Return of ‘raider king’. Miraculous ‘resurrection’ of Vladislav Kostarev – ‘legend’ of Uralmash organized criminal group 

Return of ‘raider king’. Miraculous ‘resurrection’ of Vladislav Kostarev – ‘legend’ of Uralmash organized criminal group
Senior raider of Uralmash gang ‘resurrected’ again Photo: The CrimeRussia

Several city-forming enterprises went bankrupt, while thousands of people lost their jobs. The socio-economic situation in many single-industry towns in the Urals remains critical. Almost thirty enterprises fell victims to raiding attacks; the total amount of sustained damages exceeds 1.5 billion rubles ($23.2 million). Only two direct perpetrators of these crimes have been convicted to prison terms so far – while the criminal cases instituted against other raiders were dismissed. These are the ‘achievements' of the ‘economic wing' of Uralmash organized criminal group whose organizer and leader Vladislav Kostarev has fled abroad ten years ago. It became known recently that, contrary to earlier reports, he hasn't drowned in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2009. As it turned out, Kostarev quietly lives abroad and runs a business in Prague. Why is this unacceptable for the victims of the raider? And who is waiting in the Urals for the return of the ‘resurrected' businessman?

Ten years ago, Vladislav Kostarev, one of the leader of legendary Uralmash gang, creator of its ‘economic wing', and ex-Director of Salda Metallurgical Plant, has faked his own death. Recently, it became known that, contrary to earlier reports, the criminal put on the international wanted list hasn't drowned in the United Arab Emirates – instead, he lives fine and dandy and runs a business in the Czech Republic. On November 11, 1998, the head of a subdivision of Uralmash organized criminal group has established W Avon 98 s.r.o. company in Prague. It officially belongs to Vladislav Kostarev, born July 15, 1972 and registered at 133 Bazova street, Yekaterinburg. This information matches the personal data of Kostarev on the international warrant issued against him and available on the web sites of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation and Interpol.

Kostarev’s spouse Veronika, born April 26, 1976 and registered at the same address in Yekaterinburg, is the cofounder of the enterprise. According to its charter documents, W Avon 98 s.r.o. leases residential and nonresidential premises and provides property management services.    

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The company's ownership structure hasn't changed since its incorporation. Initially, its managing director was Prague resident David Fábry – but on April 11, 2011, Vladislav and Veronika Kostarev have held a shareholders' meeting and terminated the contract with him. Since then, the enterprise has been operating without the director. It is unknown whether it is actually running or not. On March 9, 2016, the husband and wife Kostarev have officially changed its legal address to Černokostelecká 1153/72, Strašnice, 100 00 Praha 10.

According to the Real Estate Cadastre of the Czech Republic, Vladislav and Veronika Kostarev do not own any real estate at the above address and have to pay rent for the premises. Apparently, running a business in Prague enables Kostarev to extend his visas and obtain a residential permit. 

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Vladislav Kostarev (on the left)

Kostarev has been on the run since September 2007 – at that time, the MIA General Administration for the Ural Federal District put him on the international wanted list as the organizer of a raiding group operating in the Middle Urals. In November 2008, the Verkh-Isetsky District Court of Yekaterinburg arrested the businessman in absentia. The first criminal cases against him were instituted back in 2005 under part 4 of Article 159 (swindling committed by an organized group or on especially large scale), part 2 of Article 186 (making, custody, carriage or sale of counterfeit banknotes or securities on a large scale), and part 4 of Article 174 (legalization (laundering) of monetary funds or other property acquired by a person as a result of an offence committed by him/her committed by an organized group) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. The investigation established that, in 2001, Kostarev has created a criminal group involved in raiding takeovers of big enterprises of the Sverdlovsk region – Bogdanovich Porcelain Factory, Artemosvsky Machinery Plant, and Krasnogvardeisky Crane Plant. 

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Aleksander Khabarov

Later, the list of charges laid against him has been increased. In February 2009, Kostarev was charged under part 1 of Article 210 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (creation of a criminal community (criminal organization) for the purpose of joint committing one or several grave or especially grave crimes or operation of such a community (organization) or of its structural subdivisions). In June 2009, a criminal case was instituted against him under part 3 of Article 160 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (misappropriation or embezzlement). In addition, the leader of the ‘economic wing’ of Uralmash has been charged with raiding takeover of Salda Metallurgical Plant in the Sverdlovsk region. 

Kostarev fled Russia back in 2005 – two years before the issuance of federal and international warrants against him. Coincidentally or not, but in January 2005, Uralmash leader Aleksander Khabarov was found hanged in a cell of the Pretrial Detention Center № 1 of Yekaterinburg. It was Khabarov who has offered Kostarev a ‘job’ in Uralmash because of his extensive raidership experience – Kostarev had assisted another prominent raider, Ural oligarch Pavel Fedulev, in the creation of its criminal empire. Khabarov needed a person skillful in driving enterprises to bankruptcy – therefore, Kostarev was retained to create and take charge of the ‘economic wing’ of Uralmash.

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Funeral of Aleksander Khabarov and his tomb monument (on the right)

The CrimeRussia already wrote that the circumstances of Khabarov’s death still remain unclear. There are plenty of versions explaining it – from a conflict between Uralmash and criminal ‘authorities’ to redistribution of Ural businesses in the interest of Moscow players. Therefore, it cannot be ruled out that Kostarev fled Russia not because of the criminal case – but to escape some unknown enemies of Khabarov and Uralmash gang. 

The investigators quickly established that Kostarev has settled in the United Arab Emirates. In that period, the UAE was a safe haven for Russians suspected of economic crimes. There was no extradition agreement between the countries yet – and many former members of Uralmash had ‘vacationed' there, including one of its creators and leaders Aleksander Kukovyakin.

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Aleksander Kukovyakin

However, Kostarev likely hadn't felt comfortable in the company of his former colleagues. He could also reasonably expect that the Emirates may cease to be a safe asylum – the extradition agreement between the Russian Federation and the UAE was signed in 2014, but the preparations to its ratification have started three years earlier. 

In addition, Kostarev was likely anxious about the confidence of the Russian law enforcement authorities in the inevitable capture of the raider. The operatives had repeatedly stated in public that the fugitive should be arrested soon. For instance, in February 2009, police lieutenant general Vladimir Kucherov, Head of the MIA General Administration for the Ural Federal District, said: "There is no doubt that Vladislav Kostarev, as well as other odious leaders of the notorious criminal community of the Sverdlovsk region, would be found and prosecuted for offenses incriminated to him". In April 2009, Yulia Samsonchik, Acting Press Secretary of the MIA General Administration for the Ural Federal District, has unveiled the tactics used by the law enforcement structures to bring Kostarev to liability: "We are going to choke off all financial flows of Kostarev, thus, forcing him to return". 

The Prosecutor’s Office and Interpol went to considerable lengths seeking to extradite Kostarev – and his positions were really precarious in comparison with other Uralmash members hiding in the UAE. Despite repeated refusals of the Emirates to deport him and other gang leaders, Kostarev apparently decided to be on the safe side. In November 2009, he disappeared without a trace in Fujairah Emirate. His female companion filed a report with the police stating that he was swimming in the Gulf of Oman, swam far out, and did not return back. The police found the belongings and passport of Kostarev left on the shore. He never returned to his villa in Greens neighborhood; his cell phone was unavailable. The body of Kostarev was not found – and he was recognized a missing person. 

However, the compatriots disbelieved the death of the Uralmash member. In fact, it was the second attempt of the fugitive businessman to fake his death in one year. According to the MIA General Administration for the Ural Federal District, in spring 2009, Kostarev had already ‘drowned’: he left his documents and clothes on the beach in a hope to be recognized dead. But then the gangster ‘resurrected’ in Dubai. The investigators established that several tourists from the Urals had seen Kostarev alive and in good health after his alleged ‘drowning’. 

Pretty soon, the Russian operatives found out that the second ‘death’ of Kostarev was fake as well – some people had seen him alive. But despite the exposure of his two attempts to fake drowning, all the efforts to get him extradited were in vain. 

The last extradition request was submitted by the Russian law enforcement authorities in 2012 – but the United Arab Emirates have declined again. Andrei Taranenko, Head of the Investigation Administration and Deputy Head of the MIA General Administration for the Ural Federal District, has commented on that as follows: “This state, being neither an Interpol member nor signatory to extradition conventions, refused to extradite him”.

It is unknown when has Kostarev relocated from the UAE to the Czech Republic. Perhaps, this happened in early 2011 – in that period, Director David Fábry was removed from office by a decision of the shareholders’ meeting held in Prague.

Cautious Kostarev has likely left the Emirates long before the enactment of the extradition agreement. In 2013, a year before its signing, Aleksei Valugin became the first Uralmash member deported to Russia for violations of the UAE emigration legislation. In his video address recorded in 2006, Kostarev calls Valugin an accomplice in the murder of businessman Andrei Yakushev. The killer was arrested immediately upon arrival at Domodedovo Airport.

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Aleksei Valugin

How many years would Kostarev hide from the Russian justice? One of the offenses incriminated to him – making, custody, carriage, or sale of counterfeit banknotes or securities on a large scale – is considered extremely grievous, and its limitation period is 15 years. However, this does not mean that the leader of the raiding group may return to Russia 15 years later and avoid prosecution. The point is that the limitation period is put on hold if the suspect is in hiding and resumes after his arrest or voluntary surrender. 

The former member of Uralmash won't surrender to the law enforcement authorities – Kostarev does not expect Themis to be merciful to him. In the course of the investigation, it was established that, between 1999 and 2007, more than 26 enterprises in the Sverdlovsk region and seven enterprises in other regions of Russia have fallen victims to the raiders. The list of forcibly seized facilities includes Artemosvsky Machinery Plant, Bogdanovich Porcelain Factory, Pervouralsk Package Metal Construction Plant, Uralsky Rail Fastening Plant, Uktus Brick Factory, Building and Construction Department № 3, Yekaterinburg Meat Processing Factory, Mel’kombinat Open Joint Stock Company, Sverdloblkhimchistka, Zvezda (Star) Distillery, Vinshampankombinat, Ivdel’sky Biochemical Plant, Deja Vu Company, and some enterprises located in the Republic of Khakassia, Samara, Rzhev, Moscow, etc. According to the investigation, the total amount of damages inflicted by the ‘economic wing’ of Uralmash organized criminal group exceeds 1.5 billion rubles ($23.2 million).

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The takeover scheme used by the gang was pretty simple. First, the raiders forged charter documents and infiltrated new top managers to the enterprises. During the seizure of Salda Metallurgical Plant, Kostarev has performed this role himself and became its General Director. The new management initiated large-scale unprofitable deals. The sustained losses enabled them to launch the bankruptcy procedure. The other ‘wing’ of the group led by Kostarev – so-called “arbitration chapter” – controlled this procedure. As a result, all liquid assets were transferred to dummy companies. 

The main tool used for the takeovers and withdrawal of assets was Oreolkombank Commercial Bank established by members of Uralmash. The investigation believes that Kostarev was its Chairman of the Board of Directors. A network of companies was created to appraise assets of bankrupt enterprises for the benefit of the raiders. In total, more than 60 dummy legal entities were established to make knowingly unprofitable deals, embezzle assets and funds, create indebtedness, siphon off borrowed funds and assets, cash out bank’s promissory notes, and pull off other financial machinations. 

According to the investigation, “the crimes were committed with the support of numerous ‘high patrons’ in the municipal authorities. As a result, the unlawful actions of the group led by Kostarev were often impudent and defiant. It had practiced forcible takeovers and seizures of territories of industrial enterprises with the use of private security structures equipped with firearms and special tools”. A network of private security companies consisting of former law enforcement officers had provided protection and enforcement support for the raiding takeovers. Former high-ranked functionaries of policing structures of the Sverdlovsk region were in charge of these private security companies.

In 2005–2012, the investigators have identified 25 active members of the criminal community created by Kostarev and 80 persons involved in the criminal operations at various times. According to Valery Gorelykh, Head of the Press Service of the MIA General Administration for the Ural Federal District, the list of prosecuted criminals includes three municipal Deputies, an assistant judge of the Federal Arbitration Court of the Ural Federal District, four insolvency administrators, three heads and members of banks’ boards of directors, a vice principal of a well-known Ural university, two heads of investigative subdivisions, three heads of law enforcement structures, and 13 general, financial, and commercial directors of various industrial enterprises and audit and appraisal companies.

However, the situation with the prosecution of the direct perpetrators – members of the ‘economic wing' of Uralmash organized criminal group – is not that optimistic. The trial of participants of raiding takeovers committed under the leadership of Kostarev has commenced back in 2012. There were six defendants – graduates of the Ural State Law Academy: Aleksei Mishenin, Aleksander Kolyasnikov, Andrei Tkachuk, Olga Rushitskaya, Olga Temlyakova, and Tatiana Zhuravleva. All of them were charged under Article 210 (participation in a criminal community), Article 196 (deliberate bankruptcy), Article 160 (misappropriation or embezzlement), and part 4 of Article 159 (swindling) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. However, only two defendants were sentenced to real prison terms: Andrei Tkachuk (10 years behind bars) and Aleksei Mishenin (8 years in a penal colony). 

The prosecution of Aleksander Kolyasnikov and Olga Rushitskaya was terminated due to the expiration of the period of limitation. The proceedings against Olga Temlyakova and Tatiana Zhuravleva were severed from other defendants due to their maternity and later terminated due to the expiration of the period of limitation of deliberate bankruptcy, misappropriation, and swindling charges. The most severe charge – participation in a criminal community – was dropped at the behest of the state prosecution "for lack of elements of crime".

Apparently, everybody is fine with such results. Law enforcement officials ceased making bold statements about the forthcoming prosecution of Kostarev. However, representatives of enterprises – victims of Kostarev and his group – are still not satisfied, as well as residents of single-industry towns in the Urals deprived of livelihoods by Uralmash. There are real tragedies behind official reports listing the raided factories and describing takeover schemes.

For instance, Salda Metallurgical Plant seized with the direct participation of Kostarev was the largest metallurgical enterprise in the Sverdlovsk region and one of the oldest in Russia. The plant was founded by merchant Nikita Demidov in 1760. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the enterprise was earning good money on the production of rail plates and fastenings. Most importantly, the plant was a city-forming enterprise for two towns – Nizhnyaya Salda and Verkhnyaya Salda. The raiders led by Kostarev left their residents without jobs. The two Ural towns still go through hard times, while the plant with more than 200-year-long history has never recovered.

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The Town of Bogdanovich also cannot recuperate after the raiding takeover of its city-forming enterprise – Bogdanovich Porcelain Factory. It was the second largest factory in the region providing employment to almost one thousand people. Kostarev has infiltrated his good friend – Andrei Tkachuk – to the enterprise as the financial director, and he quickly drove it to bankruptcy. After the shutdown of the porcelain factory, its former employees had tried to protest and even blocked the federal highway – but in vain. The enterprise with unique porcelain production traditions was destroyed forever. 

Residents of the Sverdlovsk region will never forget the ‘accomplishments’ of Kostarev. Should the raider decide to return, he would be ‘welcomed’ accordingly. It cannot be ruled out though that some people are really waiting for his coming back. A few years after the funeral of Khabarov, somebody has installed a compact video camera on a tree growing near his tomb. The camera records all persons coming to pay respects to the Uralmash leader. Nobody knows who has planted it. The former comrades scratch their heads, while policemen claim that they have nothing to do with this. Perhaps, it was installed by somebody well aware that Kostarev is alive and hoping that the ‘prodigal son’ ultimately visits the grave of his ‘godfather’?

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