A suspected secret prison has been found in a village on the outskirts of St. Petersburg.
The abandoned facility, discovered by journalists from Russia’s 47News, featured two underground cells with toilets and what appeared to be a crematorium.
But days after journalists asked government officials about the building, bulldozers arrived at the scene and removed all remains of the cottage and its hidden jail, leading to speculation the facility was a semi-official prison, used under the increasingly blurred lines between security services and organised crime in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Journalists from 47News, a St. Petersburg-based news website, said they were alerted to the macabre prison hideaway by a migrant worker. When they explored the scene, they discovered two cells on one floor but were unable to explore a lower level due to flooding. But they did find what they described as a hidden human-sized crematorium under the cottage's bathhouse.
Pictures published by 47News show a long concrete entrance into a basement designed to fit a car, along with two cells, extensive metal grating, and even odd graffiti on the walls.
Local authorities initially confirmed to 47News that the building was a private residence, built in 2011, but which they only became aware of in 2018 when investigators searched the facility.
“Until [the police] started investigative actions there, of course, we did not know anything about it. It was disguised, and it was impossible to understand what was there,” Vladimir Sidorenko, an official from the Agalatovsky area where the facility was located, told the Podyom website. “This territory is far from settlements,” he added. “There are only 6 houses and there are no permanent residents.”
According to contractors contacted by 47News the secret facility would have required three months of construction and would have cost between 20 and 40 million rubles ($250,000 to $500,00), a huge sum for construction in rural Russia.
“So fucked up and so Russian,” said a central European counterintelligence officer, who believed the facility to be genuine. “The gray area between organised crime and the Russian security services has always been an issue going back to the KGB years but that was focused on external operations: The KGB found uses for gangsters making hard currency and business connections abroad. But now they’re mixed up at home, so I suspect it will be linked to both official and criminal elements, maybe at the same time. But it's certainly an ominous sign that someone with the political clout to make such a prison would need such a prison.”
“That things are going on in Russia that even the FSB needs to keep off the books isn’t a great sign about the nexus of organised crime and government,” said the officer, who works undercover and cannot be named.
According to officials who spoke to 47News, the plot of land the facility was built on was bought in 2010 by someone connected to the Russian prison system.
The second owner of the building, according to officials: A known mafioso who had legally changed his name to “Escobar.”