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Analysis & Opinion
04.05.11 Kidnapping Russia’s Rich
By Andrew Roth

The tortured body of Viktoria Teslyuk, the16-year-old daughter of leading Lukoil executive Robert Teslyuk was found in the Moscow region this week, after the teenager had been missing for over a month. While attention recently focused on the kidnapping of Ivan Kaspersky, son of billionaire computer programmer Yevgeny Kaspersky, who was safely rescued by security services from his kidnappers late last month, the Teslyuk case stands as a grim reminder of a recent trend of high-profile kidnapping cases in Moscow that do not end so well.

The body of Viktoria Teslyuk, marked by multiple knife wounds and with a severely fractured skull, which is assumed to have been the cause of death, was discovered yesterday under a snow bank by local residents of Taldom, a small city in the Moscow region. Reports noted that while her family had not yet positively identified the body, the jewelry she was still wearing lead investigators to believe they had indeed found the missing girl’s body.

The discovery marks the conclusion of a pair of high-profile kidnapping cases that could not have ended more differently. The son of billionaire Yevgeny Kaspersky, founder of the anti-virus software giant Kaspersky Laboratory, was rescued in a daring raid and returned to his father unharmed following his kidnapping in Moscow last month. Yet while the Kaspersky case seemed fairly straightforward with reports that a ransom demand for 3 million euros was made shortly after the kidnapping, the Teslyuk case remains a mystery: no ransom demands were made and nothing was heard of the girl from the time she disappeared on the way to a math lesson until she was found this week.

The two cases have put the issue of child kidnappings in wealthy families in Russia in the spotlight. “Kidnapping in our country has a chaotic, but very brutal character. It’s not by chance that many of the rich send their children out of Russia,” said Mikhail Vinogradov, an outspoken criminal psychologist, reported rosbalt.ru.

A tour through some of Moscow’s elite shopping malls, clubs or restaurants will quickly show that Moscow’s elite are not short on bodyguards, and plenty of firms that offer security services to the ultra-rich and their families consider personal protection to be crucial. Yulia Ponomareva, a vice-president at the Alfa-Inform group, a Moscow-based personal security consulting firm, said that interest in her company’s services has jumped recently, with an increase in calls and consultations with reference to the Kaspersky case.

Concerning that case in particular, Ponomareva said that the firm had come to the conclusion that “if a more or less organized group had taken it upon themselves to go after Kaspersky [‘s son], then nothing would have helped other than additional personal protection, bodyguards.”

Ponomareva further said that families were most heavily protected in three Russian regions: Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod and Sochi, whereas security services are less utilized in other cities, such as St. Petersburg, and Russia’s more remote regions. “Many Russians still believe in the mantra that ‘whatever happens is going to happen.’ We have had an increase in calls but many people still watch these cases and don’t believe it could happen to them,” said Ponomareva.

For the families of oligarchs and the elite, security measures can vary widely. A live-in English teacher for an oil executive’s children in the elite Rublyovka suburb of Moscow said that the family’s drivers, some of whose reputation was established by earlier work in criminal organizations, served as primary bodyguards for the family’s two children, one teenager and a nine-year-old. Public transportation is strictly off-limits for the children, as are solo trips into Moscow. For bigger events like a recent concert that the son attended, three bodyguards kept him and his girlfriend under a steady eye.

Yet in comparison to some of the ultra-rich and in particular some of those that earned their money in the wilder times of the early nineties, he considers the family’s security regime fairly modest. “The people who really plundered in the post-perestroika period seem to have the strictest security presence for their families,” he said.

Yet the recent kidnappings have proven that those with fairly clean records are not immune to the dangers of kidnappings. Kaspersky, who made millions through his anti-virus software, is a rare example of an oligarch in Russia whose fortune has fairly transparent roots. The rule would appear to be that money will attract kidnappers and “in most cases the circumstances are fairly simple – many families will simply pay the money,” said Ponomareva.

But with Teslyuk no one has any answers yet. Various motives for the kidnapping have been suggested, including a reprisal by her father’s former business partners or an attempt to extract her father’s banking information from her, and finally, the possibility that the girl was a victim of chance, kidnapped and killed without any knowledge of who her father was or what he was worth.
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