NEW YORK (AFP) - US federal prosecutors have charged 34 people allegedly linked to the Russian mob with running a high stakes illegal gambling business catering to multi-millionaires and billionaires.
Clients, including Russian oligarchs, wracked up debts worth hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars, the Justice Department said in a statement on Tuesday announcing the bust.
Faced with the wrath of the Russian mob, the gamblers paid up, the statement said, citing one client, who lost some US$2 million (S$2.47 million) and surrendered his plumbing company as payment.
The money was laundered through bank accounts and shell companies in Cyprus and the US.
The charges "demonstrate the scope and reach of Russian organised crime," said FBI New York assistant chief George Venizelos.
"One of the principal defendants is a notorious Russian 'thief-in-law' allegedly directing an international conspiracy through Cyprus to the US," he added.
US Attorney Preet Bharara said: "These criminal enterprises were vast and many-tentacled, with one of them reaching across the Atlantic to launder tens of millions of dollars from Russia to the US via Cyprus and in some cases, back again."
The gambling was done through websites and in high stakes poker rooms in and around New York City.
Arrests were made in New York, Philadelphia, Detroit and Los Angeles, but at least four defendants remained at large.