Page last updated at 03:04 GMT, Thursday, 19 February 2009

Time catches up with global gangster

By Chris Summers
BBC News

A major global drugs kingpin has agreed a plea bargain in the United States after admitting conspiracy to distribute millions of dollars worth of ecstasy. But who is this man of mystery who faces spending 10 years in jail?

Ricardo Fanchini at a party in Moscow
Ricardo Fanchini, pictured at a party in Moscow, faces 10 years in jail

He might not be a household name, but Ricardo Fanchini is one of the world's most well-connected gangsters, with mobster friends as far afield as Moscow, New York, London, Antwerp, Naples, Poland and Israel.

"He was like the CEO of crime and used to organise crime summits in Austria, where people from the Camorra [Neapolitan mafia], the Colombian cartels, the Russian mafia, met up and divided up the world," said a Belgian reporter who has investigated Fanchini for years but does not wish to be identified.

Born in 1956 in the industrial city of Katowice in southern Poland to a Polish mother and an Italian father who had himself grown up in the mafia-infested city of Naples, Fanchini fled to the West in 1977, settling first in Germany and eventually moving to the Belgian port of Antwerp.


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But he was one of several gangsters who returned to the East in the early 1990s to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of communism and became known as the Polish Al Capone.

Polish journalist Jaroslaw Jakimczyk told the BBC: "He was one of the most dynamic of that group in the 1990s, and was linked with the Pruszkow Gang."

The Pruszkow Gang dominated Polish organised crime, being responsible for the trade in drugs, stolen luxury cars from Germany and black-market vodka.

Import-export business

Although their power was broken and most are now in jail or dead, Fanchini continued to prosper, partly because of his connections to Russian mafia bosses including Semion Mogilevich, who was a guest at his wedding, and arms smuggler Viktor Bout.

He and his Russian partner, Boris "Biba" Nayfeld, set up an import-export business that traded in everything from cigarettes and chocolates to electronic goods.

He also benefited from a tax exemption, for the importation of vodka into Russia, granted by corrupt officials close to the then President Boris Yeltsin.

At the time he also bought a luxury yacht, the Kremlin Princess, and often turned up in Monte Carlo.

Semion Mogilevich Wanted poster
Mobster Semion Mogilevich was a guest at Fanchini's first wedding

But Fanchini lost powerful friends when Yeltsin left office, his company went bankrupt and he was prosecuted by the Belgian authorities for embezzlement and money laundering.

While in prison serving a four-year sentence, Fanchini was dealt a further blow when a huge consignment of drugs was seized by the Dutch police.

The 1.8 million ecstasy pills, weighing 424kg, were destined for sale to the US market, where Fanchini and Nayfeld had links with the Russian community in the Brighton Beach district of Brooklyn, New York.

Living in London

When Fanchini left prison he moved to London. In 2006 he hired out the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Berlin for a sumptuous party and followed it up with another bash in Moscow, which was attended by hundreds of gangsters as well as celebrities and legitimate businessmen.

But Fanchini was living on borrowed time.

In England he reportedly split his time between a Mayfair townhouse and a plush mansion in a gated community in Surrey, not far from the home of Formula One driver Jensen Button.

But the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) caught up with him and on the morning of 3 October 2007 officers from the Metropolitan Police's Extradition and International Assistance Unit knocked on the door of his townhouse in Mount Street.

He was using the name Ricardo Rotmann, which was the surname of his third wife, Katja, a German, with whom he has a child.

Michael Mukasey, the then US Attorney General
Fanchini had been identified by various European law enforcement agencies as an international criminal for years
Michael Mukasey
US Attorney General

His second wife, Jolanta, is in prison in Belgium where she awaits trial over money laundering charges.

Fanchini made no attempt to fight extradition and in January last year he was handed over to US marshals at London's Gatwick Airport.

He was due to go on trial later this year.

According to the indictment, Fanchini's gang smuggled heroin and cocaine from Thailand to the US, via Poland and Belgium, for 17 years.

The drugs were hidden in the back of televisions and eventually found their way to Brighton Beach and Staten Island in New York.

But his attorney, Gerald Shargel, obtained a plea bargain and in November he pleaded guilty to a single charge - conspiring to distribute 424kg of MDMA (ecstasy) - and he now faces 10 years in jail.

Journalist Vladimir Kozlovsky, who has covered the activities of the Russian mafia in New York for years, said: "The indictment was massive. He was accused of a million crimes going back 20 years. There were so many boxes of evidence that he had to have a separate cell to house it all.

"The trial was due to last at least four months so, like 90% of cases over here, it was plea bargained and he could be out in seven years."

Viktor Bout in jail in Thailand
Another former Fanchini associate, Viktor Bout, was arrested last year

But the DEA has also hit him hard financially.

Fanchini has agreed to forfeit $30m - $2m of which will have to be paid on the day of sentencing - and DEA officers have also seized more than 40 properties across the world with an estimated value of more than $67m.

Nayfeld and two other co-defendants, Arthur and Nikolai Dozortsev, all pleaded guilty to laundering Fanchini's money.

Speaking at the London School of Economics last year, the US Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, highlighted Fanchini as an example of close global co-operation in the fight against crime.

Still under investigation

He said: "Fanchini had been identified by various European law enforcement agencies as an international criminal for years.

"It took a lot of co-operation and co-ordination between the US, UK and other countries to bring about his arrest."

Detective Inspector Paul Fuller, head of the Metropolitan Police's Extradition Unit said: "We work tirelessly to ensure that those wanted for crimes are brought to the justice system. It is important that Londoners know that we are arresting and extraditing foreign criminals on a daily basis."

Dominique Reyniers, of the Belgian Justice Department, confirmed Fanchini was also the subject of a separate investigation into alleged money laundering in Antwerp.

It is thought that inquiry looked at property investments he made in the Ukrainian resort of Odessa.

Fanchini's friends Mogilevich and Bout have both been arrested in the past year and he himself will be in his 60s by the time he comes out of jail in the US.

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