Spanish authorities this week issued arrest warrants for several Russians, some of them reputedly close associates of President Vladimir Putin, who are suspected of close ties to organized crime. The Spanish newspaper El Mundo quoted Judge Jose de la Mata of Spain's National Court as saying there is “very strong evidence” against each suspect.
Spanish prosecutors claim that the suspects were involved in a wide range of criminal activities, including murder, illegal arms trafficking, extortion, fraud, abuse of office, bribery, smuggling and drug trafficking.
One of the biggest names on the list of suspects is Vladislav Reznik, a top official of the ruling United Russia party who previously headed the committee on credit institutions and financial institutions of the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament. According to Spanish court documents, Reznik is associated with Russian crime boss Gennady Petrov and fulfills various tasks on Petrov’s behalf, "both legal and illegal."
Petrov was among a group of alleged Russian organized-crime figures who set up shop in Spain in the mid-1990s. He fled to Russia after police raided his villa on the Spanish island of Majorca in 2008.
Another prominent name on the list of suspects is Nikolai Aulov, deputy head of Russia’s Federal Narcotics Control Service. According to the Spanish prosecutors, the mafia used him to gain influence in Russia’s highest administrative circles. A warrant was also issued for Leonid Khristoforov, who allegedly acted as a liaison for Aulov.
Another Spanish arrest warrant was for Igor Sobolevsky, former deputy head of the Investigative Committee, a Russian state agency analogous to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Spanish prosecutors say Sobolevsky “maintained contacts and exchanged services with Petrov,” passing secret information to him. In the words of Judge de la Mata, Sobolevsky kept Petrov informed about “the actions of the security services against organized crime.”
In a petition made to Spain’s Central Court in May 2015, Spanish prosecutors accused other former top Russian officials of having links to Petrov, including former defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, former regional development minister Dmitry Kozak and former communications minister Leonid Reiman.
Moscow uncharacteristically silent
Asked to comment on the Spanish arrest warrants, Valery Khomyakov, general director of the National Strategy Council, a Moscow think tank, told VOA’s Russian Service that he was surprised by the “universal silence” with which Russian officialdom greeted the news.
"We usually have someone to respond at every given opportunity,” he said. “As soon as something is said, Ms. Zakharova [Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova] is already there. Everybody is probably waiting for the reaction of the chief executive [Putin]. After all, Reznik is a rather well-known MP who has been in the parliament for a long time. Plus, his connections to Vladimir Putin through the notorious Petrov are discernible,” Khomyakov said.
In March, after Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for Reznik at the request of Spanish authorities, Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika flatly ruled out extraditing him to Spain.
Alexander Gurov is a retired Interior Ministry general who made his name fighting organized crime in the 1980s and a former State Duma member who headed its security committee from 2000 to 2004. He told VOA there is nothing surprising about official Moscow's silence about the Spanish arrest warrants.
"It is clear that this episode is very unpleasant for the image of the country," he said.
Still, Gurov said the story is hardly new.
"I, personally, would listen to the Spanish police,” he said. “They are not fools. According to available information, Russian envoys of organized crime really were actively operating in Spain. The only question is the degree of guilt of those involved.”
According to Gurov, the Spanish case is evidence of ties between Russia’s state structures and the criminal underworld.
“It may even involve groups of officials from certain agencies,” he said. “It’s not a secret: this process has been going on since the '90s. ... Organized crime cannot exist without the protection of the authorities, or without an economic base.”
Merged in a ‘criminal tangle’
Twenty years ago, Gurov said, Russian organized crime groups decided to earmark one-third of their revenues for bribes to government officials.
“I think this is now paying off,” he said. “They have all coalesced to such a degree that it is difficult for the uninitiated to understand. During all these years, the mafia worked hard to integrate state representatives into their networks.”
At one time, organized crime put a large number of people into the State Duma, Gurov said.
“That’s how it was when I ran for office,” he said. “They caught them by the hundreds, but those guys still managed to infiltrate the Duma.”
However, Gurov believes that today the situation in the Duma has changed significantly.
Valery Khomyakov says that if the accusations of the Spanish prosecutors are confirmed, the merger of Russian state structures with the criminal underworld will have to be recognized as a fact.
The Spanish case will be presented as irrefutable evidence that Russia’s state structures and organized crime have merged "together in a criminal tangle, in which it is impossible to figure out where the government ends and where criminality begins,” he said.