Debate - Opinion in English, Russia and Baltic States
Debate - Opinion in English
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August 2000 Swiss firms mafia links RUSSIAN criminal gangs have infiltrated 300 Swiss companies and are using Switzerland as a piggy bank, the countrys attorney-general, Carla del Ponte, said yesterday. He told the SonntagsBlick newspaper that mafia groups continued to launder money in Swiss banks despite a new law. Swiss fight Russian mafia By Fiona Fleck in Berne SWITZERLAND is setting up a national task force to fight international organised crime, after cantonal police complained that they could not cope with the scale and the complexity of Russian corruption and money laundering. Juerg Blaser, spokesman for the Federal Prosecutors Office in Berne, said that the unit, with 1,000 new staff, would probably start work in January 2002. Swiss authorities have frozen at least £100 million of suspected Russian corruption money in banks across the country. But they have failed to pin the culprits down because of staff shortages, lack of expertise and poor co-operation between the cantons, which traditionally work independently of each other, each with its own procedures and rules. Russias mafia exports vice to Sri Lanka By Julian West in Colombo THE Russian mafia, already well-established in the West, is now spreading its tentacles into Asia. Its latest target is Sri Lankas capital, Colombo, a city pervaded by gangsters, vice, drugs and all the carpet-bagging companions of war. Attracted by the islands soft visa restrictions, corruptible authorities and unquestioning attitude to foreign money, Russian businessmen are moving into Colombo with the stock-in-trade mafia operations of prostitution, gambling and, possibly, drugs. Operating undercover, they are attempting to take over the citys already thriving casino business. They are also running Russian prostitutes and it is believed that they could be profiting from the ecstasy craze currently sweeping the citys nightlife. There is also evidence that Russian diplomats could be involved in at least one of their operations. The ease with which dubious foreigners can operate in Sri Lanka has been amply illustrated in the case of the Russians. Two years ago, a Moscow businessman, known to local casino owners as Nikolai Brezaski, but to the Sri Lankan Board of Investment as Nikolai Bertsinski, was granted BOI approval to open a Russian restaurant. The restaurant does not exist. Instead, Mr Bertsinski and his two partners bought a lease on a casino, the Atlantic Club, at the same address as that listed for the restaurant. Operating with the casinos previous owners - foreign investors in Sri Lanka are obliged to have a local partner - the Russians brought in prostitutes from the former Soviet republics. Soon after the casino re-opened seven months ago, several prostitutes were arrested and threatened with deportation for not having work permits. The Russians secured their release by seeking working visas for them as waitresses in their non-existent restaurant. At the casino, in an up-market residential area of Colombo, a young man who said he was Mr Nikolais translator, explained that his boss was in Russia. He also said that his parents were diplomats with the Russian embassy in Colombo and that they had put money into the casino. An embassy spokesman denied that anyone there was involved in casinos and scoffed at suggestions that the Russian mafia was operating in Sri Lanka. He admitted, however, that a number of Russians approved by the BOI are investors only on paper. Mr Bertsinski and his partners have approached the owners of other gambling premises in the city with joint venture projects and proposals to open massage parlours on the casino premises - offers which have been refused. Elsewhere Russians are doing a roaring trade in prostitution. Droves of women from Russia and the former Soviet republics have descended on Colombo and are operating out of the citys casinos and half a dozen new nightclubs. The prostitutes, who are apparently managed by a Russian couple, appear to be based in at least two of the citys five-star hotels. Russian girls, with showgirl bodies in glitzy bikinis, and mobile telephones, lounge around the hotel swimming pools, protected by minders. When not entertaining customers at the clubs and casinos they are also available - via a complicated system of codes and checks - to private clients for $200 (£120) a night. Russian girls are popular because theyll do things local girls wont, said a Colombo businessman who has used their services. In fact, he added with an embarrassed smile, theyll do anything. A young Colombo designer, who has worked in the Middle East, believes the prostitutes may be moving into Asia from the Arab countries, where they were originally employed as couriers for the Russian mafia. Sri Lankas forgiving attitude towards foreigners has made the island a safe-haven for carpet-baggers and assorted criminals running from the law and it is easy to see what might attract the Russian mafia to Colombo. Despite spending 20 per cent of its budget on the civil war, the countrys economy is booming with six per cent growth last year. But Colombo might not be as easy pickings as Russians imagine. There is evidence that the local underworld, already ruffled by the foreign intrusion, has begun hitting back. A few days before the Atlantic Club re-opened, a hand grenade was thrown at the house in which the Russians were staying. Soon afterwards, the casino was shot at by a hit-and-run gunman. And later, the police - almost certainly tipped off by local gangsters - carried out their raid on the Russian girls.
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