Inquiry opens into prison ‘suicide’ of ‘Russian Elon Musk’ whose body ‘had electric burns, fractures and showed signs of rape’

Prison officials initially said the entrepreneur committed suicide, but his body was said to have shown signs of torture and rape

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 April, 2018, 4:40am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 April, 2018, 8:32pm

An investigation began in Russia on Thursday into the death in prison of an entrepreneur the media had dubbed the “Russian Elon Musk” – and whose body allegedly showed signs of severe abuse. Prison officials had initially said that Valery Pshenichny killed himself.

“There are reasons to believe that it is not a suicide,” said Larissa von Arev, lawyer for Pshenichny, a businessman and computer engineer who had been held on suspicion of embezzlement.

According to his lawyer, forensic pathologists discovered “traces of electric burns, fractures and traces of sperm” on the businessman’s body; according to The Independent, the wounds also included knife injuries, a broken spine and signs of rape.

The prison first attempted to pass off his death as suicide, but authorities disagreed, and have ordered DNA samples be taken from all of its guards.

The entrepreneur was known for his ambitious and innovative ideas and drew comparisons with Musk, the billionaire boss of Tesla and SpaceX.

Pshenichny’s company, NovIT PRO, had been hired to develop a 3D virtual model of a submarine that could be used by engineers involved in repairing such vessels.

But Pshenichny was arrested in January and accused of embezzling 100 million roubles (US$1.6 million) of funds from a contract with the Russian defence ministry – after initially accusing his former business partner, Andrei Petrov, of theft.

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Three weeks later, on February 5, he was found hanging in his prison cell in Saint Petersburg. He was 56.

“Just before his death, his widow Natalia received notes from her husband telling her ‘not to pay anyone’ and proclaimed his innocence,” von Arev said. 

She also told The Independent that when he was arrested, security service agents who accompanied state investigators to his home “asked him to take a good look at his suits … He was told he wouldn’t need them anymore, save for his coffin.”

The Russian penitentiary service said in a statement that it was opening an inquiry into his death.

“This tragic story shows the fact that our rights to life and health are not guaranteed in detention,” von Arev said.

Media and non-governmental organisations have regularly reported cases of extortion and threats within in the jail system, and human rights advocates denounce torture, humiliation and beatings in Russian prisons.