Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel held a press conference on February 20 at the Interior Ministry headquarters in Moscow. Rossel, who had just met with Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin, spoke to journalists to give his reaction to the resignation last week of Valery Kraev, the head of the Sverdlovsk regional branch of the Interior Ministry. Kraev stepped down in the midst of a controversy: Local newspapers in Sverdlovsk charged him with having connections with the Uralmash criminal organization–the largest mafia group in the region, named after and connected to the giant Uralmash factory. The Interior Ministry launched an investigation into the charges against Kraev. Rossel, however, said that while “bandits” exist in the Sverdlovsk region, the idea that a “mafia” is operating there is simply a concoction of the media. At the same news conference, Andrei Chernenko, head of the Interior Ministry’s main personnel department, said that Kraev had stepped down voluntarily, but added that he could neither confirm nor deny the charges that Kraev had maintained contacts with local organized crime groups.
NTV television aired a fragment of a video which purported to show Kraev at a birthday party held in his honor at the resort of Sochi, along with leaders of the Uralmash crime gang. According to the channel, the tape was the last straw for Interior Minister Stepashin, who ordered Kraev to be fired. NTV also interviewed the head of the Sverdlovsk region’s police union, who angrily rejected Rossel’s denial of the mafia’s existence (NTV, February 20).
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