WASHINGTON, April 17 – RAPSI. US authorities charged 34 people on Tuesday for allegedly being part of a Russian crime ring that investigators said engaged in extortion and money laundering in excess of $100 million, and operated high-stakes poker games in the United States that attracted professional athletes, Hollywood celebrities and Wall Street executives.
The charges “demonstrate the scope and reach of Russian organized crime. One of the principal defendants is a notorious Russian ‘thief-in-law’ allegedly directing an international conspiracy through Cyprus to the US,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos in a statement.
“The defendants are alleged to have handled untold millions in illegal wagers placed by millionaires and billionaires, laundered millions, and in some cases are themselves multi-millionaires,” he added.
Among those named in the indictment, unsealed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on Tuesday, was Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, also known as “Taiwanchik," a Russian businessman who was earlier accused of bribing ice skating judges at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Tokhtakhounov and three others who were charged on Tuesday have not been arrested and are still at large. Law enforcement officials said Tokhtakhounov is believed to be in Russia. The other 30 people implicated in the crime ring have been taken into custody.
Tokhtakhounov and most of the others named in the indictment were born in the former Soviet Union and are thought to have substantial, ongoing criminal ties to Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
“Taiwanchik is one of the really big names in the Russian underworld, one of the few names that every Russian gangster is going to know, so it gives it a sort of star appeal,” said Mark Galeotti, professor of global affairs at New York University, in an interview with RIA Novosti.
The indictment spells out two criminal enterprises with leadership based in New York City, Kiev and Moscow.
The first enterprise, which prosecutors call the “Taiwanchik-Trincher Organization,” allegedly catered to oligarchs and wealthy Russians residing in the former Soviet Union and throughout the world.
According to the indictment, the group “employed a sophisticated money laundering scheme to move tens of millions of dollars in proceeds from the gambling operation from the former Soviet Union through shell companies in Cyprus into various investments and other shell companies in the United States.”
The second enterprise is known as the “Nahmad-Trincher Organization.” Prosecutors said it was a high-stakes, illegal gambling business run out of New York City and Los Angeles that catered primarily to multi-millionaire and billionaire clients. None of the athletes, celebrities or Wall Street executives was identified.
According to the indictment, “the Nahmad-Trincher Organization used online gambling websites, operating illegally in the United States, to operate an illegal gambling business that generated tens of millions of dollars in bets each year.”
“These criminal enterprises were vast and many-tentacled, with one of them reaching across the Atlantic to launder tens of millions of dollars from Russia to the US via Cyprus and in some cases, back again,” said Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara in a statement.
“International money laundering is a serious offense, and we will do everything within our power to inhibit those who seek to sanitize the proceeds of crime through legitimate investment vehicles in this country from doing so,” he added.
In addition to Tokhtakhounov, the FBI is asking for the public’s help in locating the three other fugitives:
• Abraham Mosseri, 40. Wanted for his role in allegedly operating an illegal sports bookmaking operation.
• Donald McCalmont, 45. Wanted for allegedly laundering money through a New York company that was taken over to repay a gambling debt.
• William Edler, 49. Wanted for his role in allegedly operating an illegal sports bookmaking operation.
The crime ring is unusual, said Galeotti, in that it’s reminiscent of a bygone era.
“The interesting thing about this is it’s much more of a traditional criminal operation. I think it reflects the fact that ‘Taiwanchik’ is sort of an old-style Russian gangster. Nowadays the new criminal hot shots tend to be much more involved in white collar crime in the US,” he said.
As for Tokhtakhounov, the indictment will have a limited impact, seizing some assets and reducing the number of places he can freely travel, said Galeotti, adding, “I don’t think he’ll be losing a lot of sleep over this.”