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POLITICS

Seeking Suspect, Troops Raid Club


Clubgoers over the weekend received a rough glimpse of the citywide crackdown on crime when heavily armed militia troops raided Moscow's most popular gay nightclub in a search for a murder suspect.

Two busloads of OMON Interior Ministry shock troops arrived at the Chance disco near Ilyich Square in eastern Moscow around 1:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, secured all the exits and burst into the club brandishing their Kalashnikovs, the club's general director, Pavel Chaplin, said Monday.

Once inside, they switched off the music and video screens, forced the clients to line up against the walls while they checked documents, filmed clubgoers with a hand-held video camera and took fingerprints.

"I think they raided the club to look for a [specific] murder suspect, rather than as part of a general sweep," said Chaplin, whose near-mainstream club attracts heterosexuals and trendy foreigners as well as homosexuals. "They had offi nying some diplomats to the club at the time of the raid, that they were looking for a murder suspect who they had been told would be at the club that evening.

"They lined us all up against the walls and picked all the small, short men with straight brown hair," said van der Laan. "They definitely had a description of one guy ... there were some tough-looking guys in there, macho boys, but they were not even asked for their papers. ... They were rounding up young, sweet-looking guys, not killer-type muzhiks."

Chaplin's theory was that the search was in connection with the May 23 murder of Anatoly Stepanov, a deputy justice minister, who was killed at home by a blow to the head inflicted by a killer who was an acquaintance of the victim, according to police reports at the time.

Chaplin said police were now searching for the killer in Moscow's gay circles; a claim that the local police department would not confirm or deny.

OMON troops sealed the club for nearly two hours while they questioned suspects, said van der Laan, announcing on the public address system that the raid was part of the Moscow city government's enactment of "the decree of the president of the Russian Federation ... on fighting organized crime."

According to NTV Independent Television, two other clubs were raided by police and closed the same night: the casinos Zolushka and the Plaza Club. Authorities said the clubs were not licensed for gambling.

The crime-fighting initiative, launched shortly after the presidential election by Security Council Chief Alexander Lebed and now being zealously implemented by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, has already triggered an announcement that all but five of the city's casinos are to close on the grounds that they are places where "criminals congregate."

"I am concerned, like all other club owners in Moscow, that this campaign against organized crime [may become] an excuse for the militia to do what they like," said Chaplin.

"I have no idea why they chose Chance. This is the only club in Russia where there are no bandits," Chaplin added.

Many clubgoers are attracted to Chance precisely because the buzz-cut thugs and high-heeled prostitutes who are the standard clientele in most Moscow nightspots are kept away by the club's gay image.

"[This kind of raid] is a standard method of crime fighting," said Viktor Tsyrulnikov, a spokesman for the Moscow Directorate of Internal Affairs, which supervises police, criminal investigations and the OMON.

"It is natural to target places where there are known to be high concentrations of criminal elements. There are criminals among these [gay] people, too."

"The gays thought that the OMON were quite cute in their flak jackets," said van der Laan. "They kept shouting for them to take their clothes off. The OMON didn't know what to do."

Owen Matthews
23 July 1996
The Moscow Times


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