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29 Jul, 2009 13:35

Attack on crime lord could be part of gang war

Criminal leader Vyacheslav Ivankov was shot in an apparent assassination attempt in Moscow and is now in a serious condition. The attack is believed to be part of a gang conflict he was attempting to mediate.

Ivankov, also known by his nickname “Yaponchik” is something of a legend in Russia’s criminal world, having started his career back in the Soviet Union. He has been living outside of Russia in recent years, but is still believed to be an influential figure among criminal gangs.

On Tuesday evening at approximately 7:50pm Moscow time, an attempt was made on Ivankov’s life. He was shot from a van parked across the street approximately 70 meters away as he was coming out of a Thai restaurant, reports RIA Novosti news agency. The shooter used a Dragunov sniper rifle, which was left behind in the vehicle. Earlier reports said there were two snipers, but this information was later proved to be inaccurate.

The bullet hit Ivankov in the abdomen. He was taken to Botkin hospital and underwent an operation. Doctors say it’s too early to make predictions on his health now, because his condition is still unstable. The man’s age of 69 does not help the situation.

Professional amateur assassin

Investigators have voiced contradictory versions as to who the assassin was. Interfax cites a source in the police familiar with the details of the investigation as saying that the shooter was an amateur. He argued the nature of the wound spoke for this version.

“In cases like that, assassins try and target the chest with its vital organs, heart first of all. Meanwhile Ivankov was hit in the belly,” he said. The source added that an experienced sniper would not have missed his mark from a range of 30 meters. The distance he named, however, contradicts other reports.

An absolutely different scenario was voiced by an official of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Prosecutor’s Office, who said the attempt on Ivankov’s life was perpetrated by a professional, and that only luck saved the victim from being killed instantly.

“Investigators are sure that a professional worked at the crime site, and that he failed to finish the deed due to random circumstances. Ivankov bent down at the moment of the shot,” Interfax cites him.

The official didn’t explain how the bullet hit the presumably bending Ivankov in the abdomen, however, rather than in chest or head.

Gang war?

The criminal leader was visiting Moscow incognito, according to an unnamed source in the police cited by the media. He was in the Russian capital trying to mediate a conflict between two powerful gangs, which are struggling for control of illegal gambling businesses in the city. “Apparently one of the criminal groups decided to get rid of Yaponchik after the negotiation failed,” RIA Novosti cites the source as saying.

Rosbalt news agency gives more detail on the conflict, citing its source among investigators. The agency says it dates back to 2006, when the leader of one of the gangs, Zakhari Kalashev, was arrested in the United Arab Emirates and later extradited to Spain to face charges of money laundering, tax evasion and other offences. With its boss in prison, another powerful gang tried to influence the transition of power in the mob, leading to a major feud.

In 2008 the conflict escalated into open bloodshed. Ivankov was acting as an arbiter between the gangs, but recently sided with the acting leader of Kalashev’s gang. The rival crime group may have taken revenge on him, and this act could spark a major war between the gangs soon, the news agency’s source speculates.

There may be other motives for the assassination attempt, Rosbalt’s source adds. Ivankov has made many enemies over his years in organized crime. The attack may also be a revenge for his failure to repay debts to partners, which he reportedly didn’t cover before immigrating to the United States in 1992.

“Russian mafia boss”

Vyacheslav Ivankov started his criminal career in the late 1960s, and in the ’70s formed a gang of his own. He was sentenced for different crimes including forgery, robbery and assault during the 1970s and ’80s.

In 1992, he immigrated to the US. In 1995 he was arrested by the FBI and sentenced to a 10-year term for extortion. The American media called him a “Russian mafia boss”, which Ivankov dismissed as an invention of journalists’ imagination.

Immediately after his release in 2004, he was extradited to Russia to face murder charges, but was found not guilty by a jury.