Pawn in somebody else’s party. Prosecution of businessman Khudoyan and intrigues of high-ranked law enforcement functionaries
A media war has escalated after the arrest of well-known businessman Albert Khudoyan: the rival parties launched smear campaigns against their adversaries. Amid the press furore, three precedents passed unnoticed. First, the Moscow City Court has changed pretrial restrictions for a suspect in a case originating from a corporate conflict from home arrest to detention. Second, Khudoyan was remanded in custody because he and his children possess citizenship of another country. And third, some high-ranked law enforcement functionaries have used security cameras of the Main Investigation Department of the MIA General Administration for the City of Moscow to concoct compromising materials. One of the main questions in the case against Khudoyan is: who is the mastermind behind the fake photos showing “the handout of a bribe” to Igor Yakovlev, Deputy Head of the Main Investigation Department of the MIA General Administration for the City of Moscow?
On July 7, 2019, Mediatekhnolog (@mediatech) Telegram channel published an operative video recorded, according to the authors, by officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation after a two-month-long probe. The footage allegedly shows lawyer Gennady Udunyan, referred to as "the main fixer of the Armenian diaspora in Moscow”, handing out an envelope with money to Igor Yakovlev, Head of the Investigations Division of the Main Investigation Department of the General Administration for the City of Moscow of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation. The authors of the publication claim that Udunyan has given the bribe to Yakovlev in the interests of criminally charged Albert Khudoyan. Dozens of media outlets have disseminated the video.
On June 14, Khudoyan was arrested and charged under part 4 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (swindling on an especially large scale). The Administration of Economic Security and Combating the Corruption of the MIA General Administration for the City of Moscow suspects him of the theft of three land lots from a company. According to Aleksander Karabanov, a defense attorney for Khudoyan, the amount of damages incriminated to his client is 2 billion rubles ($31.7 million).
57-year-old Albert Khudoyan was the owner of Optima Tobacco Distribution Company established in 2002. In 2007, it became a part of Megapolis Distribution Group. Currently, Khudoyan is the sole proprietor of Optima Development specializing in commercial, multifunctional, and residential construction. The company administers premises with a total area of some 230 thousand square meters. Optima Development was involved in the construction of Prime Park Residential Complex on Leningradsky avenue in Moscow – but in March 2019, it has sold the rights to the project to A1, an investment subdivision of Alfa Group. The developer's portfolio includes Mariendorf Park cottage community 40 thousand square meters in size and Oz Mall Trade and Entertainment Center in Krasnodar. Oz Mall operates since 2012; this is the largest trade center in southern Russia. Commercial premises with a total area of 227 thousand square meters accommodate more than 300 stores, Formula Kino Cineplex with ten cinema halls, bowling, skating rink, food court, and several restaurants. The key tenants of Oz Mall are OBI, Okey, H&M, Stockmann, Decathlon, Zara, etc. In 2013, Oz Mall was recognized the best super-large trade center; in 2016 – best operating trade center; and 2017 – best trade center of the Krasnodar krai.
Stance of Khudoyan
Immediately after the arrest of Khudoyan, his lawyer Aleksander Karabanov has launched an information campaign in dozens of media outlets. The attorney explains the arrest of the businessman by an attempt or raiders to seize Optima Development belonging to him. “This is a typical situation for Russia: unreasonable pressure is put on a well-known businessman and developer with the purpose to seize his assets. The Russian President said that the Criminal Code must not be used in economic disputes between entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, we currently observe this yet again,” – Karabanov states in the press.
The lawyer has named the persons supposedly interested in the neutralization of Khudoyan: Ildar Samiev, ex-Deputy of the State Duma from Edinaya Rossiya (United Russia) Party, and millionaire Sergei Govyadin. “The situation is as follows: persons charged with criminal offenses and having tarnished reputation misuse legal mechanisms to seize somebody else’s assets,” – this is how Karabanov characterizes the actions of Samiev and Govyadin.
According to the attorney, in August 2018, Sergei Govorukhin, aide to the ex-Deputy, has submitted a criminal complaint to the Administration of Economic Security and Combating the Corruption of the MIA General Administration for the City of Moscow on behalf of Mansfield Executive Ltd. incorporated in the UK claiming that its assets had been fraudulently stolen. Based on this “unfounded” – according to Karabanov – accusation, the Administration of Economic Security and Combating the Corruption has instituted on December 14, 2018 a criminal case for swindling on an especially large scale, and Khudoyan was arrested in the framework of this case. Novaya Gazeta newspaper has published copies of the criminal complaint and decision to institute criminal proceedings and noted that the investigation team had hesitated for almost four months whether to initiate the criminal case or not, while Govorukhin was on the wanted list at the time of the criminal complaint submission.
Karabanov emphasizes that Samiev and Govyadin had neither filed a lawsuit the arbitration court nor submitted a single written claim to Khudoyan; instead, they have directly addressed the law enforcement authorities. The lawyer believes that this is yet another proof that the criminal case is just an attempt to force his client “to transfer his assets to dishonest persons”.
The attorney presents the opponents as "people charged with criminal offenses and having tarnished reputations". Karabanov reminds that criminal cases were instituted against Samiev for swindling on an especially large scale committed in the course of real estate sales in the Moscow region and for machinations during the sales of deluxe residences in Knightsbridge Private Park Residential Complex in Moscow. The media publishing the lawyer's version emphasize that the above machinations had affected famous football player Fedor Smolov, the frontman of the Russian national team and FC Krasnodar.
The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) has already gathered evidence for all swindling episodes incriminated to Samiev – who is currently waiting for the court verdict in a pretrial detention facility, while his aide Govorukhin is on the wanted list.
Millionaire Sergei Govyadin, the second – according to Karabanov – beneficiary of the criminal prosecution of Khudoyan, was mentioned in the media more rarely. In 2015, Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper named Govyadin "a 49-year-old millionaire and oligarch" who has broken up with Ksenia Sukhinova, Miss World 2008. "It is known that the oligarch had courted the Tyumen native and presented her expensive gifts – jewelry, designer dresses, holidays on Côte d'Azur, and even a photoshoot by famous photographer Patrick Demarchelier purchased at an auction held by Naked Heart Foundation chaired by Natalia Vodianova. The cost of the photoshoot was $150 thousand. The sweethearts lived in a mansion 4000 square meters in size built by Govyadin in the Moscow region specially for Ksenia. Reportedly, the oligarch had earlier dated another beauty – Victoria Bonya – and donated her an apartment in Moscow and shares in a real estate business," – Komsomolskaya Pravda reports.
Karabanov believes that the law enforcement authorities should turn their attention to the billionaire’s behavior in relation to the prosecution of his client. According to the attorney, during a face-to-face interrogation with Khudoyan, “in the presence of investigator Malyshkina and lawyer Chizhikov, Govyadin had demanded $100 million from the suspect for settlement of the conflict”. Karabanov considers this “a reason to check investigator Malyshkina for possible conspiracy with the masterminds behind this criminal case”. In an interview to Novaya Gazeta newspaper, Khudoyan confirmed the attempted extortion of millions of dollars in the investigator’s office and expressed his readiness to undergo the polygraph test.
On June 15, a session was held in the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow to determine pretrial restrictions for Khudoyan. Karabanov offered a bail of 1 billion rubles ($15.9 million) and asked to summon defense witnesses, including Vardan Toganyan, Armenian Ambassador to the Russian Federation, and TV hostess Ksenia Sobchak – who, according to her own words, knows the suspect for many years as “an honest person, businessman, and philanthropist”.
As a result, the judge dismissed the motion to remand Khudoyan in custody and placed him under home arrest. Karabanov named this decision “a milestone event” indicating “a good chance of acquittal”.
However, on July 8, a session was held in the Moscow City Court – and the prosecution has again requested to remand the businessman in custody. “Khudoyan has dual citizenship; he had repeatedly traveled abroad. The victim claims that he had received threats from Khudoyan,” – the prosecutor said and noted that the children of Khudoyan are American citizens.
The defense offered to post a bail again. Karabanov told the court that his client obviously has no intention to leave Russia: “Albert Khudoyan has surrendered his two travel passports and Armenian passport to the investigator immediately after being placed under home arrest”. Khudoyan said that his intention is “to struggle for his reputation to the end”, and he is not going to abscond. “It is the dream of my opponents: I leave, and they carve up my assets. No chance. I will stand my ground to the end; I have no plans to escape”.
However, the judge supported the stance of the prosecution, annulled the decision of the court of the first instance to place the suspect under home arrest, and sent Khudoyan to the pretrial detention facility until August 14. Immediately after the court session, Karabanov named this ruling a dangerous precedent: “A person is remanded in custody only because he and his children have dual citizenship”.
Many popular media outlets continue publishing materials reflecting the stance of the defense and sometimes seeming biased. For instance, Lenta.ru called the arrest of Khudoyan “a shock for the entire Moscow business” and named him “an honest and successful entrepreneur”. The news portal claims that his opponents “are using law enforcement structures as weapons” and trying “to seize somebody else’s assets by proxy”.
Rospres.org believes that Khudoyan was arrested as per order of Samiev. The online portal presents Samiev as a fraudster who “had stolen an apartment from a football player” and spent all the proceeds on an aircraft with ostrich skin interior for his wife – socialite Alena Soboleva. Spletnik.ru portal reports that Samiev “is currently on the federal wanted list”.
Stance of opponents
The rival party was unable to disseminate its position in the media as broadly as Khudoyan did. Articles with accusations against the owner of Optima Development were published only by a few bloggers and Telegram channels. Some media claim that the arrest of Khudoyan was an anticipated event because the businessman had prepared to abscond: “Many friends and patrons of Khudoyan – businessmen and former Deputies – have already been detained. Normally, high-ranked fraudsters light-heartedly turn in their business partners”. The majority of such publications consider the sale of Prime Park project a proof of the forthcoming escape of Khudoyan – why sell a profitable project if it can bring money?
On the next day after the publication of the video showing the handout of a bribe to Yakovlev, Mediatekhnolog (@mediatech) Telegram channel, has published another material calling Khudoyan a “keeper of the thieves’ pooled cash fund” who had “defrauded his partners”, “attempted to get off the hook in exchange for a bribe”, and “orchestrates a media campaign from the pretrial detention facility”. Mediatekhnolog has allegedly performed its own inquest and established “clear ties between Khudoyan and Moscow fixer Dmitry Smychkovsky”. The authors state that “Smychkovsky had delivered a bribe of $1 million for the release of persons involved in the shootout on Rochdelskaya street” – and now he is hiding in London. “By the way, Smychkovsky claims that the money had belonged not to him – but to some interested person with an Armenian surname; unfortunately, he does not remember it,” – the Telegram channel reports.
Boilernaya (@boilerroomchannel) Telegram channel has also published an article calling Khudoyan a person who "had robbed and slandered" his partner Samiev – and then "launched a smear campaign against the victim. The authors describe the scheme allegedly pulled off by the owner of Optima Development: "According to the case file, Khudoyan had contracted fictitious loans pledging shares of companies controlled by him as the loan securities – and paid out such loans by assets belonging to other people. As a result, Ildar Samiev and Sergei Govyadin have discovered at some point that they are not the owners of their joint business anymore – even though they had invested millions into it. In the meantime, Khudoyan established a new legal entity and transferred all assets to it to ‘erase' his trusting partners from the project. This trick enabled Khudoyan to sell the stolen assets to A1 investment company, thus, partially shifting the blame on a prominent and respectable firm and using it as a shelter".
Boilernaya Telegram channel considers the smear campaign against Samiev and Govyadin a naive attempt to escape the criminal liability: “A businessman believed to be the keeper of the pooled cash fund of thief-in-law Shakro Molodoy poses as a ‘victim of repressions’ and presents the attempt of defrauded Ildar Samiev to recover his assets as a raiding takeover”. The authors claim that Ksenia Sobchak – who supports Khudoyan – has romantic relations with his friend Vaga Engiboryan.
In addition, Boilernaya states that “the stance of Ildar Samiev, who hadn’t risen to the provocation and rejected the smear campaign rules, inspires respect and guarantees to him and Sergei Govyadin a fair resolution of the case”. Apparently, the authors do not consider their publication a part of the smear campaign against Khudoyan.
Stance of Titov
On June 19, Boris Titov, Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs’ Rights, has expressed his opinion on the criminal case against Khudoyan. Titov received a letter from the owner of Optima Development and has no doubt, even prior to the expert assessment, that the prosecution of the businessman is a result of a corporate conflict. The Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs’ Rights came to the same conclusions as Aleksander Karabanov. “The case against Khudoyan is yet another example of an economic conflict between entrepreneurs escalating into a criminal case because one of the parties has submitted a complaint to the investigative authorities. The author of the complaint hadn’t bothered to go to arbitration courts. In other words, no efforts were made to resolve the conflict in the civic litigation framework – the petitioner has directly addressed the law enforcement authorities. And he has done this a few years after the disputed fact,” – Titov says.
After the ruling to remand Khudoyan in custody, the Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs’ Rights made another statement – Titov considers such pretrial restrictions excessive. “The court decided that Khudoyan may abscond abroad – although the suspect has surrendered his travel passport to the investigation. We consider this argument unconvincing. In addition, part 1.1. of Article 108 of the Criminal–Procedural Code of the Russian Federation (taking into custody) prohibits the incarceration of suspects in economic crimes committed in the business sphere – while the case against Khudoyan originates from a property dispute,” – Titov explains.
Stance of ‘bribe-giver
The stance of lawyer Gennady Udunyan charged with bribing Yakovlev may be useful for understanding who is in the right in this media war. Udunyan expectedly denies all allegations and claims that he has nothing to do with the case against the owner of Optima Development: “I am not an attorney for Khudoyan and not involved in this criminal case”. The lawyer admits the authenticity of the published photos: he had a meeting with the Deputy Head of the Main Investigation Department of the MIA General Administration for the City of Moscow near the front security gate of the Main Investigation Department and showed some documents to Yakovlev – but Udunyan did not give anything to him. In fact, the photos confirm this. Most importantly, the meeting occurred in February or March – but not in June as Mediatekhnolog Telegram channel claims: “The photos show us in jackets – while on June 14 or 13, the temperature in Moscow was +30ºC,” – Udunyan says.
The attorney believes that this provocation could be staged either by adversaries of Yakovlev or opponents of Khudoyan: “The legal reasoning of Khudoyan’s opponents may be very weak; or the case could be framed-up”. Udunyan also notes that the news about the bribe was published right before the session of the Moscow City Court that has remanded Khudoyan in custody. “This is the first time when the Moscow City Court changes pretrial restrictions. This case affects me, and I am really surprised,” – Udunyan explains. He believes that, regardless of the masterminds behind this provocation, it could not be performed without the assistance of the law enforcement structures: “not every person may get access to security cameras of the Main Investigation Department”. Therefore, the primary question in the case against Khudoyan is: who is the high-ranked law enforcement functionary responsible for the publication of the photos showing the ‘bribery’?