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DATE=7/13/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=RUSSIAN MAFIA NUMBER=5-46663 BYLINE=ED WARNER DATELINE=WASHINGTON CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: The Russian mafia stretches ominously across the globe, according to journalist Robert Friedman, who has braved death threats to write a book on the subject: "Red Mafia" (Little, Brown). Ruthless and cunning beyond other mobs, Russian organized crime poses a serious danger not only to Russia, but also to the United States and Israel. V-O-A's Ed Warner reports on the book and discusses it with the author and a top investigator of international crime. TEXT: Robert Friedman was getting ready to fly to Miami to interview a gangster who had just been arrested for selling a Russian helicopter to Colombian drug barons and preparing to sell them a submarine. But then a call came from the F-B-I, warning the author not to go and to stay out of sight for a while. There was a 100-thousand-dollar contract on his life for writing too much about the Russian mob. Mr. Friedman took that advice for a week, but then was back doggedly pursuing what he calls the world's most dangerous gang, largely Jewish Russians, many who had served time in the gulag and were bitterly hardened by the experience. Along with the far greater number of honest emigres, they arrived in America, says Mr. Friedman, as if they were entering Disneyland. One gang leader told him - I was free, I could rob, I could steal, I could do whatever I wanted. Combing financial sophistication with bone-crunching violence, the Russian mob, says Mr. Friedman, is now the F-B-I's most formidable adversary: // FRIEDMAN ACT // The Russians are coming over here speaking three or four or five-languages. Many of them, especially the top bosses, have two or three master degrees or P-H-D's in things like computer science, mathematics, engineering. They are able to corrupt doctors and lawyers in their own community to work for them as facilitators who help them launder money, but also help them meet politicians and heads of the community as they move up the social ladder and then insinuate themselves that way into American society. // END ACT // Mr. Friedman says the mobs operate in more than 50- nations. They smuggle heroin from Southeast Asia and sell weapons everywhere. They have plundered gold and diamond mines in war-torn Sierra Leone. By controlling most of Russia's banks, they have stolen billions of dollars of western loans and aid. Sixty- bankers who did not cooperate have been murdered. Confounding law enforcement, the mafia spreads like an e-mail virus, writes Mr. Friedman. Israel is a special target because it welcomes all Jews from other countries, though many of the gangsters are only pretending to be Jewish. Hezi Leder, Israeli police liaison in the United States and Canada, told Mr. Friedman the mafia is a threat to Israel's existence: // FRIEDMAN ACT // We know how to deal with the Arab armies. We are stronger than they are. We can take care of them. We know how to deal with terrorism. But we do not know how to deal yet with this problem. It is a problem from within. The Russians have so much money that they could buy, and they have tried in the past to buy companies that the Israeli army uses. Gas and oil companies that are part of Israel's strategic military reserve. // END ACT // Mr. Leder says he has nightmares about that. Nightmare has become a reality in Russia, says Jack Blum, a Washington attorney who has directed U-S Congressional investigations into international crime and money laundering: // BLUM ACT // Russia has been looted - the movement of money and investment funds out, the use of that money to start up criminal enterprises elsewhere. Russia has had about one-and-one-half-trillion- dollars worth of capital disappear from the country since the collapse of Communism. That is a lot of money, and it has meant that the standard of living and the quality of life in Russia has gone down to levels that are really unimaginable. // END ACT // Mr. Blum says U-S law enforcement has been slow to react, partly because of the complexity of Mafia crime: tortuous paper trails that often lead nowhere. There has also been a failure to coordinate anti-mafia efforts. He says a certain naivete has added to the problem. The mafia took advantage of the intense feelings of the Cold War: // BLUM ACT // At that point, many of these people were posing as refugees from Communism and religious persecution, and they got a lot of sympathy from people without the real understanding that they were a bunch of gangsters who essentially had been dumped on us. And there are plenty of people who really should not be cheered on simply because they are capitalists. We should be able to discriminate between the simply capitalist and the purely criminal. // END ACT // The mafia has been blamed for the murder of 13-Russian journalists. A retired New York policeman told Mr. Friedman - they will shoot you just to see if the gun works. But since the publication of his book he has not received any threats, suggesting the mob may not want to arouse the full fury of U-S law enforcement. Though all four of his grandfathers were Jews who fled Russian persecution, Mr. Friedman has been accused of anti-semitism by the mafia. But one mob boss, clutching Mr. Friedman in a bear hug, was more candid. Oh, we have the same blood - he said - But it went in a different direction. I am a criminal, and you were raised to believe in the law. (SIGNED) NEB/EW/RAE 13-Jul-2000 13:09 PM EDT (13-Jul-2000 1709 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .