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Corruption Watch: July 11, 2003

11 July 2003, Volume 3, Number 24
"Wolves in sheep's clothing" was how Russian Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov characterized a group of high-level police officials arrested for planting false evidence on their victims and then extorting large bribes from them. On 23 June, seven members of such a group were arrested in Moscow. Gryzlov told the media that there were some 130 members of the group in total, and that more arrests are expected. According to a story on 24 June in the "Los Angeles Times," those arrested included Yurii Samolkin and Vladimir Lysakov, deputy chiefs of the Moscow Police Department's section on arms trafficking, along with three senior detectives in the section. Also arrested was Lieutenant General Vladimir Ganeev, chief of the Emergency Situations Ministry's internal security service, who is suspected of being a ringleader.

It was later pointed out that General Ganeev's boss, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, is among the leaders of the Unified Russia political party, where he is perceived as a rival to fellow party leader Interior Minister Gryzlov.

The media was given a peek into the lifestyles of powerful and crooked cops. According to an Interfax report of 24 June, police found a lavish complex in Moscow's Klin Raion, where five homes belonging to the suspects were built. Inside they found a lighted soccer field, a tennis court, and $3 million in cash; 2 kilograms of solid gold, plastic explosives, and material for packaging heroin.

Such shakedown schemes are not new in Russia.

Stephen Handelman, in his book "Comrade Criminal," writes that more than 2,000 Russian policemen were charged with crimes in 1992. In one case that year, detectives from Moscow's criminal-investigation division arrested a group of businessmen on trumped-up charges and demanded a bribe of 6 million rubles ($197,000) for their release. When they refused, the businessmen were beaten. According to Handelman, one Russian investigative commission found that more than half of the 239 senior law-enforcement officers charged with crimes in 1992 were cooperating with criminal gangs. In 1994, a group of senior Interior Ministry officials was arrested that received regular kickbacks from top criminals.

The "Los Angeles Times" quoted Gryzlov as saying: "I am extremely worried by a situation in which crime and representatives of law enforcement and authority are tied by a criminal chain. We declare a war on organized crime and neither ranks nor titles have significance. No one is immune."

This is not the first "war on crime" announced by Russian governments. Boris Yeltsin announced four different wars on crime during his tenure as president. In 1992, he formed the Inter-Departmental Commission on Combating Crime and Corruption. In November 1993, a new war was declared that gave the police enhanced powers to conduct spot checks on people anywhere in Russia. In January 1994, a new "interdepartmental commission" headed by Justice Minister Yurii Kalmykov was formed to coordinate activities against organized crime. This was followed by a presidential decree in June 1994, and, in June 1994, Operation Hurricane was launched -- placing 20,000 Interior Ministry troops and police on the streets of Moscow. On its initial day, 2,200 people were arrested. Most were quietly released after a few weeks.

A number of Russian commentators have questioned the nature of this latest war on crime, and many feel that there are political motives to this latest attempt to clean up the country. The most widely voiced opinion is that this flurry of police activity is directly connected to the elections next year and is a response to criticism being leveled at President Vladimir Putin for not doing much about low-level crime and corruption in Russia. At the same time, few expect Putin to move against corruption in such sectors as the oil and gas business, where organized crime seems to have found a lucrative niche -- arguably with the Kremlin's blessing. RK

Thirteen people were killed in a suicide bombing at an open-air rock festival in Moscow on 6 July, according to Interfax. That death toll does not include the two alleged female bombers. According to the Moscow Health Department, 49 people were injured and are being treated in hospitals, including five teenagers aged 12-16. According to "The Moscow Times" of 5 July, the police suspect that Chechen fighters are responsible for the tragedy. RK

Police intend to question several cabinet ministers about the abandoned contract to build a section of the D-47 highway, CTK reported on 27 June, citing a Prague district prosecutor. The ministers are former members of the Milos Zeman cabinet (1998-2002) that in its waning hours signed a deal with Housing & Construction CZ without a tender. Based on an interview in the press with current Transportation Minister Milan Simonovsky, police suspect bribery and abuse of office played a part in the decision. The contract, with a subsidiary of an Israeli construction firm of the same name, was nullified by the current government in April. Premier Vladimir Spidla's government determined that the 80-kilometer stretch of highway from Lipnik nad Becvou to the Polish border could be constructed by the state for two-thirds of the 125 billion crowns ($4.5 billion) that Housing & Construction was likely to earn from the job. The government also predicted that the project can be completed in 2008, one year earlier than the Housing & Construction contract stipulated. The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" has reported that information received from Russia suggests that the Shiran Group, which is headed by Shimon Jakobson, the businessman who set up Housing & Construction CZ, might have been involved in a corruption scandal in Russia (see "RFE/RL Organized Crime and Terrorism Watch," 7 February and 27 March 2003). Michael Shafir

Vitazoslav Moric, a member and former chairman of the right-wing Slovak National Party (SNS), has been charged by Slovak authorities with illegal arms trafficking, TASR reported on 13 June, citing Interior Minister Vladimir Palko. Palko told journalists that the case dates back to 1998, when the Slovak company Armex, of which Moric was general director, allegedly attempted to sell airport equipment to North Korea. Palko said Armex concluded an agreement with the Chonma Trading Corporation of Pyongyang, North Korea, to deliver the equipment; he said Armex intended to purchase the goods from Ukraine without disclosing to the Ukrainian producer that the equipment's final destination was North Korea. After the equipment arrived to Slovakia, Armex declared it to be civilian equipment and attempted to re-export it to Pyongyang. Two other individuals are facing similar charges, according to TASR. One is former Defense Ministry official Michal Dzimko, who allegedly issued Armex a certificate attesting that the equipment was purchased for use by the Slovak Air Force despite being aware of its final destination. Speaking on TV Markiza, Moric denied the allegations on 12 June. Michael Shafir


By Roman Kupchinsky

How does an organization transform itself into a social-welfare charity by day and a terrorist group by night? This seemingly Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sleight of hand is being done on a daily basis by two of the world's largest terrorist groups -- responsible for the deaths of hundreds at the hands of what they claim to be their "military wings." The first such group is Hizbullah (see "RFE/RL Organized Crime and Terrorism Watch," 28 June 2003), the Iranian state-sponsored group that is suspected in the bombing of the AMIA Jewish Cultural Center in Buenos Aires, as well as in the killing of hundreds of U.S. Marines and French soldiers in Beirut, among other atrocities. The other is Hamas.

Hamas, an Arabic acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement that means "zeal," was formed in late 1987 in Gaza by Shaykh Ahmad Yassin as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood, with its huge network of social services, was deemed ineffective by the founders of Hamas, who saw jihad as the only way to eradicate Israel and replace it with an Islamic state.

Divided into political and military branches, Hamas controls a vast social-service network throughout Gaza and the West Bank. The organization has also maintained offices in Tehran, Damascus, and Amman, and some of its senior leadership lives outside Israel. It is this network of mosques, schools, clinics, youth groups, athletic clubs, and daycare centers that make Hamas an integral part of life in Gaza and the West Bank. According to an article by Bluma Zuckerbrot-Finkelstein titled "A Guide to Hamas" and posted on "The Jewish Post" website (, Hamas has an annual budget of $40 million-70 million; and while some sources claim that it has strong financial backing from Iran, the U.S. State Department in its 2003 "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report states that Hamas "receives some funding from Iran but primarily relies on donations from Palestinian expatriates around the world and private benefactors in moderate Arab states." Zuckerbrot estimates that Hamas has the support of some 15-25 percent of the total Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza.

Hamas's campaign of terrorism began in 1989. It was first directed at Israeli soldiers and Palestinian collaborators, and eventually at Israeli citizens. In April 1994, Hamas began a campaign of sporadic violence; drive-by shootings, firebombings, and eventually suicide-bomber attacks. The main elements of the terror wing of Hamas, according to the State Department's "Patterns of Global Terrorism" issued in April, are members of the Izz-al-Din al-Qasem Brigades. Those brigades operate inside Israel, but some U.S. citizens have been killed in Hamas operations.

Terrorism, while not overly expensive, requires funding. So who pays for the guns and explosives used by the al-Qasem Brigades? Is some of the money from the millions that Hamas raises for its athletic clubs and daycare centers being diverted for terrorism? According to the 26 June edition of the "Financial Times," U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said: "The notion that on one hand Hamas is peaceful, and on the other hand [it] is trying to blow up the peace process is just illogical and, we're saying, will not work.... Money is fungible."

The reason for Rice's exposition of Hamas is connected to the current attempt by the United States government to cut off the funds being collected in Europe for Hamas's social activities. One U.S. official cited by the "Financial Times" claimed the United States has evidence that such funds "bleed over into support for the military wing." Furthermore, according to the "Financial Times," the United States has prepared a list of organizations and individuals that are raising funds for Hamas in Europe and is prepared to publish this list.