Gorki incident. Instigators behind Evgeny Zhilin’s killing.

Gorki incident. Instigators behind Evgeny Zhilin’s killing.
Leader of Oplot Evgeny Zhilin

On Monday, the leader of the Ukrainian public organization Oplot Evgeny Zhilin was shot by a killer in a luxury restaurant Veterok in the Odintsovo district, Moscow region.

A quiet cool evening in the suburban village of Gorki-2, located few kilometers away from the Moscow Ring Road at the beginning of Rublevo-Uspenskoe highway. It is getting late, and it is drizzling.

The hall of the elite restaurant Veterok, owned by famous Russian restaurateurs Arkady Novikov and Artyom Mikhalkov, is practically empty. A black Land Cruiser pulls up to the parking lot at past 6 pm; two athletically-built men get out and immediately head for the restaurant. They are Director General and co-owner of the sports club Oplot Evgeny Zhilin, and his bodyguard and old friend Andrey Kozar.

A highly disciplined waiter shows the men to a table available in the corner of the hall. They do not seem like regular visitors, but their behavior indicates that they have been here before.

“The young people were visibly nervous. They took the menu and began thumbing it while discretely looking over their shoulder,” one of Veterok’s employees tells Life.ru.

About five minutes later, a man dressed in a long black coat and a hat, who had been sitting nearby with a woman, got up and rushed to Zhilin, firing several shots at him. Bullet wounds to the head and chest were fatal. Andrey Kozar instantaneously jumped up from the table and tried to cover his boss. Two bullets hit the bodyguard in the back.

“Although his condition is serious, he’s alive,” Life.ru’s source reports.

According to eyewitnesses, the incident at Veterok was reminiscent of a good American action movie.

“All this horror lasted less than a minute. We could barely hear the shots, because the hitman had a silencer. His movements were sharp and accurate. After shooting his bolt, he took his companion and ran into the street,” the source recalls.

Gas man who was working on a nearby gas station at the time of Evgeny Zhilin’s murder said the hitman’s companion burst into tears while running away from the restaurant. According to him, the killer was completely unperturbed, whereas his lady shouted something at him, crying.

“A man came out; he was calm. A woman in white ran in front of him, she was crying,” the eyewitness told. “She had tear-stained eyes. I saw it, because I was refueling a car outside at this moment. They climbed into the back seat of Range Rover with a driver awaiting them. Then they drove away.”

According to other witnesses, there were two cars; the killer got in one of them, namely a yellow Nissan taxi, and left.

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Officers of the Main Investigations Directorate of the ICR for the Moscow region, who arrived just minutes after the shooting, immediately began interrogating witnesses to the crime. According to sources, eyewitnesses’ testimonies allowed to recreate a detailed picture of the tragedy and get the perpetrator’s description. They have told that the alleged killer and his friend had come to the restaurant twenty minutes before Zhilin and Kozar.

“They were a very polite man and a woman. He ordered a coffee, and sat at the table, looking out the window. When waiters brought him his order, he asked for check, and began sipping the coffee,” one of the witnesses tells.

He also noted that the visitor did not remove his outer coat and even hat. Moreover, he had glasses and a mustache on his face, which looked rather unnatural and false.

“It was a professional who shot Oplot members. He took a position in the restaurant hall, from which he could easily approach his victims and prevent them from defending,” an operative officer involved in the investigation says. “So he escaped. He shot out and disappeared, dropping his false mustache, black glasses, black coat, and the gun into the Moscow River. And watch his smoke now.

Escape from Ukraine

Evgeny Zhilin’s personality is better known in Ukraine than in Russia. The former officer of the Ukrainian Department for Organized Crime Control under Yushchenko (in 2005) found himself in jail on false charges. “Zhilin was ‘interrupted’ by illegal arrest and detention; from March 2005 to December 2007 he was in a pre-trial detention center on suspicion of blowing up the car of the current Kharkov Mayor Gennady Kernes, but was later acquitted and called back to duty in the police. Then he stopped trusting the system and retired; he started advocating imperialism. We had arguments during Maidan, and then just stopped talking,” former Military Prosecutor of Kiev’s anti-terrorist operation forces Konstantin Kulik described Zhilin.

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Zhilin himself said he had a difficult, but a trusting relationship with Kernes.

“We have had a long and complex relationship. I had been arrested and spent about three years in a pre-trial detention center for blowing up his (Kernes’s) car. Eventually our relations have become trusting and comradely. Friends do not necessarily share the same views on the same issues. We are friends, but we differ... There’s a time and a place for everyone, they say. Kernes is a good mayor; he loves the city. Part of the city is his living legend. Which is more than I can say for the Revolution. I guess he just did not feel the support that was needed to act decisively. In any case, Kharkov is intact today,” he said in an interview.

In 2007, Zhilin was acquitted, and all charges against him were withdrawn. However, it was not until 2010 that he resigned from the official bodies; he was suspected of committing a double murder at the time.

“Back then, he was taken into custody. But there was no evidence, so they released him. In addition, he was a suspect in the murder case of Novy Stil’s (Kharkov newspaper, ‘New Style’) Chief Editor Vasily Klimentyev (murdered August 11, 2010), but law enforcers once again came up with nothing,” one of his Kharkov friends tells.

In 2012, the name of a suspect in Klimentyev’s murder was spoken by Head of the Main Investigations Directorate of the MIA Vasily Farinnik. He said that the killer was a former employee of the Kharkov Department for Organized Crime Control Andrey Kozar. It was Kozar who tried to cover his friend on the Monday night.

After resigning from service in 2011, Zhilin established an ultimate fighting sports club Oplot. Although detractors have been constantly accusing its leadership and members of raiding and extortion.

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Zhilin’s life changed dramatically after the beginning of the last Maidan. He and his Oplot did their best to defend Yanukovich’s regime.

“We came to Kiev, because we were asked to. We were defending the traffic police posts, which had two or three police officers. One of our groups was attacked, and we responded adequately to them, cutting off one ear to one of them, giving the other in to the police, and scattering the rest, even though we were unarmed, and they had clubs,” Zhilin told about Antimaidan’s activity.

After Yanukovych fled the country, Zhilin moved to Kharkov and began fighting against the new regime.

“Following our active resistance to the Nazis on the Maidan, we have received plenty of requests from volunteers from all over the country wishing to join Oplot. Groups under the banner of Oplot began chaotically establishing in different cities, including Poltava, Kiev, Zaporozhye, Donetsk, Mariupol, and Lugansk. In Donetsk, Oplot members have participated in seizure of administrative buildings. In fact, it is due to groups created by Igor Strelkov, Valery Bolotov, and many others that confrontation in Donetsk escalated into a violent upheaval. Other regions lacked a trigger, so the potential has abated without passing on to the force interaction phase. As for the Donetsk branch of Oplot, it has moved into a more proactive phase, continuing the fight. It has been able to do this due to the properly chosen leader, namely Aleksandr Zakharchenko,” Zhilin recalled in an interview.

Shortly after the Maidan, Head of Interior Ministry Arsen Avakov said that criminal proceedings were opened against Zhilin. The latter first relocated to the Donetsk People's Republic, and then to Russia.

Zhilin had a chance to fight alongside with Oplot in the Donetsk People's Republic.

“Oplot fighters participated in all clashes with the Kiev junta. At the moment, we have about 1,500 fighters. More than 100 tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, and Grad ground-to-ground rockets. We are now moving from the street groups to a regular army. I can safely say that due to the fact Oplot consisted of many sporty guys, as well as because our organization has been fighting against the Nazis in Ukraine over the past four years, it has become the most numerous group, and then army, on the territory of the Donetsk People's Republic,” he said in an interview in 2014.

However, he soon had left for Russia, where he engaged in business. He kept Oplot going by creating a company of the same name.

The Pechersk District Court of Kiev arrested Zhilin in absentia in February 2016 and issued an international arrest warrant on charges of terrorism and assassination attempt on Head of Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Arsen Avakov. Interrogation in the Military Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine under a criminal case on terrorism was fixed for August 30.

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Murder versions: from criminal to political

Investigators have launched an investigation into the killing; they consider several versions at once.

According to one of them, 40-year-old Director General of Oplot Evgeny Zhilin and his 39-year-old bodyguard Andrey Kozar came to Veterok for an appointment with their security business competitors.

“According to operational information, Oplot sportsmen has served as guards during transportation of large sums of money and valuables in Moscow and the Moscow region,” investigator reveals. “Zhilin and his companions for Oplot sports club, which had been registered in Shcholkovo, Moscow region, in 2015, might have a conflict with competitors providing similar services.”

Investigator’s words have been confirmed to Life.ru by one of Zhilin’s friends.

“When I met him in person, Evgeny seemed an adventurous person, capable of many things for money. He tackled everything that could bring benefit. He could be a security guard or an ultimate fighting organizer, ready to resolve any conflicts on commission,” Life.ru’s interlocutor says. “Zhilin had many enemies in Ukraine; but it seems to me, he had as many in Russia, where he moved in 2014.”

According to a Ukrainian public figure, leader of Kiev Antimaidan Aleksandr Zinchenko, it is likely that Zhilin’s murder is connected with his political activities.

“Finding the perpetrator is a task to be shouldered by the investigation; in my view, the instigators are from Kiev. I was not very close to Evgeny Zhilin, so I don’t know whether he had any other conflicts, but most likely it is a politically motivated assassination,” he said.

A Ukrainian blogger and media expert Anatoly Shary has also mentioned Ukrainian involvement. The Security Service of Ukraine charged Evgeny Zhilin with several criminal cases. In Ukraine, he faced criminal responsibility for liaison with the leaders of Antimaidan, as well as for a “fraudulent scheme”, through which he had allegedly withdrawn about 100 million hryvnias from the budget of Kharkov utility enterprises. In addition, his name was associated with legal disputes over 1.66 hectares of expensive land near a water reservoir around Kharkov.  

“The version associated with Evgeny Zhilin’s stay in Kharkov, the allocation of land and other things seems to be the most plausible,” Shary explains.

Another Zhilin’s acquaintance has revealed three of the most probable versions of the Oplot founder’s murder. 

“First and the most common version is the Ukrainian involvement, but I hardly believe it. The second version is related to business; Zhilin had supposedly crossed someone on his way up in Moscow; as for the third version, it is about a conflict with Ukrainian oligarch Sergey Kurchenko associated with the business in the Donetsk People's Republic,” he has told Life.ru.

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“Kurchenko wanted to supply fuel to the Donetsk People's Republic. However, Zhilin’s affiliated structures took up these supplies. I don't really believe in this. I have recently met Kozar. He told me that he and Zhilin were doing fine,” Zhilin’s friend notes.

It is possible that Kurchenko, who was born in Kharkov, knew Zhilin well; in 2014, he was forced to leave Ukraine because of the links with the family of Yanukovych, who fled from Kiev. The media have reported that Kurchenko’s assets are integrated into Premier Oil Group, whose head office is located in Moscow, in the same place with the businessman’s office. The main group assets are known to be Torgovy Dom Neftegaz LLC (Neftegaz Trade House), which supplies petroleum products within Russia and is a major supplier to the Crimea, Premier Oil LLC (fuel supplies to the Russian gas stations), and the Hong Kong Asiana Global Limited, which is engaged in international trading operations and fuel supply to Ukraine.

Another friend of Evgeny Zhilin, with whom Life.ru had been able to communicate, has said that Zhilin could be killed by shadow business partners.

“Evgeny was a versatile person; on the one hand, he was a patron of sports, on the other hand, a shadow businessman, both in Ukraine and in Russia,” interlocutor of Life.ru from Zhilin’s environment tells. “When the Ukrainian conflict broke out, and Zhilin stood up to Maidan, several criminal cases were brought against him in Ukraine. He had to leave for Russia, but managed to take out part of his assets using the ties to the power structures. It was these funds that enabled Evgeny to start a new business in Russia.

“At first, he tried to go straight, doing sports startups and launching several gyms in Moscow. But he was used to the big money, and fitness wasn’t exactly fortune. It’s like you drive Ferrari your whole life and suddenly you have to switch to Zhiguli. Therefore, at the end of 2015, Evgeny took up cashing in of money,” Zhilin’s acquaintance goes on saying.

According to Life.ru’s interlocutor, as a former police officer, in Russia Zhilin managed to acquire ties to the Russian policemen who protected cashiers or were themselves engaged in encashment.

“In the field of encashment, conflicts flare up very quickly and severely. A few months ago, Zhilin had been entrusted with millions of dirty dollars that he had to launder through companies registered in offshore zones, namely in the Bahamas. The money would pass through the company’s fictitious contracts and become clean. But at some point, something went wrong, and the money “stuck”, Zhilin friend explains. “We are in the midst of a crisis. Apparently, Evgeny’s partners urgently demanded to return the money. But Zhilin failed to raise the required amount in time. Maybe they had an appointment. But instead of negotiators, it was the hitman, a former policeman or special forces officer, who came for the meeting.”

The ease with which Zhilin and his bodyguard were eliminated argues in favor of the theory about the killer being a professional soldier or a former law enforcement bodies’ employee.

“Now when was the last time someone was killed in Gorki, let alone in a restaurant? There has been no such an occasion. It is a closed village; there are traffic police posts everywhere, plus a police centre nearby. Interior Ministry officials have arrived very quickly at the scene, but to no avail. All-points bulletin has given nothing,” he says.

The Ukrainian media have put forward the most original yet ridiculous version. Advisor to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine and Verkhovna Rada deputy Anton Gerashchenko said the attack on Evgeny Zhilin could be a “cover operation for a valuable agent of the Russian special services.”

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