‘Cover’ leaked? Why leaders of Taganskie gang have been arrested only now? 

‘Cover’ leaked? Why leaders of Taganskie gang have been arrested only now?
Why leaders of Taganskie organized criminal group have been detained just now? Photo: The CrimeRussia

On January 23, 2019, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow has remanded in custody leaders of Taganskie organized criminal group – Igor Zhirnokleev (Zhirny (Fat)) and Grigory Rabinovich (Grisha Tagansky) – charged with masterminding a contract killing committed 11 years ago. However, the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation suspects them of, at least, 15 more murders. The evidence against Zhirny and Grisha Tagansky, including testimonies of detained gang members and wiretapping materials, was provided to the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation by the Spanish law enforcement authorities back in 2016 – after Operation Dirieba. The Spanish media knew their names even before that special operation. The CrimeRussia was figuring out while the leaders of Taganskie gang have been detained only now.

‘Secret’ known to everybody

‘Authoritative’ businessmen Igor Zhirnokleev and Grigory Rabinovich are well-known as leaders of one of the largest and most powerful gangs of the 1990s – Taganskie organized criminal group. Both of them were suspected in the past of complicity in high-profile murders of businessmen and thieves-in-law having conflicts with the gang, raiding takeovers, and other crimes.

However, the notorious reputation hadn’t prevented them from living at liberty and running legitimate businesses. According to the Consolidated State Register of Legal Entities, Zhirnokleev is currently the founder of 14 commercial structures and the General Director of one more company. Rabinovich was the General Director and founder of a dozen other legal entities affiliated with Taganskie gang.

Our
notes

The existence of Taganskie organized criminal group has been recognized internationally by law enforcement authorities and secret services of various states (Europol, FBI, etc.). The gang was created in the late 1980s – early 1990s in Moscow. At the peak of its strength, the criminal group included some 100 people. According to operative information, unlike the majority of gangs operating in the ‘turbulent 1990s' and involving mostly former athletes and military men, Taganskie organized criminal group had consisted 80% of criminals having one or more convictions. In that period, the gang leader was criminal ‘authority' Viktor Koledov (Guba). The criminal group was ‘supervised' in various years by representatives of the thieves' world – crowned thieves Aleksei Petrov and Andrei Isaev (Rospis'). In the mid-2000s, Zhirnokleev, who wielded authority in the thieves' circles, and his closest associate Rabinovich have gradually taken charge of the gang and started legalizing its criminal businesses.

For almost 10 years, experts had predicted the inevitable arrest of the leaders of Taganskie organized criminal group – Zhirnokleev and Rabinovich; it seemed imminent at least three times.  

Echo of Moskva

The rumors started actively circulating for the first time during a lengthy raiding war waged by Taganskie gang for Moskva (Moscow) Superstore (together with the Central Universal Department Store (TsUM) and State Department Store (GUM), it was one of the largest retail outlets in Russia in that period) and after the murder of Andrei Bralyuk, Head of the Legal Department of Moskva Superstore.

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Moskva Superstore

In 2005, GIGroup belonging to Grigory Rabinovich has acquired 80% of superstore’s shares. It was the investor of its reconstruction, while Grigory Rabinovich, Igor Zhirnokleev, and Vladimir Grekov have joined the Board of Directors of Moskva and started struggling with General Director Dmitry Ul’yanitsky for control over the supermarket.  

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Grigory Rabinovich, Igor Zhirnokleev, and Vladimir Grekov

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Dmitry Ul’yanitsky, General Director of Moskva Superstore

In 2007, Ul’yanitsky told in an interview to Novaya Gazeta newspaper the company of Rabinovich was unable to provide funds for the reconstruction when needed. The General Director, who had owned 10% of the store’s shares, has bought out the additional share issue, thus, gaining control over 95% of the shares, and became the primary stakeholder of Moskva. Members of Taganskie gang had seized the superstore several times; one of the takeovers involved law enforcement operatives because a criminal case was instituted against Ul’yanitsky following a criminal complaint filed by Rabinovich.

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Grigory Rabinovich (Grisha Tagansky)

Skilled lawyer Andrei Bralyuk has won several lawsuits against enterprises controlled by Taganskie gang and was an eyesore for the bros. On the day of his murder, Bralyuk has won an arbitration litigation with Zhirnokleev, Rabinovich, and Grekov – and Grekov had threatened him in the courtroom in front of numerous witnesses. 

The murder of Bralyuk was nearly solved. There were witnesses’ statements confirming that he was killed as per order of Zhirnokleev and Rabinovich. Superstore employees supporting the new shareholders had staged pickets and demanded to arrest Zhirnokleev and other members of Taganskie gang. But over time, the dust has miraculously settled, while the enterprise went bankrupt soon. 

Spanish ‘investments’ 

In 2016, the Prosecutor’s Office of Spain has provided to the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation materials of its inquest resulting in high-profile Operation Dirieba, arrests of several gang members in Spain, and trial of Aleksander Romanov – the emissary of Taganskie organized criminal group in Spain. Both Russian and Spanish media had broadly discussed crimes committed by the gang leaders. 

The CrimeRussia wrote in 2015 that Romanov, a prominent businessman and top manager of a number of major Russian companies (Gloria Bank, Rosneft) in the 1990s, had held the third position in the hierarchy of Taganskie gang – immediately after Zhirnokleev and Rabinovich. 

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Aleksander Romanov

After the raiding takeover of Kristall Distillery by a private security company controlled by Taganskie organized criminal group, Romanov became its General Director. However, in 2000, he was convicted to 3.5 years behind bars for financial machinations. After being released on parole, Romanov has relocated to Spain together with his wife. According to the Prosecutor’s Office of Spain, he started laundering there large amounts of money belonging to Taganskie gang. In total, Romanov was charged with laundering €14 million through the acquisition of tourist facilities and Mar I Pins Hotel in Mallorca worth €12 million. Initially, the prosecution had demanded to sentence him to 17 years behind bars and fine €40.1 million – but after making a plea deal, Romanov was sentenced to 3 years and 9 months in jail – and he has already served this term. However, he had to part with the hotel in Mallorca.

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Arrest of Romanov in Spain

The testimonies of Romanov and other persons arrested in 2013 on suspicion of ties with Taganskie organized criminal group and wiretapping materials became the basis for the ‘Spanish Dossier’. It went public – many of its documents were published by Western and Russian media – and then was officially provided to the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation. The dossier contains comprehensive information supported by evidence about the involvement of Taganskie gang in dozens of crimes, including grievous ones, committed in Russia – from raiding takeovers to contract killings. In addition, in the course of the searches of Romanov’s luxury mansion worth €3 million, the operatives have found, in addition to a collection of expensive paintings and articles of luxury, letters proving his ties with Taganskie organized criminal group and exposing the ‘patronage’ provided to the ‘Spanish laundromat’ by famous Russian Senator Aleksander Torshin, then-Deputy Chairman of the Council of the Federation. ABC newspaper wrote in 2014 that Romanov calls Torshin ‘padrino’ (godfather) in their correspondence.

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The documents were seized from this mansion

Godfather 

The Spanish investigators have interpreted this as a direct reference to the hierarchic ties between suspect Romanov and the Russian politician – but Romanov and later Torshin explained to them that the Senator indeed is the godfather of the son of Romanov and his wife Natalia Vinogradova. Vinogradova had worked in the Council of the Federation for a long time and was familiar with Torshin. Still, other documents found in Romanov's mansion indicate that this title was used not only in its direct sense – but also in the ‘mafia' context.

Our
notes

Aleksander Porfir'evich Torshin is a Russian politician, former member of the Council of the Federation from the Mari El Republic (2001–2015), and former First Deputy Chairman of the Council of the Federation. Since January 21, 2015 and until December 2018, was the Deputy Chairman and State Secretary of the Bank of Russia. Resigned a month after his 65th birthday. A member of the Supervisory Board of the Practical Shooting Federation of Russia. A life member of the National Rifle Association of America. Since 2016, was mentioned by some Western media in relation to the laundering of criminal proceeds of Taganskie organized criminal group in Spain. On April 6, 2018, has been included by the US authorities into the ‘Kremlin sanction list' along with 17 other Russian officials and 7 businessmen. In July 2018, the name of Torshin was mentioned again in relation to a spying scandal: Maria Butina has been detained in the USA and charged with conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent of the Russian state. Up until 2016, Butina had worked as the Special Aide to Aleksander Torshin, First Deputy Chairman of the Council of the Federation.
 

In the course of the searches of the chalet belonging to Romanov, operatives of the Civil Guard of Spain have found two letters indicating, according to the Spanish investigators, the ties between the Senator and Taganskie organized criminal group. In the first letter dated 2009, the head of Afganets (Afghan) Private Security Company controlled by Zhirnokleev and Rabinovich via affiliated legal entities (his name is not provided, but it is known that this person is Temurlang Batridinov, a member of Taganskie gang) asks Senator Torshin to interfere and protect from “armed people” sent by the previous owner of Moskva Superstore. The second letter, printed on the official letterhead of the Prosecutor General’s Office and stamped, is also addressed to Torshin. According to ABC newspaper, this is an official response of Viktor Grin, Deputy Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, to the Senator. Grin assures Torshin that “the required measures to protect the superstore from raiders have been taken as per your request”. In addition, the Spanish gendarmes concluded on the basis of the wiretapping materials that Romanov had performed financial operations as per instructions from Senator Torshin.

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Aleksander Torshin

The Russian law enforcement authorities hadn't commented on this information at that time. However, in August 2016, after the publication of excerpts from the secret report of the Civil Guard of Spain exposing the ties between Romanov detained in the framework of the case against Taganskie gang and Torshin by Bloomberg, the former Senator employed in that period with the Bank of Russia has broken the silence. 

He told of the air of Govorit Moskva (Moscow Speaks) Radio Station that there is nothing for him to comment: “there is a sentence imposed on businessman Romanov – but not a single word about the organized criminal group or about me; no one had seen this report... Why haven’t they laid any charges?” Later, an anonymous high-ranked Spanish official explained Bloomberg that no official charges were laid against Torshin because Russia does not collaborate in inquests affecting its top-rank civil servants.

Однако позже выяснилось, что задержание бывшHowever, later it became known that the Spanish law enforcement authorities had intended to detain the former Senator during his planned visit to Spain – Torshin was going to attend a birthday party of Aleksander Romanov held shortly before his arrest. However, the politician suddenly changed his plans and cancelled the trip to Spain.

According to El Pais newspaper, 12 police officers were waiting for the Senator in the airport – but he did not arrive. The newspaper believes that the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation has warned Torshin – because the Spanish authorities had submitted to it inquiries about the ties between the politician and Taganskie organized criminal group. Overall, some powers managed to hush-up the case against Taganskie gang using invisible leverage at that time – while the findings of the Spanish inquest were forgotten for a while. But a year later, the media started discussing the forthcoming arrest of Zhirnokleev and Rabinovich again.  

In May 2017, 42-year-old criminal ‘authority’ Marat Yanbukhtin was arrested for the murder of Moscow lawyer Natalia Vavilina. According to official documents, he was a business partner of Grigory Rabinovich, while according to the operative data – a staff killer of Taganskie gang.

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Slain Natalia Vavilina

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Natalia Vavilina was killed in this lobby

Yanbukhtin had co-owned, jointly with Rabinovich, Zodchii-98 (Architect-98) company leasing trade pavilions near Sukharevskaya subway station; after the demolition of these pavilions, it was declared bankrupt. Natalia Vavilina had represented small leaseholders seeking to recover prepaid rent from Yanbukhtin and Rabinovich, General Director of Zodchii-98. According to the investigation, Yanbukhtin has personally shot Vavilina dead in the lobby of her home in the Altuf’evo district of Moscow. According to The CrimeRussia sources, Yanbukhtin has also killed thief-in-law Andrei Golubev (Skif (Scythian)), a business partner of Ded Khasan, in May 2009. Experts expected Rabinovich to be arrested together with Yanbukhtin – but this happened only 1.5 years later. Furthermore, Grisha Tagansky and his boss Zhirny (Fat) have been detained for a totally different crime.

The first on the list 

The investigation suspects Zhirnokleev and Rabinovich of masterminding some 15 contract killings; however, only one episode falling under part 2 of Article 105 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (murder) has been incriminated to the leaders of Taganskie organized criminal group so far. Both of them have been charged with the organization of the murder of Valery Zhuravlev, General Director of Rospishcheprom Open Joint Stock Company, in 2008. The businessman was killed after submitting to the law enforcement authorities a criminal complaint about the raiding takeover of the building belonging to Rospishcheprom Open Joint Stock Company and located at 18/3 Tverskoy-Yamskoy lane. Members of Taganskie gang have seized the building after forging the signature of Zhuravlev on the agreement of purchase and sale and other documents.

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Valery Zhuravlev, General Director of Rospishcheprom Open Joint Stock Company

The fraud scheme was pulled off by a Tula-based businesswoman Irina Orlova and Salima Gugkaeva, a realtor at Incom Real Estate Company. In November 2006, Orlova has forged documents to falsify the sale of the Rospishcheprom building (6 thousand square meters in size) to Irbis (Snow Leopard) dummy company. Then Gugkaeva has resold the property several times; ultimately, Bonus Business Ltd. offshore company became its final beneficiary. In November 2009, the Simonovsky District Court of Moscow found Irina Orlova and Salima Gugkaeva guilty of “illegal appropriation of ownership rights” to the Rospishcheprom building and sentenced them to 5 and 6 years behind bars respectively. Later, the investigation has established their complicity in five other similar crimes – and the court extended their terms by a few years. At that time, the operatives failed to prove the involvement of the women in the murder – but now, the investigation possesses evidence of machinations committed by the fraudsters jointly with Taganskie organized criminal group. According to the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR), the involvement of the leaders of Taganskie gang in the murder of Zhuravlev “is supported by witnesses’ statements, face-to-face interrogations, and other evidence”.

Rosbalt.ru reports that gang members responsible for field surveillance and wiretapping of the victims have testified against Zhirnokleev and Rabinovich.

The discovery of top-notch surveillance equipment suitable for secret services during the searches confirms this. It was reported earlier that Mart Yanbukhtin detained for the murder of lawyer Natalia Vavilina was also responsible for field surveillance and wiretapping of other gang members. 

During the session of the Basmanny District Court of Moscow held to determine pretrial restrictions for Igor Zhirnokleev, a representative of the investigation said that the law enforcement authorities have got evidence of his complicity in that crime only in 2017. However, Kommersant newspaper notes that materials indicating the involvement of the leaders of Taganskie organized criminal group in a number of murders and other crimes were received from the Spanish colleagues back in 2016 – and the murder of Valery Zhuravlev, General Director of Rospishcheprom Open Joint Stock Company, was the first on that bloody list. 

“We’ll deal with Ded Khasan as we’ve done with Yaponchik”. 

In addition to the murder of Zhuravlev, the ‘Spanish Dossier’ provides information on more than 10 assassinations perpetrated by Taganskie gang. The majority of these crimes were committed a long time ago – but, for some reason, not properly investigated since then. In the near future, Zhirnokleev, Rabinovich, and other bandits may be charged with other criminal episodes as well. In addition to the murders of Andrei Bralyuk, Head of the Legal Department of Moskva Superstore, and lawyer Natalia Vavilina, the gang members could be involved in the assassinations of thieves-in-laws Vyacheslav Ivan’kov (Yaponchik), Aslan Usoyan (Ded Khasan), and Andrei Golubev (Skif (Scythian)), criminal ‘authority’ Maksim Lazovsky (Maks Khromoy (Maks the Lame)), and other victims of the organized criminal group. In 2013, it became known from a letter distributed by crowned thief Dzhemal Mikeladze via his attorneys that Igor Zhirnokleev could be involved in the murders of criminal ‘patriarchs’ Yaponchik and Ded Khasan and had made a conspiracy with Tariel Oniani (Taro), Merab Dzhangveladze, and Rovshan Dzhaniev (Rovshan Lenkoransky) – rivals of the clan led by Ded Khasan. According to that letter, Zhirnokleev has personally given to the killers a Val silenced submachine gun later used for the assassination of Aslan Usoyan near Stary Faeton (Old Phaeton) Restaurant. In addition, Dzhemo claims in his letter that the leader of Taganskie gang said: “We’ll deal with Ded Khasan as we’ve done with Yaponchik”.

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Taking the long list of crimes supposedly involving Igor Zhirnokleev and Grigory Rabinovich, the question is: if the materials of the Spanish inquest were provided to the Prosecutor General’s Office in 2016 and the Spanish media had named Zhirnokleev and Rabinovich the leaders of Taganskie gang back in 2013, why the investigation of these crimes was launched only in 2017 and the suspects have been detained just a week ago?

Currently, there is no answer. Perhaps, the authorities had reserved the arrest of the leaders of Taganskie organized criminal group for some special occasion? For instance, to distract the people from the retirement age increase, escalation of tensions with the West, and other problems? On the other hand, it can’t be ruled out that some cause-effect chain of events had preceded the arrest of Igor Zhirnokleev and Grigory Rabinovich. 

In late November 2018, Maria Butina, who has been detained in the USA in July 2018 and charged with conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent of the Russian state, made a deal with the authorities and pleaded guilty to one of the charges – conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent. According to experts, Butina is ready to testify against certain persons who had sent or financed her – otherwise, the plea deal would be impossible. Her former supervisor Aleksander Torshin, who, according to the Spanish police, had assisted Taganskie gang for a long time in the liaison with law enforcement structures using his extensive connections in the FSB, MIA, and Prosecutor’s Office, may be among the people mentioned in her testimonies.

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Maria Butina and Aleksander Torshin

Immediately after the deal made between Butina and the US authorities, the ex-Senator accused of interference into the Presidential Elections in the USA has resigned from the post of the Deputy Chairman of the Bank of Russia. And a few weeks later, his former ‘proteges’ have been detained.

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