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‘They were used’ Three people arrested on suspicion of leaking data used in Navalny poisoning investigation

Source: Meduza
The FSB headquarters in Moscow
The FSB headquarters in Moscow
Evgeny Feldman for Meduza

Moscow law enforcement arrested three people on suspicion of illegally leaking the personal data of private citizens “that was later used by Alexey Navalny in carrying out his investigations,” the Russian state news agency TASS reported on Monday, November 1.

Speaking to TASS, an unnamed source in law enforcement identified the detainees as Pyotr Katkov, Alexander Zelentsov, and Igor Zaitsev. In turn, Moscow’s Basmanny District Court confirmed to the news agency that Katkov, Zelentsov, and Zaitsev were indeed placed under house arrest on charges of violating the secrecy of correspondence and forging documents (under Russian Criminal Code articles 138 and 327, respectively).

According to the Telegram channel Baza, Zelentsov and Katkov opened their own “detective agency” in 2020 and were mainly engaged in probiv — using phone numbers to obtain confidential information about certain individuals for “Darknet” customers. Zaitsev joined the “agency” later on.

Baza claims that Zelentsov was responsible for finding clients on the Darknet, while Katkov forged court orders authorizing access to billing information linked to particular phone numbers. To make the documents look official, Katkov allegedly used stamps from Moscow’s Khamovnichesky, Zamoskvoretsky, and Babushinsky district courts, which were purchased online. In turn, Zaitsev would allegedly take the forged court orders to cell phone stores and use them — along with a fake Moscow police ID, which he supposedly bought for 50,000 rubles ($700) — to obtain the necessary billing information from providers.

According to the TASS source in law enforcement, Katkov, Zelentsov, and Zaitsev were unaware that opposition leader Alexey Navalny was allegedly one of their customers. “They were used, as they say, [kept] ‘in the dark’,” the source claimed. 

The source didn’t specify which Team Navalny investigation was based on the information allegedly obtained by the detainees. However, Baza writes that Katkov, Zelentsov, and Zaitsev obtained the phone data that linked a team of FSB operatives to Navalny’s August 2020 poisoning.

In December 2020, a team of investigative news outlets published a joint report that implicated FSB agents in the attempt on Navalny’s life. The report claimed that judging by their cell phone metadata, this group of operatives had been tailing Navalny across Russia for years. A week after the investigative report came out, Navalny shared a recording of a telephone call with Konstantin Kudryavtsev, one of the alleged FSB agents supposedly involved in the attempt on his life. During the call, Kudryavtsev seemed to confirm his own role in an FSB plot to poison Navalny. The FSB dismissed the investigative report as a “provocation” and the recording of the alleged phone call as “fake.” 

Later, in January 2021, reports emerged that a senior police officer from Samara was facing criminal charges for abuse of office — allegedly, he was suspected of leaking the flight records of the FSB operatives named in the joint investigation into Navalny’s poisoning. Two months later, a Petersburg police officer was named as a suspect in a similar criminal case. No convictions in these cases have been reported as of yet.

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