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Death penalty for selling currency in the USSR
Death penalty for selling currency in the USSR

Some considered them "enemies of the people", others - victims of lawlessness, and in the United States named after them a brand of jeans.

"Have you anything for sale?" - with such a question, Soviet “blackmail” approached foreigners in Moscow: people who secretly bought and sold scarce imported goods and foreign currency. Such resale (in the Soviet Union it was called speculation) was illegal, and for conditional tights, chewing gum, or $ 30, they could be imprisoned for up to 7 years.

This was the case until 1960, during what was called the "political thaw." However, it was at this time that speculation began to be punished even more harshly: first with 15 years in prison, and then with the death penalty.

Dollars in a dental tube

It is believed that the black market in the USSR appeared in 1957, when the World Festival of Youth and Students was held in the country, and students from Italy, Sweden, France, the USA and other countries came behind the Iron Curtain. At that time, Soviet citizens had only one way to buy something imported, the so-called "chic": to go abroad, which was allowed to a few. The arrival of a large number of foreigners changed the situation: they quickly found those willing to take risks in order to make good money. After all, such goods were sold with a cosmic markup.

VI World Festival of Youth and Students in Moscow

The brokers were mainly entrepreneurial students, as well as those who constantly dealt with foreigners at work: guides, translators, diplomats, taxi drivers, foreign exchange prostitutes, etc. However, rather quickly the capital's black market took shape in a multilevel repurchase system.

At the bottom of the hierarchy were "runners" - those who directly made a deal. Next came the curators and, finally, the "merchants". Nobody knew the names of the latter, they acted under pseudonyms and only through intermediaries. Currency was one of the most valuable "commodities" because a state monopoly was established on its sale, and only those who were allowed to leave the country could acquire it. The smugglers went to incredible tricks, they could even put currency in tubes of toothpaste.

Quite quickly, the capital's black market took shape in a multi-level system of repurchase

By 1960, a whole "black" empire with multimillion-dollar turnover was functioning in Moscow. At the same time, the KGB reached out to the three main dealers of this market, "merchants" - Yan Rokotov, Vladislav Faibishenko and Dmitry Yakovlev.

Black merchants

The first arrest of Yan Rokotov took place when he was 17 years old - he received 8 years in camps for "counter-revolutionary activities", but did not serve the entire term, was rehabilitated and even reinstated at the institute. It was from the inmates that he learned about all kinds of speculative schemes.

Yan Rokotov

Released, 30-year-old Rokotov managed to organize a well-functioning network of buying up currency and consumer goods. The main source of currency is the employees of the embassies in Moscow, with whom he established relations, as well as Arab soldiers from military academies, who willingly and in large quantities supplied him with gold coins of Tsarist Russia (they were especially appreciated by Soviet numismatists).

They carried gold coins of the Tsar's minting across the border in secret belts under their clothes - each could hold up to 500 coins. In the fall of 1960, during the examination of the belongings of Arab smugglers, more than 20 kg of gold coins were found! When Rokotov is caught and presented with photographs of 84 Arab officers, it turns out that he did not enter into secret deals with only 10 of them.

By 1960, a whole "black" empire of speculators with multimillion-dollar turnover was functioning in Moscow

Another source of currency was a secret deal with a member of the board of directors of the West German bank Otto and Companions. A resident of the USSR could take a maximum of $ 30 with him on a trip abroad. Rokotov offered to give rubles to him, and already in Germany in the bank to receive foreign money, as much as necessary. In the opposite direction, this also worked through the settlement account of Otto and Companions: in the USSR, they received rubles from Rokotov's partners at a much more favorable rate than the official one.

In fact, for the first time, Rokotov managed to put blackmail on stream, turning speculation into business, and Faibishenko and Yakovlev were his closest accomplices.

Dmitry Yakovlev

24-year-old Faibishenko, the youngest of them, worked mainly with students: he woke up, got into a taxi and drove around his wards, collecting a share. His contractors specialized in foreign things. The 33-year-old Yakovlev was distinguished by the fact that he knew three foreign languages, studied in graduate school and traded with smugglers in the Baltic states, where he was from.

He hired an unsuspecting pensioner to sit by the phone and put him in touch with other middlemen. Moreover, Faibishenko and Yakovlev were also informers of the authorities, for several years they handed over ordinary "runners" -students, and paid bribes so that they were not touched.

Vladislav Faibishenko

But in 1960, the fight against black marketeers reached a new level, political. Their "black" empire was personally interested in the First Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee Nikita Khrushchev. Faybishenko was arrested during the deal, Yakovlev was handed over by the same pensioner who helped him (the authorities agreed with her), and Rokotov was taken at the station, where he hid a suitcase with valuables in a storage room. At the time of the arrest, the turnover of the empire was 20 million rubles, or $ 80 million at the then exchange rate.

All three were sentenced to 8 years in prison, and this was the end of the story of the “black merchants”. But then events began to develop in a completely unpredictable way.

We ask you to be merciless to these scum

At the end of 1960, Khrushchev went on a visit to West Berlin, where, in a conversation with local politicians, he rebuked: allegedly "under the wing of the occupation authorities, the city turned into a dirty swamp of speculation, and the black exchange rules the show here." In response, he heard: "There is no such black exchange as your Moscow one anywhere in the world."

Returning to his homeland, while still at the airfield, Khrushchev demanded that the KGB provide him with a certificate of the real state of affairs. They decided to accompany the report with an exhibition of items confiscated from the smugglers in one of the halls of the Kremlin. The day before, a decree was also adopted: now for smuggling and currency speculation under Article 88, up to 15 years were threatened instead of 8.

Nikita Khrushchev

“What awaits Rokotov and Faibishenko?” Khrushchev asked, referring to the new term. The decree was adopted after the speculators were under arrest, and therefore such a punishment is not legitimate - the law has no retroactive effect, he was reminded. “This may have a negative effect on the onset of a thaw in our relations with the West,” KGB chairman Aleksandr Shelepin warned him. These arguments caused Khrushchev, according to eyewitnesses, a surge of anger.

At Khrushchev's insistence, the case was reviewed, and the troika received 15 years each. As an argument (this was a common method), Khrushchev presented a collective letter from the workers of the Metallist plant, who were dissatisfied with the mild sentence: “We, ordinary Soviet people, employees of the Moscow Instrument Plant, we earnestly ask you to be merciless to these scum, miserable scum and scoundrels ".

However, a year later, the legislation was tightened again, and for Article 88, the death penalty was made. The third trial took place - and all three were sentenced to death.

Before his execution in July 1961, Yakov Rokotov wrote a letter to Khrushchev: “I am sentenced to be shot. My crime is that I have speculated in foreign exchange and gold coins. They applied the retroactive force of the law to me twice … I really mean you to save my life. In many ways, I was mistaken. Now I have been reborn and a completely different person. I am 33 years old, I will be a useful person for the Soviet state. After all, I’m not a murderer, not a spy, not a bandit. Now my mind has cleared up, I want to live and build communism with the Soviet people. I beg you to have mercy on me."

There was no pardon. They were shot two days later.

What happened after

The trial of the currency dealers frightened the farmers, many tried to leave the currency trade, and the goods from foreigners were exchanged for vodka, Soviet watches and souvenirs. In terms of scale, this could no longer be compared with Rokotov and his gang.

Meanwhile, Article 88 continued to exist until 1994, and they continued to imprison and shoot under it. Neither the critic of the West, nor the open letter of the human rights activist and academician Andrei Sakharov helped: “I especially want to draw your attention to the fact that in the USSR the death penalty is imposed for many crimes that have nothing to do with an attempt on human life. In 1962, an old man was shot, who made several counterfeit coins and buried them in the courtyard."

Subsequently, already in Russia, many will express themselves in the Rokotov case in the vein "if he were somewhere in a capitalist country, he would be a multimillionaire" and "for such lawlessness, the country's leadership should be tried posthumously." And the Rokotov & Feinberg jeans brand will appear in the USA. The standard model was dubbed the number 88.

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