Dead witness speaks
The sudden death of businessman Ilya Pichko further complicates the trial of St. Petersburg oligarch Dmitry Mikhalchenko. The court now has to rely on his written testimonies, which may worsen the position of some defendants.
Basmanny District Court of Moscow became aware that something was wrong with Ilya Pichko on December 11. The businessman’s attorney has notified the court that, according to the defendant’s relatives, Pichko is seriously ill and stays in a hospital. The nature of his illness was not disclosed. Later it became known that by that time, Ilya Pichko was already dead. Both the relatives and defense had suspected a foul play – but the above version was provided to the court to make sure that the pretrial restrictions are not changed to detention and the defendant is not put on the wanted list: this would hinder the investigation of his disappearance.
Dmitry Mikhalchenko in court
It is now known that Ilya Pichko, earlier released on bail, was killed on December 8 on Yakornaya street in St. Petersburg. According to the Main Investigations Directorate in St. Petersburg of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR), the businessman was strangled by a furniture assembler in a dispute over a missed work completion deadline. In the course of the conflict, the furniture assembler has killed the businessman and buried his body in the snow in a forest in the Vyborg district of the Leningrad region in a hope that it is not discovered until spring. On December 11, the victim was supposed to testify in the case against Mikhalchenko in Basmanny District Court of Moscow.
The court is about to dismiss the elite alcohol smuggling case against businessman Ilya Pichko as soon as his attorney presents his death certificate. Then the judge should dismiss the criminal proceeding against Pichko based on non-exonerating grounds – but this is currently not that important for the relatives of the murdered businessman.
It is already obvious that the death of Pichko is going to complicate significantly the trial of Dmitry Mikhalchenko – not for the investigation, but rather for the defendants because the businessman was supposed to testify on the upcoming court sessions.
According to the investigation, billionaire Dmitry Mikhalchenko and Boris Korevsky, Head of the Security Service in Forum Holding, had been smuggling elite alcohol. Jointly with Anatoly Kindzersky and Ilya Pichko, General Director of Southeastern Trade Company, the oligarch was shipping to Russia alcohol drinks, including unique beverages, under the disguise of sealant materials. The alcohol was intended for Mikhalchenko’s restaurants. All the suspects have been charged with smuggling alcohol products by an organized group.
The main version of the death of Ilya Pichko is a labor conflict with a furniture assembler. According to the victim’s relatives, Pichko had summoned a furniture maker to measure the kitchen in his rented apartment located near Vasileostrovskaya subway station. The measurer – Viktor Demin – has offered his services to make and assemble the furniture and requested 120 thousand rubles ($2.1 thousand) for this work. On December 8, 38-year-old Demin, driving a black Nissan Tiida, has picked Pichko up. To select colors and wood samples, they drove to an industrial area on Yakornaya street and came into a conflict there. During the brawl, Demin weighting 140 kg has weighed down on Pichko so hard that the businessman suffocated. According to Fontanka.ru, the confused furniture maker was driving around the city with the dead body for a while and then left St. Petersburg. He stopped near a forest not far from Il’ichevo settlement, dragged the body into a ditch, and covered it with snow and tree branches. However, on the way back, Demin made a fatal mistake by paying the road toll on the Western High-Speed Diameter by a victim’s bank card. This allowed the operatives to track him down.
Furniture maker Viktor Demin weighting 140 kg crushed Pichko with his mass
The management of the furniture company where the businessman had ordered kitchen furniture has commented on the performance of their former (as it turned out) employee. General Director Maksim Pankov noted that Viktor Demin had worked in the company for only a couple of months and demonstrated an unprofessional approach to his job.
Ilya Pichko was killed during a labor conflict
Nobody had expected a sudden death of a witness in the high-profile case against Mikhalchenko. Pichko has admitted his guilt. His Southeastern Trade Company has indeed received from abroad a shipment of alcohol in 2016 (according to the document, it was a construction sealant). Because of his confessionary statements and collaboration with the investigation, Pichko was released on bail of 10 million rubles ($171.9 thousand).
Anatoly Kindzersky, a co-owner of Contrail Logistic Northwest, has made a plea deal. The deal included the admission of guilt and testimony against the suspected accomplices. Following a motion brought by the ICR, businessman Ilya Pichko charged with alcohol smuggling in the interests of billionaire Dmitry Mikhalchenko has been released on bail of 10 million rubles ($171.9 thousand) in exchange for his testimony. Prior to the examination of the case on its merits, Mikhalchenko had denied any guilt citing Article 51 of the Constitution. But at the first court session, he has changed his stance and admitted partial guilt. The only person who hasn’t changed his stance yet is Mikhalchenko’s deputy Boris Korevsky, former colonel of the Administration for Combating Economic Crimes of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation.
It turned out that Boris Korevsky is going to suffer most of all because of the unexpected death of Ilya Pichko.
Inconsistencies and tensions
The problem currently faced by the defense attorneys for Boris Korevsky is that the majority of Pichko’s confessions were related to their client. According to lawyer Igor Reshetnikov, some statements pertaining to the guilt of Korevsky were indirect (who went where, spoke with whom, received something from whom, etc.). If the businessman were alive, the defense team could specify these details during the questioning of the witness. Now this is impossible, and the court has to use the testimonies given by Ilya Pichko during the investigation. This strengthens the position of the prosecution and, accordingly, lowers the chances of success for the defense. The importance of these testimonies can be illustrated by the fact that after one of the substantive conversations with Pichko, the ICR has brought a motion to release him on bail. There is no doubt that the businessman has provided incriminating evidence against other defendants. According to Roman Polukhin, a defense attorney for Pichko, “the testimonies could affect the outcome of this trial”.
The place where the murderer hid the victim’s body
The current common stand of the defense for Mikhalchenko and Korevsky is as follows: the crime was committed by a group of persons by previous concert. Not by an organized group, but by a group of persons. This way, the offence falls under a different Article of the Criminal Code and carries a milder punishment. According to some information, the investigation had intended to call on Ilya Pichko to speak in the very end of the trial, and his testimony could become a true surprise for the oligarch.
Our sources believe that the death of Ilya Pichko looks suspicious. The trial of the oligarch has just begun, and the circumstances surrounding this death resemble a classic novel by Agatha Christie. It is premature to make any conclusions yet, but the rumors around this story are disturbing. For instance, the concierge in the home where the businessman used to live was unable to remember furniture maker Viktor Demin. In any event, the court has remanded Demin in custody for two months. No charges were laid against him yet. So far, the investigation has no indications that governor 24 Dimity Mikhalchenko could be involved into the death of Pichko.