Death of a Russian oligarch in India expands list of suspicious deaths of well-known Russians

28 December 2022, 04:06 PM
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In 2018, Pavel Antov topped the list of the richest deputies of Russia according to Forbes. On December 26, he died in India after falling from a hotel window (Photo:New York Post / East2west News)

In 2018, Pavel Antov topped the list of the richest deputies of Russia according to Forbes. On December 26, he died in India after falling from a hotel window (Photo:New York Post / East2west News)

Pavel Antov, one of the richest Russian MPs, a member of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin's party, United Russia, was found dead in an Indian hotel after having apparently fallen out of the window, Indian TV channel NDTV reported on Dec. 26.

Anton’s death was only the latest in a string of mysterious deaths and suicides among the Russian elite since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.

NV recalls the details of these mysterious deaths – 15 in total.

Pavel Antov, one of the richest MPs in Russia

The death of the Russian billionaire and MP from the city of Vladimir was reported on Dec. 26. He was with his friends in India at the moment, celebrating his birthday. He turned 65 on Dec. 22.

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According to the official account, he fell from the third floor of a hotel, as his body was found outside lying in a pool of blood. A friend of his had died unexpectedly two days ago.

Antov was the founder of the meat company Vladimir Standard, a member of the United Russia faction in the Russian parliament, and headed the Committee on Agrarian Policy, Nature Management, and Ecology of the Legislative Assembly of Vladimir Oblast. In 2018, Antov topped Forbes' list of the richest Russia's MPs.

Alexander Buzakov, a top official at Admiralty Shipyards, a shipbuilding concern that constructed Russian military submarines

A little known about the death of Alexander Buzakov, 66. He reportedly died unexpectedly on Dec. 24. No reasons were given for his death.

Buzakov had served as the director general of Admiralty Shipyards since 2011. St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov said he fulfilled " the most important government orders, primarily defense ones", in particular the production of diesel-powered submarines capable of launching Kalibr cruise missiles.

Buzakov died the day after he presided over the launch of Project 677 Lada, a new class of Russian-made submarines.

Dmitry Zelenov, former billionaire and co-founder of Don-Stroy company

Dmitry Zelenov, 50, passed away in the French city of Antibes on Dec. 9, while visiting friends. He reportedly fell ill while leaving his friend’s domicile, and was taken taken to hospital by an ambulance.

On the morning of Dec. 10, his friends were informed that he had passed away without regaining consciousness.

Zelenov was a co-founder of Don-Stroy, one of the largest property developers in Moscow around the start of the 2000s. He had made it onto Forbes billionaire list, but after the 2008 crisis, he was forced to leave Don-Stroy.

Grigory Kochenov, creative director at Agima IT

On Dec. 9, the death of Grigory Kochenov, the creative director at Russian tech firm Agima IT, 41, was reported in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod. Reportedly, he fell from his balcony at home, while police officers were conducting a search of his apartment – allegedly in connection with a “pedophilia” investigation, the independent Russian news outlet Meduza reported. His body was found by his neighbors near his house.

Nizhny Novgorod’s Investigative Committee branch has refused to comment on Kochenov’s death. His friends and colleagues called the allegations of “child porn” held by Kochenov to be completely unfounded.

Viacheslav Taran, founder of the Forex Club group of companies

On Nov. 28, it was reported that Viacheslav Taran, 53, who lived in Monaco, died on Nov. 21 in a helicopter crash near the resort town of Villefranche-sur-Mer in France in good, clear weather flying from Lausanne, Switzerland, on board a Monacair helicopter.

Taran founded the Forex Club company in 1997, which is now an online broker company known as Libertex Group, headquartered in Cyprus. Taran was born in Vladivostok, but had lived in Monaco for the past 10 years. He had Maltese citizenship as well.

Pavel Pchelnikov, a top manager at Russian Railways

Pavel Pchelnikov, 52, served as an Executive Director of the Digital Logistics arm of the state-owned Russian Railways rail operator.

His body was found early on the morning of Sept. 29 in his apartment in Moscow. According to Russian media, he committed suicide by shooting himself on the balcony. The reason for his alleged suicide allegedly remains unclear.

Anatoly Gerashchenko, the former rector of the Moscow Aviation Institute

An ex-rector at the Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI) Anatoly Gerashchenko, 73, mysteriously died on Dec. 21. He reportedly “fell from a great height” and careened down several flights of stairs at the Institute. Doctors who came to the scene provided no reason for the sudden fall, and only declared him dead.

Gerashchenko had worked at MAI since 1977 as a lead engineer, a chief mechanic, then as the vice-rector for development of the institute complex and social issues. He served as the rector of MAI from 2007 until 2015.  He was an advisor to the current rector when he died.

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Ivan Pechorin, CEO for the Corporation for the Development of the Far East and the Arctic

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Photo: КРДВ

Ivan Pechorin, 39, who was the CEO for the Corporation for the Development of the Far East and the Arctic, was found dead near Cape Ignatyev on a Russian island a kilometer away from Vladivostok. He reportedly fell from a speeding boat. The search for him lasted for several days until his body was discovered.

His death was confirmed by his colleagues, though they did not specify the reason. Russian media sources speculated that he may have been drunk at the time, as allegedly everyone on the boat was drinking alcohol beverages. A person was reported overboard 40 minutes after the boat left port. They also speculated that he ignored the captain's words, sat on the side of the boat, and then fell over while the boat was maneuvering.

He was not the first top manager of the Corporation for the Development of the Far East and the Arctic who died this year. Its director general and the former deputy governor of Nizhniy Novgorod Oblast, Igor Nosov, 43, died of a stroke in February.

Ravil Maganov, chairman of Lukoil

The Lukoil oil giant is the second largest fossil fuel company in Russia after Gazprom. The dearth of the chairman of the board of its directors was reported on Sept. 1, when Ravil Maganov, 67, was said to have fallen out of a window on the sixth floor of a hospital in Moscow, where he was undergoing treatment.

Russian Telegram channel Mash speculated that the fall was a suicide, though Lukoil officially claimed he passed away of a serious illness.

Putin awarded Maganov in 2019 (Фото: lukoil.ru)
Putin awarded Maganov in 2019 / Photo: lukoil.ru

He had worked in the oil industry since the 1980s, and served as a top manager in Lukoil since its founding.

In 2019, he received the Order of Alexander Nevsky from Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

Vladimir Zimin, a secretive colonel who carried Russia’s nuclear codes

Vadim Zimin, 53, allegedly tried to commit a suicide at home in the evening on June 20. He reportedly tried to shoot himself, as he was found with a gunshot wound of his head lying "in a pool of blood" in the kitchen. An Izh 79-9TM non-lethal pistol was found nearby.

He lived 20 km away from Moscow.

"The injures might have been caused by a suicide attempt,” the Moscow-based Komsomolets newspaper wrote.

“He drank alcohol with his brother that evening, then the brother went into a room nearby.”

Zimin survived this alleged initial suicide attempt, and was taken to hospital by an ambulance that was allegedly called by his brother. It's still unknown if he survived after being delivered to hospital.

At that moment, the colonel was under house arrest as a suspect in a bribery case of bribery. He was dismissed from his post in December 2021, despite his pleas of innocence.

The only known photo of Vadym Zimin (Фото: Mirror/ Social media/east2west news)
The only known photo of Vadym Zimin / Photo: Mirror/ Social media/east2west news

The British tabloid Mirror revealed some additional details about the incident, recalling that he was that person who carried Boris Yeltsin’s nuclear briefcase, during Yeltsin’s administration.

According to the Mirror, Zimin also served as security for Vladimir Putin as well, and was promoted to the rank of colonel, although his exact role and responsibility for the period remains unknown. 

Sergei Protosenya, the former top manager of gas giant Novatek

On April 19, Sergei Protosenya, 55, the former top manager of Russia's largest liquefied natural gas producer, Novatek, was found hanged in the garden of his luxury holiday home in Spain. His wife Natalia, 53, and their teenage daughter, 18, were found hacked to death with an axe and a knife in their beds. An axe and a knife that supposedly served as murder weapons were lying near the body of Protosenya himself.

The massacre happened in resort city of Lloret de Mar, Costa Brava, in Spain – a popular destination for Russian tourists. The family owned a house here, although they lived in the past years in Bordeaux in France. Protosenya's 22-year-old son, Fedor, was in Bordeaux at the time of the murders. He didn't go with his family to Spain, and called the police when he couldn't reach them by phone one day.

The Spanish police suggested tha tragedy could happened amid family conflict (allegedly Protosenya killed his wife and daughter and then hanged himself), though they didn’t rule out a triple murder, with Protosenya’s seeming suicide simply a cover.

Media outlets reporting on the events at the time noticed a number of strange circumstances surrounding the deaths of the Protosenya family:

  • There was a lot of blood at the scene, but no blood at all at on the clothes of Sergei Protosenya, who supposedly hacked his his wife and his daughter to death with an axe and a knife
  • experts said that the presumed murderer wore gloves in order not to leave any fingerprints
  • no notes were left with a confession or explanation of motives for the murder
  • no cases of family abuse perpetrated by Protosenya had been reported

The British tabloid Daily Mail spoke with Protosenya's son and friends, and all of them ruled out the possibility that he had killed two women he loved. Fedor Protosenya said his father loved his mother and especially his sister who "was his princess”.

"He could never do anything to harm them,” the 22-year-old student said.

“I don't know what happened that night but I know that my dad did not hurt them.”

A close friend of the family, businessman Anatoly Timoshenko, and another friend, Roman Yuravich, also strongly denied that Protosenya could kill his closest relatives.

Sergei Protosenya was a multi-millionaire and was regularly included in the list of the 250 richest people in Russia in 2006-2011. He had worked in Novatek starting from 2022, after having initially joined the board of directors in 2005 before leaving the company in 2015. Later, he moved to France.

He had obtained a Cypriot passport in addition to his Russian citizenship.

Vladislav Avayev, former vice president at Gazprombank

Just a day before the murder of Protosenya's family, another similar incident was reported in Moscow on April 18, where the body of the former Vice President for Gazprombank, Vladislav Avayev, 51, alongside the bodies of his wife Elena and their daughter Mariya. were found in their apartment.

The three were shot to death. According to the preliminary version of the Investigative Committee of Russia, Avayev killed his wife and daughter and then committed a suicide. According to Russian authorities, on the morning of April 18, he called his personal driver and asked him to pick him up, but he didn't open the door. His older daughter came to the apartment in the afternoon and found the bodies. Avaev allegedly had a gun in his hand.

The driver said his boss was in a good mood just before the murders. He also didn't notice anything strange about him, tabloid StarHit reported.

Vladyslav Avayev (Фото: Regional public organization
Vladyslav Avayev / Photo: Regional public organization "Dynamo-33"

Russian Telegram channel speculated that the reason for the supposed murder-suicide may have have been an old conflict with his wife, as she supposedly had an affair and was pregnant.

Avayev worked in Gazprombank, the biggest financial institution in the country, controlled by Gazprom, for a long time. His role at the bank was non-public.

He also served as the deputy director of the department of government affairs in the Kremlin for a while, and in recent years he headed the company Carbonix, a bone-substituting carbon implant producer. The firm's partner is Russian military-industrial conglomerate Rostec, msk1.ru reported.

Vasily Melnikov, owner of medical equipment supplier company MedStom

Vasily Melnikov, 43, was found dead in his apartment in Nizniy Novgorod, alongside his wife and two small sons (4 and 10 years old) on March 23. The four were killed with a knife, which knives were later found at the scene. The children were in their room and the woman in the bedroom. Melnikov’s neighbors and friends said there was no reason to suspect a possible family conflict.

Local law enforcement speculated that Melnikov killed his family and then committed suicide.

The businessmen owned the medical equipment supplier company MedStom.

Mikhail Tolstosheya (Watford), a Russian oil oligarch

Mikhail Tolstosheya (Watford), 66, was found hanged in his house in England. While UK law enforcement claimed to not have discovered any suspicious circumstances surrounding his death, the motive for suicide was unclear, according to UK tabloid Daily Mail.

Watford made a fortune on Russian oil and gas, then he migrated to the UK in the early aughts. He changed his name and became a real estate mogul following his move. He was not sanctioned by the UK government after the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.

However, he was found dead on the same day then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the House of Commons that he would expand the list of people associated with Vladimir Putin's regime who would be affected by British sanctions. A friend of the family said while commenting on the event to The Sun that his mood could have been affected by war against Ukraine. The outlet's source said: "His death raises questions. After all the other suspicious deaths of Russian nationals and associates in the UK, it is only natural there will be speculation about his death.”

Mikhail Tolstosheya was born in Ukraine (the Ukrainian Soviet Union Republic) in 1955.

Alexander Tyulyakov, a top manager at Gazprom

Alexander Tyulyakov, 61, was found hanged in his cottage in the village of Leninsky, near St. Petersburg, on Feb. 25. The village is known as "Gazprom's nest". A suicide note was discovered lying nearby, though its content was not made public. According to reports form the scene, Gazprom security prohibited police from investigating the crime scene. According to the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, he was seen heavily bruised just prior to his death.

Leonid Shulman, a top manager at Gazprom

The body of Leonid Shulman, 60, was been found a month before the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine began, in the same village of Leninsky near St. Petersburg. He headed the logistics department at the oil giant. Accordingly, his body, covered with stab wounds, was found in "a pool of blood" on the floor in the bathroom. A knife was found lying there as well. Allegedly, law enforcement officers discovered a note in which Shulman complained of unbearable pain, the outlet Grani wrote. Shulman was on sick leave after an injury, and had an Ilizarov apparatus installed on his leg. Novaya Gazeta wrote that investigators doubted the authenticity of the suicide note.

Suicides or not? What may this wave of strange deaths mean for the Russian elite?

"In all cases, there are widespread suspicions that the deaths may have been staged as suicides, but who did this and why?" Grzegorz Kuczyński, director of the Warsaw Institute's Eurasia Program, asked back in April.

He speculated some top officials "could cover up fraud committed in state companies.”

“This idea may be supported by a serious personnel reshuffle in Gazprom," Kuczyński added.

Paul Goble, former advisor to the U.S. Secretary of State, commented on this series of strange Russian deaths to Voice of America and Radio Liberty’s Russian service at the end of June. He said "the events reflect a complete breakdown of the system of values in Russia."

"Not only does the government kill people, but Russians kill Russians for economic gain,” he said.

“The government, disgruntled employees or competitors may be behind the murders.”

Goble also supposed it could be a generational change.

"Putin's regime is outdated,” he explained.

“Their leader is 70 and he is surrounded by people of the same age. It's time to think about those who will follow in your footsteps. Whom will they pass down their fortunes to? To the next generation. And they want to eliminate everyone who can interfere.”

The documentary Secrets of the Oligarch Wives. that was released on the Paramount+ streaming service on June 28, also touches on the theme of suspicious deaths of power Russians. It shows the stories of Russian oligarch's partners. and what they witnessed in their proximity to the Kremlin's regime. Russian banker German Gorbuntsov, featured in the documentary, called this wave of mysterious deaths this year "not a coincidence”.

"A killer comes up with his own method when he's ordered to take out a family," Gorbuntsov said while speaking about the oligarch deaths, according to an English translation.

"Similar methods but each slightly different—an axe here, a gun there,” he noted.

“They're dead all the same. Once perhaps, twice a coincidence. This is not a coincidence. It's not suicide.”

Gorbuntsov also shared the story of an alleged attempt on his own life, that took place after he fled Russia. According to his account, a stranger shot at him near Gorbuntsov’s London home in 2012. The banker suffered six gunshot wounds as a result and slipped into a coma, but managed to survive.

"What is striking about the 2022 incidents is that none of the deceased oligarchs were known to have made critical public remarks about the invasion of Ukraine," German public broadcaster DW wrote in an article covering the deaths.

"At the same time, none of them were on the international sanctions lists that had been drawn up in the aftermath of the invasion.”

DW wrote that at least 38 Russian oligarchs have been found dead or gone missing in the three years prior to an investigation released by U.S newspaper USA Today in 2017.

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