On 19 August, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) raided the Fabrika Market in Nazran, Ingushetia’s largest city. The authorities seized a large amount of gold jewellery from stalls. The owners and vendors claim that the FSB’s actions were illegal.
Russian rights group Memorial was among the first to visit the market and talk with some of the people affected. According to them, ‘most of the vendors were held behind a cordon of security forces, who were emptying safes and seizing the jewellery stored inside. Even vendors who were at their stalls couldn’t resist the obvious violations by the security forces. In several cases, the seizure of goods occurred without the presence of the owners’.
According to eyewitnesses interviewed by Memorial, all gold-like goods were seized without being registered after being weighed. The FSB also seized some silver products from stalls unattended by their owners. These were neither registered nor weighed.
A similar raid took place simultaneously in a shopping centre in Nazran, with masked FSB agents also seizing gold from there.
A Moscow burglary
The FSB told vendors that the jewellery was seized as a part of a criminal investigation in Moscow, and that all questions about the return of the seized goods should be addressed to the investigator in charge.
A source in the management of Fabrika Market told OC Media that the operation was part of an investigation into the burglary of a jewellery shop in Moscow. According to investigators, some of the stolen goods were being sold in markets across Russia, including in Ingushetia.
According to Memorial, searches of over forty houses were also conducted in the village of Surkhakhi, near Nazran. It is not yet clear if any goods were seized or if anyone was detained.
The illegal gold capital of the North Caucasus
Ingushetia is often considered the informal capital of illegal gold in the North Caucasus. Since the early 1990s, hundreds of Ingush families — mostly members of the religious sect founded by local preacher Batal-Khadzhi — have been migrating to Magadan, a city in the Russian Far East famous for its gold mines. The sect is a closed community with its own self-help fund. The Ingush usually don’t work in the mines themselves, but rather buy up gold from miners.
In recent years, police have been cracking down on illegal gold circulation by detaining Ingush drivers returning from Magadan. In some cases drivers have been caught carrying dozens of kilogrammes of gold dust and nuggets.