Next morning, the kidnappers tie Pukhlikov to a chair. “Do you know of Chinese torture?” Tiulikov asks. He talks about how people were punished in China by hitting the soles of their feet a hundred times with bamboo sticks so they couldn’t walk anymore.
Tiulikov and Iakubov proceed to treat Pukhlikov to the same practice, only they use bats. The businessman begs the thugs not the break his legs. It would also inconvenience the kidnappers.
After the beating, the goons start demanding money. The deal is simple. Pukhlikov is told to come up with a million euros – half now, half after he is released. Pukhlikov is told to call his acquaintances.
That is how it goes for another three days – Pukhlikov calling his wealthy friends and asking for money, Tiulikov and Iakubov beating him. Finally, the ransom comes down from a million euros to €100,000.
The kidnappers soon realize that raising that kind of cash over the phone is difficult. It is decided in the morning of November 13 to release the businessman so he can go and get the money. Tiulikov reminds Pukhlikov of his fingerprints on the gun. “We will organize serious charges,” he threatens.
The businessman is taken to the Tallinn Bus Station and gets on a bus to Riga. Pukhlikov does not get off the bus in Riga but continues to Vilnius. That is where his lawyer works. The Russian tells his lawyer everything and authorities in Estonia soon receive a long and thorough report of criminal offense.
A few weeks later, Pukhlikov is sent a photograph of a street sign in a Moscow suburb where his mother lives.
“We are loathe to take extreme measures, but you are forcing our hand. Our agreement still stands. San Sanõts,” a message accompanying the photograph reads.
Who pulled the strings?
The police started interrogating witnesses after receiving the report. It took a year. Tiulikov was arrested in early 2019, with Laanela, Lao and a fourth person – Siim Kossar (28) who drove Pukhlikov and the kidnappers and organized their stay at the farm – picked up in spring. Iakubov is still on the run and has been declared an international fugitive.
Who organized the kidnapping and why? Even though Lao could have wanted to get back at Pukhlikov for a failed business opportunity, the prosecution believes Laanela was behind the kidnapping. He is the one who invited Tiulikov and Iakubov from Russia – the former is the godfather of Laanela’s child. The prosecution feels Lao only aided and abetted.
The criminal case is solved on August 21 in agreement process, with Tiulikov the only participant sent to prison as a result. He is handed a one-year prison sentence and five years on parole. Kossar is ordered to do 728 hours of community service, while Laanela gets a five-year conditional sentence.
Based on a deal Lao cuts with the Public Prosecutor’s Office, his eight-month sentence is replaced with 238 hours of community service.
It is the first major slip for Meelis Lao who has long been described as a leading figure in the Estonian underground in the 1990s. Before this August, Lao was last punished in 1998.
A few hundred hours of community service do not seem to bother Lao as he is seen attending the premiere of Estonian movie “Kohtunik” at the T1 Mall of Tallinn on September 4. Lao is in good spirits and wearing his usual blue suit.
As if nothing had ever happened.