‘We still haven’t ruled out aliens’ After journalists find an abandoned private prison outside St. Petersburg, it’s promptly bulldozed shut
A strange facility now lies in ruins outside St. Petersburg. Until bulldozers arrived on Monday, July 19, a compound 44 kilometers (27 miles) from the city concealed an abandoned private prison with three cells, a guard station, and a furnace that may have served as a crematorium. Viktor Smirnov and Andrey Karov, two local journalists from 47news, say they learned about the site through a tip “from some migrant worker.” Meduza summarizes what they found underground.
Surrounded by a mostly collapsed fence, the two-story building Smirnov and Karov found had what appeared to be a garage opening that once contained a powerful hydraulics system used to raise and lower a heavy concrete slab. The compound’s gates were decorated with drawings of a wolf, a spider, a woman behind bars, and skull and crossbones with the inscription “Manonera” (a type of Italian extortion racket). Above the entrance, there was a sign that read “Copenhagen.”
Taller inmates would have been uncomfortable in the underground prison, where the ceiling rose just two meters (about six and a half feet). Guard stations flanked the three cells, each of which contained iron bunk beds, a sink, and a toilet. Footage obtained by 47news shows that the cells’ steel doors were built with “feeding troughs,” and the guard stations were outfitted with the same gates now used at St. Petersburg’s “Kresty” remand prison.
Last year, agents from Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee inspected the underground prison, though the purpose of their visit to the premises remains unclear. Journalists were also unable to determine if the authorities opened a criminal case based on what they found.
Behind the prison, investigators discovered a concrete well, three or four meters (about 12 feet) deep. Inside the hole, the two journalists say, officials found “an oven big enough to fit a human body.” Police sources told 47news that experts also identified biological remains in the furnace.
It’s not clear when the underground prison was built. A development blueprint was registered for the real estate in 2010, but the plan was scrapped after two years. In photos from 2010 and 2011 that are available online, the facility that ultimately housed the detention center was already in place. One neighbor told 47news that she suspects the building went up at some point between 2010 and 2012. Whenever it happened, the underground prison likely cost almost half a million dollars to build, experts told 47news.
For the past decade, the property rights have passed from one hand to another, but 47news says these nominal owners have merely held the deed for two men: Renat Alimzanov and someone born Mr. Mkrtychyan. A former operations director at a pretrial detention center outside St. Petersburg, Alimzanov retired in 2004 with a captain’s rank. He died in September 2018 at the age of 51. Mkrtychyan, meanwhile, is now 50 years old. In 2010, apparently enamored with Colombia’s most notorious drug lord and narcoterrorist, Mkrtychyan changed his name to Escobar. Journalists believe Escobar (Mkrtychyan) is involved in the sale of cars.
Hours after 47news published its report about the secret prison outside St. Petersburg, heavy machinery arrived at the site and bulldozed the entrance shut.
We think the people for whom this prison was built were meant to believe sincerely that they were [being incarcerated] at a state institution. And maybe they had to fulfill certain conditions. […] The construction of the prison itself doesn’t constitute a crime. […] We also know for certain that the authorities spent a year and a half picking apart this little wonderwork. […] In the end, though, it led to a big load of nothing. Their safes are stacked with paperwork and — to this day — they’re kicking around a few dozen theories. As one [investigator] joked to us, “We still haven’t ruled out aliens.”
Translation by Kevin Rothrock