A key figure in Vladimir Putin’s internet and telephone wiretapping has died suddenly at the age of 40.
According to reports, the body of Anton Cherepennikov was found in his office in Moscow.
Ahead of an autopsy, media reports said he died of “cardiac arrest,” but further investigations are ongoing.
This was immediately viewed with suspicion, and a longtime friend, Vasily Polonsky, insisted: “I don’t think so [he died of] cardiac arrest.”
“The exact cause of the entrepreneur’s death will be determined later,” media outlet Baza reported.
Cherepennikov was considered a sinister figure and possessed most of the telephone tapping and Internet traffic logging systems in Russia.
“He was an absolutely vital tool in Putin’s repression,” said an opposition source.
“His assassination cannot be ruled out as the security apparatus is desperate due to the failed war.”
His Citadel ownership has been described as “almost a monopoly on wiretapping Russians”.
This followed draconian laws requiring telecom operators to retain audio recordings of all calls and text messages for six months and internet traffic for a month.
His company worked hand-in-hand with Putin’s feared security service, the FSB, and its staff included key counterintelligence-trained figures — and their close relatives.
His success as the state’s electronic snoop reportedly netted his company £172million in profits.
Cherepennikov was close to his “idol”, the pro-Kremlin oligarch Alisher Usmanov, who was a former shareholder of Arsenal football club in London.
The network detective studied at the renowned Bauman Moscow State Technical University and the Moscow State University of Civil Engineering.
He initially specialized in importing Blackberry phones and selling computers and printers.
He played Counter-Strike and Poker and was described as a “competitive” and gambler.
He divorced his first wife, whom he met on a dating website, blaming his compulsive 15-hour day work.
He remarried to a woman named Anna, whom he also met on a dating site.
A heavy smoker, Cherepennikov was considered the key player behind SORM – the “System of Technical Means Ensuring the Functions of Operational Search Activities” or total interception in Russia.
There have been a number of suspicious deaths in Russia since the months leading up to Putin’s ill-considered war in Ukraine.