Members of a Russian organised crime gang have been arrested in New York on suspicion of committing a number of offences.
The 33 individuals stand accused of various crimes, including the operation of illicit poker businesses, a murder-for-hire conspiracy, attempts to create an after-hours nightclub to host the sale of drugs and the theft of over 4,500kgs of chocolate.
Female members of the gang were also used to seduce men, incapacitate them with gas, and then rob them, prosecutors allege.
Twenty-seven of those charged are associated with a nationwide racketeering enterprise led by Razhden Shulaya and Zurab Dzhanashvili, dubbed the Shulaya Enterprise.
Acting Manhattan US Attorney Joon Kim said: “[W]e have charged 33 members and associates of a Russian organised crime syndicate allegedly engaging a panoply of crimes around the country.
“The indictments include charges against the alleged head of this national criminal enterprise, one of the first federal racketeering charges ever brought against a Russian ‘vor’.
“The dizzying array of criminal schemes committed by this organised crime syndicate allegedly include a murder-for-hire conspiracy, a plot to rob victims by seducing and drugging them with chloroform, the theft of cargo shipments containing over 10,000 pounds of chocolate, and a fraud on casino slot machines using electronic hacking devices. Thanks to the remarkable interagency partnership of FBI, CBP, and NYPD, we have charged and arrested 33 defendants allegedly involved in this criminal enterprise.”
Speaking with the New York Times, a Russian crime expert at the Institute of International Relations in Prague said the case highlighted the new forms of illegal activities Russian and Eurasian organised crime groups are turning to.
“What surprises me actually is they were still involved in the traditional types of crime,” Mark Galeotti told the Times.
Shulaya, the alleged leader of the syndicate, was arrested last Wednesday in Las Vegas, where a judge ordered his transit to New York.
Prosecutors described Shulaya as a “vor v zakone”, a Russian term that means “thief-in-law” and refers to an elite order of Soviet criminals.
Middleweight boxer Avtandil Khurtsidze and ex-UFC fighter Levan Makashvili were among the 33 people detained in the operation.
Khurtsidze had been scheduled to fight WBO middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders in London next month. The bout has now been cancelled as result of his arrest.
“I don’t know him personally but these serious allegations have got in the way of his big chance and I suppose if he did this stuff, he only has himself to blame; it’s down to him,” Saunders said.
The Russian mafia has become increasingly active in wealthy western countries such as the United States over recent years.
It was reported in March that the FBI had been monitoring a Russian money laundering ring operating out of Trump Tower. The investigation led to the indictment of 30 people, including notorious mob boss Alimzhan Tokhtakhunov.