Wired: The Sleazy Life and Nasty Death of Russia's Spam King

Source: Wired
Date: August 14, 2006

He withheld pay from employees, boasted of his sexual adventures, enraged government officials, and flooded Russia with 25 million emails a day. Then one morning, Vardan Kushnir's mother found his bloodied body on the bathroom floor, skull bashed in.

By Brett Forrest


Although he never came to love his adopted city, [Vardan] Kushnir had created a comfortable existence for himself here. His business, the American Language Center (ALC), which taught English to Russian nationals, was thriving on the back of a relentless spamming campaign. Twenty-five million emails a day generated enough new clients to subsidize Kushnir's heroic bouts of clubbing and sex, indulging himself in a way that was remarkable even in a city known for its profound lack of shame.

Kushnir dreamed of becoming a famous software developer - "like Bill Gates" - but instead took a more inglorious path. His endless spam and boastful escapades made him a source of irritation throughout Moscow. He battled government officials and exasperated everyone else, especially his own employees. But his faith in Scientology gave him a peculiar calm. Even as his cash-and-carry lifestyle plunged him into chaos, he never raised his voice, never appeared to anger. All the loathing only amused Kushnir, as he managed to keep his enemies at distant remove.


Kushnir shrugged off the grievances, often finding solace in one of the Scientology books scattered around the office, muttering that opinions mattered little in the face of financial growth. For him, spam was effective; everything else was wasted chatter. "We spammed everyone five days per week," Vishnevsky says. "We gave them a break on holidays."


Employees were put off by Kushnir's behavior, but they were far angrier about the fact that he withheld their salaries. Many of his workers were expat thrill-seekers, Moscow short-timers who eventually figured out the situation and quit the ALC with a lesson in the ways of Russian labor. When an employee did confront him, Kushnir grew oddly pacific. "Why are you putting all this pressure on me?" he asked, adopting the even tone of a superior conscience. "Why are you getting so angry? You should read some L. Ron Hubbard." He then offered a volume on Scientology from his bookshelf.

The nobility of such gestures was lost on most. "His only authority was L. Ron Hubbard," Vishnevsky says. "He didn't consider other people as friends. He considered himself above them."

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