39 Reputed Mobsters Detained On Yacht

Police used a dramatic helicopter raid to detain dozens of reputed crime bosses gathered on a yacht to settle a rift between rival dons, an Interior Ministry spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Most of the more than three dozen suspected gang leaders detained in the Monday raid at a reservoir outside Moscow were subsequently released because of a lack of evidence, the ministry spokeswoman said.

Among those detained, according to media reports, was Tariel Oniani, an ethnic Georgian with a reputation as one of the most powerful crime bosses in the Soviet Union.

The ministry spokeswoman confirmed that 39 suspected crime bosses, known as "thieves-in-law," were detained in the raid but declined to give any other details, including whether Oniani was among those who had been freed.

The thieves-in-law make up an infamous fraternity of top criminals, which maintains its own code of behavior, laws, courts, leaders and initiation rites, and which disdains any institution other than its own.

The suspects were about to have dinner when police commandos rappelled from the helicopter Monday onto the yacht, which was floating on the Pirogovskoye Reservoir, several kilometers northeast of Moscow, Interfax reported.

Several of the suspects leapt off the deck in order to make a swimming escape, but the cold water forced them to climb back aboard, Kommersant said.

Police seized the vessel and ordered the captain to bring it to shore, where police agents detained them.

The reputed crime bosses had gathered on the yacht to discuss the rift between Oniani and fellow purported mafia don Aslan Usoyan, also known as "Grandpa Khasan," Kommersant said.

The report cited a police officer who participated in the raid as saying the dispute could develop into a bloody conflict reminiscent of the gang wars of the 1990s. Usoyan gathered his supporters -- including Vyacheslav Ivankov, known as Yaponchik -- for a May 2 meeting in Krasnodar, where they discussed how to seize control of government money allocated for the 2012 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Kommersant reported.

At the Monday convention, Oniani's supporters were to decide whether to seek a truce with Usoyan or opt for war -- a decision that was interrupted by the police raid, Kommersant said.

Spanish police attempted to nab Oniani in 2005, and while he managed to escape to France, his 12-year-old daughter was among dozens of Russian, Ukrainian and Georgian nationals living in Spain who were arrested in the raid, the newspaper said.