Organized crime and the former Soviet Union

Peter D. Ekman asked (JRL 3048): ' How come nobody noticed an extra $50 billion bouncing around the world economy?'

The reason why there is such a deafening silence about the Russian Central Bank's alleged $50bn siphoned off into Jersey is that the fate of this money (if it existed) is already well-known to the relevant authorities. They will not talk about it because much deeper crimes lie concealed behind it, and the more they are unravelled, the more will the scale of western complicity become obvious. The trail leads back to the murky circumstances surrounding the fall of the USSR itself, when western intelligence services connived in or fostered financial malfeasance on a colossal scale by high Russian officials (among them even then, was V. Gerashchenko). Incredible acts of villainy were performed in cloak-and- dagger operations in which western intelligence worked with the Cosa Nostra, the American Mafia, the Russian Thieves' World and other underworld entities, to destabilise the USSR; one result (among others) was to spawn the unstoppable wave of organised crime which Claire Sterling documented in 'Crime Without Frontiers' (Little, Brown 1994), before her untimely death in what to this observer seemed non-transparent circumstances a year later.

The piece de resistance of the western-sponsored crime wave which pushed the USSR over the brink was, of course, the theft of the entire Soviet gold reserve of more than 2,000 tonnes of bullion from the Soviet gosbank vaults, a crime announced by Geraschenko to an astonished Russian parliament.

This crime remains 'unsolved' to this day despite extraordinary efforts made to solve it, including the highly- publicised hiring by Boris Yeltsin of a crack team of US private investigators, who came up with nothing.

In the chaotic circumstances of the time, it proved impossible to completely conceal gold shipments on such a scale, and the British Guardian newspaper reported in March 1991 that 500 tonnes of gold had been exported from Russia by the Soviet government, destination unknown, buyer unknown, purpose unknown. For some reason, this sensational affair was not reported on again, altho Hollywood later made a film in which US law enforcement agencies are depicted preventing Russian organised crime from stealing Russian gold.

This event happened in the period of the 'war of laws' between the declining Soviet and rising Russian powers. What happened to this gold? The only thing we know for certain is that soon after Yeltsin took power, the Russian Federation was able to launch a convertible rouble, thus something most observers assumed would take decades to achieve happened almost overnight.

In the murky interregnum, connections formed between western agencies, organised crime, and the new power that was conjured into life in Moscow between the August 1991 coup and the disappearance of the USSR a few months later. It must be one of the greatest triumphs of covert operations in history, resulting in the smooth liquidation of the USSR and its replacement by what had previously been a regional administration equivalent to a municipal authority in other countries, which was all Yeltsin's RSFSR had been.

During the interregnum period floods of movable wealth left the USSR. Both Yeltsin's men and Gorbachev's Soviet authorities were doing it. Trailer loads of Soviet rubles trundled down autobahns and many were used in complex swap operations by means of which billions of narcodollars were laundered on behalf of Cosa Nostra families such as the 'Ndrangheta. The Soviet embassy in Rome was involved; so were numerous prime western banks, and so was the CIA, whose chief purpose was to destroy the Soviet currency, and ensure that Yeltsin got the assets, not Gorby.

In one such operation, 'Ndrangheta boss Pasquale Morabito swapped 70 billion Soviet rubles in a late 1990. The deal involved large sums in forged dollar bills and narcomoney; police forces from five European states were involved in attempts to interdict these and similar deals in which hostages were taken, CPSU Central Committee bureaucrats with oversight of Gosbank were hurled from their Moscow apartment windows to their deaths, and as the conmen converged on Moscow, an era of unbridled criminality began.

These are only a few of the details of what Claire Sterling called the 'seemingly unbelievable Great Ruble Scam'. Yeltsin's regime was criminal by origin: on January 23, 1991, a British 'businessman' named Paul Pearson was picked up at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport. In his briefcase was a signed contract, endorsed by the government of the Russian Federation, proposing the illegal exchange of 140 billion rubies for US$7.8 billion. The two noteworthy aspects of this deal were (a) 140bn rubles was more than all the cash then physically circulating in Russia and (b) at the then official exchange rate, this sum was worth not $7.8bn but $224bn. British-born 'businessman' Colin Gibbins, based in the then pariah- state of South Africa, was also involved in the 140 billion ruble contract whose signatory on the Russian side was an A.A. Sveridov, a high official from Chelyabinsk, at the centre of Russia's military-industrial complex in the Ural mountains. He signed on behalf of the 'Ekho Manufacturing Ecological Company' [sic] and a dubious charity called 'Eternal Memory to Soldiers'. Russian Federation deputy Prime Minister, Gennady Filshin, had arranged to provide the rubles from the state budget. As Sterling put it, Yeltsin in person authorized such black market swaps, as the only practical way of luring foreign capital to his bankrupt country. This was in 1990. The fire sale at the end of history had begun even before history itself came to an end. The more recent manouevrings involving Jersey offshores are of a piece with the chequered financial history of Yeltsin's regime.

Mark Jones


Are you implying that the CIA eliminated a person who had been a useful conduit for propogating their slant on various stories into the media? As I recollect, Claire Sterling was a classic case of a person from a CP background who had become an anti-communist, cold warrior. All through the 1980s she was a vigorous proponent of the notion that the West was under siege from "terror networks." I think she was also a strong proponent of the notion that the Bulgarian secret police (acting on behalf of the KGB) was behind the 1981 assassination attempt on the Pope.

Jim Farmelant

I'm not implying that the CIA did her in, I really have no idea, but she embarrassed lots of people and showed no signs of stopping. She was genuinely horrified by what had happened. About the papal assassination attempt, she indeed was the main source for Bulgarian conspiracy theories, a line she swallowed wholesale from her US secret service informers/handlers. They certainly were feeding her stuff about the events surrounding the fall of the USSR too. In this case however they were telling her the truth and her book stands as a testament to quite incredible criminality and conspiracy. I can't vouch for all the details, but I was circulating in Moscow at this time and whenever she mentions something which I had knowledge of from other sources, it always bore out. And the disappearance of 2000 tonnes of Soviet gold did happen. Why did the CIA tell (some of) the story about the birth-pangs of the Russian mafia state? Your guess is as good as mine; but I suspect that the pace and impact of events was pretty overhwelming for them too and they weren't sure how things would pan out. It was a real le Carre world of skullduggery, agency infighting, score-settling and black arts. In the end you could never work out who was really doing what to whom or quite why; but the end result was the collapse of the USSR and the debauching of the Soviet currency was the final straw.

Mark Jones