Former officers who searched ‘Meduza’ journalist Ivan Golunov arrested, may face drug possession and evidence falsification charges
Five former Moscow police officers have been arrested in connection with the case of Meduza special correspondent Ivan Golunov. According to Russia’s Investigative Committee, the officers are Denis Konovalov, Akbar Sergaliev, Roman Feofanov, Maxim Umetbayev, and Igor Lyakhovets, a list that corresponds with earlier reporting from TASS and Kommersant. TASS initially claimed that Andrey Shchirov, the drug control chief for Moscow’s Western Administrative District and the former boss of all five officers, had also been arrested, but the Investigative Committee later clarified that he has been classified as a witness rather than a suspect (though his status may change over time). The five arrested officers will soon be indicted.
The former officers all had direct ties to the drug case against Golunov and were fired after the case was closed. Feofanov, Umetbayev, Sergaliev, Konovalov, and Lyakhovets all took part in the Meduza correspondent’s arrest, and Shchirov was their commanding officer. When faced with accusations that evidence in the case had been falsified, Shchirov claimed that there were no inconsistencies in the case against Golunov and that it was he who was facing “emotional pressure” from the media. After the charges against Golunov were dropped, Shchirov lost his job. So did his subordinates, his district chief, and Moscow’s city-wide lead officer for drug policing. Shchirov, Konovlov, Feofanov, and Umetbayev attempted to sue to get their jobs back but did not succeed.
The officers have been charged with exceeding their authority, but they may face other charges as well, Kommersant reported. The newspaper indicated that future charges may include falsifying evidence and illegal possession of the drugs that were ‘found’ in Golunov’s backpack and his apartment. The arrestees are also under investigation for potentially fabricating a few other criminal cases that did not garner as much public attention. Anonymous sources told Kommersant and Open Media that investigators will petition for the former police officers to be detained while they await trial.
Other sources told Novaya Gazeta that Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Alexander Bortnikov announced as early as January 21 that there would be arrests and detentions in Golunov’s case. He reportedly did so during a division-wide end-of-year conference for the FSB’s Moscow and Moscow regional branches. Kommersant wrote that dozens of FSB officials took part in arresting the five police officers along with the internal investigative headquarters for Russia’s federal police force, Moscow’s internal investigations office, and the Investigative Committee. The newspaper reported that the officers received warrants from Moscow’s Basmanny Court in advance to search the suspects’ apartments.
The case’s documentation does not yet specify who planted drugs in Golunov’s possessions and why, an anonymous source told Kommersant. Golunov himself speculated that the case against him may have been related to his work investigating Moscow’s funeral industry. On multiple occasions, those investigations mentioned Alexey Dorofeyev, the FSB chief for Moscow and the Moscow region, as well as his aide Marat Medoyev. According to Novaya Gazeta, when FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov announced that Golunov’s arresting officers would themselves be arrested, he emphasized that law enforcement investigations had not found that Dorofeyev or Medoyev were involved in the journalist’s prosecution.
Not all of the case’s suspects have been named, a source told Kommersant. The source did not say what role those “unidentified” individuals allegedly played in Golunov’s arrest, but he did indicate that investigators plan to use their current suspects’ testimony to find any accomplices or benefactors. After the former police officers were arrested, journalists asked Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov whether or not Presient Vladimir Putin has asked Russia’s security forces to find out who initially requested that Golunov be prosecuted. Peskov answered that such an order would be unnecessary because “the Investigative Committee is doing its job” and the Kremlin has “no intentions or possibilities at this point of interfering in that work.”
Ivan Golunov said that he was glad to see the investigation in his case reach a more active stage. “I hope this case will go to court and ultimately evaluate the actions of everyone involved,” the journalist told Meduza.
Translation by Hilah Kohen