Sharing a house with a “former KGB spy” | Madrid


The first flakes of Filomena fell on Madrid on January 7, 2021 when a new tenant, Felipe Turover, appeared in the house of Eladio Freijo and his wife María. Like many others before him, he had booked an Airbnb room. Turover was 56 years old, with a shaved head, a muscular body and an almost impeccable Spanish, although his R’s betrayed his Russian origin. He was cordial, read and serene, an impeccable tenant who was going to stay for 10 days in his chalet on the outskirts of the capital, in Villaviciosa de Odón. When Turover saw the historic snowstorm out his window the next day, he wrote to his landlady: “Siberia :).” Maria responded with a snowman. Later, since everything was blocked and he had a 4×4, he asked them if they needed anything from Mercadona. He seemed like a model guest.

But when this retired couple wrote the name of Felipe Turover on Google, they discovered that they had brought a character with an extraordinary past into the house that began to disturb them: “KGB intelligence agent” (the Soviet intelligence agency), ” Kremlin adventurer ”and prominent protagonist in the intrigues that led to the arrival of Vladimir Putin to power in Russia at the end of the 1990s.

What was a man who had played high Russian politics doing next to his bedroom? Were they in danger? Would the mafia one day appear looking for him? These questions became the talk of his encounters with family and associates for a long time, because Turover ended up staying beyond those first 10 days. He was renewing his stay over and over again for months. The landlords had these conversations half in jest. They did not worry much, because Turover did not give reasons for it. Sometimes he would bring gourmet oriental food to share, he loved to play with the dachshund of the house, Pippa, and to almost all his WhatsApp messages he added affectionate emojis. His favorite was hands folded in prayer.

Felipe Turover in the lobby of a hotel in Madrid.
Felipe Turover in the lobby of a hotel in Madrid.Victor sainz

He reassured them that the more than 4,000 entries that appeared on Google about him were from a distant time. They also deduced that Turover had played on the side of the good guys. The mess could be summarized in that Turover, who had access to banking information in Switzerland, revealed the corruption of President Boris Yeltsin, starting a scandal that ended on December 31, 1999 with the rise of Putin to the presidency. It was the beginning of a stage in Russian history that continues to this day, 22 years later.

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“I thought he was a good man who had contributed to uncovering corruption,” says María. “Besides, he paid religiously and didn’t bother.”

Felipe Turover hugs Pippa, the Freijo family's dachshund.
Felipe Turover hugs Pippa, the Freijo family’s dachshund.PHOTO PROVIDED BY THE FREIJO FAMILY

The circumstances have completely changed. Today she and her husband are very angry and worried. A year after their arrival, Turover continues to occupy the room, but since September they are no longer paid. Now the interactions are minimal and in the house there is a tense calm, as in the Cold War.

The two receive this newspaper at dawn on a recent day.

-Where is the?

“Up there in his room.”

They do not know if he is already awake. They want the journalist to see the man who torments them face to face. Turover should come downstairs soon and maybe go into the kitchen to make some tea. In the kitchen they narrate their ordeal. They have hardly slept. Every night they lock their bedroom and listen uneasily to Turover on the phone on the other side of the partition, in Spanish, English, Russian or French.

To the left, the ajar door to María and Eladio's bedroom;  to the right, Felipe Turover's room.
To the left, the ajar door to María and Eladio’s bedroom; to the right, Felipe Turover’s room. DAVID EXPOSITO

Eladio is 77 years old and is a high school professor who taught Philosophy classes. Maria, 64, worked in the telecommunications sector. They both started renting rooms in their house five years ago to have an extra source of income, because Maria was left without a job. More than 130 people have already passed through there and they had never had a delinquent tenant. The one who has grown a frog has been precisely “the former spy”, a guy who intimidates them. Luckily, Lucy also lives with them, a Paraguayan girl who cared for María’s father in the same chalet until he passed away in November.

Turover leaves the house early and doesn’t come back until late at night. They don’t know where it is going. When they spoke to each other, he told them that he was going to the gym, to meditate in the mountains or to spend some time with his girlfriend. They have had some tense situations. According to Eladio, a few days ago he told them: “You know that I have the pan with the handle”, an apparent reference to the fact that the law protects him.

To the landlords it has not served them at all to go to the courts and the Civil Guard. They have been told that they cannot put Turover on the street immediately. They must wait for an eviction trial that can take several months. Turover owes them more than 3,000 euros. They also accuse him of falsifying documents since for days he presented them with bank receipts of having made the transfer. He told them that the delay in admission could be due to some technical failure.

As Turover is slow to leave his room, Eladio looks out onto the street.

-It has escaped!

—¡Wooo!

Turover has crept away in his rental car, a Longitude jeep.

Movie life

Turover agrees to speak with this newspaper in the lobby of a hotel in the capital. The excuse for the meeting is his recent appearance in the bestseller Putin’s Peopleby British journalist Catherine Belton. The author reconstructs the plot of the former KGB spies to get rid of Yeltsin, an alcoholic leader, ill and seen by Russian nationalism as a puppet of the West.

As the author has said, one of the attractions of her book was having found Turover, a guy who disappeared from the map two decades ago. The journalist spoke with him for three days in Boadilla del Monte, on the outskirts of Madrid.

Turover arrives to meet EL PAÍS accompanied by an elegant blonde from Madrid whom he presents as his “press representative”. According to his account, he wants to write a script for a Hollywood movie, although the plot would not necessarily revolve around him. “It’s been a while and now I can do the clown,” he explains.

Turover met Putin in the early 1990s, when Putin had left his job as a KGB agent to go into politics as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg. Turover says he never went through the Yuri Andropov spy academy, like Putin, but was trained in economics. The fact is that although he did not receive official training, he ended up working for the intelligence services. Journalist Belton describes him in her book as a “former KGB agent.”

Turover was close to Yevgeny Primakov, another former KGB spy, who became prime minister at the end of the decade, when the country was going through a period of great discontent over the savage transition from communism to capitalism. Turover recounts that in the spring of 1998, Primakov and his associates agreed to overthrow President Yeltsin “to save the country from civil war.”

Primakov tasked him with turning over compromising information about Yeltsin and other Russian politicians to the Swiss prosecutor’s office. When in the summer of 1999, the Corriere della Sera revealed that part of that information involved Yeltsin and his daughters, the scale of the scandal grew. Turover realized that his head was in danger. According to him, Putin summoned him one night in mid-September in a Moscow hotel and coldly told him over tea: “You have two weeks to leave the country. If you don’t leave, we will intern you or we will liquidate you ”. Within a week, Turover appeared in Switzerland.

At this point, it should be noted that already in the 1990s, newspaper articles highlighted that Turover was seen as a charlatan, so it is possible that part of his story, such as that supposed meeting with Putin, is exaggeration or fantasy. Shortly after his flight, Yeltsin reached an agreement with Putin: he would cede power to him in exchange for his immunity. A new era began.

Son of an eminence of translation

The adventures of Turover in Russia and Switzerland in the nineties are documented in many articles in the international press, but until the appearance of the book Putin’s People nothing was known about him.

For a long time, Turover was hidden in the Swiss Alps and gradually returned to normal life. He says that he supported himself thanks to the actions of a company of software which he rode with several colleagues in Switzerland. In 2014, he moved to Spain, where his father, Enrique Turover, lived, an eminence in the world of translation from Russian to Spanish who had been an interpreter for Soviet leaders in their encounters with Spanish-speaking counterparts. Enrique Turover had received nationality by merit in the eighties and it was then that he obtained a permit from the USSR to move to Spain, where he settled and worked as an interpreter for Spanish authorities, including King Juan Carlos. Thanks to his father, Felipe Turover has Spanish nationality. According to friends of the family, father and son got along fatally. Enrique viewed his son as a “loose cannon.”

Enrique Turover with the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev.
Enrique Turover with the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev.

This newspaper has been able to verify that the Turovers, father and son, lived until June 2019 in a semi-detached house in the Las Eras urbanization, in Boadilla del Monte. His neighbors recall that the son was a womanizer who spent the summer by the pool, covered in oil and wearing a Speedo swimsuit. He had many traps, among them he owed the fees from the neighborhood community. The parents sold that property to answer to the numerous creditors.

The name of Felipe Turover appears today in the Asnef file, a list of defaulters shared by water, electricity, gas and other services companies. Maybe that’s why he ended up opting for an Airbnb-type rental like Eladio and María’s. He does not answer these kinds of questions. “I thought we were going to talk only about politics and not about my life. That is yellowishness ”, he complains.

“Who does not have a traffic dispute or with Airbnb or with someone for having to pay more or less?”, He insists. “I may have had some disputes. As average Spain. I am at your disposal to talk about serious things, but not about rubbish ”.

His landlords have found out that he was previously a delinquent tenant in another house, according to the Civil Guard. They have also learned that he has left several debts to car rental companies.

At the time of publication of this article, the landlords and the “former spy” continue to share a roof. But they intersect very seldom.

On New Year’s Eve, Turover got home around seven in the afternoon. Their landlords were watching TV by the fireplace, accompanied by one of their daughters and two grandchildren. He walked past the screen with his head down and went to his room without saying anything. “When are you going to pay us?” Maria dared to tell him. He didn’t turn around. He went into his room and there the man who rubbed shoulders with Russian power passed the Chimes, alone and apparently broke.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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