Just hitched A wedding in Krasnodar brings together Russian pop stars, entrepreneurs, and state officials in a messy controversy
On July 16, the public learned about the wedding of Sophia Khakhaleva (the daughter of Krasnodar regional judge Elena Khakhaleva) and local state investigator Vadim Badalov. The ceremony happened a week earlier, on July 10, when the couple welcomed crooner Joseph Kobzon, singer Nikolay Baskov, and several other Russian pop stars. According to a lawyer named Sergey Zhorin, who was the first to draw attention to this story, the wedding party cost an estimated $2 million. Judge Khakhaleva has sharply criticized Zhorin’s allegations, saying that her daughter’s ceremony was bankrolled by her ex-husband, a prominent real estate owner in the region. Local farmers, incidentally, accuse the Khakhalevs of abusing the courts to seize their lands. Meanwhile, investigator Vadim Badalov, Sophia Khakhaleva’s groom, is known for leading the case against one of the Kuban’s largest businessmen. Meduza reviews what’s known about this wedding and the family behind it.
On July 16, Sergey Zhorin, a well-known lawyer in Moscow, published footage from the July 10 wedding of Sophia Khakhaleva, whose mother, Elena Khakhaleva, serves as the chairperson of the Krasnodar regional court’s administrative board. Zhorin told the newspaper Kommersant that the party cost $2 million. The festivities featured performances by Russian pop stars Vera Brezhneva, Valery Meladze, Nikolai Baskov, and State Duma deputy Joseph Kobzon. According to Zhorin, each musician received no less than $115,000 to show up and sing.
Industry experts told the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda that Zhorin’s figures appear to be too high, claiming that these musicians typically charge fees between $40,000 and $69,000, with an additional $23,000 rider. The wedding itself took place at Galich Hall, a prestigious exhibition hall in Krasnodar. Zhorin insists that one of the gifts to the newlyweds was a Bentley.
Sophia Khakhaleva’s husband is a state investigator named Vadim Badalov who previously served as the deputy head of Gelendzhik’s investigative department. Today, according to Komsomolskaya Pravda, Badalov is based in Krasnodar. He was responsible for leading a criminal case against Sergey Zirinov, one of the Kuban region’s biggest entrepreneurs. Dubbed “the Shadow Master of Anapa,” Zirinov was sentenced to 22 years in prison last October for creating a mafia group and orchestrating several murders.
Anna Stavitskaya, Zirinov’s attorney, accuses Badalov of fabricating the case against her client. “The main evidence against Zirinov are the confessions of two suspects. On the days that investigator Badalov supposedly interrogated these men, nobody removed them from their detention center, and they later refuted these testimonies in court. Another suspect detained in this case was tortured with electric shocks sent through his fingers. There is a forensic medical examination and a criminal case underway. And they tortured him before they even delivered him to pretrial detention,” Stavitskaya told Meduza.
Judge Elena Khakhaleva says Zhorin’s accusations and the media’s attention amount to “barefaced pressure” on her family as a vendetta for refusing to rule in favor of certain powerful figures. She claims to know who orchestrated the mediastorm, though she’s yet to identify anyone. The judge also denies that the wedding cost $2 million and says her daughter never received a Bentley as a wedding gift. As for the pop stars, they attended for free as guests, says Khakhaleva. “In [my] financial disclosure, my partner’s information is absent because we are divorced, and I’m not required to indicate his assets,” she told the government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta. “My former spouse completely handled our daughter’s wedding planning. He’s a fairly successful businessman, and he was able to afford the wedding.”
According to Russia’s Unified State Register of Legal Entities, Robert Khakhalev is the co-owner of ten enterprises, though three of them have been liquidated and only one of the remaining businesses turned a profit last year (earning a whopping 9,000 rubles, or $150). Meanwhile, according to the same federal registry, Khakhalev took out a loan earlier this year (the amount is unclear), putting up as collateral his “future winter crop harvest” from several dozen plots of land with a cadastral value of several hundred thousand rubles. It’s unclear if this land is now owned or rented, but in 2014 Khakhalev owned several dozen land plots. Also, according to the website Hippodrome.ru, Robert Khakhalev owns stables with 44 livestock animals.
Elena and Robert Khakhalev may have played a role in the illegal seizure of land from farmers in the Krasnodar region. Journalist Oleg Lurie has presented a letter from a local farmer that reads, “Judge Elena Khakhaleva has taken control of all agricultural litigation.” The letter also accuses Khakhaleva of “settling all issues” with help from her family. The judge’s son, incidentally, is a member of the committee on law and order in the Krasnodar region’s legislative assembly. Other farmers have also charged Khakhaleva with protecting “raiders” (criminals who illegally seize private property), and in 2009 the publication Krestyanin directly called Khakhaleva a land raider, saying that she grabbed farming land for herself through lawsuits.
In June 2017, an 87-year-old woman named Anna Danko living in Kushchevskaya in the Krasnodar region wrote an open letter to President Putin about judge Khakhaleva, accusing her of reaching unjust verdicts. Local journalists have said they suspect that Danko is in fact acting as a “screen” for certain parties interested in the reallotment of land that previously belonged to a mafia group controlled by Sergey Tsapok. According to the publication Yug Times, Sergey Zhorin might also be connected to this group.
The musicians who performed at the wedding say they received no money and attended merely as guests. “I personally worked for free, because [Elena Khakhaleva’s] husband [Robert Khakhalev] is my relative. He’s a cousin,” Valery Meladze said, claiming that his “luxurious wedding gift” to the couple was his performance. Nikolai Baskov also said that his performance was a “gift from friends,” denying that he received any payment for attending and singing. Kobzon has refused to comment about the wedding, angrily telling reporters, “Don’t you want to know if the [newlyweds’] bedsheets were covered in red splotches? This whole line of questioning is incredibly rude. You’re meddling in a family’s affairs!”
Entrepreneur Ispir Voskanyan, who also attended the wedding (apparently as the groom’s witness), told Meduza that the musicians at the ceremony were “just guests.” Asked to describe the event, he said it was an “ordinary wedding.”
The Krasnodar region’s Council of Judges initially announced that it saw no reason to review the reports about the wedding, insofar as it had yet to receive any “official appeals” requesting such an investigation. On the evening of July 17, however, council chairman Vladimir Kislyak revealed that the group would nonetheless conduct a “validity check” of the reports about Sophia Khakhaleva’s wedding.