If you hear about two Russians leaving their country after having been to prison there and ending up in the US to live a comfortable life, you’re probably being told who the villains of the next Netflix series are, or listening to an 80s’ film plot. The image of Russian businessmen with mob ties is so stereotypical it’s been used over and over again in fiction. It’s really smiling material.
Up to a point. It’ll make you smile until the moment you realize there are, in fact, Russian businessmen with mob ties living the life on US soil. Agreed, some do live in the shadows, but some of them also live in plain sight. Let’s take two examples: the loud Mr Rybolovlev and the discreet Mr Rustamov.
Dmitry Rybolovlev is the most well-known of the two. A Russian billionaire with a firm seat in Forbes’ top 200 worldwide fortunes, he is the former owner of Russian mining mega-company Uralkali, which he sold out of in 2010 for US$ 5.8 billion, or an alleged US$ 7 to 8 billion. He left Russia and now lives in Europe and the US, spending his time living in super-expensive flats and villas and throwing obnoxious parties (he notably bought a Palm Beach villa from Donald Trump and a Hawaii property from Will Smith, amongst others). He owns AS Monaco, a prominent European soccer club which plays in the top French league. He sells superstar soccer players to English Premier League and Spain’s La Liga clubs. He is friends with Prince Albert II of Monaco and Leonardo di Caprio. In many ways, Mr Rybolovlev is the man.
Dmitry Rybolovlev, however, is also the man who went to prison for allegedly ordering the contract killing of a business associate. This was nineties’ Russia, with its horde of semi-criminal business opportunists and college-educated businessmen who didn’t mind a firefight. This is where and when he met the second of our ‘examples’, Seyfeddin Rustamov. Mr Rustamov is suspected by the Russian police to have organized mafia protection for Dmitry Rybolovlev at that time.
Unsurprisingly, Mr Rustamov did time in 1993 for theft when he was a recognized gang leader. His name also appears in the police reports around the contract killing of Dmitry Rybolovlev’s associate, which is a lot of coincidences. Seyfedding Rustamov now lives in Virginia, and has been for the past 20 years. He is the managing director of a US company. He has it pretty easy.
Now here’s the key question: how could two men like these, which the Russian authorities consider to have had open ties with the local Russian mafia, who made their money in what can at best be politely described as obscure circumstances, have made it so easily to the US? Have they been benefitting from the willing or unwilling protection of the Administration? Were they simply let in due to Immigration Services’ blatant incompetence?
Whatever the answer to these questions, the example of Mr Rybolovlev and Mr Rustamov are a striking reminder that Russian businessmen with mob ties have been able to come to the US easily and even live on US soil completely untouched and free of any worry. Time to think about changing that?