Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

For Russia Investors `Protection' Is a Must Russian Officials Call Organized Crime a `Direct Threat to National Interests' - a Letter from Moscow

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

For Russia Investors `Protection' Is a Must Russian Officials Call Organized Crime a `Direct Threat to National Interests' - a Letter from Moscow

Article excerpt

PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin and other top officials are outspoken about the need to bring Russia's runaway crime under control, especially corruption and mafia activity.

At a "law enforcement summit" at the Kremlin earlier this month, President Yeltsin warned: "Organized crime has become a direct threat to Russian national interests."

But conversations with American businessmen and aid workers indicate that Russian law enforcement officials will have a tough time taking on the mafia here. The mob seems omnipotent and omnipresent, they say.

If you want to do business in Russia, dealing with the mafia is simply a fact of life, says Charlie Sung, a West Orange, New Jersey-based restaurateur. This month, along with several Russian partners, Mr. Sung opened the Panda Chinese Restaurant in Moscow. "Especially for a retail store or a restaurant, it's not safe to open without `coverage,' " Sung says euphemistically. "You don't want to have problems, like a broken window.

"A lot depends on your Russian partners," he continues. "They must be strong and have good connections."

Sung first considered opening a Chinese restaurant two years ago, when a pair of Russian patrons at his New Jersey restaurant proposed the idea. A prime downtown Moscow location was found, but renovation proved to be a tedious process. Sung has been closely involved in every step of the process, except in dealings with mobsters.

"I don't want to know details," he says. "My partners just let me know what I have to do, and I do it."

Despite the problems, Sung says he plans to expand. He wants to open restaurants in St. Petersburg and Riga, Latvia, as well as add a delivery service in Moscow. "I didn't realize it would be this bad," he says of the mafia's influence. "But there's good potential for Chinese food here."

"Mafia" is an amorphous term in Russia. …

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