Russia Releases One of FBI’s Most Wanted Suspects

by Roman Kupchinsky

On July 27, Irina Dudukina, a spokeswoman for the Russian Interior Ministry’s Investigative Committee, announced that suspected organized crime boss Semyon Mogilevich, a man on the U.S. FBI’s most wanted list for fraud and racketeering had been released from prison. He and his co-defendant, Vladimir Nekrasov, had been released after signing statements that they would not flee the country.

Mogilevich was arrested in Moscow in late January 2008 along with Nekrasov, the owner of a chain of cosmetic stores, Arbat Prestige, on charges of tax evasion.

The FBI claims that Mogilevich headed a criminal organization based in Budapest in the 1990s which ran the so-called YBM Magnex scheme which defrauded U.S. citizens of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Mogilevich, and his co-conspirator, Igor Fisherman, fled to Moscow where they were safe from extradition to the U.S.

The Russian Constitution does not allow for the extradition of Russian citizens, even suspected organized crime bosses, and apparently insists on keeping them and their stolen wealth safe at home. The Kremlin, on the other hand, demands that indicted Russians living abroad be sent back to Russia from foreign countries to stand trial on often trumped up criminal charges.

In June 2009, a Moscow court refused to release Mogilevich on the largest bail ever offered in post-Soviet Russia – 120 million rubles per accused – on the basis that he might flee the country. However, on July 26, Dudukina said that the Interior Ministry had a sudden change of heart and decided that the charges “are not of a particularly grave nature so investigators had no particular reason to keep them imprisoned.”

The Mogilivich organization, according to the FBI director,was engaged in drug and weapons trafficking, prostitution, money laundering and stock fraud. He has been on the FBI’s wanted list since 2003. Ukrainian-born Mogilevich has denied U.S. allegations that he is a crime boss.

But,many experts believe that the real reason for Mogilevich’s arrest, has nothing to do with tax evasion for a chain of perfume outlets.

The WSJ reported on January 26, 2008: “In Washington, U.S. officials said they believe the arrest (of Mogilevich) is related to Kremlin intrigues involving the gas trade. The Justice Department’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Section is investigating possible links between Mr. Mogilevich and a Ukrainian-Russian trading company that is central to the multibillion-dollar trade in Russian natural gas across Ukraine and on to Europe. His representatives and the companies involved have denied any ties.

“In Philadelphia, a federal court charged him in 2003 in a 45-count racketeering indictment and of masterminding a stock fraud using a web of shell companies in Europe. U.S. officials believe Mr. Mogilevich used $150 million of his winnings from the U.S. to invest in the gas business… “The arrest of someone this big had to come from the president himself or from the circle around the president,” said Vladimir Ovchinsky, former director of Russia’s Interpol bureau.”

The unnamed gas trader was RosUkrEnergo (RUE), the Swiss-based company which was 50 percent owned by Russia’s Gazprom and 50 percent by Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash.

RUE, according to Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, was linked to Mogilevich – thereby implicating Gazprom, Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev and others in the Kremlin of committing high crimes.