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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Thieves Would Kill for a New Cell Phone

City Crime Statistics
June 15 – 21
Theft (total)1,032259
Apartment burglaries24412
Car theft5516
For the Record
Car accidents183
    a) killed9
    b) injured234
Public drunkenness3,838
    a) detained overnight1,025
Missing persons68
Bodies discovered109
Source: Moscow police

Multiple homicide and arson may sound like extreme measures to obtain a new cell phone, but police and politicians say rising demand for mobile communications has prompted a jump in cell phone-related crimes, including murder.

Last December, police in the Vladimir region arrested and charged two boys, aged 14 and 17, of killing two women and an 11-year-old girl in order to steal a new cell phone that the girl had received for her birthday, an Interior Ministry source told two days after the crime. At the girl's apartment, the boys beat the girl's mother and her female neighbor to death with a metal pipe and then strangled the girl to death with a piece of rope, the unnamed source said. After they took the telephone, they burned the building to the ground, the source said.

While this crime took place well outside the Moscow city limits, city police and Duma deputies have noted an alarming increase in cell phone-related crimes in the city as well, and the City Duma's Security Committee is planning to discuss the issue with city representatives in the near future.

In May, the city's deputy police chief, Vladimir Popov, said that a total of 23,584 cell phone-related crimes were committed in 2004, compared with 16,437 such crimes the previous year, Moskovskaya Pravda reported. Through March 15, city police had registered 7,328 such crimes in 2005, according to statistics provided to The Moscow Times by the Security Committee.

Leading the inquiry into the surge in these crimes is security commission head Inna Svyatenko, who told Noviye Izvestia last week that Moscow was "literally flooded with 'mobile crime.'"

"The situation is very troubling for Muscovites," Svyatenko said, the paper reported.

Svyatenko could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but her spokesman, Yury Sanberg, said the City Duma would debate the issue in the near future.

"I can't give you an exact date, but it undoubtedly will be discussed," Sanberg said.

The problem is twofold, Svyatenko said, Noviye Izvestia reported.

"First, mobile providers don't want to cooperate with law-enforcement authorities, citing laws that are convenient for them and at the same time ignoring the rest," Svyatenko told the paper. "Second, cell phones in Moscow are a uniquely liquid good that can be resold several times over."

According to police statistics, a majority of cell phone-related crimes involve robbery, followed by theft, mugging and fraud.

Furthermore, killing for cell phones is not a phenomenon exclusive to regions outside Moscow.

City police said that on July 5 two boys, aged 13 and 16, stabbed to death 12-year-old Anton Gabov in the stairwell of his apartment in northeast Moscow and stole his phone.

The suspects were found a day later, and the murder weapon and the cell phone were found in the older boy's apartment, police said.

In the Noviye Izvestia interview, Svyatenko complained about a lack of cooperation from mobile providers during a joint meeting between company representatives, the City Duma's Security Committee and city police representatives.

"Police asked the companies to provide data on stolen telephones connected to their networks but they categorically refused," Svyatenko said, Noviye Izvestia reported. "At the same time, the mobile providers cited the federal law on communications and the confidentiality of data about their clients."

From a technical point of view, mobile providers have the ability to block handsets reported stolen, regardless of whether the SIM card is the phone, thus making it a less attractive object for theft and robbery, said Pavel Nefyodov, spokesman for Mobile TeleSystems, Russia's largest mobile provider. Nefyodov added, however, that mobile operators did not have the authority to investigate and determine the authenticity of a theft claim, making a company list of stolen phones untenable.

"How can we know if a theft claim is a joke or for real?" Nefyodov said.

Nefyodov said tremendous resources and extensive new legislation would be required for the creation of an effective joint database between all Russian providers and law-enforcement authorities across the country.

"Someone in the authorities would have to decide whether it is worth all this when the price of handsets is constantly falling," Nefyodov said. "It would probably help if security on the streets were improved."