As it became known to Kommersant, the Tverskoy Court of Moscow began to consider a criminal case about the largest scam with tickets for famous Russian theaters, including the Bolshoi and Maly, Mariinka, RAMT, as well as the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory. According to the prosecution, by creating clones of sites of cultural institutions, the defendants were engaged in selling tickets through them at greatly inflated prices. The actions of the defendants, law enforcers believe, have led to the fact that online sales from the official websites of the affected theaters have practically ceased. The investigation estimated the damage at 9.1 million rubles, and the victims filed claims against the defendants for 13 times more.
Hearings on the merits, as usual, began with the prosecutor reading the indictment. It followed that the defendants Aleksey Kurinov (who is under arrest, the term of which was once again extended), Yana Tyagina and Yulia Charykova (under house arrest) are accused of particularly large-scale fraud (part 4 of article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation) and several episodes of illegal use of a trademark (Article 180 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation).
As Kommersant previously told, the investigation into the “ticket mafia” case began on February 14, 2020. Its initiator was the leadership of the St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre, which in its statement drew the attention of law enforcement agencies to the fact that for a long time tickets for theater performances were actively sold through the websites mariinskii.com and mariinskiy-theatre.com, which copy the style of the Mariinsky official portal, without having nothing to do with it, and the trademark of the theater. Moreover, tickets through these sites were sold at significantly inflated prices. Also, the leadership of the St. Petersburg theater indicated that illegal portals were actively promoted by search programs and, at the request of buyers, they were much higher than the official website of the theater. These actions of the unknown, the applicant emphasized, practically paralyzed the official Internet sales.
The Main Investigation Department of the ICR soon joined the investigation, and the investigation team was headed by Major General of Justice Sergei Novikov. At first, the case dealt only with the illegal use by a group of persons of a trademark and means of individualization of goods, but later an article on especially large-scale fraud appeared in the prosecution.
By this time, the list of victims had expanded significantly: in addition to the Mariinsky Theater, among them were the Bolshoi and Maly Theaters, the State Tchaikovsky Conservatory, the Theater of Nations, the Russian State Academic Youth Theater (RAMT) and the Spasskaya Tower international cultural center. A little later, two individuals joined them.
According to investigators, in December 2013, longtime acquaintances, businessmen Andrei Khartanyuk and Alexei Kurinov, through their Simple Life Innovation company, started selling tickets to various performances, sports matches and festivals. The businessmen registered the bilet2u.ru and sport2u.ru domains and worked successfully for several years. However, in February 2017, according to the investigation, Andrey Khartanyuk decided to drastically increase his income, came up with a criminal enrichment plan and instructed his partner to create duplicates of the theaters’ official websites and recruit employees to perform new tasks. Mr. Hartanyuk, the case says, took over the overall management of the illegal business, set ticket prices, distributed the money received from their sale, and provided cover for the “ticket mafia” websites from various kinds of checks.
Mr. Kurinov, according to investigators, oversaw groups of designers and programmers, promotion specialists and advertisers who worked for the illegal network. A few months later, in Moscow and Vladimir, partners opened two large call centers, whose employees processed potential buyers. And two dozen companies have joined the mass sale of tickets at inflated prices, including Multi, DEZ Service, Office Group, Show Market, Nothing Without Us, Eurotickets and You Ticket. Active members of the group at that time, according to investigators, were also entrepreneur Yulia Charykova, the owner of the firms Evrotikets, Ticket Market and Office Group Vitaly Gashakov and the general director of the company No Way Without Us Yana Tagina. Andrey Hartanyuk’s mother, Irina Hartanyuk, also joined the business.
The roles among the group members were distributed as follows: Ms. Hartanyuk was engaged in the selection and registration of legal entities and individual entrepreneurs through which tickets were sold, Vitaly Gashakov selected premises for call centers, programmers and couriers, Yana Tagina managed the work of call centers, recruited operators, distributed applications for tickets and made sure that the real price was removed from them. And Yulia Charykova, according to the investigation, was Andrey Khartanyuk’s assistant and coordinated the work of the group members. Interestingly, the office of the “ticket mafia” was located on Petrovka, not far from the building of the Moscow police.
The illegal business existed for three years, and its technology was worked out to the smallest detail. Initially, several twin sites of the selected theater were created, the names of which used the official names of institutions. Then the advertisers of the “ticket mafia” ensured that, when users inquire, it was the twin sites that appeared first in the responses of search engines. In addition, call centers also provided an influx of customers. The results were so good that online sales from the official websites of the affected theaters all but ceased.
Almost all the participants in the scam were detained. Vitaly Gashakov pleaded guilty, entered into a pre-trial agreement and will testify for the prosecution during the trial. Only Andrei Hartanyuk and his mother are on the international wanted list.
The investigation estimated the total damage from the illegal use of theater trademarks at more than 9.1 million rubles. However, lawsuits were filed against the defendants for more than 130 million rubles, only the Mariinsky Theater and the Conservatory demanded 50 million each.
Lawyer Alexei Kirsanov, who represents the interests of the Mariinsky Theater, told Kommersant that he hopes that the court “makes a legal and fair decision, based on the evidence collected by the investigation.”