Death from Validol. Killer went to jail for all
The murder of businessman Mikhail Lanin in 2011 was an echo of a criminal case against a gang of fixers selling supreme posts in governmental structures and state companies of the Russian Federation for millions of euros. The fixers had acted straightforwardly: the purchasers of much-desired positions were promptly killed. Last week, a Chechnya native, who had shot Mikhail Lanin dead, was convicted to 20 years behind bars by the Paris Court. One of his accomplices was acquitted, while another one – sentenced to a conditional term. The CrimeRussia was figuring out why do the orchestrator of this murder Valid Lurakhmaev (Validol) and its instigator Akhmad Khamidov still remain at liberty.
The investigation of the murder of prominent Volga region businessman Mikhail Lanin, former co-owner and General Director of Saratovstroysteklo Joint Stock Company, committed in Paris seven years ago became a notable example of fruitful collaboration between the French and Russian law enforcement authorities. The parties had actively exchanged investigation materials, Russian operatives repeatedly visited Paris to question suspects, while French policemen collected evidence in Russia. As a result, the hirers of the contract killers have been identified, while the perpetrators – Chechen refugees Ruslan Bersanov and Yazid Arsaliev – and their accomplice Batruddin Kaimov were tried in France. On June 8, the panel of jurors has pronounced the verdict.
30-year-old Ruslan Bersanov, the primary defendant, was found guilty of intentional murder committed through criminal conspiracy and sentenced to 20 years behind bars – the jurors have satisfied the request of the French prosecution in full. The prosecutor also asked to convict Yazid Arsaliev, who had acted as the driver, to 7 years behind bars. However, the jurors have taken into consideration arguments brought by the defense, concluded that Arsaliev was used blindly, and acquitted him on all counts. Yazid Arsaliev has been released in the courtroom. According to the verdict, he is entitled to claim compensation for the unreasonable 7-year-long detention. The third defendant, Batruddin Kaimov, who had sold the stolen belongings of Lanin, was sentenced to six months in jail conditionally.
Mikhail Lanin, a prominent Saratov businessman and former law enforcement officer, was killed on March 4, 2011 in Seine-Saint-Denis department, Île-de-France. On that day, Lanin and his common-law spouse Elena Pravoslavnova have arrived from Russia to Charles de Gaulle Airport. Yazid Arsaliev and Ruslan Bersanov, natives of Grozny and Nozhay-Yurt, who had earlier received temporary asylum in France through the Red Cross, have met them. After bringing the couple to Villepinte, they have got them out of the car in a secluded place under a pretext of a vehicle breakdown. Then, according to the investigation, Ruslan Bersanov opened fire on Lanin and the woman from his pistol. The businessman was killed of the scene (the assassin made a finishing shot to his head); his common-law wife, according to the official version, was wounded. Upon regaining consciousness, she described the criminals to the police. The suspects have been tracked by their telephone connections and arrested shortly after the incident. Later the investigators have identified the instigator and orchestrator of this crime: Akhmad Khamidov, former co-owner of Finkom Al'yans Closed Joint Stock Company, and Chechen criminal ‘authority' Valid Lurakhmaev (Validol). According to Elena Pravoslavnova, Khamidov was owing Lanin some 200 million rubles ($3.2 million) and lured him to France – allegedly to transfer a villa to the Saratov businessman on account of debt repayment. France has issued international warrants against Khamidov and Lurakhmaev.
At the final court session, Ruslan Bersanov continued denying any guilt and insisted that he was framed-up: traces of his DNA were found on case cartridges left on the crime scene – but the defendant claimed that a day earlier, Validol had shown him his pistol and given to hold it for a short time. According to Bersanov, this hadn’t raised any suspicions at that time – there was nothing extraordinary in the demonstration of Validol’s weapon because many people in Chechnya possess firearms.
Relatives of Yazid Arsaliev, who was facing 7 years behind bars, rejoiced after the pronouncement of the verdict. In their comment to Agence France-Presse, Salomé Peggy and Matthieu Hy, defense attorneys for Arsaliev, have noted that Arsaliev was in the car at the time of the murder and could neither see the crime scene nor hear gunshots. A crime re-enactment has confirmed this. According to Le Parisien, he has thanked the jurors for the just sentence in French – during the years spent in jail, the both defendants, who initially could not speak French, have learned it pretty well.
The victims – businessman Boris Lanin, son of slain Mikhail Lanin, and Elena Pravoslavnova, who used to wage legal battles in Russian courts over his legacy, – had also attended the verdict pronouncement and were shocked by the leniency of the sentence delivered by French jurors. According to Irina Sidorova, defense attorney for the victims, the verdict can be appealed in 10 days; however, the victim party can not do this, while the French prosecution has no objections to it.
It might seem that a line has finally been drawn under the murder of Mikhail Lanin. But can a 7-year-old crime be really considered solved if it still has plenty of blind spots, while the instigator and orchestrator of a series of assassinations remain at liberty?
The investigation of the murder of Mikhail Lanin and the trial were accompanied by a number of obscurities, weird details, and discrepancies between the French and Russian case files.
According to the Russian law enforcement authorities, Mikhail Lanin was killed over 200 million rubles ($3.2 million) paid for senior governmental positions for himself and his son, former Deputy Head of the Department for Banking Crimes of the Administration for Combating Economic Crimes of the General Administration for the Saratov Region of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation.
An "Honorary Builder of Russia", Mikhail Lanin used to serve in the Department for Combating Misappropriations of Socialist Property (later transformed into the Department for Combating Economic Crimes and Department for Economic Security and Combating the Corruption) and advanced through ranks to a colonel. In the 1990s, he became a prominent businessman. Under his rule, Saratovstroysteklo Open Joint Stock Company has reached its peak and became the largest glass manufacturer in the country producing up to 20% of the total Russian glass.
However, in 2008, the company started experiencing difficulties amid a conflict between Lanin and his partner Anatoly Liberman. By the end of 2009, the enterprise was owing 3.5 billion rubles ($55.4 million) to its creditors. In spring 2010, Lanin has resigned from the General Director’s post and sold 13% of the company’s shares belonging to him. In other words, he had money.
Saratov media outlets had estimated the wealth of Mikhail Lanin before his murder at hundreds of millions of dollars. The late businessman had approximately 900 million rubles (some $30 million at the exchange rate of that period) on his bank accounts. In addition, he had shares in several enterprises and kept large amounts of money on foreign accounts.
Prior to going into business, Mikhail Lanin made a career in enforcement structures
Lanin was steadily getting rid of his assets and intended to return to the civil service. Reportedly he wanted to join the management of Olimpstroy State Company or Mezhregiongaz and find a job for his son in the central MIA headquarters. The required sum was paid, but nothing happened. Lanin, who used to fully trust fixer Khamidov familiar to him for many years, became agitated and demanded to return the money threatening to address the law enforcement authorities otherwise.
The indictment against Sultan Sigauri submitted to the court by the Prosecutor General’s Office refers to the money Lanin was killed over as a debt granted to Khamidov and makes no references at all to the criminal case against the fixers.
There were other weird things as well. The trial of Lanin's assassins was supposed to commence back in 2013; however, in the framework of the collaboration with the Russian law enforcement authorities, the French operatives became aware of new circumstances, and the case was returned for additional investigation. In the meantime, Elena Pravoslavnova, common-law spouse of Mikail Lanin, has suddenly refused to testify in court alleging amnesia after the injuries.
Elena Pravoslavnova (Photo: Komsomolskaya Pravda)
However, shortly after the murder, she was able to describe the killers to the police. It was reported that the woman wounded in the head had attended the funeral of her common-law husband in Saratov without a bandage or other traces of the recent injury. In the period when the trial of the Lanin’s murderers was supposed to commence in Paris, she and her daughter were waging legal battles over his legacy in Saratov courts.
Funeral of Mikhail Lanin
In 2016, the court has started the examination, but primary defendant Ruslan Bersanov suddenly provided new testimonies claiming that Valid Lurakhmaev was present at the crime scene and it was him who had shot Lanin dead. Defense attorneys for Bersanov requested to examine the new circumstances and presented to the court translations of articles published by Russian media outlets. According to these articles, Lurakhmaev (Validol) was arrested by the Turkish police with an ID in the name of Russian citizen Aleksander Smirnov on suspicion of murdering Adbulvakhid Edilgeriev, system administrator of Kavkaz Center Internet portal (recognized extremist in Russia) and relative of Movladi Udugov, one of the leaders of Chechen Wahhabis. In that period, the Russian–Turkish relations were pretty tense, and the Turkish media called the suspects “Russian spies”.
Valid Lurakhmaev (Validol)
In light of this, France asked Turkey to provide personal information of Smirnov, and the trial was put on hold pending the official response from the Turkish authorities. The two days of court hearings were annulled, the panel of jurors – disbanded. In May 2017, Turkish law enforcement structures, who had kept the suspect in detention for almost a year and adamantly refused to collaborate with Russia and France in the framework of the inquest into the murder of Lanin, have suddenly released Smirnov – they failed to prove that he was, in fact, Valid Lurakhmaev and his documents in the name of Smirnov were false.
Initially, it was reported that Smirnov (according to the Russian investigation – Lurakhmaev) and Yuri Anisimov, detained together with him in April 2016, have departed from Turkey to an undisclosed location immediately after the release. However, six months later, in November 2017, Habertürk newspaper reported that “Russian spies” Anisimov and Smirnov, who had allegedly faced in total 37 years behind bars for the murder of Edilgeriev, spying, and use of false IDs, “have been extradited to Russia in exchange for Akhtem Chiigoz and Il’mi Umerov, Deputy Chairmen of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, sentenced in Russia to lengthy prison terms after the reintegration of Crimea”.
Photos of Smirnov and Anisimov arrested by the Turkish police dated 2016 and 2017
The newspaper published photos of Anisimov and Smirnov: Anisimov was the same person as shown by some Turkish TV channels and newspapers a year ago – while Smirnov, earlier identified by the Russian law enforcement authorities as Valid Lurakhmaev (Validol), turned into a completely different man.
Valid Lurakhmaev (Validol) was born on April 12, 1970 in Alkhan Kala village, Chechnya. In 1998, relocated to Moscow. Based on his tax declaration, Validol had some financial affairs with Sivilla V Limited Liability Company established by Vasily Soima, Head of the Regional Public Fund for Social and Legal Support of Veterans and Officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation. In Moscow, Validol was under silent surveillance of the Department for Combating Organized Crime of the MIA Administration for the Central Administrative District of Moscow. It is known that he was checked for complicity in the unsolved murder of 28-year-old Batumi native Larisa Iordanyan, a courier transporting large amounts of cash, committed in Tushino. According to a Novaya Gazeta’s source in secret services, Lurakhmaev allegedly was an agent of Movladi Baisarov, Commander of Gorets (Highlander) Company subordinate to the Operations and Coordination FSB Directorate for the North Caucasus, and had flown from Moscow to Chechnya and back at least 30 times a year fulfilling Baisarov’s assignments. In 2006, Baisarov was gunned down near Validol’s home on Leninsky avenue. The Russian law enforcement authorities suspect Lurakhmaev of complicity in a number of murders committed in various countries, including assassinations of Aleksander Perepelichny, informant of Russian secret services, in the UK and Mikhail Ozirny, intermediary of the gang of fixers under the leadership of Akhmad Khamidov, in Turkey.
Interestingly, the names of the instigator and orchestrator of the murder of Lanin – established by the investigation several years ago – were nearly not mentioned at the trial of Bersanov, Arsaliev, and Kaimov. According to the Interpol web site, these persons still remain on the international wanted list, while another accomplice of the fixers, Sultan Sigauri, was sentenced in December 2016 to 8.5 years in a maximum security penal colony by the Dorogomilovsky District Court of Moscow. The court has taken into consideration the plea deal made by Sigauri and his current 12-year prison term for attempted assassination of business lady Tatiana Balzmova.
It was Sigauri who had introduced Akhmad Khamidov, leader of the gang of fixers, who had to rectify the issue with Lanin and Ozirny.
In the 1990s, Saratov operatives knew him as a person close to local ‘authority’ Valentin Zakharov (Valek); then he was prosecuted in the framework of an extortion case and put on the wanted list. However, 2 years later, the criminal case against him was dismissed. Shortly after that, Khamidov relocated to Moscow and acquired a new passport with a slightly different last name, thus, concealing his criminal past.
In the mid-2000s, Khamidov was known in certain circles as an influential fixer. Rumors had circulated in the business community that Khamidov was a confidant of law enforcement structures and Kremlin functionaries and, therefore, could solve any issue at the federal level, including appointments to supreme positions.
Akhmad Khamidov is wanted by the Interpol
Contenders to senior posts were summoned to the complex of buildings on Staraya square (the Presidential Executive Office is located there) for an interview with a “big person from the Kremlin” – this role was played by Mikhail Koryak, former officer of the Federal Tax Police Service of the Russian Federation, who is currently on the wanted list as well. According to some information, initially, the fixers hadn’t defrauded their clients – the people paid money and received the desired appointments, although not to such supreme positions as were promised to Lanin and other victims.
The investigation believes that Lurakhmaev has agreed to dispatch Ozirny and Lanin. He made several trips to France and found accomplices among his former compatriots. Khamidov, in turn, explained Lanin that the functionary, who has allegedly received the 200 million rubles ($3.2 million) but failed to fulfill his obligations, is going to transfer his mansion in France to the businessman. The common-law spouse of Lanin told later that initially they had to go to France in February, but then the trip was postponed to March. According to Elena Pravoslavnova, she hadn’t trusted Khamidov and tried to persuade her husband to reject the proposed deal – but in vain.
In Russia, the inquest into the murder of Mikhail Lanin was merged in 2014 with a high-profile case instituted in 2010 and pertaining to the acquisition of the post of the Governor of the Saratov Region by Leonid Pisny, Deputy of the Legislative Assembly of the Saratov Region. Three suspects in that case – Ruslan Korigov, Ekaterina Finapetova, and Dmitry Pivovarov – were sentenced to 2 to 4 years behind bars. Concurrently, Khamidov and Koryak were put on the wanted list. According to Kommersant, Koryak, who is charged only with swindling, not murders, currently resides in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The two other active members of the gang of fixers – Khamidov and Lurakhmaev (Validol) – still remain on the wanted list, but apparently, this does not cause any trouble to them. Khamidov used to live in the UAE for a long time and now reportedly resides in the UK. Two years ago, Sergei Barabanov, attorney for Mikhail Koryak, told that, despite the international warrant issued against him, Khamidov had visited France several years ago and communicated with the French law enforcement authorities who had no claims against him.
The exact location of Validol, who may use a somebody else’s ID, is unknown. According to Rosbalt.ru, he was hiding in Chechnya for a while. After the arrest in Turkey, his movements were not restricted in any way. According to Kavkaz Center, Validol had visited Kiev, where the gang of fixers had certain interests, shortly before the ‘assassination’ of journalist Arkady Babchenko staged by Ukrainian secret services. In October 2017, Rosbalt.ru reported that the swindlers had defrauded a prominent Ukrainian businessman of €4.5 million. They had promised to secure for him, using their “connections in the Presidential Executive Office”, governmental contracts in Russia to build facilities for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. However, the Ukrainian businessman whose name remains undisclosed hasn’t got anything from the fraudsters.
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