It’s pretty easy to hoax people. We all want to be deceived, but only up to a point. Some hoaxes are fun and pleasant, others malicious and unpleasant. We’d like a way to tell the difference (Robert Carroll).

Jun 20, 2014

Diamond-Encrusted Grenades in Russia

You are expanding NATO because 100,000 people were killed in Chechnya,
because we have an unpredictable leadership, because we have corruption,
because there are enormous failures in economic reform. You should say so openly.
I know that an enormous amount of time and money has been spent by the [U.S.]
government, by the private sector, by foundations and universities in promoting the
myth that Russia has achieved democracy. It would take great courage to admit that
the taxpayers’ money was wasted. But it is always better to be honest.

—Grigory Yavlinsky,
economist and leader
of the liberal Yabloko party,
June 8, 1997,
as quoted in the New York Times Magazine


On June 13, 1996 the U.S. tobacco firm Philip Morris announced that it had evacuated two Moscow-based British staff after they received threats from criminal figures. This is the first time that a Western company has publicly acknowledged taking such a step in response to criminal pressure.

The same day, Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov told a government meeting that more than 9,000 criminal gangs are now operating in Russia, employing around 100,000 people. In 1996, 21,000 crimes were identified as having an organized crime component. Particularly disturbing was the rise in crime-related explosions, of which there were 886 in 1996, up from just 18 in 1994. Last year's blasts killed 141 people and wounded 553. Kulikov told journalists that "On the broadest possible level, organized crime is infiltrating different organs of state power and the forces of law and order, including the police and the judicial system.''

The number of contract killings in Russia rose from about 120 in 1992 to 600 in 1996, of which only around 10 percent have been solved. An estimated 46 percent of the victims were businessmen and 38 percent criminals. The high proportion of successful attacks and the low proportion of crimes that are solved testifies to the professionalism of the assassins. Many of the "killers" are thought to be former soldiers and KGB operatives. Unfortunately, the bodyguards are less efficient than the assassins. There are almost no recorded cases of bodyguards successfully fending off an attack, and in many cases bodyguards have died alongside the target victims.

Itar-Tass Hoax

Considering the criminal background in Russia in 1996, the following April 1st hoax was accepted by many as the real announcement, with no second thought.

Russia's Itar-Tass news agency reported that a military factory had begun manufacturing diamond-encrusted grenades, which it was selling to Russian gangsters who might be concerned that they could not only live glamorously but also "die luxuriously as well." The article noted, "The use of such a grenade will leave your one-time rival in a sea of beautiful sparkling gems rather than in a pool of blood."

You would be surprised, but the agency got numerous phone calls from perspective customers, demanding the contact details of the manufacturer, and offered substantial rewards for revealing such secret information.

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