“Criminals were hiding in MIA Administration.” Backstory of criminal case against thief-in-law Vitya Pan 

“Criminals were hiding in MIA Administration.” Backstory of criminal case against thief-in-law Vitya Pan
Thief-in-law Vitya Pan has been charged under Article 210 of the Criminal Code Photo: The CrimeRussia

A year and a half ago, Kursk thief-in-law Viktor Panyushin and ‘core' members of his gang became yet another target for a new prosecution ‘trend'. In summer 2017, a criminal case has been instituted against Panyushin and his ‘brigade' under Article 210 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (creation of a criminal community (criminal organization) and participation therein). Associates of Panyushin have been charged under part 1 and 2 of the above Article, while the crowned thief – under part 4 (creation of a criminal community (criminal organization) by a person holding the supreme position in a criminal hierarchy). Being well aware that the deeds stipulated in part 4 of Article 210 of the Criminal Code are punishable by deprivation of liberty for a term of fifteen to twenty years or by life imprisonment, Vitya Pan promptly went on the run.

Many media outlets wrote about the events constituting the criminal case against Vitya Pan. But The CrimeRussia has recently obtained documents still unknown to the general public and presenting that case from a different perspective.

Below is the commonly-accepted outline of the events.

On April 17, 2015, in the course of an operation carried out by the Department for Economic Security and Combating the Corruption of the General Administration for the Kursk Region of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation, Lidiya Bondareva, Deputy Director of Deriglazov Kursk Large Concrete Panel Construction Plant, was arrested red-handed during the receipt of an illegal reward from persons controlled by the police (and, most probably, recruited by it). Bondareva has been charged under Article 204 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (bribery in a profit-making organization) and placed under home arrest.


Deriglazov Kursk Large Concrete Panel Construction Plant Joint Stock Company

Her husband Viktor Bondarev, eager to help his wife, addressed some Igor Yakovlev (Zek (Con)) having the reputation of a person able to ‘solve’ issues with law enforcement structures. In exchange for 5 million rubles ($75.8 thousand), Igor Yakovlev and his brother Eduard agreed to settle the problem and save Bondareva from criminal prosecution. However, after the submission of the indictment to the Prosecutor for approval, Bondarev has realized that the ‘mediators’ had defrauded him and attempted to retrieve the money from them. However, brothers Yakovlev refused to return the payment. Then Bondarev decided, instead of addressing the law enforcement authorities, to use an alternative method – ask representatives of the local criminal world for assistance. Yaroslav Sokolov (Yarik), so-called overseer of Kursk, promised to mediate the situation, contacted Yakovlev, and make an appointment with him. During the meeting, Yarik has emphasized that brothers Yakovlev must return the cash and left – having no doubt that his criminal status and capacities of the people standing behind him are sufficient to bring the desired result.

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Igor Yakovlev (Zek (Con))

But Yarik had overestimated his powers and overlooked the fact that the fraudsters did not have the money anymore by that time. In order to get rid of the debt, brothers Yakovlev retained contract killers to dispatch Bondarev and Yarik. The husband of Lidiya Bondareva was killed on the evening of December 1, 2015. On the next day, Sokolov has noticed the surveillance and somehow understood that the people spying on him were assassins.

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Eduard Yakovlev

Jointly with his henchmen – almost all active members of the gang led by Viktor Panyushin – and with the approval of the thief-in-law, the Kursk overseer has captured the assassins who later turned in their paymasters under torture. After severe tortures, killers Yuri Kulikov and Vyacheslav Murzakaev were released. Later they were arrested together with their ‘customers’ and provided detailed confessions. Their testimonies became the basis for the criminal case against crowned thief Vitya Pan and his gang. As a result, the thief, accompanied by two close associates, had no choice but to escape hastily.


Vyacheslav Murzakaev

The CrimeRussia became aware that, in reality, the story was not that simple and it still offers more questions than answers. The version distributed by the media is incorrect in nearly all aspects – from the place where the captured killers were tortured to the motives of the criminals tormenting them. No information is available about the ‘high patrons’ of the assassins’ paymasters. It is even unknown how have the operatives tracked down the contract killers. The CrimeRussia publishes exclusive details of this complicated case.     

Mystery № 1 

How could overseer Yarik understand that Kulikov and Murzakaev spying on him were going to kill him? Why has he got so alarmed after noticing the surveillance? Why has he personally committed a crime with a group of accomplices – thus, exposing the local ‘thieves’ society’ to the law enforcement authorities?


Yaroslav Sokolov (Yarik)

The case file does not provide answers to the above questions – no explanations of the weird behavior of Yaroslav Sokolov, his ‘shepherd’ Vitya Pan, and the brigade of henchmen. Instead, the investigation materials provide vague statements shedding no light on these strange facts. 

This is what the official documents say: 

In the period starting approximately on December 28, 2014 and ending on December 2, 2015, Ya.V. Sokolov (the criminal case against him has been severed from other defendants), suspecting that his acquaintances Yu.G. Kulikov and V.S. Murzakaev had an intention to kill him, in order to check the existence and seriousness of their plans, and due to the personal enmity, has decided to abduct Yu.G. Kulikov and V.S. Murzakaev and transport them to a specially selected premises to extract the required information from the victims, contrary to their will, using violence dangerous for life and health and threats of such violence with the use of various items applied to cause bodily harm and physical pain to the victims, including exposed wires connected to a power source, sledgehammer, splitting axe, and leather belts

No specifics. The above phrases (with different names) could be used to describe plenty of various crimes. Not a word about the underlying cause of the events. Perhaps, the investigators were unwilling to publicize information indicating that the law enforcement authorities hadn’t controlled the criminal situation in Kursk in that period? 

In fact, everything was pretty simple. Sokolov started suspecting Kulikov and Murzakaev because Yuri Kulikov had directly worked for brothers Yakovlev – he was their ‘staff killer’. Officially unemployed, Vyacheslav Murzakaev had received remuneration from Kulikov – who used him as an assistant in situations too ‘delicate’ or dangerous to act alone.


Yuri Kulikov

These two persons are suspected of numerous unsolved crimes – similarly with their ‘patrons’ brothers Yakovlev. Their criminal record is comparable with the ‘credentials’ of the gang led by Panyushin. Too bad, not all victims of violence address the law enforcement authorities.. 

Brothers Yakovlev had wielded significant powers in the criminal world of the Kursk region.

Furthermore, they had strong reasons to oppose Pan and confront him. Some 9 years ago, Igor Yakovlev was the overseer of Kursk himself – but the thief-in-law has arbitrarily deprived him of that high ‘post’. This happened amid some financial disputes and because of the foxery and dishonesty of Zek.

To prevent the growing discontent of his ‘flock’, the crowned thief deposed Igor Yakovlev and appointed at this position criminal Yuri Kostin (Kostyara). Later, after being released from a penal colony, Yaroslav Sokolov has superseded Kostyara as the overseer. This happened at a congregation held on June 21, 2012.



Congregation of the gang attended by Vitya Pan

Yakovlev was insulted by such ‘unfair’ treatment and reacted emotionally. In his narrow circle, he had repeatedly promised to retaliate against Vitya Pan and his henchmen. But the forces were too unequal. The gang of Viktor Panyushin consisted of several ‘brigades’ and gained more and more power over time, while Zek was doing poorly – very few people were willing to deal with him. Therefore, after noticing the surveillance and identifying the people spying on him, Yarik has quickly solved the puzzle. 

Mystery № 2 

Why has Zek decided to murder his ‘client’ and plot the assassination of a criminal ‘authority? What was his situation? Why was this line of action a lesser evil for him? If Bondarev hadn't been killed, their lengthy lukewarm conflict with Vitya Pan wouldn’t escalate to the acute and violent phase. The CrimeRussia became aware that the above-mentioned 5 million rubles ($75.8 thousand) have indeed played a fatal role in that story. But the true motives behind the actions of brothers Yakovlev were quite different from those announced by the investigators. 

By the time of the meeting with Yarik, brothers Eduard and Igor, most probably, hadn't the money on hand anymore. According to the official version of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) and MIA, they had spent the entire sum and could not repay it. In order to get rid of the debt, they decided to dispatch the ‘customer'. Apparently, they wanted to neutralize his ‘protector' as well – but there is no evidence proving this. In other words, the money paid by Bondarev ‘dissolved into thin air'. 

Another version, popular in the Kursk criminal world and among well-aware law enforcement officials, is quite different. According to it, the sum given to brothers Yakovlev to ‘save’ Bondareva has been transferred to Nikolai Zaitsev, ex-Head of the MIA Administration for the Kursk Region, who is currently under investigation. Zaitsev, charged with membership in the organized criminal group led by Dmitry Volobuev (Volobui), could simply appropriate the money.


Remand detainee Nikolai Zaitsev, ex-Head of the MIA Administration for the Kursk Region

The criminals had no way to influence the powerful official and force him to return the money. Being between a rock and a hard place, they decided to neutralize one of the parties – i.e. murder Bondarev and Sokolov. In the future, they could try to kill Panyushin as well – because he would never let them go unpunished.    

This version seems more plausible and has a solid proof; it is unprecedented in the history of the Russian criminal world.

Brothers Yakovlev, unable to reach the killers by phone after their abduction, became anxious. Fearing that the assassins could be captured by members of the gang led by Panyushin, they started looking for a hideout to escape the revenge. Taking the situation, ordinary residences were unsuitable for that purpose. Therefore, the brothers decided to hide in the Police Department № 2 of the MIA Administration for the City of Kursk. This became possible with the assistance of police lieutenant colonel Ruslan Zarubin, Head of the Police Department № 2 and big friend of above-mentioned Nikolai Zaitsev. According to one of our sources – an investigator at the Investigation Directorate in the Kursk Region of the ICR – the assassins’ paymasters had lived in the office of the police commander for several days. Zarubin had provided them with food and drinks and escorted to the washroom.


Ruslan Zarubin

Our source has just casually mentioned this fact. 

The subsequent verification of the information provided by him showed that the investigator has likely told the truth: masterminds behind a murder had got ‘asylum’ in a MIA district department. One of the officers of the now-disbanded Police Department № 2 confirmed this. He also said that the watchdog authorities hadn't carried out any inquests in this regard. According to him, the Operations and Search Division of Internal Security of the MIA Administration for the Kursk Region won’t be able to solve this case because it is completely discredited in the eyes of the Kursk police. When asked who could do this, he responded as follows: 

— The Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation. Possibly. However, it is necessary to take into account the ‘corporate solidarity’. It is necessary to review personnel rosters of the police department, identify people serving in it in that period (end of 2015), interrogate them individually using the polygraph detector, show them photos of brothers Yakovlev, and ask specific questions. In case of lies or refusals to answer questions, it is necessary to seek the termination of these people for loss of trust. And of course, it is necessary to review records of Zarubin’s telephone conversations. I assure you: no one would cover him up under pressure. Nobody wants to lose the job over such a person. 

The documents possessed by The CrimeRussia make it possible to restore the actions of Sokolov after the discovery of surveillance and understand what forces had he ‘enlisted' and how the assassins were caught. The ICR structures produced a more or less full reconstruction of the events. 

According to the case file, Yaroslav Sokolov has selected the following persons for the ‘conversation’ with Kulikov and Murzakaev: A. Goncharov (Klin (Wedge)), N. Romanov (Romanok), S. Golovin (Golova (Head)), D. Pronin (Korabl’ (Ship)), E. Titov (Tit), and two more unidentified people. The above persons agreed to take part in the abduction of the killers. 


Evgeny Titov (Tit)

Another participant of the abduction was a female acquaintance of the overseer well-known in the city for making shady real estate deals (The CrimeRussia possesses her name). She had business ties with one of the victims – Murzakaev –and owed him 109 thousand rubles ($1.7 thousand). 

The overseer has learned from his acquaintance about her forthcoming meeting with Kulikov and Murzakaev and told her about the planned abduction. In exchange for the assistance, Sokolov had promised her to write off her debt – although it is unclear how could he do this. But apparently, the lady was not really concerned about it. On December 2, 2015, at some 1 p.m., she offered Murzakaev a ‘ride’ under the pretext of formalizing the sale of a land lot in Ryl’sk, Kursk region. The unsuspecting killer stepped into a Hyundai Solaris – and they started driving along the Kursk–Ryl’sk highway. The abductors were waiting for them in a certain place on the road.



Home of the female accomplice of the abductors

At some 3 p.m., the car stopped not far from Zhuravlino township, Kursk district. Sokolov and his henchmen have battered Murzakaev there and drove him to the home № 28 in Verkhnee Malykhino village, Oktyabr’sky district, Kursk region. 

The capture of Kulikov was similar to the ‘manhunt on Murzakaev’ (except for some details). The same woman had offered Kulikov to come to her home – and he agreed. Sergei Golovin and some unidentified persons were waiting for him there. One of these unknown suspects has severely beaten Murzakaev. 

Then Kulikov was handcuffed, thrown in the trunk of his own car, and brought to the same village.

In captivity, the unsuccessful assassins were put to torture and abuse. The gang members used all means to extract information about the masterminds behind the botched crime from the prisoners – broke their legs with a sledgehammer, shot the pistol near their heads, electrocuted, beat, and screwed self-tapping screws into their feet. Upon getting the required confessions, the tormenters drove both victims out of the city, cut the ropes tying up their hands, and left there.

Then the events took a bizarre turn. We became aware that a henchman of Vitya Pan has told MIA and FSB operatives who had murdered Bondarev and why. Apparently, the gang members had expected the operatives to be ‘understanding’. 

The detained killers told the investigators in the pretrial detention facility that the ‘fighters’ of Panyushin have violated the ‘code’ by turning them in to the police. Normally, captured assassins are killed – and, allegedly, they were ready to that. But this time, the bandits opted to spare their lives for some reason. In return, the killers turned in their tormentors – the majority of the abductors were arrested based on statements given by Kulikov and Murzakaev. 

However, Panyushin, Sokolov, and Titov managed to avoid arrest and escape; reportedly, they currently reside in Ukraine. 


Viktor Panyushin (Pan)


Mansion of Vitya Pan

The majority of the abductors have accepted their arrest stoically. The only exception was Sergei Golovin – he had been hiding in the Kursk Mental Hospital for a long time. After the capture, he made a fuss in court claiming that he does not understand what is going on, where is he, and why is he behind bars. Golovin claimed to be a “retired police colonel” who had “faithfully served the Motherland” for many years. However, all his attempts to simulate a mental illness were in vain – the psychiatric examination has found him sane. 

Now the court has to decide who is the criminal in that story and who is the victim. The CrimeRussia believes though that all its participants deserve punishment – brothers Yakovlev, Murzakaev, and Kulikov, who have committed one murder and plotted another one, and the thugs of Panyushin suspected of collaboration with law enforcement structures and turning in the unsuccessful killers. However, the operatives vehemently refuse to verify the information indicating the involvement of their colleagues in the crime.


Vitya Pan



The panel of jurors found brothers Yakovlev and Vyacheslav Murzakaev guilty. Yuri Kulikov made a plea deal and was sentenced separately. His testimonies made it possible to expose the assassins’ paymasters. The sum paid to brothers Yakovlev for the closure of the criminal case against Bondareva has mysteriously ‘shrunk’ in the course of the trial from 5 to 2.9 million rubles ($75.8–43.9 thousand). The fate of the money remains unknown. The convicted defendants deny any guilt. Despite the overwhelming evidence provided by the contract killers and contrary to the stance of the Investigations Directorate in the Kursk Region of the ICR, Kulikov, Murzakaev, and their paymasters were not charged with preparations to the murder of Yaroslav Sokolov. Perhaps, the investigation believes that the two assassins were spying on the Kursk overseer just to feast eyes on the nightscape?.. 

The case against the ‘brigade’ of Viktor Panyushin is expected to be submitted to the court soon.



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