In a landmark story back in 1998, my late colleague Robert I. Friedman, a great crime reporter, wrote of a new godfather on the scenean overweight, Jewish-Ukrainian mob boss with an economics degree, dubbed "the brainy don." So over the top was Semion Mogilevich's record that Friedman's editors at the Village Voice titled his story "The Most Dangerous Mobster in the World."
Mogilevich became a poster boy for the organized crime gangs oozing from the ruins of the former Soviet Union. Based in Budapest during the late '90s, Mogilevech allegedly ran one of Europe's top crime syndicates, trafficking in drugs, prostitutes, and stolen art; running hit jobs and massive fraud scams; and smuggling arms and even radioactive materials. He still ranks high on the FBI's wanted list for his role in a $150 million stock scam involving the YBM company in Philadelphia.
With al Qaeda so much in the news today, it's easy to forget that until 9/11, the Russian mob was a hot topic. The gangs had succeeded in looting much of the former Soviet Union and setting up rackets around the worldincluding in a dozen U.S. cities. Books like Friedman's Red Mafiya and Stephen Handelman's Comrade Criminal told of a fearless new breed of international mobster schooled by the KGB and Soviet-era black markets. The Russian mob didn't simply disappear because al Qaeda began targeting U.S. cities. Indeed, the latest on Mogilevich suggests he and his pals may be bigger than ever.
Now 60, Mogilevich is under scrutiny (free preview available) by the U.S. Justice Department for his role in billion-dollar natural gas deals involving Russia and Ukraine, law enforcement officials confirm. His involvement is raising alarm among Russia watchers here in Washington, already worried over Moscow's growing use of energy as a political weapon against gas-hungry Europe and former Soviet states. Even putting the political stakes aside, the prospect of "the world's most dangerous mobster" reaping windfalls in the energy biz is worrisome at best.
Mogilevich has proclaimed his innocence in the past, but he's staying clear of the American justice system. After being targeted by an FBI task force, the reputed mob boss fled Budapest for Moscow, where he's lived comfortably for yearsand where Russian officials show no interest in handing him over.
Photo Caption: Mogilevich in 2001
Photo Credit: FBI