Last Friday, Meduza correspondent and leading investigative journalist Ivan Golunov was arrested on drugs charges. He is suspected of selling drugs on a large scale. During arrest, police planted several packets of mephedrone on him, and then allegedly found further substances at his home address. After these searches, Golunov was beaten and not permitted contact with his solicitor. Amidst a backlash of protest and solidarity, he has since been released on house arrest.
Golunov has conducted dozens of investigations into opaque and shady businesses run by Russia's public officials. As a gesture of solidarity, we are taking up Meduza's offer to republish this work - and present Golunov's January 2019 investigation into property owned by Moscow deputy mayor Pyotr Biriukov and his family.
December 22, 2015, was a good day for the sales managers at the elite “Legend of Tsvetnoy” residential complex in Moscow.
That day, somebody bought nine of the ten apartments on the top two floors of the central tower — enormous homes with panoramic glass windows and a view of the Kremlin that (in the developer’s words) “erases the boundaries between man and city, opening up the possibility of enjoying an unlimited view of the capital.”
The total value of the apartments, according to Russia's public registry, is more than 820 million rubles ($12.4 million). Based on the prices of similar penthouses in the Legend of Tsvetnoy, their market value could be as high as 1.6 billion rubles ($24.2 million).
Meduza has learned that all nine of the penthouses were purchased by family members of Moscow Deputy Mayor Pyotr Biryukov, who has managed the city’s municipal services system for more than a decade.
According to Federal State Registration Service records, four of the apartments belong to Biryukov’s oldest daughter, 46-year-old Irina Biryukova; two are registered in the name of his 41-year-old son, Alexander Biryukov; and another three belong to Alexander’s wife, 31-year-old Ekaterina Biryukova. Put together, the Biryukovs’ penthouses cover more than 17,220 square feet (twice as much as the palatial Eliseevsky store on Tverskaya Street in Moscow).
A real-estate development holding company called “Capital Group” built and owns the “Legend of Tsvetnoy.” In 2015, it so happens that companies linked to Capital Group were hired for some of the biggest contracts awarded in Moscow’s beautification program, which Biryukov supervised. For example, Meduza calculates that Capital Group entities received contracts for the “My Street” campaign worth almost 21.5 billion rubles ($324,900).
According to Pyotr Biryukov’s income and property declaration, the deputy mayor and his wife don’t own much property. Biryukov himself has a 1,500-square-meter (0.37-acre) plot of land, a small cottage, and a maintenance building in the town of Popovka (in the Moscow region’s Chekhov district), and his wife Antonida owns the neighboring plot of 2,500 square meters (0.62 acres).
You can’t come near these homes, however, let alone lay eyes on them. Tall metal fences guard a wide perimeter, enclosing an area more than 15 hectares (37 acres). Biryukov’s close relatives own almost a third of this land. Most of the territory belongs to his son, Alexander, while his daughter Irina owns almost two hectares (five acres). The real estate registered under the names of other family members is located randomly, and crossing from one plot to another is often possible only by passing through someone else’s land.
There are also several plots in the Biryukov family’s domain that don’t belong to the deputy mayor’s relatives. One of these is owned by a good friend named Viktor Pchelovodov, who worked with Biryukov beginning in the early 1990s, and served as deputy head of Moscow’s Housing, Utilities, Urban Amenities, and Beautification Department until late 2012. Federal records show no data about the owners of three other plots.
Pyotr Biryukov himself owns only a small house and maintenance building in the area. The deputy mayor’s relatives live less modestly. Irina Biryukova owns three houses, the biggest of which has almost the same total area as the nine penthouses at the Legend of Tsvetnoy. The deputy mayor’s son owns a house, a guest house, and a stable; their total official value is 116.5 million rubles ($1.8 million). The biggest building in Popovka belongs to Biryukov’s niece, Anzhelika Biryukova, the press secretary of the Luzhniki Sports Complex. Her land covers more than 2,000 square meters (half an acre).
In addition to country homes and penthouses, Irina Biryukova and her son own a nine-room apartment in a building with eight apartments in the Patriarch Ponds neighborhood. Her husband is actually one of her neighbors (in 2010, he brought a police squad to get rid of a restaurant’s veranda under his windows), along with Yuri Bulanov, who worked as Biryukov’s deputy in the 2000s, when Biryukov headed the Moscow Southern Administrative Okrug’s prefecture.
In August 2010, Bulanov was convicted of embezzling 17 million rubles ($256,900). In the course of the investigation, it came to light that he owned several country houses in the Moscow region, apartments in Paris and Nice, and a hotel complex in the city. Bulanov was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison, but he was released early after two years. To this day, he still owns a nine-room apartment at a building near Patriarch Ponds.
The Biryukovs have other properties, as well. Alexander’s family previously owned a six-room apartment in Zoologicheskaya Street, but it was sold in 2012 to a Capital Group-linked Cypriot company, which built the “Imperial House” residential complex near Muzeon park. A year later, the deputy mayor’s niece, Anzhelika Biryukova, became the proud new owner of two apartments in Imperial House with a market value of at least 445 million rubles ($6.7 million).
In 2014, Pyotr Biryukov was asked how his relatives earn a living. “I really enjoy staying in touch with my family,” the deputy mayor answered, “and I have a policy here: we never talk about business.” (Biryukov declined to be interviewed for this article.)
Biryukov’s relatives nevertheless own businesses with close ties to enterprises he oversees as a city official. For example, his daughter and daughter-in-law, Irina and Ekaterina, own the company “Venta,” which leases trucks with drivers. Between 2013 and 2015, Venta reported 639 million rubles ($9.7 million) in net profits, thanks in part to the 14 contracts the company won between 2012 and 2015 with city enterprises supervised by Pyotr Biryukov worth 365 million rubles ($5.5 million). After the magazine RBC reported the apparent conflict of interest, Venta stopped winning government contracts, but it still exists today and continues to grow.
Venta owns a 600-square-meter (6,460-square-foot) office on the seventh floor of the “City of Capitals” skyscraper (another Capital Group property). According to data from the 2Gis digital map service, the same premises are occupied by the company “Spetsstroi XXI.” The CEO is Biryukov’s son, Alexander, who got his start at Capital Group. Spetsstroi XXI was a subcontractor for the beautification of the Tsaritsyno Park Reserve, where Biryukov’s Parks Department hired another business called “UniversStroiLux” to serve as general contractor. UniversStroiLux, it so happens, belongs to Biryukov’s younger brother, Alexey. Throughout Moscow’s “My Streets” beautification program, the city awarded roughly 6.3 billion rubles ($95.2 million) in contracts to firms with links to UniversStroiLux.
When Meduza called Spetsstroi XXI, the receptionist answered for the Venta company, adding that Spetsstroi was also located at the same address. When she learned that she was speaking to a reporter, the receptionist said it is company policy not to engage journalists, though she promised to give Meduza’s contact information to Alexander Biryukov. He never called back.
Venta isn’t the only business owned by Irina and Ekaterina Biryukova. Until April 2014, each woman had 15 percent of the company that owns the Ugreshsky pipeline valves factory. The plant’s main clients were Mosvodokanal, MosGaz, and Mosenergo. Pyotr Biryukov served on the board of directors for all three companies.
In the early 2010s, Irina Biryukova also co-owned the companies “Transkapital So” and “Teskla,” which received land from the city to construct a shopping center by the Ulitsa Akademika Yangelya metro station a few years earlier, when Pyotr Biryukov was prefect of Moscow’s Southern Administrative Okrug. Biryukova’s partner, Olga Belostotskaya (whose last name was Pamurzina at the time), also ran several other companies with addresses and telephone numbers that match the registration information for Transkapital So and Teksla.
These companies own more than 250 kiosks at public transportation stops in Moscow’s Southern, Eastern, and Northern Administrative okrugi. In 2011-2012, the mayor’s office decided to eliminate kiosks from stations and canceled the city’s contracts with Belostotskaya. Afterwards, Biryukova’s partner migrated to the civil service, where she spent more than five years in the senior offices in the municipal services system, working under the deputy mayor. As director of the city enterprise “Ekotekhprom,” Belostotskaya managed the distribution of 15-year contracts for Moscow’s garbage removal. More than 142 billion rubles ($2.2 billion) went to Roman Abramovich’s companies and to entities linked to Igor Chaika, the son of Russia’s attorney general. Since 2017, Belostotskaya has led the Asset Management Department at Capital Group.
But Belostotskaya’s ties to Capital Group apparently go back even further. In 2016, the author discovered a pile of construction waste in the Moscow region’s Istrinksy district. The discarded landscaping materials and granite should have been used for renovations to Moscow’s ring road, in accordance with a contract awarded to firms owned by Capital Group. According to federal records, the plots of land on which the dump was located belonged to Olga Belostotskaya and her husband, Sergey.
Two major Moscow developers’ success is also linked to the Biryukov family
Irina and Ekaterina Biryukova own shares in one more business: the “Garant-Invest” bank and development company. The company’s primary owner, Alexey Panfilov, took over the bank in 1996 at the age of twenty-four. Since 1999, he has served pro bono as one of Pyotr Biryukov’s advisers.
Garant-Invest’s business is closely linked to Biryukov’s career. The company owns dozens of shopping centers located near subway stations inside Moscow’s Northern and Southern Administrative okrugi (for example, “Galleria Aeroport” by Aeroport station, “Prazhsky City” at Prazhsky station, and many more). When the city granted permits for these enterprises, Pyotr Biryukov was head of the local prefecture. The new malls were mostly located in places where the city had recently demolished older makeshift markets. Garant-Invest was also involved in Biryukov’s project to create a chain of stores within walking distance of Moscow’s Southern Administrative Okrug. The company built six stores and received another 51 construction sites from the city. According to Garant-Invest, its annual earnings from leasing these locations approaches 22.5 billion rubles ($340 million).
The controlling stake in Garant-Invest belongs to Alexey Panfilov’s relatives, but the Biryukovs and several other people with links to Moscow city officials are minority shareholders. Viktor Korobchenko (the mayor’s former chief of staff) and Natalia Gobunova (the wife of Moscow’s election commissioner) own a small part of the company. Slightly more than two percent of the business belongs to Vitaly Smirnov, who in 2017 was charged with embezzling money allocated to the construction and restoration of several Kremlin properties.
Another major real-estate player in the Moscow Southern and South-Eastern okrugi is the “TEN Group,” which owns several massive shopping and business centers. In 2017, Forbes said the holding company was Russia’s 27th biggest real-estate owner, estimating its annual leasing revenue to be $70 million.
The TEN Group was founded by Ruslan Gutnov and Dmitri Sudyn, childhood friends who studied metallurgical engineering together. In the 1990s, Sudyn served as deputy head of Moscow’s Ryazan district council, located in Moscow’s South-Eastern Administrative Okrug. In the company’s early days, Gutnov and Sudyn were joined by the district council’s son, who at the time was Sudyn’s immediate supervisor. The company’s first properties were all located in the Ryazan district.
Before long, the company started getting construction sites in other districts of Moscow, too. Ruslan Gutnov married Irina Biryukova in the mid-1990s. His younger brother, Timur, later became a co-owner of UniversStroiLux (which was founded by Pyotr Biryukov’s brother, Alexey).
Gutnov and Irina Biryukova eventually divorced, but the couple had a son — Nikita. He is now 24 years old. Some time ago, his mother gifted him a house in the town of Popovka, outside Moscow, inside that vast territory owned by the Biryukovs, guarded by a tall fence. The house is almost 600 square meters (6,460 square feet) and it’s worth an estimated 27.6 million rubles ($417,080).
Translated by Maya Chhabra.