The raid took place under the personal command of First Deputy Prime Minister Rizvan Kurbanov, who last month implicitly accused Daghestan's Interior Ministry of protecting the owners of underground gaming establishments from prosecution.
Even though Daghestan's parliament enacted legislation three years ago banning casinos and gaming parlors, such establishments continued to operate with impunity in Makhachkala and other cities. True, law enforcement agencies conducted periodic raids. In May 2008, 12 illegal gaming parlors were raided and 196 slot machines confiscated. But there was no concerted effort to enforce the legal ban.
The appointment in February of Magomedsalam Magomedov as Daghestan's president may have been a turning point. Magomedov named Kurbanov as first deputy prime minister with responsibility for law enforcement and security. A lawyer by training, Kurbanov, 49, began his professional career in the Daghestan prosecutor's office, then in 2004 transferred to the Russian Justice Ministry.
In mid-April, Kurbanov told Caucasus Knot that on Magomedov's instructions, he convened a meeting on March 23 of senior law enforcement personnel to discuss how to stamp out illegal gambling. Three weeks later, Kurbanov said, the Makhachkala city prosecutor and senior officials from the republican prosecutor's office and the Interior Ministry assured him that there was no longer a single functioning gambling den in Makhachkala. But the very same day, someone told Kurbanov he had been deliberately misinformed. He therefore ordered the FSB to investigate, and within days that agency, together with police, raided Golden Empire and confiscated 78 slot machines.
Kurbanov told Caucasus Knot the fact that such gaming parlors continue to function suggests that the owners enjoy protection from senior Interior Ministry or Prosecutor's office staff. (Golden Empire is located next door to the republican Prosecutor General's office.)
He recalled that Magomedov and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have both issued orders to put an end to illegal gambling once and for all, and warned that "if anyone thinks we will stop halfway, he is profoundly mistaken."
The Daghestan Prosecutor-General's office immediately disclaimed any responsibility for the continued functioning of casinos, and posted on its website a detailed account of the raids it conducted on such establishments in recent years.
Possibly for that reason, the raid two nights ago was kept strictly secret from both the Prosecutor-General's office and the Interior Ministry. Kurbanov did, however, take along with him First Deputy Prosecutor Magomed Dibirov, Deputy Interior Minister Magomed Ismailov, and Makhachkala City Prosecutor Ibragim Alibekov, all of whom had claimed last month that all gaming establishments in Makhachkala had been closed.
Failure to crack down on gambling did not figure among numerous shortcomings in the work of the Interior Ministry listed by Magomedov in a meeting on May 11 with senior ministry personnel. Magomedov did, however, complain about an overall 22 percent increase in the crime rate over the past year. He specifically criticized the impotence of the police to eradicate the Islamic insurgency and the related practice of arbitrarily rounding up and ill-treating law-abiding citizens. Such illegal actions only serve to drive even more people to "embark on the criminal path" and undercut popular trust in the law enforcement agencies, Magomedov said.
Paradoxically, Kurbanov has acquired an unlikely ally in his one-man crusade against gambling. Shariat jamaat, the Daghestan branch of the North Caucasus Islamic insurgency, issued a warning on May 13 to all owners of gambling dens, saunas, and bordellos to close those establishments within three days or risk retribution. Four police officers and seven prostitutes were killed in an attack by insurgents on a sauna/bordello in Kaspiisk in August 2009.