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Arrest of influential North Caucasus politician would make good thriller

June 04, 2013, 16:50 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, June 4 (Itar-Tass) - Over the past three days Russians have been able to follow in real life and in real time a string of breath-taking events that could have made a Hollywood blockbuster - the circumstances and causes of the arrest of one of the most influential politicians in the North Caucasus, who has for many years held the post of mayor in Dagestan’s capital Makhachkala. The head of the local chapter of the United Russia party, Said Amirov, has governed the city for the past fifteen years. He has survived fifteen assassination attempts. These days everybody is asking the same questions: why now and why only now?

It all started Saturday morning. Several central streets in the capital of Dagestan were blocked by armored vehicles. Military helicopters were hovering over the area. In the afternoon the city folks learned a sensational news - the mayor is under arrest. Some posted amateur video footage on the Internet.

The mayor was taken out of the city by a military helicopter from the central square. The whole operation was held by a crack unit of the federal security service FSB amid tight security. Officers from the FSB’s head office in Moscow were in charge. The local law enforcers knew nothing.

Alongside the mayor the FSB arrested ten other officials, including Amirov’s nephew Yusup Dzhaparov, deputy mayor of Kaspiisk, a suburb of Makhachkala.

Said Amirov was arrested within the framework of a high-profile criminal case also involving a number of Dagestan’s law enforcers. They are charged with arranging for the murder of investigators and prosecutors, drugs trafficking and a number of other grave crimes. Amirov himself is suspected of complicity in several crimes, including the murder of Makhachkala’s investigator Arsen Gadzhibekov in December 2011. He is believed to have been the crime’s mastermind.

Amirov pled innocence. He argues the case against him is a frame-up.

Said Amirov, 59, is Dagestan’s political heavyweight. Since 1998 he has been Makhachkala’s uncontested mayor. He was re-elected thrice. At the end of April he emerged the winner in the annual contest of Russia’s Regional Development Ministry as the best head of Russia’s municipal entity.

He holds a doctor’s degree in economics and the position of senior lecturer at Dagestan’s State University. Also, he is a member of the Academy of Social and Humanitarian Sciences and the Russian Municipal Academy. Authored several books. One is titled “In the Name of Law and Order, and another, “We Defended Peace.” Amirov has quite a few high-ranking state awards - the Order of Friendship and The Order of Merit for the Services to the Motherland (4th class) and a medal of the federal security service FSB For Cooperation with the FSB.

Until just recently the country had had no idea of how unusual Said Amirov’s personality is. He is one of the world’s record-holders as to the number of assassination attempts he has survived - fifteen. His unique good fortune even earned him the nickname The Immortal. Several bullets that hit his spine confined him to the wheelchair for the rest of his life, but he has managed to stay in politics. He swims and does exercise to stay in good shape at 59.

After the very first assassination Amirov ordered an armored vehicle for himself and he has used it to move about Makhachkala ever since. He has his own security guards - a whole battalion subordinate to him personally. The home of Makhachkala’s mayor looks like a bomb shelter capable of standing a direct air strike. It is inside a man-made cave in a mountain in a canyon near Makhachkala.

The Amirov clan is one of the most powerful in the whole of Dagestan. The mayor’s relatives hold many key posts in the republic.

In the meantime, rumors of Amirov’s corruption ties, connection with militants and organization of crimes have been repeated in the media now and then for a long time. However, harsh, flexible, smart and far-sighted Amirov has been regarded as an unsinkable politician.

Clouds on the horizon appeared immediately after the resignation of the head of the republic, Magomedsalam Magomedov, early this year. Last March and April the law enforcers cracked on and wiped out the Gimri Jamaat - the most daring group of Dagestani militants who have managed to escaped from prosecution for the past ten years. There have been rumors the Gimri group’s chief Ibragim Gadzhidadayev had close connections with Amirov.

The investigators say that Amirov was the mastermind of the December 2011 murder of acting chief of a district investigative department in Makhachkala’s suburb Kaspiisk.

Sources close to the investigation have told Kommersant that the paths of the mayor and the investigator have never crossed, and the investigations Gadzhibekov was in charge did not affect Amirov’s interests. However, while investigating a criminal case Gadzhibekov’s subordinates searched the homes and offices of a number of district officials close to the mayor. The suspects complained to Amirov, who felt grossly insulted, as he has always positioned himself as number one man in the city. In the final count he turned for assistance to an ex-aide to the prosecutor of Kizlyar, Magomed Abdulgalimov, known among the local mobsters by the nickname Kolkhoznik (Cooperative Farmer).

As a result, Lieutenant-Colonel Gadzhibekov was shot and killed on his way from work to his home in Kaspiisk.

The scale of last Saturday’s developments in Dagestan can be measured accurately only in Makhachkala. As a correspondent of the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets reports, people meeting each other at the local food bazaar are congratulating each other. Banquets are being ordered at local restaurants. Local people are saying outright they are celebrating Said Amirov’s arrest.

Amirov’s influence is said to have relied on total fear. Many say a political decision made at the very top has begun a true revolution.

The media keep wondering why the mayor’s arrest has taken place now. Some point to the forthcoming election of Dagestan’s head in the December, so the post is being readied for the current acting head of the republic Ramazan Abdulatipov.

Others say that Moscow has decided to deal with the situation in Dagestan in earnest in view of the unprecedented level of corruption and banditry in the republic.

“Improving the situation in Dagestan and in the North Caucasus in general is a policy of the Russian president,” Ramazan Abdulatipov told the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda. “All those who committed certain violations or were suspected of some offences over many years feature on the general list. I believe that this hard work will take much time. Many of those wealthy people have fortunes. They have connections at various levels. But this work will continue, because this is a policy of the Russian president and the target he has set.”