‘Russian mafia phenomenon in Goa may hit tourism’

Panaji, Feb 19 (IANS) Recurring reports in the media about the Russian mafia phenomenon in Goa and an increasing number of social conflicts between Russians and the locals could spell bad news for the state’s reputation as a prime holiday destination, the head of a leading forum of tourism industry stakeholders said Friday.

Speaking to reporters at a press conference, Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) president Ralph de Souza said: ‘These things have not affected Goa yet. But, if they escalate, like drug-related fights or other similar incidents, they could have a negative effect on tourism.’

‘There have been quite a few raids conducted by the police these days, which is a good thing,’ de Souza said.

A Russian national was Wednesday booked for murdering a local taxi driver at Morjim, a beach village in north Goa, 25 km from here. The murder has triggered sharp reactions from political parties and residents alike.

The ‘Russian mafia phenomenon’ de Souza referred to is a popular phrase oft repeated in the local media and has its roots in a series of fraudulently acquired real estate in coastal Goa by Russian nationals violating the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA).

Nearly 200 land purchases involving nationals from Russia, Britain and other countries are being probed by the Enforcement Directorate.

Both the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, coalition partners in the state government, Thursday said foreigners in general and Russian tourists in particular should be asked to rein in their ‘aggression’.

Goa, over the years, has emerged as a popular tourism destination for Russian tourists. With more than 40,000 Russian tourists hitting the sunny Goan beaches annually over the last two years, Russia ranks a close second after United Kingdom in terms of foreign tourists arriving in Goa.

This increase in numbers, however, also corresponds to some highly sensational crimes in which Russian citizens were involved.

The rape of a nine-year-old Russian girl on Jan 26 triggered a nationwide media debate on the safety of women tourists in Goa. Earlier, a 25-year-old Russian woman was allegedly raped by a politician in December last year.

Police have also been unable to crack the mysterious death of Russian teenager Elena Sukhonova, whose mangled body was found on the railway tracks near Thivim, 25 km from Panaji.

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