December 2, 2023

Phone scammers have targeted Russian politicians, after an admission by a Kremlin propagandist that she was a victim of “extortion” and pays to ensure she is not subject to negative media coverage.

Dmitry Gusev, a deputy in Russia’s parliament, the Duma, has said that he was among politicians who had received messages purporting to be from those chairing the committees they sit on.

On Thursday, Gusev posted on his Telegram channel screenshots of messages that had allegedly been written by Oleg Morozov, who is the chairman of the Duma’s control committee. Morozov is sanctioned by the EU and has said on Russian state television that Russia could attack Poland and the U.K.

“They start communicating and ask, ‘do you know such and such a person?'” Gusev wrote, “then they offer to solve some issue, provide assistance, and so on. Colleagues, don’t be fooled,” added Gusev. He is a member of A Just Russia – For Truth, a party in the country’s systemic opposition considered sympathetic to the Kremlin.

Gusev told the Telegram channel Mash that, when he received the message, which he thought Morozov had sent, he had agreed to his request to meet in person.

“Naturally, no one showed up at the scene, and the scammers went ignored,” Mash reported, without specifying who wrote the messages and adding the case had been referred to Russia’s prosecutor’s office.

Russian State Duma
The Russian State Duma, lower house of Russia’s Parliament, in central Moscow on July 14, 2023. Russia’s lawmakers have been targeted by phone scammers, according to national media reports.

In turn, Morozov appealed to lawmakers not to respond to “strange requests and appeals” purportedly sent by him. “Recently I have not made any requests and have written responses only to those recipients who asked me about it,” he wrote on Telegram. “Everything else is falsification and fraud!”

Meanwhile, the head of the State Duma Security Committee, Vasily Piskarev, also said that scammers had sent messages on his behalf. “Dear friends…if you received a message on my behalf with an offer to call back, send funds, or other requests, do not respond, as this is a fake,” Piskarev wrote on Telegram. Newsweek has emailed the Duma’s press department for comment.

It comes as RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan, a regular fixture on state television programs in which she peddles the Kremlin line, said that extortion was a regular feature of Russian life.

“Unfortunately, this is the usual business of a significant part of the unofficial domestic media, and everyone knows about it,” Simonyan wrote on Telegram as she said she paid to ensure she would not be the subject of unfavorable media coverage.

Her post was in defense of the journalist Alexandra Bayazitova who faces a 14-year jail term over an extortion case involving a top manager of the Russian bank Promsvyazbank. “I myself have never filed claims of extortion in such cases and will not file them,” said Simonyan, saying that she tolerates paying “three hundred a month” without specifying the currency.