Semyon Mogilevich, known as the “Brainy Don” because of his economics degree, has reportedly ruled a powerful Eastern European organised crime ring since the 1990s.
He is thought to be worth around $100 million. He is wanted by the FBI, Interpol and the UK police for numerous international crimes including fraud, racketeering and money laundering.
Police seized Mr Mogilevich, 61, and a large group of his bodyguards outside a Moscow supermarket on Wednesday night, Russian police confirmed today.
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State television showed footage of the alleged mobster as police held him and bodyguards against their luxury cars. They also broadcast film of the rarely photographed figure in custody, wearing jeans, a cap and leather jacket.
“Sergei Schneider has been arrested. He is better known as Semyon Mogilevich. He has several names, several nationalities and has been wanted for more than 15 years,” said Anzhela Kastuyeva, a Moscow police spokeswoman.
The arrest was made in connection with an investigation into an alleged $2 million tax evasion scheme run in connection with Arbat Prestige, a successful chain of Russian cosmetic stores. Vladimir Nekrasov, the owner of Arbat-Prestizh, was arrested in the same raid.
Monya Elson, a known associate of Mr Mogilevich, claimed in an interview given ten years ago that the Ukrainian was “the most powerful mobster in the world”.
An investigation by US newspaper the Village Voice, which apparently brought a death threat for its author, cited classified FBI and Mossad documents claiming that he was responsible for trafficking nuclear materials, drugs, prostitutes, precious gems, and stolen art. He was also said to have run a series of contract hit squads operating in the US and Europe.
Mr Elson claimed Mr Mogilevich, who was born in the Ukraine, controlled everything going in and out of Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, which he called a ''smugglers' paradise”.
The Mogilevich family were reported to live in two opulent villas near Prague where they reportedly operated torture chambers run by young enforcers trained by veterans of the Soviet-Afghan war.
In December 1994, British police officers, tipped off by their counterparts in eastern Europe, first began investigating allegations that the Mogilevich organisation might be laundering profits from arms dealing, prostitution, extortion and drug trafficking through a firm of London solicitors.
Detective Sergeant John Wanless, who investigated the Red Mafia’s role in the UK at the time told the Sunday Times: "Semion Mogilevich is one of the world's top criminals, who has a personal wealth of $100m. As a result of the effect of his financial impact on the City of London, he clearly falls in the category of a core criminal."
In 1999 London investigators attempted to question him once again, this time over a $10 billion money-laundering scheme that unwittingly embroiled the Bank of New York and a network of other leading financial institutions in the UK, America and six other countries.
Mr Mogilevich is also included on the FBI wanted list for racketeering, securities fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering. The Bureau warns that he should be considered armed, dangerous and an escape risk.
During a 2005 speech in Hungary Robert Mueller, then FBI director said: “Right here in Budapest, Ukrainian-born Semion Mogilevich established the headquarters of his powerful organized crime enterprise.”
“The group engaged in drug and weapons trafficking, prostitution and money laundering, and organized stock fraud in the United States and Canada in which investors lost over 150 million dollars.”
UK authorities and the FBI are unlikely to ever get the opportunity to question the man even after his arrest as Russia has no extradition treaty with either country.