New victims of the old war. Why murder of lawyer Vaskov is linked with carving-up of jade market?
Buryatia is rumbled by jade wars. The way of doing business with weapons and contract killings, common in the 1990s, is still in use there. One of the last victims of this war is Dmitry Vaskov, a 35-year-old lawyer from Irkutsk and former officer of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation. According to witnesses, on September 27, 2016, when the lawyer’s Mercedes S600 stopped at the gates of a hotel on Tsivileva street in Ulan-Ude, a man with a pistol approached the vehicle and started shooting. One of the bullets hit the heart of Vaskov. The killer managed to escape. Who ordered the murder of the famous lawyer and why?
The name of Vaskov was well-known in the law society. He used to handle most complicated cases: corruption among politicians, bankruptcies of prominent businessmen, etc. Perhaps, Dmitry was so popular because he was a former investigator and an expert in jurisprudence, knew weak spots of his former colleagues, and could deliver desired results to his clients.
Upon reviewing video footage from the security cameras, the operatives have obtained a description of the suspect and model and license plate of the car he used for escape. But there was no need to search for the killer – a few hours later, the shooter came to the police and provided a full confession. The criminal was a 44-year-old Mikhail Stepanov, a well-known person in Buryatia. He used to be the general director of two mining companies specializing in precious and semiprecious stones and mineral resources. Stepanov was also a cofounder of Dylacha Evenki community that used to mine jade in the Kavoktinskoe deposit located in the Bauntovsky district of the Republic of Buryatia for more than 20 years. In 2012, Dylacha was shut down by federal enforcement structures. Non-statute mining and selling of jade were incriminated to the organization. Vaskov was handling this case and had made considerable efforts to provide a legal justification for the closure of Dylacha.
Photo: Mikhail Stepanov was a cofounder of Dylacha Evenki community
At the questioning, the suspect explained that he had killed the lawyer due to financial disputes during the liquidation of Dylacha. According to Stepanov, on that day they had accidentally met on the road. They tried to talk and then the ex-businessman pulled the pistol and started shooting. He hit Vaskov in the hand; the injured lawyer attempted to leave but failed.
However, according to well-informed sources, the version stating that Mikhail Stepanov, the former cofounder of Dylacha, wanted to avenge the closure of his company is inconsistent. It was Stepanov himself who had reported to the Prosecutor’s Office illegitimate activities of the community – which used to gain good profits from the mining of the valuable stone. In other words, Dylacha was liquidated following his initiative. At that time, Stepanov and Vaskov were working together. The lawyer was providing legal support for this case. Ultimately, Dylacha has disappeared from the market and the Russian Jade Company – backed by Rostekhnologii (currently Rostec) state corporation – has replaced it. After the liquidation of Dylacha, Mikhail Stepanov had been working in the Russian Jade Company for some time. Therefore, the version that Stepanov wanted to retaliate Vaskov for the closure of Dylacha is not logical. It is quite possible, however, that Mikhail Stepanov did not receive expected dividends from the elimination of the Evenki community.
Photo: Bullet-ridden car of Dmitry Vaskov
The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) has initiated a criminal case against the ex-businessman who is facing up to 15 years behind bars for the murder. But the investigation considers financial disputes between the killer and the victim only one of the possible versions. It can’t be ruled out that other events could lead to the tragic ending.
In September 2016, SWAT operatives have arrested armed Chinese citizens in Irkutsk. 788 kg of white jade (worth some 50 million rubles), over 2.3 million rubles in cash, watches, radios, handcuffs, weapons, and ammunition have been seized in an illegal hostel on Shevtsova street where they lived. The former ICR investigator Pavlov was arrested on suspicion of complicity in that crime. There are speculations that it was Vaskov who had notified the police about the jade in the hostel.
Another version states that this was a revenge of the Metsenatovskie organized crime group. For a long time, Vaskov had acted as a defense attorney for members of the gang that specialized in extortion, thefts, robberies, and swindling. According to some sources, the lawyer had cheated the thugs for a large sum of money.
According to the fourth version, the murder was a result of competition in a new business launched by Vaskov. Based on the Consolidated State Register of Legal Entities, in 2015, the former investigator and lawyer decided to expand his sphere of interests. Dmitry Vaskov has founded Triss Limited Liability Company specializing in property management. In the beginning of 2016, he has established, jointly with some Denis Stupakov, Tsintra Limited Liability Company whose statutory activities include “functions of institutions of culture and arts”.
The investigators, however, are more and more inclined that the jade trace exists in this criminal case. A well-informed CrimeRussia source had also stated earlier that it is necessary to look for the jade trace: the victim was specializing in crimes related to the jade industry; after the resignation from the ICR, his activities were linked with the Russian Jade Company.
Jade is a monomineral aggregate. It is very difficult to break it into pieces; jade is comparable with steel by its hardness. Jade may have various colors – from almost white, through all tones of green (yellowish, grassy, emerald, mossy) to almost black. Jade is used as an ornamental stone and unique jewelry material. At some periods, jade was more valuable in China than gold and silver; it is believed to bring good luck.
According to the official data, 150–200 tons of jade can be mined annually in Buryatia. This is the largest share of the world jade industry because over 90% of known jade deposits are located in this republic. The list of deposits proposed for licensing by the geological services a few years ago includes:
1. Bortogolskoe jade show located in the southeastern part of the Eastern Sayan Mountains, in the Okinsky district. The forecast resources are 21.2 tons of graded jade.
2. Perspective area of the ore field of the Ospinskoe deposit (flanks of the ore body) in the Okinsky district. The forecast resources are 50 tons of graded jade.
3. Alluvial deposits and reservoirs on the Tsipa River and its tributaries in the Bauntovsky district. The perspective area is 4.5 square kilometers. The forecast resources are 50 tons.
4. The Aktragda-Amalatskaya area in the Bauntovsky district. The perspective area is 4 square kilometers. The forecast resources are 50 tons.
5. Jade alluvial deposits and reservoirs on the Bambuika River and its tributaries in the Muisky district. The forecast resources are at least 50 tons. The length of the valleys is 70 kilometers; their average width is 50 meters.
This list does not include the Kavoktinskoe jade deposit and reservoirs in the Zakamensky and Tunkinsky districts.
The world jade market is dominated by stones from Canada, Australia, and Taiwan. The value of those materials is 10–100 times lower than the value of the Buryat jade. Chinese jade merchants are willing to pay $500 for a kilogram of the green stone and up to $15,000 for a kilogram of the especially valuable white jade – but these monies go to illegal suppliers. Jade is being illegally mined in nine unallocated deposits – out of the seventeen known ones. The stones mined in deposits controlled by the criminal world are shipped to China with fake documents showing artificially low value. The scheme is running so smoothly that no questions are asked when the jade crosses the border. Official prices on the Buryat jade are undercut drastically: its export price is $15 for a kilogram. At a conservative estimate, this pricing policy results in tax losses over 400 million rubles for the republic.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office in the Republic of Buryatia, the real jade extraction volume is 500–700 tons – i.e. 2.5 times higher than the official production. This is a business with annual turnover of several billion rubles – and these huge monies flow beside the federal and regional budgets. Since the beginning of the 1990s and until now, the jade business in Russia have been under control of a criminal conglomerate involving crowned thieves, officials, politicians, and enforcement officers of all levels. Some people gain dozens billions of rubles per season from the most profitable industry of the republic. Both legal and illegal producers focus their main efforts on mining near the key deposits. The mining is organized at an industrial scale, including use of explosives, heavy machinery and special mining equipment.
According to the Russian legislation, jade is neither a precious, nor semiprecious stone. Its mining requires a very basic license, similar to a gravel mining permit. There were repeated attempts to designate jade a precious stone whose mining requires a strict state control. For example, in April 2014, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation had developed a special bill for this. But it still has not been enacted – which means that certain groups are interested to maintain the current status quo in the jade industry. And this business still remains shady.
Who is behind this business, and who unleashed jade wars in the region?
Jade producers can be divided into two categories – a dozen of legal companies operating under a protection racket by criminal authorities and law enforcement structures; and crews of black diggers operating by the code of criminals and laws of the jungle. Mining groups consisting of several dozens of people go to taiga for six months or even for a year. All these people have extensive – often prison or military – experience. Most black diggers operate in the Okinsky and Tunkinsky districts where the power of central authorities is weak. This is a territory of total criminal lawlessness – conflicts between illegal mining groups and thugs often result in shootings with fatalities.
Initially the jade business was distributed between criminal groups and some commercial structures. From the criminal side, the industry was supervised by such authorities as Aslan Usoyan (Ded Hasan) and Ilshat Ivanov (Sadyk), a henchman of Georgy Uglava (Takhi) and Vladimir Vlasko (Khokhol). The gang of Sadyk was considered the most influential one. Bloody skirmishes between people of Sadyk and his competitors had been rumbling the region for several years. Their victims were both unknown jade miners whose bodies buried in the taiga still remain undiscovered and famous criminal lords. In September 2012, some gang members, including Ilshat Ivanov (Sadyk), have been caught. Then a wave of high-profile arrests in the framework of this case has swept the republican capital; the list of detained suspects included Tushin Dorzhiev, son of Tsyren Dorzhiev, the prominent Deputy of the People’s Khural and then-Speaker of the Republican Parliament; and Barsan Donakanyan, son of Grigory Donakanyan, a local construction mogul.
Photo: Georgy Uglava contributed a lot to the transformation of the jade business into a totally criminal industry
The public turmoil around the Buryat jade has started in 2012 – the elimination of such a major player as Dylacha from the market had shaken the status quo. The deposits were temporarily left without the owner. Black diggers used this opportunity and invaded the orphaned deposits. After the death of Timur Sverdlovsky (Mirzoev), an associate to famous Ded Hasan and, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation (MIA), supervisor of illegal businesses related to mining operations, including jade mining, open criminal skirmishes for the jade market have started. Almost simultaneously, the MIA in the Republic of Buryatia has arrested a group running illegal jade mining. According to the investigation, during the year of 2012, a group consisting of two crews had been mining the semiprecious stone in the Kavoktinskoe deposit in the Bauntovsky district of Buryatia. The operatives have arrested the group during the transportation of production and seized 1.5 ton of jade. 3.5 tons of jade have been found on a leased base. The detainees confessed that their intention was to sell the stone to China. A criminal case has been initiated due to the theft of 4 tons of jade, which resulted in damages over 1 million rubles to the state budget.
In the end of 2012, the Prosecutor’s Office in the Republic of Buryatia has initiated a criminal case against Dylacha family–tribal community (the largest legal miner procuring white jade in the Kavoktinskoe deposit in the Bauntovsky district of Buryatia since 1997) for theft of 20 tons of jade and filed a lawsuit to shut down its operations. Later 1.5 thousand tons of jade worth over 3 billion rubles have been found in the storage of the community. Shortly after that, in January 2013, the Prosecutor’s Office announced that the Federal Subsoil Resources Management Agency of the Russian Federation (Rosnedra) had committed violations in 2011, during nine auctions for development of jade deposits in the Bauntovsky district of Buryatia. In all the auctions, interests of a company affiliated with Dylacha community had been lobbied. Then Rosnedra officials have lost documents of the bidders, and the MIA performed searches in the central office of the Rosnedra and initiated a criminal case due to the theft of documents. By the way, Andrei Turakin, head of an Evenki clan, the co-owner of Dylacha, and the ex-Mayor of the Bauntovsky district, decided not to wait for the end of this story and moved to China where, according to some sources, he is currently living with his family.
It is necessary to note that the Government of Buryatia had made attempts to decriminalize the jade business a few years before the elimination of Dylacha. At that time, it was announced that a joint state–private enterprise “Subsoil Resources Management of the Republic of Buryatia” has been established, jade processing workshops are to be created, and the Buryat Customs would get an exclusive right of jade declaration. It was planned to explore markets for jade production. However, the jade processing workshop promised back in 2010 had never been created.
In 2011, the Russian Jade Company Limited Liability Company has joined the struggle for the jade market. The company was registered in Ulan-Ude, but, in fact, represented interests of major federal players: Sibisrky Cement and Rostekhnologii (currently Rostech) state corporation. Sergey Chemezov, the Head of Rostekhnologii, has submitted a letter to President Putin asking to assist in the decriminalization of the jade industry. This resulted in arrests in the criminal society of Buryatia and liquidation of Dylacha. In 2013, the Trans-Baikal Mining Enterprise has replaced the Russian Jade Company; according to some source, it was affiliated with structures close to Rostech. Upon receiving rights to mine jade from key deposits, the Trans-Baikal Mining Enterprise Limited Liability Company representing the Moscow interests has absorbed the major and most liquid part of the Buryat jade market.
Photo: Aleksander Zaichenko, ex-Head of the MIA for the Republic of Buryatia
In addition to Moscow and local structures, some other players have been actively operating on the Buryat jade market in the recent years – representatives of Irkutsk-based legal businesses and criminal groups. The jade industry is of interest for many people in Irkutsk – from crowned thieves to Deputies of the Legislative Assembly and functionaries of the Regional Administration. The point at issue is the Okinskoe deposit. Geographically, the Okinsky district is closer to Irkutsk than to Ulan-Ude. Geological institutes that had originally started the survey of jade deposits back in the 1970s and in the 1990s have launched business operations are also located in Irkutsk. The notorious Irkutsk-based Baikalkvartssamotsvety company was involved into several bloody episodes in the war for the jade market, including a firefight between company’s security guards and black diggers resulting in two deaths. By the way, this episode has led to the dismissal of Aleksander Zaichenko, Head of the MIA for the Republic of Buryatia. According to some sources, the republican SWAT was supporting the local people in the conflict for the Okinskoe deposit. After the incident, anti-smuggling control in the Okinsky and Tunkinsky districts has been tightened. Now it is virtually impossible to transport Okinsky jade without proper documentation – which is not acceptable for the criminal society, first of all – for the Irkutsk gangs, who lose much more than locals due to this.
It is necessary to add that murdered Vaskov was a son of the former Head of the Irkutsk Tax Inspection and member of the Chamber of Lawyers in the Irkutsk Region. It is also known that he used to work for a prominent Irkutsk businessman Dmitriev.
Vova Khokhol killed in 2010 also used to work for him. He was shot dead on the same Tsivileva street in Ulan-Ude.
Therefore, it would be premature to draw the line under the jade wars in Buryatia.
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