MOSCOW – One of the most powerful godfathers of the Russian mafia has been seriously wounded by a sniper in central Moscow, investigators said on Wednesday.

Vyacheslav Ivankov, who has been named by the United States as a senior Russian mobster, was shot in the stomach as he left a Thai restaurant on Tuesday after apparently mediating between two rival criminal groups, Russian news agencies said.

Ivankov, known inside Russia by his nickname Yaponchik, or the Japanese, spent much of the 1990s in a U.S. jail. He was extradited to Russia in 2004 to face murder charges but was acquitted by a local court and freed.

Russian law enforcement agencies are hunting for those behind the attack, the Prosecutor-General's main investigation unit said in a statement.

Ivankov, well known in the criminal world by the alias Yaponchik, was shot from about 70 meters with a Degtyaryev sniper rifle, the investigation unit said.

Russian media said his condition was stable but serious.

Russian detectives have said Ivankov was one of the most influential thieves-in-law, the masters of the Russian criminal underworld. During his U.S. trial for extortion, U.S. federal authorities said he was one of the top Russian mobsters.

Ivankov was born in Russia in 1940 and served jail time in the Soviet Union before fleeing to the United States in the early nineties.

(Reporting by Conor Sweeney; editing by Tim Pearce)