles. It was always pleasant to talk to him. He had only one demerit: when asked not to smoke in a prison truck, he would still take out a cigar and fill the tiny space with smoke. Nikita is already in the prison settlement and feels great there, contrary to Lefortovo where he was continuously sick and pressed by the senior executives of the second detention centre. He had more than ten reprimands, which has impact on release on parole. Belykh himself, who had been accused of getting a bribe, said that he had received no money in Lotte Plaza, as the investigators claimed and all the TV channels showed. The paint was on the handle of the bag rather than money, the way it is supposed to be done. His case is very similar to the one of Minister Aleksei Uliukaev, where they tried to give him the bag covered with money paint under the disguise of sausages. By the way, both operations were managed by Ivan Tkachev.

Former Governor of Kirov Region Belykh has a sound record studio at his disposal in the prison settlement and writes and arranges rogue songs there. He mostly walks without a cane and enjoys great respect there. 

I would like to remind all the readers again that there are few people who have not agreed to the plea bargain (have not wrongly accused the others in exchange for benefits for themselves) or to the simplified procedure (by pleading guilty and getting the minimum imprisonment). The main purpose of Lefortovo is to break the prisoners and draw up the letter of accusation based on evidence rather than facts and documents. Those who try to oppose are punished severely by being accused of more and more episodes.

For instance, Mikhalchenko refused to plead guilty of smuggling a small lot of wine (five thousand bottles) he had been charged with, although he had been neither the consignor nor the consignee. He was threatened with more than ten years of imprisonment. However, two weeks ago, Dmitrii Vladimirovich was charged based on Article 210 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation “Criminal Gang”, and he may now be sentenced to 22 years of the prison settlement, just like Sugrobov. At that moment, I was in the attorney room nearby and heard Mikhalchenko shouting, indignant with the actions of the investigator who was reading out the new letter of accusation after Mikhalchenko had spent two years in Lefortovo. 

He was supposed to be highly likely to see his three children as adults and not to see his elderly mother. It is very hard to see the man in his prime, with endless energy and brilliant mind, but probably such terrible future.

Dmitrii told about construction of new Port Bronka in Saint Petersburg, his beloved creation, with great inspiration. He had invested more than 25 billion roubles there, purchased the most advanced equipment to deepen the channel since large sea vessels can enter neither of the ports in Saint Petersburg, so goods are transshipped in Gdansk in Poland and delivered to the northern capital city by smaller vessels.

When looking at Mikhalchenko, Manashirov, Sugrobov, Belykh, Gaizer, Maksimenko, Magomedov brothers, Ponomarev and Zakharchenko who refused to plead guilty and did not rat anyone out, I am getting more and more aware of the fact that my hyperactive defence is likely to have disastrous outcomes. Moreover, the background of my case is active exposure of Tkachev, the key General of the Federal Security Service, who is only mentioned under the breath here. Let alone the protest, hunger strike and provocative publications! There has never been so much fuss in Lefortovo! No officer of the detention centre can recall three out of 150 to 170 detainees on a hunger strike at the same time. Me suffering from diabetes, Yurii Kornyi accused of preparation of the terrorist attack on YouTube, who suffers from rheumatic arthritis and cannot take painkillers when on a hunger strike, and Leonid Parkhomenko, the former officer of the Black Sea Fleet Headquarters (he went on a hunger striker because of the pressure onto his family).

All the attorneys and experienced prisoners say in unison that every move you make extends the duration of your imprisonment. Frankly speaking, it cannot stop me. The only thought keeps bothering me: my principles makes other people suffer (including staff of the administration and businessmen, let alone my children who need to be fed, raised and educated). How should my young and beautiful wife Iulia live? Should she bury her personal life? I cannot even imagine how hard it is for my mother... 

At the same time, I bring myself to reason as when I was detained, I was said in the Investigative Committee in Tekhnicheskii Lane that I would be charged with at least ten episodes so that I could be imprisoned for a long time.

The RBC journalists asked me via my attorneys why the criminal proceedings had been instituted against me by General Kaburneev, the Head of the Main Investigations Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, at the initiative of General Igor Krasnov, the Deputy Head of the Investigative Committee, and why the investigative group of 16 (!!!) people had been established, the same way as for Khodorkovskii. I told them that it must have been ordered by Governor Vorobev, and Iarin’s and Tkachev’s grudge for the video address had definitely played its role. So my moderate conduct was not going to be effective. I should not have opposed the Governor, Iarin and Tkachev. I was possessed by emotions, by the indignation with the fact that such top-ranked law enforcement officers behaved like bullies and blackmailed me with home and family in exchange for the statement of resignation. 

Of course, I hoped that President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin would respond, and that there would be more public support in my struggle against that abuse. It turned out that the society had long got used to such state of affairs and treated it as customs, even though they are much more similar to the pirate’s code: might makes right. Leonid Nikitinskii put it very concisely and brightly in his article for The Novaya Gazeta, “Shestun thought he had the ace of trumps but his ace turned out to be of the wrong suit.”

As for my trip to the Basmannyi Court, I should also describe billionaire Konstantin Ponomarev, who was as bright as Mikhalchenko and was a notorious character of numerous articles in The Kommersant about his litigations against IKEA. To be honest, I have read lots of articles about that event, but I have failed to understand the core of the issue in full. After Konstantin’s two-hour story, I was amazed by his extensive expertise, deep legal knowledge, and scrupulousness mixed with cynicism. While Mikhalchenko told his story in an emotional and bright voice and flourished his arms, and it seemed that he was going to beat his enemies, Ponomarev was calmer and clearer in telling what had happened.

Konstantin’s business was industrial diesel generators for large retail chains and industrial facilities. In particular, he was the electric power provider of IKEA, which leased out its sales areas to Auchan, Mega and other centres. They had regular disputes concerning the lease charges, and the investors kept demanding discounts off the price set out in the contract, but Ponomarev was stubborn and collected several billions roubles from the Swedish company group in court. According to Ponomarev, IKEA had major protection racket represented by the son of one of the top-rank officers of the security forces (I know the last name), and the Swedish company instituted the criminal prosecution of the stubborn owner of the generators in response. Konstantin would not give up and filed an action against them in the Swedish court, where the general manager of the giant furniture company had to tell the entire truth about the patrons in Russia and say their last names. When Ponomarev supplied 71 industrial generators (which was 25 % of the peninsula’s electric power) to Crimea and made a 50 % discount, he did not get the money in two years and decided to file an action to the arbitration court, and the law enforcement authorities ran out of patience. Fourteen generators given to the Lugansk People’s Republic as a gift were of no help. The recipient paid for all the electric power in Crimea at the tariffs two or three times higher than the ones stipulated in Ponomarev’s contract. The money was dissolved among the Crimean authorities, so nobody was going to pay it back.

The criminal proceedings against Konstantin were instituted based on his own statement he had written against IKEA so that the latter would refund the money at the tariffs stipulated in the contract, and Ponomarev collected even more with account of the forfeit and past-due lease charges. So he has been in Lefortovo for fourteen months, but remains optimistic and treats his situation as purification of karma. He is not really upset with the fact that 74 billion roubles have been frozen on his accounts. Some money has been attached by the investigators, and some cannot be used as the notary he is legally entitled to see is not admitted.

Although the damages within the criminal proceedings are much less than the attached amount and are 4.7 billion roubles, all the generators have been attached. I was surprised to find out that Ponomarev was in the Magnitsky Act, and many human rights defenders and people with democratic values treated him with suspicion. “Why did you bear testimony against Browder and Magnitskii?” I asked him in surprise. It turned out that Konstantin had been an auditor in a large foreign company, and then he established his own company and hired his former colleague Magnitskii. In the end, Browder and Magnitskii used the law enforcement authorities to take away his business and the technology for selling Gazprom shares on the foreign stock exchange despite the legislative ban and for getting big profit due to the difference between the Russian price and the price abroad.

To finish my story about the trip to the Basmannyi Court, which lasted from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m., I would like to say that it impressed me greatly and allowed me to make many conclusions. There was never silence in our conversations all that time, probably because of the “freezing” conditions in Lefortovo. We discussed all the detainees, rules and aspects of detention, meals, courts and investigators.

On our way back via the Moscow City Court, I asked Boris Korevskii about the conduct of Dmitrii Zakharchenko, the famous billionaire colonel held in the his cell. Boris described him as a well-organised man with the strong spirit who refused to cooperate with the investigators, did not rat the others out to save himself, exercised and did not complain. His elderly father had been arrested, and his family’s property they had purchased themselves long ago was taken away. After Zakharchenko had refused to admit that nine billion roubles seized at the leased apartment had anything to do with him, he was traditionally charged with some other especially grave crimes with no evidence. After the long and persistent recommendations by the law enforcement officers, the owners of the restaurant La Marée claimed that they had given him the bribe, and the Investigative Committee instituted the criminal proceedings based on the especially grave crime under Article 290 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation “Bribe”. The evidence was testimony by the restaurant owners and the discount card (!!!) issued to Zakharchenko. 

Although nine billion roubles were seized at the leased apartment according to the official data, they say there had actually been thirteen billion, but four disappeared after the operation by the special forces. It can be claimed for sure that three billion euros disappeared from the bank vault where the money had been placed as evidence. The investigation into this fact is under way.

Almost all of my descriptions of the people in Lefortovo are about those few detainees who have not been broken and have not started wrongly accusing and betraying their colleagues. Let me repeat that there is an absolute minority of people like that. I do not want to waste my time and ink on the people who have failed to resist this running roller, although I do not judge them because I understand that they would have to sacrifice their own life for that purpose, which few people are ready to do. 

I understand that my description of those people is not really objective because of the one-sided information, but I can see what is happening in the real life. If you go to Rublevka, you will see castles of the top-rank officials that cost billions of roubles. There are thousands of them rather than two or three while the generals kept in Lefortovo are not the richest ones: Sugrobov, Nikandrov, Lamonov, Maksimenko, Drymanov etc. I know the specific facts of massive misappropriation of the budget funds by the senior executives of Moscow Region, trade in offices, and conveyor-like extortion in detail. The amounts are billions of roubles a year. My statements of the crime were simply not investigated, and the summaries of corruption in Moscow Region I had personally prepared by Tkachev’s request were cynically transferred to Vorobev to cover up the traces. However, the governors of the poorest regions are kept in Lefortovo: Belykh, Gaizer, Markelov, Solovev, Khoroshavin, who could not collect as much corruption rent income as Moscow Region even if they were put together. Everything is very simple: the minor governors do not have such patrons as, say, Vorobev has.

 

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