Bastrykin’s Humiliation

December 18, 2013
Sergei Bobrov. Photo: SK

The man recently installed to head Chechnya’s Investigative Committee — a body tantamount to Russia’s FBI — has been sacked by Vladimir Putin in a high-profile embarrassment for the Committee’s overall head, Alexander Bastrykin. It appears that Sergei Bobrov has been relieved of his duties for attempting to do his job properly in Kadyrov’s murky Chechen Republic. Independent muckraking newspaper Novaya Gazeta investigates the backstory to this quick and terminated career. — Ed.

On 2 December, President Putin signed a decree dismissing Sergei Ivanovich Bobrov, the head of the Investigative Department of the Chechen Republic Investigative Committee.

Bobrov had been appointed to Chechnya seven months previously; he is only 48. He is a young major general of justice with an excellent service record, a 20-year career, who was repeatedly commended by the Russian Federation Prosecutor General, then by the head of the Russian Investigative Committee (IC), and awarded with an inscribed firearm, showered with internal departmental medals of excellent in 2010, and by order of President Dmitry Medvedev, the medal For Services to the Fatherland, Second Degree.

The official version which Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the IC told Novaya Gazeta:  “Sergei Bobrov submitted a letter of resignation on his own accord, in connection with family circumstances. After studying them, a decision was made to satisfy his request.”

Sergei Ivanovich Bobrov at first refused to explain the reasons for his resignation, and then told Novaya Gazeta: “The climate here doesn’t suit me.” I will note that Bobrov came to Chechnya from Astrakhan, and apparently will return there. The climactic conditions of these two regions are not substantially different.

In reply to follow-up questions from Novaya Gazeta, Sergei Bobrov said “I have 20 years of honest service behind my back, the directors valued me, and they didn’t want to let me go. But I decided to devote my time to my family and children and instill in them all of my spiritual potential, although my age enables me still to work. There is no political agenda in my resignation.”

According to Putin’s decree, the young, promising general of justice was in fact fired. There wasn’t even a question of transferring him to another position or another region. Bobrov did not commit any obvious actions that besmirched the honor of uniform in his entire career, and was not caught in corruption. The surgically ruthless dismissal looks like a humiliating act on the part of the Russian Investigative Committee, meant to serve as a lesson. And nothing else.

The Geldagan Murder 

Sergei Bobrov was appointed to the post of head of the Chechen IC by a decree of President Putin on 11 May 2013. A day before his appointment – on the night of 9-10 May – three women went missing in the Chechen village of Geldagan. On 10 May, at a private car wash run by two of the disappeared women, Satsita and Zargan Aydamirova, bloodstains, numerous bullets stuck in the walls, and casings were found. All in all, an enormous potential for a forensic inquiry! The investigation seized the videotapes from cameras that might have recorded the possible perpetrators.

From a press release by the Memorial Human Rights Center: “A brigade of detectives from the district police department arrived and began looking through the crime scene. A crowd gathered around the car wash. According to eye-witnesses, a young bearded man drove up at that time with a pistol at his side; he introduced himself to police as “Ranger.” (In the Chechen Republic, many of the local siloviki [power ministry officials] are former fighters and they prefer to call themselves not by their names but by their distinctive radio handles, often the same as they had when they took part in the armed underground – names like “Jihad, “Lord,” Medved” [Bear], “Chekist” [KGB], “Richard” and so on.)

In fact, some of the local residents knew “Ranger’s” real name – Ali. Witnesses – local residents — heard part of the discussion Ali/Ranger had on the telephone; he spoke about what had happened at the car wash: “This is our job, and they know that at the top.”

The Investigative Department of the Chechen IC opened up a criminal case under Art. 105 (murder) based on the fact of the women’s disappearance.

I’m Not Ledenev!

Sergei Bobrov, the new head of the Chechen IC, in positioning himself in his new job, often repeated a curious phrase, “I’m not Ledenev!”

The 52-year-old Viktor Ledenev, the previous head of the Chechen IC, worked in the republic from 2008-2013. But on the whole, he was a career Chekist [KGB man]:  from 1985 to 2008 he served at the KGB, later renamed the FSB. In the six years he worked at the IC, Ledenev achieved the rank of lieutenant general of justice, and now heads up the Kaliningrad Region IC.

Here is what the deputy prosecutor of  the Chechen Republic, Nikolai Khabarov, writes about the methods and style of work of the “Ledenev” Investigative Department in Chechnya:

“The lack of principle and persistence on the part of the investigators of the republic must be noted in the investigation of criminal cases of this category (especially severe—YM), and also the failure to conduct effective investigations…In Criminal Case No. 66094, opened in connection with the abduction of Zarema Gaysanova (she disappeared in 2009 after a special operation was conducted in the Lenin District of Grozny led by the head of Chechnya, Kadyrov—YM), “her location remains undetermined. There has not been a proper investigation in the case and administrative control over the investigation is lacking…Similar violations of the law were revealed in the prosecutor’s office of the public in studying the criminal cases opened in the abductions of Umarpashayev, I.I., Askhabov, A.D. and the unknown disappearance of Zaynalov, A.R…

The practice of supervision of the investigation of criminal cases in this category (abduction and murder—YM) shows that the investigatory agencies are not performing urgent investigative actions in a timely fashion, and the appropriate cooperation with investigative agencies is not organized for the purpose of solving the crimes. Administrative supervision of the investigation of  the criminal cases by the leadership of the Investigative Committee is virtually non-existent. No specific measures are taken to eliminate the violations of the law discovered, to which prosecutorial bodies have indicated. Persons guilty of allowing violations of the law and ineffective investigation are not brought to proper account.

There are facts of concealment of crimes related to the abduction of citizens, directly by the investigators themselves from the Investigation Department of the Chechen IC.

As a result of delayed openings of criminal cases, lack of initiative and inactivity in investigation, guilty parties go into hiding and the location of victims is not determined…”

The ineffectiveness of the Chechen Investigative Department led to the Russian IC being forced to assign investigators from the Central Office of the IC to investigate high-profile cases, such as the murder of Natalya Estemirova committed in 2009. This year in general there has been a marked surge in murders of Chechen human rights defenders and activists which led to the complete destruction of civil society in the republic.

The Investigative Committee not only couldn’t withstand this wave, but essentially consolidated with the authorities in Chechnya in the defamation of human rights defenders.

In this way, they finally untied the hands of the local police officials – popularly known as the Kadirovites. Under Viktor Ledenev, statistics for crimes committed by the Chechen siloviki were at a record low.  Essentially, such cases were practically never opened, and if they were, they weren’t investigated. Nevertheless, Ledenev safely left Chechnya and advanced up the career ladder.

New Broom 

According to information which Novaya Gazeta has gathered from many sources (unfortunately, Sergei Bobrov and the official representatives of the Russian IC refused to comment on this topic), [when Bobrov came in as] the new leader of the Chechen Investigative Committee, in just a few months, he managed to indicate a new direction for his subordinates.

Bobrov began with a major clean-up of the ranks of the Investigative Committee of the Chechen IC, firing 30 officers. From those who remained, he demanded results; in fact, precisely on Art. 286 of the Russian Criminal Code (abuse of official powers). Bobrov ordered the investigation of the “higher-ups’ cases,” whose suspects were high-ranking officers of the Chechen Interior Ministry, to be shaken up and renewed, and began to probe into economic crimes (financial machinations related to construction in Chechnya).

For its part, the investigators at the Chechen IC began to display their unhappiness with the new director. The reason was elementary fear. The overwhelming majority of crimes in Chechnya are quite easy to cover up; as a rule, the criminals do not try particularly hard to remove their tracks; on the contrary, they often behave demonstratively, not hiding their faces behind balaclavas. The notorious blood feuds do not even scare them. But still, in order to bring a case to court, after all, they have to conduct elementary investigative actions:  examination of the crime scene, interrogation of the suspect, arrest!

Except that any investigator who tried to arrest any Kadyrovite was practically a dead man. Quite a few Chechen investigators were beaten merely because they issued a summons to an officer of the Chechen Interior Ministry for an interrogation.

Bobrov’s fundamental mistake was that he demanded results, yet simultaneously, he couldn’t guarantee the safety of his employees. Could he have done this, did he understand the problem, did he put this question before his superiors?  I don’t know. Bobrov refused to talk about this sensitive topic, like the other representatives of the agency in fact. Although admittedly, this defenselessness of the Investigative Department of the Chechen IC is particularly striking given the context of the ominous might of the Russian IC in the rest of the regions of Russia.

Nevertheless, I can state: the skilled gumshoe Bobrov really turned out to be the complete antithesis to the skilled Chekist Ledenev.  I will cite two examples.

First fact. After the sensational triple Geldagan murder, two months passed, although  there were no still no results or suspects from the Chechen investigation at that time. But on 17 July, Sergei Bobrov went out to the village of Geldagan in order to personally take part in the inspection of the crime scene (the car wash). This was entirely unambiguously reviewed as a demonstration of hostile intentions.  Right during the inspection, according to Memorial  Society Human Rights Center, the very same bearded Chechen silovik with the nickname “Ranger” drove up to the car wash. He watched and reported on his phone about the investigative actions occurring at the car wash until the IC officers left. But this time, they also took notice of “Ranger”.  It was an elementary matter to find out whose call sign that was. According to Novaya Gazeta’s information, the call sign could belong to Ali Bakhayev, the district police officer of the Shali Department of the Interior Ministry.

Second fact. One of the few cases of abduction opened under Viktor Ledenev was the famous case of Islam Umarpashayev who was detained in December 2009 by officers of the Chechen OMON (riot police) and who spent several months at their base in Grozny.

In fact, neither Ledenev nor his subordinates have any relationship to the investigation of this case.

Yet many high-ranking Western diplomats who have met with President Dmitry Medvedev, Prosecutor General Yury Chaika and Alexander Bastrykin, head of the IC, have been involved. They were the ones to raise the matter of the case of Umarpashayev. They did this at the request of the Combined Mobile Group (CMG) of Russian human rights defenders which is headed by the Nizhny Novgorod Committee Against Torture. This group was formed after the murder of Natalya Estemirova and ever since has been an alternative to the Chechen human rights movement, murdered along with Natasha.

In general, when the local law-enforcement vertikal got fed up with the CMG with its inconvenient invocations of the Russian Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedures, the group would go after Bastrykin. The first petition from Igor Kalyapin, head of the Committee Against Torture, was about the transfer of the investigation to the control of the Russian IC. He received a refusal. The second petition addressed to Bastrykin was also turned down. Only on the third try was the petition satisfied, and the case was transferred to Igor Sobol, special cases investigator for the Main Directorate of the North Caucasus and Southern Federal Districts.

Even so, the case of Umarpashayev has dragged on now for already four years. Two years were spent on trying to get the local IC not to cover it up, and the investigation itself has been underway for another two years. The light at the end of the tunnel is not yet visible.

The case of Umalat Boltiyev, unlawfully detained by officers of the Shali Department of the Interior Ministry and subjected to brutal torture in August of this year was opened by a simple Chechen investigator, Rashid Ramzayev, based on Boltiyev’s appeal to the Chechen IC….also in August of this year. From the issuing of the instruction to open the case to the arrest of the suspec,  only two weeks passed. Thus Gen. Bobrov set an absolute record worthy of the Guinness Book.

“Lord” Shali

Magomed Daudov

Magomed Daudov

It is no secret that the people in the close circle around Ramzan Kadyrov are untouchables.  But there are two particularly untouchable people in this circle. Both of them are Heroes of Russia.  The first one recently had a legendary gold Stechkin fall out of his pocket once again.  He is Adam Delimkhanov, said to be the cousin of Kadyrov, his shadow, his right-hand man, and so on.

The second is less famous in Russia and around the world, but is too famous in Chechnya. This is 33-year-old Magomed Daudov, a native of the village of Geldagan, who fought in the second Chechen campaign on the side of the federal forces (in 1994-1996 – the first Chechen war – accordingly he was then 14-16 years old). Then Daudov commanded a platoon of the security detail for Akhmat-Khadzhi Kadyrov, president of Russia.  In 2004, he became the commander of Company Regiment No. 2 of the police patrol service under the Chechen Republic Interior Ministry; and in 2005, commander of a battalion of the police patrol service of the Shali District Department of the Interior Ministry. Starting in 2006, he worked as a special cases agent in the department to combat abductions and trafficking, Operational Investigations Bureau No. 2 (ORB-2). From April 2007 until 10 March 2010, he was head of the Shali Department of the Interior Ministry in the Chechen Republic.

By decree of the president of the Russian Federation dated 25 July 2007, the 27-year-old police captain Magomed Daudov was awarded the title of Hero of Russia.

In March 2010, Daudov, then police colonel and chief of the Shali Department of the Interior Ministry became the first deputy chairman of the government of the Chechen Republic, vice premier for the power ministries. Since May 2012, he has been head of administration of the Chechen Republic head of government.

Shali has remained Magomed Daudov’s home turf (the republic is fairly clearly divided into districts of influence among Kadyrov’s siloviki). Police officers close to Daudov work at the Shali Department. Any attack on them is perceived as an attack on the honor, dignity and business reputation of Daudov personally.

It can be said that Sergei Bobrov was disastrously unlucky – both criminal cases – the triple murder in Geldagan and the case of the torture of Umar Boltiyev – led to Shali.

Chronicle of a Resignation 

On 11 August 2013, Umalat Boltiyev, a 30-year-old resident of Shali, was in an intoxicated state after his grandmother’s wake, and was detained in the center of town by police officers. He was brought to the Shali Department where bare wires with a fork at the tip were attached to his fingers. Periodically, this cord was plugged into an ordinary outlet with 220 volts of electricity. In this way, Boltiyev was forced to admit to the possession of narcotics, but only that. Not even to participation in an illegal armed formation — which was instructive. Perhaps the cops needed to show statistics on narcotics cases?  After three days of torture, Boltiyev wound up in the Shali Central District Hospital on an IV; he had a high temperature, his blood pressure had shot up, and blood had collected in his lungs. Boltiyev was once again taken from the hospital to the temporary detention facility, since his relatives  filed an appeal with the IC on his abduction and the violent actions of the police officials. Under the threat of rape, Boltiyev sign a confession.


Umar Boltiev's hand. Electric burn marks are clearly visible - traces of shock torture.

Umar Boltiyev’s hand. Electric burn marks are clearly visible – traces of shock torture.

121813 - umar

On 19 August, he was released and let home without any custody procedure.

On 20 August, Boltiyev appealed to the Investigative Department of the Chechen IC, where he provided detailed statements to investigator Rashid Ramzayev. That same day, Investigator Ramzayev issued a notice of the opening of criminal case No. 61129. Boltiyev was pronounced a victim.

Investigator Ramzayev went into a flurry of activity on this case. He interrogated witnesses, conducted a verification of the testimony on site, conducted a number of line-ups and confrontations with the accuser. In early September, accompanied by officials from the Chechen Republic Directorate for the Federal Security Service (FSB), Digayev was detained. The suspect was put in a car where Ruslan Ireziyev, chief of the Shali Department, demanded that his deputy be released. The FSB agents told Novaya Gazeta that their colleagues “were threatened with grenade-launchers and therefore they were intimidated.” Nevertheless, the suspect Digayev was still detained.

Several days later, an audiotape of the conversation supposedly between Ruslan Ireziev, chief of the Shali Department and investigator Rashid Ramzayev, under the telling title of “Kadyrov vs. Bobrov” was posted on YouTube (Novaya Gazeta has a copy on a hard disk—EM).

121318 - chechnya youtube

Until a forensic study is made, it is impossible to verify that the voices on the audiotape belong to these persons. Nevertheless, Novaya Gazeta’s sources in the Chechen FSB claim that the tape is authentic, although it is a composite. The audiotape has been translated into Russian, although it cannot be cited due to the new law banning uncensored expressions [swear words] in the media. The voice on this tape which supposedly is that of the head of the Shali Department explains to the head of the Investigative Department of the Chechen IC in popular terms what specific violent actions of a sexual nature will be applied to the investigator and also to the heads of the Chechen IC. A dry informational analysis of this tape nevertheless gives evidence of the following:

After the detention of Ruslan Digayev, commander of the Shali Department battalion, Sergei Bobrov, head of the Investigative Committee of the Chechen IC, began to have serious problems. According to our information, Bobrov met with Magomed Daudov. Noting is known about the content of that conversation, but from the audiotapes we can  conclude that Bobrov supposedly turned in his subordinates. No one wanted to confirm or deny this fact or the existence of a conflict between Serge Bobrov and Magomed Daudov.  Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the Russian IC, refused to answer this question, as did Bobrov himself, by the way. Alvi Karimov, press secretary for the head of Chechnya, refused to speak to Novaya Gazeta at all, explaining that  “he is driving and doesn’t know when he can talk.”

On the audiotape, the voice that supposedly belongs to the head of the Shali Department speaks much more, and is worried much more about the progress of the investigation in the case of the triple murder in Geldagan, than about the case of Umalat Boltiyev. The conversation on the tape is mainly about the murder of the women.

Immediately after the appearance of this tape, and apparently, after the conversation of Daudov with Bobrov, both investigators were removed from special cases investigation – on both the Geldagan case and the Boltiyev case. The investigation ground to a sudden halt, and detained battalion commander Digayev was released.

On 9 November, Sergei Bobrov suddenly went on a vacation from which he never returned.  Moreover, on 6 November in a conversation with human rights defender Igor Kalyapin, he hadn’t breathed a word about intending to go on leave or make the subsequent voluntary resignation.

But on 4 December, the Chechen IC issued an unlawful instruction stripping the members of the CMG of the ability to represent the interests of the victim Boltiyev, who had turned to these human rights defenders for help.

According to Novaya Gazeta’s sources, this situation in the most difficult region of Russia was known both to the leadership of the Russian IC and personally to Vladimir Putin. The decision was made by the president himself on the same day that he issued the decree on the demonstrative dismissal of Sergei Bobrov. Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov, in response to a request from Novaya Gazeta to comment on the president’s motivation, was silent. In principle, he would not have said anything new. Everything is extremely clear anyway.