Russian prosecutors were due to start unrolling the country's biggest series of criminal cases against vendors of pirate DVDs on Feb. 1 after a police operation shut down a leading Moscow audiovisual

MOSCOW (The Hollywood Reporter) -- Russian prosecutors were due to start unrolling the country's biggest series of criminal cases against vendors of pirate DVDs on Feb. 1 after a police operation shut down a leading Moscow audiovisual and software market, the Russian Anti-Piracy Organization said.

A joint police and RAPO operation launched Jan. 28 at Moscow's suburban Tsaritsino indoor market netted more than 67,000 pirate DVDs -- with a street value of more than $230,000 -- and closed down 52 shops, Konstantin Zemchenkov, head of the Motion Picture Assn. of America-backed RAPO, said in a statement.

"Six RAPO investigators and 40 police from the economic crime unit shut down the entire second floor of the market and seized pirate products assessed by our experts on the spot," Zemchenkov said.

"Local prosecutors opened five cases against the owners of shops where the tests were carried out, and a further 47 cases are expected to follow as all shops are individually owned."

The raid -- one of the biggest in Moscow to date -- was a sign that the Russian government was taking piracy more seriously as part of its efforts to gain World Trade Organization membership, Zemchenkov said.

Taking the battle direct to producers of pirate DVDs -- the owners or operators of optical CD and DVD plants -- remained a key target for RAPO, Zemchenkov said.

In January, in the first successful prosecution of its kind, the head of a company engaged in running pirate DVD and CD lines at the UKV Stymol optical plant in Zelenograd, near Moscow, pleaded guilty to producing pirate audio-visual materials.

He was given a year's suspended jail sentence as an alternative to paying $400,000 in damages to RAPO member companies, which include Hollywood studios and other rights owners.

Zemchenkov said RAPO was considering opening a civil case to pursue the damages.

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