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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Court Hears Mikhailov Evidence




GENEVA -- The man accused of heading a Russian mafia organization had so much influence that he could get a hostage released in Chechnya "with a few telephone calls," a Swiss court heard Tuesday.


A Swiss police inspector testified that when arrested two years ago at Geneva airport, Sergei Mikhailov was carrying two passports from Russia, one from Israel and a diplomatic passport from Costa Rica.


Officers later found false papers from Greece and Portugal and a passport from Guyana, believed to have been bought for thousands of dollars. He also lived in Austria and Belgium during the 1990s and had been banned from entering both France and the Czech Republic, said police inspector Patrick Scheurer.


Mikhailov, whose trial opened Monday, is accused of being a member of a criminal organization. Prosecutors say he is the head of the Solntsevskaya mafia in Moscow, which has 1,700 members and the power to take over entire institutions in the city.


Mikhailov denies the charge, as well as one relating to the purchase of his villa, which allegedly broke the Swiss laws on foreigners buying property.


The trial has seen unprecedented security measures, with the court ringed by police, sheets at the windows to stop people seeing in and bulletproof vests for Mikhailov and some of the witnesses.


Two American witnesses are coming under FBI protection, while a chief Russian witness has been given asylum by the Swiss after receiving death threats.


After two failed attempts by the defense to stop the trial Monday, Scheurer took the stand as the first witness.


He said witnesses would tell how Mikhailov had arranged for the release of the brother of a business partner who was being held by a gang in the Russian breakaway republic of Chechnya.


"With a few phone calls he managed to rescue the brother," said Scheurer, adding this showed Mikhailov's influence with other criminal gangs.


Scheurer said in Mikhailov's villa near Geneva, police found illegal listening equipment, cash totaling 47,000 Swiss francs ($33,500) and photographs of Mikhailov with known criminals.


One showed him standing with the son of Vyacheslav Ivankov, the mafia godfather known as Yaponchik who is currently in prison in the United States.


The trial is expected to last at least a fortnight. Mikhailov, who has been in custody for more than two years, faces a maximum of 7 1/2 years in prison.