Three Russians suspected of being part of a precious stones smuggling ring were recently arrested at Moscow's Cosmos Hotel. Police officers serving with the Main Anti-Economic Crime Department (Russian acronym, GUBEP) are not easily surprised, but they were astonished when confiscated nearly 2,000 carats of emeralds. Experts have valued the two largest emeralds in the haul at almost $2.5 million and $2 million.
When talking to RIA Novosti, Nikolai Varikhov, chief of the GUBEP's precious metals and jewellery squad, noted that more than 161,000 carats in precious and semi-precious stones, mostly emeralds, sapphires, diamonds and rubies, had been confiscated in 2003. Criminals mostly target jewels at mines, as well as at cutting and processing enterprises for precious stones and metals.
Eight people, including a former top manager of the Urals Emerald Mines and several ex-convicts were detained in just one police raid. They had 30 emeralds and alexandrite stones worth $300,000. Another crime ring was also arrested while trying to sell a six-emerald jewel piece in Yekaterinburg. The police believe that the unique emeralds were discovered at the Malyshevsky mine. The gang was also found to have six kilograms of metal powder comprising palladium and non-ferrous metals.
Russian authorities are now conducting the large-scale operation Samorodok (Nugget)-2004 in the Far Eastern federal district. The operation, due to last until June 2004, covers the Chukotka Peninsula, the Sakha-Yakutia republic, the Khabarovsk territory, as well as the Amur and Magadan regions. More than 10 kg of gold, as well nearly 1,000 grams in silver and diamonds, have already been confiscated.
GUBEP officers detained two residents of the town of Ust-Nera, who had illegally panned gold along the local Tigir creek. The men obtained almost 23 grams of industrial gold in just two days with a traditional pan and spade. The police are investigating this case under an article in the Criminal Code that stipulates 5-10-year prison terms for illegal precious stone, metal and pearl sales and purchases. Convictions can also lead to the confiscation of property.
Criminal proceedings have also been instituted against Selena Ltd., which mined gold in Yakutia's Oimyakon district. The company extracted 13 kg of gold and registered it as its own at a local gold refinery plant. A private garage belonging to one of the gold miners was searched in Yagodnoye town (the Magadan region). The police discovered five kg of illegal gold there. When summing up preliminary results of operation Samorodok-2004, the press centre of the Far Eastern federal district's main anti-economic crime department reports that the police have already identified 84 crimes.
In 2004, the Russian Interior Ministry's Main Anti-Economic Crime Department, as well as Moscow's police department, arrested another crime ring that smuggled in substandard Turkish gold with fake hallmarks. Among other things, 85 kg of jewellery was confiscated at five Moscow stores. Last year alone, 1,700 criminal proceedings were instituted in Russia against precious stone and precious metal smugglers.