Legacy of Toliban. Son of ex-Vice Premier of Altai Republic builds a tourism cluster on the place of his father’s death
Oligarch and politician Anatoly Bannykh, also know as Toliban, was well-known in the Altai Republic as an organizer of poaching trips for VIP clients who has miraculously survived several flight accidents. However, on February 12, 2017, a Robinson helicopter with Bannykh onboard has crashed in Lake Teletskoe, and after three months of fruitless searches, the former Vice Premier of the Altai Republic and four other people were officially declared dead. The CrimeRussia has found out though that despite the death of Toliban, his business empire is still thriving.
In December 2017, it became known that Zolotoe Ozero (Golden Lake) all-season alpine climate cluster is to be established in the Turochak municipal district of the Altai Republic. In order to create tourism infrastructure, 17 ha of forest lands near Lake Teletskoe have been re-zoned into lands of strictly protected natural areas by a decree of the Russian Government signed by Dmitry Medvedev on December 11.
There is nothing unusual in the creation of a tourism cluster in the Altai Republic – tourism is one of the main spheres of the regional economy and important source of income. Over 1.5 million tourists visit the Altai Republic every year. Its unique landscapes and rich flora and fauna attract mountain climbers, speleologists, game fishermen, hunters, horse riders, and hikers. But there is an important nuance in this project.
The anchor investor of the tourism cluster on Lake Teletskoe is Barnaul Grid Distribution Company (BGDC) Limited Liability Company supplying electricity to the capital of the Altai krai and its suburbs. The creator and main shareholder of BGDC was famous Altai businessman Anatoly Bannykh, former Vice Premier of the Altai Republic, killed a year ago in a crash of a Robinson R66 helicopter over Lake Teletskoe.
Renowned regional politician and businessman Anatoly Bannykh (Toliban), Vice Premier of the Altai Republic in 2008–2009, was nicknamed ‘the Grey Eminence’ of Altai in certain circles. Bannykh was the founder, owner, and cofounder of dozens of companies in the Altai krai and Altai Republic; in the period of his official departure from business to the politics, Toliban has transferred these companies to his family members and business partners. Anatoly Bannykh was involved into a high-profile poaching scandal dubbed “Altaigate”. In order to lobby the interests of the regional political and business elite in Moscow, Bannykh had for many years organized VIP hunting trips for high-ranked Moscow functionaries. These trips normally were illegal – animals were shot from helicopters belonging to local air carriers controlled by Toliban and in protected areas where any hunt is prohibited. The Moscow officials had often killed Red Data Book animals.
According to SPARK-Interfax, in late October 2017, shortly before the governmental decree allocating the forest lands to BGDC for construction of an alpine climate cluster, the list of founders of the company established by Anatoly Bannykh has undergone significant changes.
Maksim Bannykh, son of the ex-Vice Premier, and former partners of his father in Sibma Financial and Industrial Group Andrei Golyashkin, Oleg Korshunov, and Andrei Kozlov became the new co-owners of Barnaul Grid Distribution Company. According to the Consolidated State Register of Legal Entities, the son of Bannykh, Golyashkin, and Kozlov now own 19.51% of BGDC shares each, while Andrei Kozlov owns 17.07% of its shares.
Anatoly Bannykh with son
Sergei Rozbakh, half-brother of Anatoly Bannykh, and his business partner Sergei Portnyagin, who used to own BGDC in equal shares, still remain its co-owners, but their portfolios have been reduced to 12.2%.
Concurrently with the changes in its ownership structure, Barnaul Grid Distribution Company Limited Liability Company has increased its charter capital by four times – to 4.1 million rubles ($72.3 thousand). After the publication of the December decree allocating a section of the Lake Teletskoe shore for the tourism complex construction, Altai Village – a subsidiary company of BGDC specializing in hotel business – has increased it charter capital by thousand times – according to the Consolidated State Register of Legal Entities, on December 22, the charter capital of Altai Village Limited Liability Company has increased from 1 million rubles ($17.6 thousand) to 1.058 billion rubles ($18.6 million).
The company belonging to the above-listed BGDC shareholders in the same shares manages a hotel of the same name located on Samysh cordon on the Lake Teletskoe shore. From there, Anatoly Bannykh and four his companions have taken off on their last journey on February 12, 2017 onboard a helicopter belonging to Altai Avia flying club (currently undergoing liquidation) affiliated with a helicopter company of the same name currently belonging to the son of Bannykh and other BGDC shareholders.
Crash of Robinson
Several guests of Altai Village tourism base and its unofficial owner Anatoly Bannykh have taken off from Samysh cordon on the morning of February 12 heading towards the Republic of Khakassia.
In addition to Bannykh, the following passengers were onboard the Robinson 66 helicopter with aircraft number RA06375: Maria Kozintseva, Deputy General Director of Heliport Moscow and owner of two air carriage companies (Aviaservice Ltd. Limited Liability Company and Mikron Limited Liability Company), and famous BASE jumper Gleb Voevodin, champion of Russia in freeflying. The pilot was experienced helicopter aviator Dmitry Rakitsky, cofounder and chief pilot of Aviamarket (Heliport Istra), the Russian Robinson dealer; he had tested the Robinson 66 helicopter on the North Pole and made a journey round the world on it. His wife Elena Rakitskaya, Director of Kozintseva’s Mikron company, had accompanied him. All the missing persons officially declared dead in May 2017 were linked by the helicopter business. According to The CrimeRussia source, Toliban has organized this flight to discuss with Maria Kozintseva joint business perspectives in the Altai krai.
It is known that there was a bad weather in the evening and the helicopter has landed on Cape Kokshi. According to witnesses familiar with the local weather conditions, Anatoly Bannykh had strictly opposed the further flight. The former Vice Premier had suggested to stay overnight in Kokshi, but one of the passengers (supposedly, Maria Kozintseva) was unhappy with the lodging conditions and insisted to continue the flight. Ultimately, pilot Dmitry Rakitsky, a business partner of Kozintseva, and his spouse unwilling to argue with the employer have supported her.
According to witnesses – personnel of Altaiskiy State Nature Biosphere Reserve – the helicopter fell into the lake approximately 1 km from the shore just 5 minutes after the take-off. The witnesses heard a clapping sound, and the helicopter floodlight went out.
The last selfie of Gleb Voevodin over Lake Teletskoe on February 11, 2017, a day before the catastrophe
A large-scale search and rescue operation has been launched on the next day, but heavy fog and snowstorm had constrained it. In total, 250 people and 40 vehicles were involved into the searches, including 4 helicopters, an aircushion vessel, and Falcon remotely piloted deep submergence craft delivered from Irkutsk. On the evening of February 13, the body of a female passenger was found 2 km from the crash site. Later she was identified as Elena Rakitskaya, wife of the pilot.
Search and rescue operation, Infographic Kp.ru
A few days later, some parts of the helicopter were found; on February 26, the searches have been suspended due to the storm season and danger to the rescuers. The bodies of other passengers and the pilot were never found.
Fragment of the helicopter
Due to its huge depth (325 m), Lake Teletskoe is one of the largest freshwater reservoirs in Russia, next to Lake Baikal. The lake is located in the northeastern part of the Altai Mountains, in the Turochak and Ulagan districts of the Altai Republic. The eastern section of its water area is a part of Altaiskiy State Nature Biosphere Reserve, while the western section is used for recreation. Lake Teletskoe is a part of Golden Mountains of Altai UNESCO World Heritage Site. The lake is full of mystery. According to a legend, it conceals so-called Gates to Shambhala – a mythical country referred to as Belovodie (White Waters) in Russian tales. Sharp elevation changes discovered on the bottom of the lake make it possible to suppose that these are remains of an ancient town. Researchers from the team of Jacques-Yves Cousteau had descended twice to the bottom of Lake Teletskoe and found a stone chamber where their blood capillaries burst and equipment malfunctioned due to a difference in pressure. In addition, in a place where several undercurrents run into one another and the temperature is very low, they saw many floating, almost intact, human and animal corpses. According to the researchers, the drowned people were dressed in clothes of various epochs.
The investigation of the criminal case instituted under part 3 of Article 263 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Violation of the Rules for Traffic Safety and Operation of Air Transportation Systems entailing by negligence the death of two or more persons) was constrained by complications. The investigators had explored three possible versions of the catastrophe: a pilot's error, technical fault, and severe weather conditions. However, according to a number of Altai media outlets, the helicopter was unfaulty and fell due to a collision with a snow shower (a sudden sharp precipitation event combined with squally winds). In addition, Vladimir Krever, Head of the WWF-Russia Biodiversity Program, has noted that the helicopter was flying over Altaiskiy State Nature Biosphere Reserve where any flights are prohibited. In March, the Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsiya) has published information about possible causes of the crash and noted that the helicopter had no pontoons mandatory for aircraft flying over water areas. In May, the passengers and pilot have been officially declared dead, and in July Rosaviatsiya, the republican government, and Ministry of the Russian Federation for Civil Defense, Emergencies and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disasters (EMERCOM) decided not to resume the searches due to their non-expediency.
Flying on a stool
The crash of a Robinson R66 over Lake Teletskoe could pass almost unnoticed by the media (unfortunately, helicopters fall pretty frequently in Russia) – but it has hit the headlines due to the notoriety of Anatoly Bannykh. Many people considered his death in a flight accident a manifest of destiny.
In the 1990s, Bannykh made a fortune on privatization of Altai enterprises. He was nicknamed Toliban in the same period. The media mogul and owner of dozens of companies was known in the Altai krai as a votary of hunting and fan of helicopters.
Bannykh has purchased his first helicopter almost 20 years ago, he knew how to pilot an aircraft and had a pilot’s license.
“Flying a helicopter is totally different from what we experience in an airplane – this is an authentic feeling of a free flight on a stool. In addition, helicopters are more maneuverable; this allows to flight in extreme locations and see the undisturbed nature. Some views are truly miraculous. I was really impressed by a birds eye view of 200 ibexes roaming in the mountains,” – Bannykh told in an interview.
Bannykh was an enthusiast of helicopter flights in the Altai Mountains. Aerotaxi company belonging to his Sibma Financial and Industrial Group had offered tourists helicopter trips over the Siberian wilderness. In that period, Bannykh, being a votary of hunting, became an organizer of helicopter hunting trips for high-ranked Moscow functionaries; connections with them had guaranteed him powerful administrative support and allowed to lobby interests of regional officials at the federal level. According to Sergei Mikhailov, Editor-in-Chief of Altai-based Listok (Leaflet) newspaper, Bannykh was the personal ‘fixer of Moscow issues’ for Aleksander Berdnikov, former general of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) and then-Head of the Altai Krai.
The fatal crash over Lake Teletskoe was not the first flying accident for Toliban. Reportedly, there were at least four such accidents. In 2004, his Robinson R66 made a forced landing in mountains when Bannykh was giving a ride to TV anchor Dmitry Dibrov. Later Dibrov had vehemently denied not only that fact but even his personal knowledge of Toliban. According to sources in the law enforcement authorities, in 2007, Bannykh had another accident together with Barnaul Mayor Vladimir Kalganov – but fortunately, without fatalities. However, two years later, a tragic catastrophe has occurred and put an end to the political career of Anatoly Bannykh.
On January 9, 2009, a Mi-171 helicopter belonging to Gazpromavia air carrier has crashed into a slope of the Chernaya (Black) Mountain. 7 people, out of the 11 being onboard, were killed; the remaining 4 were injured. Later it became known that Anatoly Bannykh, Vice Premier of the Altai Republic, was among the survivors, while Aleksander Kosopkin, Presidential Envoy to the State Duma, was among the dead.
In addition to Kosopkin, the following people were killed in the helicopter crash: Sergei Livishin, an administrative officer of the State Duma; Viktor Kaimin, Chairman of the Committee for Protection, Use, and Reproduction of the Animal World of the Altai Republic; Vasily Vyalkov, leader of Yarmanka band; Vladimir Pidoprigora, Commander of the Gorno-Altaisk Aircraft Division; and two crew members – aircraft captain Aleksei Bayandin and mechanic Aleksander Vertei.
Due to severe weather conditions, the rescuers have found the survivors, dead bodies, and helicopter wreckage only on the third day. It is necessary to note that the survivors had an operational radio beacon, satellite phone, and signal rockets – but they did not use those. When the rescuers arrived to the crash site, friends of Bannykh, including his half-brother Sergei Rozbakh, were already there. It turned out that the helicopter has crashed during a poaching shooting of Red Data Book argali sheep while flying at an unacceptably low altitude. Two argali carcasses have been found near the helicopter wreckage.
A high-profile scandal has erupted; a criminal case was instituted under Article 258 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Illegal Hunting). Later Bannykh claimed that the Presidential Envoy was the initiator of that hunt and the only persons shooting the sheep were Moscow functionaries Kosopkin and Livishin killed in the crash – while the other people onboard allegedly hadn’t participated in the poaching rampage.
The Kosh-Agach Court had examined the criminal case against the three survivors a year after the catastrophe; it hasn’t found sufficient evidence of their guilt and acquitted the defendants. The Supreme Court of the Altai Republic has annulled the acquittal verdict and returned the case for a new trial by a new panel of judges. However, on December 16, 2011, the criminal proceedings against the defendants have been dismissed due to expiration of the limitation period, and the case was closed.
Amid the high-profile scandal, Vice Premier Anatoly Bannykh had to resign – but this has hardly affected his reputation. Furthermore, helicopter poaching trips for VIP clients had continued on even a larger scale. Guests of Bannykh were flying with him over Altai strict nature reserves and game reserves and shot ibexes, argali, and red deer with automatic weapons. In May 2012, the Prosecutor’s Office had checked the ex-official in relation to a shooting of animals from helicopter in Kislukhinsky Game Reserve; his helicopters were repeatedly spotted above Shavlinsky Game Reserve and Saylyugemsky National Park whose Director is Sergei Pishchulin, a former business partner of Toliban.
According to a well-aware source in the business circles of the Altai krai, helicopter poaching trips would likely continue even after the death of Bannykh.
The inheritance of main assets of Anatoly Bannykh by his son and incorporation of Zolotoe Ozero cluster and its core – Altai Village tourism base – into the Socio-Economic Development Strategy of the Altai Republic as an anchor investment project until 2028 would not only legalize unauthorized structures built by Bannykh but also provide a number of benefits for his business empire, including budget funding. The increase of charter capitals of Barnaul Grid Distribution Company and Altai Village should raise the confidence of credit institutions and potential partners. The light aviation fleet and powerful administrative resource gained by his father would definitely be useful for Maksim Bannykh as well.