Spanish deputy mayor detained in Russian mafia probe

29th January 2013, Comments 0 comments

Spanish police on Tuesday detained the deputy mayor of a popular Catalonian holiday resort in a probe investigating a network suspected of laundering tens of millions of euros for Russian criminal gangs.

A local policewoman said the arrest of Josep Valls is linked to Friday's raids in various locations in the coastal town of Lloret de Mar, near Barcelona, including at its town hall.

Four suspected members of the group, including Russian businessman Andrei Petrov, were detained in that police operation.

Petrov is believed to have been heading the money laundering ring and was remanded in custody by Spain's top criminal court on Monday.

Spanish authorities suspect the network may have laundered more than 56 million euros ($75 million) in recent years through investments in real estate in the northeastern region of Catalonia.

As part of the probe, police are investigating how a Petrov-owned firm in 2009 was able to win a contract to build a shopping centre by the beach.

While searching Petrov's home on Friday, officers also seized a Kalashnikov rifle.

Police say they have found evidence linking the network to businesses belonging to major Russian crime groups such as Solntsevskaya and Solomonskaya as well as firms controlled by Semion Mogilevich -- one of the FBI's ten most wanted fugitives.

The FBI suspects Mogilevich, a Ukrainian national, of having carried out a multi-million dollar share fraud scheme in the United States in the 1990s.

Police said that before becoming deputy mayor, Valls served as the counsellor for town planning under Lloret de Mar's former mayor, Xavier Crespo.

In 2009, Crespo quit his post, however, after being accused of receiving more than 350,000 euros in under-the-table payments from companies in exchange for approving real estate development projects.

A popular tourist destination, Lloret de Mar on Spain's Mediterranean coast has over 1,800 Russian residents, accounting for about 4.5 percent of the town's population.

© 2013 AFP

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