We are often asked: how do the authorities respond to investigative journalism, and do they respond at all? After all, often journalists uncover cases of obvious corruption and nothing happens. Does this mean that we risked our lives in vain, that we worked in vain?
This time, it didn’t take long for the reaction to come: on the same morning that The Project published the investigation on Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev, his subordinates raided the homes of the author Maria Zholobova and the Project’s editor-in-chief Roman Badanin, and a little later of his deputy, Mikhail Rubin. In the first two cases the pretext for a search without a court order was a completely different investigation. Zholobova and Badanin were searched as part of a libel case (Part 5, Article 128.1 of the Criminal Code), opened in 2017 after Dozhd TV released their documentary titled “Piterskije. Father and Son” about Ilya Traber, a businessman known for his near-criminal and high politics connections. The statute of limitations on that case expired in 2019. Rubin had nothing to do with the film at all. The Project itself did not exist at the time. Rubin was detained when he came to Zholobova’s house after learning about the search there.
The fact that the old case was just a pretext was clear at once. The journalists who remained “witnesses” confirmed this after interrogations: they were mostly asked about The Project and their sources. The policemen got hold of their computers and gadgets, everything they managed to confiscate from their apartments. The Project announced the investigation of Kolokoltsev the day before. It takes more than one month to work on a story like that. Reporters always make journalistic requests to official organizations including to the protagonist of the story and his department. This is the standard practices. In an interview with Dozhd, Rubin said that the journalists received “signals” and “offers to talk” before the release of the investigation about Kolokoltsev, especially more frequent after sending journalistic requests. According to Rubin, there was a feeling that the Interior Ministry was “nervous”.
Let’s find out what made law enforcers so angry about the journalist’s work. The Project’s investigation is devoted to the origins of the “wellbeing” of the Interior Minister’s family. Well, for those who prefer to see what the Interior Minister is hiding, our colleagues shot a compact video version.
This investigation — which is a big plus — is a continuation of the topic started by The Project in May 2021 with the publication of the Atlas of the Russian Crime. Its author, Yulia Apukhtina, looked into whether the official data corresponded to reality, whether the crime in Russia was declining, as officials reported, and what was happening to certain types of crime. The Project then studied more than 600 reports of the Interior Ministry in the most populous city of the country — Moscow and statistics throughout Russia. The author’s findings resulted in charts for different regions and a map of Moscow, on which those who wish can see where and why more are robbed, killed, and stolen.
But the first part of the investigation was about criminality, which Kolokoltsev as the minister is in charge of fighting. And the current one is about the money. And money for the Russian official is something sacred. About it, as about a dead man, it’s either good or nothing.
The experienced investigative reporters could not help but be alarmed by the fact that the owner of 100 hectares of land and almost 1300 square meters of residential property in Zarechye, one of the most prestigious and expensive “villages” in Moscow’s Rublevka (a mansion of similar area on a plot three times smaller is now on sale for 1.2 billion rubles), barely moving into the village, became “classified”. From now on, his property is as if it is not in the cadastre: all the information in the Rosreestr database has been removed.
Journalists experienced in working with databases did not have problems finding out the name of mysterious billionaire-buyer: they got the archive extract for this land plot, made before the real estate disappeared from Rosreestr. He turned out to be 32-year-old (at the time of purchase) businessman Alexander Kolokoltsev, the son of the Minister. All his conscious life Kolokoltsev Jr. is engaged in business, but the net profit of his companies in 2016, which is when he bought the house in Zarechye, barely reached 90 million rubles. The only documented successful business of Kolokoltsev-son, as colleagues found out, is the company FB Group, where he has 40 percent, and its annual profit ranges from 40 to 250 million rubles. The other businesses are either unprofitable or bring in little money. The seller’s name couldn’t help but attract attention, too. Liliya Kail turned out to be the wife of the “near-criminal businessman” Lev Cherepov (known in certain circles as Cherep (Skull) and also as a “legal consultant”), who is believed to be close to the Izmailovskaya criminal gang. According to The Project’s sources, Kolokoltsev Sr. has known the Cherepov family for a number of years.
The author of the investigation pulls a thread from the 1990s, unwinding a story from which we learn how “friendships” from the days of Russia’s “wild capitalism” helped some become “reputable businessmen” and others become “reputable cops” or even ministers. The Chernye brothers, Taivanchik, Shamil Tarpischev, Skull — all these exotic characters from that life are now either in business or in honorable retirement, but all are in one way or another firmly tied to those who are still doing the state’s business. The sportsmen have never seen the incomes from the National Sports Fund established at the suggestion of Shamil Tarpishchev, Yeltsin’s personal tennis coach, which obtained the right to import duty free alcohol and cigarettes, although the Fund was created precisely for them. Unlike another protagonist of this publication, Pavel Zadorin. The latter would, years later, launch the successful Aromatny Mir retail chain, where his partner was the Izmailovsky “lawyer” Lev Cherepov.
The journalists show how the system works: “you give me and I give you”. It is no coincidence that the name of Igor Chuyan, the head of Rosalkogolregulirovanie (RAP) from 2009 to 2018, also comes up in the investigation. He became “involved in alcohol” in the 1990s as the director of one of the companies of the National Sports Foundation, which was connected to Cherepov and Zadorin. Before his nomination, he headed Rosspirtprom for a few years and was patronized by Arkady Rotenberg, Putin’s closest friend and, at the same time, an active player on the vodka market. According to a Project source, Chuyan once asked a subordinate of his, a former employee of the Interior Ministry, to characterize officer Vladimir Kolokoltsev. This specific “CV” came out positive. Soon Kolokoltsev was promoted. In 2014, when the Zadorin brothers had their eye on a large customs terminal at Selyatino in the Moscow region, designed for the import of excisable goods, including alcohol imported into Russia, the head of the relevant department himself arrived to deal with its owners, who did not want to sell their share. Chuyan, cited by one of the reporters’ sources, mentioned the head of the Interior Ministry during the talks saying that “the stake was intended for Zadorin, while Kolokoltsev was called the leader of their vertical”. And now, as journalists found out, the Zadorins are neighbors of the “secret” real estate owner in the Zarechye village. According to Rosreestr, they have at least four houses there.
No less interesting is the Kolokoltsev family’s know-how of distributing wealth among close and “distant” relatives, whose assets officials are not supposed to show, and how this wealth may unexpectedly come to the attention of attentive journalists. We are talking here about the family of Zoya Berdichevskaya, most probably the minister’s sister-in-law, his wife’s sister, and her son’s aunt.
Vera Ivanovna Kolokoltseva came from Gromkovsky farm in Rostov region. There, on Post Street, she formerly owned a private house together with a certain Zoya Ivanovna Berdichevskaya. In 2012, according to The Project, when Kolokoltsev became a minister, the son of Berdichevskaya bought luxury real estate on Rublevo-Uspensky highway, in the Usovo Estate village. The cost of the house and land can go up to 200 million rubles. Zoya and Valery Berdichevsky are pensioners. Their son Dmitry, to whom the house in Usovo was written, lived and worked in a small transport company in the Rostov region.
Ironically, the deeply-encrypted aunt, in the midst of the pandemic, came into Big Brother’s sight as she was receiving an electronic pass for a trip to her dacha. The pass database, as we know, leaked almost immediately to the “public domain”, and journalists learned that Zoya Berditskaya was applying for a trip to the garden cooperative in Shevelkino on the Shchelkovskoye Highway. It seemed strange to them that the owner of luxurious suburban real estate on Rublyovka chooses to go to the nature in the Shchelkovo district. And it is even “stranger” that Vladimir Kolokoltsev is listed as the owner of the dacha in Shevelkino. Back in 2000, this dacha went to him, then a simple policeman, from the mentioned Pavel Zadorin. By the way, according to the same ill-fated database, Berdichevskaya went to the cottage in a modest Toyota Camry. Although according to the papers she is the owner of two Porsches at once. It turns out that Berdichevski family uses old property of Kolokoltsevs — apart from a dacha in Shevelkino, it is a 40-meter apartment of Kolokoltsevs in Gerasim Kurin street, where pensioners Berdichevs live now. We can only guess who disposes of luxury property, registered in the name of Berdichevskie. However, if we believe the income statements of the Kolokoltsev-Seniors, they live very modestly. During the time that Kolokoltsev has been working as head of the Interior Ministry, he and his wife haven’t acquired any new property. According to paperwork, they live in a 90-meter apartment in Zhulebino, the same place they lived in 20 years ago. The declaration of his wife has another 40-meter apartment on Gerasim Kurin Street, the same one where the “rich aunty” currently resides.
The Project’s investigation undermines the legend, supported for many years by Kolokoltsev’s entourage, of a “humble official” who made a career from a “normal cop”, as his colleagues called him, to a minister. The author of the investigation recalls how happy they were about this appointment in the Interior Ministry — after all, the first cop at the head of the department over the years. Kolokoltsev’s predecessor, Rashid Nurgaliev, was an FSB officer, and before him the post was held by United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov. Both “earned” the post thanks to their proximity to the president. Nurgaliyev was Nikolai Patrushev’s (an old acquaintance of Putin’s) deputy in the FSB, while Gryzlov used to sit at the same desk with Patrushev. “One of the few cops who were lucky. His wife was a successful businesswoman, and he didn’t even have to steal”, they said of Kolokoltsev in 2009, during his accelerated movement up the career ladder. In fact, The New Times journalists had by that time found out that Vera Kolokoltseva had no “big business” — she worked as an accountant at the NZh company, which owned a market stall on Tverskaya Street. The current investigation seems to have definitively disavowed the legend.
The Interior Ministry chose not to answer journalists» questions about the relationship of their boss to the Berdichevsky family and their enrichment, the Kolokoltsevs acquaintance with the Zadorin and Cherepov families, and the circumstances of the deal to purchase the estate in Zarechye. “The minister’s son is a grown-up man and an established businessman. He is fully independent in the conduct of business. He is not a police officer, and his business projects are not connected with the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia. In this connection, I consider it wrong to comment on his commercial activities from both legal and ethical points of view”, — this was the written reply of the department’s press secretary Irina Volk to a request from The Project about the reason for the concealment of Kolokoltsev Jr.«s property.
However, Kolokoltsev’s “nervous mood”, which was transmitted to his subordinates who zealously took on journalists, is understandable: these are turbulent times. According to a Novaya Gazeta article, between 2000 and 2020, at least 102 mayors and 30 governors from 53 regions of Russia were under investigation.
There is a “dirt folder” on each state official and minister. The only question is why, when, and on whose authority this folder is taken out …
Search technologies used in the investigation: work with registries, databases, documents, own sources, archival materials; journalistic inquiries.
Techniques used: interviews with sources, analysis and comparison of data obtained from different sources; creation of videos and infographics.