. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Muckraker Became Book Thief

Dmitry Yakubovsky was imprisoned for stealing valuable books this week, but he was renowned more as the government's point man hired in 1993 to dig up dirt on the Kremlin's political opponents.

Yakubovsky, 33, was sentenced to five years in prison Thursday for his role in the December 1994 theft of ancient texts valued at hundreds of millions of dollars from St. Petersburg's Russian National Library.

But Yakubovsky was more than a book thief.

In the summer of 1993, he was living a comfortable life in Toronto, Canada, when President Boris Yeltsin's administration came calling with a request to venture to Moscow and dig up compromising materials on Yeltsin's arch rival, then vice president Alexander Rutskoi.

Rutskoi had by then declared war on the Kremlin, promising that he had "11 suitcases" of compromising documents on the Yeltsin administration. The administration decided it had better be ready to hit back -- or hit first.

They brought in the young lawyer, Yakubovsky, for the job and gave him a small Kremlin office. They then ordered him to pore through documents looking for dirt on Rutskoi, then public prosecutor Valentin Stepankov and others opposed to the administration.

He was to feed this information to Andrei Makarov, the security council's chief corruption investigator.

Within a few days, Yakubovsky had nailed his first target: Taped conversations allegedly uncovered corruption on the part of Security Minister Viktor Barannikov in an uncanny echo of Friday's published tape transcripts in Moskovsky Komsomolets. Barannikov was consequently fired.

But Yakubovsky could not stay around the Kremlin long. Shortly after the firing, Barannikov's agents came after him and he escaped by driving south to Sochi, where he took a private plane to the Armenian capital, Yerevan. From there he returned to Canada.

Soon after his return to Toronto, Yakubovsky became embroiled in what was widely interpreted as a murder plot against Makarov. In August, Itar-Tass made public a recorded July 22 telephone call between Yakubovsky and Stepankov in which Yakubovsky, referring to Makarov's search for compromising material on both Stepankov and Rutskoi, said: "What do you think, should we get rid of that irritant, so to speak?"

Commentators speculated that Yakubovsky had purposely led the conversation to set up Stepankov. The phone call gave the administration a pretext to remove Stepankov from the Rutskoi case.

Yakubovsky was also said to be the source of bank documents allegedly showing that Rutskoi had funneled $20 million of state funds into a Swiss bank account in his name. Rutskoi responded that the documents were composed of "lies and deliberate falsehoods."

By the spring of 1994, Yakubovsky was back in Russia, living at a dacha in the wealthy Moscow suburb of Zhukovka, and running a law firm that pulled in 20 million rubles a month ($11,600 at that time).

Yakubovsky's earlier career foretold his future boldness in the corridors of power.

Beginning in 1989, at age 24, Yakubovsky had worked his way into the good graces of such leading figures as Supreme Soviet Speaker Anatoly Lukyanov, Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov, General Konstantin Kobets and First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shumeiko in order to gain a string of ever-more responsible, and often controversial positions.

By the summer of 1992, Yakubovsky had been made a colonel in the Ministry of Justice, according to a 1993 Izvestia article.

But on Sep. 19, 1992, Yakubovsky's growing power was suddenly and forcefully blocked. His pass to the Russian White House was revoked and his office phone lines were cut off. Driving down the Rublyovskoye Shosse that day, he was stopped by OMON special police who seized his car on the pretext of unpaid customs duties.

Soon he was also stripped of his rank of colonel.

Yakubovsky's next move was his first self-imposed "exile" in Canada. There he lived until Yeltsin's fateful call in the summer of 1993.