Re­newed scru­tiny

Mueller probe could find ties be­tween rack­e­teers, Putin govern­ment

The Denver Post - - NATION & WORLD - By Eric Tucker

WASH­ING­TON» The U.S. govern­ment has long warned that Rus­sian or­ga­nized crime poses a threat to demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing “crim­i­nally linked oli­garchs” who might col­lude with the Rus­sian govern­ment to un­der­mine busi­ness com­pe­ti­tion.

Those con­cerns, ever-present if not nec­es­sar­ily al­ways top pri­or­i­ties, are front and cen­ter once more.

An on­go­ing spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion is draw­ing at­ten­tion to Rus­sian ef­forts to med­dle in demo­cratic pro­cesses, the type of skull­dug­gery that in the past has re­lied on hired hack­ers and out­side crim­i­nals. It’s not clear how much the in­ves­ti­ga­tion by for­mer FBI Di­rec­tor Robert Mueller will cen­ter on the crim­i­nal un­der­belly of Moscow, but he has picked lawyers with ex­pe­ri­ence fight­ing or­ga­nized crime. And as the team looks for fi­nan­cial en­tan­gle­ments of Trump as­so­ciates and re­la­tion­ships with Rus­sian of­fi­cials, its fo­cus could land again on the in­ter­twin­ing of Rus­sia’s crim­i­nal op­er­a­tives and its in­tel­li­gence ser­vices.

Rus­sian or­ga­nized crime has man­i­fested over the decades in more con­ven­tional forms of money laun­der­ing, credit card fraud and black mar­ket sales. Jus­tice Depart­ment pros­e­cu­tors re­peat­edly have racked up con­vic­tions for those of­fenses.

In re­cent years, though, the bond be­tween Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and crim­i­nal net­works has been es­pe­cially alarm­ing to Amer­i­can law en­force­ment of- fi­cials, blend­ing mo­tives of es­pi­onage with more old-fash­ioned greed. In March, for in­stance, two hired hack­ers were charged along with two of­fi­cers of Rus­sia’s Fed­eral Se­cu­rity Ser­vice in a cy­ber­at­tack on Ya­hoo in 2013.

For­mer law en­force­ment of­fi­cials say Rus­sian or­ga­nized crime has been a con­cern for at least a cou­ple of decades, although not nec­es­sar­ily the most press­ing de­mand given fi­nite re­sources and bud­get con­straints. The threat is dif­fuse and com­plex, and Rus­sia’s his­toric lack of co­op­er­a­tion has com­pli­cated ef­forts to ap­pre­hend sus­pects. And the re­spon­si­bil­ity for com­bat­ing the prob­lem of­ten falls across dif­fer­ent di­vi­sions of the FBI and the Jus­tice Depart­ment, depend­ing on whether it’s a crim­i­nal or na­tional se­cu­rity of­fense — a some­times-blurry bound­ary.

“It’s not an easy thing to kind of grasp or un­der­stand, but it’s very dan­ger­ous to our coun­try be­cause they have so many dif­fer­ent as­pects, un­like a tra­di­tional cartel,” said Robert An­der­son, a re­tired FBI ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant di­rec­tor who worked coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence cases and over­saw the crim­i­nal and cy­ber branch.

AP

For­mer FBI Di­rec­tor Robert Mueller leaves Capi­tol Hill after a meet­ing. A 2001 re­port from the Jus­tice Depart­ment said “crim­i­nally linked oli­garchs” might work with the Rus­sian govern­ment to un­der­mine com­pe­ti­tion in gas, oil and other mar­kets.

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