The Hits Keep Coming

The day after the president of Moscow's Yugorsky Bank was stabbed to death on July 20, Ivan Kivelidi held a press conference. "Businessmen must defend themselves. They can't rely on the state," said Kivelidi, a top Russian banker and prominent business lobbyist. He closed the conference with a dire warning: "The murder of Oleg Kantor is not the last black page in the history of Russian business."

Two weeks later, Kivelidi was dead, felled by a cup of poison tea. His murder has sent shock waves through the Russian government, all the way up to Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin. He called an emergency Cabinet meeting on Aug. 7 and ordered the heads of Russia's security services to design a program to combat crime within two weeks. The new campaign would follow the Duma's recent passage of a measure to fight organized crime in Russia for the first time. "We cannot avoid tough measures," Chernomyrdin declared.

Kivelidi, 46, often criticized law enforcement agencies for not protecting businessmen and failing to investigate their murders. In the past three years, there have been over 90 attempts to murder businessmen; more than half have succeeded (BW--Aug. 14). Kivelidi is the ninth member of his lobby group, the Russian Business Roundtable, to be killed.

"OPEN WAR." As part of the Cabinet's anticrime push, law enforcement agencies are lobbying Chernomyrdin to create an Interpol-type organization, hire new investigators, and boost the crime-fighting budget. Low salaries have led thousands of policemen to resign and join private security firms. At the closed meeting on Aug. 7, Cabinet members told Chernomyrdin that guards at Russia's 22,000 security companies possess more than 900,000 weapons, making them better equipped than the police.

But Kivelidi's colleagues don't hold much confidence in government promises to fight crime. "Organized crime groups are in an open war against legal businesses," says Vladimir Scherbakov, vice-chairman of the Business Roundtable. How many murders will it take for Russia's leaders to learn this lesson--and take serious steps?

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