A most violent end How a design firm executive was found dead and tortured in prison after being charged with defrauding the Russian military
In early 2018, police officers in St. Petersburg charged three suspects with fraud, claiming that their I.T. firm overcharged for the development of 3D models for Russia’s Project 636 “Varshavyanka” submarine. State officials say the design experts pocketed roughly 100 million rubles ($1.3 million) in a 400-million-ruble ($5.3-million) deal. A year later, one of the suspects, “Novit Pro” founder Valery Pshenichny, was found in his remand prison cell, dead, mutilated, and apparently raped. The authorities ruled it a suicide. In a special report, Mediazona correspondent Lena Vladykina spoke to family members and attorneys to learn how dubious fraud allegations led to such violent ends. Meduza summarizes the story here.
Valery Pshenichny’s son, Denis, told Mediazona that the charges against his father are the result of testimony by Andrey Petrov, another suspect in the same fraud case. After Valery Pshenichny accused Petrov of embezzling 33.5 million ($440,700) from Novit Pro, Petrov allegedly reached a deal with prosecutors to testify against Pshenichny and another suspect in the submarine fraud case. Just how these men overcharged government contractors for 3D designs of a submarine remains unclear. Pshenichny’s lawyer says the prosecutors’ own charges claim that the defendants delivered one overpriced design and simultaneously billed for more than one design.
Whatever happened to Valery Pshenichny before his death, it wasn’t pretty. Pshenichny’s son says federal agents from the FSB extorted more than 100 million rubles from his father not long before his arrest. Denis told Mediazona that he suspects the shakedown was the result of Valery’s refusal to pay protection money. In letters from prison addressed to his family, Pshenichny conveyed instructions about running their business and begged his wife and son “not to pay anyone anything.” Denis says the notes, the last of which arrived days before his father’s death, didn’t feel suicidal.
On February 5, 2018, Valery Pshenichny’s body was discovered in his prison cell, burned, bruised, sliced in many places, and beaten. Medical examiners found semen in his mouth and rectum. Officials later concluded that he hanged himself. Prison officials told journalists that Pshenichny apparently disassembled various appliances in his cell in order to harm himself. Video surveillance didn’t capture the incident and specialists from the FSB determined that the footage was unedited (after two independent firms declined to review the tapes).
Pshenichny’s lawyer, Andrey Vasilyev, told Mediazona that he suspects his client was tortured and possibly murdered. Not only does the gruesome and sexual nature of Pshenichny’s injuries suggest that he was attacked, but the killing was apparently coordinated with prison officials, says Vasilyev, given that Pshenichny was left alone in his cell at the time of his death, in direct violation of official regulations. (Vasilyev says his client’s enemies could have bribed mid-level guards to assist in this scheme.) Alternatively, the assailants may have killed Pshenichny accidentally and then covered it up. Or Pshenichny possibly killed himself after being tortured.
A posthumous trial against Valery Pshenichny is now beginning in St. Petersburg. Prosecutors proposed dropping the charges “on non-exculpatory grounds,” but his family refused, hoping to prove the man’s innocence in court. Pshenichny’s co-defendant, Gleb Emelchenkov, has also pleaded not guilty. In April 2020, prosecutors opened a criminal case against the Defense Ministry official who supposedly agreed to Pshenichny’s overpriced 3D design contract. Officials have reportedly dropped those charges due to a lack of evidence, however.
Meanwhile, Russian defense contractors successfully used the 3D models completed by Pshenichny’s firm, finishing the necessary repairs to the Navy’s Varshavyanka submarines.
Cover image from Pixabay