Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Mafia State: This Russian regime is more corrupt than under the Soviets as crime bosses and politicians link up to get rich

If one man symbolises the ­relationship between organised crime and the Russian government it is Viktor Bout.
Three weeks ago, Bout, 44, in handcuffs and body armour, was extradited from Bangkok to New York on arms-trafficking charges. The Russian Government ­furiously opposed his removal, claiming he was an honest businessman.
Ironically, the former Russian military interpreter had once worked with a UN peace-keeping operation in Angola.
But he was not in Manhattan to visit his old colleagues at UN headquarters.
He headed to jail to join a less ­illustrious group, including John Gotti, head of the notorious Gambino mafia family, and Bernie Madoff, the man who scammed $60 billion on Wall Street.
As Russia controversially ­celebrates being chosen by Fifa to host the 2018 World Cup, the Bout case is compelling evidence for claims made in a Wikileaks cable.
In the cable, Jose Grinda Gonzales, a Spanish magistrate, claims that today’s Russia is “a virtual mafia state”.
Bout, dubbed the Merchant of Death by Peter Hain while he was a Foreign Office minister, had been the target of the US Justice Department for more than 10 years. Washington claims he is the biggest dealer of illegal weapons in the world.
He was the model for the ruthless arms dealer played by Nicolas Cage in Hollywood movie Lord of War and is thought to have supplied weapons to all sides in the conflicts which have blighted Africa and Asia over the past two decades. His many clients include the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Two and a half years ago, he was caught in an elaborate sting in a five-star Thai hotel by America’s anti-narcotics police, the DEA.
Bout was taped agreeing to sell weapons to Colombia’s Farc, the brutal paramilitary organisation that is one of the world’s main cocaine producers.
Senior American law enforcement officials with whom I’ve discussed the case insist in private he enjoys the full protection of the Russian Government right up to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
The Wikileaks cables seem to confirm this. American diplomats in Bangkok say the Russians offered bribes to senior Thai politicians to block Bout’s extradition after he was arrested in Thailand.
Other intelligence suggests the Russians offered Thailand advanced weapons’ systems at knock-down prices to keep Bout out of American hands.
In October this year at a meeting in Hanoi, the Russian Foreign Minister warned Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, that Moscow would consider pulling its support for Nato’s anti-narcotics operations in Afghanistan if Bout were not allowed to return to Moscow.
Jose Grinda Gonzalez’s leaked comments about a mafia state are well founded.
He’s been investigating Russian mafia activities in Spain and elsewhere for almost a decade, including a vast money-laundering operation involving property in Spanish resorts and sex trafficking.
Whenever he and other Western law enforcement officials have attempted to secure co-operation with the Russian state, they are greeted with a brick wall.
Grinda’s most detailed revelations concern the Arctic Sea, a ship supposedly seized by pirates last year off the Swedish coast (where piracy is otherwise unknown). According to Grinda, this was a scam organised by Russian intelligence to allow an organised crime syndicate to sell weapons to a Kurdish insurgent group in Turkey, the PKK, classified by the US and the EU as a terrorist group.
Russian intelligence thought this would destabilise Turkey while the organised crime group would make a handsome profit. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, corruption was rife but the Communist Party came down hard on anything that looked like a mafia-style operation.
Soviet prisons were full of thieves, rapists, embezzlers and murderers and inside they developed a complex code of honour.
The Russian dons were known as vory-v-zakonye or Thieves-in-Law. When ­communism collapsed many of these characters were released and Russia’s under-resourced criminal justice system was unprepared for the brave new world of capitalism.
The mafia came into its own. They provided protection for the new business class, the oligarchs, who became fabulously wealthy buying oil, gas and metals plants for a song, then selling the products on world markets for an astronomical markup. These men and women, supported by organised crime syndicates, were fully in control of then President Boris Yeltsin as he stumbled towards alcohol-induced dementia.
The crime syndicates also set up their own business in illicit goods and services – drugs, women or illegally-fished caviar.
Competition between these groups was intense. I travelled regularly to Moscow in the 90s when groups like the Chechen Mafia and Moscow’s largest homegrown unit, the Solntsevo Brotherhood, would engage in firefights using automatic weapons in broad daylight.
Young girls plucked from the provinces would engage in explicit sex acts in bars and night-clubs. Cocaine and other narcotics were also readily available especially after a Moscow crime syndicate struck a deal with the Colombian coke cartels to import the stuff via the Balkans.
Yet when I was investigating Russian organised crime in Moscow and St ­Petersburg soon after the Millennium, the outward signs of this “gangster capitalism” had disappeared. Russian cities now boast some of the safest streets in Europe (unless you are a critic of the Government in which case you risk being murdered by underworld thugs).
The man who cleaned up Russia was Vladimir Putin. But whereas in the 90s the oligarchs and criminals controlled the ­politicians, Putin has turned the tables – he and his friends control the networks of corruption and crime.
In the most revealing of Wikileaks cables, the American ambassador in Ukraine reports how Ukraine’s biggest gas trader claims he was forced to co-operate with one of Moscow’s leading crime bosses, Semyon Mogilevich, known as the Brainy Don, ­whenever he had to strike a deal with Russia’s state-run gas company, Gazprom.
Along with the illegal arms deals, the transit of gas from central Asia and Russia’s far east to the European Union is among the biggest criminal scams in the world.
Every year Russia and Ukraine argue about the cost of sending gas through Ukraine and almost every year, it results in the Russians shutting down supplies. The real reason is greedy Russian and Ukrainian politicians and their criminal associates can’t agree on the size of their kickbacks.
The World Cup is sure to act as a honeypot to Russia’s crime organisations. The ­construction industry, a traditional home for mafia groups around the world, will be where the biggest backhanders will be paid to politicians.
But perhaps the greatest ­opportunity lies in the field of cybercrime, an area in which Russian hackers are acknowledged as masters.
If anyone wants to go to Russia for the finals, be very careful who you buy tickets from.



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