Just before the New Year, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy imposed sanctions on six people. They may be linked to the Khimprom drug cartel, a criminal group that may be behind a network of synthetic drug trafficking in Ukraine and Russia. A number of criminal proceedings have been opened against the cartel in Ukraine, and its activities have been described in dozens of court decisions.
The journalists of Slidstvo.Info investigated what is known about the newly sanctioned defendants and how they may be connected to the drug business in Ukraine.
WHO IS UNDER SANCTIONS?
The National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine imposed sanctions on six people. The first is Yehor Vasylyovych Burkin, a native of the Russian city of Sterlitamak in Bashkortostan (according to his Russian passport). His name is often linked to the Khimprom group in various sources.
In Ukraine, the man used documents under the name of Yehor Vasylyovych Levchenko. Under this name, he has been wanted since 2016 (he flew from Kyiv to Kosice (Slovakia) and did not return), and is also a party to a number of criminal and administrative cases. According to the sanctions decree, Levchenko-Burkin also uses the names Artem Oleksandrovych Iermolaiev (as a native of Moldova) and Artur Sachianov (as a citizen of the Republic of Lithuania).
The sanctions were also imposed on another defendant in the criminal cases related to the Khimprom cartel, who is known in Russia as Andriy Abramovych Amirkhanyan and in Ukraine as Andriy Abramovych Lemishko. It is under this name that he has been wanted by Ukrainian law enforcement since 2016. According to the National Security and Defence Council, he uses the documents of a citizen of the Republic of Belarus named Andriy Oleksiyovych Parkhomenko.
In addition, Russian citizens Artem Oleksandrovych Gradopoltsev and Denys Ivanovych Klimov were also subject to sanctions. The latter was granted a residence permit in Ukraine. In 2019, he was sentenced to two years in prison with confiscation of property by the Holosiivskyi District Court for participating in an organisation for the illegal distribution of drugs under this name. Another Russian citizen, Tymur Ilyasovych Galyamov, who uses documents in Ukraine under the name Artem Eldarovych Khalikov, was also subject to Ukrainian sanctions. According to official data, in 2017, he caused a car accident on Khreshchatyk while driving a Toyota in a drunken state. The case was closed due to the expiry of the time limit.
Gradopoltsev and Galyamov/Khalikov, like Burkin, have Bashkir “roots”. According to the Russian registers, Gradopoltsev was registered in Sterlitamak as an individual entrepreneur (analogous to a self-employed individual in Ukraine), and was also the founder of the companies Bashmetotkhody and Dvorekoservis. In Ukraine, Khalikov is the current director of Kuba-M LLC, which, according to the registers, is engaged in furniture trade. The founder of the company is a Russian citizen, Artur Ildarovich Isayev. In 2017, a person with this name entered the Bashkir State Medical University to study medical care.
The last person on the sanctions list is Albert Minullovych Safikhanov, who uses documents in Ukraine under the name of Robert Radikovych Budayev, a native of Azerbaijan. Under this name, in 2020, Safikhanov-Budayev entered into a plea agreement with the prosecutor in a drug trafficking case in Russia. According to court materials, the man distributed drugs in the cities of Novokuznetsk, Rostov-on-Don, Taganrog, Tyumen, Lipetsk and nearby settlements, earning about $340,000 over two years. Safikhanov-Budayev kept part of the money at home in Kyiv. The Holosiivskyi District Court ruled that he should receive a suspended sentence of three years in prison and that cash (UAH 2 million) from a bank safe, two watches, a gold chain and an Infiniti QX 70 car should be confiscated.
WHAT IS KHIMPROM?
On the eve of the sanctions, the Security Service of Ukraine reported that since the beginning of the full-scale war, it had neutralised more than 60 groups that “planned to turn Ukraine into a transit country for drugs to the EU”. Khimprom is accused of trading in so-called “bath salts” and managing call centres that engage in financial fraud (extorting card numbers and secret codes from people to write off funds). One of the key “consumers” is the military. “Under the coordination of the Russian special services, this drug syndicate [Khimprom] has been trying to expand its activities in Ukraine since 2014. The criminal organisation is characterised by a clear hierarchical structure and unconditional execution of instructions from its leaders, who are hiding from justice in Mexico. The extensive network of Khimprom members around the world includes almost 1,000 people who provide the drug cartel with illegal profits of more than USD 2 million every month,” the SSU said in a statement.
According to the special service, “89 drug dealers were detained and notified of suspicion; 34 organisers and active members of drug groups received real prison sentences.” Among the detained cartel members are two former officials of the National Police’s anti-drug crime unit.
Back in 2019, the press service of the Prosecutor General’s Office reported that, together with the SSU, its representatives “stopped the activities of a transnational group that had been selling drugs for cryptocurrency on the Internet for more than four years and detained 20 participants in the scheme”.
At the time, according to the head of the PGO department, Serhiy Kiz, the investigation revealed that in 2014, a hierarchical criminal organisation was created in Ukraine, consisting of both Ukrainian and foreign nationals, including Russian citizens.
The then First Deputy Head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Pavlo Demchyna, noted that the organisation had been active in Ukraine and the Russian Federation until 2017. However, after mass detentions in Russia, its main members, Russian citizens, moved to Ukraine and set up remote control of the illegal business, significantly strengthening the conspiracy measures.
“To give you an idea of the discipline in this organisation, I will tell you the following: some members of the criminal organisation do not have fingers on their hands today. For any violation of the rules of secrecy, behaviour, unauthorised contacts or use of personal mobile phones at workplaces, specially trained people came and simply chopped off their fingers,” Demchyna scared journalists with shocking details of the life of the Khimprom workers.
In addition to official reports, there are occasional references in other contexts. For example, in December 2021, Oleksandr Gogilashvili, a person involved in the investigation by Slidstvo.Info and former Deputy Interior Minister, mentioned Khimprom in an interview with Babel as a possible source of threats to himself and his family.
Former Deputy Interior Minister Oleksandr Gogilashvili
“There was an attempt to assassinate me — a car was shot at in 2019. After my appointment, three months later, there was a criminal investigation, but I can’t talk about it. There was a threat to my family. And I live in this state. Please understand that I was not selling donuts on the market. This is millions of dollars. I have crossed the path of so many people in this country who are still dealing drugs today… This is the Russian trail, Khimprom. Everything is very closely connected to Russia. They have one of the largest organisations, the largest clans, involved in the production and sale of drugs. Khimprom, which has settled here (in Ukraine — ed.), is made up of Russian citizens who produce and trade amphetamine in huge quantities. If we managed to detain Khimprom, we would have knocked out 60 percent of amphetamine in Ukraine. But it’s all intertwined: different organisations and people received, covered, and had money. Starting with the National Police, the Interior Ministry, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Security Service, etc.”, Gogilashvili said.
One of Khimprom‘s lawyers, the head of the Tihishvili Law Firm, Heorhiy Tihishvili, claimed that during the consideration of criminal cases against his clients, the Prosecutor General’s Office allegedly involved representatives of NGOs to put pressure on the court.
“I had a case that you have not mentioned yet — the Khimprom case (a case concerning the activities of a ‘subdivision’ of the international ‘drug syndicate’ known as Khimprom). As it was said at the press conference, this is “the largest gang of drug traffickers in the history of Ukraine”. There were a lot of participants in the case, a lot of suspects, and each of them had their own lawyers and defence lawyers. There were also about 80 prosecutors and 15 investigators, because this case was very important to them, so all the attention of our media was focused on it. The experience I gained then helped me grow as a lawyer, because everything we did there turned out to be negative. That is, we repeatedly said that there were such and such violations by the investigating authorities and the prosecutor’s office, but the court turned a blind eye to all this. In addition, in this particular case, the Prosecutor General’s Office actively involved NGOs, which came to the Pechersk Court in Kyiv and said that the lawyers were corrupting the Pechersk Court in order to release their client from custody. And my client at that time had the largest bail amount in the history of Ukraine — almost UAH 300 million. I have never seen more than that,” Tihishvili said. Judging by the court documents, it is Yegor Burkin-Levchenko who is being referred to.
At the same time, the information field was saturated with emotional materials of a dubious nature, including both “exposés” of the cartel’s activities and image “positive” publications about the defendants who allegedly helped the army and funded charities. At the same time, the real facts described in court decisions were often supplemented with emotional and manipulative data that could not be verified by independent sources. And dozens of “one-page” websites have been created for Internet searches, the purpose of which is to “clog” the search results and convince the reader that the leaders of the drug cartel have nothing to do with it. Similarly, there are dozens of websites with personal data, copies of passports, photos from personal archives, excerpts from operational files, and diagrams of the extensive networks of connections of alleged Khimprom members.
Russian propaganda media predictably blame Ukraine for the emergence and spread of Khimprom.
According to the sanctions documents, Burkin/Levchenko did receive a Ukrainian passport for travelling abroad in November 2014. In 2017, a number of cartel members were indeed detained in Russia, and the Consular Service Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs even asked the Russians to provide information on the presence of Ukrainian citizens among the detainees. According to court documents, in 2017, the Main Department of the State Migration Service in Kyiv cancelled its decision of 10 October 2014 to grant Ukrainian citizenship by territorial origin.
On 16 August 2022, the Kyiv District Administrative Court accepted for consideration Burkin’s application for cancellation of this decision (in fact, restoration of Ukrainian citizenship). On 9 November 2022, the now liquidated Kyiv District Administrative Court ruled in Burkin’s favour. In April 2023, the Sixth Administrative Court of Appeal denied the Migration Service’s appeal against this decision.
“CATCH THE DEALER”
Detector Media notes that in the spring of 2023, in an interview with Odesa blogger Stas Dombrovsky, Yehor Burkin/Levchenko claimed that he was a businessman whose reputation was being destroyed by competitors. According to him, he was in Mexico, and to prove his innocence of drug trafficking, he announced a campaign called “Catch the dealer”. Levchenko promised rewards to those Ukrainians who detained drug couriers or drug producers. Dombrovsky called him a “patron of the action”. The action announced by Levchenko was widely reported by Ukrainian online media. The 1+1 TV channel’s Hroshi programme aired an 11-minute story about the action, featuring Dombrovsky and Levchenko’s lawyer, Andriy Kuzmenko, as speakers. In 2017, Kuzmenko represented the interests of one of the drug cartel’s “recruiters” in court.
Subsequently, Dombrovsky began to publicly criticise and condemn Levchenko and the activities of Khimprom. He also claimed that former Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and recently liquidated ex-MP Illia Kiva could be behind Khimprom. It is noteworthy that shortly before his death, Kyva himself also mentioned Khimprom, calling it “part of the state system” and accusing Ukraine’s security forces of coordinating it.
The announcement and launch of the “Catch the Dealer” campaign, with billboards placed across the country and advertisements broadcast on numerous radio stations, strangely coincided with the period of active court proceedings involving Levchenko-Burkin. In addition, a few months earlier, dozens of publications had appeared in the media targeting one of the leaders of the volunteer group Archangels of Michael, Mykhailo Maiman (Pomohaybo), who allegedly had a business relationship with Levchenko at first, but later ended it. Maiman has repeatedly engaged in public spats with Kyva.
On the Internet, one can find acknowledgements from Maiman’s organisation mentioning Levchenko-Burkin to the Frome Hart Uyey (From heart UA — transl.) Foundation. The same foundation allegedly received a letter of appreciation for the activities of another person on the sanctions list, Andriy Amirkhanyan. The founder of the foundation is Oleksandr Morozov from Melitopol. The media has published articles about the charitable assistance provided by the Foundation, such as the receipt of a large truck from Scania, as well as expert comments on humanitarian aid.
WHAT IS KNOWN ABOUT BURKIN-LEVCHENKO’S COURT CASES?
According to the Judiciary of Ukraine portal, Yehor Levchenko is a party to a number of criminal proceedings related to both drug trafficking and citizenship issues. Two of the proceedings (one and two) are related to drugs. Burkin-Levchenko is accused of creating a criminal organisation, organising the illegal sale of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and their analogues, and legalising the funds obtained through criminal means. The latest ruling by the Kyiv Court of Appeal states that the case has been repeatedly suspended and resumed since 2019, and the pre-trial investigation is now ongoing again.
Another conflict has arisen within the investigations related to this case, involving the name of former MP Illia Kiva. In 2019, one of the prosecutors of the Prosecutor General’s Office, Roman Zarichansky, wrote a report about the pressure he was under in this case. He allegedly received a call from a person who introduced himself as Kyva and began to threaten him, demanding that he unblock certain procedural actions against the defendants in the case and allow them to travel abroad. Prosecutor Zarichansky linked the call to the Khimprom case. Criminal proceedings were opened and investigated by investigators from the State Bureau of Investigation and the Prosecutor General’s Office.
The investigation revealed that one of the defendants in the case had gold bullion in a safe deposit box at a bank. The prosecutor of the Kyiv Local Prosecutor’s Office, Kostiantyn Yusubov, who was investigating Zarichansky’s case, illegally seized the jewellery from the box when the defendant died. And now he himself has become a defendant in another criminal proceeding conducted by NABU detectives.