Russia security service accuses police over gambling ring

14th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia's security service on Monday accused police and prosecutors of protecting an underground gaming ring after raiding casinos in the Moscow region with a monthly turnover of up to $10 million (7.4 million euros).

In a rare public statement, the powerful FSB security service said it had confiscated more than 1,000 slot machines from casinos in 15 towns that breached a ban on gambling outside a few far-flung zones, introduced in 2009.

The operation earned $5-$10 million per month, the FSB estimated.

The ring could not have operated without support from law-enforcement and inspection bodies, it said, accusing the region's prosecutor's office of hindering the investigation.

Russia's powerful law-enforcement agencies, among them police, secret police and prosecutors, operate within separate structures and regularly make their clashes public.

The FSB said it confiscated evidence including documents showing the gambling operation paid for holidays abroad for top officials in the Moscow region police and prosecutor's office.

It also said the region's first deputy prosecutor, Alexander Ignatenko, had "close contacts" with the leader of the gambling ring, named as I. Nazarov.

Officers even found a police ID card in Nazarov's name, it said.

Nazarov's business was based in a central Moscow building once used for receptions by self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, the FSB said.

The building contained Berezovsky's property deeds and paintings by Picasso and Rembrandt worth more than $5 million, it said.

Last year, President Dmitry Medvedev criticised police for abusing their powers to protect businesses. He has targeted police corruption and pushed through legislation to reform the vast force.

In 2009, a law signed in 2006 by then-president Vladimir Putin came into force banning casinos outside four designated legal gambling zones, most with barely any infrastructure.

To comply with the ban, Moscow closed down its huge neon-lit casinos, but smaller slot machine halls swiftly reopened, renamed as "lottery" halls, or without any signs.

© 2011 AFP

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