Russian Spy on Vacation in Bratislava

Two FSB agents living in Moscow and Slovakia are suspected of allegedly targeting Russian investigative journalist Ivan Golunov.

According to Golunov’s colleagues at the news site Meduza.io, the events leading up to the Russian investigative journalist’s shocking arrest began with an article he was working on, which accused two FBS secret intelligence service agents, Alexej Dorofejev and Marat Medojev, of being behind Moscow’s so-called “funeral mafia.” Medojev’s father, Igor Medojev, who is also an FSB agent, has a home in Slovakia, where he owns businesses and properties.

The Golunov Case

Ivan Golunov is a Russian investigative journalist, who was recently put on trial for his alleged involvement in the drug trade, a crime for which he could have faced up to 20 years in prison. He was arrested by plainclothes police officers, who allegedly found 3.56 grams of the club drug mephedrone while searching his backpack. Police also conducted a search of Golunov’s apartment, where another 5.42 g of cocaine and an alleged drug lab were found.

However, Golunov claims that the drugs were planted by the police. His colleagues believe his arrest to be police retaliation for an investigative article Golunov was working on about Marat and Igor Medojev and their connections to Moscow politics and the funeral mafia.

The case sparked a great wave of solidarity from Golunov’s fellow journalists, who collectively stood by their colleague. Police later admitted that the photographs of the alleged drug lab hadn’t actually been taken in Golunov’s apartment. The Russian Ministry of the Interior closed the case due to lack of evidence, and Golunov was released.

If it can be proven that Medojev played a lead role in targeting Golunov with the active involvement of the police, this would indicate his immense influence, not only among business and political groups, but also within the FSB, Russia’s intelligence agency.

Both Marat Medojev and his father, Igor Medojev, are agents of the FSB. That, among other things, means that they are barred from owning businesses. Despite this, they happen to own several luxury real estate properties worth hundreds of millions of crowns. Companies registered in the names of their relatives neither declare income nor business activities that could explain the origin of the funds invested in these properties.

  • Who is Medojev?

Igor Bašerovič Medojev is a respectable citizen of Russia and, as stated by Russian television, a “legendary figure”. In 2009, according to an official statement on rg.ru, the official website of the Russian government, he was awarded the honorary title of Hero of the Russian Federation and received a medal to commemorate his new title from the president himself. He has served as the Major General of the FSB and as an advisor to the Minister of the Interior. However, he has refused to grant on-camera interviews, saying that he doesn’t want to be recognized in public due to the nature of the government positions he has held in the past. “The Islamic State is strong now and, even then, we were fighting each other”, he adds that his primary concern is the safety of his family.

While his son Marat still serves as an officer of the FSB, Igor Medojev avers that he himself left the service nineteen years ago. At the beginning of his Investigace.cz interview, he described his work in Alfa, an elite military unit that fights terrorism. He also described his service in Afghanistan, the first and the second Georgian conflicts, and Chechnya.

Spetzgruppa A, also known as the Alpha Group or simply Alpha, is an elite unit of the Russian Special Deployment Units Specnatz. This commando branch of the FSB (the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB) operates in part as a counter-terrorist, counterintelligence unit.

The Alpha Group was formed under the KGB in 1974 in response to the infamous Munich Massacre at the Olympic games in Munich, during which members of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September kidnapped and murdered eleven Israeli athletes (two in the Olympic village and the remaining nine during various rescue attempts).

One of the first missions of the Alpha Group was Operation Storm-333, which took place five years after this commando unit was created. On December 27 1979, both the Alpha and Zenith units raided the Tajbeg palace in Afghanistan, where president Hafizullah Amin was hosting a party. According to an eyewitness, the agents ordered soldiers to kill everyone in the building—including the many women and children also attending the party. This incident incited a war with Afghanistan that lasted ten years.

However, it wasn‘t until the hostage crisis in Lebanon that the Alpha Group became internationally known as a ruthless but effective counter-terrorist unit. On September 20, 1985, the Shia organization Hezbollah kidnapped four Russian diplomats in Beirut. The kidnappers threatened to kill one victim after another if Moscow didn’t meet their demands. At first, Moscow tried to negotiate the release of the hostages, but when one of the diplomats was killed, they deployed the Alpha Group.

The remaining hostages were then released over the course of the next few weeks, which is surprising when one considers the fact that most of the other hostages (including those from the United States) were kept prisoner for several months, or even years. According to Israeli sources, it was actually the KGB, and especially the Alpha Group, who secured the diplomats´ quick release. According to one version of the story, a relative of one of the kidnappers´ leaders was kidnapped, and his ear cut off and sent to his family. According to another, it was a brother of one of the kidnappers who was supposedly kidnapped, his fingers cut off and sent to his family in two separate envelopes. Yet another version of the events claims that twelve Shia were taken hostage—one of them, the relative of a Hezbollah leader. He was then castrated and shot in the head, after which his testicles were placed in his mouth, and the dead body, sent back to Hezbollah with a letter attached. The letter allegedly read that the remaining eleven Shia hostages would meet the same fate if the Russian diplomats were not released.

More recently, this counter-terrorism commando unit participated in the 2004 Beslan school massacre in North Ossetia. Chechen Islamic separatists took hold of a school building in the city of Beslan, along with approximately 1200 hostages. 330 civilians, including 186 children, died in the crossfire during the fight between the terrorists and the Alpha Group. Russian president Vladimir Putin responded to criticism of the commandos´ actions and its use of excessive force by claiming that the unit didn’t originally plan to attack the school, and only did so after they were notified that terrorists had begun executing children inside the building.

According to the Daily Beast, these Russian special commandos also took part in the Ukrainian Civil War, also known as the Euromaidan. Locally, it is alleged that they were also at least partly responsible for the massacre of Protestants in Nezalezhnosti Square in February of 2014.

On his website, navalny.com, Russian opposition activist Alexej Navalný has mapped out the Medojevs’ luxury Moscow properties, which are worth nearly a billion rubles and belong to one of the most powerful politicians in Russia today: Moscow’s mayor and “Putin’s man”, Sergej Sobjanin. What Nevalný neglected to mention, however, are the businesses and properties owned by the Medojev family in Slovakia. The Medojevs have chosen to settle in the village of Limbach, in the foothills of the Lesser Carpathians, about a half-hour drive from Bratislava. The Medojevs aren’t the only power players with property in the area: former Slovak president Ivan Gašparovič owns a villa there as well.

Igor Medojev in front of the villa in Limbach, photo credit: Vladimír Benko, jr.

“This is Not My Country”

Investigace.cz was able to reach Igor Medojev in Slovakia. He claims that his family had nothing to do with the Golunov case: “Neither I nor my son. I don‘t even know what [Golunov] looks like.” He considers the fact that Russian journalists are connecting him to the case to be very odd. “My son didn’t know what was happening, either. He was on a vacation in Sochi. Once I’m back in Russia, I would like to talk to Golunov, so that he can publicly confirm that [the Medojevs] were not involved.”

In reply to the question of whether he tried to ascertain who actually was behind the attack on Golunov via his contacts, Medojev claims that he did not do so and, in fact, has no interest in the answer whatsoever. “When that journalist was killed here and there were protests, everyone followed the news: it weighed on everybody’s hearts and minds. But not mine. This is not my country,” he added rather illogically, as the last years protests following the murder of Ján Kuciak were never brought up by the interviewer.

Medojev maintains his innocence in the Golunov case, offering as proof his close connection with the Russian Minister of the Interior, who freed Golunov. “When we were young, we were colleagues. We still call each other from time to time. We see each other on vacation and at parties.”

Medojev’s neighbor and friend Ján Chvíla, photo credit: Vladimír Benko, Jr.

Under the Watchful Eye of a Stuffed Bear

According to Medojev himself, he retired in 2010 and was looking for a place where he could enjoy his retirement in peace. He already knew Poland and Russia inside out, so he decided to settle in Slovakia. “The neighbors here are great, and the [Slovak] mentality suits me. I learned the language quickly.”

The Medojevs, along with some of their longtime acquaintances and business partners, created a small, exclusive enclave of their own in Limbach. It consists of five brand-new villas surrounded by a wall and an impervious screen of white cedars. There are several SUVs parked in the common courtyard, and children can be seen running around. “We have six grandchildren already. There is a seventh one coming, and I am the head caretaker,” remarks Medojev the bustle.

Three of the houses belong to the Chvíla family, one is owned by Igor Medojev and his wife, Irina, and the fifth one is occupied by the Medojevs’ daughter Maja and her husband, Peter Ovsjanikov. Ovsjanikov works at Moscow City Hall, where he heads up auditing and accounting for the City of Moscow’s Department of Labor and Social Services. His father was the Crimean Minister of Transportation.

The Medojevs were supposedly introduced to the Chvíla family by a real estate broker around the time Igor Medojev decided to retire to Slovakia and began to search for a house. Ján Chvíla apparently sold them one for 250 000 euro. According to the Medojevs, the money for the purchase of the house in Slovakia was obtained from the sale of a weekend home south of Moscow. “We like Limbach. There is peace and quiet here.”

Three years ago, Igor Medojev and Ján Chvíla were together in Siberia. Ján Chvíla told Investigace.cz that he had succeeded in hunting down a bear two meters in size. He couldn’t take it back to Slovakia, however, because he lacked the required documentation to transport it. Russian customs officers therefore confiscated and burned the carcass.

Ján Chvíla isn’t disturbed by the Golunov case or Medojev’s possible connection to it. “It’s nothing. If [Medojev] says it’s all right, then it’s all right.”

The infamous stuffed bear at a Slovakian customs office, photo credit: Vladimír Benko, Jr.

Irina Medojev is Igor Medojev’s wife. Medeva s.r.o. is a company located in the industrial part of the city of Pezinok, and it is registered in her name. The company’s executive director is Petr Ovsjanikov. According to Igor Medojev, the company wanted to sell fire extinguishing balls, but their certificate wasn’t approved. They founded the company in Slovakia in 2009 and it reached its financial peak between 2011 and 2012, when the company’s revenue reached up to 270 000 euro. In 2013, business began to decline, and the company has basically only been bringing in a few thousand euro since 2015.

A second company, of which Petr Ovsjanikov also happens to be the executive director, is located at the very same address under the name “Ivera Invest”. It belongs the Andrianov family, also Russian citizens. The Andrianovs are well known in Russia as the exclusive suppliers of footwear to the Ministry of the Interior and all of the institutions connected to it, including the FSB. Orders worth several hundred millions of rubles have been awarded to the company without any tendering procedure. The Andrianovs are also planning on living in Limbach, where a villa of their own is already under construction.

Igor Medojev doesn’t deny his acquaintance with the Andrianovs. However, he was allegedly unaware of the fact that they, too, have an unusual relationship with the FSB. He was unwilling to discuss how the Andrianovs were chosen as the exclusive suppliers for the Russian Ministry of the Interior. “[That is] our Russian business. Who could possibly be interested … ”

By Pavla Holcová, Katarína Jánošíková (ICJK), Olesya Shmagun (Novaya Gazeta)OCCRP
Featured photo credit: Channel One Russia