Mogilevich's nicknames include "Don Semyon" and "The Brainy Don" (because of his business acumen). According to US diplomatic cables, he is said to control RosUkrEnergo, a company actively involved in Russia–Ukraine gas disputes, and a partner of Raiffeisen Bank.
He lives freely in Moscow, and has three children. He is most closely associated with the Solntsevskaya Bratva crime group. Political figures he has close alliances with include Yury Luzhkov, the former Mayor of Moscow, Dmytro Firtash and Leonid Derkach, former head of the Security Service of Ukraine. Oleksandr Turchynov, who was designated as acting President of Ukraine in February 2014, appeared in court in 2010 for allegedly destroying files pertaining to Mogilevich. Alexander Litvinenko, shortly before his assassination, claimed that Mogilevich has allegedly had a "good relationship" with Vladimir Putin since the 1990s.
Mogilevich was born in 1946 to a Jewish family in Kiev's Podol neighborhood. In 1968, at the age of 22, Mogilevich earned a degree in economics from Lviv University. In the early 1970s, Mogilevich became part of the Lyuberetskaya crime group in Moscow and was involved in petty theft and fraud.
His first significant fortune derived from scamming fellow Russian Jews eager to emigrate to countries including the United States and Israel: Mogilevich made deals to buy their assets, sell them for fair market value, and forward the proceeds. Instead he simply sold the assets and pocketed the proceeds. He served two terms, of 3 and 4 years, for currency-dealing offenses.
In early 1991, Mogilevich moved to Hungary and married his Hungarian girlfriend Katalin Papp. He had three children with her, and obtained a Hungarian passport. Living in a fortified villa outside Budapest, he continued to invest in a wide array of enterprises, including buying a local armament factory, "Army Co-Op," which produced anti-aircraft guns.
In 1994, the Mogilevich group obtained control over Inkombank, one of the largest private banks in Russia, in a secret deal with bank chairman Vladimir Vinogradov, getting direct access to the world financial system. The bank collapsed in 1998 under suspicions of money laundering. Through Inkombank, in 1996 he obtained a significant share in Sukhoi, a large military aircraft manufacturer.
In May 1995, a meeting in Prague between Mogilevich and Sergei Mikhailov, head of the Solntsevo group, was raided by Czech police. The occasion was a birthday party for one of the deputy Solntsevo mafiosi. Two hundred partygoers (including dozens of prostitutes) in the restaurant "U Holubů", owned by Mogilevich, were detained and 30 expelled from the country. Police had been tipped off that the Solntsevo group intended to execute Mogilevich at the party over a disputed payment of $5 million. But Mogilevich never showed up and it is believed that a senior figure in the Czech police, working with the Russian mafia, had warned him. Soon, however, the Czech Interior Ministry imposed a 10-year entry ban on Mogilevich, while the Hungarian government declared him persona non grata and the British barred his entry into the UK, declaring him "one of the most dangerous men in the world."
In 1997 and '98, the presence of Mogilevich, Mikhailov and others associated with the Russian Mafia behind a public company trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX), YBM Magnex International Inc., was exposed by Canadian journalists. On May 13, 1998, dozens of agents for the FBI and several other U.S. government agencies raided YBM's headquarters in Newtown, Pennsylvania. Shares in the public company, which had been valued at $1 billion on the TSX, became worthless overnight.
Until 1998, Inkombank and Bank Menatep participated in a US$10 billion money laundering scheme through the Bank of New York. Mogilevich was also suspected of participation in large-scale tax fraud, where untaxed heating oil was sold as highly taxed car fuel – one of the greatest scandals that broke around 1990-1991.
Estimates are that up to one-third of fuels sold went through this scheme, resulting in massive tax losses for various countries of Central Europe (Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland). In the Czech Republic the scandal is estimated to have cost the taxpayers around 100 billion CZK (~US$5 billion) and involved, besides others, murders and assassination attempt of a journalist writing about the problem.
In 2003, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation put Mogilevich on the "Wanted List" for participation in the scheme to defraud investors in Canadian company YBM Magnex International Inc. Frustrated by their previous unsuccessful efforts to charge him for arms trafficking and prostitution, they had now settled on the large-scale fraud charges as their best hope of running him to ground. He was, however, considered to be the most powerful Russian mobster alive. In a 2006 interview, former Clinton administration anti-organized-crime czar Jon Winer said: "I can tell you that Semion Mogilevich is as serious an organized criminal as I have ever encountered and I am confident that he is responsible for contract killings."
Mogilevich was arrested in Moscow on January 24, 2008, for suspected tax evasion. His bail was placed, and he was released on July 24, 2009. On his release, the Russian interior ministry stated that he was released because the charges against him "are not of a particularly grave nature".
On October 22, 2009, he was named by the FBI as the 494th fugitive to be placed on the Ten Most Wanted list. In December 2015 he was removed from the list. The FBI indicated he no longer met list criteria, for reasons relating to living in a country with which the United States does not maintain an extradition treaty.
In spite of the warrants issued against him, he still lives freely in Moscow, according to the FBI. As to Mogilevich himself, government law enforcement agencies from throughout the world had by then been trying to prosecute him for over 10 years. But he had, in the words of one journalist, "a knack for never being in the wrong place at the wrong time".
Both Mogilevich and his associate Mikhailov ceased to travel to the west in the late 1990s.
Alexander Litvinenko, shortly before he was assassinated, claimed that Mogilevich has allegedly had a "good relationship" with Vladimir Putin since the 1990s.