MOSCOW, August 14 (RIA Novosti) – Russian police have busted an international group suspected of costing the state over 2 billion rubles ($60 million) through the illegal purchase and sale to China of timber, Russia’s Interior Ministry reported on Wednesday.
“It has been established that a group of Chinese citizens in Russian regions bordering China was paying cash for large volumes of illegal timber and legalizing it for export to China using documents forged by their Russian accomplices,” the ministry said in a statement.
“According to preliminary estimates, in the past three years alone, the group’s activity has cost the state over 2 billion rubles,” the statement said.
The police operation was the result of more than a year of monitoring the criminal group and involved more than 300 people, the ministry said, noting that the large scale of the group’s operations and suspected corrupt relationships with local authorities had prompted the police to carry out over 50 searches in areas in the Irkutsk Region in east Siberia, the Leningrad Region in northwest Russia and the Novosibirsk Region in west Siberia.
The police searched the offices and homes of the suspects and found a lot of office equipment, company seals and financial and accounting documents. The police also seized an automatic rifle and ammunition from one of the suspects.
“A plan to send abroad no less than 40,000 cubic meters of illegal timber has been foiled,” the statement said.
A criminal case has been opened into the smuggling of strategic goods and resources. The four main members of the group, including one Chinese national, have been sent to Moscow for investigation, the ministry said. The search for other members of the group continues.