Europe-wide arrests of Georgian gangsters, with senior Kutaisi vor seized in Prague

 

uooz__vnahledI’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

The Hague, the Netherlands
19 June 2013

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.”

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

Vor v zakone or thieves in law are Eurasian criminals who act as leaders, controllers and regulators of Russian-speaking organised crime. For several years the power balance in this criminal landscape has been in turmoil because of an ongoing conflict between the two main Georgian clans – the Tbilissi and Kutaisi clans. The main reasons for the conflict have been the struggle for important crime investment areas and the ultimate aim of full control over all Eurasian organised crime groups.

The assassination of a Tbilissi clan leader, in January 2013 in Moscow, created a new power vacuum leading to several, violent attempts by key players to strengthen their criminal positions. This has resulted in an increased presence of thieves in law in the EU. EU countries have become a shelter for them to avoid investigation and prosecution in their home jurisdictions. Ease of movement and excellent communications in the EU are an attractive environment for them to deploy and monitor their organised crime groups, re-invest criminal proceeds and hide from possible retaliation from opposing clans in the ongoing power struggle.

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3 Comments

  1. This is a most important article. It highlights a pan European ( EU and ex Soviet States) criminal nexus, the importance of which is frequently underestimated, though not by the law enforcement agencies of the EU ” hub” countries such as Slavic language states, Vienna and, of course, Athens.London must be considered an potential obvious base of operations and a presence here would indicate links between oligarchism and street crime.

    In mid March 2010 the front page headlines of the Austrian press were about the mass pan European arrests of a Georgian centered criminal group, literally described as ” Ost Mafia”. They were alleged to have been responsible for a high proportion of professional burglaries in the Vienna area. Arrests were also made in Greece and Spain. The case was also mentioned several times on the the BBC News website’s European pages, despite there being no obvious UK link. A few days later the BBC returned to mention concerns raised about the release of one key suspect in Athens, and his subsequent disaappearance.
    At around the same time, BBC Radio documentaries such as “Crossing Continents” and ” From Our Own Correspondent”, both of which air on the BBC World Service,, highlighted the widespread numbers of “Pontic Greeks” in the Black Sea coastal states, especially Georgia and Eastern Turkey. The entitlement such persons have to Greek, and therefore EU, passports has been used, and continues to be used, by both opportunistic and organised and white collar criminals.

    Understanding about these scenarios needs to be significantly increased.

    Reply
  2. Ded Khassan was killed this year, no? Thanks for this interesting report.

    Reply
    • Mark Galeotti

       /  June 20, 2013

      Hah! Doesn’t time fly – it feels like longer ago. You’re quite right – duly corrected

      Reply

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