#3 - JRL 7208
June 4, 2003
St. Pete's Criminal-Business-Political Elite
By Yulia Latynina
On the eve of the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg, two things happened. The speaker of the St. Petersburg legislature announced that Governor Vladimir Yakovlev would resign immediately following the festivities. And in Moscow, Konstantin Yakovlev -- a reputed organized crime boss known as Kostya Mogila -- was murdered.
Mogila (the nickname means "grave") was a member of the St. Petersburg business elite. He was believed to have commercial ties to the governor, lending his murder a political twist.
Mogila was certainly a colorful figure. From humble beginnings as a gravedigger he became a St. Petersburg oligarch and a political player at the highest level. In 1999, the Fatherland-All Russia party, which was gunning to become the "party of power" at that time, held a congress in St. Petersburg. After the delegates had gone home, it emerged that the congress had been bankrolled through a company called VMTs, which was registered using forged documents. VMTs had received the money in turn from a respected member of the city's business elite, Mogila.
Word has it that the forged documents had been brought to light by Viktor Novosyolov, a member of the city council and no less respectable a figure than Mogila, though his business interests were tied to the Tambov organized crime group. A short time later, Novosyolov had a nasty little accident. On his way to work one day, while his car was stopped at a red light, a young man ran up and dropped a bomb on the roof. The explosion tore Novosyolov's head off.
Amazingly, the killers were caught. If you find it hard to believe that the St. Petersburg police managed to catch the killers, your incredulity is well founded. They were tracked down not by the police but by local journalists working for Andrei Konstantinov's famous Agency for Investigative Journalism. The killers were working for people close to Mogila.
Such was the political debate between the powerful Tambov gang and Kostya Mogila on the subject of transparent financing for political parties.
Keep in mind that when Yakovlev became governor, the entire city bureaucracy split into two camps: Those who deserted Anatoly Sobchak and signed on with the victor, and Vladimir Putin, who slammed the door and vowed revenge.
Everyone thought that when Putin became president Yakovlev would either resign or do time. But St. Petersburg is a small town. Too many of Yakovlev's potential accomplices turned out to be accomplices of the president's closest friends. Living in a glass house, Putin chose not to start throwing stones. But the clouds began to gather nonetheless. And Mogila was undoubtedly the most unpleasant place for the lightning of law enforcement to strike.
I'm not saying that Mogila was taken out to keep his mouth shut. He could have been killed by the Tambov clan, which had tried to ice him twice before. His former associate Vladimir Kulibaba could have ordered the hit. Or he could have made enemies in Moscow by sticking his nose into other people's business.
Let's not forget that enormous amounts of money were lavished on St. Petersburg's 300th birthday party. Some of that money went missing. In every case where money was moved through companies allied to Mogila, the loss can now be written off and blamed on a dead man.
St. Petersburg is not unique because people get shot there so often but because the city's criminal elite does triple duty as its political and business elite. Mogila controlled the city's television stations, which have now become the object of a power struggle. He figured along with the governor in a number of criminal investigations. But most importantly, he was the grandmaster of St. Petersburg's political chess games. Last week he lost to a worthy opponent. That's the kind of city St. Petersburg is. Deputy governors are killed over money, and crime bosses are killed over politics.
Yulia Latynina is host of "Yest Mneniye" on TVS.