7. Postal Police of Milan
As I've already mentioned, a group of four (Oleg Kheilik, Dmitriy Koltsov, Alexander Stefanovich and the writer of these words) took part in creation and development of my son Oleg Kheilik's project – free web hosting.
The idea originated, and we started the project in 1998. In 1999 the project was booming. In late 1999 – early 2000 we hardly had enough time for adding new servers to the cluster. By mid 2000, our server cluster consisted of 40 servers already. We hosted over 30 thousand webmasters with a few websites each. We were among the 25 most-visited websites worldwide and were likely to enter the Top 10 just in a few months. We were the Top 1 in Europe already (the servers were physically located in the US, while we ourselves, i.e. human resources, were located in Europe). We had plenty of ideas, and we were developing the new products. We were full of dreams and hopes.
For that moment we had no idea of risk management and paid no attention to legal support. It was actually why the whole thing failed. I'd like to add that at the turn of the century people were skeptical and suspicious about Internet. As for web specialists, it was hardly possible to find one in Europe of that time.
To cut in short, there were 5 (out of thirty thousand!!!) of our customers who created accounts on our hosting server for placing illegal content.
All the hosting servers and domain names were registered to me, and my home address in Milan was indicated. I was residing in Milan for the time being. But I often visited Lugano (Switzerland) as well. It is where my son and daughter lived and studied at the universities of Lugano (USI and SUPSI).
Well, somehow the postal police of Milan found the data on those unfortunate websites (the postal police was responsible for Internet crimes at that moment). The ignorance prevailing in that governmental authority made them think of me as an owner of all those unlucky websites. To be more precise, they believed the owners of those websites were mafiosos and I was their boss.
I’ve got no clue why they considered me the owner of those websites or, better to say, why they thought of those webmasters as members of my “crime family”. They didn’t take time for any investigation. Otherwise they would have known all those webmasters came from different countries (France, Australia, Belarus... I don’t remember the rest of the countries). The fact that the servers and domain names were registered to me was sufficient evidence for those "highly qualified" police officers. Sounds like nonsense, doesn’t it? Was it ignorance and incompetence? It seems that way.
I’d like to add that Hollywood had released quite a few movies about Russian mafia by that time. Well... the world around us had been casting a wary eye at the Iron Curtain hiding the hair-rising Soviet Union for decades. The Iron Curtain fell, but the fear was still there. Hollywood took the trouble to fill the vacuum remained after the fall of the Iron Curtain and switch the fear of ordinary people to virtual bandits. It looked like the police officers of Milan watched too many mafia movies as well and felt like playing some mafia games. As soon as they found the websites with illegal content placed on our servers registered to me, they must have come up with an idea of getting on the track of Russian mafia and even more – the mafia boss (as TV news broadcast later). The guys started a big venture and set the wheels in motion. They got us (me, my family, and everyone I dealt with) under surveillance. During that period I was spending more time in Lugano. They seemed to be intentionally missing my visits to Milan. It looked like they preferred to send their agents to Switzerland (well, maybe they found it more romantic). For this purpose Milan made inquiries to Rome, in their turn Rome requested Bern, and further Bern applied to Lugano. After all the required procedures and meetings, the Italian police agents were authorized to stake me out in Switzerland. The agents were living in luxurious hotels and dining in fine restaurants. The way these agents worked is another story.
At the request of Italian police and authorized by Swiss judges, Swiss police was tapping our home phone and they seemed to be checking our post, too. Moreover, they were doing just the same in Milan. They had been tracking us from May, 1999, till February, 2000. On February, 15th, at 8 a.m. about 20 people forced an entry into our apartment to conduct a thorough search. I was arrested, handcuffed and taken to the police station of Lugano for questioning. However, by the end of that very day, Lugano prosecutor Marco Villa decided to release me, much to regret of Italian police (as I’ve realized later).
Swiss police and the Swiss prosecutor (give them their due) understood their mistake right away. They asked me to come for a couple of interviews over the next few days in a very polite way.
While leaving the police station in Lugano, I noticed a few people waiting for something in the courtyard. One of them started walking toward me. This was a nice-looking young woman. I asked her: "Could you tell me, please, where is an exit?" "Exit??? Exit!!!" she exclaimed, turned to the group of people waiting, and cried out: "He’s asking me, where’s an exit!!!"
As I got to know later, this woman was the head of Milan postal police team. That very police team was responsible for that senseless process and shadowing me.
At the next interview, inspector Filippini who was questioning me said, "There's an Italian inspector behind the door. He would like to be present at the interview. We cannot let him in without your permission. Do you mind his coming?" "No, I don’t," I answered.
A good-looking young man came in. He introduced himself as an informatics expert. While I was questioned, he was mostly keeping silent. By the end of the interview, he told me: "Now I know you are not guilty. That was a misunderstanding. I would like you to come to our office in Milan where we could finish all formalities." "Sure," I said.
To cut it short, it didn’t take long to finish all the procedures in Switzerland. I was set free and could continue my daily life and web hosting business.
In March or maybe April, I called inspector Filippini and asked, "Do you remember an Italian police inspector who was present at one of the interviews? He promised to invite me to his office. But nobody has got in touch with me yet." "We are not responsible for Italian police’s actions. We’ve got no clue of their intentions,"- inspector Filippini answered.
In about half a year, I almost forgot of the incident with the arrest and questioning at the police station.
I had no idea of what the pretty woman from Milan postal police was organizing.
But it is a story for the next chapters.