The Looting of Russia
An FBI agent and an honest Moscow cop stop the plundering of the national treasury
What happened next may never be known. Kozlenok claims he was kidnapped and taken to Mexico, where he was forced to sign over control of Golden ADA to one of Chernukhin's associates, an Indian businessman. "They took all my shares and left me penniless, like an empty sack, in Costa Rica," Kozlenok later said. Investigators, however, believe he was paid off and sent on his way. Whatever the deal, this much is known: In September 1995 he packed his belongings and made a hurried exit to Belgium.
As Kozlenok was fleeing San Francisco, Viktor Zhirov was just arriving. At the FBI's field office, the Russian cop received a lukewarm reception: Davidson knew how deep the corruption was in Russia and wondered why Zhirov hadn't yet solved the case. Zhirov was wary, too. He had heard that FBI counterintelligence opposed his visit. Zhirov was among the first Russian cops allowed into the United States to work a case, and some at the FBI thought him a security risk. "There are still a lot of guys who are fighting the cold war--on both sides," said the FBI's di Pretoro.
Although Zhirov spoke little English, Davidson watched the man's facial expressions and listened carefully to his translated words. Zhirov seemed to be the real thing. Davidson noted that his guest wore the same suit all week and brought snacks so he could keep the per diem from the FBI. He soon understood why: Zhirov made only $400 a month.
In San Francisco, Zhirov found what he could not find in Moscow--property records, customs declarations--proof of how much treasure had been shipped, and then squandered, overseas. And from Zhirov, Davidson began to understand the full scope of the case. Zhirov identified key players in Moscow and outlined a conspiracy to loot the national treasury. When Davidson expressed his amazement, Zhirov tried to explain. "People worry the state could seize assets again," he said. "They believe it is not enough to steal for you and your children. You must steal for your children's children's children." Uncertain how high the scandal might go in Russia, the two men pondered what to do next. A wiretap might be useful, Zhirov suggested. He could provide intelligence and trace phone numbers from Moscow. The bureau agreed.
By the end of the visit, Davidson's attitude toward Zhirov had gone from suspicion to trust--and then to worry. Shortly before Zhirov came to America, a thug had pulled a knife on one of his aides in the Moscow subway. "Stay away from Golden ADA," the man said. Also, the Federal Security Bureau, successor to the KGB, had been asking pointed questions about Zhirov's visit to San Francisco. "Aren't you concerned?" asked Davidson. "I always carry my gun," Zhirov responded. Besides, Zhirov confided, he had a letter from Yeltsin himself ordering that "the case must be pursued to its conclusion." When Zhirov returned to Moscow, he ordered a major investigation. New detectives were added to the case, and his team began raiding offices tied to Golden ADA.