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.

Expert Analy­sis and Assessment
Galina Sidorova
Gali­na Sidorova
Ask a ques­tion
Pub­lic Value
100 /100
Entire­ty of the Investigation
97 /100
100 /100
95 /100
Reli­a­bil­i­ty of Sources
97 /100
100 /100
Strengths & Weaknesses
abun­dance of infor­ma­tion and sources; pro­fes­sion­al jour­nal­is­tic inquiries and work with the archive mate­ri­als; fine pre­sen­ta­tion; easy-to-read text; multimedia
it would be inter­est­ing to lis­ten to one of the min­is­ter’s for­mer col­leagues to make his por­trait more vivid