Breaking up the Khinkalnaya sitdown: Georgians being warned off trying for a slice of the Crimean pie?

Rys' SOBR of the kind deployed to break up the skhodka

Rys’ SOBR of the kind deployed to break up the skhodka

On 24 May, Moscow police including Rys’ SOBR commandos broke up a skhodka–sit down–of mainly Georgian gangsters reportedly at the Khinkalnaya restaurant on Savvinskaya embankment, briefly detaining 38 of them. (The perennially well-connected Life News has the list of detainees here.) In part they were there apparently in another bid to resolve the long-running and periodically-violent feud between the Tbilisi clan of “Dead Ded” Khasan (Aslan Usoyan) and Tariel Oniani’s Kutaisi clan. However, they were also going to talk about expanding their activities in Crimea and how to apportion the profits. These may well be significant, not only in diverting some of the massive investment being channelled there to make it a showcase “why it’s great to be in Russia” region, but also if Sevastopol comes to rival Odessa as a smuggling hub. I suspect that this latter agenda item is why the meeting had to be raided. After all, the ethnic Russian networks are also moving into Crimea, looking to strike deals with local gangs, and they are a much more known and trusted factor for the government. It’s futile to try and keep the Georgians out of Crimea, but I imagine that a pernicious alliance of ethnic Russian mobsters and the government will try to minimise their role there.

Poor Dmytro (Firtash)?

Firtash may be caught by the throat, but most other oligarchs are feeding merrily still

Firtash may be caught by the throat, but most other oligarchs are feeding merrily still

Can one feel sorry for a multi-millionaire ($673M according to some, $2.3B according to alternative accounts, and $3.8B to others) suspected of bribery, who reportedly admitted consorting with wanted gangsters and once boasted of his close ties to Yanukovych? If so, then spare a thought for Ukrainian gas and titanium tycoon Dmytro Firtash, arrested in Vienna on a US warrant on bribery and organised crime charges. Why on earth might one feel any sympathy for him? Not for the philanthropy, not even for the massive donations to my alma mater at Cambridge to endow Ukrainian studies. Rather than Firtash would seem to be a businessman of the regular Ukrainian oligarchic variety. What does that mean? It means certainly not clean by Western standards, but nor, in any meaningful sense, an organised crime figure himself. So what might he have been?

When he first started building his energy empire, bringing Russian gas into Ukraine, the infamous financial crime lord Semen Mogilevich was a shadowy but indispensable fixer and broker. His  involvement was pretty much essential to make any Russo-Ukrainian gas deals work. So, of course, I was entirely unsurprised when the accounts (subsequently denied) of an admitted connection arose. If nothing else, there had been widespread rumours beforehand. Furthermore, Mogilevich–who has an interestingly unique role as, in effect, the boutique personal banker of choice to post-Soviet crooks of every stripe–would conceivably also have been a useful contact and service provider for subsequent sub rosa activities such as moving money abroad discreetly, evading taxes or doing any of the other patriotic parlour games at which post-Soviet plutocrats excel. (more…)

The risk of a gangster “Transdnestrianisation” of the Crimea

Now, does he look like a gangster to you?

Now, does he look like a gangster to you?

Just a quick note to the effect that over at Russia! magazine I have a piece looking at the allegations that de facto Crimean premier Sergei Aksenov was in the 1990s a gangster known as ‘Goblin’ in one of the two main gangs in Simferopol. I go on to consider, regardless of the truth of these allegations, the risk that an annexed or even maximally-autonomous Crimea might become a criminalised pseudo-state like the ‘Transdnestr Moldovan Republic’, just distinctly larger and more closely linked to Russia.

Will ‘Goblin’ Make Crimea a “Free Crime Zone”?

The claims that Crimean premier Sergei Aksenov was once a gangster with the underworld nickname of ‘Goblin,’ has at once been a gift to headline-writers and also a potentially alarming portent for the peninsula’s future.

Aksenov, head of the Russian Unity party, was installed as Crimea’s new premier despite his being elected to the regional parliament in 2010 with only 4% of the vote. His role appears to be the face of Russian interests in the peninsula, but he faces claims that he is also the front man for regional organized crime.

Read the rest here.

Another vor down: Dato Melkadze shot dead

Screen Shot 2014-01-12 at 13.34.10As organised crime kingpin murders go, there is perhaps little kudos in being shot in the parking lot of a suburban big box store, but this was nonetheless the fate of Georgian-born Dato Melkadze, ‘Dato Poti.’ On the evening of 11 January, he went with his wife and children on a shopping trip to the Lerua Merlen (the French Leroy Merlin chain) store in Moscow’s Krasnogorsk neighbourhood . In the carpark he was apparently accosted by two people who claimed he owed them money; a conversation became a row; a row became an exchange of fire. Melkadze was wounded in the shoulder and abdomen by a ‘traumatic pistol’ converted to fire live ammunition and died in hospital.

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The Other Greek Tragedy: Georgian and Russian/Eurasian organized crime

Flags_Georgia_GreeceWith news of the arrest in Thessaloniki of Georgian vor v zakone David Mazanashvili (“Dato Rustavsky”), a member of the same Kutaisi “clan” targeted in this summer’s Europe-wide raids under Operation Skhodka, it is worth briefly remembering that Greece, while not on quite the same scale as–until recently–the Spanish coastline or Germany, is very much an area of interest to gangsters from Russia and post-Soviet Eurasia. Although Russian gangsters were attracted there in the 1990s by the climate, not-too-intimidating law enforcement and, let’s be honest, relative ease of acquiring forged documents and local passports–most notoriously the contract killed Alexander Solonik, who was murdered there himself in 1997–increasingly the country has come within the orbit of ethnic Georgian gangsters. To some extent this reflects the 1990s influx of ethnic Greeks (Pontian Greeks), especially from Georgia , who became bridges between the two underworlds.

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Latest on Treasury’s Campaign against Russian/Eurasian Organized Crime

usTreasuryUnder the terms of Executive Order 13581, the US Treasury has been seeking to locate and freeze assets associated with key organized crime kingpins, a range of Japanese, Latin American, Italian and Russian/Eurasian ne’er-do-wells. On 30 October, a new set of targets was announced, including six people and four businesses “linked to the Brothers’ Circle, a Eurasian crime syndicate.” I’ve written elsewhere (here and here) that I still do not believe that the Brothers’ Circle, as a specific crime group or “coordinating body”, actually exists and instead that it is a—perfectly reasonable—fiction-of-convenience to allow this Order to be applied against criminals operating within the very loose and often mutable networks of Russian/Eurasian crime.

(more…)

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