Under 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.
All posts in category Organized Crime – Transnational
Posted by Mark Galeotti on October 31, 2013
I am indebted to Antonio de Bonis, a senior analyst at the Italian Carabinieri’s ROS Special Operational Detachment, for this short and authoritative summary of Operation Skhodka, the recent and effective international blitz on Georgian gangsters in Europe.
Posted by Mark Galeotti on July 28, 2013
I’ll complete this list as more identities become available, but to date, these are the names of the various figures arrested in the June 18 swoop on the Georgian Kutaisi gang across Europe:
- Merab Dzhangveladze, “Dzhango,” vor v zakone and leader of the Kutaisi
- Guram Odisharia, “Buya,” vor v zakone
- Roin Uglava, “Matevich,” vor v zakone
- Gia Gurchiani, vor v zakone
- Aleko Imedadze, vor v zakone
- Beso Kuprashvili, vor v zakone
- Akaki Tugushi, “Enzo Batumi,” vor v zakone
- Alexander Kartsivadze, vor v zakone
- Givi Gordeladze, “Givi Tol’styi” (“Givi the Thick”), vor v zakone [Gordeladze is again at large; the Lithuanian court, for reasons still not wholly clear, released him on bail, not deeming him a flight risk on grounds of his age (65) and health. Surprise, surprise: he flew.]
- Temur Nemsitsveridze, “Tsripa,” vor v zakone
- Razhden Shulaya
(Last update: June 27, 2013)
Posted by Mark Galeotti on June 27, 2013
Following my involvement in Wikistrat‘s When Putin Falls simulation, I was also fortunate enough to be asked to lead their policy-oriented Winning Mexico’s Drug War crowd-sourced exercise. Over a week, some 70 analysts brainstormed options to address the country’s present narcotics-fuelled woes, coming up with policies that ranged from the enlightened to the bloody, from the purely local to the global. (Here’s one, for example.)
Here is the introduction from the final report, which I wrote on the basis of all the hard work of the experts, analysts and contributors involved, ably marshaled by Dr Amanda Skuldt:
Mexico is burning. Over much of the last decade, Mexican drug cartels have conglomerated and made moves to challenge the central government (and each other) for control over territory and drug markets. The cartels have improved their organization and capabilities despite the massive crackdowns by the Mexican government and the flood of U.S. security assistance, which has totaled more than $1.9 billion since 2008. Drug-related violence and kidnapping remain a constant threat, even in previously “safe” areas of Mexico, with an estimate of over 40,000 people killed since 2006.
Like his predecessor, President Enrique Peña Nieto was elected on a platform of fighting organized crime. The previous Calderon administration chose directly to confront the cartels, especially by using the Mexican armed forces. Instead of calming the country, this policy caused violence within the cartels to increase and to spill over into Mexican society. In addition, the armed forces are increasingly viewed as corrupt. While Peña Nieto’s administration has claimed some successes as it moves to shift the drug war policy toward protecting civilians rather than attacking cartel leaders, these appear illusory and the death toll continues to climb with an average of 35 Mexicans killed every day. Now even Mexican politicians are being targeted with alarming regularity.
Furthermore, this struggle is taking place in the context of high unemployment, increased poverty (according to the World Bank, half of Mexico’s population of 115 million lives below the poverty line), and widespread disillusion with the government. Meanwhile, Mexican dissatisfaction with the current form of U.S. assistance is growing. It is clear that the Mexican and American governments must chart a new course of action, but what will actually restore law and order?
In April 2013, Wikistrat ran a week-long crowdsourced simulation in which 70 analysts from around the world collaboratively developed Policy Options for the Mexican government, the U.S. government and other actors to respond to the escalating drug war in Mexico. The goal was to provide a plausible range of strategies and techniques that could stem the tide of violence and could restore control of the country to the authorities.
Analysts were encouraged to tackle this not only from a geostrategic angle, but also to take a tactical “boots on the ground” approach in which they explored social, political and economic options as well as “kinetic” law enforcement/military ones. They addressed not just the intended outcome but also the actors who would be involved, the details of how the option would be implemented, and the circumstances under which it would be most likely to succeed – as well as the potential consequences of failure.
The full report has now been released, and you can read it here: Winning+Mexico’s+Drug+War.
Posted by Mark Galeotti on June 20, 2013
(Some further thoughts to complement my initial, snap response, ‘Europe-wide arrests of Georgian gangsters, with senior Kutaisi vor seized in Prague’)
On 18 June, police in six European countries carried out coordinated operations, arresting 18 alleged members of the Georgian organized crime group known as the Kutaisi clan. Coordinated by the Italian National Police’s Central Operational Service and the Bari city Squadra Mobile (flying squad), these arrests netted 13 alleged vory v zakone (‘thieves in law’ or ‘thieves within the code’). Overall, there were 7 arrests in Italy, 2 in the Czech Republic, 5 in Lithuania, 2 in Portugal, one in France and one in Hungary. (Some Italian reports also cite arrests in Moscow, but I have yet to see that confirmed.)
This operation, the outcome of an 18-month investigation, was described by Europol as “one of the most significant blows against clans controlled by this high-ranking, elite of the world of Russian-speaking organised crime.”
Perhaps most interesting is that it appears—although this has not been confirmed—that the Hungarian arrest was of Merab Dzhangveladze (“Dzhango”/”Django”), the head of the Kutaisi grouping, and a major player within the Georgian underworld in both Georgia and Russia.
He is a close ally of Tariel Oniani (“Taro”), the vicious senior Georgian gang leader in Russia. He was also a sworn enemy of Aslan Usoyan (“Ded Hasan”), murdered in Moscow in January. Usoyan had formally had Dzhangveladze stripped of his vor v zakone status in 2008, as part of a tit-for-tat struggle with Taro, although this means little in today’s more diffuse and opportunistic underworld. Dzhangveladze may well have been behind the assassinations of both Usoyan and Vyacheslav Ivankov (“Yaponchik”) and has in many ways been Oniani’s right hand while he is in prison.
If Dzhangveladze has indeed been arrested, then this turns a serious blow to the Kutaisi into a devastating one. His brother Levon has in the past acted as his interim lieutenant, but lacks the stature to hold the group together for long. The Kutaisi clan, with an estimated 50 vory v zakone, is one of the most significant Georgian organized crime groups, not least amongst the so-called lavrushniki (“bay leaves”), Georgian gangsters within the Russian underworld. It certainly delivers a serious blow to the extensive Georgian—and, by extension, Eurasian—organized crime in Europe, as well as another example of the increasingly effective coordination of the struggle against them by European police forces.
However, this may also play to underworld developments in Russia. At present, the Usoyan and Oniani networks are locked in a phony war over both deep feuds and future dominance of the “mountaineer” fraction of the underworld, not so much a cold war as a tepid one that could quickly heat up further. If Dzhangveladze is taken out of the picture for long and if the Kutaisi clan are not able to bounce back quickly—two distinct “ifs”—then it does undermine Oniani. It could even embolden Chanturia, Usoyan’s successor, to strike…
Posted by Mark Galeotti on June 20, 2013
I’ve noted, both on this blog and elsewhere, that “Russian organized crime” in Europe often is actually Armenian or Georgian–even if today’s Georgian godfathers are frequently based in Russia. It’s a complex and very cosmopolitan underworld, these days, that also manifests itself in the multinational networks through which these gangsters operate. This has been illustrated by the breaking news that a 46-year-old Georgian man, a senior figures within the Kutaisi criminal ‘clan’, has been arrested by ÚOOZ, the Czech organized crime police department.
According to the police, they have been working on Georgian OC since 2011, and since 2012 working especially with Italian law-enforcement because criminal enterprises were conducting crimes elsewhere and moving money into and through the Czech Republic. In particular, the Geogian Kutaisi grouping, led by Merab Dzhangveladze (“Dzhango”/”Django’), was involved in operations in Italy, which included a skhodka sit-down in Milan in December 2011 to resolve disputes with the rival Shushanashvili brothers’ Tbilisi-Rustavi clan, and the murder of a Rustavi man in the city of Bari in 2011 and the retaliatory killing of Revez Tchuradze (“Rezo”), a local Kutaisi factor, in 2012.
After the Italians, led by the Bari magistracy, issued European Arrest Warrants for several individuals on racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder and money laundering charges, 32 people were detained not just in the ČR and Italy, but also Hungary, Lithuania, France, Belgium, Poland, Germany and Portugal. In Prague, officers from ÚOOZ supported by URN anti-terrorist commandoes, seized the as-yet-unnamed Georgian criminal, apparently a member of the criminal subculture of the vory v zakone (although this means very little these days), as well as cash and documents.
There is even a link with the killing of Ded Khasan in Moscow earlier this year; Dzhangveladze is an ally of Tariel Oniani (“Taro”), Hasan’s main foe, and also possibly close to Rovshan Janiev, whom Khasan’s own people have blamed for the murder. Italian police intercepts record him ironically noting that Khasan had warned that if the Kutaisi network tried to penetrate the Moscow underworld, “the city would be spattered in blood”–and that Khasan died shortly afterwards…
UPDATE: EUROPOL PRESS RELEASE
Here’s a handy summary from Europol, although given that all the criminals in question appear to have been Georgians at first glance, maybe :”Russia-speaking” is a little questionable a headline.
HARD BLOW AGAINST RUSSIAN-SPEAKING MAFIA
Early on 18 June 2013, Europol supported the arrest of 18 suspects, 13 of them ‘thieves in law’ (vor v zakone), from the Georgian Kutaisi clan. This is one of the most significant blows against clans controlled by this high-ranking, elite of the world of Russian-speaking organised crime.
The operation was developed in Italy where the Central Operational Service of the Italian National Police and the Squadra mobile of Bari led the case and arrested 7 people. Other arrests took place simultaneously in the Czech Republic (2), France (1), Hungary (1), Lithuania (5) and Portugal (2). As well as the arrests, weapons, drugs and EUR 100 000 were seized. Belgian, German and Polish law enforcement authorities also provided substantial operational support. This outcome is the result of 18 months of EU-wide intelligence exchange and evidence gathering activities in several European Union countries.
This is the first time in Europe that such a high number (13) of thieves in law have been arrested simultaneously. The arrest of the Kutaisi leader in Hungary is specifically a significant blow to Russian-speaking organised criminals. As well as the leader, the rest of the clan’s hierarchy were arrested. The operation is ongoing and further arrests are expected.
This EU-wide investigation was supported from the outset by Europol specialists who facilitated the exchange of criminal intelligence with other Member States, delivered analytical reports and supported the operation on the spot with a mobile office. Eurojust participated in several operational meetings held during the investigation and Interpol was also present yesterday in the operational centre.
In offering his congratulations to all the services involved in this operation Michel Quillé, Deputy Director (Operations) at Europol said: “In such operations the essential role in bringing separate, sensitive investigations together in a secure environment is exactly what Europol is designed to do. In this way a clear picture of the situation in the EU can be built up, intelligence exchange between Member States can be stimulated and Member States can be alerted to the need for them to launch their own investigations or support ongoing enquiries. This case is an excellent example of such cooperation working to protect EU citizens across several Member States.”
Posted by Mark Galeotti on June 19, 2013