In 2005 Alexei Pichugin was convicted of murder and ordering contract killings
Last week the Moscow Times reported that a Moscow City Court rejected the appeal of Alexei Pichugin, the former chief of security for Yukos. Mr. Pichugin was convicted in 2005 for the murders of Sergei and Olga Gorin and two counts of attempted murder for ordering attacks on Olga Kostina and Viktor Kolesov. Mr. Pichugin was also convicted of murdering the mayor of the City of Nefteyugansk, Vladimir Petuhov, who tried to get Yukos to pay back taxes owed to the local government (Mikhail Khodorkovsky was convicted on charges of tax evasion). Alexei Pichugin will now spend twenty years of his life in a maximum security Russian penal colony.
In 2002, Sergei Gorin was a senior manager at Menatep Bank's branch in the city of Tambov, where he arranged several lucrative off-the-books deals between Yukos and local businesses. These arrangements seemed to have worked fine until Mr. Gorin got ambitious and asked Mr. Pichugin to either bring him on board as a well-compensated Yukos employee or give him $100,000 cash in severance pay.
At this point, a criminal court found, Pichugin went to the Gorins residence, beat up their terrified children, then locked the kids in a bathroom while he waited for the parents to come home. When the Gorins arrived, they were dragged into another room and murdered, and then the killer disposed of the bodies. The Gorin children testified that the last time they heard their mother's voice she was begging her killer to at least turn on the lights in the locked bathroom so that the children wouldn't be so scared in the dark.
In spite of Mr. Pichugin's conviction on these charges in a lower court, prosecutors have one major missing piece of evidence to make their case on appeals - Sergei and Olga Gorin's bodies were never found. Pichugin's defense attorneys have appealed his 2005 conviction, arguing that without any bodies, the State cannot prove that their client ordered or committed the murders. Pichugin's lawyers also claim that the testimony of several convicted criminals should be discounted since they have received reduced sentences in exchange for cooperating with the prosecution. Pichugin's defense counsel have vowed to take their case all the way to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation and the European Court of Human Rights, insisting that their client is just another victim of the Kremlin's war against Yukos.
However, state prosecutors have claimed that Mikhail Khodorkovsky's senior partner Leonid Nevzlin was complicit in the murder of the Gorins and ordered Pichugin to kill and intimidate several other people. One of the victims of this violent campaign was Valentina Korneyeva, who owned a business called "The Tea Shop" and was murdered for refusing to sell her space in downtown Moscow to the Yukos-affiliated Menatep Bank. Another victim was Olga Kostina, whom the BBC describes as "a one-time adviser to Mr. Khodorkovsky who went to work for Moscow's city government." Actually, Mrs. Kostina had taken a job working in Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov's office of communications. Nevzlin may have feared that Mrs. Kostina had too much kompromat (dirt) on her former boss. Mrs. Kostina barely survived the attack. Mr. Pichugin has also been convicted of ordering the severe beating of Viktor Kolesov, an executive at Rosprom, the federal agency for promoting Russian industry.
Even if Westerners are skeptical of the criminal evidence Russian prosecutors have presented against Mr. Khodorkovsky's former associates, one thing is clear: Yukos had made many powerful enemies in Russia (not just the Kremlin) before the State moved against the company.
UPDATE: Kommersant has more details on the case here, including comments from Leonid Nevzlin's lawyer.