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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Vladivostok Shadowed by Crime

Officials at the General Prosecutor's Office are alarmed by a growing crime wave in the Far East port of Vladivostok, where organized crime has become so enmeshed with local government and business as to form a single, impenetrable organism, according to a senior investigator.

Alexei Bulanov, chief criminal investigator for the Primorsky region, said in an interview with The Moscow Times that crime in Vladivostok had surged in 1993 when the local economy had experienced severe economic crises and "elements of chaos" had started to appear.

"The ups and downs of criminal activity are directly linked with the situation in the economy," he said. "If it is bad, crime flourishes and no single anti-crime campaign is capable of stopping it."

According to police statistics, the total number of crimes doubled from 1989 to 1993 in Primorsky region while serious crimes -- murders, rapes and grievous assaults -- tripled over the same period. More than 72,000 crimes were committed in the region in 1993 with a third of them carried out in Vladivostok.

One of the main contributory factors in the rising crime rates was the breakdown of border controls after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This had resulted in a huge influx of people from China and other countries, including a large criminal element, Bulanov said.

"Uncontrollable imports of Japanese cars, an enormous influx of Chinese workers and very cheap Chinese goods helped create organized crime groups involved in extortion," Bulanov said. "Extortion is the most serious headache for the city."

Valery Puzyryov, deputy head of the police anti-organized crime department in Vladivostok, confirmed that extortion was the favorite activity of local crime bosses."It is practically impossible to set up a joint venture or commercial company without a so-called krysha, or roof, from one of the most influential mafia gangs in the city," Puzyryov said, adding that the police were well aware of the identities of leaders but had no grounds to detain them.

"Sergei Trifanov, Alexander Kostenko, Mikhail Osipov, Alexander Makarenko, Alexei Alexeyenkov -- these are the most influential city mafiosi," he said.

"Each of them have a protection force of 40 to 50 well-armed men, but can draw on up to 200 extra gunmen to counter police raids or in the event of inter-mafia shootouts," he said.

Puzyryov said some had links with industry, banking and business.

"We only need to look through the local business directory to know who to arrest, if only we had enough evidence," he said.

Bulanov said local government officials, including the deputy governor, Igor Lebedinets, had received huge ruble credits from two local commercial banks, enabling them to buy control of local enterprises. "These people control the whole economy of the region."

He said he had tried to prove that the banks had granted the credits illegally, but could find no law preventing misuse of bank credits. "I was told to stop the investigation," he said.

Oksana Yagodkina, a spokeswoman for the regional administration, said too many unproved accusations of corruption were put forward against local authorities.

"Each wrong step or small mistake of the governor leads to huge indignation from his opponents and alleged corruption accusations," she said.