As 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.
So what? Melkadze, born in 1964, was a crowned vor v zakone of the old school, although he became temporarily notorious in the underworld for his alleged role in the 1994 murder of another vor, Avtandil Chikhladze (‘Kvezho’) and his wife. There is, however, no real suggestion of any connection with this shooting, even though ‘Kvezho”s son, Guram Chikhladze, also entered the world of the vory. Melkadze was allegedly still being ‘hunted’ but given that he was living openly in Moscow and had even been arrested on heroin possession charges in 2011, this can’t have been much of a pursuit.
Instead, my feeling is that this says something about the continuing erosion of the importance of the underworld institution of the vory. Once upon a time, they had weight, consequence, and a degree of impunity. The death of a vor–like ‘Kvezho’–was taken seriously and tended to reflect either very serious feuds or else a collective decision arrived at through a skhodka, a ‘sit down’ of senior criminals. But this also reflected the way the vory were a caste apart, shunning the banal normalcy of daily life and its trappings. In a time when the title of vor is bought and gifted, and when vory can go on shopping trips with their family (even though according to some, Melkadze had been ‘dethroned,’ stripped of his vor rank), it seems clear that even those who earned the title the hard way do not consider themselves bound by its old structures. It’s not just Melkadze who’s dead, but the institution of the vor v zakone.
Nonetheless, it is worth noting that ‘Kvecho’ was allegedly killed on the orders of Georgian kingpin Tariel Oniani, which might suggest that Melkadze was still affiliated to his organisation. Nonetheless, it is worth stressing that Melkadze seems to have been pretty much retired from the vor game, and so this is unlikely to have any greater impact on the geopolitics of the Russian underworld, unless there is some aspect to the murder not yet come to light.