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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bykovs Victims Not Dead After All

Television stations broadcast images of police loading the black-bagged bodies onto ambulances.

An investigator gave an interview to Kommersant about the autopsies.

Tearful relatives visited a funeral home to find out how much it would cost to bury their loved ones.

But it was all a hoax.

The much publicized double murder investigation that landed aluminum tycoon Anatoly Bykov in jail took an abrupt turn Friday when authorities admitted they had staged the killings.

The Prosecutor Generals Office downgraded the charges against Bykov, a former head of the mammoth Krasnoyask Aluminum Plant, from murder to conspiracy to commit murder.

Deputy prosecutor Sergei Lapin said that former Bykov ally Pavel Struganov and his bodyguard are alive and well and the prosecutors office had carried out the elaborate deception to prevent an assassination plot from being carried out.

Bykov is continuing to be held in Moscows Lefotovo Prison, where he was flown after his arrest Oct. 4 outside Krasnoyarsk.

"Measures to ensure [Struganovs] safety and to find those who were conspiring the murder have been taken," Lapin said in a telephone interview.

He said investigators have enough evidence to prove Bykov had ordered a hit, but would not elaborate. He also would not say what motivation investigators thought Bykov had to order Struganovs killing.

A former boxing instructor, Bykov built up a fortune that includes a 28 percent stake in the Krasnoyarsk plant, Russias second largest aluminum smelter. A series of disputes led to a falling out with Krasnoyarsk regional Governor Alexander Lebed last year, and a short time later Bykov jumped on a plane to Europe.

While Bykov in Hungary, Russia issued a warrant for his arrest on money-laundering, gunrunning and separate murder charges, and the aluminum plant ousted Bykov from its board.

Hungary sent him to Krasnoyarsk in April and the police locked him in prison. Bykov was released in August pending trial.

Struganov, who is thought to have links to criminal circles, was supposedly found shot dead with his bodyguard Vyacheslav Ismendirov in his Moscow apartment in a ritzy neighborhood on Kutuzovsky Prospekt on Sept. 29.

Major television stations beamed footage across the country of the bodies being carried out of the apartment building. Authorities searched Bykovs dacha near Krasnoyarsk in Western Siberia and said they found Struganovs watch.

Bykov was then arrested last week.

Some reports suggested the murder charges were lodged to pressure Bykov into giving up his stake in Krasnoyarsk Aluminum.

Questions about the deaths soon arose after Bykovs lawyers and the media pointed out confusing contradictions.

The bodies were carried out of the building head first and not feet first, as is usually done with corpses, they said. Also, the bodies were driven away in an ambulance instead of in the usual morgue vehicle.

Andrei Kuzin, editor of the "Road Patrol" crime show that taped the event, said Friday he had not noticed anything out of the ordinary and it had looked like murders had really been committed.

Then Struganovs funeral, scheduled for Oct. 5, was inexplicably postponed. NTV television showed an interview with a Krasnoyarsk undertaker who said that Struganovs relatives visited his office and inquired about prices but placed no orders.

The Kommersant newspaper published an interview Oct. 6 in which an investigator described how he was examining the dead bodies of Struganov and Ismendirov.

Then the warrant used to search Bykovs dacha surfaced. The warrant said the search was authorized on the basis of "testimony from the victim."

Bykovs chief lawyer Genrikh Padva said he was furious about the authorities behavior.

"How can we trust our law enforcement agencies after that and why should we believe that the rest of the case has not been staged as well?" Padva said in a telephone interview.

But Lapin said the operation had been carried out "within the boundaries of the law."