On the evening of October 24, two young Russian men, eager observers and participants in the social fabric of their capital’s fashionable elite, were dining in Regent by Rico, a hip Moscow restaurant specializing in steaks and seafood. As they dined, Arian Romanovsky, who used to edit Russia’s edition of Tatler, and Kirill Sukhanov, the financial functionary of a new media company, were arrested. They were taken to jail and questioned—Romanovsky said he was not allowed to have his lawyer present—and a judge ordered them held in prison for two months. Their alleged crime was “information blocking,” the practice of charging people money in order to take down derogatory information about them or never posting it to begin with—essentially, gossip racketeering.
Sukhanov and Romanovsky had been running this scheme on their new but already popular Telegram channel “Turn Off the Lights,” according to investigators, charging the richest and most famous Russians hundreds of thousands of dollars to take down negative posts. According to two people who know them, the allegations sound pretty close to the truth.
Given everything that’s happening in Russia these days, this case would hardly merit a mention were it not for the people actually involved. The victim in this case, according to the case materials seen by reporters for Russian state news agencies, was Sergei Chemezov, the head of the state defense conglomerate, and a former K.G.B. officer who happened to be Vladimir Putin’s boss in Dresden during the waning days of the Cold War. It was reported that Chemezov personally pressed charges after Sukhanov and Romanovsky had allegedly demanded 11 million rubles—some $800,000—to take down a negative post. According to reports, Sukhanov was arrested while receiving the first tranche of the payout.