Mafia secret of murdered abbot

Moscow, Russia - WHEN police found the abbot dead in his cell at the Davydova Pustyn monastery, at first they thought that it was just another case of violent robbery.

Archimandrite German’s hands were tied behind his back with electric cable, his head had been smashed in with a heavy blow and his safe had been forced open. Initial reports on Tuesday said that police had arrested a cook and a handyman at the monastery in the Chekhov region, 80km (50 miles) from Moscow.

But over the next 48 hours details emerged that hinted at a more sinister plot.

First, police revealed that the abbot, whose original name was Vyacheslav Khapugin, had been tortured before he was killed, and that no arrests had been made. Then it emerged that $200,000 (£115,000) in cash had been stolen from his safe. Another $5,000 was left in his desk. Monks had waited more than two hours to call the police after finding the body.

It now transpires that Khapugin, 40, led an extraordinary double life as a businessman with close ties to the Russian mafia. “He was a very active businessman and quite rich,” Dimitri Urushev, a journalist specialising in religious affairs, said. “He organised a great reconstruction of the monastery with marble floors and everything. It was not from money old ladies give when they come to church.”

The murder is the latest scandal to engulf the Russian Orthodox Church, which has been accused of using its special status to launder money, dodge taxes and trade oil, metals, diamonds and cigarettes. Last year the Governing Council in Iraq accused the Church of receiving quotas from Saddam Hussein to trade Iraqi oil. The Church denied any wrongdoing.

Khapugin took holy orders at the age of 22 after a stint in the Soviet Army. He was appointed head of Davydova Pustyn in 1995.

“He rebuilt this monastery from zero,” Father Vsyevolod Chaplin, a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, said. “Davydova Pustyn is not very famous from a historical perspective, but it is one of the most successful monasteries of recent years.”

The secret of its success, local sources say, is that the abbot took donations from private sponsors, including mafia figures. Anton Melevsky, the late head of Russia’s notorious Izmailovski criminal gang, is buried in the monastery’s cemetery. He died in a skydiving accident in South Africa in 2001. Gennadi Nedoseka, the late head of the Chekhov Government, is also buried there.

Sergei Kryukov, Chekhov’s acting prosecutor, said that Khapugin had many connections in different circles and may have fallen victim to one of his former “brothers”.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Aleksiy II, expressed his condolences and shock. “A brutal and bloody crime was committed, breaking all divine and human laws,” he said. He later called a meeting of all senior priests who had connections with Khapugin.

Father Chaplin said he did not know why Khapugin had $200,000 in his safe as monasteries largely controlled their own finances. He said that some 20 priests had been killed over the past 15 years.