Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bogus FSB Agents Use the Terror Card

Three men flash FSB identity cards and you are handcuffed and pushed into the back of a black Jeep Grand Cherokee.

You face 20 years in prison on terrorism charges because you are the purveyor of 7 kilograms of mercury, but if you can hand over $10,000 in one night you might be freed.

This is the situation 26-year-old Vladimir Dzagania, the owner of a music shop on Kuznetsky Most, faced on Friday, when a group of criminals posing as Federal Security Service officers managed to extort more than $10,000 from him and his friends.

"They told me they found the mercury in my shop," Dzagania said Saturday morning, as Moscow police and prosecutors questioned five suspects accused of his abduction. "They showed me their FSB identification cards and they were driving cars with emergency lights on top, so I thought it was the real thing. I was terrified."

Dzagania said the gang threatened him with prison and told him they knew everything about his business and where he lived. Later, the gang suggested he pay a bribe to go free.

Police said four suspects are being held at Moscow police headquarters on Ulitsa Petrovka, and an investigation into charges of kidnapping, extortion and illegal confinement is under way.

"We will look into a contraband charge after we receive lab-test results on the mercury," said Alexander Kozlov, who led the operation to free Dzagania for the city's anti-organized crime police unit.

"We found four rubber canisters of mercury and $11,500 in the jeep, and three fake FSB IDs," Kozlov said. "Interestingly, one of the gang members, Radzh Biniashvili, took his 15-year-old son along."

"Dad picked me up and said we would go pay the phone bill," Biniashvili's son Timur said, as he sat in a chair facing a wall at the central district prosecutor's office. "If I'd known what would happen, I would have just stayed home with mom."

Directed by Dzagania to his friends' apartments, the gang managed to extract up to $3,000 from each of them while he was handcuffed to one of the suspected kidnappers, who police later identified as Sergei Lognov, a convicted rapist.

Police patrols stopped the car Dzagania was held in several times during the night, but waved it on after his captors flashed their fake IDs, he said.

Dzagania said police would not have caught the gang if they had not gotten greedy and asked for $28,000 instead of $10,000.

When his friends realized they would not be able to raise the extra cash, they began to suspect the kidnappers were not genuine FSB agents and called the police.

Over a dozen police, including two organized crime police units, swooped on Biniashvili's Jeep and Mercedes in the early hours of Saturday as the gang waited to collect the extra $18,000, the organized crime unit's Kozlov said.

"It took us 2 1/2 hours of phone calls to get the police out of bed," said Alexei Konovalov, one of Dzagania's friends who participated in a cash handoff. "They were reluctant to launch the operation until the last minute, because they were unsure whether the kidnappers were criminals or real FSB."

Kozlov said police would have to test the substance found in the car, "before we can say for sure it is mercury and where it came from."

Alexander Ilyashenko, chief engineer of the Kuban-based Kubantsvetmetal, one of a handful of mercury producers in the country, said that criminals often pay up to thousands of dollars for mercury, a controlled substance, because they do not know its real price.

"You sometimes hear of bums collecting thermometers because they think they'll get thousands of dollars if they can sell a few kilograms, but in reality mercury costs just $4 per kilogram," he said.

Mercury is used legitimately in the electronics industry as a galvanizing element and in chemistry for catalysis, but can also be used in detonators or to poison the water supply.

"Just .02 grams to .04 grams of mercury is enough to kill someone," Ilyashenko said.

The money handed over to secure Dzagania's release mysteriously disappeared while in police custody, said a friend who contributed to the handoffs.

"I don't know where the money is right now," Kozlov said, contradicting earlier comments that the money had been secured.