Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Missing American’s Body a DNA Match in Latvia

Leonid Rozhetskin. Photo: eng.cnews.ru

DNA tests indicate that a body found in Latvia is that of Leonid Rozhetskin, a Russian-born American citizen who vanished in 2008 at the age of 41. While official confirmation of Rozhetskin’s identify is pending, the discovery could cast aside any doubts about whether Rozhetskin, a Harvard Law School graduate and self-made multimillionaire, was dead or not. Local police officials had been investigating the possibility that Rozhetskin had chosen to disappear and assume a new identity, as some officials allege in Russia, where he was charged with fraud.

Rozhetskin was an outspoken critic of what he said were blatantly corrupt business practices of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his business allies. Rozhetskin’s supporters maintain that any criminal charges levied against him were brought against Rozhetskin purely in retaliation for attempting to expose corruption of the Russian government.

Police found what they believe to be Rozhetskin’s body in a forest in Jurmala, a seaside town along the Baltic Coast, according to the Associated Press. Rozhetskin’s credit cards and other personal ID were found with the remains of the corpse. A local police spokesman confirmed that DNA samples taken from the body and collected at Rozhetskin’s house nearby were a positive match. Investigators are now comparing the DNA samples to those of Rozhetskin’s relatives in order to officially confirm the identify of Rozhetskin’s body.

Rozhetskin disappeared from his estate in Latvia in the winter of 2008. Left behind were large blood stains and traces in the office of his house. According to The Daily Mail, which cited a police spokesman, it appeared that someone had attempted to cover up a large blood stains on the floor by moving a couch over it. Attempts to mop up the blood were also made while there were no signs of robbery or of someone forcibly entering the house.

During the months and weeks leading up to Rozhetskin’s disappearance, Rozhetskin maintained that his life was in danger for seeking to expose corruption of President Putin’s government. He moved with his wife Natalya Belova, a successful model who was 17 years younger than he was, to his estate in London, which he owned along with homes in Los Angles and Latvia. At his estate in London, he provided around-the-clock security protection for his family, which included armed guards. According to The Daily Mail, Rozhetskin left instructions in his will shortly before his disappearance for his wife to raise his son, who was then three, in England in case anything were to happen to him.

Rozhetskin’s last known whereabouts was at his villa in Latvia. He had flown there after meeting with executives of City AM, a free newspaper for which he was a board member in London. Police officials say that Rozhetskin spent the evening with two male friends who left his villa at 2:00 AM on the day he disappeared. Two other male friends who had been invited to have lunch with him the next day reported his disappearance after they were unable to reach Rozhetskin by phone when he did not answer the door. Rozhetskin’s Porsche was then found parked nearby at an outdoor market in the suburbs of Jurmala.

According to a report in The Sunday Times, the two men who left Rozhetskin’s villa on the night he disappeared took a taxi to a gay club called the XXL. The newspaper cited several unnamed sources who claimed that Rozhetskin led a double life to conceal his sexual identity since bisexuality is often seen as taboo in the business culture of Russia. However, in the same report, Rozhetskin’s mother described the allegations as a “smear campaign” to detract attention from the investigation of what she said was the murder of her son.

In another bizarre turn of events connected to Rozhetskin’s disappearance, Rozhetskin had flown to Latvia from Luton Airport near London on his private jet, a Challenger 604 that was registered in the Cayman Islands. The jet was scheduled to take off less than 24 hours later to return to Luton Airport, but instead left for Vienna, according to the Daily Mail. From Vienna, the plane left for Geneva 24 hours later where it remained grounded for five days. The plane would then leave Geneva to make a cross-Atlantic and European journey, stopping in Luton first, back to Geneva twice, St. John, Newfoundland in Canada; and Stavanger, Norway before landing again in Luton. In Geneva, the plane was boarded by two men who put coats over their heads to conceal their identities before the plane reached its final destination at the Luton Airport.

The Daily Mail identified and contacted the two pilots, who were Canadian but did not comment. The plane at one point during the journey was boarded by a passenger, whose identity has not yet been reported. The Latvian police reportedly questioned the pilots, but did not disclose the details of their conversation.

A Mother’s Plea

Before Rozhetskin’s body was identified by a DNA match, his mother, Elvira Rozhetskin, has long maintained that Russian agents killed her son. In an interview with The Daily Mail, Mrs. Rozhetskin said that her son repeatedly told her that he feared for his life for openly criticizing corruption in Russia in which he said President Putin was an active participant. Mrs. Rozhetskin also said her son was planning on making a documentary film that would expose government and business corruption in Russia. The Russian government trumped up charges against her son purely out of retaliation, she said.

In the United States, Rozhetskin’s life was hardly that of a criminal. Rozhetskin immigrated to the United States with his mother in 1980 following her divorce from his father. His mother supported herself and son by working a series of low-level jobs in New York where they lived. Rozhetskin quickly adapted to what must have been a strange world in New York where he excelled in school. He graduated from Columbia University where he graduated with distinction and then completed his JD degree at Harvard Law School in 1990, graduating cum laude.

After working as a law clerk in Los Angeles for a federal judge and as an associate at the law firm White & Case and Sullivan & Cromwell, Rozhetskin returned to Russia in 1992. He practiced law there until 1995 before making his fortune as a venture capitalist.

His principle business achievements include founding Renaissance Capital, a leading investment bank in Russia during the 1990s. He was deputy chairmen of Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest nickel mining company, from 2001 until 2005. Rozhetskin was also a principle investor in the free UK newspaper City A.M. In the United States, Rozhetskin founded L+E Productions, which produced Hamlet 2, with Eric Eisner, the son of former Disney CEO Michael Eisner.

Rozhetskin began to run foul of Russian authorities when he began to allege that President Putin’s government was corrupt and that mafia-connected individuals were illegally interfering with his business ventures in Russia. He filed a lawsuit in 2006 in a New York Federal Court alleging that he had received threats of physical violence and imprisonment for blocking the transfer of a 25 percent stake that his company owned in MegaFon, a cellular phone company.

While Rozhetskin’s original lawsuit was dismissed, the presiding judged allowed him to submit an amended claim, which he filed a few weeks before he vanished. So far, neither Russian officials nor U.S. state officials have commented on the grounds of Rozhetskin’s lawsuit.

Rozhetskin mother, however, is now more convinced than ever that Kremlin agents orchestrated an attack against her son now that her son’s body has been found.

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