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After accusing his senior officers of dealing drugs, this veteran Russian cop was fired and charged with two felonies

Source: Meduza

A year ago, a police officer in Russia’s Republic of Khakassia accused his supervisors of dealing drugs. After complaining to the higher-ups, he was fired.

Thirty-six-year-old Yuri Zaitsev grew up in a cop family and wore the badge himself for more than 15 years. Throughout this time, he served in counter-narcotics units, first in the Federal Drug Control Service and later in drug control for Khakassia’s Interior Ministry. Until recently, he led one of the units in this department.

Zaitsev’s wife, Elena Zaitseva, told Meduza that her husband learned in early 2019 that senior staff in the drug control department are themselves allegedly involved in trafficking illegal narcotics. According to Zaitsev, police officers managed simultaneously to earn extra money and raise their solved-crime numbers by overseeing some of the online shops that sell illegal drugs, while embedding informants in others who would then turn dealers over to the authorities.

Zaitseva says her husband appealed to more senior officers and demanded that the police stop protecting the illegal drug trade. Just a few weeks later, in February 2019, Yuri Zaitsev was fired after an internal audit found that he’d supposedly committed misconduct and “defamed another law-enforcement officer.” No further explanation was given. Zaitsev filed a lawsuit to challenge his dismissal, but Khakassia’s Supreme Court refused to reinstate him.

Zaitsev was soon jailed on bribery charges. His wife says she’s sure that the case has been fabricated by the same officers her husband tried to expose.

In March 2019, Zaitsev was arrested and charged with accepting a bribe from a drug dealer in exchange for information about planned arrests. Elena Zaitseva told Meduza that the tip about her husband’s supposed crime came from Evgeny Lysykh, the head of the Khakassian Interior Ministry’s drug control department, and one of the senior staff Zaitsev accused of narcotics trafficking. Lysykh provided investigators with printouts of Zaitsev’s alleged online correspondence with an unidentified drug dealer, where the police officer supposedly solicited a bribe. According to Lysykh, he got the correspondence from a source, but Zaitseva says the evidence is just printouts, and no one has verified the documents’ authenticity. 

Six months later, after no new evidence surfaced in the case, a court transferred Zaitsev from pretrial detention to house arrest. The investigation is still ongoing.

The Zaitsevs say they’re sure the charges are fabricated. In late October, Yuri Zaitsev recorded video messages appealing to Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin and President Vladimir Putin. On November 3, the video for Putin was published on YouTube.

Yuri Zaitsev appeals to President Putin

In the 18-minute video, the now former police officer explains how, according to his information, Khakassian Interior Ministry’s drug control department head Evgeny Lysykh, assistant Konstantin Kovalenko, department deputy head Mikhail Bondarenko, and senior drug control officer Kirill Shiryaev are all involved in trafficking synthetic drugs in Khakassia and the Krasnoyarsk region. Zaitsev says Lysykh is the criminal group’s leader, and he also claims that Lysykh has ties to the Federal Security Service and other state agencies. Khakassia’s Interior Ministry says it’s already launched an inquiry to verify the allegations in Zaitsev’s video.

In October, Zaitsev was hit with new felony charges — disclosure of state secrets — and returned to pretrial detention.

On October 30, after releasing his appeal to Alexander Bastrykin, Zaitsev was charged with another felony: disclosing state secrets. He apparently divulged evidence from his own case: in one of his videos, he showed images of the printouts of his supposed communications with the drug dealer. The materials in his case (Meduza obtained copies) state that these documents are classified.

Elena Zaitseva says the authorities launched this second investigation because their family started drawing media attention to their situation. “The state machine just wants to put a bow on Zaitsev,” she says.

After Zaitsev turned to President Putin, investigators asked to return him to pretrial detention for violating the terms of his house arrest by using the Internet. On the evening of November 7, the Abakan City Court granted the request and jailed Zaitsev until at least January 10.

Zaitsev’s wife says she believes high-ranking officers in regional branches of the Interior Ministry, Investigative Committee, and Federal Security Service are conspiring against her husband. She says they’re also pressuring the local courts to rule against him. “I’m afraid that they’ll just hang him in jail and say it was suicide,” Zaitseva told Meduza. “He told the truth, and now everyone in Khakassia is afraid that heads will roll.”

Story by Pavel Merzlikin

Translation by Kevin Rothrock