Ex-GRU officer featured in Russian interference in US elections report accused of creating financial pyramid

Ex-GRU officer featured in Russian interference in US elections report accused of creating financial pyramid
Vasily Kuzmichenok / TASS

Reserved Lieutenant Colonel Andrey Nikolenko allegedly offered his acquaintances to make money on iPhone supplies.

The former Head of a group of military unit 74455 of the Main Directorate of the GRU, Andrey Nikolenko, was accused of fraud, RBC reports. The case against the reserved Colonel, 46, is investigated by the Military Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee for the Solnechnogorsk garrison.

According to the case papers, the authenticity of which was confirmed by two sources of publication familiar with the investigation, Nikolenko and his wife are charged with more than a dozen crimes under the article Swindling (Art. 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). 17 people were recognized as victims in the case, including friends and colleagues of the Lieutenant Colonel. They allegedly handed him from several hundred thousand to several million rubles (one count in the case features 17 million rubles ($263.3 thousand)) in exchange for IOUs.

According to investigators, the officer and his spouse collected money from 2013 to the end of 2015, offering their friends to make money on supplies of Apple devices from the USA. Nikolenko's wife promised a profit of 10% of the amount of investment within two months, assuring that she works at Gazprom and is related to purchases of iPhone and MacBook for the company. Several victims reported that a relative of the Lieutenant Colonel that lives in the US and works for Apple was mentioned in the conversations. The purchases were allegedly carried out through Tatyana Nikolenko’s Antey company, and equipment was imported through St. Petersburg and quickly sold given high demand and attractive prices.

The investigators established that the Antey company did not conduct any real activity and was handed over to Nikolenko by its former owner, who is also a victim in the case. To pay 'dividends' the attracted funds of new investors were used. Having received the first payments, many handed over new amounts to the Lieutenant Colonel and attracted their acquaintances to the scheme. Nikolenko’s lifestyle, who, after being dismissed from the service, acquired an expensive car and real estate, made the victims confident that the scheme would work out. Moreover, those who wished could actually buy Apple devices from the Lieutenant Colonel at a discount of 20-30 thousand rubles ($310-465).

In 2015, several 'investors' whose payments were delayed turned to the police and the prosecutor’s office. The departments refused to initiate criminal proceedings on these appeals for a long time, suggesting that victims resolve their claims in civil and legal disputes. By mid-2016, the police had enough complaints for the operatives of the Department for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption of the Internal Affairs Department for Korolev, Moscow region, to see "signs of a financial pyramid" in Nikolenko's activities and begin to gather evidence. Several cases of fraud were opened.

In February, 2017, Nikolenko was interrogated as the suspect. In June, he was condemned and placed in custody. His spouse - as she was pregnant and a mother of 3 underage children - was released on her own recognizance. The two were divorced at that moment, however, according to their own testimonies, they remained friends. According to a source of RBC familiar with the investigation, the victims believe the divorce, as well as the lawsuit of Nikolenko’s spouse related to the back paid child support (that was settled by court) had been faked in order to reduce the risk of financial responsibility in front of the contributing participants.

During the investigation, the lieutenant colonel and his spouse pleaded not guilty. According to their testimonies, they did not run entrepreneurship activities or discuss business schemes with creditors. As for the funds indicated in the notes, they borrowed it for personal needs (it is not being specified for which exactly). The defense believe it was not about swindling, but civil relationships that ought to be settled in court.

Nikolenko served for GRU before June, 2013, and the first instance of the case dates back to May, 2013. In this regard, the lawyers stated that offense proceedings as to the accused could only be carried out by military investigation, military prosecution office and military court. As a result, Korolev city court ordered to send the case back to the prosecution office. All court’s instances - including Moscow military court - agreed with the decision. With that, the prosecution of Solnechnogorsk garrison court maintained that Nikolenko concealed his affiliation with military officers at the moment when the crime were committed; with that, the actions he is being accused of are not related to his military service. After the investigation, the case was returned to the military investigative department in Solnechnogorsk district (military unit #74455 located on Khimki’s Kirov street is a part of it). In summer, 2018, Nikolenko was released, as - for the time of the investigation - his detention in custody was prolonged only until May, 2018.

After that, the lieutenant colonel found a job in a business company - in spite of his status of the accused. The company’s web site states that it deals with software for processing of shots from satellites with defense and civil purposes. According to the database of the System of Professional Analysis of Markets and Firms, this company fulfilled orders by the Federal Security Service and the Ministry of Defense.

The military unit #74455 where Nikolenko served became high profile after investigation by a special prosecutor Robert Muller on an alleged involvement of Russian hackers in 2016 presidential elections was published. The U.S. Accused 3 officers of the unit - including the commander Aleksander Osadchuk. The American intelligence services’ theory is that in summer, 2016, this unit of GRU published documents compromising the Democratic Party of the U.S. through a web site DCLeaks created for this very purpose, as well as through a ‘Romanian hacker’ Guccifer 2.0. They used a network of computers around the world and paid with cryprocurrencies for software.

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