Russian court sentences former “crab king” despite his supposed death in 2023

A basket filled with crab on a Russian vessel
Russia's former "crab king" Oleg Kan has been sentenced to 17 years in jail despite his legal team's claims he died in 2023 | Photo courtesy of Russian Crab Company
4 Min

The Primorsky Regional Court has sentenced former “crab king” Oleg Kan to 17 years in prison in a case accusing him of murder for hire – despite reports that Kan died.

Kan was once one of the biggest players in Russia’s crab sector, with connections to companies like Primorskaya Rybolovnaya Kompaniya (PRK), Kurilskiy Universalniy Komplex (KUK), and Moneron. His dominance in the sector waned after several Russian media outlets aired investigative reports in 2018 alleging linked him to underreporting of catches and selling excess crab to South Korea and Japan. 

Russian state-owned media TASS reported Kan was sentenced in absentia to 17 years imprisonment for organizing the murder of businessman Valery Phidenko, a fellow crab-fishing entrepreneur. Kan was named a suspect in Phidenko's murder in 2020, according to Russia Today, and was placed on an international wanted list.

Kan was also tied to other murders, which allegedly led him to flee the country via a private plane to Japan. In March 2020, Russian courts seized assets from several of his companies, claiming he still owned them and was still profiting from them. 

In addition to the jail sentence, the court issued a fine of RUB 15 million (USD 163,400, EUR 151,700), split between five victims of Kan’s alleged crime as “compensation for moral damage.”

Kan’s legal team said the jail sentences and fines are unwarranted, as he died in the U.K. in February 2023. However, prosecutors claim that registry offices in the Sakhalin Region where Kan is from, and in St. Petersburg where relatives reside, have submitted notices that his death has not been officially registered with the state. 

The prosecutors said in the event of a defendant’s death, relatives or others aware of their passing are obligated to report it.

“Therefore, the only legal confirmation of a person’s death is an entry in civil status acts. And in the absence of such records, we regard the claims that Kan has died as a staged act,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said.

Additionally, TASS reported that the legal team did not seek dismissal of the criminal case despite reports of Kan’s death.

However, Kan’s lawyers said they had provided the court with his death certificate and tried to submit that death certificate to the registry office, but that the office allegedly refused to accept it, making it impossible for his legal team or Kan’s family to officially register the death.

The entire saga comes after a standoff between the Russian crab sector and the Russian government in 2019. Crab companies opposed a proposal by Russian President Vladimir Putin to move the country’s crab quota to an auction system, with many calling the proposal potentially disastrous.

After the crab industry declared its opposition to the plan, reports about Kan began to circulate casting him in a negative light, going so far as to blame him for the disappearance of a trawler and claiming he underinvested in fleet renovations. The reports also pushed the auction system as a way to bring the industry back under control.

Despite the industry’s opposition, Russia held its first crab auctions in 2019, with Russian Fishery Company and Russian Crab Owner Gleb Frank winning more than one-third of the quotas up for auction. Frank later sold both companies after he came under sanctions from the United States. Frank is the son-in-law of Russian business tycoon Gennady Timchencko, who is allegedly a close partner of Putin.  

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