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APRIL 21, 2001

Moscow gets its circuit

THE proposed race Formula 1-standard race circuit in Moscow's Nagatino floodlands has been given final approval by the 'Moscow Group', a cartel of politicians, industrialists, entrepreneurs and media owners who oversee the banking, trade, transport and construction issues within the city.

An agreement was drawn up last year between representatives of Yury Luzhkov's Moscow government and TWR who put forward the circuit plan. It is however widely believed by the Moscow police that it was this agreement which spurred organized criminals into making an assassination attempt on deputy mayor, Iosif Ordzhonikidze, days after signing the deal last December.

While driving through central Moscow, Ordzhonikidze's Nissan Maxima was raked with 30 bullets by a pair of gunmen, killing his chauffeur Ivan Petrin. The deputy mayor required a four-hour operation to save his life, during which the ongoing investigation was launched and immediately focused on his most recent deal.

"The reason for the attempt on his life should be sought in the Nagatino floodlands", stated a city government official in the aftermath of the shooting. Such swift and certain assumptions by the investigation team are somewhat confusing as Ordzhonikidze is undoubtedly a leading figure in the capitalist renaissance of Moscow.

This success story has seen the average Muscovite's income swell hugely compared with the rest of Russia, enjoying 80 percent of the nation's financial resources - but organized crime is a major force.

There are almost 2,000 criminal organizations operating in Moscow today, owning half of the private businesses in the city, a still greater percentage of the banks and running over 60% of the state-owned companies it is amazing that the Grand Prix proposal has come so far.

It is believed that the plans for the Nagatino development approved by Ordzhonikidze did not feature enough casinos to please the local gangsters. Gambling is a leading leisure activity in the Russian capital and, as such, a major source of revenue for the city's criminal element. The proposal signed-off by Ordzhonikidze incorporated four hotels, a heliport and a certain amount of space for casinos alongside the racetrack but far less emphasis on gambling than the crime lords were lobbying for.

The circuit development, on an 80-hectare piece of land to the north of the city, is expected to cost $100 million but it is hoped that it will launch Russia into the forefront of international motor sport when it is completed in an estimated in two years. It will be the 26th Formula 1 standard circuit in the world, and it will then be down to Formula 1 to decide whether Moscow is an attractive venue.