By Palash Ghosh
Imagine a mobster that comprised the cunning of Lucky Luciano, the brilliance of Meyer Lansky, the ferocity of Vito Genovese, the duplicity of Carmine Galante and the massive wealth of Pablo Escobar. Such a person is not the fantasy creation of some novelist or screenwriter, but rather a real-life flesh-and-blood monster that lives among us.
Semion Mogilevich looks nothing like Marlon Brando nor Al Pacino. The short, bald, pockmarked, grossly obese, 66-year-old Ukrainian is believed by international law enforcement agencies to be one of the most powerful criminals on earth.
The Moscow resident reportedly holds Russian, Ukrainian, Greek and Israeli passports.
Among a litany of crimes, Mogilevich allegedly defrauded thousands of investors in the US and Canada in the 1990s, netting him at least $150 million. He also served as the chief of Inkombank, a Russian financial institution, which was accused of money laundering.
Indicted in 2003, Mogilevich is currently one of the FBI’s ten most wanted fugitives, wanted for wire fraud, RICO conspiracy, mail fraud, money laundering, securities fraud, among other offenses.
With a $100,000 bounty on his head, Mogilevich is also suspected of involvement in murder-for-hire, arms dealing and drug trafficking. The FBI noted that he holds a degree in economics (quite unlike most mobsters) and smokes heavily (quite common for Russians and Ukrainians).
He was arrested in Moscow in 2008 for tax evasion, but released the following year. Russia subsequently rejected a request by U.S. authorities to extradite Mogilevich to answer charges related to the aforementioned massive stock swindle.
A website called Gangstersinc. reported that Semion Mogilevich’s criminal career began slowly and with little initial success. As a young man in the early 1970s, he belonged to the Lyubertskaya group, a band of small-time crooks in Moscow. He apparently served two separate jail terms during this period for a plethora of petty crimes.
His fortunes improved dramatically during the 1980s when the Russian government allowed thousands of Jews to depart for Israel, Europe and the U.S. Seeing a grand business opportunity, Mogilevich defrauded his fellow Jews by buying their possessions at discount prices (exploiting their eagerness to leave) and promising to sell them on the market and send the profits fron such nonexistent sales overseas at a later date. Mogilevich scored millions of dollars on this scheme and used these funds to invest in the highly lucrative areas of weapons and drugs smuggling, prostitution and gambling.
In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union empire in the early 1990s, scores of organized crime gangs took advantage of the chaos, but Mogilevich fled to Israel.
However, he did not relinquish his criminal activities. Indeed, Mogilevich made contacts with other mobsters while still running various illegal enterprises and investing his ill-gotten cash in myriad businesses. After marrying his Hungarian girlfriend Katalin Papp, Mogilevich relocated to Budapest, where he formed a criminal empire based on the structural model of the Sicilian Mafia.
Eventually, the tentacles of Mogilevich’s criminal empire expanded across Europe, into North and South America and even Pakistan and Japan.
Former Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (now in jail herself) accused Mogilevich of illegally profiting from the Russia-Ukraine gas deals.
“He has access to so much, including funding, including other criminal organizations, that he can, with a telephone call and order, affect the global economy,” FBI Supervisory Special Agent Peter Kowenhoven told CNN.
FBI Special Agent Mike Dixon declared: “[Mogilevich]’s a big man. He’s a very powerful man. I think more powerful than a John Gotti would be, because he has the ability to influence nations. Gotti never reached that stature.”
The FBI has labeled Mogilevich as the “most dangerous mobster in the world.”
Like virtually all powerful organized criminals, Mogilevich is closely linked with top politicians. According to reports, he has been allied with Yury Luzhkov, a former Mayor of Moscow, Dmytro Firtash and Leonid Derkach, former head of the Security Service of Ukraine, and Oleksandr Turchynov, former Prime Minister of Ukraine.
“Semion Mogilevich is as serious an organized criminal as I have ever encountered and I am confident that he is responsible for contract killings,” said Jon Winer, a former anti-crime official with the Clinton Administration, in 2006.
At least one analyst has linked Semion Mogilevich to the most powerful man in Russia, Vladimir Putin.
Roman Kupchinsky wrote in the Eurasia Daily Monitor that Leonid Derkach, the former chief of the Ukrainian security service, the SBU, characterized Mogilevich as a close friend of Putin while conversing with former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma.
“[Mogilevich]’s on good terms with Putin,” Derkach allegedly said. “He and Putin have been in contact since Putin was still in Leningrad… They have their own affairs.”
Mogilevich remains a free man.