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9 Oct, 2009 17:05

Russian gang lord dies after sniper attack

Vyacheslav Ivankov, once a top figure in Russian organized crime, died on Friday morning of wounds inflicted in a July assassination attempt.

69-year old Ivankov was treated in Moscow’s Botkin hospital for severe peritonitis, which he contracted after being shot in the stomach with a sniper rifle on July 28, 2009. The Interfax news agency quoted a medical source as saying that Ivankov underwent several surgeries, but the doctors could not save him.

“His death ends a whole era of Russian crime. He was the highest-ranked criminal in the whole hierarchy – a General,” said Sergey Kanev, a journalist with Novaya Gazeta newspaper.

Ivankov, nicknamed Yaponchik (the Jap) for his martial arts skills, had an extensive criminal record in the Soviet Union – serving sentences for robbery, extortion and attacks on police.

Outwardly well-mannered, he was known for his capacity for violence, becoming personally involved in even the pettiest crimes.

In 1992 he immigrated to the United States with fake documents where he became the de facto head of the Russian mafia in America.

In 1995 Ivankov was detained by the FBI following an investigation into extortion charges. He served a sentence in the US and was extradited to Russia in 2005, where he was tried for murdering a Turkish citizen in 1992. This time, Ivankov was acquitted by a jury.

By then well-known internationally, he denied any wrongdoing but reveled in his fame.

“It's enough for a person with initiative and charisma to appear, and immediately everyone thinks of him as a criminal,” Ivankov said.

Despite his then-public persona, Yaponchik continued to associate with mafia bosses.

“He was a man of great will power and no fear,” Sergey Kanev said. “He was a master psychologist and he knew everything about the rich and powerful, and had enough influence to help them climb up the career ladder.”

However, Ivankov’s lawyer said, his client waded into a turf battle between two gang leaders shortly before the assassination attempt.

The Russian media reports that with Ivankov’s death, gang wars in the country could escalate.

Ivankov’s interests often crossed those of Kurdish gangs, and Russian mafia members blamed Kurds for the sniper attack. According to reports, top Russian mobsters gathered in Barcelona, Spain in early August to discuss the attack on Ivankov and decided to act jointly against the Kurds.

However, police have refuted these reports and said there is currently no ongoing war of clans or gang lords.