Andrei Kozlov’s “Killers”

Central Bank of Russia First Deputy Chairman Andrei Kozlov’s killers have been caught. Or so we are told. On 16 October, Kommersant published a rather detailed tale of how Kozlov and his driver Alexander Semenov were victims of three hired killers, Alexey Polovinkin, Maxim Proglyada and Alexander Belokopytov. The three are 35 year old citizens from Ukraine, but form the description of events provided by Kommersant, the three are hardly experts in the field of contract killing. If their story is true, they were duped themselves. The mysterious intermediary that hired them for the job didn’t pay them. This led one of the suspects to voluntarily contact the police out of fear for his life.

Yet, despite their confessions, police believe that Polovinkin, Proglayada, and Belokorytov have more to tell. Their description of the “intermediary” sounds like something right out of X-Files or All the President’s Men. As Kommersant reporter Sergey Dyupin writes:

Although all three suspects have confessed to their parts in the killings, investigators are convinced that they have more information to provide. Polovinkin, who was the only one to speak to the intermediary, for instance, says they met only in the dark and that he is unable to describe him. Their communications could be traced, except the suspected abandoned their phones “somewhere” in the forest and have forgotten their own and the intermediary’s phone numbers.

Nevertheless, if one follows Kommersant’s account the Kozlov murder is a rare example of an open and shut case. Except that it all sounds a bit too simple for the killing of such a high profile figure like Kozlov.

Kozlov was no friend of the corrupt world of Russian banking. In fact the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and the Central Bank of Russia recently uncovered a widespread money laundering ring that involved a “Georgian criminal organization.” The case was opened in 2005 based on investigations by the state run “Deposit Insurance Agency” did of two banks, Rodnik and New Economic Position. Kozlov’s started the DIA in 2004 to improve banking transparency. While one can’t help questioning the timing of the sting given tensions with Georgia and the government racist targeting of Georgians, according to a press release from the MVD’s Department of Economic Security, the ring, which consisted of Print Bank, Vek-Bank, Investkombank Balkom, and UKB Tsenturion, laundered up to $500,000 a day. According to the MVD, the ring has tight relations with Georgians, former fighters in Abkhazia, as well as Russian criminal organizations.” The release even made claims that the some of the money was being sent to fighters in Abkhazia to ensure “a small triumphant war.”

It is the simple explaination given by the killers and repeated by the police that makes explanation of Kozlov’s murder difficult to swallow. The involvement of three Ukrainian failed businessmen and a dark and spooky “intermediary” sounds too easy.

“The crime is solved. Quick and simple” writes Novaya gazeta reporter Igor’ Korol’kov with skepticism. “This is either a really a rare success which happens “once in a thousand years” and becomes well know to every detective. Or there is something here that is not as it seems. Detectives say that when everything easily and immediately comes “to light,” it cannot not be suspicious.” What follows is Korol’kov’s break down of the many aspects of what the police are reporting.

First, Korol’kov suggests that there are cases when would-be killers approach police, but this usually occurs before the murder, not after. This is because, unlike in the United States, plea bargains don’t exist in Russia and therefore “the criminal world cooperates with the police only in cases if the person is being intimidated or tortured.”

Second, he asks what many people are wondering. If the killers were so afraid for their lives, why have they divulged any information about the mysterious “intermediary” or about who hired them? Surely, they would give up all the information they have so the police could protect them?

Thirdly, Korol’kov doesn’t buy the official version the cops are providing to the media. That version paints a picture of three Ukrainian bunglers who killed Kozlov because they were told that “he conned good people.” The killers didn’t have much of a plan, but instead seized the moment when Kozlov was coming out of Spartak stadium. Considering that Kozlov was such a high profile figure, this version sounds too far fetched or too good to be true.

Instead Korol’kov points to another version floating around. One that suggests that there is a more widespread conspiracy at work. He writes,

“According to another version, given to the mass media, the killers nevertheless prepared just in time for the murder. And they themselves chose the place to shoot.

There are very many gaps in the version about the voluntary confession of Kozlov’s supposed killers. Possibly they explain the leaks various sources have let out, every one of which possesses information according on their rank. Possibly the investigation has still not sculpted a single version from the killers’ confession, thereby completely cloaking other genuine reasons why the killers turned up. But from what I know from sources close to the investigation in the General Procuracy, several gaps complicate the investigation itself. And it doesn’t eliminate the version about the [killers’] support. About the attempt to direct the investigation along a false path. A group of people can only play the role of killers, telling everything about themselves and nothing about the intermediary or client of the murder. The account is simple: delighted investigators will throw out all remaining versions and they will develop a single version, passing [the killers] off as quite intelligent and resourceful people. And after a time the killers will retreat from their previous testimony, thinking up some other kind of justification for their “confession of guilt.”

“This is the only version and it is set forth with a singe purpose: so that the investigation doesn’t make the head dizzy.”

Essentially, Korol’kov argues that Kozlov was one of those rare Russian officials that take “state affairs personally.” “He did not simply ceremoniously perform his function as the First Deputy Chairman, but aspired to achieve real results.” This is what made him a danger to so many corrupt banking groups, making his assassination by a few failed Ukrainian business men concerned about a banker who “conned good people” difficult to swallow.