Russia virtual `mafia state`: WikiLeaks

A US memo hints at ties between Russia`s political parties, organised crime.

London: Russia is a virtual "mafia state" whose political parties operate "hand in hand" with organised crime, said a US memo revealed by WikiLeaks and published by the Guardian newspaper on Thursday.

Spanish prosecutor Jose Gonzalez told US officials that "he considers ... Russia to be a virtual `mafia state`" where "one cannot differentiate between the activities of the government and organised crime groups”, it said.

Gonzalez, who has been investigating Russian organised crime in Spain for a decade, also agreed with poisoned dissident Alexander Litvinenko`s thesis that Russian intelligence and security services "owned organised crime”.

The memo, sent in February of this year from the US embassy in Madrid, cited the senior prosecutor as claiming that "certain political parties in Russia operate `hand in hand` with organised crime”.

"He argued that the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was created by the KGB and its successor, the SVR, and is home to many serious criminals," the memo continued.

In a separate leaked cable sent shortly after Litvinenko`s death in London in 2006, US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried questioned whether Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin knew beforehand of the plot to kill the dissident.

In a meeting with a senior French diplomatic adviser, Fried asked "whether rogue security elements could operate...without Putin`s knowledge”, given the leader`s "attention to detail”.

British police have accused ex-KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi of murdering the former Russian spy turned self-exiled Kremlin critic by lacing his tea with radioactive polonium in a London hotel.

Gonzalez also alleged there were "proven ties between the Russian political parties, organised crime and arms trafficking”.

The cable relayed that Gonzalez believed Russian intelligence officials were behind the 2009 case of an Arctic Sea cargo ship which was suspected of carrying weapons destined for Iran.

In addition, the leaked cable suggested that Russian authorities used the mafia to carry out operations it could not "acceptably do as a government”, citing the sale of arms to Kurds in order to destablilise Turkey as an example.

The document added the authorities took "the relationship with crime leaders even further by granting them the privileges of politics, in order to grant them immunity from racketeering charges."

Any crime lords who defied the country`s Federal Security Service (FSB) could be "eliminated" either by killing them or "putting them behind bars to eliminate them as a competitor for influence”, Gonzalez claimed.

Far from being a localised problem, Gonzalez said he also thought the mafia virtually ran Belarus and Chechnya and exerted "tremendous control" over vital components of the global economy, including aluminium.

A third leaked cable sent by US Ambassador in Russia, John Beyrle, singled out Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov as a vital cog in Russia`s organised crime machine.

"Despite [Russian President Dmitry] Medvedev`s stated anti-corruption campaign, the extent of corruption in Moscow remains pervasive with Mayor Luzhkov at the top of the pyramid," Beyrle said in a memo revealed by WikiLeaks.

"Luzhkov oversees a system in which it appears that almost everyone at every level is involved in some form of corruption or criminal behaviour," he added in the cable, sent in February of this year.

Bureau Report