In 2013, Russian activist Sergei Kiselyov complained to prosecutors about hidden foreign real estate allegedly owned by a Moscow-region power couple active in the district administration and prosecutor's office.
The Prosecutor-General's Office dismissal of the complaint against Alyona Sokolskaya, who at the time was deputy head of the administration of the Moscow Oblast district of Klin, and her husband, Aleksandr Kozlov, who was then first deputy prosecutor of the city of Moscow, was direct: "Neither A.D. Sokolskaya nor any members of her family have or have had ownership of any real estate beyond the borders of the Russian Federation, including on the territory of Spain."
But RFE/RL's Russian Service has uncovered Spanish property-registry documents (see the documents here) that contradict the prosecutor-general's assertion. Those records show that the Sokolskaya-Kozlov family acquired several properties on the Canary Islands between 2007 and 2010 with an estimated value of at least 1.5 million euros ($945,000 at the July 2008 exchange rate).
They were all sold in 2013, beginning in the weeks following Kiselyov's complaint to prosecutors.
The discovery sheds new light on allegations first made by the Anticorruption Foundation of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny purporting to expose vast corruption rackets under the control of Artyom and Igor Chaika, the sons of Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika.
In a December 2015 video and documentary report, Navalny accused the Chaika brothers of creating a network of commercial firms that conducted hostile takeovers and asset stripping and engaged in rigged tenders for government contracts worth millions of dollars. All this was done, the report claimed, with the protection and active involvement of regional prosecutors across the country, including Kozlov, who answers to Prosecutor-General Chaika.
"This case is not just about corruption," Navalny said in the video exposé before condemning prosecutors and other state agents for their alleged abuses. "It is about theft, murder, and racketeering. And this system can't be held accountable because it was created by those who are supposed to punish such actions. It encompasses such a large number of people that the top levels of government certainly know what is happening."
RFE/RL's research into publicly available documents in the Spanish property registry revealed that two apartments and a small commercial space in the town of Adeje and a two-story "bungalow" in Arona were purchased in 2007-08 and registered to Kozlov and Sokolskaya.
One property, a two-floor villa near the beach in the town of Adeje, was registered in 2010 to Dmitry Sokolsky, Alyona Sokolskaya's son from her first marriage, who had turned 18 just three months earlier.
Sokolsky owns the property to this day. He and his sister, Daria Sokolskaya, both own vehicles registered in Spain, both of which were found in private parking spots that are also owned by Sokolsky.
None of the properties ever appeared in mandatory asset declarations filed by Kozlov and Sokolskaya.
An assistant to Kozlov told RFE/RL the new information was "fake." Sokolskaya said neither she nor any member of her family has ever owned any property in Spain.
Aleksandr Kozlov has fared well under scrutiny from his fellow law enforcement officers in the past. He has been investigated on suspicion of illegally holding undeclared property in the Moscow and Tula oblasts at least three times since 2011. All three probes were shut down without charges.
Kozlov and Sokolskaya both figured in the 2015 Navalny video and in other Russian media reports as part of the support mechanism for a purportedly corrupt network of businesses controlled by Artyom and Igor Chaika.
In 2011, a Moscow Oblast court heard the case of businessman Ivan Nazarov, who was accused of running a chain of 15 illegal casinos in the region that brought in some $10 million a month. The official indictment against Nazarov included an accusation from an unidentified witness that Artyom Chaika served as the "coordinator" of relations between Nazarov and local prosecutors who allegedly accepted kickbacks to protect his underground business.
In addition, Nazarov told investigators that Kozlov arranged for Nazarov to pay local law enforcement officials $30,000 a month for protection. Kozlov himself was questioned by investigators in connection with the case, but he was never investigated or charged.
In 2015, Kozlov was promoted to become head prosecutor in Tula Oblast.
Sokolskaya, who is now the executive head of the Klin district of Moscow Oblast, is more closely associated with Prosecutor-General Chaika's younger son, Igor. Igor Chaika has been active in promoting the cultural life of Klin, where 19th-century composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky lived and wrote some of his most famous compositions. The Anticorruption Foundation exposé features several clips of Sokolskaya and Igor Chaika together.
In recent weeks, Sokolskaya has been a focus of angry public protests over a local garbage dump that is considerably larger than the nearby Volokolamsk landfill that attracted protests when dozens of local children were hospitalized with symptoms of gas poisoning on March 21. The dump in Klin was scheduled to be decommissioned in 2013 before the state environmental agency Rosprirodnadzor unexpectedly extended its lifespan, allowing it to begin accepting trash from Moscow and the rest of Moscow Oblast. Although the Klin facility is formally under the control of the government of Moscow Oblast, local activists said they have targeted Sokolskaya because they believe she has a financial interest in it.
The Russian investigative website RBC has asserted that Igor Chaika controlled a firm called Khartia that won a series of tenders between 2012 and 2015 for trash disposal from the eastern and northeastern parts of Moscow. In 2014, the firm was awarded a 15-year contract, "guaranteeing itself an annual turnover of many millions of rubles for the next 15 years." Khartia was only founded in 2012, and the Moscow mayor's press office declined to respond to RBC's queries about how such an upstart was able to win such lucrative tenders.
RBC reported that Khartia was officially owned by Aleksandr Tsurkan but was, in fact, controlled by Chaika. In December 2017, the same outlet reported that Chaika had purchased "for cash" 60 percent of Khartia, with the remainder staying with Tsurkan. Chaika told RBC he expected to acquire Tsurkan's remaining stake by the end of 2018.
Navalny's 2015 video exposé details a network of companies owned by Igor Chaika and Tsurkan that were all registered at the same address and were interconnected in various ways. It describes the companies as a "cartel" intended to create the impression of competition for government tenders. Between them, the firms won 14 contracts worth 2.5 billion rubles ($83 million) in 2012 and 2013 alone.
Prosecutors declined to open criminal investigations based on the Anticorruption Foundation's findings.
Karen Dawisha, the late author of the 2014 book Putin's Kleptocracy, once identified the perversion of the law enforcement system -- and particularly the prosecutor's office -- as a key feature of President Vladimir Putin's political model, a feature that has crippled Russia's economic modernization.
"Perhaps the most surprising of the trends is the increase in the number of entrepreneurs arrested and imprisoned on tax evasion and other charges as part of a large-scale increase in the use of the corrupt criminal-justice system as a vehicle for corporate raiding by regime insiders," Dawisha wrote. "In the 10 years from 2002 to 2012, hundreds of thousands of businessmen were actually imprisoned, not just questioned or arrested, primarily as a result of rivals paying corrupt police, prosecutors, and judges to put away the competition."