Russian mafia 'creating climate for dictatorship'

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The Independent Online
BORIS YELTSIN must soon stamp on the increasingly powerful criminal mafia or risk seeing Russians vote in droves for the national socialists at the next elections, one of his aides warns. Pyotr Filippov, social analyst for the Kremlin leader, says the answer is a new force, made up of officers who have never served in the existing security services, who will break the gangs by rounding up their godfathers.

Mr Filippov's report, published last week in Izvestia, paints a grim picture of the extent to which organised crime has already wrapped its tentacles around the Russian economy. No shop- or restaurant-owner opens for business without paying a tribute to the racketeers, and 70-80 per cent of other private firms and banks also surrender from 10 to 20 per cent of their turnover in 'tax' to the hoods.

In Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, the mafia is so dominant that only its members are allowed to drive foreign-made cars or prestigious Russian models. 'Such cars are forcibly confiscated from other citizens,' says the report.

The mafia is fearless because the police force is riddled with its informers. The traffic police alert the gangsters whenever a valuable load is being transported so they can extort their percentage. The criminals also blackmail businessmen who have not paid their regular taxes. They are amassing fantastic wealth, which they force bankers to transfer abroad. Even if the bankers co-operate, they still risk being murdered because they know the secrets of the mafia's foreign accounts. 'Today, among entrepreneurs, bankers have the highest mortality rate,' says the report.

It continues: 'A whole generation is growing up for whom it is normal, in difficult situations, to apply to the unofficial rather than the official authorities. These people would sooner hire a killer to punish a defaulting partner than go to court.'

Mr Filippov believes Russia is becoming like certain Latin American countries where criminals and not politicians have the real power and concludes: 'In these conditions, Vladimir Zhirinovsky's populist promises to bring in harsh order could attract tens of millions of Russians to the Liberal Democratic Party and, what is most dangerous, hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs.' Before December's parliamentary elections, Mr Zhirinovsky said he would have gangsters arrested and shot on the spot.

Presidential elections are two years away or less and Mr Filippov wants Mr Yeltsin to act now before it is too late to prevent dictatorship. Since the police cannot be trusted, the only hope, he argues, is to create a clean force of highly paid officers who will target the millionaire godfathers. The force should be allowed to detain the mafia bosses for months rather than days, to gather evidence for charges. With the godfathers behind bars, he says, banditry should cease for 'it is well known that the bosses cannot even go on holiday without their gangs being paralysed'.