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The Short Happy Life of a Russian Anti-Corruption Investigator

Nazim Kaziakhmedov was probably still reveling in his promotion. He’d only arrived in Moscow from his work as a head prosecutor in Makhachkal, the capital of Dagestan, in May to join General Prosecutor Nikolai Batmanov’s team of senior investigators for “especially important cases.” That was only the first step in Kaziakhmedov’s rise through Russia’s legal bureaucracy. A few weeks ago he was tapped to join the Kremlin’s newly created “Investigative Committee,” which under the chairmanship of Aleksandr Bastrykin was to make Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov’s very public anti-corruption campaign a reality.

But Kaziakhmedov’s career as an anti-corruption investigator was abruptly cut short Thursday night. As he was leaving the Caucasian restaurant “Bakinskii Dvorik,” a man 30-35 years old, 5’9″, dressed in all black with a black baseball cap, unloaded three rounds into Kaziakhmedov’s body. One in his stomach and one in the chest. One “control shot,” as they say in Russian, to the head. The weapon was left at the victim’s side. The killer was nowhere to be found. One need not be a fan of the Sopranos to recognize that this was a contract killing.

Kaziakhmedov’s assassination is sure to revive images of the “gangster capitalism” of the 1990s. It was then that Russia’s budding capitalists opted for civil war rather than civil law to protect their fruits of primitive accumulation. Unfortunately, as this new hit proves, the practice has not died out under the “stability” of Putin’s Russia. Nor should Kaziakhmedov’s murder be seen as the first blow against the Kremlin’s efforts to manage elite theft. Around this time last year, Central Bank of Russia First Deputy Chairman Andrei Kozlov received a “control” shot to the head as he left Moscow’s Spartak Sports Center. Kozlov was another anti-corruption maverick who dared to clean up Russia’s horribly corrupt banking system.

Kaziakhmedov can be considered the first casualty in the Investigative Committee’s efforts to look into the dealings of the Finvest Group, a conglomerate of ten Russian firms which organizes hedge funds for construction projects, retail, and transportation services. The ten firms control 48 percent of Finvest’s holdings. The other 52 percent is held privately, among which includes Federal Council member Vladimir Slutsker and ex-leader of the Russian financial broker “Rostek” Ambartsum Safarian.

Finvest’s activities came to Russian authorities’ attention in 2005 when Slutsker sent an appeal to the government charging that his partners were stealing. An inquiry resulted in Safarain’s arrest and conviction for fraud. Safarian’s conviction was only the first act in the Finvest drama. In April 2005, Anatoly Trofimov, another private Finvest investor and former FSB chief, and his girlfriend Tatiana Kopyttseva were shot dead near their Moscow apartment.

It’s still unclear what the motive was for the hit against Kaziakhmedov, except that he was the most active agent in the investigation against Finvest. If this is the extent of his involvement, then it is clear that Kaziakhmedov’s murder is a reminder of the extent to which Russian entrepreneurs will go to in order to protect their right to plunder.

And while one may consign the incident to the dark side of Russian capitalism, given the fact that the Putin’s government, now spearheaded by Zubkov, has been more vigorously beating the drums of anti-corruption, one can’t help speculate about the murder’s larger implications.

First, it is a reminder that the Russian political and economic elite are riddled with clans willing to employ violence even against Putin’s own clients. Many have noted that as the Presidential elections approach, these often nebulous clans will make their voice more pronounced. Second, if Putin’s government is really sincere about cracking down on corruption, then the state will have to use some hefty powers of its own against its own base of support. Putin is no stranger to wielding state power, as the Khodorkovsky case shows. The difference is that this war against the elite is taking place at the same time the Kremlin is orchestrating a transfer of power. Multitasking at this point in time might produce more political problems than necessary. Lastly, Kaziakhmedov’s murder is a reminder that the real enemies of “Plan Putin” (i.e. Putin’s attempts to bring political and economic stability through managing elite forces) are not outspoken journalists, NGOs, exiled oligarchs, colored revolutionaries, or even flamboyant oppositionists. Putin’s real enemies might prove to be internal to the very class upon which his power rests: the Russian capitalist elite.

Sean Guillory is a PhD candidate in Russian and European History at UCLA. You can read his thoughts on Russia at Sean’s Russia Blog.