The Mysterious Metamorphosis of German Gorbuntsov

Five months ago lawyers representing German Gorbuntsov  in London asked the British Home Office to provide him with witness protection. 

At that time Britain was in the grip of media suspense concerning the attempted assassination of Sergiy Skripal, allegedly by Russian agents. Gorbuntsov’s lawyers argued that a similar fate might await their client, and that his protection was important in the interests of British national security. 

The former Minister for Europe, Denis Macshane wrote in support of the appeal to the Home Affairs Minister. It was stated that Gorbuntsov had been an insider within Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, and that he was a potentially valuable source of intelligence for the UK authorities.

But today, it appears that the game has changed. Gorbuntsov still remains an important witness in a high profile Russian corruption investigation. However, according to well informed sources, he has recently reached a plea bargaining agreement with the security forces of Russia to help with their investigation into the affairs of Dmitry Zakharchenko. As a result of this, he now plans to return home to Moscow under state security guarantees to help with their investigation. 

Gorbuntsov is still accused in Russia of several money laundering cases, and if he is to come under the protection of Russian secret services, it will be necessary for these cases and all criminal charges against him to be dismissed in Russia in return for his cooperation with the authorities.

The Russian corruption investigation into Dmitry Zakharchenko concerns allegations that he was caught by the police red-handed with a hoard of $123 million in cash at his home, when his apartment was searched. Zakharchenko was then the deputy head of Moscow’s Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Committee for Economic Security and Combating Corruption. As a state senior security official there is suspicion that he obtained these funds illegally. 

Allegations published in his blog by Oleg Lurie, the well known Russian investigative journalist, suggest that Gorbuntsov claims to have paid Zakharchenko $150 000 per month for protection from the high ranking police officer. 
This would certainly explain why the Russian prosecutors are so keen to have his testimony in the case.

But it is not clear whether Gorbuntsov may have made these claims to the UK authorities with the purpose of simply ingratiating himself in their minds, in order to substantiate his assertions about the corrupt nature of the Russian state.

For the past 8 years German Gorbuntsov has consistently promoted stories that are anti-Russian and anti-Putin, using his own media resources such as the websites “Crime Russia” ( and “Crime Moldova” (

Is the leopard about to change his spots? The plot is as intricate as a Sherlock Holmes mystery written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Gorbuntsov, a former banker born in Moscow in 1966, currently lives in London. He is actually no stranger to danger having survived an assassination attempt in London in 2012 when he was machine-gunned in a gangland style botched execution in London’s Docklands which left him with six bullet wounds, a coma and fighting for his life.

So who is he, and whose side is he on now? Is he a politically persecuted person in need of refuge? Is he a Russian agent living in London? Is he in the pay of the British Intelligence services, or is he just an unprincipled rogue playing one off against the other?

Today it is not clear where Gorbuntsov stands and from whom he should seek protection if he is to have a safe future - from Russian investigators, or from the British secret services. Maybe from both - if it is possible that the authorities are actually cooperating with one another? The only person who can answer that question is German Gorbuntsov himself.

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James Wilson

James Wilson

James Wilson is a Founding Director of the International Foundation for Better Governance. He is a long term resident of Brussels, has more than 30 years international business experience in public affairs and corporate communications, and is a regular contributor to EU Today.

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