Russian opposition activist Aleksei Navalny has announced that he will be closing his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), which has angered oligarchs and officials alike with his blistering investigations, after a Kremlin insider won a large defamation lawsuit.
However, Navalny said he would open a new organization soon to continue his work exposing corruption at the highest levels of the Russian government.
"Not a joke. Not a marketing trick. The Anti-Corruption Foundation, which I established nine years ago, will soon be taken away by Putin's Chef and his friends," the activist said in a July 20 tweet.
FBK last year lost an 88 million-ruble ($1.2 million) defamation lawsuit filed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin insider known as "Putin's Chef," after it accused his catering firm of serving meals at Moscow schools that caused a bout of food poisoning.
FBK currently has 7,607 sponsors that donate money on a monthly basis. That money would now go to Prigozhin if FBK was not liquidated, Navalny said in his tweet.
"Instead of the previous FBK, we are creating a new legal entity and will continue to work," spokeswoman Kira Yarmish said on Twitter.
During its nine years of existence, the FBK has been instrumental in exposing corruption in Russia, producing dozens of detailed investigative videos on oligarchs, government officials, executives at state-owned companies, and their friends and relatives.
Putin has extended state control over the media, including national television, during his more than 20 years in power as either president or prime minister, neutering its work and turning it into a mouthpiece for the Kremlin.
That has left hard-hitting investigative pieces to independent outlets like FBK, which has largely relied on open-source information, such as property documents as well as photos and videos published on social media, to expose its targets.
The following are among the five most popular videos produced by the FBK.
The 50-minute video Don't Call Him Dima explored the wealth of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who has sought to portray himself as a politician with more liberal values and a fighter against corruption.
Published in March 2017, the video has garnered 35 million views, the equivalent of one-quarter of the Russian population, and more than double any other video produced by the FBK.
The investigation started after a Russian hacker broke into Medvedev's telephone in 2014 and published his seemingly harmless exchanges, including information about his purchases of gadgets online, Navalny says in the introduction.
Following the online trail left by the purchase data, Navalny and his FBK team say they discovered a business empire secretly owned by Medvedev through nonprofit organizations, including mansions, yachts, and vineyards.
Medvedev "is crazy about money and elite real estate, not gadgets like we all thought," Navalny tells his audience in the video. The prime minister is "one of our country's richest individuals and one of its most corrupt officials."
Medvedev denied the allegations and called Navalny "a scoundrel," adding that commenting on the video would only benefit the activist.
The Prosecutor And His Sons
FBK's second-most popular investigation, with 12 million views, focuses on Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika and his family.
The 43-minute film, released in December 2015, accuses Chaika's two sons of using the cover of their father's subordinates to illegally enrich themselves.
The FBK alleged that Chaika's family and senior officials in the Prosecutor-General's Office had business ties to a notorious gang that for years terrorized a small town in southern Russia. The gang's leaders were convicted of murdering 12 people, including four children, in 2010.
Chaika has described the allegations as "a hatchet job" financed by William Browder, an American-born British citizen who was a prominent investor in Russia before he was banned from the country in 2005. Browder has been instrumental in getting the United States and European countries to pass laws granting their governments the power to sanction Russian individuals for corruption and human rights abuses.
The film alleges that Artyom Chaika, who is a permanent resident of Switzerland, illegally privatized industrial facilities and businesses in Russia that has allowed him to purchase a luxurious hotel in Greece and a villa in Switzerland.
The film also claims that Chaika's other son, Igor, who owns several large Russian business enterprises, has been illegally awarded state tenders for construction and development projects in Russia.
The Oligarch And The Sex Teacher
An FBK investigation titled Yachts, Oligarchs, Girls: A Man Hunter Exposes A Bribe Taker follows the social-media posts of self-proclaimed Belarusian sex trainer Anastasia Vashukevich -- aka Nastya Rybka -- to connect Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska to one of country's top foreign-policy officials.
The FBK video, which uses Vashukevich's posts, appears to show then-Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko being offered lavish treatment on Deripaska's yacht in 2016. The two also appear to discuss U.S. politics.
In the February 2018 video, which has garnered more than 11 million views, Navalny goes on to claim that Prikhodko's sojourn on Deripaska's yacht effectively amounted to a bribe from the oligarch. He also listed the deputy prime minister's hugely valuable property holdings in and around Moscow.
After the FBK published the video, Vashukevich was arrested in Thailand on charges of violating labor laws and deported. She was detained in January 2019 in Russia upon her arrival at a Moscow airport. She was eventually released and returned to her native Belarus.
The Secret Dacha Of Putin, released in August 2017, alleges that the Russian president uses a venerable country house on a Russian island near the Finnish border for holidays.
The 50-hectare property, located on the islet of Lodochny, not far from the city of Vyborg, in a bay north of the Gulf of Finland, is home to several buildings and a helicopter landing pad.
In the video, which has more than 10 million views, Navalny says land records show that the property belongs to Oleg Rudnov, a Putin confidant from St. Petersburg who headed a company called the Baltic Media Group.
Rudnov headed another company belonging to another Putin confidant, classical musician Sergei Roldugin, who has been alleged by the Panama Papers investigative project to be a conduit for some of Putin's secretive wealth.
One of Navalny's most recent investigations targets the country's new prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin, who was appointed by Putin in January to replace Medvedev.
The immediate family of Mishustin, who previously oversaw Russia's federal tax agency, owns property in and around Moscow valued at 2.8 billion rubles ($40 million) despite the fact that he has largely worked for the government his whole life.
Mishustin has claimed that his wealth was largely earned during a two-year stint with a Moscow-based private equity firm from 2008 to 2010. The money was then invested in high-interest-yielding bank deposits, he claims.
The video, released on January 28, has been viewed more than 9 million times.