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A criminal cancer in Krasnodar

KrasnodarLast month's gangland massacre of 12 people ­ including four children ­ in the Krasnodar town of Kushchevskaya has exposed a law enforcement system unwilling or unable to stop a local gang's 20-year reign of terror ­ one that included thousands of grave crimes as well as mass rape to intimidate residents.

And bringing order to a region that will play host to the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games is fast proving a test for President Dmitry Medvedev, anti-corruption activists say.

Two families were stabbed to death on Nov. 4 in Kushchevskaya and their homes were set on fire in a crime that resounded around the country, highlighting regional lawlessness and corruption.

Sergei Tsapok Behind BarsThe apprehension of gang leader Sergei Tsapok ­ a former local legislator who was reportedly pictured at President Dmitry Medvedev's inauguration in 2008 ­ is unraveling a whole slew of interconnected criminal cases. His testimony helped police solve an unrelated 2002 murder of a municipal official, and revived 12 criminal cases that were previously all but forgotten.
[screenshot of video from http://en.rian.ru/video/

Political response

Medvedev responded to the Kushchevskaya massacre by firing the Krasnodar regional police chief, Sergei Kucheruka, and gave Governor Alexander Tkachev and regional envoy Vladimir Ustinov two weeks to find and fire those responsible in the prosecutor's office, the local interior ministry, and the FSB.

"What happened is the result of it being allowed by several governing bodies, including law enforcement," Medvedev said at a Thursday meeting in Sochi. He ordered Ustinov and Tkachev to check "everyone who was supposed to oversee the situation... everyone who reported or failed to report on it. Everyone who was supposed to oversee order but did not do so should be... fired."

The meeting came after leaders of opposition parties urged Medvedev to fire Tkachyov, but according to ultranationalist Liberal Democrat party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who made the appeal, Medvedev refused, RIA Novosti reported.

In his state-of-the-nation address last Tuesday, Medvedev referred to the Kushchevskaya massacre a case of "direct fusion of criminal groups" with local government.

He ordered local officials to stop "hiding in offices, while people fear for their lives and the lives of their family."

Cleaning house

The scope of the criminal gang's activities ­ and their involvement at various levels of law enforcement ­ will make purging the police a difficult task.

Success depends on how far investigators are willing to go, legislators say. "Everyone has their protector," Gennady Gudkov, a member of the State Duma Security Committee, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "The local bandit has his protector ­ a local lower-level police chief. The local police chief has protection a bit higher up ­ in the local administration, or the regional Interior Ministry. That is how the vertical of criminal power is built."

Indeed, the nine people arrested for the Kushchevskaya massacre ­ which police believe was an act of revenge ­ included Alexander Khodych, who headed the anti-extremism department in the regional Interior Ministry.

"These people are from the 1990s ­ they didn't go anywhere, they just legalised themselves," said whistle-blowing former police major Alexei Dymovsky, from the Krasnodar port of Novorossiisk.

"They started legalising their funds, buying land, farms. But to do that they needed protection. Who was their krysha? The cops. But police can't cover up all their crimes ­ they need prosecutors for that."

The Krasnodar region wasn't much different from other areas in Russia ­ it's just warmer, Dymovsky said. "The earth is fertile. There are ports, there's Novorossiisk. There is a lot of money circling around."

In a telling sign of just how far corruption went in the region, Krasnodar investigators said they had launched a criminal case against Arteks-Agro, a company owned by Tsapok's mother, Nadezhda, for illegally profiting from regional and federal subsidies.

Cleaning house is possible but will take political will, as the case shows that the Kremlin has less control over the region than it thinks, said Kirill Kabanov, a former FSB officer who heads the National Anti-Corruption Committee, which works with the Presidential Council on Civil Society.

"The central government thinks that it has created a vertical of power, but in reality everyone [at the local level] just resolves their own [personal issues]," Kabanov told The Moscow News. "Personal profit comes first."

Reports of hundreds of rapes committed by Tsapok's gang in a town of 35,000 people surfaced after police began investigating the Kushchevskaya massacre. According to Novaya Gazeta, there were some 220 rapes in the last 20 years, with women reluctant to report the crimes for fear of retribution or shame.

Some residents quoted in Novaya Gazeta described girls as young as 14 being snatched right out of school by members of the gang.

Investigators are looking at reports of 28 rapes, Vladimir Vasilyev, head of the Duma Security Committee, was quoted by Nezavisimaya Gazeta as saying.

Rape is a common fear tactic among local organised crime groups, said Dymovsky. "I knew a couple of guys from various crime gangs. They would boast about raping girls."


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