Still trying to square the ‘Brother’s Circle’

The US Treasury has released the names of a series of Japanese and Eurasian crime kingpins whose assets will now be targeted. The Russian/Eurasian crooks are all linked to what USG calls the “Brothers’ Circle.” It’s worth reproducing the relevant section of the most recent press statement in its entirety:

THE BROTHERS’ CIRCLE

The Brothers’ Circle (f.k.a. Family of Eleven; f.k.a. The Twenty) is a multi-ethnic criminal group composed of leaders and senior members of several Eurasian criminal groups largely based in countries of the former Soviet Union but operating in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. The Brothers’ Circle serves as a coordinating body for several criminal networks, mediating disputes between the individual criminal networks and directing member criminal activity globally.

The individuals designated today represent criminal syndicates that operate throughout Eurasia and the Gulf, specifically within Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Russia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). They include key Brothers’ Circle members Vladislav Leontyev, Vasiliy Khristoforov, Kamchybek Kolbayev and Gafur Rakhimov. Lazar Shaybazyan, Aleksandr Manuylov and Aleksey Zaytsev are designated today based on their support to Vladislav Leontyev. Several of these individuals reside in Dubai, UAE.

Two key Brothers’ Circle members, Vladislav Leontyev and Vasiliy Khristoforov, are targeted today for acting for or on behalf of the Brothers’ Circle. Both have been involved in criminal activities, including narcotics trafficking, and were involved in a shooting between regional factions within Russian organized criminal networks over an attempt to seize control of a local precious metals enterprise. Leontyev is currently wanted by Russian authorities for illegal transactions involving precious metals and narcotics.

Kamchybek Kolbayev acts for or on behalf of the Brothers’ Circle by serving as the Brothers’ Circle “overseer” for its Central Asian activities, including narcotics trafficking. In June 2011, President Obama identified Kolbayev as a significant foreign narcotics trafficker under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. Kolbayev is wanted in Kyrgyzstan for organized crimes and crimes involving the use of weapons/explosives, and organized/transnational crime.

As a key member of the Brothers’ Circle, Gafur Rakhimov acts for or on behalf of the Brothers’ Circle. Rakhimov is one of the leaders of Uzbek organized crime with a specialty in the organized production of drugs in the countries of Central Asia. He has operated major international drug syndicates involving the trafficking of heroin.

Aleksey Zaytsev, who acts for or on behalf of the Brothers’ Circle key member Vladislav Leontyev, is involved in fraud and a variety of other such activities as fraud, including his 2008 participation in a financial pyramid scheme involving the St. Petersburg-based Business Club Rubin.

Lazar Shaybazyan and Aleksandr Manuylov also act for or on behalf of, Brothers’ Circle key member Vladislav Leontyev.

I am certainly not questioning USG’s right to sanction these individuals or the choice. Kolbayev, for example, is indeed a serious, high-level organizer and facilitator of Central Asian drug trafficking who deserves a fair share of the ‘credit’ for the rise of the ‘northern route’ for trafficking heroin out of Afghanistan and into Europe (and, increasingly, China) through Eurasia. Likewise, Leontiyev, known by the underworld nickname Belobrysy, is likewise deeply entrenched in a range of criminal activities. And… I could go on, but the basic point is that I wouldn’t questioning the naming and sanctioning of any of those on this list:

KHRISTOFOROV, Vasily Alexandrovich (a.k.a. KHRISTOFOROV, Vasiliy; a.k.a. “VASYA”; a.k.a. “VOSKRES”), Murjan 6 Sector, Tower D01-T03.1, Apartment 401, Dubai 39409, United Arab Emirates; DOB 12 Mar 1972; POB Gorky Oblast, Russia; National ID No. 76481815 (United Arab Emirates); Passport 63-7186356 (Russia) (individual) [TCO]

KOLBAYEV, Kamchybek Asanbekovich (a.k.a. KOLBAEV, Kamchibek; a.k.a. KOLBAYEV, Kamchy; a.k.a. KOLBAYEV, Kamchi; a.k.a. KOLBAYEV, Kamchibek; a.k.a. “KAMCHI BISHKEKSKIY”; a.k.a. “KOLYA-BISHKEKSKIY”; a.k.a. “KOLYA-KYRGYZ”), Bahar 1 Sector, C09-T02 Tower, Apartment 3203, Dubai 31672, United Arab Emirates; Volokolamskoye Shosse, House 15/22, Moscow, Russia; DOB 3 Aug 1974; alt. DOB 1 Jan 1973; POB Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan; citizen Kyrgyzstan; Passport A0832532 (Kyrgyzstan) expires 17 Mar 2009 (individual) [SDNTK] [TCO]

LEONTYEV, Vladislav Vladimirovich (a.k.a. LEONTIEV, Vladislav; a.k.a. LEONTIEV, Vlantislav; a.k.a. LEONTYEV, Vyacheslav; a.k.a. LEONTYEV, Vadim; a.k.a. LEONTYEV, Vadik; a.k.a. “BELOBRYSYY”; a.k.a. “BELYY”), Al-Fattan Building, Dubai, United Arab Emirates; DOB 5 Jul 1971; POB Gorky, Russia; alt. POB Caracas, Venezuela; National ID No. 60229551 (United Arab Emirates); Passport AB4065216 (Greece); alt. Passport H2214925 (Ghana); alt. Passport C1602418 (Venezuela) (individual) [TCO]

MANUYLOV, Aleksandr Leonidovich (a.k.a. MANUILOV, Alexander; a.k.a. MANUYLOV, Alexander; a.k.a. “SASHA SAMARSKIY”); DOB 3 Mar 1962; POB Russia; Passport 3056306 (Russia) (individual) [TCO]

RAKHIMOV, Gafur Akhmedovich (a.k.a. RAKHIMOV, Gofur-Arslonbek; a.k.a. RAKHIMOV, Gafur-Arslanbek Akhmedovich), The Meadows, Villa Number 64, Sheikh Zayed Road, near Emirates Hills, Dubai, United Arab Emirates; DOB 22 Jul 1951; POB Tashkent, Uzbekistan; National ID No. 03101200302034752 (United Arab Emirates); Passport CA1804389 (Uzbekistan); alt. Passport CA1890392 (Uzbekistan) (individual) [TCO]

SHAYBAZIAN, Lazar Gurgenovich (a.k.a. SHAYBAZYAN, Lazar); DOB 1 Apr 1966; Passport CA2485930 (Uzbekistan); alt. Passport CA2179793 (Uzbekistan) (individual) [TCO]

ZAYTSEV, Aleksey Alekseyevich (a.k.a. ZAITSEV, Alexei; a.k.a. ZAYTSEV, Alexey); DOB 7 Sep 1965; POB Leningrad, Russia; National ID No. 74914883 (United Arab Emirates); Passport 63-4604880 (Russia); alt. Passport 4103417473 (Russia); alt. Passport H2029462 (Ghana) (individual) [TCO]

(And by the way, has anyone else noted how often Dubai and the UAE crop up?)

My real bone of contention is with the very notion of a “multi-ethnic criminal group composed of leaders and senior members of several Eurasian criminal groups” that “serves as a coordinating body for several criminal networks, mediating disputes between the individual criminal networks and directing member criminal activity globally.” I’ve written elsewhere about my skepticism about its existence, or rather my view that it is being used here as a synecdoche, as a handy cipher for Russian/Eurasian organised crime as a whole. The very notion of a specific body coordinating these operations is too much like SPECTRE from the Bond movies, too little like the free-flowing market economies that really seem to dominate the underworld. Sure, disputes and resolves and joint enterprises brokered, and kingpins talk to other kingpins. But that no more presupposes or requires some orderly cartel than any other business relationships and mechanisms.

This is not really a critique of the current US strategy. In many ways, quite the opposite: I am impressed and delighted both that the government is cracking down on Eurasian OC figures and also that it is doing it by attacking their funds, in parallel with conventional efforts to secure arrests and imprisonments. Instead, it reflects more than anything else the plaintive mewling of the pedantic academic: why need to invent some organization that seems to have no basis in any recent arrests or convictions and which no operational law enforcement agency in the world seems to acknowledge? Ultimately, though, I’ll try and swallow my fastidiousness if this translates into effective freezing and sequestering of criminal assets.

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