Karim Zidan delves into the history of the Aikido Federation President who headed a gang of contract killers in Siberia.
For five years, Andrey Sinyukov’s thugs murdered with impunity.
It began in 2010, when Sinyukov, then the incumbent president of the Aikido Federation in Kuzbass, established an organized crime group comprised of athletes he trained and trusted. The group operated within the Kuznetsk Basin in southwestern Siberia, Russia, and quickly began to extort victims. Over time, the entity expanded into racketeering, money-laundering, and blackmail, the latter of which allowed the group to gain access to several commercial ventures.
With each successful gambit, the gang’s reputation swelled and their brutality rose. Sinyukov established extensive contacts in the underworld, both locally and abroad. Eventually, his gang started to be hired to eliminate human targets. Contract killing became the group’s primary interest.
According to reports, Sinyukov studied his victims meticulously. After being offered a new contract by a customer, Sinyukov would spend weeks with his fellow athletes studying the target before completing the task. Once the target’s regular routine was identified, the group would devise a plan of attack and an escape route to ensure a quick getaway.
Between 2010-2015, it is believed that Sinyukov’s group murdered eight victims at the request of their clients. One of the eight victims was an unnamed mob boss killed in a gangland-style shooting in which the assailants unloaded 30 rounds from a machine gun, killing the criminal in front of his own house in 2013. Another victim – a local resident who illegally traded diesel fuel – was ambushed and assaulted with a metal pipe by the gang.
Members of Sinyukov’s gang were arrested in 2015, after a local resident appealed to the police after being threated by Sinyukov. Over the following months, the Department for Combating Organized Crime and the Federal Security Service (FSB) arrested four members of the gang after springing a trap on them. The four gang members were all armed athletes waiting for the whistleblower to return home. Instead, they were arrested and charged with extortion, participation in an armed group, and murder, among others.
By 2017, ten members of the Kemerovo gang had been arrested. Three members received long prison sentences – two received 16 years while the third got 14 – after being found guilty of participation in an armed group, extortion, theft, manslaughter, attempted murder, and murder. The other seven arrested members refused a pre-trial agreement and will be tried over the coming months.
Only Sinyukov managed to escape the authorities. The former Aikido president has been placed on the international wanted list, though his whereabouts remain unknown.
Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
When the news emerged in October 2015 that the Kuzbass Aikido Federation was serving as a cover-up for a group of assassins, it came as a surprise to those who knew the individuals personally. Andrey Sinyukov’s involvement was particularly shocking, as he was a public and recognizable figure in Kemerovo.
Sinyukov is reportedly a 2nd dan blackbelt in Aikido, a title he received in Tokyo. In Russia, he owned and operated the ‘Sei Shin’ training facility for children interested in learning Aikido. He regularly gave interviews to Kuzbass media, where he discussed the importance of sports as a form of education. This façade of legitimacy created by Sinyukov lasted until the the Investigation Committee of the Russian Federation in the Kemerovo region reported that Sinyukov was “suspected in a number of especially grave crimes, including murder.” In a matter of hours, Sinyukov went from a respected member of society to a wanted fugitive fleeing prosecution.
Yet while a criminal organization masquerading as a sports entity seems like the work of fiction novelists, it is surprisingly commonplace within the Russian Federation. In fact, sports are often the perfect medium for gangsters to carry out their criminal enterprises.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to significant changes in the Russian economy. The Soviet vice-grip over economic gains and commercial enterprise was eliminated, which opened the door to entrepreneurs interested in making their fortune through capitalism. Once-proud Soviet sports teams were reduced to poverty until wealthy businessmen and criminals began to purchase them as commercial ventures.
Russian mobsters took particular interest in sports because of the potential for profit and the limited regulation during the ‘Wild West’ period in modern Russian history. An example of this involvement is evident in the troubling incidents that occurred with the PFC Central Sport Club of the Army, Moscow (CSKA). According to reports, the club was used as means to facilitate conflict between rogue elements of the FSB and Chechen mobsters. During this period, CSKA Moscow president Yevgeni Gine’s son was shot in an attempted assassination, a CSKA Moscow coach’s wife was abducted, and CSKA president Nikolai Nino committed suicide.
Soccer is far from the only example of a sport being plagued by organized crime and violent gangsters. During the 2013 Maidan uprising in Ukraine, Ukrainian mixed martial arts promotion OPLOT harboured an anti-Maidan militia that brutally attacked protestors. The promotion was headed by Yevhen Zhilin, a former police captain who spent four years in jail on assassination charges, and featured UFC fighter Alexey Oleinik as a team leader for the MMA promotion. Their fight club headquarters was eventually burned down and many were arrested and charged with various criminal offences. Zhilin, who still operated as the head of the OPLOT pro-Russian militant group in eastern Ukraine, was shot dead at an elite restaurant in the Moscow suburbs on September 19, 2016.