An Offer You Can't Refuse Russia's Very Hostile Takeovers
Part 2: 'A Threat to National Security'
According to the criminologist, the attackers are increasingly targeting businesses belonging to the Russian armaments industry. He says they have already taken control of Basalt, a St. Petersburg company that produces components for the "Igla" portable anti-aircraft missiles.
Russian President Vladimir Putin with Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, who estimates that one in seven company takeovers are forced.
These raiders rarely end up in court. Pavel Fedulev from Yekaterinburg, a businessman and former member of the regional parliament, is one of the few exceptions. The fit "bisnesmen" was arrested at a gym in November of last year, accused of having taken over a wholesale center with the help of an armed gang. One of the charges he now faces is that of "inciting mass unrest" -- a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Vassily Boiko -- known as the "King of the Raiders" -- was arrested in Moscow in February. The 48-year-old director of a company called "Your Financial Helper" appropriated 40,000 hectares of land around Moscow by questionable means. The conservative-looking man, who wears glasses and has the air of an accountant, had boasted he would build a kind of "Switzerland of the East" just west of Moscow, complete with five-star hotels, a golf course and a safari park -- but without the Swiss rule of law of course. The public prosecutor's office is accusing him of serious fraud and money laundering. He faces up to 15 years in prison -- if convicted.
Ovchinsky knows why even the most reckless raiders seldom end up in court. For years, the Russian police acted on the principle of "not getting involved in economic disputes," he says. The state failed to protect private property. Those engaging in organized crime could often rely on the protection of "corrupt networks within the state institutions."
The Samara-based director of the Russian Business Estate (RBE), Andrei Shokin, is described by Ovchinsky as one of the most successful company raiders outside of Moscow. Thanks to his friendship with former mayor Georgy Limansky, Shokin gained control -- "by means of raids" -- of 238 pieces of real estate, including the Volga city's port, according to Ovchinsky.
Bring Back the Oprichnina?
The Russian State Duma's security committee recently took a closer look at Shokin's activities, despite his protests that he doesnt understand what the security experts are so excited about. He insists he is "no raider" but simply someone "fighting for civilized business." Shokin says he merely cultivated a "normal partnership" with Limansky, notwithstanding the fact that RBE saw massive expansion during the former mayor's time in office.
It is not only Russian firms that are affected by these shady dealings. Indian businessman Rajesh Galani became aware of the problem thanks to a phone call he received in London this spring. A security company by the name of "Faust" had just stormed one of his warehouses north of Moscow and stolen documents from the safe.
The assault team was accompanied by the new would-be owners, who announced they intended to set up an office for a member of the Duma on the premises. Meanwhile, the politician -- who had resigned as mayor of Vladivostok under a cloud of corruption allegations -- claimed ignorance.
Hardliners in the Russian legal apparatus are now demanding tougher laws for combating white-collar crime, including laws that would allow for the confiscation of criminals' property. A Kremlin working group headed by presidential aide Viktor Ivanov is currently debating these proposals. A veteran of the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan and confidante of Putin, Ivanov was previously deputy director of Russia's domestic intelligence service, the Federal Security Service (FSB). He is considered an advocate of a hard-line strategy. There is a growing willingness in the pro-Kremlin State Duma to employ tough measures. One member of the Duma, Vladimir Semago, was himself the victim of a hostile takeover and is calling for the "Oprichnina method."
The Oprichnina was militia loyal to Ivan the Terrible in 16th-century Russia, which was founded to curb the power of the feudal rulers. But the lawless militia, whose symbol was a dog's head, swiftly mutated into a fearsome gang of murderers and robbers -- an early precursor of Stalin's dreaded secret police.
- Part 1: Russia's Very Hostile Takeovers
- Part 2: 'A Threat to National Security'