Caucase Normandie, Kus, and VORS 69-01. Operations against thieves-in-law carried out by foreign law enforcement authorities in 2018
The year of 2018 was marked by several high-profile special operations targeting thieves-in-law from the post-Soviet states. European law enforcement structures have delivered massive blows to two rival thieves’ clans by detaining a dozen of crowned thieves and hundreds of gang members subordinate to them, while the American justice convicted a thief-in-law to the most severe punishment ever. The CrimeRussia is looking back on the past year.
In the last few years, nearly any crowned thief in Russia may be prosecuted under Article 210 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (creation of a criminal community (criminal organization) and participation therein). This ‘tightening the screws’ trend is gradually expanding to other former Soviet republics – and even to capitalist states where, until recently, members of the criminal elite used to live much more comfortably than in their native countries.
The term ‘thief-in-law’ became international a long time ago. Books, documentaries, and movies about crowned thieves are released in Western countries on a regular basis; as a result, the criminal elite with Soviet roots is well-known not only to the police structures – but to general public as well.
In late 2017, the US Department of the Treasury has provided a comprehensive definition of a thief-in-law and included into the new sanction list superceding the Brothers’ Circle seven most powerful crowned thieves and three businessmen affiliated, according to the American authorities, with them. The Department of the Treasury has officially designated thieves-in-law from former Soviet republics a “Eurasian transnational criminal organization”.
In Europe, Spain used to be the leader in crackdowns on crowned thieves – because in the mid-2000s, it had the highest concentration of ‘criminal generals’ from the CIS countries (Shakro Molodoy (Shakro Junior), Tyurik, Taro, Zver’ (Beast), etc.) in comparison with other EU states. Now the law enforcement structures of other countries, including Germany and Montenegro, started also paying attention to the operations of thieves-in-law. Greece, France, and above-mentioned Spain were the most successful in their struggle against crowned thieves in 2018.
Caucase Normandie and arrest of Lasha Rustavsky
A large-scale special operation dubbed “Caucase Normandie” became a logical continuation of Operation Naples carried out in November 2017 and resulting in arrests of 23 members of an organized criminal group led by thief-in-law Kakhaber Shushanashvili (Kakha Rustavsky) in several Spanish cities and shutdown of a ‘laundromat’ operating under the disguise of a mailing company shipping parcels to Georgia. Caucase Normandie, a joint operation of French and Greek law enforcement structures supported by Interpol and Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs, was carried out in April 2018.
In France alone, 300 police officers were involved in the arrests of more than 20 natives of former Soviet states (mostly Georgians and a few Armenians). In Greece, the police forces had used special equipment and a helicopter during the operation.
In the course of Operation Caucase Normandie, five thieves-in-law operating under the leadership of Lasha Shushanashvili (Lasha Rustavsky), head of the largest West European criminal structure consisting of Georgian natives, have been detained in both countries. European law enforcement authorities believe that Lasha Shushanashvili was in charge of this structure jointly with his brother, thief-in-law Kakhaber Shushanashvili, for more than 10 years.
According to the EU police structures, brothers Lasha and Kakhaber Shushanashvili are leaders of the post-Soviet organized crime, including so-called ‘Georgian mafia’ in Western Europe. 57-year-old Lasha Shushanashvili (Lasha Rustavsky) is an authoritative thief-in-law. He has multiple criminal records and was crowned in Georgia in 1979. In the last years, Shushanashvili had mostly resided in Greece. Both brothers were members of the inner circle of Aslan Usoyan (Ded Khasan). Brothers Shushanashvili were the key figures in the struggle between two major thieves’ clans led by Aslan Usoyan and Tariel Oniani (Taro). They had supported Aslan Usoyan and were leaders of his combat unit in this war that has claimed lives of many crowned thieves from both sides, including Vyacheslav Ivankov (Yaponchik) and Ded Khasan himself. The clan of brothers Shushanashvili still remains the strongest Trans-Eurasian organized criminal structure in a number of West European states. A rival clan under the leadership of Oniani and Dzhangveladze opposes it. 45-year-old Kakhaber Shushanashvili was ‘crowned’ in 2001 and had ruled the Spanish ‘branch’ of the clan for several years before his arrest. In 2016, the Spanish court has sentenced him to 15 years behind bars. However, the structures under his control had successfully operated in Spain until their disintegration in the middle of 2018. Some of these structures reportedly still exist in the country.
Famous Georgian rapper, 44-year-old Kakha Abuashvili (Kabu), suspected of illegal activities and two thieves-in-law – Ramaz Gugunishvili (Siu), also known as Aleksander Kabaladze and ‘retired thief’ Karen Arutyunyan (Kostyl’ (Crutch)) – were among the persons detained in France.
Valuables seized in the course of searches
The inquest against the Georgian–Armenian criminal syndicate had continued for more than two years and resulted in a special operation. Prior to its beginning, the both countries have performed ‘offensive reconnaissance’. In February 2018, eight Georgian citizens have been arrested in Paris for home burglaries. According to the French gendarmerie, they had transferred a portion of the stolen money to thieves’ pooled cash fund. In late March 2018, shortly before the joint operation of the French and Greek law enforcement authorities, a gang of Georgian burglars led by 52-year-old Valerian Khuadze was busted in Greece.
The French authorities believe that the suspects have committed at least 150 forced entries into residential and office premises in Normandy alone. However, based on the ‘trophies’ seized during the searches, the number of burglaries committed by Georgian ‘brigades’ may reach one thousand.
The ‘catch’ of the Greek law enforcement authorities was equally successful. In addition to 20 gang members, two crowned thieves – Nodar Shukakidze (Nodo Gldansky) and Merab Asanidze (Chikora) – were detained in Athens, while Lasha Shushanashvili, has been arrested in Thessaloniki (his bodyguards had resisted the police, and the media reported two injured persons from both sides). The thief-in-law has been remanded in custody in the Diavata prison – he had earlier spent there 2.5 years, out of the 14 imposed on him by the court in 2013, and then was released after suffering a stroke.
According to the investigation, members of the organized criminal group led by crowned thieves not involved personally in the crimes – but planning and controlling its operations – have committed at least 56 housebreaking episodes in Thessaloniki alone in the last year resulting in damages totaling €1 million. In May, the Greek police have carried out another operation and detained 10 more burglars of Georgian descent.
Immediately after the arrest of Lasha Rustavsky, France started seeking his extradition – Interpol has issued an international warrant against Shushanashvili as per request of the French authorities. However, the thief-in-law was feeling comfortable in Greece – even being in detention – and opposed the extradition by all means. He hired a strong team of lawyers involving Zoe Konstantopoulou, former Speaker of the Hellenic Parliament. The extradition proceedings had lasted for almost three months due to repeated absences of witnesses or attorneys and health condition of Shushanashvili (he was hospitalized from the courtroom twice). However, in early June, the Thessaloniki Court of Appeal has ruled to extradite him to France.
By that time, his brother Kakhaber Shushanashvili – sentenced by the Spanish court to 20 years and 11 months behind bars in 2016 (later his term was reduced to 15 years and 3 months) – has already been extradited from Spain to France. In June, the French court has sentenced him to additional 10 years behind bars with subsequent prohibition to enter France. Kakhaber was tried together with 34 other gang members, including two crowned thieves – Georgy Elerdzhiya (Giya Gal’sky) and Zaza Elikashvili (Karaleika), – who have also been sentenced to 10 years in jail. Other gang members were sentenced to various prison terms: three overseers – to 8 years, keepers of the thieves’ pooled cash fund – to 5–7 years, while gofers and receivers of stolen goods – to 1.5–4 years behind bars.
Shushanashvili junior (Kakha Rustavsky)
All gang members were charged with home burglaries and sales of stolen goods, while the thieves-in-law – with coordination of activities of a criminal group in Strasbourg, La Rochelle, Poitiers, and Niort.
Kakhaber Shushanashvili is currently kept under maximum security in Baumettes Prison in Marseille. 23 hours a day he spends in solitary confinement and enjoys one hour in the open air permitted to him in solitude as well. If the crowned thief has health issues, 20 SWAT troopers accompany him to the hospital. The location of Kakhaber’s older brother is unknown – but taking his incarceration conditions, the desire of Lasha Shushanashvili to avoid extradition to France by all means seems quite understandable.
After the ‘decapitation’ of the clan led by Lasha and Kakha Rustavsky by the Greek and French law enforcement authorities, Spain has picked up the torch and delivered a blow to illegal structures controlled by brothers Shushanashvili and continuing their operations in the country under the supervision of overseers.
A joint operation of the Mossos d'Esquadra (Catalan police force) and Civil Guard of Spain dubbed “KUS” and involving almost 800 operatives has been carried out in Barcelona, Alicante, Valencia, Albacete, and Granada after a two-year-long inquest into the operations of the Armenian–Georgian organized criminal group.
According to the Mossos d'Esquadra, in the framework of the operation targeting a criminal group specializing in drug trafficking, arms trade, tobacco smuggling, money laundering, corruption in sports bookmaking, and other property crimes committed throughout Europe, 73 searches and 142 arrests were performed, including 7 arrests of thieves-in-law. The majority of the people detained in the course of Operation KUS were ethnic Armenians.
Nine firearms, rounds, transportation means, jewelry, contraband cigarettes, drugs, bulletproof vests, equipment for melting precious metals, some $120 in cash, and Russian passports have been seized during searches.
Dummy companies belonging to gang leaders were used to launder criminal proceeds and make financial transactions between gang members. The criminal bosses had also managed the accrued capitals, made investments, purchased real estate, etc.
The Civil Guard of Spain hasn’t disclosed the names of the majority of detained crowned thieves. It is only known that Armenian thief-in-law Erik Dzhaginyan (Ero Tomsky) has been arrested in July.
Failed redistribution of assets
The ‘orphaned’ Spanish ‘laundromats’ and other businesses of brothers Shushanashvili in Costa del Sol have inevitably attracted emissaries of a rival clan. The Civil Guard and National Police Corps of Spain used this opportunity to deliver a serious blow to another thieves’ clan. On August 4, two crowned thieves have been detained in Marbella, Malaga, while the third one – coming on a rendezvous with them – in the Barcelona Airport.
All the three detainees were members of a clan entrenched in Italy under the leadership of Oniani and Dzhangveladze and opposing brothers Shushanashvili.
56-year-old thief-in-law Merab Dzhangveladze (Merab Sukhumsky) is the leader of one of the largest thieves’ clans in Europe consisting mostly of Georgian natives. In 1991, he has relocated to Europe together with Tariel Oniani (Taro). After the trial of Shakro Molodoy, Oniani’s escape from the Spanish justice, and his subsequent arrest and trial in Russia, the clan of Dzhangveladze started actively struggling against brothers Shushanashvili – the emissaries of Ded Khasan in Europe. In summer 2013, Dzhangveladze was arrested by the Hungarian authorities in Budapest and escorted to Bari, Italy. Initially, he was charged with masterminding the murder of Georgian businessman Revaz Churadze – but the prosecution failed to prove this. Ultimately, the Italian court has sentenced Merab Sukhumsky to 4 years and 8 months for extortion, document forgery, and money laundering. In 2016, after serving a portion of his term, Dzhangveladze has been released under home arrest. In November 2016, representatives of the General Administration of Criminal Investigation of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation have visited him in Bari and delivered an order prohibiting the thief-in-law from entering Russia for life.
The two clans subordinate to Ded Khasan and represented in Europe by brothers Shushanashvili and Taro – who was always supported by Merab Dzhangveladze – were at feud over the control over the European businesses of crowned thieves since the conviction of Zakhary Kalashov (Shakro Molodoy), keeper of the European thieves’ pooled cash fund, to 9 years behind bars and fine of €20 million by the Madrid court in 2006 for creation of a criminal community and money laundering. For 10 years, the opponents had exchanged blows, including both diplomatic steps (e.g. circular letters announcing the decrowning of leaders of the rival clan) and physical elimination of adversaries.
After the incarceration of Lasha and Kakha Rustavsky by the French authorities, the clan led by Oniani decided to lay hands on the money laundering business created back in the early 2000 by Shakro Molodoy and Taro and dispatched to Marbella thieves-in-law Atrem Sargsyan (Artem Saratovsky), Irakly Pipia (Ika Sukhumsky), and Lasha Barateli (Chia). Their task included, in addition to the redistribution of the spheres of influence, the physical neutralization of the leader of the rival criminal community. However, the crowned thieves from the clan of Merab Dzhangveladze failed their mission – all the three of them ended up in a Spanish jail.
Too outstanding person
The operations of the French and Spanish law enforcement authorities could not go unnoticed by the European Union and Turkey – the residence of many thieves-in-law representing various clans in the recent years.
In addition, the activities of ambitious and influential Azerbaijani crowned thief Nadir Salifov (Guli) have been broadly covered by the media. After serving 22 years in the Gobustan Prison in Azerbaijan, Guli has relocated to Turkey and settled in his own mansion in Istanbul. Numerous publications in the Russian media about the takeover of Russian regions and the largest grocery market in Moscow by Guli via his emissaries have reportedly attracted the attention of the Istanbul Organized Crime Department to his person.
Earlier, the Turkish police had prevented the assassination of Salifov plotted by members of the clan founded by late Rovshan Lenkoransky – many experts believe that Guli was involved in his murder committed in Turkey in August 2016. On October 7, the crowned thief has held a large-scale congregation in a residential neighborhood of Fatih municipality. Aside from a dozen thieves-in-law from his close circle, the congregation was attended by some 200 criminal ‘authorities’ from the Caucasus and Central Asian republics. On the next day, the Turkish police detained Guli in Istanbul – but a day later, he was released. A similar story had earlier occurred with Guli in Montenegro – he was briefly arrested after the congregation held to celebrate his birthday.
A week after the incident, a Turkish court annulled the decision of the Directorate General of Migration Management to deport Nadir Salifov – although the Russian MIA General Administration of Criminal Investigation has put him on the international wanted list for abductions and extortion, while the Presnensky District Court of Moscow and Samara District Court have arrested Guli in absentia.
A few days later, Guli was detained again in Turkey and locked up in a temporary detention facility of the Directorate General of Migration Management. Haqqin.az Azerbaijani news portal reported, citing Salifov’s relatives, that the Turkish authorities were examining the possibility to extradite the crowned thief either to Azerbaijan or Russia. On December 4, some media outlets reported the extradition of Guli to Azerbaijan where he was allegedly put under home arrest. However, in late December, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Justice refuted this information and stated that Salifov hasn’t committed any new crimes in his native country and the Azerbaijani authorities have no reasons to seek his extradition. The State Migration Service of Azerbaijan also does not possess any information in relation to the deportation of Salifov and notes that, most probably, the thief-in-law has arrived to the country voluntarily.
Guli is not the only crowned thief who has attracted the attention of the Turkish authorities in 2018. On October 26, the Turkish police have detained Georgian thief-in-law Mindia Goradze (Lavasogly Batumsky) during a raid. An unregistered handgun and rounds were found in his car. A month later, the attorney for Goradze told in an interview to Rustavi 2 TV Channel that his client has been released. The Georgian MIA has immediately refuted this information and stated, citing the Turkish colleagues, that the crowned thief remains in detention and awaits extradition because he was detained as per request from Interpol – in July 2018, Mindia Goradze was found guilty of bearing the status of a thief-in-law, extortion, and illegal obstruction of journalistic activities by a Georgian court and sentenced in absentia to 12 years behind bars.
France again. VORS 69-01
In December, the French law enforcement authorities have arrested in Lyon 22 members of a Georgian–Armenian–Azerbaijani organized criminal group led by two crowned thieves – Mindia Nizheradze (Mindia Tskhaltubsky) and Revaz Seskuria (Vepkho). Both of them have been living in Europe for a long time.
Items seized during searches
More than 300 French, Belgian, and Georgian operatives were involved in Operation VORS 69-01. Gang members have been charged with home burglaries, car thefts, document forgery, and drug trafficking committed in France. In the course of the searches of suspects’ residences, jewelry, firearms, deluxe cars, large amounts of cash, fake IDs, Methadone, and 1500 packs of contraband cigarettes were seized. The damages inflicted by the organized criminal group have been preliminary estimated at some €400 thousand. The detained suspects are facing up to 15 years behind bars.
45 years for thieves’ title
The high-profile trial of a criminal syndicate controlled by crowned thief Razhden Shulaya, also known as Razhden Pitersky, Roma, and Brat (Brother), has concluded in the USA on December 20 with a surprisingly severe sentence
The Southern District Court of New York has found the thief-in-law guilty of abductions, criminal conspiracy, extortion, fraud, robberies, sales of stolen items, and ties with organized criminal groups and convicted him for the totality of the crimes committed to 45 years behind bars. In addition, the court has seized Shulaya’s assets worth in total $2.16 million and ordered him to compensate the damages in the amount of $550 thousand. Furthermore, upon release, he will remain under the special oversight of the police for 3 years.
Razhden Shulaya with friends
Judge Loretta Preska has noted prior to delivering the sentence that Shulaya does not feel regret and likely won’t mend his ways in detention – therefore, the only way to protect the society from his is to keep him behind bars as long as possible.
A 41-year-old resident of St. Petersburg having a higher economic education and son of a prominent St. Petersburg businessman Bondo Shulaya was crowned in Cyprus in May 2013 by members of the clan led by Merab Zhangveladze: Roin Uglava (Matveich), Antimoz Kukhilava (Antimos), Eduard Asatryan (Osetrina Starshy (Sturgeon Meat Senior)), Georgy Uglava (Takhi), Temuri Nemtsisveridze (Tsripa Kutaissky), etc. According to British political expert Mark Galeotti specializing in the Russian organized crime, Shulaya was known in St. Petersburg as a confidant of thief-in-law Shakro Molodoy and ‘overseer’ of the city long before the bloody conflict between clans led by Ded Khasan and Oniani–Dzhangveladze. In the mid-2000s, Shulaya survived an assassination attempt and was wounded in the head. He decided to relocate to the USA after divorcing his wife and death of his father. According to ex-wife Natalia Shulaya, Razhden has inherited from his father several residential and commercial properties in St. Petersburg, and the income generated by their lease allowed him to live comfortably overseas without the need for working.
Razhden Shulaya was arrested in June 2017 in the course of a large-scale joint operation of the FBI, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Police Departments of New York and several other cities. According to the US Attorney's Office, 33 members of ‘Russian mafia' operating under the leadership of thief-in-law Razhden Shulaya were identified in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Nevada. 27 of them have been detained, while the remaining 5 – put on the wanted list. The gang led by Razhden Pitersky was involved into a number of crimes, including contraband tobacco trafficking, fraud with bank cards (skimming), thefts of cargo, racketeering, drug and arms dealing, and murder for hire conspiracy. Media wrote about an episode involving the theft of 4.5 tons of chocolate and other confectionery, a series of robberies involving ladies of easy virtue who were chloroforming the victims, reprogramming of gambling machines in a Philadelphia casino, and an attempt to launch a nightclub to deal drugs.
A year later, only 2 suspects, out of the 33, have ended up in the dock – Shulaya and famous Georgian boxer Avtandil Khurtsidze, IBO middleweight champion and former WBO middleweight champion. They refused to make plea deals and denied any guilt. The FBI and US Attorney's Office consider Khurtsidze the head of the enforcement unit in the organized criminal group of Razhden Pitersky. On September 7, 2018, Khurtsidze has been sentenced to 10 years behind bars.
As The CrimeRussia wrote earlier, many episodes incriminated to Razhden Shulaya had no hard evidence; while the indictment was initially based on testimonies of FBI informants and later – on statements of other suspects who had made plea deals in exchange for freedom or milder sentences. For instance, Zurab Dzhanashvili, who used to be the closest associate of Shulaya, has provided the most important evidence against his former boss. The sentencing of Dzhanashvili is scheduled to early 2019.
During the trial, the prosecution and FBI agents had emphasized that Razhden Shulaya was a member of the criminal elite of the post-Soviet states. They had presented to the court such ‘evidence’ as photos of a smartphone case with ‘thieves’ stars’ on it, pictures of Razhden Pitersky in a shirt with a similar pattern, and records of conversations where Shulaya refers to his criminal status. According to The CrimeRussia source in the immigrant community of New York, this factor has played a decisive role in the conviction of Shulaya.