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A signboard in Russian in Morjim beach, the 'mini-Russia' of Goa

M o l o t o v    O n    M a n d o v i

The Russian mafia has barged into Goa, running its arms and
drug trade freely Saikat Datta

Indian security agencies are concerned about the Russian
mafia's invasion

    * The mafia is buying huge tracts of land in Goa, Delhi,
      Maharashtra through benami companies

    * Intelligence feedback is that the Russian mafia is
      buying land to set up base for running its arms and
      drugs trade

    * Goa, with its poor policing, lax administration
      is currently the most favoured destination

    * There are fears that the Russian pockets of influence
      could serve as safe havens for international criminals
      and terrorists.

    * Millions of dollars of slush funds are being routed
      into the country through hawala channels to fund mafia

"The flow of unverifiable investments
from tax havens such as Mauritius,
Cyprus, Cayman Islands and also from
criminal groups operating from other
countries poses a security threat to our
economy. It has been noticed that the
Russian mafia has invested large sums in
real estate projects in Goa. It may be
mentioned that fdi into real estate comes
under the automatic approval route."
-- A 'secret' National Security Council
Secretariat (NSCS) report on potential
threats to national security from FDI,
sent by the PMO to 12 key ministries on
September 26, 2006

Trouble is brewing in paradise. The sinister and notorious
Russian mafia has trained its sights on Goa, the land of
tourist-beckoning beaches and wild rave parties. Hounded in
France and the UK, and kept a close watch on in the United
States and Israel, the Russian crime syndicates have been
looking for new pastures in Asia and the Far East to set up
shop, to sprout new tentacles for their drugs, arms and flesh
trade. With its poor policing and a lax, pliable and corrupt
administration, they couldn't have found a better setting
than Goa. Also, in a state where tourism is the prime
industry, foreigners are not closely monitored and go
unnoticed unlike in other parts of the country.

The Russian mafia's gameplan seems simple: buy up properties
in Goa to set up businesses—restaurants and hotels—that
double up as bases for its illegal drugs and arms trade.
Invest in real estate in Mumbai and Delhi to carry out its
money laundering operations. Its presence in the two metros
would also provide it a base to channel funds in and out of
the country.

In Goa, the Russian "invasion" is no secret. Those opposing
the wanton buying of real estate by foreigners are well aware
of the Russian crime syndicate's interest in the state.
Activists like Devendra Prabhudesai, a school teacher and
local resident, points to "illegal activities" that have
increased ever since the Russian influx began. He, along with
Mathew Fernandes, have started an NGO to oppose the entry of
foreign anti-social elements into Goa. Their campaign is
focused on Morjim beach which is referred to locally as
'mini-Russia' .

Police officials are in the know of what is happening. One
officer told Outlook that the Russian presence in Goa is on
the rise. "Nearly 75 per cent of the chartered flights coming
to Goa are from Russia and the so-called tour operators have
hired young English-speaking Russian girls to live here on
tourist visas and work as guides and agents for Russian
companies. We have also noticed that many Russian girls are
being pressed into prostitution for an elite clientele in and
around Morjim," a senior Goa police official told Outlook.

According to intelligence officials, this fits in with the
style of operations that the Russian mafia has adopted

It prefers to make its entry through the tourist industry and
then move on to the more core areas of their business.
Chartered tourism has been used by the syndicates to smuggle
in and out drugs and contraband. Till the mid-'90s, the
Russian 'tourists' who flooded Indian cities like Delhi were
sent to procure consumer goods and durables, medicines and
clothes by the mafia. Today, the game has changed and the
mafia has gone on to flood tourist destinations with designer
drugs and to strike arms deals.

Nearly 75 per cent of chartered flights coming into Goa are
from Russia.
Now Russians have edged out many other foreigners in the

The Russian syndicate's presence in Delhi and Mumbai is more
for reasons of financial fraud. Intelligence agencies suspect
that this is part of a global exercise to launder billions of
dollars parked in tax havens. "Since investment in real
estate comes through the automatic approval, we have failed
to set up adequate checks to prevent such deals," says an
intelligence agency official. According to him, properties
running into crores have been picked up through front
companies in both Delhi, Mumbai and parts of Maharashtra.
Such real estate can also be sold to make profits and
generate legitimate funds.

The NSCS report says there are three specific threats to
India's national security. It notes that "the source of money
for such deals could be illegal" and "this could be part of
the money laundering process". It also raises concerns about
such investments being "controlled by anti-Indian elements"
which could be "manipulated through sudden withdrawal or
pumping in of capital to cause a serious economic crisis".
Also, such dubious foreign "investors could indulge in or be
tools of economic espionage" in the country.
Foreigners buying real estate has become a controversy in Goa
in the last three years. The issue rocked the state assembly
last year which witnessed several noisy scenes as the
Opposition parties put the government on the mat. Finally, on
July 17, 2006, Chief Minister Pratapsinh Rane, in a written
reply to Canchorem MLA Ramarao Desai, stated that in the last
three years as many as 482 properties had been sold to
foreign nationals, including Russians.

However, the chief minister failed to answer whether any
violations had taken place in these transactions and made the
customary assurance "to look into the matter". Says Manohar
Parrikar, former BJP chief minister and the leader of the
Opposition: "The whole development pattern has become skewed
and greed has ensured that security issues are put on the
backburner. The government has in fact facilitated the entry
of the Russian mafia by freeing up for sale forest and
agricultural land, which couldn't have been sold otherwise.
This has led to massive pockets of land ending up with
suspicious land grabbers all across the state."

So what is the modus operandi adopted in buying land? Outlook
tracked down one instance of a controversial land deal
involving Russians. The typical formula is to float a company
with an Indian partner and then register it in Goa. Once this
is done, huge foreign remittances are pumped in for alleged
investment in real estate under the automatic approval route.
Once the company buys the land, it severs all connections
with the Indian partner.

Legal hurdles like transfer of land is peppered over by
submitting no objection certificates (NOCS) from fictitious
landowners. The local authorities who clear the sale usually
look the other way.

This is exactly what True Axiz Resorts Pvt Ltd did when it
picked up land in Morjim in April 2005. The company was
registered in Goa on March 10, 2005. Just six days later, the
board members passed a resolution to buy the land.

While the company had one Indian director, Pramod Bhalchandra
Walke, two Russians—Leonid Beyzer and Valiulin Rashid—held
the majority shares in it. While Pramod was not willing to
talk, his brother, Vinod Walke, said Rashid held 999 shares
in the company while Beyzer held one share. "The company was
formed with Indian share capital but received foreign funds
soon after. When my brother Pramod sent these details to the
Reserve Bank of India, the Russians asked him to resign from
the company," Walke told Outlook.


          A sale deed of land bought by Russians

          Citizens protest against unbridled sale of
          forest land, in Panjim

          A typical rave party in Goa.
          The issue of foreigners buying land rocked the Goa
          assembly last year.

While the sale deed, a copy of which is with Outlook, records
Walke's residence as the registered office for True Axiz
Resorts, it fails to record a proper address for either of
the two Russians.

False NOCs have been obtained, sometimes even in the name of
the dead.

They have been merely shown as residents of a locality in
Tembo Waddo, Morjim, Pernem taluka, Goa. The deal would have
gone unnoticed but for the fact that one occupant of a small
piece of the land, Dilip Morje, discovered that fraud NOCs,
some in the name of the dead, were used to legitimise the
deal. He filed a petition in the deputy collector's court
challenging the deal.

This is just one example of land being sold to a company with
foreign nationals as its directors which slipped through the
state government's screening process. In fact, the chief
minister's list of land acquisitions by foreigners, which he
submitted to the assembly, does not have this particular

While the state government has been clearly found wanting in
its vigil, central intelligence has been tracking similar
deals by foreign criminals.

What has also kept Indian security agencies on their toes are
inputs from the CIA that two Al Qaeda operatives had visited
Goa lasts year. According to the US agency, one Yemeni and an
Algerian visited several popular nightclubs and beaches in
Goa, took photographs and conducted elaborate surveys of
beaches frequented by British and Israeli tourists. This was
revealed to the CIA during interrogations and information
gleaned from a laptop recovered in Iraq.

But in Goa, national security apart, locals are worried at
the state government's moves, which will make influx of large
foreign capital into real estate even easier. The focus of
all protests has been the draft regional plan 2011 which
proposes to convert over 80 per cent of agricultural and
forest land open to commercial exploitation. After widespread
protests, the government was finally forced to scrap the plan
on January 18.

But what happens to the land that has already been
transferred to foreign criminals? Intelligence officials
blame the reluctance of the central and state governments for
not initiating a thorough investigation to track the Russian
crime syndicates and their real estate holdings. One view is
that it may discourage foreign investors. As for the state
government, it set up a five-member committee to probe land
deals by foreigners last year. The committee is yet to
present its findings. A detailed questionnaire from Outlook
to the chief secretary of Goa failed to elicit any response.

Agitated citizens of Goa say that the state and central
governments need to wake up to the gravity of the situation.
After all, the presence of the Russian mafia has been
recognised by no less than the NSCS and the PMO. Will it,
they wonder, require a shootout or a huge drug haul to get
the authorities to act? (OutlookIndia.com)


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