Graf’s ruins. Criminal authority Sergei Graf Romanov transformed Prioksko-Terrasny Nature Reserve into his private domain
Plenty of people are poaching in strictly protected natural areas nowadays – from prosecutors to federal functionaries. But the lawlessness has no boundaries. Thief-in-law Sergei Graf (Count) Romanov has transformed Prioksko-Terrasny Nature Reserve into his private hunting enterprise and concurrently runs business there.
Strict state nature reserves had been designated to preserve rare flora and fauna species and their natural habitats. However, nowadays, nature reserves pose a real threat to animals and plants. Businessmen build cottages in protected areas, while governmental officials of all ranks enjoy illegal hunting and fishing there. Some people even manage to combine business with pleasure, for instance, authoritative businessman Sergei Romanov also known as Graf.
According to his own words, Romanov has recognized his passion for luxury life at an early age. He had started from a semi-legal car dealership business in the waning days of the USSR and by the end of the 1990s, has earned big money and a criminal title. He understood the meaning of the term “money laundering” through insight. Romanov started purchasing real estate en mass in his native town of Serpukhov and acquired a land allotment. Being well aware of the special status-related significance of such acquisitions, Graf decided not to spend money on a scenic lot on the Istra River. Instead, he has purchased 370 ha of land in the protected zone of Prioksko-Terrasny State Nature Reserve. The issue with the cadastral registration of strictly protected natural areas still exists nowadays – while two decades ago, nobody was concerned about it, thus, allowing local authorities to sell out invaluable lands.
It is necessary to note that Prioksko-Terrasny Nature Reserve is unique in many ways. Dozens of unique plants referred to as specific “Oka River flora” in botany books grow there. This is the only nature reserve in Central Russia inhabited by bison and the sole nature reserve in the Moscow region. Authority Romanov was never interested in botany or zoology and treated his lands in a very practical way – as a hunting area.
The distressful state of Prioksko-Terrasny Nature Reserve became known to the public only in 2011, after the appointment of Andrei Ivonin its Director. The very fact that a former airborne trooper and veteran of the Afgan war has been chosen for this position indicates that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment was well aware of the issues in the reserve. Ivonin has launched a true war on poaching, thus, displeasing both the nature reserve staff and land owner Romanov. According to Ivonin, people employed with the nature reserve were running all kinds of poaching – hunting, felling of trees, and even ‘black archaeology’. On the other side, Graf was not only a votary of hunting, but also a welcoming host in that period. High-ranked guests, including prosecutors of various levels, liked to visit his estate.
The visiting watchdog officials were staying not in an open field – Romanov has built an impressive mansion in a strictly protected area and started selling out adjacent lands for cottage construction. The point is that all his actions were perfectly legal. In 2007, Aleksander Shestun, the Head of the Serpukhov District, has personally signed papers to re-zone the nature reserve lands belonging to Graf to a different category. By the way, later, he has forgotten about this and
took all efforts to ‘prohibit’ the construction. As a result, new cottages have been erected on lands where any development was forbidden not that long ago. For instance, the manor of businessman Yuri Gekht, the ex-Deputy of the State Duma, is located not far from the Graf’s mansion. At some point, Gekht and Romanov were tried
together for kidnapping.
In 2009, Shestun failed to peacefully divide with the local enforcement structures the virtually sole profitable business in the Serpukhov district – excavation of sand pits. Their confrontation has resulted in a series of high-profile criminal cases. Aleksander Shestun had accused representatives of the Prosecutor’s Office of the Moscow Region (later charged with covering up gambling business) and Sergei Abrosimov, the Deputy Head of the General Administration for the Southern Federal District of the Prosecutor General’s Office, of bribe extortion. The response was symmetric: two days later, Elena Bazanova, the ‘right hand’ of Shestun, has been arrested. The enforcement authorities had allegedly wanted more, and Graf has joined the game – he was aggrieved over his friends and suddenly remembered that Shestun had also extorted a bribe from him a long time ago. (When Shestun was accused of not very legal re-zoning of the lands belonging to Prioksko-Terrasny State Nature Reserve for cottage construction, Graf had kept silence.)
Romanov hasn’t forgotten about Andrei Ivonin, the Director of the Nature Reserve. He had openly supported the personnel unhappy with the actions of Ivonin and submitting complaints against him to the President. Ivonin had received repeated threats; his car was burned. Then Graf understood that such tricks are not effective against the former airborne trooper and changed his tactics. The mortality of bison living in the nature reserve has drastically increased. The provided silly explanations were criticized in the media – and the rumors about purposive poisoning of the bison had been spreading. It was obvious who could be interested in this.
Burned car of Ivonin
A few years later, the mass mortality of bison in the nature reserve has been forgotten. Sergei Graf Romanov still entertains guests in his country residence with ‘royal hunt’. He has built a racing track, was repeatedly accused of digging sand pits, and finally established an entire agricultural enterprise with vast fields of wheat and combine harvesters. This happens within the territory of a state nature reserve where all economic activities are legally prohibited. And why would bison die there?