Mysterious death of 'Russian Elon Musk'. Was Pshenichny doomed?
During the arrest of businessman Valery Pshenichny, the operatives have made it clear that he won’t return home. An economic criminal case reported to the authorities by the businessman has led to his terrible death in the pretrial detention facility under circumstances raising numerous questions. Was he really electrocuted, cut with a knife, raped, his spine fractured, strangled, and killed? The Federal Penitentiary Service denies such allegations and claims that “He has done everything himself”. The CrimeRussia has performed its own inquest into the death of Valery Pshenichny.
Who has stolen 100 millions from the Ministry of Defense?
The scandal around the Pretrial Detention Facility № 4 of St. Petersburg stems from the embezzlement of 100 millions rubles ($1.6 million) from a billion-ruble contract with the Ministry of Defense pertaining to the submarine service. The case directly relates to the implementation of ambitious Project 636 “Varshavyanka” by NovIT PRO company. St. Petersburg-based Admiralty Shipyards is the general contractor for the Ministry of Defense. The contract to create 3D models for submarine repairs was signed in 2015. Only one bidder – NovIT PRO – had participated in the tender.
At that time, Valery Pshenichny officially was the Financial Director of that company. The General Director was Andrei Petrov who became a partner of Pshenichny accidentally. According to the victim’s spouse, a common acquaintances had asked them to help and “find a job for a good man”. Pshenichny owned 75% of shares in NovIT PRO, while Petrov – only 25%.
The initial contract value was 300.6 million rubles ($4.8 million). However, the project was unrivaled throughout the world, and the starting cost turned out to be insufficient. By agreement with Gleb Emel’chenkov, Chief Engineer of Admiralty Shipyards, the contract value has been increased to 967.6 million rubles ($15.5 million). The contract had stipulated that this cost was maximum but it could be reduced.
According to the project, NovIT PRO had to produce detailed 3D models of submarines. The know-how involved remote support for modernization and repairs. The engineers were supposed to get access to real submarine modules via 3D copies. The level of detail of virtual submarine analogues and cost of work were initially unknown because the project was unparalleled. This is why the contract value could not be determined from the very beginning.
Gleb Emel’chenkov with his wife
In the same year of 2015, a domestic conflict has occurred and affected, according to the victim’s relatives, the subsequent events. Gleb Emel’chenkov has divorced his wife who left him for Andrei Petrov. Valery Pshenichny, being a partner and, to a certain degree, mentor of Petrov, had criticized him for breaking a family. The relations between the two men were worsening, and Pshenichny has requested Petrov to step down from the General Director’s position. The issue could not be settled peacefully, and on December 5, 2016, the Arbitration Court of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region has obligated NovIT PRO to hold a special meeting of its shareholders in relation to the early resignation of the General Director and election of a new one.
According to Larisa Fon-Arev, a lawyer of Pshenichny, in fall 2017, at the project completion stage, Valery Pshenichny found out that Andrei Petrov has appropriated a portion of the company’s money. The businessman has addressed the police and submitted a criminal complaint against Petrov.
However, a few months later, Andrei Petrov made a plea deal and was released under a written pledge not to leave the city. And on January 16, 2018, Pshenichny has been arrested and charged under part 4 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (swindling on an especially large scale) based on testimonies of Petrov and Emel’chenkov.
According to lawyer Larisa Fon-Arev, during the arrest of Pshenichny, the operatives have searched his apartment and seized all medical documents. He was not permitted to pack his belongings. The officers said that he won’t need those anymore: “You only need a pit one meter by two”. The wife of Pshenichny intends to use this phrase against the investigators who had instituted a criminal case against the businessman. It has to be clarified whether it was a bravado of the police officers or hint at the predetermined fate of Pshenichny.
Valery Pshenichny with his wife
On the next day, the investigator has filed a motion with the Oktyabrsky District Court of St. Petersburg to remand Pshenichny in custody. The documents pertaining to the health condition of the suspect were purposively concealed. It is known that Valery Pshenichny had suffered a heart attack; he had to take medicines on a daily basis and could not be kept in jail for medical reasons. A day later, the court has committed the businessman to a pretrial detention facility.
The investigation believes that in May 2013, the Ministry of Defense has set the final project cost at 300.6 million rubles ($4.8 million). Allegedly, Pshenichny and Petrov have entered into a criminal conspiracy with Emel’chenkov in order to overcharge the cost of works. In December 2015, a new contract worth 967.6 million rubles ($15.5 million) was signed with NovIT PRO – the investigation considers this cost artificially high and “not justified economically, technologically, etc.”
Varshavyanka diesel-electric attack submarine
In the period from February 10 to September 29, 2016, the suspects have ‘fraudulently’ received an advance payment in the amount of 400 million rubles ($6.4 million). Allegedly Petrov has immediately cashed 100 million rubles ($1.6 million) out of that amount and then delivered the money in two portions to Admiralty Shipyards and handed over to Emel’chenkov.
It is necessary to note that in 2016, the Administration for St. Petersburg of the Federal Antimonopoly Service of the Russian Federation had carried out audits in the framework of the “control over the state defense order” and checked inter alia the contract awarded to NovIT PRO. No unreasonably overcharged prices were identified at that time.
The reasons behind the conclusions made by the investigation remain unknown. The arrest of Pshenichny, who has come to the police himself and reported an embezzlement, looks very strange.
Tortures or suicide?
On February 5, 2018, the body of Valery Pshenichny was found in the cell № 62 of the Pretrial Detention Facility № 4 of St. Petersburg. Pshenichny was confined in a four-men cell for the entire period of his detention, but on that day, we was left alone in it for some time. The prison administration claims that he has committed suicide.
A few months later, Novaya Gazeta newspaper has published results of the forensic medical assessment. Experts state that wounds found on the body of Pshenichny were caused by terrible tortures. He was electrocuted, cut with a knife, raped, his spine fractured, strangled, and killed. But the Federal Penitentiary Service denies such allegations and claims that “He has done everything himself”.
The forensic medical assessment does not specify how has he died. The report just lists the causes of death and identified wounds. The experts consider deep wounds on the neck affecting the trachea and larynx “grievous bodily harm”. Forensic medical examiners consulting Novaya Gazeta agree that after such wounds, even in the absence of other injuries, a person could not stand up and hang himself. But two constriction marks were found on the neck of Pshenichny, including an open-ended one on back of the neck going from the front part of the neck to its back part. The experts believe that the cause of death was “mechanical asphyxia from strangulation of the neck with a noose”.
Bruises and dozens of cuts of various length and depth inflicted both from left to right and from right to left have been found on the temples and face. 13 zones of injurious exposure from a blunt item. Long cuts on both forearms inflicted in one direction. A large number of abrasions, lacerated wounds, and bruises in the mouth: on the lips, tongue, and mucous membranes. Some of those were caused “by one-time injurious exposures from impacts with teeth”. Stains of “crusted brownish substance” on the clothes. Dozens of slash wounds on the chest, back, shoulders, hands, and legs. Numerous “bulbous abrasions” located “in pairs 0.5–1 cm from each other” that could be inflicted by bare wires. The experts concluded that “the electricity has caused numerous (at least 19) electric marks on mucous membranes of the mouth cavity, tongue, and fingers of the right and left palms”.
It is unknown who has inflicted all these injuries to Pshenichny. In order to identify his possible tormentors, DNA specimens were taken from all his cellmates and all the personnel of the pretrial detention facility. The specimens have been compared with the biological material left on the ‘torture instruments’.
In addition, markings of sexual violence were found on the body of Valery Pshenichny.
According to the document, there were 2 three-meter-long electric wires with stripped ends (a black one and a white one) in the camera, metal plates with sharpened edges, a wooden stick with a thickness of 3 cm wrapped with black scotch tape, and a “black synthetic rope” – a lace from a hoodie.
DNA specimens of E.Yu. Zakharochkin (Novaya Gazeta supposes that he is a prison officer) were found only on the white electric wire and stick wrapped with scotch tape. DNA specimens of two males were found on the black wire. They don’t match specimens of any inmates or prison staff.
The seminal fluid found in the rectum and mouth of the victim “belongs to at least two men”. One of them is an unknown person whose DNA, also left on the black wire, can not be identified – i.e. he is neither a cellmate nor prison officer. The second person was Pshenichny himself. It is unknown how the seminal fluid of the victim could get into his mouth and rectum.
The Pretrial Detention Facility Administration provided a sequence of video records from the security camera installed in the cell. It shows the moves of inmates and prison guards. During the day, the businessman had a stroll. Last time he was checked during an inspection at 14:00. It was noted that the businessman did not look depressed. The body of Pshenichny was found at 15:58, when a prison guard has brought his inmate to the cell after questioning. The Federal Penitentiary Service claims that no one had entered or exited the cell of Pshenichny in the period from 14:00 to 15:58.
Experts may put the video record into question because somehow the camera shows not the entire door, but only its upper left corner. Somebody could enter the cell together with Pshenichny on the right side of him. In addition, the record was processed and assembled. For instance, the timer with clock was likely superimposed later. Does that mean that not the full frame of the cell was provided? Was the part of the frame showing the whole door cut off together with the original time code during the assemblage? There is a suspicious moment resembling a ‘cut’ when the prison guard closes the door. Under close examination, a ‘leap’ and some shadow can be seen, and then the correctional officer goes away from the door. The Federal Penitentiary Service does not provide other video records making it possible to determine whether the inmate has indeed entered the cell alone or not.
“Don’t pay nothing to nobody”
According to one of the versions, Pshenichny became a victim of extortionists. People suspected of economic crimes are traditionally ‘milked’ in pretrial detention facilities. It is impossible to prove that this has happened with Pshenichny – but lawyers and public activists are aware of numerous such incidents in Russia. A special person collaborating with the prison administration is put to the cell. Then the victim undergoes psychological brainwashing and is convinced to ‘share’ the stolen millions. Submissive inmates normally agree and start gathering the required ‘levies’ through their relatives. Suspects in economic crimes are often forced to make contributions to the thieves’ pooled cash fund. Valery Pshenichny had never directly mentioned extortion – but in a letter to his wife, he has warned her for some reason: “Don’t pay nothing to nobody. Nothing at all”.
Pshenichny’s note to his wife saying “Don’t pay nothing to nobody”
The rest of the letter is dedicated to his health and general situation. There are no other references to extortion in it.
According to the internal audit performed by the Federal Penitentiary Service, all cellmates of Pshenichny were detained for the first time, charged with economic crimes, and could not put pressure on the victim.
“One of the cellmates was convicted and departed to serve his term 2 days prior to the tragedy. Another suspect kept together with Valery left to the city court. The third one was taken for questioning,” – told Igor Potapenko, Head of the Administration for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region of the Federal Penitentiary Service.
The credibility of the forensic medical assessment is in question yet. It will be double-checked and challenged by experts. There were situations in Russia when experts conclusions had contradicted the basic logic. In the high-profile story of the ‘drunk boy’, the first forensic assessment had stated that 6-year-old Alesha Shimko hit by a car in his yard was heavily intoxicated. Then it became known that the first forensic medical assessment was performed with gross violations...
No repeated expert assessment was performed in the case of Valery Pshenichny yet – but it is already evident that the version provided by the Federal Penitentiary Service drastically contradicts the results of the forensic examination.
According to the Commission against Tortures of the Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg, such a situation is not typical – neither for the pretrial detention facility nor for the Administration for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region of the Federal Penitentiary Service. Violence used there against inmates normally does not leave any traces on their bodies. The supreme command would never permit such a glaring provocation.
The decease certificate of Pshenichny states: “an unspecified cause of death”. Therefore, a criminal case under Article 110 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (incitement to suicide) has been instituted so far. The widow and attorneys are preparing materials to initiate a criminal case for illegal actions of the investigators, including the illegitimate prosecution of Pshenichny and concealment of medical documents related to his heart attack.
In addition, according to The CrimeRussia sources, initially the criminal case pertaining to the embezzlement of 100 millions rubles ($1.6 million) was handled by the Economic Department of the General Administration for Investigations of the General Administration for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation under the command of colonel of justice Natalia Morozova. She was dismissed from the MIA with dishonor in December 2016. Natalia Morozova was well-known not only in the law enforcement structures, but among the St. Petersburg business elite as well. She had wielded such a great power that not only wasn’t she prosecuted – but even permitted to resign voluntarily. Morozova was accused of living beyond income and framing up criminal cases against businessmen in order to put pressure on them. It can’t be ruled out that the case against Pshenichny was initiated with the same purpose. But the victim turned out to be too principled and fearless person.