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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Train Conductors Caught Running Alcohol on Rail

Moscow police have seized a large consignment of ethyl alcohol that was illegally smuggled into Moscow from the northern Caucasus on board a passenger train from Vladikavkaz, officials said Thursday.

The carriages' storage spaces were filled with thousands of 1.5-liter plastic bottles filled with alcohol, said Filipp Zolotnitsky, a spokesman for the police economic crime department, adding that during the operation Wednesday, police confiscated 5 tons of alcohol.

He said the railway employees on the train had all been aware of the contraband; however, only four people -- the two head supervisors and two conductors -- were detained Wednesday and would soon be charged with illegal business activities.

If convicted, they face up to four years behind bars. The train's other employees are considered witnesses in the case, Zolotnitsky said.

Police officials said the Vladikavkaz to Moscow line is a major channel for smuggling alcohol from the southern republic of North Ossetia, an area notorious for producing counterfeit vodka. Police estimate that trains from Vladikavkaz deliver about 30 tons of alcohol to the capital every month, which Moscow bootleggers then turn into 200,000 bottles of vodka. A bottle of such vodka can be purchased at the city's markets for 30 rubles ($1).

On arrival in Moscow, trains from Vladikavkaz let passengers off at Kazansky Station and then continue to the end of the tracks, near the Rizhskaya overpass, where wholesale buyers meet it. The train's employees sell the 1.5-liter plastic bottles for 30 rubles ($1) each, Zolotnitsky said.

Investigators timed the sting on Wednesday to catch the train's staff in the act of selling the alcohol, he said.

"If we had detained them at any other moment, they could have said they need all the alcohol for their private use, and it would have been much more difficult for us to charge them with illegal business activities," Zolotnitsky said, adding that on several previous occasions smugglers had insisted they used the alcohol to rub their bodies.

Three buyers were also detained Wednesday and face fraud charges, Zolotnitsky said. The investigators are looking into counterfeit vodka producers, he said.

Zolotnitsky said the court will decide the final fate of the 5 tons of seized alcohol, but it will likely be turned into window cleaner by a local factory.

Moscow police regularly raid trains from North Ossetia, Karachayevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria for contraband alcohol.

"These trains filled with alcohol are real firebombs," Zolotnitsky said. "One spark could reduce it to ashes in a minute."

A raid usually results in criminal convictions for several smugglers, Zolotnitsky said. However, he added that a few weeks after each raid, smuggling from the northern Caucasus returns to its former volume.