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Bad company How businessmen from southern Russia seized control of Moscow’s funeral industry, and who helped them do it

Source: Meduza
Dmitry Serebryakov /

In May 2016, bullets flew at Moscow’s Khovanskoye Cemetery as upwards of 400 men fought over the graveyard, resulting in three deaths. The violence meant the end of an era in the capital’s funeral business, completing the redistribution of the industry. Those in control until then hailed from the town of Khimki, just outside Moscow, and it was their efforts to maintain a foothold in the city that led to the clash at Khovanskoye. After the bloodshed, however, businessmen from the Stavropol region with connections to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) took over virtually every cemetery in Moscow. Ivan Golunov, a special correspondent in Meduza’s Investigations Department, explains the origins of the Moscow funeral industry’s new beneficiaries and looks at the figures likely responsible for their rise. To bring this story together, following Golunov's arrest in June 2019, Meduza worked with a dozen journalists at the leading Russian news publications Forbes, The Bell, Vedomosti, Novaya Gazeta, RBC, BBC Russian Service, and Fontanka.

The nuts and bolts of this report, broken down into three main points

  • Earlier in this decade, a group of men who graduated from the same military engineering academy gained control over the funeral business in Khimki, a town outside Moscow, and then briefly expanded that network into the capital’s municipal funeral enterprise “Ritual.” Relying on tactics that sometimes left opponents crippled or killed, Yuri Chabuev hired allies to key positions around the city, before a rival group from the Stavropol region managed to force out the Khimki crowd.
  • The new titans of Moscow’s funeral business — entrepreneurs from Stavropol — owned a variety of companies back home before colonizing the capital’s market. Several important bankers also left Stavropol for Moscow, and Meduza has discovered links between these figures and multiple high-ranking FSB officials. In addition to competition over cemeteries and funeral services, units in the Interior Ministry and FSB have fought for control over Russia’s banking sector, where shell companies are frequently used to disappear large sums of money.
  • Meduza has uncovered considerable evidence of suspicious personal ties between shady bankers from Stavropol and senior officers in Russia’s Federal Security Service, including several mansions outside Moscow that have mysteriously been transferred to the ownership of a private organization called “Russian Federation.”
Part 1

The mass grave

In November 2008, Mikhail Beketov was attacked and brutally beaten. He spent the next 18 months in hospitals, where doctors removed the shattered skull fragments that pierced his brain and amputated his right foot and three fingers on his left hand. He spent the rest of his short life confined to a wheelchair, barely able to speak. Five years later, Beketov died.

The journalist’s assailants were never identified. Beketov suggested that Khimki Mayor Yuri Korablin may have been behind the attack. Several months earlier, he had started receiving threats, and in 2007 someone set fire to his car. Beketov said the intimidation was linked to his critical news reporting about construction projects approved by the city.

From 1994 to 2001, Mikhail Beketov served as the press secretary for Khimki Mayor Yuri Korablin. After leaving office, he used his own resources to launch Khimkinskaya Pravda, an opposition newspaper that was highly critical of the city’s new mayor, Vladimir Strelchenko. Beginning in 2007, Khimkinskaya Pravda covered various local conflicts, including the battle to preserve the Khimki Forest. The newspaper made a name for itself with a series of articles about the reburial of the remains of six military pilots from a mass grave located in a public square near the Leningrad Highway.

The authorities in Khimki justified the mass grave’s relocation as necessary for the expansion of the Leningradskoye Highway (though journalists also reported that officials were concerned about prostitutes working in the same public square, supposedly “defiling the memory of Russia’s fallen war heroes”). Local activists argued that the pilots’ remains were moved to free up land for the construction of a new shopping center. After reporting by Khimkinskaya Pravda, national TV networks and other activists started paying attention to the story about the mass grave.

Mikhail Beketov wrote that tractors were used to pull up the soldiers’ graves, and the men’s bones were tossed into plastic bags. Some of the remains were apparently lost. On network television, Beketov shared photographs he’d taken at the former site of the mass grave, showing what appeared to be human bones lying around. Because of the newspaper’s coverage, and because Beketov accused him of destroying his car, Mayor Strelchenko filed a defamation lawsuit against Khimkinskaya Pravda’s founder.

Source: data from Russia's State Registration Federal Agency and Unified National Register of Legal Entities

Today, business centers occupy the forested space for which Beketov gave his life. After the public controversy, however, Khimki’s authorities stopped short of building up the territory completely (though the land was already demarcated on the city’s estate map), and officials limited development to the roadside area. A year after the pilots were reburied, a business center was built a few hundred yards from the former site of the mass grave. The building belongs to Evgeny Golovkin, the son of Nikolai Golovkin, who managed Moscow’s Main Internal Affairs Directorate from 2001 to 2014. The companies that eventually took up residence at Golovkin’s business center include several businesses then owned by the wife of Vyacheslav Nyrkov, the head of “Ritual-Khimki” (the enterprise that was responsible for reburying the pilots).

part 2


A military engineer by training, Nyrkov fit in well with the administration of Mayor Strelchenko, who is himself an ex-military man, having served as deputy commander of Russia’s Kantemirovskaya Division. Retired soldiers comprised a significant part of Strelchenko’s team. The scandal over the mass grave in Khimki was Nyrkov’s first experience in resolving a conflict with local residents. Before taking over the municipal funeral enterprise, he was course director at the Emergency Situations Ministry’s Civil Defense Academy, which is located on Khimki’s outskirts. This is when he gave his first interview to the press, saying that hazing at the academy was being eradicated with the help of an “honor roll.”

During the conflict over the mass grave, Nyrkov told journalists that the pilots’ remains were placed in pathoanatomical bags, which were black and could be mistaken for trash bags, while surgeons from the local hospital monitored the excavation work. He said the bones in Beketov’s photos were likely dragged there by stray dogs, or maybe the activists themselves planted them at the site.

Having successfully managed the pilots’ reburial, Nyrkov was promoted in 2009 and made the head of Khimki’s Podrezkovo Microdistrict, and later put in charge of the town’s entire construction industry. In his role as supervisor of the city’s construction business, Vyacheslav Nyrkov is best remembered for his efforts to legalize infill development. These projects often ran into opposition from local residents, and it was always up to Nyrkov to resolve the disputes.

Vyacheslav Nyrkov
krostru / YouTube

The construction sector in Khimki has all the same advantages as Khimki’s funeral industry — it’s nearly Moscow, only cheaper. Now supervising Khimki’s construction industry, Nyrkov maintained his influence on the city’s funeral business. In 2009, he invited Yuri Chabuev, his old classmate at the Kamyshinsky Military Engineering Academy in Volgograd, to head Ritual-Khimki. Together, the two men created several companies that earned money on funeral services, construction work, and garbage disposal. Meanwhile, small shopping centers and stores owned by the wives of Nyrkov and Chabuev started appearing in Podrezkovo.

Nyrkov and Chabuev’s mortuary followed a simple business model: Ritual-Khimki had staff at morgues throughout the city, but the contracts these representatives negotiated with clients were with the private company owned by the two state officials. In his hometown outside Penza, Chabuev set up a company that manufactured coffins and funeral accessories. A company owned by Nyrkov's wife also built a columbarium at Khimki’s Novoluzhinskoe Cemetery, and planned to construct a crematorium and a new cemetery at the site of the city’s “Levoberezhny” solid waste landfill.

Together with the wife of Yuri Shnaider (another Kamyshinsky Military Engineering Academy alumnus), Narykov and Chabuev created the company “Clean City,” which offered waste-disposal services to businesses in Khimki.

Beginning in the early 2010s, representatives of the public organization “Zdorovaya Natsiya” (Healthy Nation) and the motorcycle group “Nochnye Volki Khimki” (Khimki Night Wolves) started joining Narykov at local protests against infill development. These newcomers supported the construction companies and sometimes used force to disperse crowds of demonstrators. Nyrkov co-owned a local branch of the group, which was permitted for office space at a Khimki shopping center owned by Narykov and Chabuev. Zdorovaya Natsiya was registered at the office address of Ritual-Khimki, located at the premises of a pharmacy owned by the Khimki City Council deputy who chairs the legislature’s House and Communal Services Committee.

In 2010, amid a conflict over another construction site, environmentalist Konstantin Fetisov was beaten up. Police arrested the assailants and the man who ordered the attack, who turned out to be Khimki Municipal Property Department head Andrey Chernyshev, Nyrkov’s colleague who worked under Alexey Valov, one of Mayor Strelchenko’s staff (before joining Khimki City Hall, Valov commanded a military unit stationed near the Kantemirovskaya Division). Chernyshev was ultimately sentenced to six years in prison. In court, the defendants said they were only doing Valov’s bidding, but this testimony led to no further developments in the case.

In 2012, shortly after the conflict over the construction of a highway through Khimki Forest, Vladimir Strelchenko was dismissed. Two years later, Alexey Valov was put in charge of the Moscow region’s Shchyolkovsky District.

part 3

From Khimki to Khovanskoye

In 2013, Yuri Chabuev started a new job in Moscow as the head of the No. 3 Territorial Branch of Funeral Services (TORO; at that time, the term “funeral services complex,” or KRO, was in use) of the municipal enterprise “Ritual,” which operated at Khovanskoye, Vostryakovskoye, and several other major cemeteries. The Ritual-Khimki director position went to Pyotr Levchenko, another Kamyshinsky Military Engineering Academy classmate.

Two years later, No. 3 TORO’s jurisdiction was expanded to include several old cemeteries, among which were Troyekurovskoye, Vagankovo, and Novodevichy, making it Ritual’s largest subdivision. Chabuev now had 31 cemeteries under his control, including the capital’s most prestigious graveyards. Yuri Shnaider, Chabuev’s old classmate and business partner at “Clean City,” was soon put in charge of No. 5 TORO, which managed several major cemeteries south of Moscow: Shcherbinskoye, Domodedovskoye, and Kotlyakovskoye. This is how the Kamyshinsky Military Engineering Academy graduates expanded their influence over Moscow’s best cemeteries.

The partners’ revenue shot through the roof, and Chabuev’s hometown funeral-goods manufacturing business took off. No. 3 TORO started renting equipment from Chabuev’s wife, who opened a restaurant called “Serbia” in the “Romanov Dvor,” one of the capital’s most expensive business centers (located just a few hundred yards from the Kremlin).

The most notorious incident associated with Yuri Chabuev’s reign over Moscow’s funeral industry is the violence at Khovanskoye Cemetery that claimed three lives in May 2016. The fight included members of Zdorovaya Natsiya, who’d previously helped disperse protests against infill construction. This group included men from Chechnya and several police officers. One of the co-founders was Alexander Bocharnikov, the son-in-law of Mikhail Portashnikov, the former deputy head of Moscow’s traffic police.

By many accounts, the conflict itself only started when Yuri Chabuev tried to increase the amounts of money he extorted from the cemetery’s Tajik groundskeepers.

Immigrants from Tajikistan comprise a significant part of the labor force at Moscow’s cemeteries, keeping the grounds clean and maintained. Meduza has learned that almost all of these workers are from the same “local council” (uniting several villages) in Obigarm, in Tajikistan’s Roghun District. Some of these immigrants are legally employed in Moscow, while others are not, but everyone pays a “deduction” to their cemetery’s administrators for the chance to work for them. For a long time, this revenue item was so insignificantly small for funeral business executives that they ignored it almost completely. This neglect allowed migrant workers to save their money and begin to expand their sphere of activity. By 2016 at Khovanskoye and Perepechinskoye cemeteries, for instance, they opened their own official headstone workshops. Chabuev decided to take control of this business.

According to the testimony from workers at Khovanskoye Cemetery, Yuri Chabuev invited them to transfer their official and unofficial businesses to his people and continue their ordinary wage labor. The Tajiks refused, and Chabuev resorted to his old tactics from Khimki, calling in Zdorovaya Natsiya.

The young men from Zdorovaya Natsiya arrived at Khovanskoye Cemetery in the spring of 2016, during peak season for burial services, when headstones are going up and graves are getting routine maintenance. Rolling in on motor scooters, they proceeded to “inspect” the premises, expelling the Tajik workers from the cemetery grounds.

On May 14, the first weekend after Russia’s long spring holidays, a mass brawl of 200 to 400 men broke out between the Zdorovaya Natsiya members and Khovanskoye Cemetery’s Tajik laborers. Far outnumbered, Zdorovaya Natsiya opened fire. The shooting ended as soon as the riot police showed up. Three people died in the skirmish, and more than 30 were seriously injured, including some bystanders who were only visiting the cemetery.

Police officer outside Moscow's Khovanskoye Cemetery, following a deadly shootout, May 14, 2016
Maxim Blinov / Sputnik / Scanpix / LETA
Moscow, May 14, 2016. At Khovanskoye Cemetery, after a deadly shootout involving roughly 200 people, fighting over territory.
Vasily Kuzmichenok / TASS
Moscow, May 19, 2016. Former Khovanskoye Cemetery manager Yuri Chabuev, suspected of organizing the violence at the cemetery on May 14, 2016. Photo taken at his arraignment in Moscow's Presnensky District Court.
Moskva News Agency

In November 2018, a court convicted Yuri Chabuev of organizing the violence and sentenced him to 11 years at a maximum-security prison. One of the fight’s other organizers, Zdorovaya Natsiya co-founder Alexander Bocharnikov, was given nine years. Another 13 men who took part in the brawl were sent to prison for between 3.5 and 11.5 years. Officials also arrested hundreds of Tajik nationals, deporting some, placing others under administrative arrest for 15 days, and sentencing another five men to three years in prison.

During the trial, Chabuev said he repeatedly warned Ritual’s then deputy head of security, Alexander Garakoev, about the situation at Khovanskoye Cemetery, but Garakoev did nothing to prevent the conflict, Chabuev claimed, and the private security guards stationed at the graveyard were even ordered not to intervene in the fight. In the 1990s, Garakoev served in Tajikistan, and he came to Ritual from a position in the FSB Border Guard Troops, where he was the head of a logistics base in Stavropol.

After Chabuev’s arrest and the dismissal of his friends from Ritual, almost all of Moscow’s cemeteries fell under the control of men hailing from southern Russia in the Stavropol region.

part 4

The boys from Stavropol

According to Moscow’s Commerce and Services Department, the city’s funeral industry does at least 14 billion rubles ($222.1 million) in business every year. At the same time, based on official data for the past three years, the municipal enterprise Ritual earned between 1.7 and 3 billion rubles ($27 million and $47.6 million) on paid services each year.

The funeral business is a reliable source of cash, an industry insider told Meduza. Companies can earn money under the table by preparing bodies for burial, selling plots at cemeteries, digging and maintaining graves, and organizing funerals. Three sources who spoke to Meduza estimate that the annual volume of “shadow cash” generated by Moscow's funeral-services industry is between 12 and 14 billion rubles ($190.4 and $223 million).

The redistribution of Moscow’s funeral-services market began even before the shootout at Khovanskoye Cemetery, with the appointment in 2015 of Ritual’s new director, Artyom Ekimov, the former senior criminal investigator at the Interior Ministry’s Anti-Corruption and Economic Security head office (GUEBiPK). According to Meduza’s sources in the Moscow government, hiring Ekimov was part of an effort to clean up the city’s funeral market, and officials hoped his experience in the Interior Ministry would help him get the job done.

“Ritual” director Artyom Ekimov at the “Vechernaya Moskva” press center for a round table on reforming Moscow's funeral industry.
Nicolai Dudukin / PhotoXPress

A series of police raids against influential executives at Ritual preceded Ekimov’s appointment, and several people were charged with bribery. A few weeks before Ekimov started on the job, officers from the Moscow police's Economic Security Department arrested former Samara Regional Duma deputy Dmitry Anishchenko, who allegedly promised to help appoint a certain businessman to take over Ritual for a fee of 2 million euros ($2.3 million). Anishchenko was sentenced to 18 months in prison for attempted fraud. A former GUEBiPK officer told Meduza that Ekimov handled some of the criminal intelligence work on that case.

In early 2015, Ekimov’s tenure at Ritual began, and he started gradually replacing the top administrators at various cemeteries with his own people. At first, these changes left Yuri Chabuev’s sphere of influence virtually untouched. After the violence at Khovanskoye, however, Ritual executives decided to put their house in order, and they soon replaced the top administrators at almost all of the city’s cemeteries and crematoriums. The replacements Ekimov hired often had no experience in the funeral business. They had something else in common, too: they all hailed from the Stavropol region.

With these personnel changes, Ritual-Moscow welcomed Valerian Mazaraki (who previously owned an alcohol business) as Ekimov’s first deputy; Roman Molotkov, the owner of several restaurants in Stavropol and a member of the Stavropol rap group “Krestnaya Semya” (Godfather Family); Albert Utakaev, the former head of the FSB Border Guard troops in Karachay-Cherkessia and later the assistant manager of the State Registration Federal Agency’s Moscow branch; Yuri Kushnir, who previously managed a car dealership and worked as a bartender on the “Bryusov” diesel boat; and a dozen more people.

There's only one part of Ritual not in the hands of the Stavropol group

The only sphere of Ritual not managed by people from the Stavropol region is the company’s Major Sites and Services branch, which is headed by Nikolai Pyshkin, Oleg Semenov, and Vladislav Petrashev, who used to work together at a housing and public utilities enterprise in eastern Moscow. From 2010 to 2012, Pyshkin served as the head of the Izmailovo District, and Semenov managed a local utility service. In Moscow's Eastern Administrative Okrug, a company called “Gamma” was hired for nearly 220 million rubles ($3.5 million) in 2016 to provide services at utilities at Moscow’s cemeteries, becoming the biggest contractor in the area. The business belongs to Ruslan Pikalov, who also owns the company “Axiom,” which won similarly lucrative contracts (worth more than 220 million rubles, or $3.5 million) between 2010 and 2015 to carry out work in the Izmailovo District, where the largest contractors are the firms “Accord” and “Atlas.” For several years, these two companies — both of which were owned by Pavel Radchenko — received more than a billion rubles ($15.8 million) from the district’s public budget. In 2014, after Pyshkin stepped down as the head of Izmailovo, Accord and Atlas stopped bidding on procurement deals in the area, but they later won several contracts with Ritual. Radchenko’s eternal rival in Izmailovo was “Helios” LLC, which belongs to a businessman from Zelenograd named Andrey Pak. Curiously, Pak co-owns the company “Danlux” LLC with Oleg Semenov’s wife, Olga Glozman.

The new leadership at Moscow’s cemeteries led to changes in the graveyards’ security contracts as well, with the “Alpha-Horse” private security company supplanting multiple other firms. The business belongs to 28-year-old Emilia Leshkevich, who also owns a crafts store in Perm. Leshkevich is a relative of Anastasia Mazaraki, the wife of Lev Mazaraki, the brother of Ritual’s first deputy general director.

Six months after the fight at the Khovanskoye Cemetery, Leshkevich founded the “First Ritual Company,” which then bought several dozen hearses, and subsequently won several public contracts with Ritual to provide transportation services. Leshkevich’s partner in this business is a man named Sardal Umalatov, who in January 2019 became the co-owner of another Moscow mortuary called “Grail.”

Umalatov’s father was the head of the Chechen Parlimaent's Oil Industry Committee under breakaway leader Dzhokhar Dudayev. In the early 2000s, 23-year-old Sardal Umalatov appeared in news stories when his Bentley was set on fire. In 2017, Umalatov’s brother was killed in a shootout between minibus drivers competing over the same route. To service that route, Moscow regional officials had hired the carrier “Trans-Road,” which journalists have tied to Alexander Kolokoltsev, the son of Russia’s interior minister. Sardal Umalatov co-owns several businesses with Alexander Kolokoltsev. The newspaper Vedomosti previously tied Minister Kolokoltsev’s son to multiple minibus shuttle services that have received multi-billion-ruble passenger-service contracts from Moscow’s Transportation Department.

Alexander Kolokoltsev told Meduza that he has no past or present connections to the funeral business. Irina Volk, a spokesperson for Russia's Interior Ministry, added that Kolokoltsev's father is unaware of any illegal commercial activities committed by his son. Emilia Leshkevich told Meduza that she refuses to comment on these matters Moscow's Commerce Department ignored journalists' inquiries.

part 5

The bankers

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the brothers Lev and Valerian Mazaraki lived and managed businesses in Stavropol, occasionally appearing in various scandals, particularly in relation to their alcohol manufacturing company “Alliance,” which federal regulators repeatedly caught selling spirits of unknown origin. The brothers also owned several stores and entertainment venues where questionable alcohol was reportedly discovered. In 2007, Valerian Mazaraki founded the pyramid scheme “Vremya Dokhoda” (Income Time), which was quickly shut down after the company used an image of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in its advertising.

From 2007 to 2012, Lev Mazaraki managed the North Caucasus branch of “SG-Trans” (one of the country’s biggest railway operators for transporting oil and gas cargo). He also owned “SG-Trade,” which provided various services to SG-Trans. For example, the railway operator signed over a number of tanker cars that went missing a few years later — just as SG-Trade advertised online that it was selling a supply of railway tanker cars. Several current cemetery supervisors are linked to this story.

In the early 2010s, the Mazaraki brothers sold Alliance and moved to Moscow, leaving the alcohol business for the banking industry. Together with some of their friends, they bought and managed Social Economic Bank, National Development Bank, Mast-Bank, and Vestinterbank (see table).

“Ritual” first deputy director Valerian Mazaraki
Lev Mazaraki, Valerian Mazaraki's younger brother. In February 2019, he became vice president of the “Lokomotiv” beach soccer team.

A common thread unites these institutions: shortly after the arrival of Mazaraki-linked managers, Russia’s Central Bank revoked the licenses of each of these banks for violating laws against money laundering, and officials later discovered that some of the banks’ assets had been siphoned off. According to the Central Bank, the Stavropol-based Social Economic Bank couldn’t account for 1.1 billion rubles ($17.4 million) after losing its license, the National Development Bank was missing 13 billion rubles ($205.7 million), Mast-Bank couldn’t find 6.8 billion rubles ($107.6 million), and the small Vestinterbank lost a mere 386 million rubles ($6.1 million). Lev Mazaraki shared a seat on Vestinterbank’s board of directors with former state security officer Nikolai Dorofeyev. Two sources in the funeral business who spoke to Meduza say they suspect this man is related to Alexey Dorofeyev, the head of the Moscow FSB Directorate, though Meduza was unable to find documentary evidence verifying this. Nikolai Dorofeyev did not respond to a letter from Meduza, and he could not be reached by telephone. Alexey Dorofeyev did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

According to the Central Bank, the funds withdrawn from the banks were routed through loans issued mostly to shell companies, but in some cases, the money reached familiar companies. For example, shortly before the National Development Bank lost its license, a loan of 30 million rubles ($474,600) was issued to Lev Mazaraki’s SG-Trade (the same company that lost the railway tanker cars). The company soon folded.

Most of the staff involved in these schemes moved from bank to bank. For instance, Stavropol native Sergey Selyukov was a shareholder at Social Economic Bank and later managed satellite offices at the National Development Bank and Mast-Bank. Between 2015 and 2016, he supervised one of Ritual’s local subdivisions in Moscow, and in the spring of 2017 he took over the Moscow office of a small bank called “Sputnik,” which was registered in Samara.

In 2017, Sputnik was acquired by a group of people previously employed at Social Economic Bank and other failed financial institutions. Shortly thereafter, Sputnik launched a Moscow branch and opened cash-transaction services desks at the “Dubrovka” and “Food City” shopping centers and the “Mosvka” marketplace. Despite the large cash flows at these venues, few banks operate here. Before it lost its license, Mast-Bank (which also has ties to Stavropol financiers) was one of the biggest institutions present at these marketplaces. Meduza has learned that Sputnik’s marketplace services desks opened in the same premises previously occupied by Mast-Bank.

In March 2019, police officers raided the “Sadovod,” “Food City,” and “Mosvka” marketplaces, completely shutting down all operations. Not long afterwards, Sputnik closed all its marketplace services desks.

Lev and Valerian Mazaraki could not be reached by telephone. Valerian did not respond to a letter from Meduza addressed to his name, sent to Ritual's press service, and Lev did not answer questions sent to him over Facebook Messenger.

part 6

The FSB and friends

Artyom Ekimov — the man who made Valerian Mazaraki his deputy and staffed Moscow’s territorial funeral services departments with fellow Stavropol natives — took charge of Ritual literally just a few days before federal agents carried out a special operation against his former place of work. As a result of that police bust, the entire leadership of the Interior Ministry’s Anti-Corruption and Economic Security head office (GUEBiPK) ended up in prison.

The reason for the police action was an earlier sting operation staged by GUEBiPK officers to try to catch Igor Demin, the deputy director of the FSB’s Internal Security 6th Service, in the process of accepting a bribe. Afterwards, seven GUEBiPK staff, including department head Denis Sugrobov, were charged with abuse of office and provoking bribery, and later with organizing a criminal association as well. Sugrobov was initially sentenced to 22 years in prison before the term was reduced to 12 years.

It’s believed that the Sugrobov case was a response to GUEBiPK’s attempts to gain control over the banking sector, which was traditionally supervised by the banking division (Department “K”) of the FSB’s Economic Security Service.

Denis Sugrobov knew about Artyom Ekimov's plans to leave the department to work at Ritual, a source close to Sugrobov told Meduza. Back in 2013, says Meduza's source, Sugrobov suggested that Ekimov had been hired as the new head of the Moscow funeral service because he was a “competent guy” and a friend of FSB Lieutenant Colonel Marat Medoev. Sugrobov's contacts in the presidential administration also allegedly informed him that Medoev’s superior, Alexey Dorofeyev, directly lobbied for Ekimov’s appointment to the top spot at Ritual.

FSB Lieutenant General Alexey Dorofeyev, now age 58, graduated from the Leningrad Mechanical Institute, before joining the KGB and working in city-level state security departments in Leningrad and then (after the city was renamed) St. Petersburg. In 2005, he took over the FSB’s office in Karelia. According to reports in the news media, Dorofeyev was removed from this post following deadly ethnic clashes in Kondopoga in August 2006, but he soon made it to Moscow. From 2010 to 2012, he managed the FSB's Department “M,” which subsequently carried out the operation to break up GUEBiPK. In 2012, Dorofeyev was put in charge of the FSB’s Chief Directorate for the Moscow metropolitan area.

Another source in law enforcement (an officer at one of Russia’s intelligence agencies who is personally acquainted with Marat Medoev) confirmed to Meduza that Lieutenant General Dorofeyev was behind Artyom Ekimov’s appointment to Ritual, saying that Ekimov was considered “Dorofeyev's man.”

The same source describes Dorofeyev as a kind of “demigod.” “He’s a lieutenant general with an office and a sunroom. Not every boss from ‘Detsky Mir’ can get an audience with him,” Meduza's source says, referring to the children's retail store across the street from the FSB’s headquarters at Lubyanka Square in Moscow.

Alexey Dorofeyev, head of the Moscow FSB Directorate, attends an extended session of the Moscow Interior Ministry's Collegium, reviewing the results of 2017. Meeting held on January 25, 2018.
Dmitry Korotaev / Kommersant

Thirty-seven-year-old Marat Medoev (whom a source close to Sugrobov identified as Artyom Ekimov’s friend) is Alexey Dorofeyev’s closest assistant, managing a group in the FSB Chief Directorate that Dorofeyev supervises. Medoev was born in St. Petersburg, but he’s lived in Moscow since at least the early 2000s, and he worked in the FSB's Criminal Investigations Directorate until 2012. Officially, he’s never been an entrepreneur, but he has an unusual habit of buying expensive cars and motorcycles. In 2012, Medoev bought a new BMW X5 Drive, which he then sold to a man named Valery Bolshakov, according to anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny. Meduza has learned that Valery Bolshakov manages the Transport Services Department at Ritual.

When reached by telephone, Bolshakov declined to comment and hung up. His son, Alexander, told Meduza that his father doesn't know Marat Medoev, claiming that he bought the BMW through an advertisement. Alexander Bolshakov, however, is close friends with the Medoevs and Mazarakis, and often spends time with members of the two families. Valerian Mazaraki and Marat Medoev's wife, Natalia, even attended Bolshakov Jr.'s wedding at the Moscow nightclub “Soho Rooms.”

The wedding of Alexander Bolshakov, son of municipal enterprise “Ritual” transportation service director Valery Bolshakov. In the background: “Ritual” first deputy director Valerian Mazaraki.

Medoev and Dorofeyev have been acquainted since at least the early 2010s. Meduza’s source (who knows Medoev personally) calls him Dorofeyev’s “right hand” and “the man who carries out all his orders.” “If an assignment comes from [Medoev], it means it comes from his boss and everyone knows you’d better hop to,” Meduza’s source says, confirming that officers in the FSB are directly connected to the municipal enterprise Ritual. This includes Marat Medoev, he says, who “sometimes resolves unpleasant situations for Ritual” encountered by the company’s staff.

Marat Medoev and his wife, Natalia

Ritual director Artyom Ekimov initially offered to meet with the journalists who wrote report, but at the last minute he postponed the meeting indefinitely, “due to the complexity of the subject,” and has not responded to Meduza's questions by the time of this writing.

part 7

Bad company

In February 2018, the Moscow nightclub “Soho Rooms” hosted a birthday party for Lev Mazaraki’s wife, Anastasia, who is known for owning one of the most expensive cars in all of Moscow: an orange Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4 sports car, worth at least 23.7 million rubles ($374,700). The party was “Great Gatsby” themed, and Ritual director Artyom Ekimov was one of the guests.

The Mazaraki family also frequently spends time with the Medoevs. In May 2019, for example, Natalia Medoeva (Marat's wife) celebrated her birthday at the restaurant “Podmoskovnye Vechera” (Moscow Evenings), located in Moscow’s prestigious Rublyovka suburb. The party’s guests included Anastasia Mazaraki and Maya Ovsyannikova, Marat Medoev’s younger sister. The event was titled “Evening Natasha,” and it was hosted by late night television star Ivan Urgant, with live music by the Russian band Diskoteka Avariya. Meduza's sources estimate that the affair cost between 18 and 20 million rubles ($285,390 and $317,100). The event agency responsible for organizing Medoeva's party, “Safit Event,” also staged Anastasia Mazaraki's “Agent Provocateur” themed birthday party in February 2019, which was attended by Elda Medoeva, Marat's sister.

Ritual director Artyom Ekimov, center, attends Anastasia Mazaraki's birthday party in February 2018
Birthday party for Anastasia Mazaraki (eighth from the left) in February 2019 at “Soho Family.” Fourth from the left: Elda Medoeva, Marat's sister.
Russian TV star Ivan Urgant celebrates Natalia Medoeva's birthday at “Podmoskovnye Vechera,” May 2019
Natalia Medoeva's birthday party, May 2019. Maya Ovsyannikova, Marat Medoev’s younger sister, on the far left.

The nightclub Soho Rooms is owned by Lev and Anastasia's 19-year-old son, Egor, who got into the club-restaurant business after buying several establishments at Moscow’s “Trekhgornaya Manufactory,” including the “Hooligan Moscow” club (previously owned by Denis Simachev and Andrey Kobzon), the “Blacksmith” Irish pub, and the “Jagger Hall” banquet hall. Egor Mazaraki also owns the “20/15” barbershop and the “Shaika-Leika” (Bad Company) sauna complex.

The Mazarakis’ entertainment business is managed by Igor Nelyubov, who previously headed the “Krasnaya Shapochka” (Little Red Riding Hood) strip club, before working as CEO of the mortuary “First Ritual Company.” Nelyubov also manages several other companies owned by Vycheslav Martynenko, the Mazarakis’ family friend who once headed the Stavropol group “The Committee for Civic Resistance to Violations of Discipline and Lawfulness of Law-Enforcement Agencies’ Actions.” After following the Mazarakis to Moscow, Martynenko also became a co-owner of several popular local establishments, including the “Konstruktor” and “Mix” nightclubs and the “Mir” banquet hall, which is located in the building that houses the well-known movie theater by the same name.

Source: data from Russia's Unified State Register of Legal Entities, the Russian Central Bank's State Registration Agency, social media, and news reports

In late 2018, Martynenko acquired yet another business, and it won a procurement deal for exclusive trading rights at the subway stations in central Moscow. Shortly before this contract was signed, the job of deputy director of the city's Transportation Department, which oversees the subway system, was given to former Ritual deputy director Alexander Garakoev (a reserve FSB colonel and the same former head of security at Ritual who refused to support “Khimki’s” Yuri Chabuev in the showdown at Khovanskoye Cemetery).

One of Marat Medoev’s in-laws, Yuri Ovsyannikov, used to work in Moscow’s transportation industry, managing the Moscow Road Inspection Administration (MADI), which rented office space on Kazakova Street from a firm owned by Marat Medoev’s father, Igor. The facility used to be home to the central office of “Arks-Bank,” which was implicated in a major scandal in 2016, when regulators discovered, after the bank lost its license, that almost 90 percent of its deposits (roughly 35.1 billion rubles, or $555.8 million) were left off the balance sheet and withdrawn.

Igor Medoev is close friends with “Magnitsky List” designee and FSB general Viktor Voronin, who led the agency’s Department “K” until 2016 and oversaw the banking sector, two sources who know Igor Medoev told Meduza. Bank owners repeatedly accused Voronin of trying to seize their assets illegally. In May 2011, banker Alexander Lebedev published an open letter where he said several of Voronin’s subordinates are guilty of rent-seeking behavior, writing that they “confuse their own wool with the state’s.” Alexey Dorofeyev is also well-acquainted with Viktor Voronin. In the late 2000s, for example, they often sat next to each other on flights from St. Petersburg to Moscow, and both men managed the FSB's Economic Security Service from 2010 to 2012.

Before retiring, Igor Medoev served in the FSB’s North Ossetia branch, and after 2001, he became an adviser to Anatoly Serdyukov in the Federal Tax Service and then the Defense Ministry. While at the Defense Ministry, Medoev was awarded the Hero of the Russian Federation honorary title, but he ultimately lost his job by order of Dmitry Medvedev when Serdyukov was fired. Igor Medoev lives in Slovakia today, near several people connected to the company “Faraday,” the main supplier of footwear to Russia's Interior Ministry, National Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and FSB.

One of Serdyukov’s other former advisers was Sergey Korolev, who was appointed in 2016 to manage the FSB’s Economic Security Service. Korolev is Mara Medoev’s godfather, according to Novaya Gazeta and confirmed by Meduza’s sources close to the Interior Ministry. Meduza’s sources in the FSB say Marat Medoev used his father’s connections to become an adviser to Alexey Dorofeyev.

Igor Medoev did not respond to telephone calls or messages on WhatsApp. The FSB's public relations center and the FSB's bureaus in Moscow and the Moscow region did not respond to Meduza's requests for comments about Marat Medoev and Alexey Dorofeyev.

part 8


In the early 2010s, Marat Medoev received a plot of land in the non-commercial cottage partnership “Dacha Ostrovok” (Cottage Island), where his neighbors included Alexey Dorofeyev, FSB General Oleg Feoktistov (in 2017, working as a vice president at Rosneft, he oversaw the operation to arrest Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukaev), FSB Control Service head Vladimir Kryuchkov, former Federal Customs Service deputy director Igor Zavrazhnov, and Konstantin Gavrikov, the deputy head of the FSB’s Department “K,” which monitors the banking sector.

The Medoevs and Dorofeyevs own adjacent property in another villa community, as well, at “Lesnaya Bukhta” (Forest Cove), located about 40 minutes from Dacha Ostrovok, near the shore of the Istrinskoye Reservoir. According to the Unified State Register of Taxpayers, Igor Medoev borrowed 119 million rubles ($1.9 million) in April 2012 from the bank “Strategy” in order to buy the real estate. Curiously, a month before this loan was issued, law-enforcement agencies raided the same bank and seized documents in a case related to the illegal withdrawal of 20–25 billion rubles ($317–397 million) abroad. The bank was never prosecuted, though regulators later revoked its license after repeatedly catching it in noncompliance with laws against money laundering.

In 2015, Alexey Dorofeyev bought the plot next to Igor Medoev’s in the Lesnaya Bukhta community (the current owner is registered as the private organization “Russian Federation”). Two years later, on the exact same day, they both registered their new homes on that land. Aerial footage recorded by Novaya Gazeta shows that there’s no fence between the two properties. In the summer of 2018, Anastasia Mazaraki bought neighboring real estate.

In the spring of 2018, Anastasia Mazaraki (Lev's wife) bought a plot of land next to the real estate owned by Alexey Dorofeyev and Igor Medoev.

Source: Russia's State Registration Federal Agency

The Mazaraki and Medoev families might also be acquainted. Their mansions at Lesnaya Bukhta are side by side, practically forming a separate street. On this same road, one of the homes once belonged to Igor Medoev’s daughter (and Marat Medoev’s sister), Elda, but she sold the property in 2018. According to records from the State Registration Federal Agency, accessed on June 12, 2019, the land was sold to a private organization called “Russian Federation,” but earlier files indicate that she sold her home to “Boris Sergeevich Korolev,” whose name matches the son of Sergey Korolev, the head of the FSB’s Economic Security Service, who began his career in the agency’s St. Petersburg branch, like Alexey Dorofeyev. A source who knows the Medoevs confirmed to Meduza that the son of a high-ranking FSB officer did in fact buy Elda Medoeva’s old home. Elda Medoeva refused to answer Meduza's questions.

This real estate outside Moscow isn’t the only example of land previously registered to the Korolev family suddenly showing up as property of “Russian Federation.” Since the early 1990s, Sergey Korolev’s family has been registered in a government apartment in northwestern St. Petersburg. State Registration Agency records show that the deed on the home was transferred to “citizens” in July 2018. Instead of indicating individuals as the new owners, however, the transcripts identify the same “Russian Federation,” stating shared ownership.

In June 2019, “Russian Federation” also became the owner of Alexey Dorofeyev's mansion at Lesnaya Bukhta.

* * *


In late 2018, Moscow Governor Andrey Vorobyev replaced the agency that oversees the region’s funeral business, shifting the responsibility from the Consumer Market Ministry to Roman Karataev’s Main Directorate of Regional Security. Before coming to the Moscow regional government, Karataev worked in the FSB’s Department “M,” serving while Alexey Dorofeyev managed the department.

Dmitry Evtushenko was appointed Karataev’s deputy and tasked with overseeing the funeral industry. Evtushenko previously worked for the regional government in the Stavropol region, the Mazaraki brothers’ homeland. Evtushenko also managed a Stavropol company that employed Sergey Selyukov, the director of a Ritual Moscow subdivision that’s been linked to schemes to withdraw money from several local banks. Roman Karataev refused to answer Meduza's questions over the telephone, saying journalists should schedule an appointment with him.

In December 2018, regional authorities outside the capital established a structure similar to the Moscow municipal enterprise Ritual, launching the municipal enterprise “Memorial Services Center,” which will take control over the region’s funeral business. The new outfit is headed by Nikolai Kazakov, the co-founder of the “All-Russian Cheerleading Federation,” who previously managed a funeral service in Khimki. Today, judging by state procurement orders, the new municipal enterprise is buying furniture, office supplies, and renting office space in cities outside Moscow.

A source in the region’s funeral business told Meduza that new people have already seized control of four districts: Krasnogorsk, Leninsky, Khimki, and Domodedovo. According to Meduza’s source, most of the cemeteries in these districts are being reclassified as “closed,” which prohibits new burials, thus “creating a shortage and increasing the size of bribes for allocating space for graves.”

Story by Ivan Golunov

Additional reporting and fact-checking: BBC Russian Service: Andrey Zakharov and Svetlana Reiter; RBC: Maxim Solopov; Vedomosti: Anastasia Yakoreva and Bela Lyauv; Yulia Nikitina; The Bell: Irina Pankratova, Alexandra Prokopenko, Anastasia Stognei, and Irina Malkova; Forbes: Maria Abakumova and Sergey Titov; OCCRP / Novaya Gazeta: Roman Shleinov, Irina Dolinina, Alesya Marokhovskaya, and Olesya Shmagun; and Lorem Ipsum Corp.: Alexander Gorbachev

Editors: Konstantin Benyumov and Alexey Kovalev, Meduza

Aerial photography: Novaya Gazeta

Infographics: Nastya Yarovaya and Nastya Grigorieva, Meduza

Translation into English: Kevin Rothrock, Meduza

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