DUROV’S CAT, or A STORY ABOUT PAVEL DUROV SUING ME FOR 100 000 000
The details of a 100 million rubles court claim for specifying my place of employment on Facebook will follow below. And now please be patient enough to read the story of my friendship with Nikolai Durov since childhood, my work as a Technical Director for VKontakte, and much more.
1. Meeting Nikolai
Back in 1993, when I was in the sixth grade, I went to a maths club at Physico-Mathematical Lyceum №239 where I met Kolya (short for Nikolai) Durov (Pavel Durov’s elder brother, Pavel himself was 9 years old at the time). His looks somewhat resembled those of Kolya Gerasimov from “A Guest from the Future” movie, and so did his character. He was expelled from our first summer camp in the middle of the shift for going outside the camp’s premises to a nearby railway station, missing the bus and returning an hour after the bedtime (everybody did that, the main thing was not to be caught). I have a special memory of his little notebook with ideas and projects: in particular, there was a scheme of a nuclear reactor he dreamed to build: with control rods, a cooling loop and turbines to generate power.
We attended this club for 6 years, went together to All-Russian Mathematical Olympiads, training sessions in Moscow, the 39th International Mathematical Olympiad in 1998 in Taiwan. One of the most vivid remembrances of those times was Kaluga: the participants of the 23rd All-Russian Olympiad were housed in a suburb, and on the last day, after the awards, Kolya and I went to the shore of the Oka where we took much effort to make a bonfire in a strong wind. The bonfire was so good that aluminum wire burnt in it. But it would not go out in such a wind as well, and the fire must not be left unattended, so we had to drag the logs and dump them into the river. To put a long story short, we came back in about four hours, just to find out that a G.M.Kuznetsova, chief specialist of something from the Ministry of Education had come from Moscow to take Kolya to the awards ceremony, and had already been looking for him for hours. However, all this bureaucracy, such as trips to Moscow for the President’s awards ceremony, even in those times seemed a boring, but inevitable consequence of taking part in the Olympiads.
Another funny story that I still recall with pleasure happened during summer training before the International Olympiad. The training was held in a children’s camp on the shore of the Volga river, in a small town called Emmauss in the Tver region. The team members were for some reason or other arranged to do groups with a psychologist, to build teamwork. This idea did and does surprise me, for an Olympiad is a strictly personal contest, team members are made to sit far from each other, and it is strongly forbidden to communicate when doing the tasks. It was interesting, though, to see what it was, and with great enthusiasm we set about performing the tasks such as walking blindfolded guided by a comrade or drawing a tree or an animal (in 10 minutes allotted I came up with a wonderful dragon). In the same way Kolya and I were not at all surprised that the idea dwindled away and went no further than one session. It was only in the end of the training that we knew that the classes had gone on. It was just the two of us who would not be summoned, the other team members went on attending.
We went on to study at the Faculty of Mathematics and Mechanics of St. Petersburg State University, together we attended student military training in a camp near Luga. After university our paths diverged, at the moment I had been long employed as software engineer, Kolya had delved into mathematics and went to study in Germany.
2. VK.com launches and grows
I did not know Pavel then, I just knew that Kolya had a junior brother who was studying at the faculty of philology and who published poems under a pseudonym, I think, of Kotovsky in some small faculty collections.
I was already interested in information safety, therefore I used old spare parts to assemble a second computer, rather weak and slow, to surf the internet. In the summer of 2006 a friend of mine invited me to join Russian social networks Odnoklassniki and Moy Krug, but it went no further than registration. And on February 13, 2007 on the forum of Novosibirsk Science Campus (!) I came across a message from Pavel Durov who promoted his project, a certain “closed reference book of students and graduates of Russian elite institutions of higher education” — that was when I learned of VKontakte. I liked the site immediately, both because it, unlike the other sites, worked fast on my computer and because it had a simple and clear structure: id numbers of the users were released consecutively, and you could easily see that there were, say, 70 thousand members on the site at the time, you enter any number and see the next live person, under a real name (it was unusual then: at the forums everybody used nicknames and picture avatars, not photos). It took me less than an hour to learn things, assess the registration rate of the new users and calculate the right time to become the owner of id77777.
I also found about a dozen of various bugs such as the possibility to open a photo in a larger resolution using its miniature, notes being accessible through direct links and other tricks related mainly to bypassing privacy.
There were only three persons from my year of college who had registered on the site, one of them being naturally Kolya; so it was him, to whom I wrote asking about where to send those bug reports. He suggested writing directly to his brother, Pavel Durov.
The site grew at breakneck speed, the list of bugs was on its heels and achieved 84 points.
In June the first volunteer customer support team was created and in July Kolya invited me to visit him and discuss possible cooperation.
At that time VKontakte had many competitors: Odnoklassniki, Moy Fakultet, Connect.ua, but it was obvious to me that that the future belongs to VK, I liked this site and agreed to join its team without hesitations, never mind the salary, which was lower than at my current position.
Thus I became VKontakte’s first system administrator, and after the probation period Deputy Technical Director (technical director being Kolya). We both were engaged in administering all equipment, setting up new servers, balancing loads and recovering after breakdowns, safeguarding against DDoS attacks and even fixing php code, and sometimes developing new services.
The work was hugely interesting but hard, essentially without weekends, with breaks only enough to sleep, and with the minimum load being at about 5 o’clock in the morning when all residents of St. Petersburg and Moscow were asleep, we had to work during the night and sleep in the morning and afternoon. It is very difficult in winter in St. Petersburg, it went so far that I did not see any daylight at all.
I remember seeing the servers of VKontakte for the first time, it was then just one server room in Tekhnodom, a ramshackle industrial building on the premises of the Baltic Plant, filled with racks with towers, the second server room was being built. There were about three hundred servers then, and it was something unbelievable. Who could imagine at the time that by 2013 there would be 35,000 servers scattered in five datacenters (and just seven sysadmins for all this).
So the site was growing and changing, then there were stories with “load testing”, Runet Prizes, and peering wars with monopolist providers when we had to move the servers from Moscow to St. Petersburg on buses. There was a separate service called VKadre to store all VKontakte videos, and at some moment of time, we found out that the last technical expert there had left about a month before, and only director and accountant remained. I had then to write a new system urgently from zero to recode and store the videos, adding therewith new extensions (360, 480 and 720p). There were demands from FSB to close protest groups in 2011 and police searches in 2013. Datacenters were built, first Selectel for VKontakte, then ICVA (Research Center for High-Voltage Apparatus Making). An article can be written about each of these stories.
Yet, I never aspired to become a celebrity, I even managed to avoid being mentioned in the “Durov’s Code” book. Overall, the work of system administrators did not imply the same publicity as that of the developers. Who would write in the site’s blog about the that a router costing 4 million dollars failed to reload in the night or about 1000 new servers being launched?
During the first year we would meet at the Durovs’, in Kamyshovaya Street. I recall a large portrait of Khodorkovsky hanging on their WC door, it was funny, my door had a map of the world on it. We used to work until late, closer to midnight Albina Aleksandrovna (mom of the Durov brothers) would send Kolya and Pavel to walk me to the metro. I assume this was the only way to tear them off the screens and make them take a stroll. Later on, after DST fund bought a part of the shares, Pavel bought an apartment in the Nevsky Avenue, and we began to gather and work there. In 2010 the Singer House office appeared, first on the 6th floor, then the 7th floor was added to it, with an exit to the dome and the roof.
By the way, my office (which later in fact became the place where all sysadmins gathered) was that very room with a huge panorama window on the corner of Nevsky Avenue and Griboyedov Channel Embankment which many people believed to be Pavel’s office. It did not suite him because of the noise, but I liked the view and plenty of light. So it was from my office that Pavel and Ilya Perekopsky let five-thousand ruble note airplanes fly. I remember well that day, it was Saturday, crowds of people in the street were celebrating the City’s Day, and I dropped in to work a little. And the guys came searching for a window from which it would be easier to toss the money planes. I tried to talk them out of this idea understanding the boyish nature of it and possible negative media consequences (shortly before that Pavel had made his first public appearance donating a million dollars to Wikipedia). But I failed to bring them round. I refused to participate, but I was the only photographer who shot the scene first from inside, then from the street.
The people in the street reacted differently: somebody didn’t believe that the money was real, somebody passed by nonchalantly. I remember another software engineer who was also present that day in the office remarking calmly that a sum that had been thrown out of the window exceeded his monthly pay.
3. Telegram and conflict with UCP
There were several attempts at international expansion beginning from the lite version in as far back as 2008 (located at in2017.com, which is symbolic): localization into many languages, transfer to vk.com domain, creating a platform for a quick setup of simplified social networks based on VKontakte API (the site durov.ru served as an example).
I cannot say anything about the official narrative about the idea of setting up a safe channel for the communication between Pavel and his brother after the visit of the Special Police Force to his apartment in the “Fifth Element”, but at least there was an awareness that the expansion of VK to the West was hindered by Russian roots and Russian (again) investors.
Some way or other, the first half of 2012 saw the beginning of the development of the Telegra.ph project, originally on the basis of VKontakte resources. Then, on August 7, 2012, Telegraph LLC was created. This was precisely how it was entitled first, but after the rumors of the new project appeared in the media everything had to be denied, as a result the messenger was launched under the title Telegram, and the domain telegra.ph finally hosted a blog platform. The title of LLC, by the way, was left as it was.
The launch of the new project was repeatedly postponed, during this time external conditions changed (new versions of iOS and Android were released, the competitors did not stay put as well), and everything had to be remade almost from scratch.
In April 2013 48% of VKontakte interest was bought by UCP fund which started to arrange audits and get interested in the Telegraph project. As a result, a launch under the new title Telegram had to be forced (on 14 August 2013 the first release version for iPhone saw the light, so this date that is considered to be the official birthday of the messenger), the servers had to be reregistered for another company, the employees and the office to be separated. All developers of VK engines went to Telegraph, including Nikolai Durov. The first office of VKontakte in Singer House also had to be reregistered for Telegraph, on level six, as far as I remember, so that the employees, first of all Nikolai, would not have to move. So, all the rest had to move house, and on August 31, 2013 I relocated to an open-space on level 7. VK employees retained, though, access to the office on level 6, many of them, especially the new ones, did not even suspect that it was not their office. (Say, in the article “The Village” of 1 July 2014 about the new design of the VK office part of the pictures were made in Telegraph office).
A couple of months later it became clear that the separation was final, and Nikolai would not return to VKontakte — after that I became Technical Director at VKontakte.
The situation with management was stalemate, for both UCP and Pavel, considering Usmanov’s mandate, had two votes each in the board of directors. The construction of a new datacenter stalled, it was even difficult to purchase new servers to support stable operation of the site, the purchases were effected very nearly under Pavel’s personal responsibility. The density of events accumulated, though, Pavel was expected to sell 12% of the interest to Ivan Tavrin, the scandal with dismissals of Perekopsky brothers and their replacement with people from Megafon, beginning of the conflict with Ukraine, and all this in a matter of months.
Pavel, as it seemed to me, continued to engage in VKontakte matters, primarily political ones, by inertia, but he did not see any perspectives any more, for with the sale of the interest he had been deprived of both his share and control, therefore his interests were focused on Telegram.
On March 21, 2014 Pavel filed an application to leave his position, and on April 1, following my jocular advice, announced it on his wall.
But two days later he learnt that UCP had managed to acquire control over a number of Telegram’s companies, and had to denounce his dismissal as a joke, in order to return and defend his brainchild.
On April 7 Pavel went on a trip abroad with a team of Telegram’s employees, to several countries, visiting datacenters during the trip, in order to explain the situation to their owners vis-à-vis, and search for new platforms at the same time.
Over the years of work in VKontakte I had accumulated several months of leave, so I also decided to take a vacation, and, having completed the scheduled meetings, caught up with Durov and Co. in the New York City on April 13. On April 21, after the return trip over the Atlantic we left the airplane and only then learnt the news that Pavel Durov had been fired from VKontakte. Pavel himself knew about it from one of the developers: “Guess what, man, they say you are fired, it’s in the news!”
After that I decided I was unable to work further in the existing circumstances, and filed a resignation notice. The emotions I had were complex: on the one hand, I did as I deemed proper, on the other hand, I was left without a most interesting work to which I had devoted 7 years of my life. But at least I have never regretted this decision. Instead, I had time to assemble a puzzle of 4,000 pieces (never again, blast it!), use the accumulated vacations, and go mountaineering.
Luckily, in September the conflict with shares ended with a buyout from UCP, and quieter times arrived for everybody, Telegram was left alone, VKontakte was able to move forward steadily. I recall the funny story that took place then: Telegram decided to move servers from London to another datacenter, more reliable and less expensive, to one of the European capitals. The entire project was, after all, financed by Pavel personally, and the expenses with such a number of servers are not low. Alas, the amounts voiced by local carriers were stratospheric. As a result, the guys took a reckless decision to move the servers all by themselves, on two leased trucks. I ventured to go with others and lend a hand, such an adventure warranted the ticket costs. The story turned out to be stunning, it will just suffice to mention the passage by the customs with a hundred undocumented servers in truck bodies. Anyway, now I know for sure that one can carry anything under the English Channel.
For some time I remained unemployed. But my wife and I stayed on friendly terms with Telegram team, several times we joined “family” trips (developers and their families): to England, to a country house in Finland.
At that time Kolya and I would often meet, go to the cinema together, play board games at my place. In 2015 he rented an apartment in Malaya Konyushennaya Street, close to the office in the Singer House, and started to live alone, without his mom. I remember how we took him to Lenta store and helped to choose things that might be of use at home.
In spring 2016 Pavel needed people for a new direction, to fight spam, and he invited me to work. Thus I became Special Directions Director. Indeed, “anti-spam director” sounds just about as stupid as “spam director”, don’t you think?
Thus I returned to the familiar atmosphere of a startup, interesting work, a friendly team, familiar office, and all the things I liked. And besides, no shareholding conflicts and resulting bureaucracy. Without exaggeration, I can say that it was a dream job.
We kept on travelling with Kolya (and sometimes with his brother): Riga, Paris, a country house in Finland where Kolya often went with us on a car. I remember how once we were stuck for about 20 minutes at a window at a border crossing point in Nuijamaa, when he was entering for the first time with a passport of Saint Kitts and Nevis ; it may well be that the board officers saw one for the first time.
In the evenings after work Kolya and I often went to the cinema and played board games (I would win more often).
We assembled a wheeled robot from a set for Arduino which I gave to Nikolai as a birthday present. He usually spent his weekends at his mom’s.
4. Betrayal and the end of friendship
It all changed in one day, on January 7, 2017, when I learnt that this person whom I had been friends with since childhood, for whom I had cared for since the days of high school, Olympiads, and military training, this quiet nerd resembling the main character “The Big Bang Theory”, somebody, whom I had respected all my life for his intelligence and erudition, integrity and honesty, secretly hates me, because he is in love with my girl-friend and future wife and makes passes at her behind my back. At first she regarded them as friendly gestures, then she hesitated to tell me, for she knew that we had been friends since childhood and also worked together. Furthermore, she herself had been a short time before employed in the same company.
The treachery, baseness, and hypocrisy of this rubbish were beyond my understanding, and, naturally, I told Nikolai everything I thought on the subject outright. It was then that Nikolai revoked my access at work. We had nothing else to talk about after that.
The Durov brothers took a pause of two months, Nikolai travelled somewhere, Pavel occasionally visited Russia. I continued working in Telegraph LLC, but without access, I could only consult my colleagues, gather information on bugs and learn Persian in which I engaged diligently.
من در تلگرام کار کردم و کارم را دوست داشتم. من ایران را دوست دارم و می خواهم آنجا بروم
On March 17th , when Pavel flew to St. Petersburg again, we met and talked a lot. Personally, he was naturally on my side, he had been betrayed by close friends as well. At the same time, I could see perfectly that Pavel came to the meeting with a decision to fire me. On the whole, it was understandable, and Pavel himself told me that Nikolai was one of a few key employees the company could not afford to lose, and he had to view my conflict with this key employee not as a friend but as a manager and investor. (To say nothing of them being brothers.) Nevertheless, understanding that it was not me who was to blame in this conflict, Pavel did not have heart to utter this decision. We separated having agreed that we needed to look for other options, and I would not meet Nikolai in office or contact him about work (the latter, by the way, hardy ever happened anyway).
Alas, Nikolai was inimical to his junior brother’s business approach, he regularly nagged Pavel to fire me. My colleagues told me then that Nikolai was spreading malicious gossip about me. Many of them asked Pavel questions. Eventually, in a month, Pavel pulled himself together and during the next conversation, on 11 April, presented me an ultimatum: if I didn’t resign voluntarily, the formal CEO of the company would be assigned the task of dismissing me.
Naturally, I refused. I was sorry for Nikolai, but why was I to lose the job I liked because of what he did, because of a personal conflict in which he was utterly and completely to blame? Besides, once before I had left an interesting job because of my principles and my loyalty to Pavel and Nikolai. And I was utterly reluctant to lose my job, the team with which I had worked for many years, break my career because of Nikolai.
Probably, here I should say more about Nikolai Durov. Besides being his friend, I always tried to care for him. In study and at work he has always been an authority for everybody, a genius among geniuses, I have sincerely admired his intelligence and erudition, but as for daily life, Kolya had remained a big child absolutely detached from real life. His mom packed things for him when he went to undergraduate military training. She also arranged his accommodation during his studies in Germany, managed his money investing into apartments and construction of a country house, managed repairs and even participated in VKontakte by monitoring the site review schedules. Even today she controls nearly every his step. Where to eat, where to go, how many steps to walk from the railway station and which taxi to take. The friends saw it and tried to the best of their abilities to help and support him, and on the whole everybody got accustomed to it and took it for granted.
(Though sometimes even friends were in for surprises. Nikolai is said to have once eaten cereals with beetles without noticing them, and the people around were so shocked, that they had no courage to tell him about it, not knowing what to do.)
At the web forum of our university SPSU his nickname was K.O.T. later it became his byname Kot (Cat in Russian) which eventually superseded his real name. Moreover, Kolya really considers himself a cat calling his mom a “Big Cat”, he likes mewing in the street and in restaurants and encourages others to do so … I don’t know from whence it came, it was not so in childhood, I asked him several times what the acronym К.О.Т. meant, and each time he declined to answer. According to one of the versions, the death of their cat Morfey (Morfeus) had affected him much, at least, the questions to the ceiling “So where is our pretty Morfey?…” during negotiations strongly perplexed people who did not know him. But in the company everybody was already accustomed to such amiable eccentricity and did not pay attention, jokes about cats such as this one which also ceased to surprise anybody.
Unfortunately, Nikolai Durov proved to be far from a sweet and quite nerd genius. Now it seems to me that the money and fame affected him, as well as a lack of empathy as regards normal human feelings. Looking back, I can reevaluate the past, recall his insensibility to the colleagues, and cynicism to people, and indifference to animals — even the cats are, in fact nothing more than a totem, a symbol for him. As I recently learnt, when another friend of his got dismissed, Nikolay used to say afterwards: «We just did not extend his contract, haw-haw!»
But I still cannot believe all that. It is beyond my understanding how a person who I regarded as my friend since childhood, who I respected, with whom we have so much in common, could smile to me and invite me to his place, and at the same time hate me secretly.
And after all that, knowing that Nikolai would, upon being exposed, try everything including malicious gossip to make me look guilty, I was positively against losing the job. But even then I tried to settle the conflict and solve everything amiably.
After I refused to resign, the puppet Director General gave me a stack of 19 (!) demands of explanations why I was allegedly absent at my workplace, for all the last month. A higher number is, probably, prohibited by the law, otherwise he would have printed them since my first day of employment in the company.
«Having worked “nine to five” with dull potbellied managerial jerks, you will become helpless spent material with slave consumer mentality.» © Pavel Durov, 2013 г.
Having seen those papers, with signatures and stamps, I had to do my best not to burst out laughing. In the court I intend to demand the records specified therein order to have them sent for expertise as regards their authenticity and date of issue, for during our meetings at work on the preceding days the puppet Director didn’t even suspect he had any problems with me. Instead, he honestly admitted that he was a CEO only on the paper.
By the law, I had to submit 19 written responses in two days. The papers were, by the way, completely formal, my detailed explanatory note saying that all that time I kept on working honestly and diligently (as far as this was possible with Nikolai having revoked my access to the system) was of no interest to anybody, and even before receiving my responses Pavel and company began to remove me from the work chats in which I was still participating.
On the other hand, when I was writing a response, another wonderful thing was revealed.
When I started to collect facts for an extended response and the proofs of my work, it turned out that my Telegram messenger history had been deleted: from the moment of registration in 2013 (long before the official release) and up to February, 14 of this year, which was rather symbolical, for this is my birthday. Moreover, it was deleted from the server only, for the messages cached in my phone were still there. In a word, it looked exactly as though somebody had typed an inquiry delete_first_messages — this function was available already in the text-engine developed in VK and later made open source, so that Telegram could legally continue to use the code. Only normally it was designed to limit the size of memory used by large groups — for technical reasons all messages except the last million were automatically deleted (concealed). I had about 300,000 of messages, so this was definitely not my case. Actually, I had been expecting something of the kind, so I had made a backup beforehand. Nevertheless, the situation was not too inspiring, and I tried to understand at least something by asking my colleagues — nobody could help. I wrote to the group for bug reports — silence. Well, I could write on Facebook that my correspondence in Telegram had been deleted, but, understanding the consequences, I decided not to escalate the conflict and, besides, have some fun, so I wrote two formal letters to the general director. In one of them I cited the text of that post potentially ready for publication, and asked if there was anything in it that I must not publish according to my contract (there certainly wasn’t, I was just asking), in the second I asked for a check, because unauthorised access to my personal correspondence looked very much like an outright infringement of the corresponding article of the Criminal code.
A bit of a spoiler here — I never received an answer to either of them, neither oral nor written, but an hour after I submitted these two applications to the director, Pavel Durov commented on my message in the chat proclaiming everything that had happened a minor technical failure and promising that the history of the correspondence would return after the overnight reindexing (after the period I was supposed to answer had expired). The next morning the correspondence history really was back. But due to this combination I could obtain certain useful information which definitely convinced me that there had been no bug, and that the person behing the story was Nikolai Durov, who, by a wonderful coincidence, is the author of that very text-engine. (Here’s a link to github, the code’s authors are specified in the source code.)
That was my last day at work and I have wholeheartedly devoted it to reading an interesting book. And in the evening, after long phone consultations and the last proposal to resign voluntarily I was expectedly fired for multiple cases of absence at the office. Looking at the papers I nearly laughed to tears. So, watch those hands:
- expectation: “The Telegram team is constantly travelling the world working from different places, the Headquarters is located in Berlin”
- reality: “An employee is fired for absence at the workplace, an office in Saint Petersburg”
This building on Google Street View: https://goo.gl/maps/oN12XVZYPrA2
Yes, I understood quite well that as an investor, Pavel Durov did not need a conflict in the team and that his brother was more important to him than me. Nevertheless, I think that discharging me because of Nikolay’s doings, especially under such an article is positively unfair. I proposed an equitable (in my opinion) option to pay me a reasonable compensation (deducted from Nikolai’s bonus) in which case I was ready to resign and consider the matter closed. However, rather than discussing the details of resignation by mutual agreement, Pavel proposed me to put it down in writing so he could either consider it or put on the wall in a beautiful frame. Therefore, I decided not to waste my time. As a result, I was sacked without wage arrears being paid to say nothing of the bonus for the previous year. For reference: when I voluntarily resigned from VKontakte, the Company’s new management offered to pay me the bonus even when they did not have to.
5. Court proceedings on Illegal Dismissal
My next steps were just as expected. I did not feel comfortable at all either about losing the job due to personal conflict with Nikolai Durov that was, in fact, caused by him, or about having to face the deceitful rumors spread among my friends and coworkers, or having a “shameful” entry in my employment record book and reputational damage.
First, I had to visit notary public and notarize the copies of my correspondence so that no one could be tempted to delete it again. This procedure was expensive and freaking annoying, but it was even interesting to try it for once.
That done, I found lawyers and initiated a wrongful dismissal claim. I have no idea what did the Company management hope for. May be they expected that I would not be able to provide all the necessary documents in time and for this purpose they first refused to accept my application to supply the copies of the documents, which is a violation of the law. Next, when I sent it by registered post, they missed all the deadlines for the reply and, finally, gave me an incomplete set. However, the claim was filed, accepted and currently the lawsuit is being processed by a district court of Saint Petersburg. As it turned out, with the mandatory presence of the Prosecutor’s Office.
Nonetheless, even in this situation I tried not to make the conflict public or exacerbate it hoping that the common sense would take over and we’d come to a peaceful settlement. Because all I wanted was to work in peace. Unfortunately, Nikolai decided to take advantage of it. My friends from VKontakte Support told me that strange rumors about the reasons for my dismissal were spreading among the employees of both companies. According to them, I was allegedly fired for spying on Nikolai and leaking something somewhere (no one knew why, where or what). Moreover, Nikolai himself was spreading this information. Knowing me and my reputation of the main informational safety zealot, they, of course, did not believe these rumors. However, personally I did not like the fact itself, so I wrote about it to Pavel being optimistic that he would finally put his brother in his place. It seems that Nikolai had wrongly interpreted it and redoubled his efforts trying to hurt my feelings by writing little ugly things in the chats.
In the meantime, he persevered in harassing my wife. Being blacklisted in all social networks this man called her from different phone numbers, he tried to remind of himself by regularly leaving “likes” under her mom’s posts in VK and Instagram.
Later, I found out that ten of my VK friends had unfriended me. Most of them were more like acquaintances and work colleagues, so I can understand their motivation. In fact, this was a great way to show their loyalty to the “chieftain”. However, there were people among them who were not related to Telegram (but who adore Pavel), friends I used to work with in VK. And such silent unfriending after so many years of friendship surprised me. I tried to find out what had happened, but the reply was that people just did not want to discuss and know anything.
6. 100 million ruble counterclaim
On August 8 a preliminary hearing of my claim was held. I suspect that the guys felt really frustrated that having fired me they had lost an opportunity to hurt me: no way to issue a reprimand or revoke the bonus. But the desire to fight back was there. Then they figured out: “Let’s sue him back!” And there was no reasonable person around to talk them out of it. So Telegraph LLC represented by Alexander D. Stepanov started to sue me claiming nothing less than 100 000 000 rubles (yes, exactly one hundred million rubles).
The claim was filed on August 7, 2017, precisely on the 5th anniversary of Telegraph LLC, which seems symbolic to me. Even more telling is that the lawyer, hired by Telegraph for this case, somewhat casually presented a copy of the claim to me in the beginning of the court session, even though prior to that we had been sitting next to each other for an hour in the hallway.
Their statement of claim is such a beauty that I couldn’t resist the temptation of posting it in full (link to pdf).
A short remark aside. Just to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s, I do not possess and have never possessed this sum of money. Total amount of my salary for all the years I worked for Pavel Durov is a very far cry from this figure.
On the other hand, upon receiving the statement of claim the potential news headlines rushed through my mind, such as «Pavel Durov found a way to monetize his Telegram messenger! He can sue everyone who specifies Telegram as their place of work on Facebook for 100 000 000 Rubles!»
Also now, when I walk with my friends in Saint Petersburg city center and see expensive cars, we can joke about their owners: ”Look, they are all trying to look so cool and business-like! We’ve got cooler things to worry about: no one of them has been sued for one hundred million!”
And naturally, we are constantly thinking about what one hundred million rubles is. Looking at a headline in Kommersant newspaper saying “Wage arrears in Saint Petersburg and the Leningrad Region exceed 334,5 mln rubles” I think to myself: “Oh, this is only three times more than the claim amount”. Or let’s take the annual budget of the town of Peterhof, a suburb of St.Petersburg — also about 300 million.
Or we can use apartments as measure units. Thus, one hundred million is 1/5 of the price of the Pavel’s apartment in the residential complex “The Fifth Element” located by the side of the pond in the center of Primorsky Park of Victory on the Krestovsky island in Saint Petersburg (500 mln Rubles). On December 9, 2011 OMON Special Police Force came to that apartment looking for him. It is likely that the decision to create Telegraph-Telegram was also made there. It is where Pavel’s avatar photo was taken on June 12, 2011, on Russia Day. More photos are available here.
Those who are looking for castles, sports cars parks and Boeing fleet in my life will be sorely disappointed. I do not own planes, cars and houses. My world is walking and going by subway, as well as sleeping in a rented apartment having a floor space of 18–20 m2. Those who wish to trade places with me will also have to give up alcohol, meat and expensive clothes. © Pavel Durov, from “Money” magazine’s article. June 4, 2012
However, later Pavel sold this apartment and wrote another post about asceticism and freedom from property. It is not so difficult to reach if on the paper all the apartments, including the one that used to be the VKontakte’s office located on Nevsky Prospekt, belong to your mother.
Also, 100 million is 3–4 passports of Saint Kitts and Nevis (I know five holders).
With Pavel I used to travel by subway (2.2 million of subway tokens), and in his white Maybach — I don’t know how much they cost, Google gives the price for S600 starting from 13 440 000, in which case you can buy 7.5 cars for one hundred million.
I have never flown by private jets, I know nothing about rent prices. But according to Google, the prices start at 30 thousand Euro one way. To rent a medieval castle in Italy for a week in order to celebrate your 32th birthday costs as much. In other words, one hundred million will suffice for 15 such trips, and besides Perugia there are many other interesting destinations: Venice, Rome, Barcelona…
Indeed, after you got rid of all property and real estate, you’ll have to stay in hotels all the time. The price for Vendome Suite in, say, Hotel Ritz Paris, starts from 11 000 Euro per night. Then 100 mln will suffice for about four months.
I’m not counting other people’s money, I am just trying to understand what this amount looks like to the people who claim it from me in court. I’d have to work for over 50 years in order to save it.
Alternatively, let’s take, for example, a vacation package for two to Turkey. We went there for 8 days a month ago. For 100 mln one can buy 1600 such packages. That is, this money will be enough for two people to live at a sea resort for 35 years, coming to Saint Petersburg and back once a week.
That’s how I see these 100 mln. But let us go back to the claim. It is accepted by the court, the preliminary hearing is scheduled for September 19. To make it simple, I will share the links to both cases, though they can be easily found by the search: https://goo.gl/QzKqXA and https://goo.gl/4mMAvs.
7. Analysis of the claims, the truth about Telegram
Well, now I am going to take the liberty of commenting on this claim. As is apparent from its text, Telegraph LLC charges me with an alleged disclosure of trade secret and claims a reimbursement of the loss of profit to the amount of 100 mln rubles. No calculations and rationale for the figure is given. They just want it, and want so badly that they were ready to pay 60 thousand of the law charge alone.
Honestly, I have not been able to understand from the text of the claim what confidential information was disclosed and to whom, according to Director General of Telegraph LLC. The text contains three points: submission of screenshots to the court, which is ridiculous; the settlement offer made to the Director General of Telegraph LLC, which is even more ridiculous; and, finally, my place of work being specified on Facebook. In order to get a notarized screenshot of the latter Alexander Stepanov addressed notary public and spent almost 10 thousand rubles. So one would assume that the latter is the very disclosure of confidential information. But Director General himself writes in the text of the claim as follows: «… has promulgated misinformation…» I beg your pardon, but how “misinformation” can be protected by law and “confidential”, I did not catch it.
Possibly, Director General thus wished to say that Telegraph LLC has nothing to do with Telegram? (Otherwise, there’d be a lot of questions fromfrom the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) with who Pavel Durov has been playing hide-and-seek for a long time untill finally proposing to record into the register “the publicly available information” about a certain English company, which is registered only as the owner of the iPhone client.)
Well, the most certain way to find the evidence to the contrary was to file a lawsuit against me. On my own free will I would never start this search, but now, when I’m sued for 100 mln…
Well, the most certain way to find the evidence to the contrary was to file a lawsuit against me. On my own free will I would never start this search, but now, when I’m sued for 100 mln..
So, here is a publicly available interview of the previous Director General of Telegraph LLC where the things are called by their proper names when it concerns developing the Telegram messenger. Here is another interview, where he is explicitly referred to as Director General of Telegram messenger.
And here is a message written by Alexander D. Stepanov himself (as far as I remember, somewhere from 2012 he worked for VKontakte as Radio Station/Partner Manager ). At the same time, he became somewhat like procurement officer/ supply and maintenance manager/office manager, working for two offices. Upon the division, Pavel Durov transferred him to Telegram, and from November 1, 2014 appointed him a new Director General. In fact, a puppet director only: the one who deals with administrative issues and signs necessary papers). This message from a VK chat shows that the information about Telegraph-Telegram and the office in the Singer House is just a secret of Polichinelle:
Sasha is a good person, and I am sorry that I have to write all this. However, I did not make him sign the claim for 100 million.
Here’s what we got. We have an English company Telegram Messenger LLP and a Russian Telegraph LLC. I do not know anything about their contractual relationship. However, according to the above-specified publicly available information it is clear that both organizations are parts of Telegram messenger and that the beneficiary of both of them is one and the same person — Pavel Durov. Since it is obvious, that he keeps his money outside Russia, it is fair to assume that this chain was used to transfer money for paying salaries, renting the office etc. And everyone knows that in such schemes the profit is always shown to be close to zero or negative. Indeed, in 2013 the losses of Telegraph LLC amounted to 10.5 mln Rubles. Financial statements are in public domain, so if you want to see the profits for the following years it’s not difficult. I won’t waste the time, because I am sure that no substantial profit has been ever shown there.
And all of a sudden Telegraph LLC claims a loss of profit in the amount of 100 million. Loss of profit is the profit which the company has failed to get, the net profit. And if it suddenly turns out that Telegraph LLC has had such profits, then, were I the Tax Office, I’d come there with an unscheduled inspection in order to investigate tax evasion on especially large scale.
This said, let’s move on. The main point of the claim is that one company terminates the contract with another, which results in the loss of profit for the latter. A small detail: both companies are part of one project and have one beneficiary Pavel Durov.
In court, during the hearing of my claim the lawyer of Telegraph LLC stated that Pavel Durov had nothing to do with Telegraph LLC. Strictly speaking, the trick is not new (“one of our winning teams [of grant program for startups Start Fellows] planned to launch … an application under the name telegra.ph”, “Telegram, strictly speaking, is not my project” © Pavel Durov, 2013)
Well, thanks to their claim I received a documented proof to the contrary. Here are the official data on the English company Telegram Messenger LLP (same data were submitted to Roskomnadzor). As indicated there, this partnership has two participants (it may never be less by law): TELEGRAPH INC. and DOGGED LABS LTD. Since it is not stated otherwise in the constituent documents, according to English law they participate in the partnership in equal shares. The Section “Persons with significant control” specifies that Pavel Durov owns, directly or indirectly, 75% or more in this LLP. The file section contains the copies of relevant documents as well as scans of the financial statements signed in person by Pavel Durov as Managing Partner of DOGGED LABS LTD. on behalf of both participants. Simple math tells us that if someone owns at least 75% in the partnership from two participants with equal shares, then he cannot own less than 50% in each of them. And here is the document annexed to the claim in order to confirm the authority of Director General of Telegraph LLC:
It specifies the requisites of the owner who is the same company TELEGRAPH INC (same registration number 120.165, same address in Belize: Suite 102, 1 Floor, Blake Building, Corner Eyre & Hutson Streets, Belize City, Belize). The following chart comes along:
That means that in fact the money goes out of one pocket into another. And I am supposed to be responsible for the fact that if somebody has not taken 100 mln from his left pocket, he cannot put it in his right pocket, and therefore I have to put it there for him from my pocket (is it OK that for all my years of work for Pavel in VKontakte and Telegraph I have never come even close to such a sum?) In my opinion, this is more than enough for the prosecutor’s office to look into the case, since all of it looks too much like a fraud.
But let’s move on again. In Russia all the provisions regarding trade secret are governed by Federal Law №98 of July 29, 2004. And in order to establish a trade secret regime in an legal entity one has to work very hard and meet a number of conditions. The first among them is to determine the list of information that constitutes the trade secret. You can’t just go around saying “everything is secret here”. None of the requirements of this law have been met in Telegraph LLC. Generally, they had a very loose attitude to paperwork, they do not have my signature even on the employment order and employee personal card (which was issued, naturally, only when they decided to fire me).
However, in order to file a claim against me Director General of Telegraph LLC, Alexander D. Stepanov, had at least to submit “The provision on trade secret of Telegraph LLC” to the court. The date on it says February 2016, but before getting the copy of this document in court, I have never heard about it from any of my colleagues. Therefore, at the next hearing I am planning to apply for the submission of the original document and for an issue date expertize.
And again, I’d like to note that Sasha is actually a good person. There is one tiny little issue, you know. You must always think when you sign something, because it’s you who will be held responsible for this. “I was just following orders” will not work here. And despite my friendly attitude towards Sasha, after the claim against me for 100 mln I will consider the documents submitted for that purpose and signed by him within legal framework, according to the results of the examination.
I could continue going through this claim with a fine comb for a long time, I will just mention the (Soviet style) NPDs and R&Ds in the confidentiality provision. But, as the joke explains the reason the guns did not fire: “First of all, there was no gunpowder”. So, according to subitem 1 item 1 art. 11 Federal Law № 98, the employer must make sure that the employee has read, understood and signed the list of information constituting the trade secret. Everything is logical and simple. And considering that the confidentiality provision of Telegraph LLC did not exist at the time of my employment, I was unable to read it leave alone sign it.
So, as I mentioned above, the claim is crazy from start to finish, the guys simply wanted to hurt me somehow. Nevertheless, I have already spent my time and nerves on this, and I will also have to pay for the lawyer’s services and appear in court. Not to mention that the information about this claim is in the public database and damages my business reputation by its very existence.
It appears that it was all for nothing that I was tolerating the rumors behind my back trying to be “above” the gossip and thereby enabling Nikolai to promote his stories. It was all for nothing that I have not responded when people I knew as friends preferred to unfriend me silently and turn their back on me showing their loyalty to Pavel.
But enough is enough, and the claim for 100 000 000 for specifying the place of work on Facebook was way off the wall. I have no idea why Pavel decided to push the conflict to such a point and what reaction is expected from me, but this became the last straw and I decided to describe everything in as much detail as possible. In this story I have nothing to be ashamed of.
Also, in order to avoid allegations in the future, I officially declare that I have never betrayed the Durov brothers, took no bribes or shadow paybacks, never owned any businesses, never cooperated with competitors, governmental agencies and secret services, never leaked anything to anybody and always was a zealot of privacy and safety. In both companies.
Moreover, I would like to expressly point out the following. As I have said before, I have no legal obligations to Telegraph LLC. After all of this and especially after such counterclaim I do believe that I have not moral obligations to them. However, as a professional and a decent person I do not want to lose reputation, dignity and face. Therefore, I would separately note that during all these events and in the present article I have disclosed nothing that might be even theoretically considered confidential and that was made known to me during my employment at Telegraph LLC. This text contains only my personal story and facts known outside Telegraph LLC. Instagram screenshots are from open accounts of people who unfriended me.
Also, having lost my employment and being skeptical about a possibility for future cooperation even in case of successful reinstatement through the court action I to have look for a new job. Therefore, I wish to take this opportunity and advertise myself a bit. In addition to my experience as Technical Director of VKontakte currently I am one of the most qualified independent experts on Telegram.
Well, I hope now my friends and colleagues in both companies will have no questions concerning the events that occurred. But in any case, if you still have any questions, I am ready to answer them. If you want to send a private message, do not hesitate, my contacts are below.
I have written this article in order to tell the real story, to right a wrong and restore my good name. If you have read this text down to the end — please share it with your friends. I do not have millions of subscribers and other opportunities to reach everyone to whom his story might be interesting.
Please contact me via:
- Facebook and Facebook Messenger: https://facebook.com/id77777
- WhatsApp: +7 (965) 099–67–69 (please, messages only)
- Email: email@example.com
For obvious reasons, I have not specified my Telegram contacts in the above list. I am sorry to say, but after the incident when my text messages disappeared I cannot trust this messenger any more. In order not to have issues with fakes, here is the link: https://t.me/anton (@anton in the application), but please do not contact me there.
P.S. For those who are interested: both court hearings will be held on September 19, 2017, my claim at 10:30 in Kuybishevsky District Court, Telegraph LLC’s claim — at 14:30 in Petrodvortsovy District Court of Saint Petersburg. Links to official pages of the courts: https://goo.gl/QzKqXA and https://goo.gl/4mMAvs.
P.P.S. Materials from this article may be used with or without reference.