Cemeteries "in law"

Cemeteries "in law"
Carving-up territories, selling grave spaces, banditry, corruption…

Yesterday the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow has extended detention periods for participants of the massacre on Khovanskoe cemetery. Earlier detention was extended until August 14, 2016 for 14 key suspects, including Yury Chabuev, ex-director of the territorial branch #3 of the Ritual Budgetary Institution. There is a shady story behind this slaughter that still requires an extensive investigation. Perhaps, some episodes would never be solved at all. Carving-up territories, selling grave spaces, corruption – all these issues exist on virtually any cemetery.

Cemetery and market

A true battle occurred on Khovanskoe cemetery in Moscow on May 14, 2016. 29 people were injured, 3 died, more than 100 participants have been detained. Police officers were unable to deal with the frenzied crowd on their own and called for the National Guard (the former Russian Special Police Force). The slain people are Tajikistan natives.

The most popular version of the incident is carving-up the territory between ethnic criminal groups. Most participants of the brawl are either Tajiks or Chechens. The decision to impose an extra levy on Tajiks could originate not only in the Chechen community, but in Slavic criminal circles as well. According to Bakhti Sarvar, the press secretary of the Tajikistan Embassy, many Tajik gastarbeiters work on cemeteries – improving graves, doing landscaping, and cleaning the territory.


There are 14 main suspects in this case. Yury Chabuev, the ex-director of the territorial branch № 3 of the Ritual State Budgetary Institution, is charged with organization of murder. In total, Yury Chabuev used to manage some thirty Moscow cemeteries.

Cemetery staff say that people in police uniform were visiting the cemetery on paydays on the regular basis. No one can said whether these people were law enforcement officers or disguised racketeers. But one thing is known for sure: the illegal immigrants used to share their money with the rogue cops submissively. There were only a few cases when Tajiks, mostly unskilled laborers, rebelled against Caucasus natives who were in charge of the business. 

Officially, a grave digger earns 5–10 thousand rubles a month, but his unofficial income may reach 50–100 thousand rubles. The same situation is with flower vendors selling bunches and wreaths; according to their own words, similarly with gastarbeiters, they regularly pay tribute to the cemetery management.

According to Aleksey Suloev, the Vice President of the Union of Burial Organizations and Crematoriums, a day before the Khovanskoe massacre he received a letter stating that this cemetery is not profitable. Perhaps, the brawl was linked with an attempt to improve the financial condition of the graveyard at the expense of shady incomes of Tajik migrants? 

There is another version, however; according to it, Tajiks, Chechens, and even local criminal groups have very little to do with the incident, and the true reasons behind it are totally different.

Ritual miracles

In February 2014 the director’s position in the Ritual State Unitary Enterprise was openly offered for sale for €2 million. According to the General Administration for the City of Moscow of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation (MIA), the seller was a fraudster unable to fulfill such an obligation. A criminal case was initiated due to this episode under Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Swindling). It is evident, however, that a position worth such an amount of money should pay for itself. Therefore, there were lots of people ready and willing to pay the requested sum. 

According to the web-site of the Professional Union of Ritual Service Employees, on September 28, 2012 the order № 0173200023612000052 has been placed on the web-site zakupki.gov.ru to develop a reform program for the Ritual State Unitary Enterprise of Moscow (Ritual SUE). The contract for 34 million rubles was awarded to FinExpertiza Network Limited Liability Company, a member of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) whose headquarters are located at 529 5th Avenue, 6th Floor New York, New York 10017. By 2014 it became clear that the reforms are totally speculative.

Igor Medvedkov, a former director of the Ritual SUE, was fired in February 2015. According to a verbal statement, he was terminated “for being a co-founder in a commercial ritual service company”. In July 2015, the Ritual SUE has submitted a letter to authorities stating that some investor acquired lands earlier allocated for parking of buses and hearse vans. In total, the cemetery car park used to occupy 4.2 ha. Sometime later, stories about attempted land sales for burials on Northern Khovanskoe cemetery popped-up. 

In addition, two expensive crematorium furnaces have been ordered for Khovanskoe cemetery in Germany, but their size did not fit. Ultimately, both the furnaces and the money disappeared. 

Corruption is a pretty common part of the burial business. The government is trying to cease illegal land turnover and cessions. On January 1, 2015 a law came into effect; according to this law, management powers over cemeteries have been transferred from municipal to regional authorities. 

Then the Moscow Government has changed the management form of the Ritual enterprise by creating a state budgetary institution. Artem Ekimov, a graduate of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and the ex-officer of a MIA General Administration, was appointed instead of Medvedkov. It is known that Ekimov had close connections with enforcement structures. The Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin has personally appointed the former policeman the Principal General of Ritual for 1 year. Interestingly, in 2011, when Ekimov served in the General Administration for Economic Security and Combatting the Corruption of MIA, his superior was Denis Sugrobov, currently charged with provocation of bribes, faking criminal case materials, and other offences. 

Back in February 2015, the web-site of the Professional Union of Ritual Service Employees has come to an interesting conclusion: the confrontation between governmental authorities and commercial structures in the funeral sphere will soon escalate to the mutual annihilation level. A year and half later, this grim prediction has come true – a cruel massacre occurred on Khovanskoe cemetery.

Burial place

Why corruption is so flourishing on cemeteries and around them? According to the law, the site for burial must be provided for free. 

An outrageous incident occurred this winter in Chelyabinsk. The funeral was abruptly interrupted by cemetery stuff who requested to stop digging the grave on the lot provided by the “Municipal Cemeteries Service” Municipal State Public Institution. The racketeering cemetery employees requested to get approval from the cemetery administration – i.e. requested money. The funeral was disrupted, and the relatives had to return the dead body back to the morgue.

A similar conflict in Ekaterinburg between local resident Dmitry Malyshev and a cemetery management turned into a continuous struggle against cemetery administrations. When Malyshev came to the cemetery to bury his friend, grave diggers requested 30 thousand rubles for the work. Having no such money, Malyshev decided to bury his friend himself. Dmitry took a spade and started digging a grave. The coffin ready for burial was nearby. The cemetery administration has called police, and upon arrival, law enforcement officers said that Dmitry’s actions are illegal, stopped the digging and requested to return the body to the morgue.

According to Dmitry, he was fighting for his right to bury his friend for free for a whole month, and ultimately, he won. Now Dmitry Malyshev has become a private entrepreneur and assists people with free funerals. According to rumors, he is a real competitor to local funeral homes.


So, what is the real price of a grave lot? A burial place somewhere on the outskirts would cost relatives 10–50 thousand rubles, depending on the location. Of course, no one would say straight that the money is paid for the land. The land is free. According to receipts, money is paid for ritual services – either of first-rate of second-rate quality. A lot on a prestigious cemetery would cost relatives much more – starting from 500 thousand rubles and up to several millions.

For instance, one enterprising lady tried to sell a lot with view on Vagankovskoe cemetery for 2.3 million rubles – the cost of an apartment in Moscow suburbs. The lady estimated so high the proximity to the grave of Vladimir Vysotsky. So, how did she get such a lot? In fact, she was just offering to bury somebody in addition to her relatives resting near the bard’s tomb. Apparently, dead relatives would not object – as well as the cemetery administration, which is going to get a good kickback – although officially this land is not for sale.

The harsh reality is: if you have money, you can acquire a prestigious lot on any cemetery. The ownership rights on the grave lot are transferred on the basis of a bill of sale signed by a management company branch, sometimes – post factum. The purchaser gets no warranties, so it is unwise to purchase a good lot in advance.

Lane of Fame: Monuments to corruption

The best evidence of corruption plaguing the funeral business are criminal lanes of fame – gangsters’ tombs in most prestigious spots of Vagankovskoe, Staroarmyanskoe, Nikolo-Arkhangelskoe, and other Moscow and St. Petersburg cemeteries. Not all famous actors get such honor. 

Along cemetery central lanes, there are huge marble tombstones, majestic anaglyphs, full-length portraits and sculptures. Some of these are with night illumination and even music. The tombs are engraved with slogans, epitaphs, Biblical scriptures, and poems. Some tombstones demonstrate original humor, for instance, the stele of Mukha Beliy (Fly the White) is shaped like a cellphone and has an engraving: “The customer has left the coverage zone”. 

This is the departed generation of new Russians – graves of criminal lords reminiscent of ancient mausoleums.


What was the purpose of such monuments to the 1990s? Were the bros really mourning the dead comrades so much to spend millions on such tombs? In fact, sometimes beneath the granite slabs, there were secret hatches, entrances to burial vaults. There was enough space there to quietly put to rest several more people.

Living and dead souls

There are many beautiful monuments on the Vagankovskoe cemetery Lane of Fame. Most distinguished people of Russia are buried here. Criminal lords want to be put to rest here as well. And they had succeeded in this – until the certain point. A bronze angel erected above the double grave of Kvantrishvili brothers, thugs from the 1990s, was created by the famous sculptor Klykov. It is located next to the above-mentioned grave of Vladimir Vysotsky. It is notable that many criminals' monuments stand with their backs to the main lane. There is symbolism in this: only those who know of the dead person can find the grave.

In the middle and late 1990s, criminal leaders were buried with unbelievable solemnities. Anton Malevsky, the leader of Izmailovskaya organized crime group, was buried in the Voznesenskaya Davidova Pustin Monastery, on the church land in 30 kilometers from the Town of Chekhov. Normally, only saints are buried that way… 

Now it is more difficult to get a spot on a prestigious cemetery. For example, the authorities did not allow to bury Ded Hasan, also known as Thief Number One, on Vagankovskoe cemetery. Despite the huge authority of the late criminal lord, his memorial service was held on Troekurovskoe cemetery and the body of Aslan Usoyan was buried on Khovanskoe cemetery.


So-called double graves are popular among the criminals: the bodyguard is put to rest together with his boss. Ancient kings were buried this way: together with wives, servants, and slaves.

The cost of such monuments could be $50–150 thousand, or even moreю 

The burial place of Kostya Mogila (Kostya the Grave) criminal lord is a true architectural ensemble. Its cost is at least $200 thousand. The only missing detail is swimming pool. 

Initially he was a cemetery grave digger and got his nickname because was digging graves very fast. Later he became a famous St. Petersburg businessman. Kostya was fatally shot with a Kalashnikov submachine gun on the 300th Anniversary of St. Petersburg. His funeral was remarkable: more than 50 foreign-made cars honked in sign of mourning, and when the funeral procession approached the pretrial detention facility, a male choir started singing from inside the prison.


According to rumors, some graves are empty. Thieves in law sometimes create several fake graves and occasionally come to look at their own pompous tombs.

Anything can be stored in such huge graves, including secret weaponries.

Secret caches in tombs

Criminals often create secret caches for weapons and drugs on cemeteries. This is convenient: a quiet, guarded location, no bystanders around. Even if such a cache is found, it is impossible to prove who had left it here. 

A cache with weapons and drugs was found this spring on a Crimean cemetery near Yalta. The weaponry included a self-made pistol, RGD-5 hand grenade, rounds, and some 700 grams of drugs. The suspect has surrendered the cache to the investigation himself. 

Similar episodes had occurred in the past. The most high-profile case occurred in 2013, when a cache with heroin was found on a cemetery in Magnitogorsk suburbs. A series of crimes committed by a grave digger from the Khovanskoe cemetery was also highly publicized. He was leaving a stash of drug on a tomb and then sending the tomb description and name on it to the customer. 

The movie “Two tickets on a night cinema show” is based on a true story of Georgy Zuikov, who created a cache in the grave of his own daughter to hide values stolen from the state. In October 1962 investigators found huge values there: 12 kilograms of gold coins, bullions, jewelry, gold foil, and several thousand US dollars. 

Carving-up territories, selling grave spaces, banditry, corruption… So far, all attempts to make the funeral services clear and transparent and protect people ready to give away everything they have in the mournful moment of their lives failed. Therefore, the shady business continues flourishing.



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