22 December 2021. Rossiyskaya Gazeta

Written by Mikhail Falaleev

Translated by Elizaveta Ovchinnikova


We knew about contract killings before the ‘roaring 90s’ only from foreign detectives. And then we were overwhelmed by a wave of these terrible crimes. Today, killers began to be hired through the darknet – the gray Internet. There is an option ‘crime as a service.’ It is clear that this does not facilitate the investigation of contract killings.


Head of the International Police Association Russian Section, Lieutenant General, Doctor of Law, Professor, Honoured Lawyer of Russia Yury Zhdanov told Rossiyskaya Gazeta about this phenomenon and how widespread it is in our country and in the world.


RG: Yury Nikolaevich, how often do contract killings occur today?

Mr Yury Zhdanov: Over the past decade, 10 to 16 contract killings per year have been registered annually, with a steady decline. And on average, there is a caseload of 30–50 contract killings cases at the beginning of the year, most of them end with an indictment and the referral of a case to court. But given the non-obvious nature of such murders, which is established by a thorough investigation, criminologists believe that 20–60 murders do not fall into the annual statistics of contract killings.  

According to the results of the 12 months of 2019, 11 contract murders were registered. This is 10 times less than at the beginning of the new century with 101 contract killimgs recorded in 2001. And 50 times less than in 1996, when 570 contract killings were recorded. In January –October 2021, 7 murders were registered, qualified as murder for hire at the time of confirmation of the indictment.

RG: And how many murders have actually happened this year?

Mr Yury Zhdanov: In January – October 2021, 19.8 thousand people died from all criminal encroachments – murders, intentional infliction of serious harm to health resulting in death and others. In 2020, 22.7 thousand people died.

Here it must be understood that at first the murder qualifies as ‘simple’ and only after a thorough investigation, which can last more than a year, and determining all the defendants, the contractor and the customer’s motive, it can be concluded that the murder was committed for hire. Of course, this affects the overall statistics.

RG: Who is most often ‘ordered’ in Russia?

Mr Yury Zhdanov: Traditionally, entrepreneurs, businesspeople, participants in economic activities become victims of contract killings. Murder-for-hire perpetrators are always driven by financial interest – getting paid for the crime. But the contract killings organisers’ motivation is characterised by a large variety of motives, including greed, revenge, jealousy.

There are motivations associated with the criminal interests of the organised criminal group (OCG), when law enforcement officers, competitors in the field of economic interests, gang members become victims. Relatives and friends become victims as well because of financial and property disagreements in the domestic sphere, personal hostile relations.

It happens that famous people become customers or victims of contract killings, which causes a great public outcry. Let me remind you that in August 2021, Krasnoyarsk businessman Anatoly Bykov was sentenced to 13 years in prison. In November, the Khabarovsk governor Sergey Furgal was indicted and in December, the hearing of the case of Raul and Rauf Arashukov began in the Moscow City Court with the participation of a jury.

RG: Do customers usually hire single killers or a group?

Mr Yury Zhdanov: It all depends on the situation and the wallet. Statistics state that only every fifth murder for hire is committed by an OCG.

So, in June 2020, a contract murder of a local businessman A. Birishev was committed in Krasnodar. The perpetrators of the crime were a group of Dagestan natives. The customer has not yet been identified. It is known that the order was received in connection with the businessman’s failure to fulfill his debt obligations and personal hostile relations. On 7 December 2021, the Krasnodar Regional Court sentenced the perpetrators of this murder to 18 and 14 years in prison, the third accomplice to a fine.

In October 2020, a major businessman A. Petrov, who was a deputy of the regional city council, was killed in Vyborg. The murder was committed by a professional killer – a sniper shot in the heart. Earlier, in September 2020, he was accused of allegedly embezzling 700 million roubles from the city budget to pay a bribe to get a position in Moscow.

In February 2018, 45-year-old A. Aliyev, the owner of a sushi bars chain, was killed in Moscow. The perpetrator of the crime was a Georgia native with many children who agreed to commit murder to repay his debt, and the customers were the murdered man’s business partners who owed him a large sum of money.

RG: What kind of weapons do assassins usually use? Sniper rifles, explosives?

Mr Yury Zhdanov: It’s mostly in the films. In fact, the use of firearms and explosive devices has fluctuated in recent years within 20–27.2 percent. In other cases, they kill with whatever they can.

RG: Where do they hire killers today?

Mr Yury Zhdanov: Contract killings are virtualised. All stages of the crime – the order, search for the performer, collection of information about the victim – are being conducted on the Internet. The customer and the performer are anonymised, payment for the crime is carried out in cryptocurrency.

So, in September 2021, Sergey Magdanov, an entrepreneur and co-founder of the regional department of the Oplot of Russia party, was detained. On the Internet, he was registered under the nickname ‘Koryto’ (Trough). He is accused of creating an OCG to organise contract killings, illegal arms trafficking, the use of physical violence to ‘ordered’ victims, debt collection, damage to property. To do this, a platform of criminal services was created on the darknet –‘Crime as a Service.’

For five years, on the basis of this Internet platform managed by S. Magdanov, orders for the execution of serious crimes were accepted and criminal ‘employment’ of potential perpetrators of crimes was carried out. It included the search and recruitment of physically strong men with an athletic build who possess wrestling techniques. The services of a virtual ‘noticeboard’ were used primarily by representatives of criminal structures looking for performers of contract crimes to punish and intimidate competitors in the criminal trade.

For example, the order for a high-profile murder of the previously convicted drug dealer K. Kazazaev, who ‘gave up’ his accomplices during the investigation, and his wife was received by criminals on this website.

RG: Was a high-profile murder of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Senior Investigator for Particularly Important Cases Evgenia Shishkina, which occurred in Moscow in 2018, also ordered on the darknet?

Mr Yury Zhdanov: Yes, it was. Moreover, she investigated the leader of the cyber-OCG Yaroslav Sumbayev’s case, who was wanted by Interpol for fraudulent theft of bank card data, fraud with railway and airline tickets. There were 22 people in the gang. By the way, this is one of the world’s first solved contract murders committed by order on the darknet.

RG: How was it solved?

Mr Yury Zhdanov: To do this, we analysed the entire mechanism of the crime. At first, Evgenia Shishkina was threatened by gang members and soon her car was set on fire. Then they decided to kill her and placed an order on the Hydra cyber platform. Yaroslav Sumbayev, in addition to large-scale fraud, was the owner of the Los Zetas online store – illegal drug trafficking, weapons. He was hiding on the Internet under the nickname Miguel Morales.

In January – October of this year, 7 murders were registered, qualified as murders for hire. But perhaps investigations will increase this number

Ya. Sumbayev’s order on Hydra for the murder of a woman was ‘accepted’ by a drug courier of his criminal online store – a minor K. Grunsky, registered under the nickname ‘White chocolate.’ Then Ya. Sumbayev gave K. Grunsky information about the victim – surname, first name, patronymic, residential addresses, routes, car data and even TIN. Subsequently, 17-year-old K. Grunsky acted as an intermediary and transferred the order and a ‘stash’ of weapons, information about the victim to the performer – his fellow medical student A. Abdulazizov, who was fond of the cyber game about killer Hitman.

The criminal paid for his order on the Internet with a cryptocurrency – 2 bitcoins, equivalent to the amount of one million roubles at that time. After the murder, the intermediary K. Grunsky cashed his fee, left himself 400 thousand roubles and gave 600 thousand roubles to the performer. This murder was successfully investigated by employees of the criminal investigation departments of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the FSB and the Investigative Committee of Russia using advanced innovative technologies, social engineering tools.

The perpetrator of the contract killing A. Abdulazizov in November 2020 was sentenced to 14 years in prison, the mediator K. Grunsky was sentenced to 9 years and 6 months in prison. The Moscow City Court extended the detention of the customer, Ya. Sumbayev, accused of organising a criminal community.

RG: Did you say that the murders of relatives are also ordered?

Mr Yury Zhdanov: Here is an example. In March 2021, a contract murder of a 43-year-old manager of a Moscow company, T. Zainiev, was committed in Moscow. His abduction with the use of a stun gun was caught on video cameras. The criminals were identified and detained by the criminal investigation department officers within two days.

19.8 thousand people were killed in 2021 as a result of all crimes in Russia

The customer of the crime was the victim’s former father-in-law, one of the designers and developers of the Buran spacecraft, Professor A. Kibalchenko. He paid the criminals 50 thousand dollars.

RG: Why did he hate his former son-in-law so much?

Mr Yury Zhdanov: The motive of the crime was property disputes after the divorce of T. Zainiev from the daughter of A. Kibalchenko, hostile relations between the father-in-law and the former son-in-law. He did not pay alimony and, as a father, did not allow A. Kibalchenko’s grandchildren to be taken abroad for education.

Another example is the contract murder of 60-year-old entrepreneur N. Leonov in June 2019 in the Moscow Region. The order came from the businessman’s common-law wife, who was a major entrepreneur and did not want to share business with her roommate N. Leonov.


How About Them?


Mr Yury Zhdanov: In two years, 2,700 people were killed in contract murders in 84 countries. North and South America account for 37 percent of all registered cases of contract killings, Asia – 33 percent, Africa – 24 percent, Europe – only 6 percent.

RG: Are their reasons the same as ours?

Mr Yury Zhdanov: I wouldn’t say so. For example, 63 percent of contract murders are politically motivated and only 3 percent are personal. The rest are economic motives and showdowns between organised criminal groups.

RG: The proportion of the use of firearms is different than ours, perhaps?

Mr Yury Zhdanov: Yes, it is used more often there – about 70 percent of the time. In general, in conditions of constant growth of social tension as a result of domestic and foreign policy conflicts in many countries, the threat of the contract killings spread in the coming years is unlikely to weaken.

Predicting the further development of contract killings, we can expect an increasing use of information and communication technologies in their preparation. The search for killers, the collection of materials about the intended victim on the Internet, online payment for the committed murder – all this can already be observed in many countries. Therefore, the fight against contract killings is becoming the most important challenge in the field of national security.