Interior Ministry is not going to search for Zhanna Friske’s stolen money
Relatives keep blaming each other for the loss of 21 million rubles collected for the singer’s treatment by Rusfond with the help of Channel One. However, on the eve of Zhanna Friske’s death anniversary, the Interior Ministry officially stated that there were no grounds for a criminal case into the alleged theft of money.
Last summer, the world of Russian pop music and show business in general had to endure a terrible loss – famous singer and actress Zhanna Friske died on June 15, 2015, after a long battle with brain cancer. Following the tragedy, tabloids started printing the details of a fierce fight inside Friske’s family: her husband and her father constantly accused each other of all mortal sins. In short, those were internal squabbles, which were of little interest for anyone apart from the relatives of the deceased. However, a few months later, a darker story came to light, and it bordered with crime.
The bottom line was that while Friske’s disease progressed, Channel One, known for its charitable actions, opened a fundraiser for the singer. On October 19, 2014, Rusfond signed a contract with Zhanna Friske, one of its main points being regulatory reports of all the expenses. Thanks to empathetic Russian viewers, Rusfond managed to gather almost 70 million rubles. Part of this money (approximately 11.7 million) was used to pay for the bills of the US hospital, where the artist received treatment. At Friske’s request, some 33 million were allocated for the treatment of children with cancer. The remaining 25 011 790 rubles were transferred to the singer’s credit card. Zhanna provided receipts for the money spent on medical treatment in the amount of 4 120 959 rubles. The fate of the remaining funds in the amount of 20 890 831 rubles remained unknown.
As stipulated by the above agreement, the relatives of the actress had to account for every ruble from the collected money they had spent. In accordance with the law, six months after the singer's death, Rusfond demanded documents about expenses. However, no report on those 21 million rubles was provided. On January 20, 2016, Rusfond leadership, represented by its president Lev Ambeender, filed a complaint to the Russian Investigative Committee with a request to initiate a criminal investigation into the theft.
There are not so many theories as to who could steal the collected funds. Only a handful of people had access to the money: her husband, a TV host Dmitry Shepelev, the singer's family - father Vladimir Friske and mother Olga Kopylova, and Rusfond.
It would be strange and foolish to assume that the money could be stolen by Rusfond. First, being a large charitable organization, Rusfond would not be risking their reputation for mere 21 million rubles. Especially, when they had such major partners like Channel One. Second, the story of the well-known singer was too big to make money out of it unnoticed, without any consequences. Third, it would be foolish for the fund to initiate an investigation, if it could eventually hit them in the back. All subtle hints in the media about the fund’s involvement in this theft, which appeared here and there at first, proved to be inconsistent. There is no reasoning behind it, and that is why the fund will not be considered a suspect.
It becomes clear that the money were stolen by the people close to the actress. The two warring camps – the husband and the parents - are the most likely suspects. Their endless stream of mutual accusations was joined with allegations of money theft. It is worth noting that the publicly available information allows us to doubt both sides. It is quite possible that all the quarrels in the media are just a gallery play.
Quotes from the singer's father, Vladimir Friske, look particularly controversial. Life brought together a short list of comments by Zhanna Friske’s close relatives about the missing money. With it we can trace the inconsistencies in the stance of Vladimir Friske. First, he categorically denied having any part in disappearance of the money, and promised to sue Rusfond for such claims. He rigidly commentedon the situation.
«Does Rusfond know the outcome of the case, is it already over? Go to hell with your Rusfond! We didn’t even have a trial yet, and they’re writing such nonsense! I have checks for more than 50 million! When there’s need, I’ll show them in court. Our inheritance case is not over yet. Thugs all around in this Rusfond!»
Then, despite Rusfond’s claims about numerous requests to provide the documents for the spending, the singer's father insisted that he had known nothing about the need to report to the fund. Later, he accused Friske’s common-law partner of stealing the money.
Dmitry Shepelev rarely speaks to the media and allows himself only short and reasonable comments.
"I’m grateful to Rusfond for the initiative and I’m glad that finally we move from words to deeds. There can be no discussion that charitable funds, which remained after Zhanna’s treatment, should be returned to the Fund to help save lives. After all, it’s for this reason they were collected in the first place. All the documents and receipts for medical treatment expenses I had were delivered to the Fund in September. All of us are yet to learn the fate of the remaining funds, because the account was entrusted to Zhanna’s parents."
In April this year, Life, which is closely tracking the situation, presented the results of its own investigation. The media outlet found out that all the money were withdrawn from the account two weeks before the singer's death. According to the documents found by the Life journalists, with the help of Moscow notary officer Leonid Stryukov, Zhanna drew up a 3-year warrant on all transactions with these accounts for her mother - 64-year-old Olga Friske.
It turns out that the withdrawal operation could be performed only by Olga Kopylova (Friske). The outlet noted that all the money had been transferred to the accounts of Tusarbank, which was declared bankrupt on November 25, 2015. This means that all the money burned there, and Zhanna's family can count only on the statutory compensation of 1.4 million rubles.
The singer's father commented on the published information, saying that the money taken from the accounts belonged to their family, and that the raised funds were at disposal of the common-law husband. "What kind of warrant was that? The one that daughter gave us in December 2013? But the Rusfond money was transferred a year later. How could these accounts contain Rusfond money? It's obviously a fake! This money was Zhanna’s and her alone. Firstly, we did not receive the money, only Shepelev did, and he concluded a contract with them. He took about 50 million – for a house and something more, I’m not aware of it. I just know that it was from the single account to which he had access," Vladimir Friske said, outraged.
Many public figures spoke about the situation. State Duma member from the Communist Party Vadim Solovyov was one of the first to pay attention to the story of the TV viewers’ missing money.
In November 2015, Vadim Solovyov filed his first request to the fund. The organization responded with information that had already appeared in the media: some of the money went for medical treatment, some of it was transferred for the aid to children with cancer, and the remaining 25 million were received by relatives. In January 2016, the lawmaker once again demanded from the Fund to report on the funds spent, and on January 19, Rusfond itself filed a complaint to the Investigative Committee.
"We are preparing a request to the fund, which raised money for Zhanna Firske’s treatment in the United States. Some 25 million rubles got stuck there. The money was transferred to her relatives after the death of the actress. After this, there is no record of what happened to the money. We’re asking Rusfond to inform us about what that money was used for and whether the relatives submitted a report on the expenses. The whole world gathered this money. It seems there has to be full transparency in this matter. In November, we made a request to the Rusfond, but then the heirs, as they have explained it, had not come into inheritance yet. In December, they did, and they had to report about this money. At the moment, we have no information that they did so," - the lawmaker said.
Vadim Solovyov said that he was able to contact Zhanna’s father. Their conversation confirms that the father accuses Dmitry Shepelev of embezzlement. "I once had a meeting with Zhanna Friske’s father, I asked him about the situation. He told me that Shepelev managed all the cards, to which the money was transferred. And when he demanded a report from him, Shepelev gave him two cards, which contained 30 rubles. According to the father's words, they haven’t received any more money. And if we are to believe the father’s words, it’s Mr. Shepelev, who should report about the expenses," - the lawmaker summarized.
Solovyov believes that it is important to find the collected funds for the sake of trust in the system of charity. "Our people respond to requests for help, and often even sacrifice the things they need themselves. They have to be sure that every penny they donate remains under control of the fund, lawmakers, and law enforcement. If we make a mistake, it can start a domino effect. It may undermine the credibility, and dozens and hundreds of people will suffer from the fact that no one will respond to their request for aid," - the lawmaker noted.
This view is also supported by Solovyov’s colleague, Chairman of the State Duma Committee for Public Associations and Religious Organizations, Yaroslav Nilov (Russian Liberal Democratic Party).
The lawmaker said that because of such scandals the charity's reputation in Russia is endangered. Nilov appealed to Channel One, asking to suspend partnership with Rusfond during the investigation, but Channel One refused to do so and supported their colleagues from the charitable organization. "As for the current situation, we support the fund’s appeal to law enforcement. In 2014, we asked Rusfond as our reliable partner to help in the collection of money for Zhanna Friske’s treatment. We did not and do not doubt transparency and honesty of this charity’s actions," the channel’s press-service stated.
Prominent Russian lawyer Alexander Dobrovinsky also commented on the situation. The lawyer said that he knew who had stolen the collected funds, but declined to name anyone in specific. "The money disappeared through people, who were very close to Zhanna, but I don’t want to intervene in this matter," -Dobrovinsky said. The lawyer also added that the whole story resembles a classic example of fraud and can result in a serious criminal case.
A couple of weeks ago, the story received a new, unexpected development. Ministry of Internal Affairs gave an official response to Rusfond, informing that it did not find any grounds for launching a criminal case into disappearance of the money. It is noteworthy that the Interior Ministry’s requests for investigation were ignored by almost all respondents: bank employees, cancer center, and relatives of the deceased. In response to such disregard of the investigation, the officials shrugged and referred to "the excess of the statutory term," refusing to open a criminal case.
Photo: an official response of the Interior Ministry
Rusfond has already appealed against the decision not to institute criminal proceedings. What is left is only to join the lawmakers in their hope that these dirty stories will not undermine the faith of the Russian people in charity and in the fact that some people are truly willing to selflessly help others. On the other hand, perhaps the Russians should be more selective in this regard.
The prosecutors want the former Russian Federation Council member to go to prison for 14 years instead of 9 and pay a 500-million-ruble ($8.8 million) fine instead of 70 million rubles ($1.2 million).