Caucase Normandie. Thief-in-law Lasha Rustavsky busted in Greece may avoid extradition to France or Georgia? 

Caucase Normandie. Thief-in-law Lasha Rustavsky busted in Greece may avoid extradition to France or Georgia?
Attorneys for Lasha Shushanashvili oppose extradition of their client to France Photo: The CrimeRussia

Last week, influential Georgian thief-in-law Lasha Shushanashvili and several other crowned thieves close to him have been busted in Greece. However, bodyguards of Lasha Rustavsky, who had resisted the police, were not remanded in custody and, according to his attorneys, Shushanashvili has a good chance to be released soon. The CrimeRussia has reviewed a special operation jointly carried out by the French, Greek, and Georgian law enforcement structures and extradition perspectives of Shushanashvili.

Georgian ethnic organized crime led by thieves-in-law became a true plague in the EU. The European police deliver massive blows to it from time to time by detaining 30–40 persons at once. On April 16 and 17, the French and Greek law enforcement authorities, in close collaboration with the Georgian special services, have carried out one of the largest such operations in Europe dubbed “Caucase Normandie”.

In the course of the special operations, more than 40 natives of former Soviet countries have been arrested, including 4 thieves-in-law. The majority of the detainees are Georgians by nationality; there are also several Armenians, a female Azerbaijani, and a Russian. Their age varies in the range of 29 to 57 years.

The preceding inquest into operations of the Georgian criminal syndicate had continued for more than two years. According to the French Prosecution, at least 300 policemen were involved into Operation Caucase Normandie carried out in several cities of France. Rennes Prosecutor Nicolas Jacquet said that the preparations to the arrests of the suspects were ongoing for several months in close collaboration with the Georgian and Greek police.

As a result, 30-year-old Elgudzha Shukakidze, 36-year-old David Khodeli, and 39-year-old Paata Akhaladze, keeper of the thieves’ pooled cash fund, have been detained in Caen, Normandy. Nana Matiashvili and Nino Ioseliani, wives of Shukakidze and Akhaladze, who, according to the investigation, were also involved into the crimes, have been arrested together with their husbands. 27-year-old Levan Gochiashvili and famous Georgian rapper, 44-year-old Kakha Abuashvili (Kabu), suspected of illegal activities, have been detained in Rennes, Brittany. Gocha Potskhishvili, Beka Akhvlediani, Vakhtang Akhvlediani, Lorit Pachkoria-Nosadze, Arsen Khachatryan, Zurab Adzhamov, Karen Arutyunyan, Mikhail Ochigava, Aleksei Sanadze, and Azerbaijani Elmira Mustafaeva – all members of the clan led by Lasha Rustavsky – have been arrested in Rouen, Paris, and other French cities. Le Parisien reports, citing its sources, 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.

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Valuables seized from the suspects in France and Greece
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On April 18, 2018, the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs has reported the arrest of the following people in Greece: Georgy Tsilakuri, Lado Dolidze, Ruben Mkhitaryan, Gurgen Egizaryan, David Natobidze, Georgy Zhlantiashvili, Tornike Papava, Georgy Kereselidze, Zaza Gelashvili, Bidzin Paresheshvili, Levan Tsulaya, Otar Bezhuashvili, Vakhtang Andriadze, Mikhail Bezhuashvili, Georgy Damotsev, Irakli Gabelaya, Teimuraz Seturi, Givi Imnaishvili, and Vepkhvia Pirmisashvili. The law enforcement agency could not provide the name of one more suspect because he was not identified yet.

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Out of the four arrested thieves-in-law, only one – Ramaz Gugunishvili (Siu), also known as Aleksander Kabaladze – was detained in France, in Montauban commune not far from Toulouse. Two other crowned thieves – Nodar Shukakidze (Nodo Gldansky) and Merab Asanidze (Chikora) – were arrested in Athens, while Lasha Shushanashvili, called “European thief-in-law № 1” by the Greek media, has been arrested at the entrance to a three-storey mansion in Thessaloniki where he was living since recently.  

Our
notes

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. Shushanashvili wields significant powers in the criminal circles of Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, and Greece. He used to be a member of the inner circle of Aslan Usoyan (Ded Khasan). The European law enforcement authorities consider Lasha Shushanashvili and his brother Kakhaber Shushanashvili (Kakha Rustavsky) leaders of the organized crime of the former Soviet states, including ‘Georgian mafia’ in Western Europe. After the arrest of Zakhary Kalashov (Shakro Molodoy) in the United Arab Emirates and his subsequent trial in Spain, brothers Shushanashvili became key figures in the struggle between two major thieves’ clans led by Aslan Usoyan (Ded Khasan) and Tariel Oniani (Taro). The CrimeRussia wrote earlier that brothers Shushanashvili 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.

Unlike the majority of the arrests performed in the framework of Operation Caucase Normandie, the Thessaloniki police have arrested Lasha Rustavsky a la a gangster movie. Quiet and prestigious Pylaia neighborhood was flooded by patrol cars; over 100 police officers and one helicopter had participated in the capture of the crowned thief.

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According to Protagon.gr, Shushanashvili was arrested in the last moment – accompanied by two bodyguards with cases, he had attempted to flee Thessaloniki. According to the local media, the guards and driver of the thief-in-law had resisted the police; as a result, two persons were wounded (one on each side). The police report states that there were no gunshots, and all the required measures were taken to ensure the safety of people living in the neighborhood.

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Home in Thessaloniki where Shushanashvili used to live with his bodyguards

However, the residents claim that there were gunshots, while the driver of Shushanashvili tried to ram a police car to break from the trap. Ultimately, all the four suspects have been detained; according to Voria.gr, firearms and bladed weapons were seized from the thief’s bodyguards.

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It was initially reported that the bodyguards of Lasha Rustavsky had to be charged with resistance to representatives of authority and illegal firearms possession, but Efsyn.gr wrote that all the four of them have been released on the next day by the Thessaloniki Court. The portal notes that this happened because of the absence of witnesses for the police at the court session, and the case was adjourned. The suspects may not be held liable for delays caused by the prosecution – so, the guards were left on the loose. 

Lasha Shushanashvili has been remanded in custody in the Diavata prison, not far from Thessaloniki, pending the examination of the French extradition request by the Court of Appeal – the Interpol warrant against him and other thieves-in-law was issued following an application from the French authorities.

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Lasha Rustavsky is familiar with this prison – he had served time in it earlier. In 2013, he was sentenced in Greece to 14 years behind bars for leadership of an international criminal organization operating in various European countries. The indictment had charged Shushanashvili with numerous crimes committed by his henchmen, including robberies, extortion, attempted murders, and assassination of a ‘mafioso’ from a rival gang. 

According to Macedonian newspapers, despite the grievous charges, Shushanashvili used to live pretty comfortably in the Diavata Prison; his detention conditions were truly luxury in comparison with other inmates. 

Shushanashvili lived in a special cell equipped with an air conditioner purchased at his expense and officially permitted by the prison administration due to his health condition – in 2012, Lasha Rustavsky has suffered a stroke and was admitted to the Thessaloniki Hospital. The inmates had recognized the leadership of the thief-in-law, while his sole cellmate was, in fact, his bodyguard. 

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Diavata Prison

The Greek police had considered Shushanashvili “target № 1” for rival groups – so as least 5 SWAT troopers had accompanied the crowned thief during his frequent visits to the hospital. As The CrimeRussia wrote earlier, he never had issues with communication with the outer world. In addition, Shushanashvili had a separate menu and a personal chef – while his bodyguard had tasted all the meals to exclude the possibility of poisoning. 

The attorneys for Shushanashvili managed to secure such privileges for their client using numerous doctors’ certificates claiming that the thief-in-law had suffered from numerous diseases, including malignant hypertonia, hepatitis B and C, and vascular encephalopathy. 

Later the documents confirming the poor health condition of Shushanashvili have played the key role in his release in Spring 2015, after the enactment of so-called "Paraskevopoulos law" in Greece – ultimately, the crowned thief has served only 2.5 years instead of the 14 imposed by the court.

Our
notes

"Paraskevopoulos law" was approved in Greece in 2015 following an initiative from Nikos Paraskevopoulos, Greek Minister of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights, in order to deal with the over-incarceration and reduce the budget costs pertaining to the maintenance of inmates. The law grants the right to parole to inmates, including those convicted for grievous crimes, who have served a portion of their term. Thanks to "Paraskevopoulos law", more than 3 thousand criminals, including those of the Albanian and Georgian origin, have been released in April 2015. The law was sharply criticized by the people, politicians, and law enforcement officials because the mass amnesty has caused a huge crime wave in the country.

Agrinio portal provides the following statistics to illustrate the outcomes of "Paraskevopoulos law": at least 5 thousand home burglaries and 500 robberies involving violence and bodily harm threats are committed in Greece on an annual basis. At least 2 homeowners were killed by the robbers in two years. The portal puts the blame for these crimes on ‘Georgian mafia’ that surpasses other ethnic criminal group in this sphere not only in Greece, but in entire Europe as well. 

In September 2017, 28 Georgian natives belonging to the Kutaisi criminal clan were arrested in Italy and Germany on suspicion of 85 home burglaries committed in two years. In November 2017, 23 members of an organized criminal group led by thief-in-law Kakha Rustavsky, brother of Lasha Shushanashvili, were arrested in Spain in the framework of a police operation dubbed “Naples”.

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Kakhaber Shushanashvili (Kakha Rustavsky)

By that time, Shushanashvili junior was already locked up in prison – in March 2016, the Spanish court has sentenced Kakha Rustavsky to 20 years and 11 months behind bars (later the term was reduced to 15 years and 3 months). However, the criminal chapter created by Lasha and Kakhaber Shushanashvili had continued its operations for a while – initially under the leadership of Zviad Dorsadze, a close associate of Kakha Rustavsky, and after his arrest – under the leadership of Spartak Dzhaparidze whose current whereabouts remain unknown. The criminal group specializing in home burglaries had laundered money and sent stolen watches, jewelry, and electronic appliances to Georgia for further resale via a private mailing company belonging to it. 

In February 2018, eight more 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 Valerian Khuadze has been busted in Greece.    

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Valerian Khuadze

The Greek media call Khuadze a thief-in-law, but operative databases on crowned thieves don’t have any references to his name. 52-year-old Valerian Khuadze, 33-year-old Besik Tvalodze, 40-year-old Varlam Dzhavakhashvili, and 39-year-old Mamuka Perandze are suspected of at least 26 housebreaking episodes committed in a number of Greek cities. According to the police, 2–3 burglaries were committed on a daily basis in various cities – often located dozens of kilometers from each other. All robbed homes were pre-selected by the criminals in advance.

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The tactics of this gang was pretty similar to that used by burglars arrested in Greece three weeks later in the framework of Operation Caucase Normandie. 

According to the investigation, members of the organized criminal group were robbing 2–3 households per day, normally in the morning, when the owners were away. They had acted very professionally. The police report mentions at least 56 housebreaking episodes committed in Thessaloniki alone in the last year and resulting in damages totaling €1 million. 

The arrested thieves-in-law are suspected of burglary planning and coordination of criminal operations in the two countries.

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Arrest of thief-in-law Merab Asanidze (Chikora)

According to some information, 29-year-old Nodar Shukakidze (Nodo Gldansky) was in charge of several ‘brigades’ operating both in France and Greece and consisting mostly of his fellow countrymen from the Gdlani district of Tbilisi.

Our
notes

Greece became a haven for Georgian thieves-in-law in the late 1990s for a number of historical reasons. A numerous Georgian diaspora has been living in the country since the beginning of the 20th century: Orthodox Pontic Greeks were fleeing to Greece en masse from ethnic cleansing in the Ottoman Empire. In the late 1980s, the diaspora has grown considerably due to the immigration from the USSR. According to CARIM East portal, some 400 thousand natives of Georgia, including 100 thousand ethnic Greeks, currently reside in Greece. During the rule of Mikhail Saakashvili, criminal liability was imposed on thieves-in-law and members of the thieves’ community – and Georgian criminals started relocating to Greece as well. According to La Stampa, more than 100 Georgian crowned thieves had resided in Greece in 2015; each of them had a ‘retinue’ consisting of 10–20 persons. Greece is frequently used for thieves’ congregations and as a base for ‘guest performances’ in other European countries. Home burglaries are not the sole source of income for ‘Georgian mafia’ in Greece – its interests encompass international drug trafficking and racketeering of small ethnic businesses as well.

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Thieves-in-law Lazare, Kosta, Nodo Gldansky, Dato Cherepakha, and Beso in Greece

Avraam Aivasidis, Security Chief of Thessaloniki, has noted at a press conference dedicated to the results of Operation Caucase Normandie the importance of joint efforts of Interpol, Eurojust, and law enforcement structures of Greece, France, and Georgia in the context of European police cooperation. 

The concerns of Georgia about the criminal mayhem unleash by its citizens in Europe are pretty understandable – the visa free regime with the European Union introduced on March 28, 2017 is in jeopardy. It can be suspended if the number of people illegally staying in the Schengen Area grows too much or should a third country start posing a threat to the public and internal security of the EU. 

The European Union had already pushed Georgia to take actions against its organized crime. In December 2017, the European Commission has expressed concern about the operations of Georgian organized criminal groups in Europe. The report of the European Commission on the visa regime liberalization with West Balkan countries, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine states that Georgia is the leader among the countries – not members of the EU – by the number of its citizens committing grievous crimes in Europe. 

192 thousand Georgian tourists have visited EU countries within the year of the visa free regime. According to the Spanish police, operations of the Georgian organized crime often feature a ‘seasonal’ pattern – some criminal groups return to Georgia, while others ‘take the duty’. Spain, Greece, France, and Germany suffer from Georgian ‘guest performers’ most of all. In February 2018, the Government of North Rhine-Westphalia has called for termination of the visa free regime with Georgia. 

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Thieves-in-law Chikora, Nodo Gldansky, and Lasha Rustavsky are escorted to the Thessaloniki Prosecutor’s Office

France has also suffered much from the Georgian organized crime – its law enforcement structures had launched the inquest preceding Operation Caucase Normandie and submitted an application to the Interpol to issue international warrants against Lasha Shushanashvili and thieves-in-law arrested together with him. 

However, the attorneys for Shushanashvili have capitalized on the French ‘origin’ of the warrant issued against their client – and, as a result, Lasha Rustavsky may be released soon. 

Paraskevas Spiratos, a lawyer of Shushanashvili, calls the charges pertaining to the leadership of an organized criminal group laid against his client a “communicative trick” of the authorities. 

Spiratos believes that the indictment is based on the past criminal record of Shushanashvili having nothing to do with his current life in Greece or crimes committed in France. Shushanashvili vehemently denies all allegations. Spiratos told SETimes that the crowned thief, who is currently seeking asylum in Greece, objects against his possible extradition to France. Shushanashvili also requires the investigative actions involving French law enforcement structures to be performed in Greece where is currently resides. He also requires the indictment to be translated into his native language. According to the attorneys, this gives their client “a hope for a fair trial”.

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Attorney Paraskevas Spiratos

Yannis Lavrentiadis, another lawyer of Shushanashvili, considers the French involvement into the investigation of home burglaries committed in Thessaloniki a nonsense and hopes that the Greek justice is guided by logic in the investigation and examination of deeds committed by his client. 

According to Protagon.gr, Shushanashvili is seeking a political asylum in Greece. His application has been declined at first instance – but he has appealed this decision and is currently waiting for a verdict of the court of appeal. Lasha Rustavsky is a person without legal nationality: the crowned thief has been stripped both of his Russian and Georgian citizenship. 

Based on his past prosecution experience in Europe, the extradition of Shushanashvili to France is unlikely. After the arrest of Lasha Rustavsky in a Greek resort of Vouliagmeni in 2012 upon a Spanish warrant, Spain had been seeking his extradition for several years – while Georgia, where Shushanashvili was charged with leadership of a criminal community of thieves-in-law and faced a lengthy term in a special detention facility located in the basement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, was closely monitoring the situation. 

However, the Greek authorities have declined the Spanish extradition request because of the crimes committed by the crowned thief in Greece. Such a turn of events has even caused some diplomatic tension between the two countries. The EU Bureau for Judicial Cooperation has criticized Greece for non-collaboration with Spain, while Spanish media outlets wrote about bribes allegedly paid by Shushanashvili to the Greek justice for several years and totaling €800 thousand. Shushanashvili had posed as a dissident and private businessman, called his prosecution political machinations of the Saakashvili regime, and thanked the Athens Court for not letting him to fester in a Georgian prison. A similar outcome can’t be ruled out in the current situation as well.

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