‘They’re doing all of this to scare people’ How Russian security officials searched Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, froze its assets, and fumbled numbers in the case against it
Investigators have used a criminal money laundering case against Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), one of Russia’s leading civic institutions, to freeze several bank accounts related to the group. FBK Press Secretary Kira Yarmysh announced on August 8 that the Foundation’s general account, the operational account for Navalny’s regional campaign offices, and a number of FBK staff members’ personal accounts had all been frozen. Those staff members were the same individuals the investigative outlet Proekt had previously reported state officials are targeting in the money laundering case. They include Navalny campaign chief Leonid Volkov, former FBK director Roman Rubanov, accountant Anna Chekhovich, sociological service head Anna Biryukova, legal department chief Vyacheslav Gimadi, and attorneys Alexander Pomazuyev and Evgeny Zamyatin.
The frozen assets in the FBK’s account amount to 28 million rubles ($430,360). According to both Yarmysh and Volkov, Moscow’s Presnensky Court ordered a total of 75 million rubles ($1.15 million) frozen, the same amount the court has accused the FBK of laundering. Volkov said officials froze the accounts “absolutely at random,” and Yarmysh noted that “the [regional] offices’ accounts aren’t involved in this case at all,” saying they were blocked for no apparent reason.
Meanwhile, the Investigative Committee itself announced that “more than 100 accounts belonging to a number of individuals and organizations” have been frozen in the case. Kira Yarmysh told Meduza that the FBK does not know exactly which 100 accounts those are. “It’s likely that if you count all the cards owned by every employee whose accounts have been frozen, since every card has a different account number, then you would get to 100 accounts. At the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised if they just picked that number at random, just like they landed on the “billion [rubles]” the FBK’s employees supposedly laundered,” Yarmysh conjectured.
FBK employees were searched and summoned for questioning
During the morning of August 8 and well into the day, officials searched the homes of FBK attorneys Vyacheslav Gimadi, Alexander Pomazuyev, Evgeny Zamyatin, and Vladlen Los. They also searched video production specialist Vitaly Kolesnikov and regional FBK manager Anastasia Kadetova. According to Pomazuyev’s own attorney, the FBK lawyer was injured during the search when law enforcement officers slammed his face into the floor. In Gimadi’s case, police seized computers and telephones as well as a letter of attorney from FBK Director Ivan Zhdanov, who is currently in jail. The document previously enabled Gimadi to represent Zhdanov’s interests before Russia’s Supreme Court: Zhdanov is one of the opposition candidates whose fight to run for the Moscow City Duma has powered mass protests for weeks on end. A number of FBK employees were called in for questioning at the Investigative Committee, but the civil rights organization Protest Apologetics clarified that Pomazuyev is thus far only considered a witness in the case.
Officials also searched the FBK’s main office, the firm that provides accounting services for the organization, and the accountant who worked with the company during 2013 and 2014. According to an attorney for Alexander Golovach, who was also called in for questioning, special forces officers violently arrested someone from a neighboring office while walking through the hallways of the building where the FBK is housed.
Reports later emerged that police had also searched Alexey Navalny’s headquarters in Izhevsk and the home of Ildar Zakirov, an activist for Navalny’s Izhevsk branch. There has been no official confirmation of the reasons for that search.
Investigators initially accused the FBK of laundering a billion rubles, but their search warrants say 75 million
A government search warrant accused as-yet-unidentified individuals, including unspecified FBK employees, of receiving 75,585,300 rubles and 21 kopecks in cash that they knew were acquired illegally before using ATMs to transfer the money to their accounts and, subsequently, to the FBK itself. The Investigative Committee’s press release used similar language but pointed to a “large sum” of money rather than 75 million rubles. Neither document mentions the one billion rubles ($15.37 million) investigators first named when they announced the money laundering case.
Navalny campaign chief Leonid Volkov wrote that the 75 million rubles were profits from bitcoin sales that the FBK received as donations from supporters. “One of the most widely used methods of exchanging bitcoin for rubles involves sending your bitcoin to a buyer on a cryptocurrency exchange and then receiving cash to your account from them through a cash-in function so you don’t have to meet face-to-face. […] It’s a simple, well-known, and absolutely legal operation (the Investigative Committee just isn’t in the loop),” Volkov wrote, adding that if investigators understood the bitcoin market, they would “go digging around somewhere else.”
FBK employees have said the case is fabricated and called on supporters to keep donating
“This case is fabricated from beginning to end, and its only goal is to scare people and stop the FBK’s activities. The Investigative Committee has been opening new cases every week just before protests, and they’ve been doing searches before protests, too,” FBK Press Secretary Kira Yarmysh told Meduza. She continued, “They’re doing all of this to scare people and stop them from going out into the streets. It makes sense that, as an organization that’s entirely independent thanks to several thousand donors, the FBK makes the Kremlin especially angry and worried. […] This is absolutely an attempt to apply pressure to us and strengthen the oppressive atmosphere around our work and around the current Moscow protests.”
Leonid Volkov argued that Russian security forces have “come for the organizational structure” of the FBK. He speculated that “there was no political approval from above to ‘crush the FBK’ before, but under cover of the case on ‘mass riots’ (which there were none), it seems they’ve been able to get that approval.” Volkov noted that “new transfers [to the FBK’s bank accounts] are working as usual” and that “you can now donate to the FBK.”
In a conversation with Meduza, former FBK director Roman Rubanov said that “all the accounts, just everything that’s been going through the FBK and [Navalny’s] offices, is strictly monitored by Rosfinmonitoring [Russia’s financial monitoring agency].” He explained, “They run security checks on my accounts, Volkov’s accounts, and the FBK’s accounts enviably often.” In Rubanov’s opinion, the point of opening the money laundering case was to take advantage of a range of measures that are available to the Russian judicial system well before a suspect is convicted: “conducting searches, blocking accounts, summoning people for interrogations, forcing them to stay in the city.” The former FBK director also suspected law enforcement officials of trying to “show their bosses they’re doing something.”
A statement from Alexey Navalny himself appeared on the FBK founder’s website, which has been blocked since July 24. Navalny called the new case and its attendant searches “the most aggressive attempt yet to shut [the FBK’s] mouth” but added that there was “nothing new” in those measures overall. Navalny wrote that he believes this new wave of “aggression” represents the government’s attempt to undermine another of his initiatives, the “Smart Voting” project. That project offers opposition supporters tips on voting for strong candidates who have a chance at unseating opponents from Russia’s ruling party, United Russia.
“Right now, what’s important to us is for you not to abandon us, for you to keep supporting us both morally (just post on any social media platform if you’ve ever sent us money) and materially,” Navalny wrote.
Translation by Hilah Kohen