Find and resume. Former co-owner of Golden Palace and Crystal casinos seeks to unleash revenge on Shakro
A former co-owner of notorious Moscow casinos – Golden Palace and Crystal – failed to recover from the state compensations for lost revenues and moral damages and is determined to restore at least some justice. Retired military officer Karlen Azizbekyan is seeking revenge and punishment for thief-in-law Zakhary Kalashov recently convicted for extortion. The problem is that the criminal case instituted after the raiding takeover of the casinos by the crowned thief has mysteriously disappeared in the investigative structures. The law enforcement authorities supposed to resume the investigation do not lift a finger. While courts deliver verdicts in favor of Azizbekyan, carefree Kalashov is doing crossword puzzles.
Thief-in-law Zakhary Kalashov currently serving a term for extortion does not really care about the time spent behind bars. During the examination of an appeal against his sentence, he was calmly doing a crossword puzzle – even when the court has upheld the term of 9 years and 10 months imposed on him. To refresh background: the attempted seizure of Elements Restaurant under the pretext of debt collection caused catastrophic implication for the crowned thief, his henchmen, and a number of high-ranked law enforcement officials. Zakhary Kalashov could be convicted for giving bribes to supreme officers of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR), for old crimes, and even for creation of an organized criminal group. But despite the hard evidence gathered by the investigation, the thief-in-law was found guilty only of extortion. If operatives of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation were not so eager to follow the case instituted for the bribery of ICR officials to its logical end, the inquest could deteriorate to hooliganism or arbitrariness charges laid against the henchmen of Shakro Molodoy. The case could be shuffled under the rug or its materials could disappear – as it had already happened in the past.
The story involving the raiding takeover of famous Moscow casinos – Golden Palace and Crystal – has begun in 1999: owners of the gambling establishments failed to settle some economic issues peacefully. The both casinos had belonged at that time to Optical Basics, Inc. co-owned by American citizen Alex Crane (70%); retired military officer Karlen Azizbekyan, head of Magma V private security company protecting the casinos (10%); sculptor Zurab Tsereteli (9.5%); his lawyer Vladimir Dukhnov (1%); and their common acquaintance Musaelyan (9.5%).
Two Soviet immigrants – Leon Lann (Leonid Kaplan) and Alex Crane (Aleksander Arutyunov) – have met in the USA in the 1980s. Their friendship was so strong that Viktoria, ex-girlfriend of Leon Lann, has later married Alex Crane. According to the FBI, Leon Lann had ties with ‘Russian mafia’ in Los Angeles and pulled off fraud schemes with health insurance. In 1994, Lann became aware that he has attracted the attention of the American secret services and fled to Russia. In 1997, the Central District Court of Los Angeles has issued an arrest warrant against him – but at that time, Lann was already in Moscow. The friends decided to launch a gambling business. Alex Crane established Optical Basics, Inc.; his wife Viktoria became its President; while Lann was appointed the company’s official representative in Russia. They have purchased the most famous Moscow casino – Golden Palace – located on 3rd Yamskogo Polya street.
Even having the official purchase documents on hand, the new owners were unable to get into their new property. Various criminal groups had entrenched there. To gain enforcement assistance, Lann and Crane decided to engage in their business military lieutenant colonel Karlen Azizbekyan, who has recently retired and established a private security company. The friends retained him for long-term protection of the establishment on beneficial terms. In 1995, the co-owners of Optical Basics, Inc. have finally launched their gambling venture. But the casino had still attracted criminal ‘authorities' and members of organized criminal groups scaring away regular customers. Then Lann and Crane decided to open another casino specially for businessmen. They have asked Azizbekyan for assistance again and promised him 30% of shares in Optical Basics, Inc. Azizbekyan has contacted, via his acquaintance Musaelyan, Zurab Tsereteli – owner of a large building on Marksistskaya street. The sculptor agreed to sell the building for $13 million and 10% in the charter capital of the new casino. His lawyer Vladimir Dukhnov and their common acquaintance Musaelyan also became its shareholders. In 1996, Crystal Casino has been launched in Moscow.
Leon Lann continued managing Golden Palace concurrently establishing ties with leaders of the criminal world, including Asan Usoyan (Ded Khasan), Vladimir Tyurin (Tyurik), and Zakhary Kalashov (Shakro Molodoy). By contrast, Alex Crane preferred to deal with the Moscow elite – officials, businessmen, VIPs, etc. – in Crystal. Over time, the thieves’ casino became a burden for Crane – and it was decided to divide the business. Golden Palace continued officially belonging to Optical Basics, Inc. – but, in fact, it was managed by authoritative thieves-in-law. Leon Lann, who has fully integrated with them, took the reigns and became a bookkeeper for the thieves. The casino has terminated the contract with the private security company belonging to Azizbekyan; in exchange, the crowned thieves promised to leave Crystal alone and even provide ‘cover-up' for it.
In 1999, Alex Crane decided to alter the shareholders’ structure and transfer a half of his portfolio to his daughter of the first marriage. His partner Leon Lann, who officially was not a shareholder, had sharply opposed this idea. He reminded Crane that, according to their agreements, his 70% portfolio could not be shared with nobody. The misunderstanding quickly escalated into hostility. Influential thieves-in-law supported the stance of Lann.
Then Leon Lann, acting in the interests of crowned thieves, has announced his claims on the 70% of shares in Optical Basics, Inc. In January 2000, lawyer Dukhnov went on a meeting scheduled to settle the dispute; he had with him original documents proving the rights of Dukhnov, Tsereteli, and Musaelyan to shares in the casino. Nobody had seen him since then. The lawyer’s body was never found, but, according to operative data, he was killed. The Prosecutor’s Office agreed with this version and instituted a criminal case for abduction and murder of the lawyer.
A month later, a group of operatives of the Regional Administration for Combating Organized Crime for the City of Moscow of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation under the command of an unidentified general have stormed into Crystal Casino. According to sources, this general was Aleksander Orlov, then-Aide to the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation. Leon Lann and a person claiming to be a “representative of the thieves” had accompanied the troopers. The general was notified that the FBI and Interpol were searching for Lann who must be arrested for fraud. He responded: "No one will touch him; he is under our protection". In the course of the searches in Crystal Casino, a handgun was found, and Security Chief Karlen Azizbekyan has been escorted to the Regional Administration for Combating Organized Crime. The operatives had an unofficial conversation with him in the presence of Lann – they had offered Azizbekyan to surrender the casino voluntarily. In fact, such negotiations were not really needed.While Azizbekyan was in the Regional Administration for Combating Organized Crime, MIA officers have driven security guards out of the casino – and gangsters occupied it. However, Alex Crane and Azizbekyan still had the controlling block of shares in Optical Basics, Inc. and decided to struggle for the gambling establishment.
In June 2000, thief-in-law Zakhary Kalashov called Alex Crane and offered him to meet in Sheraton Grand Metechi Palace in Tbilisi to discuss the situation. Crane came to the meeting and was abducted there. The criminals demanded a ransom of $1.2 million from the relatives of the American citizen. The requested sum has been paid, but the extortionists still killed Crane. The monies were transferred to foreign accounts controlled by Shakro. Later, Zakhary Kalashov has been sentenced in absentia to 18 years behind bars in Georgia.
On the day Crane was abducted in Georgia, the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation has summoned Azizbekyan to lay charges against him in the framework of a criminal case instituted by the MIA Administration for the Central Administrative District of Moscow on the basis of a criminal complaint filed by American citizen Viktoria Crane (wife of Alex Crane). Viktoria claimed that she was the President of Optical Basics, Inc., the owner of Crystal Cultural and Entertainment Center Limited Liability Company and Khrystalny Dvorets (Crystal Palace) Limited Liability Company, but other shareholders have evicted her from that post using forged documents and appropriated assets worth $4.5 million. Upon becoming aware of the abduction of Crane, Azizbekyan has hastily fled Russia. He was charged in absentia under five Articles of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, including Article 222 (illegal storage of firearms) and Article 159 (swindling). Concurrently, the Prosecutor General’s Office has taken over the case pertaining to the abduction and murder of Dukhnov and closed it with a weird explanation: “for lack of data on the events of these crimes”.
Azizbekyan returned to Russia only in late 2011 – after the removal of his name from the international wanted list. The case against him had been gathering dust together with other suspended cases for a while. Only on December 27, 2013, the investigation has closed the criminal case against the former Security Chief of Crystal and Golden Palace on exonerative grounds.
In April 2014, Azizbekyan has filed with the Nikulino District Court of Moscow two lawsuits against the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation seeking compensations for financial and moral damages. The total amount of his claims was $274 million. In the first lawsuit, the retired military officer requests the state to compensate him the cost of assets lost in the course of the 13-year-long investigation and foregone profits. The statement of claim mentions five foreign rifles, 23 items of surveillance and other special equipment, $344 thousand in foreign cash, two TV sets, a Nissan Terrano vehicle built in 1996, all assets and weapons of Magma V private security company, and Crystal Casino assets, including 40 Volga taxi cabs, furniture, gaming tables, slot machines, personnel uniform, and restaurant dinnerware. In addition, he asks to compensate him 10% of the cost of lost real estate belonging to Crystal and Golden Palace in the amount of $103 million and revenues derived from this real estate for 9 years in the amount of $92 million. Azizbekyan explains that he has also lost salaries and profits generated by other enterprises totaling some $60 million. The total amount of his claim is $174.1 million.
Golden Palace Club
In his lawsuit for compensation of moral damages, Azizbekyan claims that he was illegally put on the wanted list, had to hide, and was deprived of the possibility to live with the family and raise his children, which has affected his health and state of mind. The plaintiff has estimated his sufferings at additional $100 million. However, the court has evaluated the cost of his moral damages only at 100 thousand on the basis of earlier legal precedents. By 2017, Azizbekyan has reduced his claims to $10 million but still failed to obtain a favorable court verdict. The judge requested a written confirmation that the businessman hadn’t received salaries in the seized casinos for all these years or a proof that the $700 thousand and collection of rifles seized from Azizbekyan and subsequently lost had belonged personally to him. A certificate confirming that the rifles were registered in his name was not sufficient – although, by that time, these firearms had already been sold by MIA officers and a criminal case was instituted for that fact. Ultimately, the court refused to compensate damages sustained by the casino co-owner.
To compensate his moral sufferings at least partially, the retired military officer is seeking revenge and demands to prosecute thief-in-law Zakhary Kalashov for raidership – especially taking that he has been recently convicted for extortion. However, it became known that the inquest launched after the raiding takeover of the two casinos was not completed because the case file has disappeared without a trace.
The investigation established that in 2000, Zakhary Kalashov “has seized the control over” Crystal and Golden Palace casinos and neutralized Azizbekyan through illegal criminal prosecution. The lost case file consisted of 14 volumes.
In 2015, Evgeny Evmenov, an Investigator of the Main Investigation Directorate in the City of Moscow of the ICR, was about to institute a criminal case under Article 159 (swindling on an especially large scale) and Article 210 (creation of a criminal community (criminal organization) and participation therein) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation against Zakhary Kalashov (Shakro Molodoy), Leon Lann, Konstantin Manukyan (the ‘right hand’ of Shakro), and other unidentified persons, including law enforcement officers. However, Denis Nikandrov, Deputy Head of the Main Investigations Directorate in the City of Moscow of the ICR, has demanded and obtained the case file and then decided to transfer the materials for institution of a criminal case to the Investigations Department in the Central Administrative District of Moscow of the ICR chaired at that time by Aleksei Kramarenko. Since then, no information was available on these documents until the arrest of Nikandrov and Kramarenko for acceptance of a bribe from Kalashov for the release of criminal authority Andrei Kochuikov (Ital’yanets (Italian)).
Zakhary Kalashov was detained for extortion of 8 million rubles ($116.4 thousand) from Zhanna Kim, owner of Elements Restaurant. The incident occurred in December 2015 on Rochdelskaya street in Moscow. Henchmen of Shakro Molodoy led by Andrei Kochuikov (Ital’yanets) had allegedly demanded Kim to repay the debt or surrender her restaurant. Eduard Budantsev, a former officer of the KGB of the USSR and former commander of the Moscow SWAT team, has arrived to protect the interests of Zhanna Kim. The dispute has escalated into a shootout leaving two people dead and six more wounded. Ital’yanets was arrested for “hooliganism”; then an attempt was made to reclassify his deeds to “arbitrariness” and release him from the pretrial detention facility. However, immediately after the release, the criminal ‘authority’ was detained by FSB operatives for extortion. According to the investigation, Aleksander Drymanov, then-Head of the Main Investigations Directorate in the City of Moscow of the ICR, his first deputy Denis Nikandrov, and Aleksei Kramarenko, then-Head of the Investigations Department in the Central Administrative District of Moscow of the ICR, were members of an organized criminal group under the leadership of Mikhail Maksimenko, Head of the Main Directorate for Interdepartmental Liaison and Internal Security of the ICR. The high-ranked investigation officials received a bribe in the amount of $1 million from Kalashov for their assistance in the release of Andrei Kochuikov from custody.
Later, it became known that the Investigations Department in the Central Administrative District of Moscow under the command of Kramarenko has transferred the materials to the Investigations Department in the Tagansky District of Moscow. However, representatives of the Investigations Department in the Tagansky District claim that the volumes were, in fact, transferred to the MIA Department for the Tagansky District of Moscow. The police department had initially confirmed the receipt of the case file and advised that in April 2016, the materials were re-addressed to the Department for Economic Security and Combating the Corruption of the MIA Administration for the Central Administrative District of Moscow.
However, the MIA Administration for the Central Administrative District of Moscow had categorically denied the receipt of the case file. In October 2018, representatives of the MIA Department for the Tagansky District of Moscow told the court that the information provided earlier was incorrect – the materials were not received, and their whereabouts are unknown.
After the series of arrests of high-ranked ICR officials for the receipt of a bribe from Kalashov in exchange for the release of Ital’yanets, some materials of the case file pertaining to the raiding takeover of the casinos were seized from Nikandrov in the course of searches. However, he was unable to provide any explanations with regards to the case file disappearance.
Leon Lann, the ‘accountant’ for Shakro Molodoy, was convicted, together with his boss, in Spain for money laundering. Golden Palace became an entertainment complex and hotel operating under the control of Konstantin Manukyan, the ‘right hand’ of Kalashov. After the release of Shakro from the Spanish jail and his return to Russia, he had used the former casino as his headquarters. According to The CrimeRussia sources, crowned thieves had arrived there from all regions of Russia to solve their issues. Eyewitnesses claim that the visitors were carrying cases full of cash of questionable origin.
In the meantime, Azizbekyan is seeking, via his lawyer, to reopen the criminal case pertaining to the raiding takeover of the casinos. Taking that the main case file was lost, this would be pretty difficult. Many participants and witnesses of that story are already dead.
Still, the Tagansky District Court of Moscow has recently ordered the Main Investigations Directorate in the City of Moscow of the ICR to launch a probe into the seizure of the two casinos. To be specific: the attorneys for Azizbekyan had filed a complaint against the inaction of the law enforcement structures – and the court has partially satisfied their claims.
“Recognize illegal and ungrounded the inaction of officials of the MIA Department for the Tagansky District of Moscow consisting in the failure to carry out, in accordance with Articles 144–145 of the Criminal-Procedural Code of the Russian Federation, a probe into the criminal complaint № 201/4-57pr-15 providing information about a crime committed by Z.K. Kalashov, K.G. Manykyan, L. Lann, V. Kreiin, and other unidentified persons, including law enforcement officers, and falling under part 4 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation in relation to the theft of assets belonging to Optical Basics, Inc., namely shares worth at least 1 million rubles ($14.6 thousand), in 14 volumes received by the MIA Department for the Tagansky District of Moscow on March 17, 2016 from the Investigations Department in the Tagansky District of the Main Investigations Directorate in the City of Moscow of the ICR based on the order of March 5, 2016 on the transfer of the jurisdiction and oblige these persons to rectify the committed breaches of the law”, – the court verdict states.
However, the court hasn’t provided any specific recommendations on how to restore the lost materials. There is a verdict that must be complied with – and that’s it. It is hard to say at this point whether the criminal case is going to be resumed and followed to its logical end. Taking the circumstances, this is unlikely. But even in the case of success, main suspect Zakhary Kalashov likely won’t be upset with a new prison term. He is a more important job – doing crossword puzzles.