Siberian estate agents poisoned and burnt clients alive

Estate agents the world over are often alleged to be guilty of sharp practice but a Siberian real estate firm has been accused of much worse; namely of poisoning its clients before burning them alive and then stealing their homes.

Estate agents the world over are often alleged to be guilty of sharp practice but a Siberian real estate firm has been accused of much worse; namely of poisoning its clients before burning them alive and then stealing their homes.

Russian prosecutors allege that the firm, Comfort, murdered nine of its clients during 2002 and 2003 and managed to get its unfortunate victims to sign over their property beforehand.

Based in the southern Siberian town of Kemerovo, the estate agent picked its targets through property ads in the local newspaper using a corrupt official in the law enforcement authorities to identify clients who lived alone or drank heavily and would, therefore ,be less likely to be missed and more susceptible to manipulation.

Prosecutors say the firm would win the client's trust, get them to sign over their property "for sale purposes only", sell it, provide the client with a temporary "I owe you" and then kill them using contract hit men. Two such killers - 25-year-old residents of Kemerovo - have confessed, claiming they were paid 40,000 roubles (£800) by Comfort's manager, Vera Antonova, to burn down a property with four clients inside.

The two men brought round a bottle of vodka, laced with sleeping pills for the clients, to celebrate the completion of their property deal. When the clients dozed off they poured petrol around the house, then lit a match burning all four alive. Other clients are said to have been poisoned or stabbed.

The relatives of the dead have taken out civil lawsuits against Comfort and are likely to expected to succeed in getting the crooked property transactions cancelled.

Six employees have been arrested, including Ms Antonova's husband and step sister. Ms Antonova has refused to talk, citing the Russian constitution, which enshrines defendants' right to remain silent.

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