The Moscow policeman from Bucha. The curious case of Sergey Klokov, a.k.a. Semiel Vedel, who was sentenced to seven years in prison for three phone conversations
The Moscow policeman from Bucha. The curious case of Sergey Klokov, a.k.a. Semiel Vedel, who was sentenced to seven years in prison for three phone conversations
25 May 2023, 15:16

Sergei Klokov (Vedel) during his court hearing. Photo: Alexandra Astakhova / Mediazona

In late April, former Moscow police officer Sergei Klokov (Vedel) was sentenced to 7 years in a penal colony. He was accused of spreading “fake news" about the war in private telephone conversations with three of his acquaintances. Mediazona found out what brought Klokov-Vedel behind bars—and what a high-profile unsolved murder case of 20 years ago had to do with it.

“I’ll try not to die and wait for you!” yelled 66-year-old Lyudmila Klokova, as the convoy escorted her son out of the hall of Moscow’s Perovsky District Court on April 19. Moments before, the prosecutor had asked for nine years in prison.

Liudmila told Mediazona that her son started to look ill in jail, he was placed in solitary shortly before the trial. “Many people don’t understand, but I am very proud of him,” she added.

Her 39-year-old son is referred to in the case file as Sergei Valentinovich Klokov, although he officially changed his name and surname in 2005—along with his father and sister—and became Semiel Valterovich Vedel.

Albina Braginskaya, major case investigator at the Investigative Committee of Moscow, opened this case on March 16, 2022, on the grounds of the then-fresh article about spreading “fake news” about the Russian army. Within hours, Vedel was searched. He was the seventh person charged under Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code and the first one to be put in jail on that charge.

At the time, Vedel was a police captain with 18 years of service experience in internal affairs bodies. Officially, his position was called “chemical property technician of the reserve control station of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Moscow.” In reality, Vedel said during interrogations, he worked as a driver—he drove his superiors in an UAZ Patriot car.

How a Free Lawyer “Helped” Vedel

Vedel’s relatives informed Mediazona that after the search, Sergei was taken to the Investigative Committee in handcuffs and with a bag over his head. There, he was approached by a stranger who said: “I am a free, appointed lawyer. My name is Vladimir Makarov.”

“Makarov’s free status was confirmed by the fact that the agreement, which Makarov offered Vedel to sign, did not include a cost line,” stated lawyer Daniel Berman, who replaced Makarov some time later (his Telegram channel is now unavailable, but many of Berman’s posts were cited by the Lawyer Street paper).

Makarov is listed in the case file as a lawyer by agreement, not by appointment. When filling out the documents to represent Vedel, he mixed up the year of his lawyer’s certificate, made two mistakes in his client’s name as well as in the name of the Investigative Committee of Russia.

Makarov also represented Vedel at the preventive detention trial—in his own words, he has served his “entire life in the KGB and FSB,” and is “a colonel in the reserve and currently an honorary lawyer.”

The lawyer began his speech by reminding the court that Vedel was a native of the Ukrainian town of Irpin, and that his relatives had been “in the war zone” since February 24.

Prosecutor Eduard Matveychik instantly reacted to these words of Makarov. “Your Honor, please note that the argument about combat operations is inappropriate in this process, because the official position of the government is to conduct a military operation,” he countered.

Lawyer Daniil Berman and Sergei Vedel in court. Photo: Alexandra Astakhova / Mediazona

Makarov readily admitted that he “misspoke,” and moved on to his main point, the inadequacy of the defendant.

“He deserves to be convicted, as well as punished for damage to the state. He will have his punishment, I am sure. In my opinion, he’s our man, he’s a Soviet man, he’s not an enemy of the people. Did he make a mess of things? Yes, but not out of spite—he was out of his mind, his psyche failed. Both the investigator and I saw him as disoriented, zombified, with a distorted psyche and inflamed perception. And that it was necessary to cooperate with the investigation... He didn’t perceive, he had other information in his head. He repeated the same thing, it’s in the case file, it’s the delirium of a madman,” said the lawyer.

After that, he assured the court of the sincere support of the deputies, who shortly before passed the article on military “fakes.”

“The Duma didn’t introduce exactly such a disposition in the Criminal Code, which is designated that exactly such acts are a crime, in vain... Today it is time to reevaluate what is happiness, what is the duty of each of us, the duty of society. And so that there would not be a disaster, the possibility of slipping somewhere, this article was introduced, the right article,” Makarov ranted.

Toward the end of his speech, he asked the court to impose house arrest on Vedel so that he could “look into the eyes of his children.” The lawyer pointed out that the condemnation from Vedel’s housemates would be "the most terrible punishment” for his client.

“He’s the family provider, his wife is on maternity leave. He’s done them wrong, he’s eating them up, and it's going to hurt him because they're his family,” Makarov finished.

By that time, Vedel had already pleaded guilty both at interrogation in the Investigative Committee (he applied for a pre-trial agreement, but was denied) and in the court of restraint. But even then he insisted that in the telephone conversations that formed the basis of the case, he “shared his heart and pain.”

“I didn't know that it was false information, I had no intent. It was just a friendly conversation,” the defendant explained.

On 17 March 2022, the court sent Vedel to the detention center.

What exactly was Vedel accused of

According to the criminal complaint, “having a disparaging, unfriendly, hostile-aggressive attitude toward the Russian people and the Russian Federation as a whole,” on 9 March 2022, Vedel “by making telephone calls to unidentified persons residing in the Republic of Crimea and the Moscow region” disseminated “deliberately false information” about:

  • The removal from the territory of Ukraine of the corpses of the Russian soldiers to the Republic of Belarus for their burning in a crematorium;
  • The absence of ‘Nazis’ on the territory of Ukraine;
  • Committing explosions by soldiers of the Russian Federation on the territory of the Rostov region in order to provoke and justify their invasion in Ukraine;
  • Mass murder of Ukrainian civilians by soldiers of the Russian Federation.

This list was supplemented by several more items in the ruling on arraignment: “On the refusal of the Russian side to officially recognize the deaths of Russian servicemen; on the missile and bomb attacks of the Russian Federation Armed Forces on residential buildings in Ukrainian settlements; on the destruction by the Russian Federation Armed Forces of the settlements of Bucha, Hostomel, Irpin, Kharkiv, Sumy,” and “on daily losses of the Russian army.”

According to the investigation, Vedel committed all this using his official position, acting on the grounds of political and national hatred, acting as a member of a group of persons by prior collusion. The indictment also states that he “expressed unflattering words about the president of the Russian Federation, calling him a fascist.”

An investigation group of ten people worked on Vedel's case. Over time, they identified his interlocutors.

The case file contains transcripts of Vedel’s calls to three of his acquaintances: a former colleague from the Moscow police department, a retired police driver Eduard Mikhailov, Yuri Kurishko and Alexei Suyazov, two old friends from Sevastopol, where the Vedel family had a country house. All three calls are dated 9 March 2022.

The first and longest conversation—with Mikhailov—begins with a discussion of imported motor oil, which has increased markedly in price since the war began, and due to sanctions may disappear from the Russian market altogether. Gradually, Vedel moves on to generalizations and gets heated.

“You shouldn't have fucking bombed Kyiv.”

“Sergei, I didn't bomb Kyiv, so why do you keep throwing accusations at me?”

A wiretap from the case file. KSV — Sergey Valentinovich Klokov, UN — unidentified person. See translation below:

The secnod conversation, with Alexei Suyazov, Vedel begins with the words “Glory to Ukraine!”

“Ah... Glory to the Heroes,” Suyazov reluctantly responds. But when Vedel starts recounting Ukrainian media news about Russian casualties, Suyazov reminds him of the "article for spreading fake information”. Vedel, having let this warning pass by, promises in a fervor: “I'm going to take over Moscow! I will not forgive those assholes for such genocide!”

In the third conversation, with Yuri Kurishko, Vedel talks about his relatives in Ukraine and what they have seen and experienced since the beginning of the war. Kurishko answers that he does not watch “the Internet, only television”. “If the Ukranians resist, then we have to fucking squash everything at all,” he objects to Vedel, who insists that there are no “Nazis” in Ukraine and that the Russian army destroyed his hometown.

“Even the Germans in the Patriotic War... There was no such thing. There were children there, so many children were killed,” he exhorts Kurishko to no avail.

All three of Vedel’s interlocutors testified at the investigation and in court. Mikhailov was searched and had his phone confiscated.

How did the authorities know what Vedel was talking about on the phone?

The security services knew about Vedel’s conversations because his phone was tapped in a different criminal case. It was initiated 20 years before the invasion of Ukraine, in February 2003.

Back then, businessman Vladislav Stepanov, suspected of the brutal murder and dismemberment of his business partner, was being escorted to Moscow from Kirov in the compartment of an ordinary passenger train. He killed two policemen, wounded the third one, and escaped. Stepanov managed to get to his garage and fled in his own car, despite the mobilisation of all forces of the Moscow and Moscow region police. To date, they have not been able to find him.

From his testimony, Vedel's father worked in Stepanov's furniture company in 2000-2001. Vedel Senior and Stepanov were not only colleagues, but also neighbors. Stepanov was a resident of the Moscow district of Veshnyaki, his garage was located on Kosinskaya Street. In Veshnyaki, on nearby Aliya Moldagulova Street, Vedel was also registered in his father's apartment.

During the interrogation, he remembered: “In early 2001 my father worked in some organization, I do not remember the name…  One employee was killed there.” But he also stressed: “I do not know the circumstances of this murder, I did not go into it.”

The Moscow Regional Court twice gave permission to wiretap Vedel’s phone: “In the period from 26.01.2019 to 26.01.2022 and from 27.01.2022 for a period of 180 days.”

The declassified materials of this wiretap formed the basis of the “fakes” case.

What ties Vedel to Ukraine (and why this connection frightened the Russian security services)

In the five volumes of the criminal case, almost every mention of Vedel is accompanied by the specification: native of Ukraine. Indeed, he was born in the city of Irpin in the Kyiv region in 1984 and for many years lived near Bucha. His father was a military man, he served in the North and the Transcaucasus. Because of his fathers frequent absence, the boy was mostly brought up by his grandmother.

“In 1992, Dad refused to swear an oath to Ukraine” and “transferred to Kaluga,” Vedel said during interrogation. He, his mother and sister stayed in Ukraine. Sergei went to school in Irpin until seventh grade. Then the family moved to Moscow, but every year since then they still visited grandmother, grandfather, and some of their Ukrainian friends.

Because of such a close personal connection to Ukraine after the start of the war, Vedel “could not stop thinking and talking about it,” he explained in court.

However, much more than in his relatives from Bucha, the Russian security forces were interested in another contact of the policeman—in his contact to the head of the Kyiv homicide department. During the first interrogation as a suspect, Vedel could only remember his patronymic—Mikhailovich—and said that he was an acquaintance of his father.

According to the case files, it was a man named Dmitry Mikhailovich Cheban.

Vedel himself and his father explained during interrogations that about a week before the beginning of the war, when Vedel Sr. was in Ukraine, Cheban himself contacted him by telephone and summoned him for a conversation in Kyiv. The Ukrainian security official was interested in Stepanov—according to Walter Vedel, he said that murders similar to the handwriting of his former boss were being investigated in Ukraine and asked for help in tracking down Stepanov. Vedel Sr. told his son about this conversation only after he was in Warsaw.

By this time, the connection with the occupied Bucha had been lost. As Vedel told the investigator, he still had “disabled friends” there. He worried about them and  asked his father for Cheban’s phone number. He even tried to make inquiries through him.

“Mikhailovich” answered “with a hitch,” saying “that they would kill us all, that we would not take the corpses of our soldiers, [saying that the Ukrainian soldiers would] take the city of Sochi”. He calmed down and asked to be called back, but was never able to help with the search. All in all, Vedel claimed, he spoke to “Mikhailovich” twice; “these were emotional conversations,” he admitted at the interrogation.

The investigation attributes a much larger role to Cheban: the case file repeatedly states  that it was under the influence of his Kyiv colleague that Vedel began to spread “fakes.”

“After conversations with Cheban he became angry. As he was born and grew up in Ukraine, he was thinking that indeed Russian soldiers were killing civilians, destroying their homes and property. He believed the words of the Ukrainian law enforcement officer and therefore made phone calls to his acquaintances, friends and relatives, trying to convey to them the information that Cheban told him,” the indictment reads. However, Vedel himself did not deny that he “wanted to organize a press conference” between Russian and Ukrainian police officers, “so they could exchange information” about what was happening.

The “Information on the Illegal Activity of Klokov S.V.” emphasizes that Vedel, having access to state secrets, “systematically contacts the active employees of the Ukrainian power block,” thus creating a threat of transferring “top secret data on the location of the reserve control point of the Ministry of Internal Affairs” to them.

This certificate is chronologically the first of the documents in Vedel's case: Captain Nikonov, a senior operative of the Federal Security Service in Moscow and the Moscow region, drew it up on 11 March, 2022. On the same day, the FSB passed the certificate to the Investigative Committee. On March 16 investigator Braginskaya wrote a report on the discovery of evidence of crime and opened a criminal case against Vedel under an article on “fakes.”

What happened during Vedel’s trial

The trial against Vedel started at the Perovsky district court of Moscow on 1 November 2022. All three of his interlocutors from the wiretap were summoned by prosecutor Privezentsev to testify. Mikhailov, Kurishko and Suyazov said in one voice that they did not take the conversations seriously and that the words of their buddy had no effect on their patriotic position and support for the “special military operation.”

The state prosecutor insisted that Vedel’s words, spoken in private conversations, posed a public danger. “More than 80 years have passed and the propagandists’ methods and rhetoric have not changed. The source of these lies, which Vedel spread, was Ukrainian propaganda resources,” the prosecutor said.

Sergei Vedel’s relatives in court. Photo: Alexandra Astakhova / Mediazona

“He said that the Russian Federation was a killer country, that Vedel would take the Kremlin, that he would no longer need a Russian passport... He described the events in Crimea as genocide, namely the bloodless referendum,” Privezentsev insisted.

The prosecutor called the slogan “Glory to Ukraine!”, with which Vedel greeted one of his interlocutors as “a system of recognizing our own man from the aliens.”

Lawyer Daniel Berman repeated throughout the trial that private conversations, by definition, cannot be considered “public dissemination” of information.

“A conviction of my client in the case would mean that any private conversation, even in the kitchen, could be considered public dissemination of information. It’s a monstrous interference with people’s privacy. And if all these conversations are qualified as hatred, then it turns out that our whole life is driven by hatred or enmity towards each other,” Berman explained in the debate.

The sentence the prosecutor requested for the defendant—9 years in prison—is “staggering,” the lawyer said, “It’s practically at the upper end of the norm.”

“Your Honor, I repent of my words, please understand and forgive me, please take into account all mitigating circumstances. I was really in a state of affect, I want to get back to my wife and children. I am an honest officer and have served Russia for 18 years. I ask to take into account my illnesses: my heart condition, my injuries and my contusion,” Vedel addressed the court in his last statement.

On April 24, judge Svetlana Aleksandrova sentenced Samiel Vedel to 7 years in a general regime colony.

Editor: Dmitry Tkachev

Translator: Daria Fomina

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