Ukrainian cyber soldiers have hacked into an email account belonging to Aleksandr Babakov, the deputy chairman of Russian parliament the State Duma.
The Cyber Resistance hacking team shared with volunteer intelligence collective Inform Napalm extracts from the 11GB mail archive taken from Babakov’s digital office files.
The evidence obtained by Cyber Resistance links Babakov to various pro-Russian and anti-European disinformation campaigns, allegedly rigged elections in Crimea, and even the actor and martial artist Steven Seagal, who has become controversial for his close ties to Vladimir Putin and support of Russia.
The purloined emails and other documents also implicate Babakov in suspected money laundering schemes involving transactions that run into hundreds of millions of rubles and eclipse his official salary as a Russian parliamentarian.
Described by Inform Napalm as a “fat fish,” “corruptor,” and “enemy of Ukraine,” Babakov now has to suffer his personal and political life being scrutinized in detail, with the Cyber Resistance data haul being made freely available.
A man with interesting friends
After scrutinzing it for themselves, researchers at Inform Napalm said Babakov’s “main area of responsibility, which became known after the study of his correspondence, is the implementation of active measures and hybrid influence of the Russian Federation abroad at the parliamentary level.”
It added: “Since the full-scale invasion of [Ukraine] by the Russian Federation, the main directions of Babakov's work have been the expansion of cooperation with the countries of Africa and the East in order to minimize Western sanctions.”
Inform Napalm also noted Babakov’s “excellent personal relations” with Serbian president Aleksander Vucic, adding: “Serbia is traditionally interesting for the Russian Federation both in the field of energy and as a pro-Russian enclave in the Balkans.”
Furthermore, Inform Napalm claims the stolen files show Babakov to be cooperating with the pro-Russian and anti-Western Conservative Movement party in Georgia.
“An influential person in the middle of the Russian Federation and abroad, he has extensive connections outside of Russia,” it said.
Curiously, these extensive connections apparently also include Seagal, who has enjoyed cordial relations with Russia for years and courted controversy for accepting a medal of honor from Putin and swearing allegiance to the country after the Kremlin invaded Ukraine.
“In Babakov's mail, there are even congratulatory telegrams to Steven Seagal [...] with a request to give one billion rubles [about $10 million] to the ‘Steven Seagal Cinematography Support Fund’, taking into account the ‘scale of the personality,’” said Inform Napalm.
It added: “This is not a white dress, a fur coat or a kilo of dumplings for a Russian soldier killed in the war. Here the scale and requests are of a completely different kind.”
Babakov's email accounts contained other communications and attachments “related to the promotion of Russian interests in Bulgaria, Greece, Mexico, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Croatia.”
Master money launderer?
Inform Napalm also said its analysis of the data obtained by Cyber Resistance left it convinced that Babakov “is a master of primitive money laundering schemes.”
It arrived at this conclusion after looking through bank files from statements on the "Tsentrokredit" account obtained by Ukrainian hackers, that indicated Babakov used fake loan requests for land developments he then withdrew from to cover the real origins of vast sums of money.
According to Babakov’s own declaration of earnings for 2022, also viewed by Inform Napalm, he earns eight million rubles a year as deputy chairman of the Duma. But the documents suggest that he was able to put up a staggering 770 million for a real estate development project, which the contractor was obliged to return to him after the deal ‘fell through.’
Babakov also appears to have come up with other ingenious schemes for cleaning his cash, for instance when he ‘loaned’ an assistant, Yevhen Zobnin, a million rubles in February, which the terms stipulate must be paid back to him over a three-year period, once again concealing the true origins of said funds.
Yet another document shows Babakov as lending half a billion rubles to Russian oil giant Gazprom director Aleksy Kakhidze in an apparent effort to kickstart a liquid natural gas project that stands to profit both men.
“Oleksandr Babakov is able to launder corruption proceeds, bribes and gifts, making them ‘clean,’” said Inform Napalm. “It can even be indicated in the declaration [of his annual earnings].”
iPhone smuggling sideline suspected
The data haul also suggests where Babakov might be getting some of his illicit funds from — an alleged smuggling operation that brings banned Apple devices into Russia. These and many other Western goods have been embargoed since the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year.
An email sent to Babakov from another assistant, a man called Evgeny Zobnin, quotes prices for equipent from Wholesale Electronics, described by Inform Napalm as an “intermediary” based in Bulgaria.
“And surprisingly, in the system notifications, it was noted that there was a login to Babakov's reception desk from a new iPhone,” it added. “We remember that ‘Apple appliances’ are not sold in the Russian Federation, but we can assume that they are there. Russian ‘parallel import,’ as they call smuggling, allows receiving ‘hated Western goods’ almost simultaneously with the entire civilized world.”
“Whether the deputy chairman of the State Duma of the Russian Federation himself earns money by smuggling iPhones, or whether it is only the business of his assistant — the question remains open,” said Inform Napalm.
Links to alleged vote-rigging in Crimea
The document and email cache also suggests Babakov was involved with the 2014 independence referendum in Crimea in the year of its military annexation by Russia — both regarded by the West as illegal — and hints that he may have been involved in bribing officials there.
“Babakov's close cooperation with the International Union of Russian Compatriots (ISRS) is noticeable,” said Inform Napalm, which claims the organization was “specially created for hybrid influence and destabilization.”
“ISRS is responsible for bringing ‘observers’ to the so-called ‘referendum’ in Crimea,” it said. “What is characteristic is the letter with Babakov's request to reward ‘observers’ for the anniversary of the illegal referendum. Let's ask a rhetorical question: in which other countries are observers rewarded after the election process?”
It says the data cache also implicates Babakov in the spreading of misinformation among foreign governments about “biolaboratories in Ukraine.” The theory has been used by the Kremlin in part to justify its invasion of Ukraine and is widely disputed.
Made in the Kremlin’s image
“Once again, it becomes clear that regardless of the political power that a person represents in the Russian Federation, he still acts in a coordinated manner in the general Russian aggressive vector,” said Inform Napalm. “Babakov's activities completely repeat Russian foreign policy.”
It says the stolen documents paint a clear picture of Babakov as a stateman essentially made in the image of the Russian regime, “corrupt and unscrupulous, the kind that wants to enjoy the benefits of Western civilization, but at the same time carries out subversive work against it.”
Inform Napalm adds that its findings are “only the tip of the iceberg” and encourages journalists and investigators to make a thorough inspection of the Babakov mail dumps for themselves.
However, it adds that less than a hundredth of the information obtained by Cyber Resistance hackers of the "Cyber Resistance" team has been made publicly available. The rest are classed as having “strategic” significance and have been shared with the Ukrainian military.
“We never publish intelligence for the sake of PR,” said Inform Napalm. “The purpose of publishing part of the information is exclusively to cause additional damage to the aggressor country and officials of the Russian Federation, who are directly involved in waging an aggressive war against Ukraine. The flame of truth burns out the darkness of Russian lies and illuminates it.”
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