MOSCOW — There was a sense of inevitability as Igor Sechin, the powerful CEO of Russia’s sprawling state oil giant and a trusted lieutenant of President Vladimir Putin, failed to turn up in court this week — not once, but twice.
Corruption or “mutyi”- a term recently popularised by the Hungarian media – is no longer considered an outstanding phenomenon in Hungary. With a silent consent of the Hungarian society, bribery became a part of everyday life during the soft dictatorship of the Kádár-era; people still pay additional sums to receive better service in hospitals or faster administration in offices.
The World Economic Forum has released its annual corruption index as part of its Global Competitiveness Report.
The findings are based on a WEF survey that interviewed nearly 15,000 business leaders from 141 economies from February to June.
Countries in the corruption index are ranked according survey responses to the following three questions:
Vito Rizzuto was the Steve Jobs of organized crime: charismatic, visionary, and shrewd enough to run a billion-dollar enterprise with tentacles reaching from Montreal to New York, South America, and Europe.
Because of its location along the St. Lawrence river and proximity to US markets, Montreal has always been a major point of entry for drugs, guns, and basically whatever else you can fit into a shipping container.
And for the good part of three decades, Rizzuto had his hand in almost every racket in the city, heading a “consortium” of organized crime which included Colombian cartels, Irish gangs who controlled the city’s port, and Hells Angels who took care of distribution of drugs across Quebec and Ontario.
Rizzuto’s death in December 2013—from natural causes—has left many speculating about his replacement and sources VICE spoke to hinted at a dramatic decline in the Sicilian Mafia’s power in Montreal and Canada since his passing.
With the rise of Haitian street gangs, the imminent release of numerous Hells Angels from prison, and rival Italian factions, there is no shortage of conspiracy theories surrounding Vito Rizzuto’s replacement.
Chief among those theories is that the Ontario-based Calabrian mafia, also known as the ‘Ndrangheta, is moving in and getting revenge after having been violently pushed out of the city by Vito’s father in the 1970s.
But this line of thinking is deeply flawed, said RCMP Staff Sergeant Chris Knight, because it assumes that Vito Rizzuto can even be replaced.
“No one’s got the credibility, no one’s got the clout, and certainly no one has the charisma that Vito Rizzuto had—and I’ve met him—to make allies out of enemies. No one has that right now,” Knight told VICE.
Knight has been with the RCMP for 34 years and works with local, provincial, and international law enforcement to monitor organized crime in Quebec.
His squad has seen no sign of rival Italian gangs moving to replace the Rizzuto’s, as certain media and observers have speculated.
“We haven’t seen attempts or power moves from Hamilton or Toronto on establishments or persons here. And we haven’t received any information on the street to that effect either. It’s a myth. I’ve always heard these things about New York and Toronto controlling Montreal but nothing could be further from the truth.”
Antonio Nicaso agrees. He has authored 27 books about organized crimes and acted as a consultant for the government on these. In his most recent book Business or Blood he writes extensively about the final years of Rizzuto’s life and the implications of a post-Vito world.
“I don’t see anyone with the same vision as Vito Rizzuto. His mafia was the real one, not a cheap imitation,” Nicaso told VICE. “Rather than fighting over turf, they are now trying to create a balance of power where different organizations will work together.
So it’s a group of people rather than one person like Rizzuto who was a master mediator capable of striking alliances and reaping huge profits through criminal enterprises.”
What is certain, for both Knight and Nicaso, is that the Sicilian Mafia no longer wield the power they once did in Canada. All signs point to a decentralization and instability—not a replacement.
“Their monopoly or their stranglehold is not what it used to be. It’s greatly diminished. They have lost a lot of power and there have been a lot deaths in the family,” said Staff Sergeant. Knight.
“You’re going to get struggles for street corners like you see in New York. In New York, it’s basically whoever has the biggest gun or the most soldiers gets the street corner for the distribution of narcotics and other organized crime activities.”
In 2010, Vito Rizzuto’s father and his son, both named Nick, were gunned down within months of each other.
The murders took place during a period of intense fighting wherein rival Italian factions, namely New York’s Bonanno family tried to take advantage of the power vacuum created after Rizzuto’s imprisonment in Colorado.
He had been deported and was serving time for his involvement in the triple murder of Bonanno family captains in 1981.
Earlier this month, Raynald Desjardins pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the murder of Sal “the Iron Worker” Montagna.
Desjardins was Rizzuto’s right-hand man during the golden years of his reign and, according to wiretaps, one of the only two non-Italians to be “made” in the Mafia.
Montagna was the acting head of New York’s Bonanno crime family who tried—and failed—to replace Rizzuto as the boss in Montreal. Obviously, their relationship soured and Desjardins’s car was showered with AK-47 fire north of Montreal in 2011.
Two months later, Montagna’s body was found floating in the Assomption River. Desjardins’s case is a salient reminder of just how complex and delicate the balance of power can be for organized crime in Montreal.
The city has seen a period of relative calm in recent months but that doesn’t mean that it’s stable or lasting. Based on the RCMP’s analysis, all signs point to splintering drug turf and increased instability.
“It’s very volatile on the street. Whereas ten years ago, if there’s one thing that Vito Rizzuto had it was the ability to gather people, negotiate truces, and make arrangements that everyone made money. With him being gone, it’s more volatile now.”
Ironically, this volatility is directly linked to the effective police work done by the RCMP who arrested almost 100 suspected mobsters in Project Colisée and pretty much every Hells Angels patch member during Operation Sharqc.
Obviously, these arrests did nothing to curb the demand for drugs and, according to sources who spoke with VICE, all of that demand was absorbed by notoriously unstable Haitian street gangs who are plagued with internal Bloods-Crips rivalries and have effectively replaced the Hells Angels on the street.
Sources also pointed to the fact that the notoriously racist Hells Angels will want their old drug turf back and will not be pleased with the fact that black gangs are now in control. There’s trouble a’brewing in la métropole.
“The Hells Angels will definitely become more and more important, that goes without saying,” said Antonio Nicaso.
Knight agreed: “They’re going to want more territory and more cheap drugs and a monopoly over extortion or illegal gambling. There will be conflict for sure. It’s all about money and power. And the more players you have, the less you have to go around.”
Without Rizzuto’s unifying and stabilizing influence, the current period of relative calm is likely to be short-lived. And in order to survive in a post-Vito world, the Sicilian Mafia will have no choice but to rebrand.
Unlike stereotypes propagated in the media, the Mafia in Montreal isn’t all about guns, drugs, and prostitutes—it’s actually more boring than that.
Last September, the Charbonneau Commission wrapped up.
The inquiry heard testimony from almost 200 witnesses and exposed a massive criminal conspiracy involving the mob, construction companies, unions, and high-ranking municipal employees—a reminder that crime in Montreal was able to fester in an environment of political collusion.
In fact, the findings of the Commission led to the resignation of mayor Gerald Tremblay and to the arrests of Laval’s former mayor and Montreal’s interim mayor on gangsterism and corruption charges, respectively (all of which makes Rob Ford seem pretty benign, Toronto).
“The Mafia is strong and powerful is because they were capable of infiltrating our society and our politicians. What they used to do with the gun, they now do with corruption, relationships, and contracts,” Antonio Nicaso said.
“They are not as strong and powerful anymore mainly because they are not able to replace Vito Rizzuto but without connections to those who hold the power and money, the Mafia would just be a bunch of hooligans.”
YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — The president of Armenia on Saturday suspended hikes in household electricity rates in an effort to end the protests that have blocked the capital’s main avenue for six straight days. The demonstrators, however, didn’t disperse.
President Serzh Sargsyan said the government would bear the burden of the higher electricity costs until an audit of the Russian-owned power company could be completed. At least some of the money appeared to be coming from Moscow, where the protests have caused great concern.
Some of the protest organizers called for demonstrators to remain on the street until the rate hikes were completely annulled, but they said the decision on whether to continue the protest would be made Sunday evening.
Thousands of protesters have blocked Yerevan’s main avenue since Monday, their numbers steadily increasing throughout the week to a peak of about 15,000. In recent days, the protest has looked more like a street party, with the mostly young demonstrators dancing and singing national songs.
Armenia is closely allied with Russia, which maintains a military base in the former Soviet nation. Russian companies control most of its major industries, including the power grid, which the protesters claim is riddled with corruption.
Sargsyan’s announcement followed a meeting the night before with Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov, who co-chairs a Russian-Armenian economic commission. During the meeting, they agreed to an audit of the electricity company, but this didn’t satisfy the protesters.
Sargsyan said Saturday the 17-percent electricity hike was necessary to support the power grid and therefore he was ordering the government to cover the cost. He said this wouldn’t be done at the expense of social payments, a sensitive issue in a country where one third of the population of 3 million is below the official poverty line.
Instead, the president said the money would come from the security budget.
“Of course our security problems are far from being resolved, and that’s an understatement, but today’s atmosphere of suspicion and distrust I also see as a problem of security and a very serious problem,” he said in a statement released by his office. “It needs to be resolved.”
Also as a result of the meeting with Sokolov, Russia agreed to loan Armenia $200 million to help modernize its military, according to Sargsyan’s office.
In another concession, Russia agreed to allow Armenia to try a Russian soldier accused of killing seven members of an Armenian family in January.
Armenia remains locked in a conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. A cease-fire in 1994 ended a six-year war, but attempts to negotiate a peaceful settlement have stalled and fatal shootings occur frequently along the buffer zone.
The conflict also resulted in the closure of Armenia’s borders with Azerbaijan and its ally Turkey, which has hobbled the economy of the landlocked country.
Angered by the electricity hikes, about 5,000 protesters marched on the presidential residence on Monday evening. When they were blocked by police, they sat down on the road for the night, taking police by surprise.
In the early hours of Tuesday, riot police used water cannons to disperse them and arrested nearly 240 people, but by that evening even more protesters had gathered. Since then, the police have stood by peacefully.
Only a few hundred protesters have remained on the street around the clock, with the numbers swelling again in the evenings.
The protests, organized largely through social media, have become popular on Twitter with the hashtag #ElectricYerevan.
Sepp Blatter may seek to stay on as the president of FIFA, a Swiss newspaper reported on Sunday, less than two weeks after Blatter said he would step down over a major corruption scandal at the organisation.
However, Domenico Scala, the official overseeing the process of choosing a new president, said that Blatter’s departure was an ‘indispensable’ part of planned reforms to soccer’s governing body.
Blatter is under pressure to step down for good as U.S. and Swiss authorities widened their investigations into bribery and corruption at the sport’s global governing body. EU lawmakers are among those calling for his immediate departure.
But according to the Schweiz am Sonntag newspaper, Blatter had received messages of support from African and Asian football associations, asking him to rethink his decision to step down.
Blatter was honoured by the support and had not ruled out remaining in office, the newspaper said, citing an anonymous source close to him.
Blatter said on June 2 he would step down as FIFA president in the wake of the corruption investigation, having led soccer’s world governing body since 1998, although he would stay on until a successor was elected.
FIFA, in an emailed statement, referred Reuters to the speech Blatter made on June 2 and said they had ‘no further comment to make’.
In his speech, Blatter said: ‘I have decided to lay down my mandate at an extraordinary elective Congress. I will continue to exercise my functions as FIFA President until that election.’
He also added: ‘Since I shall not be a candidate, and am therefore now free from the constraints that elections inevitably impose, I shall be able to focus on driving far-reaching, fundamental reforms that transcend our previous efforts.’
But Scala, head of FIFA’s audit and compliance committee, said in a statement that Blatter needed to stick by his pledge that he would not stand again.
‘For me, the reforms are the central topic,’ he said, without referring to the interview directly.
‘That is why I think it is clearly indispensable to follow through with the initiated process of president’s change as has been announced. ‘
Blatter has changed his mind in the past. When he began his fourth mandate in 2011, he said it would be his last, but he later backed down, stood again and was re-elected in May.
FIFA is expected to pick his replacement at an extraordinary congress in Zurich between December and February. . The exact date will be decided by an executive committee meeting on July 20.
Blatter’s renewed interest in the job was also a reason for the departure of Walter de Gregorio as FIFA’s director of communications, since he had argued for a completely new start and advised Blatter to go, the Swiss newspaper said.
De Gregorio declined to comment to the newspaper.
- Investigative Committee applied to court for formal arrest of five suspects accused of Boris Nemtsov’s murder
- Appearances come a week after 55-year-old was shot four times in the back while walking near the Kremlin
- Suspect Zaur Dadayev has now admitted involvement in the crime, according to Russian news authorities
- He was arrested in Ingushetia and is thought to have served for ten years in the ‘Sever’ battalion in Chechnya
- All of the men were escorted into court from a bus with hands bound and masked guards either side
- Other suspects are Anzor Gubashev, Shagid Gubashev, Ramzan Bakhayev and Tamerlan Eskerkhanov
- Meanwhile a sixth man thought to be involved blew himself up with a grenade after being approached by police
Five suspects including a policeman who served in Chechnya have appeared in court over the assassination of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
Their appearances come a week after the 55-year-old was shot four times in the back while walking along a bridge in full view of the Kremlin with his model girlfriend Anna Duritskaya, 23.
One of the suspects – Zaur Dadayev – has allegedly made a statement confirming his guilt, Judge Nataliya Mushnikova said. She did not specify his actions.
All of the men were escorted from a bus to Basmanny district court, in Moscow, with their hands bound in front of them and masked men standing either side.
Once inside they continued to be flanked by armed guards and were forced to speak from a defendant’s cage.
The Investigative Committee, the state agency leading the investigation, applied to the court to formally arrest the suspects. All five will now remain in custody.
Meanwhile a sixth man thought to be involved in Mr Nemtsov’s death blew himself up after being approached by police at his apartment block, Interfax said.
The 30-year-old reportedly threw a grenade at officers in Grozny, Chechnya, on Saturday night before setting one off near himself.
The court heard that Dadayev, 33, served for around ten years in the ‘Sever’ battalion, which is part of the interior ministry of Chechnya, a security official said.
Judge Mushnikova added: ‘Dadayev’s involvement in committing this crime is confirmed by, apart from his own confession, the totality of evidence gathered as part of this criminal case.’
Anzor Gubashev, who worked for a private security company in Moscow, was named as another suspect. He denied any involvement.
Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s federal security service, said Dadayev and Gubashev were ‘suspected of carrying out the crime’. It was not clear if either of the men were believed to have fired the shots that killed Mr Nemtsov.
Aaimani Dadayeva, mother of Dadayev, said she was stunned at the arrest of her son.
‘I was informed today that my son has been detained on suspicion of involvement in Boris Nemtsov’s murder,’ she told Interfax late on Saturday.
‘I can’t believe it. He could not have committed this crime.’
Reports suggest the other suspects include Gubashev’s younger brother Shagid and two men – Tamerlan Eskerkhanov and Ramzan Bakhayev.
Mr Bortnikov added that the developments had been reported to the president, but he stressed they were continuing ‘necessary operative and investigative work’ on the case.
At the time of his death Mr Nemtsov had been working on a report about Russian military involvement in the eastern Ukraine conflict.
He was also in the midst of organising a march against the war and had written a number of reports in recent years linking Putin and other politicians to alleged corruption.
The shooting occurred a few hours after he had made a radio appearance denouncing Putin for ‘mad, aggressive’ policies in Ukraine.
Surveillance footage apparently showed a man climbing into a white getaway car and being driven away.
Russian officials have denied any involvement, with President Vladimir Putin dubbing the murder a ‘provocation’.
In a speech with officials from the interior ministry, Putin said: ‘The most serious attention should be paid to high-profile crimes, including the ones with a political subtext.
‘Russia should be devoid at last of the kind of shame and tragedies that we have recently endured and seen.
‘I mean the murder, the audacious murder of Boris Nemtsov right in the centre of the capital.’
He added that he would do all he could to ensure the killers were brought to justice, but has made no comment on the detentions.
Russia’s top investigative body said it was looking into several possible motives, including that Mr Nemtsov was killed in an attempt to smear Putin’s image.
It said it was also examining possible connections to Islamic extremism and Mr Nemtsov’s personal life.
But Mr Nemtsov’s associates said they will only be satisfied if prosecutors track down whoever orchestrated the killing, and not just the people who pulled the trigger.
Ilya Yashin, one of Mr Nemtsov’s closest allies, said: ‘It’s extremely important that the matter not be limited to detention of the shooters, whether these are the real killers or not.
‘The key task is the identification and detention of who ordered the attack.’
Thousands of Russians paid their final respects to Mr Nemtsov when he was laid to rest in the capital earlier this week.
The politician’s mother Dina, 87, and four children led the mourners with ex-UK prime minister Sir John Major also attending.