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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Real Estate Crime Up, Say Police

A huge growth in Moscow's real estate dealing has attracted a mass of criminal groups, who use the business as a cover to swindle and sometimes kill people trying to sell their apartments, a senior Moscow police official said Tuesday.

Lieutenant Colonel Viktor Golovanov, deputy head of the Moscow Crime Investigation Department, told a press conference that a "huge number" of criminal operators working alongside the 1,400 city companies are currently involved in apartment deals.

Golovanov said he had carried out an investigation last year of the company Tsentr Khelp, which he said had swindled people into signing away the legal rights to their property before having them killed.

"The company had its own notaries who quickly and neatly filled out all necessary documents," Golovanov said. "They killed 11 people altogether and received their apartments."

In a similar case, his office had dealt with another crime group which had killed six people for their apartments.

Golovanov said the most vulnerable victims of apartment-related illegal deals were the elderly, mentally ill and alcoholics who readily sold apartments.

Last month, Mayor Yury Luzhkov issued a decree which will require all companies involved in apartment sales to be licenced from Jan. 1, 1995.

Golovanov said his department received about 50 reports a day from citizens about possible illegal deals.

"We plan to set up appropriate police squads in each city district to check and investigate these applications," he said.

Anatoly Davydov, deputy head of the Interior Ministry Crime Investigation Department, said apartment crime was growing all over the country, particularly in St. Petersburg and other industrial cities. "Housing prices are very high in these cities. That and the fact that there is inadequate legislation dealing with privatization allow criminals to carry out these crimes," Davydov said.

Vladimir Vorozhtsov, chief spokesman for the ministry, said policemen as well as lawyers and notaries were involved in illegal apartment deals.