Moscow mafia terrorizes business people

dead businessman

April 8, 1996
Web posted at: 5:00 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT)

MOSCOW (CNN) -- On February 28, businessman Victor Borisov traveled down a packed street in Taganka Square, a crowded Moscow commercial district.


People lined the streets, rushing to and from work. As Borisov's driver stopped at a traffic light, two young men approached the black Volga sedan and peppered the interior with bullets.

The two men inside died instantly, and the men who fired the shots sped away in a vehicle parked nearby.

Borisov in casket

Police say Borisov and his chauffeur were victims of a contract killing, an increasingly popular way to settle scores in Russia. The investigators, speaking on the condition of anonymity, say anyone doing business in Moscow is now a potential mafia target.

Typically, the businessmen are killed by the Russian mafia because they cannot pay their debts, or they refuse to pay someone off.

dead man in car

As happens elsewhere, different mafia organizations stake out certain commercial areas to control. "Gangs divide spheres of influence in clashes against each other," the policeman says.

Depending on the victim, hits cost anywhere from $5,000 to $250,000, he says. In 1995, 4 percent of Russian murders were attributed to contract killings, and officials say the crime is on the rise.

Perhaps the most infamous contract killing was that of Vladimir Listyev, a popular TV talk show host killed in his doorway -- a favorite spot of contract killers.

Infamous contracts

Listyev, like Borisov, seemed an unlikely target. Friends of both men said they were unaware of any debts or affiliations with the mafia. Thousands mourned Listyev's death; he was known as an honest businessman.

But Moscow police told CNN Listyev may have dealt with dubious partners, and his slaying may have revolved around a debt, regardless of what his friends said. More than a year later, no arrests have been made in either case.

Police say they are thwarted at every turn; they are outgunned, outmanned and outspent by their mafia foes. Also, Russia's criminal code doesn't adequately address contract killings, making it difficult to punish those who order the murders -- if police can figure out who they are.

"Contract killings are done with many different steps, and it's possible that the person who actually committed the killing can only be found under some asphalt," says Lt. Col. Vladislav Karpovetz. "They lay down some asphalt over them and the hire ceases to exist."

Meanwhile, as the killings continue, many Russian businessmen have hired bodyguards. But, not even they are immune to attack. One bodyguard died in a hail of gunfire at the Palace Hotel in St. Petersburg, along with his boss and an innocent British bystander.

"You can have armed bodyguards and an armored car," nightclub owner Vyacheslav Piskizhov says. "But if they want -- as it goes -- to take you out, they'll take you out along with your bodyguard."

From CNN Correspondent Eileen O'Connor

Copyright 1996 Cable News Network Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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