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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Reputed Crime Boss Faces Arrest Warrant

A St. Petersburg court Friday authorized the arrest of Vladimir Barsukov, a wealthy businessman and reputed head of the Tambov organized crime group, who was detained in a stealth operation with dozens of OMON police officers earlier in the week.

The city's Petrogradsky District Court backed a request by prosecutors to place Barsukov, 51, in custody while charges are drawn up against him, the Prosecutor General's Office said.

Barsukov, who is believed to have led the city's most powerful organized crime group of the 1990s, is suspected of ordering contract hits and overseeing the illegal takeover of various properties and businesses in St. Petersburg, the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

Barsukov, who changed his last name several years ago from Kumarin, will be charged within a few days, it said.

Barsukov was detained Wednesday at his country house outside St. Petersburg. Investigators have also searched his apartment in central St. Petersburg and his offices, the statement said.

A duty officer at the Prosecutor General's Office declined to elaborate on the statement Friday, citing the ongoing investigation.

A secretary for Barsukov's lawyer, Sergei Afanasyev, refused to put a call through to him, saying he was busy.

Investigators took extraordinary measures to take Barsukov into custody. Law enforcement officials, including three trucks with OMON officers, were brought from Moscow to detain him. St. Petersburg law enforcement officials were not informed about the operation to prevent information leaks, Kommersant reported Friday.

Among the crimes often linked to Barsukov is the attempted murder of the co-owner of Petersburg Oil Terminal, Sergei Vasilyev, in May 2006. Vasilyev was badly wounded and his bodyguard was killed by two gunmen.

Several months later, Vasilyev came out of his coma and accused Barsukov of trying to kill him amid a squabble over Petersburg Oil Terminal, which controlled 28 percent of the city's gas stations in the 1990s, Kommersant said. Barsukov once served as vice president of the company.

A native of Tambov, Barsukov was convicted twice in the 1980s on charges of hooliganism, forging documents and extortion. He is thought to have assembled the Tambov gang with natives from his hometown in the 1990s.

Barsukov, however, has sought to improve his reputation, changing his last name in 1995 and eventually becoming a celebrity of sorts. He played French King Louis XIV in a 2004 Russian movie, became a generous benefactor to the Russian Orthodox Church and helped secure the release of two children kidnapped in St. Petersburg earlier this year, he told Fontanka.ru in June.

Several foreign publications -- including Le Monde, La Repubblica and Newsweek -- have speculated that Barsukov might have had ties to President Vladimir Putin in the 1990s when Putin worked in the St. Petersburg city government. The reports said Barsukov was a board member of a Russian subsidiary of the German firm SPAG, where Putin once worked as a consultant.

Barsukov has repeatedly denied any links with Putin. The Kremlin press service has declined to comment about Putin's involvement with SPAG.