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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

How a Proud Police Detective Ruined His Life

Professionals are leaving the Russian police force for private enterprises. They have grown tired of overwork and low pay. Those who remain are often on the brink of disaster: One wrong move and there is nothing to support them.

I turn on a home video. On the screen is the entrance to an apartment building, old women sitting on a bench, a new car with its doors open and a tall, smiling man, wiping the rear view mirror, Roman Sintsov -- this is how we shall call him -- head of the local police department in the fight against economic crime.

Sintsov has recently been mixed up in a racketeering scam involving the sale of automobiles. A mechanic, Asker Ramazonov, who acted as an intermediary in the purchase of new car for Sintsov had been arrested, along with his acquaintance, Vitaly Andreyev, director of a car dealership that was tied to the mafia. Sintsov also was required to appear, but only as a witness, for the time being.

It all started with his wife, Yekaterina, two years ago. Sintsov landed her a job as a secretary at the car dealership, Kvant, through his acquaintance, Andreyev. At a birthday party for one of his wife's colleagues, the conversation turned to automobiles. Sintsov and Andreyev shared a passion for cars. It was on this evening that the police chief put Andreyev in touch with a first-rate mechanic, Ramazanov and the three began involvement in a car deal.

It is hard to understand how Sintsov had lost his detective instincts and did not guess he should have been on his guard with Andreyev.

I met Sintsov a year ago while I was on a business trip to this northern Russian city, a night train's distance from Moscow. I went to the police. Many people were waiting in Sintsov's office. I presented myself. The broad-shouldered man looked at me and said, "Oh, yes. I remember. You called earlier. I'll be right with you."

While we spoke, I had the feeling that this was not simply a detective. Later I learned that after he finished law school, he did postgraduate studies and even wrote a dissertation -- on the problems of creating secret service networks. But he was unable to defend it. Friends helped him to find practical work.

"I couldn't sit still surrounded by books," he admitted to me, "when so much is happening around me. What was happening was unprecedented: Criminals, who had been caught for extortion were, strangely, allowed their freedom before they were tried. The city, which had been divided into spheres of influence, lived in fear of their settling of accounts. Gunfire resounded throughout the city, cutting short the lives of bankers."

But the most base thing Sintsov felt was the latent opposition among the various leaders. It is not difficult to understand why. With every day, the information that the secret agents gather points more clearly to the path along which criminal money flows. As long as Sintsov uncovered bribe takers in the lowest links of the bureaucracy, he was treated as a diligent detective. But when he uncovered corrupt dealings in the mayor's office, he felt the authorities were taking a special interest in him.

Sintsov went to the regional prosecutor's office thinking that the matter of Ramazanov's arrest would be over after one visit. The investigator shook Sintsov's hand and began to interrogate his colleague. The proceedings of the investigation were recorded. Where he lived. When and how he met Andreyev. Why he decided to help the firm, Kvant. Oh, yes, your wife works there as a secretary-assessor. Understood.

"If I'm not mistaken, Andreyev's firm bought not one but five seven-passenger Volgas from the automobile concern, Avto-Plyus."

"Yes, five."

"Andreyev kept one of them for himself, resold three, and offered you the other one. Isn't that so?"

"Yes. I thought: Why not sell my old Volga and buy a new one. I have a big family. A seven-passenger car could suit us very well."

"To whom did you sell your old car?"

"I asked the mechanic Ramazanov to sell my old Volga, I added the necessary sum for the purchase of the new car, and he gave the money over to Andreyev."

"Was the sale registered in any way?"

"No. Ramazanov and Andreyev and I trust each other."

"But the purchase of the car was registered. Andreyev claims that Ramazanov appropriated the proceeds from the car sales and was counting on your protection."

"You must be joking."

"This is no joke at all," the investigator countered. "There are grounds for believing that Ramazanov split the money with you."

Sintsov had a hard time grasping the meaning of the investigation. Then he understood: Someone was after him. He knew very well how events would then unfold. They would search his office. Then, they would question his family. And even if they did not uncover anything, he would be put under arrest.

When he returned home, he opened a safe and went through all his accounts, a pile of receipts that remained from the time his dacha was being built, wage slips and bills of sale for his automobile, which he and his wife had saved for the past 10 years. The investigator would not go through all this in great detail. He only needed the testimony of Ramazanov. Andreyev, apparently, had already given evidence against him.

The person who brought me the home video of Sintsov was someone of few words. He asked me to name neither the people involved nor the city, since the affair was such a personal tragedy for the family.

"How could Sintsov, a professional investigator, not have foreseen earlier what could happen?" I asked.

"He's only human and cannot suspect everything and everyone."

"The car sales operation looks suspect. Why didn't he buy the car without intermediaries?"

"He never intended to buy the car. Andreyev talked him into it. It is much cheaper if you buy five cars altogether at wholesale. On his own, Sintsov would not have had enough money to buy a new car. Although, what is the use of this car, now that it has broken up his life?"

We looked at the video. It is the birthday of Sintsov's son Vadik. Sintsov rises from the table to propose a toast: "Let's make our lives such that we do not become slaves of circumstances. In any situation you face, remember, son, you are a Sintsov!"

In a suit and tie, Vadik raises his glass of pineapple juice and looks up to his father. He already has an idea of what kind of family he comes from, accustomed to being proud of his father and his difficult and dangerous work.

What is he to think of his father now? With what thoughts does he wake up and fall asleep?

Igor Gamayunov is an investigative reporter for Literaturnaya Gazeta. He contributed this essay to The Moscow Times.

, with its dilapidated private residences, formerly belonging to the merchant class, log houses and churches

He climbed the back stairs to the vestibule which was well known to him.