Russian law enforcers used armored vehicles to detain the mayor of the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala, Said Amirov – a powerful veteran politician with alleged criminal connections.
The federal law enforcement agency, the Investigative Committee, reported that Amirov was detained over his suspected masterminding of the killing of one of the agency’s leading investigators in the region.
The officer, Arsen Gadjibekov, held the post of acting head of the agency’s district directorate in Makhachkala and was heading the probe into a string of contract hits when he was gunned down near his home in the Dagestani city of Kaspiysk in December 2011.
The suspect’s high post and his ties with the heads of powerful clans in the region prompted an unprecedented scale for the detention operation. On Saturday, Amirov’s house was surrounded by heavily-armed operatives with APC support, and two agents entered the mayor’s premises saying he must come with them to answer a few questions.
According to eyewitnesses, Amirov said he could answer the questions on the spot, but the agents insisted, put him in an armored vehicle and drove to a helicopter that landed on a square right in the city center. The helicopter then flew straight to a local airport and the mayor was taken to Moscow, where he was charged with organizing an attempt on the life of a law enforcer. On Sunday, a court ordered he be put in pre-trial custody.
The news immediately caused a sensation. Amirov has headed Makhachkala, the largest city and the main economic center of Dagestan, since 1998 and he has been a prominent member of the Russian parliamentary majority United Russia party since the day of its foundation.
But apart from official political career Amirov allegedly assumed one of the top positions in the Dagestani criminal structures. Since the early 1990s he has survived over a dozen attempts on his life, including one of the gangsters’ bullets severing his spine, putting him in a wheelchair and earning him the nickname ‘Bloody Roosevelt’ from opposition reporters.
Dagestani press suggested that Amirov was behind many murders of many people - local businessmen who refused to share profits or give up lucrative companies under the mayor’s control, as well as stubborn officials and politicians who opposed the local mafia clans.
Dagestani Interior Minister Adilgirey Magomedtagirov was one of the officials who criticized Amirov and publicly announced that he had proof that one of mayor’s sons had personally killed several girls. In June 2009, the minister was killed by a sniper as he was walking out of a wedding banquet.
Currently, one the mayor’s sons heads the Dagestani Service of Court Marshalls and the other chairs the legislative committee of the regional parliament. Immediately after their father was arrested, both men said they were taking a vacation and refused to talk to the media.
The Makhachkala authorities addressed the local residents with a request not to complicate the situation by protesting, but still a few dozen people took to the streets demonstrating their support for Amirov. These rallies, however, finished without any incidents or detentions.
Some observers noted that the absence of complications was due to the perfect timing of the operation – while Investigative Committee agents were apprehending Amirov, Dagestan’s major football club Anzhi Makhachkala was playing CSKA Moscow in the neighboring Chechen Republic, and many thousands of young and active Dagestanis were simply out of the city.
The Investigative Committee also reported that they detained about 10 people as part of the same case and all of them were also taken to Moscow for investigation procedures and possibly future trial.
At the same time, Russian news site Life News reported on Sunday that a key witness in Amirov’s case, suspected drug dealer Magomed Abdulgalimov, was found hanged in a cell of a pre-trial detention center in the city of Pyatigorsk. He survived as wardens managed to get him out of the noose in time and he was also urgently taken to Moscow and placed under special protection in a high security prison.
Life News said that Abdulgalimov’s attempted suicide, or attempted murder, took place shortly before the start of the operation to detain Amirov, but the Investigative Committee has not issued official comments at the time of publication.
However, the Federal Service for Execution of Punishment refuted the report on Monday afternoon, adding that there were no inmates named Abdulgalimov in Pyatigorsk detention centers.
Acting head of Dagestan Ramazan Abdulatipov has told the press that Amirov’s detention was a resolute step by the Federal Authorities to bring order and stability to the region.
“Dissent is still rumbling in Dagestan. Many of those who assume official posts here for many years are themselves practicing ignorance and lawlessness,” Abdulatipov said. “Now the law and order demanded by the head of our state Vladimir Putin have arrived in Dagestan. We will seek to fulfill this demand of the top authorities of the Russian Federation.”
Abdulatipov was appointed to his post in late January this year after the president sacked his predecessor, Magomedsalam Magomedov, reportedly over the poor security situation in the region. While Magomedov was in good relations with Said Amirov, the relations between the Amirov and the new head of the region were strained from the very beginning.
According to media reports, Amirov planned to compete with Abdulatipov at the elections of the head of the republic that will take place in September this year, but the arrest of the mayor will apparently put an end to such ambition.