The Guardian: WikiLeaks condemn Russia as “mafia state”
Russia is a corrupt, autocratic kleptocracy centred on the leadership of Vladimir Putin, in which officials, oligarchs and organised crime are bound together to create a “virtual mafia state”, according to leaked secret diplomatic cables that provide a damning American assessment of its erstwhile rival superpower.
Arms trafficking, money laundering, personal enrichment, protection for gangsters, extortion and kickbacks, suitcases full of money and secret offshore bank accounts in Cyprus: the cables paint a bleak picture of a political system in which bribery alone totals an estimated $300bn a year, and in which it is often hard to distinguish between the activities of the government and organised crime.
Among the most striking allegations contained in the cables, which were leaked to the whistleblowers’ website WikiLeaks, are:
- Russian spies use senior mafia bosses to carry out criminal operations such as arms trafficking.
- Law enforcement agencies such as the police, spy agencies and the prosecutor’s office operate a de facto protection racket for criminal networks.
- Rampant bribery acts like a parallel tax system for the personal enrichment of police, officials and the KGB’s successor, the federal security service (FSB).
- Investigators looking into Russian mafia links to Spain have compiled a list of Russian prosecutors, military officers and politicians who have dealings with organised crime networks.
- Putin is accused of amassing “illicit proceeds” from his time in office, which various sources allege are hidden overseas.
The allegations come hours before Putin was due to address Fifa’s executive committee in Zurich in support of Russia’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup. Putin last night abruptly cancelled his trip, complaining of a smear campaign to “discredit” Fifa members. In an angry interview with CNN’s Larry King Live, recorded before the latest disclosures, Putin also denounced the cables and warned the US not to stick its nose in Russia’s affairs.
He made clear he was not amused by a US diplomat’s description of him as “Batman” and President Dmitry Medvedev as “Robin”. “To be honest with you, we did not suspect that this [criticism] could be made with such arrogance, with such rudeness, and you know, so unethically,” Putin remarked.
The principal allegations stem from a Spanish prosecutor, José González, who has spent more than a decade trying to unravel the activities of Russian organised crime in Spain. Spanish authorities have arrested more than 60 suspects, including the top four mafia bosses outside Russia.
In a startling briefing for US officials in January, González said Russia was a “virtual mafia state” in which “one cannot differentiate between the activities of the government and OC [organised crime] groups”.
González said he had evidence – thousands of wiretaps have been used in the last 10 years – that certain political parties in Russia worked hand in hand with mafia groups. He alleged that intelligence officials orchestrated gun shipments to Kurdish groups to destabilise Turkey and were pulling the strings behind the 2009 case of the Arctic Sea cargo ship suspected of carrying missiles destined for Iran.
At the summit of what is known in Russia as the power “vertical” lies the Kremlin, a prime beneficiary of the entrenched system of kickbacks, bribes, protection money and suspect contracts.
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