Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

2 Men, 2 Court Cases and a Battle for Power

Itar-TassVilor Struganov, who is commonly known by the nickname Pasha Tsvetomuzyka.
No one was terribly shocked when metals magnate Anatoly Bykov, whose name had long been associated with organized crime, was put behind bars in October 2000 on suspicion of ordering the murder of his erstwhile right-hand man.

The story grew odder when, later that month, federal prosecutors admitted that the televised footage from the scene of the crime -- complete with bodybags and coroners -- had been an elaborate hoax, staged to make it seem that the hit had taken place, although the alleged victim was alive and well.

But in the past three weeks, the convoluted battle between Bykov, the former head of the Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Plant, and his ally-turned-enemy, Vilor Struganov, has surpassed all of its previous outlandishness.

Late last month, the prosecution's main witness -- the alleged hitman -- changed his tune and said it was Struganov, not Bykov, who had set the whole thing up. Three days later, Bykov, still a popular figure in his home region, was elected -- straight from his prison cell -- to a second term in the Krasnoyarsk regional legislature.

Several days after the Dec. 23 elections, Struganov -- a losing candidate in the same parliamentary race -- was arrested on suspicion of attempting to blow up a city polling station. Last Tuesday, prosecutors charged Struganov with terrorism.

Struganov is commonly known by his nickname, Pasha Tsvetomuzyka, roughly translated as Pasha Strobelight, reportedly in reference to his nervous tic -- persistent, rapid-fire blinking.

Struganov's lawyer said his client believes his arrest was orchestrated by law enforcement and intelligence officials "working with Bykov." The charges against Struganov could work to discredit his testimony against Bykov, the lawyer, Yevgeny Mokin, said in a telephone interview from Krasnoyarsk on Wednesday.

The conflict between the two men reflects a much larger, protracted struggle for political and financial power in the region.

Bykov, a powerful supporter of Governor Alexander Lebed during his political ascent in 1998, soon fell out with the governor and the two became stalwart foes. During last month's elections, Lebed's administration backed Struganov, despite several convictions under his belt and widespread reports that he has retained some ties to the criminal world.

Bykov has called prosecutors' claims that he commissioned a contract hit on Struganov fabrications "ordered up" by crooked government officials and business rivals aiming to take over the Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Plant, or KrAZ.

"I believe that a 'contract crime' has been committed against me and those behind it are certain old and new KrAZ shareholders and representatitves of official [government] bodies and law enforcement organizations," Bykov said in a statement issued from his jail cell in October, shortly after an announcement that his stake in KrAZ would be diluted by an additional share emission.

"The 'dirty work' was taken on by the 'aggrieved party,' Vilor Struganov, a small-time businessman/failure from Krasnoyarsk," the statement went on to say.

Bykov's lawyer has called the charges against his client "trumped up."

"There has not been a more evident case of falsification ... in all my life," the high-profile lawyer, Genrikh Padva, said by telephone Wednesday.

Bykov's legal travails, which began in April 1999, shortly after he parted ways with Lebed, have long been characterized by ferocious finger-pointing and mutual recriminations.

Nonetheless, the announcement made Dec. 20 by Alexander Vasilenko, the man prosecutors say was hired by Bykov to kill Struganov, was shocking, especially considering that the statement was made public with the help of Duma deputies from the somewhat eccentric Liberal Democratic Party, or LDPR.

"I officially state that the evidence I gave in the Bykov case about his ordering me to kill Vilor Struganov is untrue," said the videotaped announcement, published by newspapers and on news web sites. "In reality, Struganov himself gave me the pistol and asked that I turn it in to the FSB and say that the weapon was passed to me from Bykov for the murder of Struganov."

Bykov's lawyer Padva said that Vasilenko first contacted the LDPR, which backed Bykov's failed bid for a Duma seat in 1999, and two lawmakers flew out to meet with him in Cyprus. Vasilenko has been living abroad.

Padva said the videotape had been submitted to Moscow's Meshchansky municipal court, which is set to begin hearings in Bykov's case Jan. 23. The court will decide at that time whether to accept the tape as official evidence, he said.

Bykov's trial, which has been postponed repeatedly and bounced from one court to another, was most recently delayed last Friday because of Struganov's failure to appear -- due to his own incarceration in Krasnoyarsk's pre-trial detention center.

Struganov is accused of ordering a bomb blast at a school housing a polling station in the Lenin district where he was running. The plan was uncovered after the explosive device blew up prematurely, killing one of the bombers and seriously injuring the other.

Struganov's lawyer, Mokin, said his client was not acquainted with either man and denied reports published on the Strana.ru web site, which said Struganov had paid the two Ufa natives $50,000 each for their work.

Mokin added that Struganov -- who was forcibly dragged in for questioning on Dec. 25 and then released before his arrest four days later -- said at a press conference on Dec. 27 that he suspected the surviving man, Andrei Dudarev, would be pressured into accusing him of ordering the crime. Mokin said he suspects that prosecutors are indeed basing their case on testimony from this man.

Struganov told reporters he "feared for his life," Mokin said.

The lawyer said Struganov was due to meet with voters at the school on the day of the blast, Dec. 21, but was told of this engagement only after news of the blast surfaced.

A second explosion on the same day ripped through the bathroom of the Krasnoyarsk apartment above Struganov's, where the explosive device got stuck in the building's main water pipe. But Mokin said his client has not been implicated in that case.

Some of those who believe in Struganov's guilt perceived the explosions as an attempt by Struganov, who won a mere 6 percent of the vote in his district, to depict himself as a victim and thereby boost his low ratings.

Bykov, on the contrary, has retained a relatively high level of popularity. He garnered 52.7 percent in his district, easily surpassing the second-place contender, who won only 9 percent.

Since his rise to power at KrAZ in the 1990s, Bykov has earned the sympathies of the region's residents -- more than 11,500 of whom are employed by the plant -- with highly publicized populist measures, such as providing thousands of rubles for workers' dental work.

In many ways, Bykov succeeded in winning support by creating a social safety net more effective and personalized than the one provided by the government. Even while sitting in jail, last June, Bykov restored television and radio broadcasting to much of the region by paying off nearly $14,000 in regional debt to a local energy supplier.

Bykov's defense lawyers have complained that, as a regional lawmaker, their client is immune to prosecution and their inquiry is now under consideration by the Constitutional Court. The lawyers have requested on numerous occasions to have Bykov's trial moved from Moscow to Krasnoyarsk.

But several Duma deputies expressed doubts last month that courts anywhere would be impartial in trying the powerful tycoon.

"It is possible that law enforcement bodies are succumbing to the pressure exerted on them by people from Bykov's entourage," former FSB director Nikolai Kovalyov was quoted as saying by the RosBusinessConsulting agency.

Liberal Deputy Sergei Yushenkov added that the probe into Bykov, who has been under investigation in a separate murder conspiracy case in Krasnoyarsk for several years, has stretched on for an "indecently long" time.

"This eloquently proves either that the law enforcement bodies are totally unprofessional ... or that these bodies themselves are not free of corruption," he said.

Now, the Prosecutor General's Office, acting "in the interests of objectivity," has assigned the Struganov investigation to prosecutors not in Krasnoyarsk -- whose governor has been a political supporter of the suspect -- but in neighboring Kemerovo.

And while the two comrades-turned-enemies, Struganov and Bykov, sit in their respective jail cells, life -- and business -- in Krasnoyarsk go on: Last month, the new controlling shareholder at KrAZ, metals behemoth Russian Aluminum, completed an additional share emission at the plant, which diluted the stake controlled until this fall by Bykov from 28 percent to an estimated 11 percent.

While Bykov, if freed, could still give political rivals in the region a run for their money, his economic clout now seems a shadow of its former self.