Russia arrests three police in gambling probe

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Russian investigators announced Wednesday they had detained three policemen in a probe into an underground gambling ring that allegedly paid hush money to highly placed law enforcement officials.

Three police serving in the Moscow region have been arrested along with three suspected gang members as part of a fraud probe, Vladimir Markin, the spokesman of Russia's chief investigator told the RIA Novosti news agency.

The arrests came after the powerful FSB security service announced Monday that it had raided a gambling racket controlling casinos in 15 towns in the Moscow region with a turnover of $5-$10 million per month.

The ring could not have operated for several years without support from law-enforcement and inspection bodies, it said in a rare public statement, accusing the regional prosecutor's office of hindering the investigation.

Russia's powerful law enforcement agencies, among them police, security police, the investigative committee and the prosecutor's office, operate within separate structures and regularly make their clashes public.

The chief investigator's spokesman alleged that evidence showed the gang's suspected leader, named as Ivan Nazarov, paid for holidays taken by the region's chief prosecutor and his family members.

The FSB earlier alleged that the Moscow region's first deputy prosecutor, Alexander Ignatenko, had "close contacts" with Nazarov.

Russia's deputy prosecutor general ordered the closure of the first criminal investigation into Nazarov, Markin said, adding that investigators detained him on the basis of a different probe, without elaborating.

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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