Russians dig into MMM Sergei Marodi’s dirty past

Moscow Times has dug up the News behind the hypes, from the archives, on MMM’s Sergei Mavrodi, the notorious scammer that many Nigerians will not forget in a hurry.

One of Russia’s most famous crooks, Sergei Mavrodi, died of a heart attack on Sunday at the age of 62.

A symbol of the “Wild 90s” which followed the Soviet Union’s collapse, Mavrodi persuaded millions of Russians to put their savings into his MMM pyramid scheme — convinced at least in part by MMM’s memorable television ads featuring everyman Lyonya Golubkov that became the first post-Soviet meme.

After trying his hand at being a State Duma deputy, in 1996 he ran for president. In 2003, he was arrested and sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison for fraud.

The article below was originally published on Aug. 6, 1994. It was written by Steve Liesman.

“It was like a scene from The Wizard of Oz. When the curtain was pulled and the wizard revealed, Sergei Mavrodi, head of the MMM empire, turned out to be less than a daunting sight.

Not very tall and a little pudgy in the jowls, the reclusive man at the controls of Russia’s largest financial scandal surfaced this week as a shrewd moneymaker who likes butterflies and red foreign cars, but lived a lifestyle that seems a pale shadow of the image of high-flying biznesmeni.

While he ran a scheme that raked in billions of rubles and recently was rated the sixth wealthiest man in Russia, Mavrodi lived spartanly in a single room of his spacious but shabby apartment on the Moscow River. Boxes of dried insects, butterflies and a dead bat mounted under glass hung on the walls.

The only overt signs of his wealth were several foreign cars parked in his apartment complex’s driveway and a $60,000 satellite dish that a reporter from the daily Segodnya newspaper spied in his apartment.

After six months of inaction, the government formally arrested Mavrodi on Friday for hiding from tax officials and for “failing to submit to the order of authorities to open the door,” according to a spokesman with the tax police.

Authorities opened a criminal case against Mavrodi on Thursday for concealing billions of rubles of profits from tax officials in a company called Invest-Consulting. The arrest, following a dramatic raid on his apartment Thursday by armed Interior Ministry troops and tax police, brought to a climax the MMM debacle in which millions of Russians invested in a pyramid scheme.

While the arrest was unusual, the crash of the scheme and the allegations of impropriety were not. Mavrodi has repeatedly started up and then walked away from successful ventures, all the while being dogged by charges of tax violations.

“He was quite a professional businessman who always moved into the most profitable niche of the market,” said Maxim Selivanov, the general director of Steepler, a large computer dealer. But he said Mavrodi was never interested in any particular business, only in the process of making money.

“You can make money nicely, but he makes it crudely,” said Selivanov. “I wouldn’t do business with them.”

Alexei Blinkov, who works in a photo shop on the ground floor of Mavrodi’s apartment in the Frunzenskaya area, said Mavrodi had started a computer sales cooperative in the late 1980s.