Once reputed to be a leading figure in a powerful crime syndicate in Russia, Sergei Mikhailov has rebranded himself.
He has cultivated a new image as a reputable businessman who runs a charity fund, promotes peace, and enjoys close ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. And, recently, he has benefited from a new tool as he tries to break from his past reputation -- Russia’s “right to forget” law.
Mikhailov has reportedly used the law, which came into force in Russia on January 1, to remove information about his past from major Internet search engines in Russia.
Search results for Mikhailov and his alias Mikhas on yandex.ru are now followed by a notice saying that some content has been omitted in accordance with Russian law on information and data protection.
Similarly, searches for Mikhailov on the Russian version of Google are accompanied with the message that “some results may have been delisted in consistence with the local information law.”
Attempts to search for Mikhailov on the Mail.ru search engine failed to reveal any content.
Mikhailov, 58, was reputedly a key figure in the Solntsevo, a criminal group named after a Moscow neighborhood that earned a reputation for extorting money from street kiosks in the late 1980s. Eventually, the Solntsevo hit the big time -- allegedly expanding its operations into arms and drug trafficking in Russia and abroad.
Mikhailov was arrested in 1989 on extortion charges, but the case against him was reportedly dropped after witnesses refused to testify. He later settled in Switzerland, where he was reportedly arrested in 1996 and charged with involvement in an organized crime group.
The following year, Mikhailov was acquitted due to lack of evidence after a key witness was shot dead.
Mikhailov’s home was searched by Russian organized crime police in 2002 in connection with a kidnapping and extortion probe, but he has not been charged.
Mikhailov has long maintained that he has never been convicted in Russia or abroad, and denies having ever been a member of any criminal group.
On his official website, Mikhailov’s biography describes him as a former professional wrestler and university graduate who first embarked on “commercial activities” in 1988 after having worked as a mechanic and hotel manager.
The website states that Mikhailov’s charity fund, Uchastiye, supports World War II veterans, hosts gatherings of children from conflict-torn countries, and makes generous donations to church renovations.
Photos on the website depict him as a family man and a businessman meeting prominent figures in the world of art, religion, and sports.
With little or no alternative views of his past available on Russian search engines, Mikhailov’s own narrative of his life gains prominence.But Mikhailov’s alleged criminal past will be hard to erase. Journalists continue to mention his rumored ties with the Solntsevo criminal group, and he only benefits from the “right to forget” law in Russia itself.
Outside Russia, several articles and news stories about Mikhailov’s past are still available both on yandex.ru and mail.ru.