Yakut original. Police generals steal impudently and make absurd excuses
A long-term inquest into the corruption among supreme law enforcement commanders – resembling rather an adventure comedy – is coming to an end in Yakutia. Yakov Stakhov, ex-Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), has wheedled two luxury cars out of the sponsors and transferred one of the vehicles to a relative. After the institution of a criminal case, the general has absconded and remained in hiding for four years. Then he has figured out how to be included in the amnesty and voluntarily surrendered to the authorities. After the resumption of the investigation, Stakhov has provided a dozen versions explaining why is he totally innocent. So who could ‘frame-up’ Stakhov to deprive him of the general’s pension?
On May 7, the Yakutsk City Court has drawn a line under a story that had begun 11 years ago. The judge has found Yakov Stakhov, ex-Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), guilty of a crime stipulated in part 3 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (swindling committed by a person through his official position, as well as on a large scale). Stakhov was deprived of the rank of major general and general's pension. However, the sentence was relatively lenient: a conditional 4-year term with a probation period of 2 years and 6 months. The court has taken into consideration the past battle honors and awards of the ex-general, his higher doctorate degree, heart attack suffered by him, and absence of criminal records.
Yakov Stakhov was born in the Cherkassy region of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954. Graduated from the Kalinin State University and Academy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the USSR. Started his service in the police as a private inspector and advanced through ranks to a Deputy Head of the MIA General Administration for Protection of Public Order. In the period of 1995–2001, was repeatedly dispatched to the North Caucasus to fulfill service and combat assignments. Since May 2005, was a professor at the Management Academy of the MIA of Russia. In the period of 2006–2011, was the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). Has been awarded the Order of Courage, Medal for Distinguished Service in Protecting Public Order, other medals and badges, and honorary weapons. A Doctor of Law. Married. Two adults sons serve in the MIA as well.
In the recent years, many high-ranked officials and enforcement officers have been charged with corruption. But the case of Stakhov is distinguished from the majority of similar episodes by the glaring simplicity of the crime and behavior of the former general and minister during the investigation and trial. This story vividly demonstrates how confidently do high-ranked functionaries violate the law and how cynically and clumsily are they trying to avoid the liability.
The events recently examined by the Yakutsk City Court have occurred back in 2007. After being appointed the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) by the Russian President, Stakhov has quickly realized the potential benefits of this position. For instance, he could address major companies operating in Yakutia for sponsor support. The general asked ALROSA Group specializing in diamond mining to donate several luxury vehicles to the Republican MIA. 10 years later, Yuri Doinikov, then-Vice President and Executive Director of ALROSA Group, told the court that the company had received requests signed by Yakov Stakhov on a regular basis and finally decided to meet his wants.
In 2007, ALROSA Group donated two luxury foreign-made cars to the law enforcement agency – a Toyota Land Cruiser 200 and a Mercedes-Benz 400 SEL built in 1991. Although not brand new, the Mercedes was in excellent condition. The diamond corporation had purchased it to meet Patriarch Alexy II during his visit to the republic. After that, the luxury car remained idle – and the company decided to give it away. However, the Mercedes was never put on the MIA's books – Stakhov has personally stricken it off the documents. Therefore, the ministry has officially received only the Toyota Land Cruiser that Stakhov had intended to use in Yakutia. Following his instruction, the Mercedes has been moved to Moscow and transferred to a new owner.
In August 2007, some Sergei Dudin, husband of the general’s nice, has officially acquired the luxury Mercedes for 50 thousand rubles (some $1.5 thousand) and immediately issued an authorization to operate this vehicle to the personal driver of Stakhov. Vladimir Vasiliev, then-Head of the State Road Traffic Safety Inspectorate of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), had personally supervised the transfer of the ownership and relocation of the car to the capital in accordance with the minister’s instructions. Later he had insisted in court that there was nothing weird in the orders of his direct boss.
After pulling off this simple scheme, the general started using the Mercedes during his frequent official trips to Moscow. When he was in Yakutia, the car was used by his two sons. Grigory Stakhov, Criminal Investigator of the Department for Combating Economic Crimes of the MIA Administration for the Moscow Metro, was frequently spotted driving this Mercedes.
Grigory Stakhov (Photo: Novaya Gazeta)
In 2009, local journalists have uncovered the machination with cars donated by the sponsor. After the first publications, the minister has ordered his personal driver Nikiforov to move the ‘missing’ Mercedes from Moscow back to Yakutia on an urgent basis. Then he has summoned Vasiliev and requested to find a person suitable to become the new official owner of the vehicle. Vasiliev could not say no to his boss and made arrangements with his subordinate Ivanova, an accountant at the State Road Traffic Safety Inspectorate of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), who, according to other witnesses in the criminal case against Stakhov, was a close friend of him. Her son, 22-year-old Oleg Ivanov, agreed to become the nominal owner of the Mercedes. In addition, Stakhov requested Vasiliev to provide him several different plate numbers to choose from. The plate number with a nice combination of letters and numbers picked by the general could be registered only in the State Road Traffic Safety Inspectorate of the Khangalassky District – so, Oleg Ivanov has made a trip there.
In order to lend legitimacy to that deal, two documents have been produced post factum: (1) a letter № 16/494 from the MIA for the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) to ALROSA Group dated May 2007 and stating that the MIA has no use for the Mercedes and returns it to the company; (2) Order № 253 signed by Doinikov, General Director of ALROSA, instructing to sell the ‘returned’ vehicle to a private buyer according to the established procedure. The expert assessment has shown that the signature on the second document was forged. Later Doinikov has also confirmed that the document was false.
Yuri Doinikov (on the left)
The fraudsters had expected the forged documents to convince investigators that everything was fine. However, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) has expressed keen interest to the fate of the luxury car, and on April 1, 2011, Yakov Stakhov had to leave the office. In May 2011, a criminal case has been instituted against Stakhov under part 2 of Article 285 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (abuse of official powers). After the very first questioning, the ex-minister felt ill and was admitted to a hospital with complaints of heart pain. After the questioning in the ICR in the capacity of a suspect, Stakhov was admitted to the National Medical Center in Yakutsk with a heart seizure. In February 2012, the investigator has come to the hospital to deliver to the general a statement designating him a defendant – but Stakhov was absent in the hospital room. Even the doctors were unaware of the whereabouts of their patient.
Later it became known that the general has suddenly felt better; his heart pains have gone. He managed to get into an official car, arrived to the take-off runway in the airport, and flew to Moscow without any security control or ticket. According to the airport security service, the car that has brought the general to the plane airstairs was a black Land Cruiser 200 identical to the one earlier used by Stakhov and currently – by general Viktor Koshelev, new Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). Journalists had supposed that Koshelev was behind the wheel – but he has refuted this categorically claiming that he wasn’t in the airport: “Curse those saying such a stupidity!”
The getaway of Stakhov became a surprise for everybody. In March 2012, the court has detained the ex-Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) in absentia and issued a federal and later an international warrant against him. It is still officially unknown where was the general hiding for several years. According to the rumors, he used to live on false identities in various regions of the country or even abroad.
Four years later, the ex-minister made another surprise. In October 2016, Stakhov came to the investigators accompanied by his lawyer. The general was remanded in custody; on October 21, charges have been officially laid against him. Stakhov did not deny the allegations, admitted his guilt in full, and provided a detailed testimony. Taking the voluntary surrender of the defendant, it was decided to release him under a written pledge not to leave the city.
A month later, it became clear why has the general turned himself in. The criminal case against Stakhov has been dismissed based on non-exonerating grounds – he was amnestied in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War. Being a Doctor of Law, Stakhov was well aware that the State Duma of the Russian Federation has "freed from punishment persons who had committed offenses of low-to-medium severity, have state awards, and attained the age of 55".
Then the story made an unexpected twist – Stakhov has been charged with a new crime in the framework of the same episode involving the Mercedes car. This time, his operations with the vehicle have been interpreted as swindling. The ex-minister was totally unprepared to this.
The investigation and litigation had lasted for more than a year. And all the while, the general had used every possibility to avoid the liability and invented new defense strategies. Initially, he had tried to put the blame on subordinates – Stakhov told the investigator that he doesn't admit any guilt because he was not involved into that situation at all. Allegedly, he had instructed Anatoly Dzivitsky, his support deputy, to deal with the luxury vehicle – and then Dzivitsky had acted on his own. However, during the face-to-face questioning, Dzivitsky has refuted the statement made by his former boss: "I have heard about the Mercedes vehicle for the first time from the media".
Then Stakhov attempted to use casuistry claiming that there is no victim party in that case. The luxury car was never put on the MIA’s books – therefore, it is irrelevant to state that the MIA has sustained damages amounting to 318 thousand rubles (some $10 thousand) (the investigators’ estimation of the car value). “What damages are you talking about if the car had never belonged to the MIA? It is not on the MIA’s books. How can the MIA be recognized a victim party if the Mercedes was never transferred to it? Such claims are simply unsubstantiated,” – the general had ‘orated’. He had also challenged the estimated value of the vehicle: “its maximum price is 29 thousand rubles (some $900), not a penny more”. Too bad, but all his rhetoric was in vain.
Stakhov had to invent another defense strategy. The general said that he hasn’t put the car on the MIA’s books because the legitimacy of its origin was doubtful. “This car was suspicious to me. It could be stolen or have dark past,” – he has explained. This version wasn’t really convincing, and Stakhov suggested a new one: he hasn’t put the Mercedes on the MIA’s books because the vehicle was too old. Nikolai Vagin, ex-Deputy Head of the MIA for the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), has supported that version in court: “ALROSA Group has simply got rid of an idle car. Of course, it sounds nice – a Mercedes-Benz. But in reality, it was an old car, you can say, junk”.
When asked why hasn’t he returned the ‘junk’ to the sponsor, the general responded that he had intended to return the car to ALROSA Group in accordance with the established procedure. But then he decided that the vehicle could be useful for undercover investigative operations. Vagin has confirmed that the relocation of the car to Moscow was the most reasonable option: “Why would one need a Mercedes-Benz in Yakutsk? Driving girls to restaurants? It was not suitable for the Yakut climate. There are no special service centers for such vehicles in Yakutsk. Especially taking that it was old and required significant costs”.
Why was it necessary to transfer the car to a new owner? Stakhov has easily explained this: police operatives needed a car officially belonging to an individual and not featuring head-turning Yakut license plates. “It was transferred to my relative – and this was right! For the sake of secrecy and anti-corruption struggle,” – Stakhov has meaningfully noted. Sergei Ananiev, who used to be in charge of the Operations and Search Division of the MIA for the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) during the rule of Stakhov, has confirmed his words in court: “It was necessary to do so to ensure that no one finds out in databases that the car belongs to the MIA. The Mercedes was used exclusively for covert operations, including surveillance over persons suspected of criminal activities. Mostly, economic crimes”. The prosecution inquired whether any documents are available to confirm the official use of the Mercedes. Ananiev responded that the internal operations control log with the respective records has been already destroyed because, according to the law, it must be kept for only five years.
However, Stakhov and his defense attorneys have overlooked an important detail. Sergei Dudin was the official owner of the car in Moscow. Apparently, the general has instructed his relative to confirm that the vehicle was old and unsuitable for use. However, Dudin was not notified that the Mercedes had allegedly been used for covert operations. Therefore, at the first questioning, the general’s relative told that he has purchased the vehicle for his own use and not for 50 thousand rubles (some $1.5 thousand) – but for its actual price of $10 thousand. Then he has allegedly regretted that decision: the car was old and required significant costs. Therefore, for eight months, the vehicle remained idle in the garage – no one had used it.
After the first questioning, Dudin has likely received new instructions. At the next meeting with the investigators, he changed his testimony claiming that he was wrong – in spring 2009, the Mercedes was used for police operations, and Stakhov has returned him the money. After that, Dudin stopped coming in for questioning and fled to Nice – apparently, to avoid making further confusion. This made it possible for Stakhov to drag out the trial and publicly require to put the litigation on hold until Interpol finds Dudin.
Some MIA officers have testified that the Mercedes was in excellent condition and it was never used for covert operations. In turn, Stakhov explained that they were pressurized during the investigation and forced to provide false testimonies. However, the general still had to explain why has he admitted his guilt back in 2016. Of course, Stakhov could not tell the court that his purpose was to be included in the amnesty. Therefore, he had to use the same argument again and said that investigator Yakushev was putting pressure on him and forced to make that confession. The state prosecutor asked in court why none of the defense attorneys attending the questionings had noticed anything wrong and why hadn’t Stakhov submitted a complaint against the investigator. The Doctor of Law responded that there were two investigators and one of them had threatened him “in a whisper”. The general managed to provide a more logical explanation only at the final court session: “I have admitted guilt because I wanted my case to be examined according to a special procedure. It is very difficult to obtain justice. Therefore, I took the blame on myself to exonerate the personnel”. Then he added for a greater effect:
“If I failed to obtain justice, what can ordinary people do?”
Stakhov hasn’t admitted his guilt even after the sentencing and announced his intention to appeal the court verdict. The ex-minister was especially outraged by the deprivation of his generalship. Apparently, he hadn’t expected such an outcome. In the end, Stakhov has accused some mysterious enemies of all his troubles and promised to struggle to the last breath: “I was deprived of the rank of major general, but I still hold it. I had served in the MIA for 40 years, I visited conflict zones. This is their revenge. As I said earlier, mafia operates in Yakutia!” According to Stakhov, “no one is aware what mafia is operating there” and he is “going to struggle with it to the end”. However, the ex-general has neither named any members of this mysterious mafia nor explained how is he going to continue struggling against corruption.
Major general Igor Vasiliev, Head of the Engineering Support Service of the Federal Protection Service (FPS), and lieutenant general Ulitin subordinate to him are currently in the middle of a scandal. However, it is unlikely that they lose their posts. Reportedly, the two generals are just the tip of the huge corruption iceberg in the law enforcement structures. This is not the first embezzlement episode in their careers.