. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Stavropol Takes On 3 Brothers In Crime

STAVROPOL, Southern Russia -- When Nurmagomed Abdurashidov's Jeep Cherokee was stolen in front of the Kavkaz Hotel in this provincial capital, he didn't have to contact the police. They contacted him.

According to court documents, senior inspector Vitaly Adrienko and an associate visited Abdurashidov at home late last year and offered him a deal: Give us dollars 8,000 and get your car back. He ultimately paid dollars 3,000, but never saw his car.

Vitaly is the highest-ranking of three Adrienko brothers, all experienced police officers, who now face up to 15 years in prison for allegedly running an organized racket that fed on the people they were supposed to protect. The local prosecutor charges that Vitaly, 37, Alexander, 34, and Igor, 30, coerced petty criminals into helping them steal cars and extort money from local businessmen.

"Our law enforcement agencies are ridden with corruption," said Marina Klishko, the assistant public prosecutor who is trying the case, during a break in the Adrienko's trial last week. "This is absolutely a big case. ...We have actually exposed three officers, one of whom holds a high post in the Interior Ministry."

In Stavropol, while crooked cops are occasionally convicted of bribe-taking, never in the territory's recent history have investigators managed to pin down a case of organized racketeering in the police's own ranks.

"I understand perfectly well that everyone in the department knew about this," said Boris Stukovin, the seasoned, chain-smoking investigator from the local prosecutor's office who put together the case. "It's very difficult to work [on such a case] because the suspects are experienced operatives. If they are convicted, it might make somebody else think twice."

The fact that the police might really be criminals comes as no surprise to people in Stavropol, or for that matter to any Russians, whose faith in law enforcement agencies has reached an all-time low. Earlier this year, in a survey conducted by the Russian Market Research Company, four of five Russians said they trusted criminals more than the police.

The Interior Ministry, which is responsible for the police, has been trying to improve the profession's tarnished image. Last year, hawkish Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov set up a new Internal Security Department, the UVB, to root out police corruption, and his so-called "Clean Hands" operation resulted in the dismissal of 21,347 officers.

On Thursday, President Boris Yeltsin hailed Kulikov, saying that "people now feel safer in the streets than two or three years ago," according to Interfax.

The Adrienkos' defense lawyers complain that Kulikov's zeal to show progress leaves their clients little chance of getting a fair trial.

"The authorities have to show society that they are fighting organized crime," said defense attorney Alexander Traspov. "They are trying to influence public opinion before the court's decision, because they have nothing else in their power."

Assistant prosecutor Klishko, however, seems to be getting little support from above. She is outnumbered four to one by the defense, which includes some of the biggest legal guns in Stavropol: Traspov, reputedly one of the region's most expensive attorneys; Viktor Zyryanov, dean of the local law school; and Natalia Zarudnyak, daughter of a powerful federal judge.

The defense has been picking apart the testimony of the five victims and 31 witnesses, turning the trial into a marathon. The verdict, expected last week, has been pushed back to the end of next week at the earliest.

"The lawyers are trying to do everything they can to extend this questionable pleasure," said Klishko.

According to Stukovin's investigation, the Adrienkos, along with co-defendants Alexander Karnaushenko and Alexei Kolesnikov, extorted protection payments from a Stavropol car dealer, stole a Zhiguli sedan from a village trader and coerced a farmer into selling his Volga sedan.

Stukovin wrote in the 47-page indictment that the Adrienkos carefully planned the crimes, using Karnaushenko and Kolesnikov as middlemen so the brothers themselves would never be caught red-handed.

The car dealer, Nikolai Chebotayev, said that his experience with the Adrienkos began in December 1996, when they invited him to a meeting at the Tourist hotel in central Stavropol. At the hotel, he said, the brothers introduced him to Karnaushenko and another associate by the name of "Shamil," saying they were members of a Dagestani criminal group.

"They told me that supposedly somebody was going to kill me, and that they had intervened," he said. "They immediately demanded 200 million rubles [about dollars 34,000] for their completed work. After I refused they started to threaten my family and children."

Chebotayev agreed to pay, but soon afterward contacted the Federal Security Service. According to Stukovin, Karnaushenko collected a total of 49.5 million rubles in seven separate payments, always passing the money to Alexander Adrienko on the same central street corner.

On March 15, police arrested Karnaushenko in Chebotayev's office after videotaping him accepting 10 million rubles. Police also say they confiscated a hand grenade from Karnaushenko. The next day, police arrested all three Adrienkos.

Karnaushenko, who sported a large gold ring and a cellular phone in court, said that he was simply collecting debts for services provided, though he would not elaborate on the services nor on his line of business.

"The police who arrested me beat me bad," he said. "But so that nobody could blame them, they planted a grenade on me as if I wanted to blow the place up."

Stukovin said the case was particularly difficult since the Adrienkos come from a large family of police officers. They have two more brothers who work in local law enforcement agencies, and their father was a neighborhood patrolman in Stavropol.

"He worked his whole life in the neighborhood," said Stukovin. "People just didn't believe that such a man could have children with such greedy tendencies."