'Cream' of Moscow underworld nabbed at restaurant

December 04, 1992|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- It could have been Chicago in the Thirties. Any gangster worthy of his violin case was there for the underworld convention, talking tough, divvying up territory and scheming to get liquor sales moving for New Year celebrations.

And then Eliot Ness had to crash the party.

The latter-day Eliot Nesses -- in this case 150 members of the Moscow police department -- raided a hotel restaurant on the outskirts of the city this week and arrested 66 gangster chieftains and their bodyguards.

Eighteen of those arrested are on Russia's most wanted list, police said. Drugs, guns and hand grenades were seized, according to police reports.

Police said "the cream of the Moscow region underworld" had gathered at the Rus Hotel Tuesday night to do a little business and celebrate the birthday of the treasurer of the gang from Podolsk, a nearby city.

xTC At least 20 leaders of major gangs were on hand, joined by some non-voting delegates from provincial cities such as Kazan, Tyumen and Ryazan and even other republics, including Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.

Anatoly Uryadov, deputy chief of the Interior Ministry's chief directorate for combating organized crime, said there are about 2,600 organized criminal groups in Russia, and 20 percent of them maintain interregional and even international ties.

Police would not comment specifically on the raid -- like police everywhere they said it would be improper while the investigation was continuing -- but newspapers said the convention was held to iron out some territorial disputes and discuss illegal sales of liquor.

Those gathered already had had their hors d'oeuvres when police arrived -- drugs had been passed out on a large tray, several newspapers reported.

Crime has become an increasingly appealing past-time in Russia. Only yesterday, the Interior Ministry said that the crime rate was dramatically increasing this year.

In the first 10 months of 1992, it said, 2,254,000 criminal acts were reported, a 21 percent increase over the same period a year earlier.

Among the crimes were 120,022 robberies -- which may not seem a high rate in a nation of nearly 150 million inhabitants. But to people accustomed to totalitarian repression, such crime is frightening and astounding.

The countryside is rife with reports of crime. A Lada car factory in the Volga city of Togliatti reported 927 crimes in the first five months of the year, a 22 percent increase over the previous year. Thieves were taking everything -- every spare part they could find and 49 cars as well.

In Moscow, Police Chief Arkady Murashev complained crime was up 28 percent. "In the coming three or four years the crime situation in the city will further deteriorate," he said.

So far this year, he said, there were more than 800 murders in Moscow, a city of 10 million or more.

What's worse, judges only earn about 6,000 rubles a month -- about $15 at current exchange rates. Zoya Korneva, the Moscow court administrator, said the judges "continue to leave, and soon there will no one left to conduct the hearings." They can get jobs paying six times as much as legal advisers to new businesses.

Some Russians fear their country will soon resemble the Wild West they see on American films. According to the ministries of ** security, internal affairs and defense, most of the weapons ending up in the underworld are bought or stolen from the army.

Maj. Gen. Vyacheslav Ogorodnikov of the Interior Ministry said recently that criminals are known to possess 135 machine-guns, 700 automatic rifles, 5,000 pistols and 2,000 military rifles.

But what troubles people the most is the underworld -- what they call the Mafia. They fear it is putting such a stranglehold on developing businesses that there will be no room in the new order for an honest person.

In such unhappy times, police were overjoyed with their big raid this week. They nabbed some gangsters they had been hunting for a long time.

Unfortunately, their victory appeared to be short-lived. Yesterday, prosecutors muttered that most of the suspects would have to be released for insufficient evidence.

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