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Kremlin Official Warns 'Friendly Soviet Public' to Beware of Con Artists

December 19, 1987|WILLIAM TUOHY | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — The security official was warning of the danger of crime in the big city, and his words might have been appropriate for New York, say, or Naples.

But this was an official in the Soviet Union--which, being a police state, is supposedly crime-free--describing how visitors to Moscow can fall prey to hustlers who want to sell them, not the Brooklyn Bridge, but the Kremlin.

The warning was given this week by Interior Ministry aide Vasily Strelkov, whose bureau is in charge of the uniformed police force in the Soviet Union.

"A number of crimes lead us to warn the friendly Soviet public that they should not be so trusting with people they meet on the street," Strelkov said Wednesday.

He declared that Moscow, particularly, has seen a recent rash of confidence crimes, usually involving Russians from the provinces as victims.

Strelkov called attention to one such scam in which three men and two women approached visitors, offered them a place to stay, took their advance payments and then disappeared. Another, more vicious gang reportedly offered visitors lodging and then drugged them en route, relieving them of their rubles and other valuables.

Strelkov suggested that some of Moscow's crime is due to the arrival of "guest performers," individuals from elsewhere who drift into the capital and prey on the unsuspecting locals and visitors.

Because of this, Strelkov said, the police will be checking identity documents, since non-residents are permitted to stay in Moscow for only three days.

The official also offered a rare breakdown on recent crime statistics, indicating that serious crimes such as murder were down by 11% last week compared to the same time last year.

Three murders were reported last week, he said, one by a released convict and another by a drunken man from the southern republic of Georgia who got into an argument with his victim. The third victim, assailant unknown, was a taxi driver who was found slain in his vehicle.

In Moscow deaths not related to crimes, six people were reported killed in 33 fires last week, and 12 were killed and 148 injured in 145 road accidents.

Despite Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev's national campaign agains alcoholism, arrests for drunkenness were up sharply, with 7,093 cases last week, compared to 5,725 the week before.

The reason for the overflowing drunk tanks, said the Interior Ministry officer, was the approach of the holiday season, which is heartily and woozily celebrated in this officially atheistic country.

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