Is Moscow Cleaning up Dagestan?

June 6, 2013
Said Amirov

[Russia’s security services have shocked the public by arresting Said Amirov, the Mayor of Makhachkala in the Republic of Dagestan, alleging his involvement in conspiracy to murder and involvement in the narcotics trade, among other serious crimes. Amirov has dominated Dagestani politics for fifteen years, and his arrest has raised questions of whether the state is undertaking a serious effort to counter corruption with Dagestani politics.—Ed.]

“Said Amirov has been detained on suspicion of organizing the murder of an investigator,” says Vladimir Markin, the official representative of the Investigative Committee.

Early on the morning of June 1, several of the central streets of Dagestan were blocked by unmarked cars and tanks. Military helicopters patrolled the sky. Only in the afternoon did the sensational news fly around the capital: the mayor had been arrested.

The arrest of Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov took place with an enormous influx of people, and at the same time, in the strictest secrecy. After searches at the city administration building and at the Mayor’s home, Amirov was taken away by a military helicopter that had landed in the central square. He was detained by special troops from the Federal Security Service’s Special Forces Center, and the operation was led by representatives from the FSB in Moscow who had flown to Dagestan.

Curiously, Ramzan Abdulatipov, Acting President of the republic, was not in town at that time. He was with [Chechnyan President] Ramzan Kadyrov at a soccer match between [Dagestan’s] Anzhi and [Moscow’s] CSKA in Grozny.

Said Amirov was detained in connection with a major criminal case involving a number of law-enforcement agents of Dagestan. They are accused of organizing the murders of investigators and prosecutors, narcotics trade, and other serious crimes.

The sensational detention was preceded by a number of significant events. On May 31, Yusup Japarov, the nephew of Said Amirov, deputy mayor of Kaspiysk, a small town close to Makhachkala, was detained in the same criminal case. In recent days during a special operation on the outskirts of the capital, FSB agents detained Sirajutdin Guchuchaliev, leader of the Makhachkala fighters. He was wounded in the leg. It is fairly rare for a fighter to be taken alive during a special operation. According to information obtained by Novaya Gazeta, Guchuchaliev began to provide testimony, in particular about the ties of the Mayor [of Makhachkala] with the fighters.

Storm clouds began to gather over the all-powerful mayor immediately after the resignation of President Magomedsalam Magomedov early this year. In March and April, the siloviki unexpectedly broke up the Gimrin Jamaat, the boldest of the Dagestani fighters’ groups, which they had been unable to capture for the last ten years. Rumors circulated that Ibragim Gadjidadaev, leader of the Gimrin fighters, was closely connected to the mayor. In April at the Vnukovo Airport in Moscow, members of the Karat-1 private security agency were detained while transporting more than half a billion rubles disguised as printed matter. Later, Magomed Karatov, the director of the security agency, was arrested and charged with money-laundering. In recent years, Karat agents have been caught in such hauls a number of times, but each time the criminal case has either gone nowhere or ended with light sentences. Rumor has it that Said Amirov was also suspected of ties to Karatov.

These operations were conducted by Moscow Special Forces, as was the detention of Amirov himself. Local siloviki were not only uninvolved in the raid; they didn’t even learn about it until after the fact. “We do not want our plans to go awry, the locals sell information,” an FSB acquaintance told me. Even so, no one believed it was possible to detain Amirov himself.

Said Amirov, 59, is a heavyweight in Dagestani politics. Since 1998, he has been the unchallenged Mayor of the capital – “when you say Makhachkala you mean Amirov.” In the last 15 years, dozens of accusations have been made of the mayor’s involvement in corruption, organization of murders and kidnappings and ties with criminal fighters. Despite this, Amirov has been able to survive virtually all of his political rivals in the literal sense: 14 attempts have been made on his life (after one of them, Amirov could move around only in a wheelchair). Brutal and flexible, intelligent and penetrating, Amirov was considered an unsinkable politician.

The consequences Amirov’s detention are not clear yet, but will undoubtedly be very serious. The very fact of Amirov’s detention proves that Moscow intends to change the situation in Dagestan radically. We will recall that in the fall, a new president is supposed to be appointed.

P.S. In fact, Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov was quite recently – on 20 April – awarded an honor for first place in the VI Annual Competition of Municipal Education in the Russian Federation and was nominated “Best Head of Municipal Education” among city districts and administrative centers of the Russian Federation. The awards ceremony took place in Moscow.

Incredible, But True

  • Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov was awarded the International Order of the Crescent and Star, the highest award of the organization International Security’s Committee for International Security and Combat of Corruption, Drug Addiction and Environmental Crimes;
  • Amirov has received many other high state honors – the orders of Friendship (2000) and For Service to the Fatherland, IV Degree (2003). He is a winner of the State Prize of the Republic of Dagestan in the field of architecture and construction (2005). Awarded the Charter of the Government of the Russian Federation (2006).
  • For contribution to the preservation of inter-ethnic and inter-faith peace and harmony he was given an award from Aleksiya II, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus, the Order of the Holy Grateful Prince Daniil of Moscow, II Degree (2005). For assistance in restoring the Sacred Uspensky Cathedral in Makhachkala he was awarded the Order of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Reverend Serafim Sarov II Degree (2006).
  • For his peace-making activities and contribution in the preservation of inter-ethnic and inter-faith peace and harmony he was bestowed the highest honor of the Council of Muftis of Russia, the Alf-Fakhr Order of Honor I Degree (2006).
  • He was given the medal of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation for Cooperation with the RF FSB (2005) and the Narkomat medal from the State Narcotics Control of the Russian Federation (2006).