Operation KUS targets Armenian and Georgian ‘mafia’ in Spain
The Spanish police continue purging the country from criminal ‘authorities’ who have relocated to the Mediterranean from post-Soviet republics. The initially loyal attitude towards the suspicious ‘investors’ turned into large-scale special operations targeting criminal groups. This time, the Spanish authorities attempted to bust Armenian–Georgian ‘mafia’ backed by thieves-in-law from several European countries.
An operation dubbed “KUS” has been carried out in Barcelona, Alicante, Valencia, Albacete, and Granada. In late June, the Mossos d'Esquadra (Catalan police force) reported as follows: “We are carrying out an operation, jointly with the National Police Corps, against a criminal group of Armenian origin involved into drug trafficking, arms trade, tobacco smuggling, money laundering, corruption in sports bookmaking, and other property crimes committed throughout Europe”. 73 searches and 142 detentions were reported, including 5 arrests of thieves-in-law. Somehow, names of the crowned thieves were not disclosed. Later the Ministry of the Interior of Spain reported that there were two Georgian citizens, born in 1971 and 1974, among the detainees. They are suspected of crimes stipulated in Articles 515 and 301 of the Criminal Code of Spain – membership in a criminal community and money laundering.
Later it was specified that “129 people have been detained, 74 searches performed, and 7 thieves-in-law busted”. The majority of the people detained in the course of Operation KUS are ethnic Armenians.
Nine firearms, rounds, transportation means, jewelry, contraband cigarettes, drugs, bulletproof vests, equipment for melting precious metals, and some $120 in cash have been seized during the operation.
In addition, the detained suspects had Russian passports.
The criminal group is believed to have criminal ties in the USA, France, Italy, Belgium, and Lithuania.
According to some information, ‘Armenian mafia’ was bribing athletes. Allegedly, the suspects have close ties with tennis, beach volleyball, basketball, and hockey players. The investigation refers to some 20 rigged games. Gang members were making arrangements with the athletes about the final scores and placed stakes on these scores to gain profits.
The court has issued five international warrants to seize bank accounts and movable and immovable assets belonging to ‘mafia’ members. The gang had maintained connections with other criminal leaders residing in various European countries. According to the Spanish law enforcement authorities, all the criminal proceeds were transferred to the thieves’ pooled cash fund.
Dummy companies belonging to gang leaders were used to launder criminal proceeds and make financial transactions between gang members. The gang leaders had managed the accrued capitals, made investments, purchased real estate, etc.
Later, Interpol has provided more details of the special operation: Armenian thief-in-law Erik Dzhaginyan (Ero Tomsky) and some Artak Oganyan were among the detainees.
‘Thief-in-law’ Erik Dzhaginyan is believed to be the ‘overseer’ of Tomsk. He was born in 1987 in the town of Stepanavan located 15 km from Yerevan. Then Dzhaginyan relocated, together with his parents, to Tomsk. According to some information, he was ‘crowned’ despite his young age in opposition to ‘Slavic thief’ Nikolai Kuzmichev (Kolya Tomsky).
A large-scale investigation preceded the special operation. The Mossos d'Esquadra and Civil Guard of Spain have been carrying out an inquest against the ethnic organized criminal groups for almost two years. At some point, the entire operation was at risk due to the political discord between Catalonia and Spain. The most serious problem was the termination of Mossos d'Esquadra Major Josep Lluís Trapero Álvarez by the Spanish Government. The kingdom has decimated the top echelons of power in rebellious Catalonia.
Still, on November 28, 2017, the Civil Guard of Spain has carried out the first stage of Operation KUS – as a result, members of the gang controlled by Georgian thief-in-law Kakhaber Shushanashvili (Kakha Rustavsky) were arrested. In total, some 30 his henchmen of Georgian origin were detained and 14 searches performed in homes and companies affiliated with the gang. Shushanashvili is currently serving a term in a Spanish jail for a number of crimes. In March 2016, the Audiencia Nacional has sentenced Kakha Rustavsky to 20 years and 11 months behind bars. In Spring 2018, the Tribunal Supremo has examined the appeal and reduced the sentence to 15 years and 3 months. Based on the case file, the Spanish law enforcement authorities have been watching Shushanashvili since 2005. At that time, he was referred to in operative reports as the leader of an organized criminal group acting in the interests of his older brother – crowned thief Lasha Shushanashvili (Lasha Rustavsky) residing in Greece.
The police intended to capture him as well – but Lasha Shushanashvili managed to escape. In January 2012, he was arrested in Greece with a fake passport pursuant to the European warrant issued by Spain. Madrid accuses Shushanashvili of leadership in a criminal group, money laundering, and attempted murder committed in 2009. However, Lasha Rustavsky was not extradited to Spain – instead, he was sentenced in Greece to 14 years behind bars. According to witnesses, the thief-in-law had served his term in a comfortable apartment located on the prison territory, with a personal chef and excellent communication with the outer world. In summer 2015, Lasha Rustavsky was reportedly seen in Moscow.
The reason behind such close attention to the Armenian–Georgian gang is a double murder committed in January 2016 in the city of Terrassa located not far from Barcelona. Two Georgian natives were killed in their home on the New Year’s Eve. Their bodies were found with gunshot wounds to the heads. The assassins jumped from the balcony after the shooting and disappeared. The both victims – Gela Galiashvili and Gocha Kakalashvili – were associates of brothers Shushanashvili. Apparently, they were killed due to internal conflicts in the gang.
In the course of the investigation, the law enforcement authorities have tracked ‘Georgian mafia’. Based on the collected information, the two stages of the special operation targeting the ethnic gangs operating in Spain and other countries have been carried out.
El País newspaper writes, citing a number of experts, that while some European regions are striving after independence, the criminal world is undergoing globalization. Instead of so-called ‘Russian mafia’, other ethnic groups have invaded Europe.
Italian and Chinese ‘mafias’, as well as natives of Russia, Armenia, and Georgia are seizing control over European territories. “Larger and larger groups appear – well-organized and even linked with each other. They have connections in the police and specialize in thefts, extortion, money laundering, smuggling, and gambling,” – says Pedro Felicio, Head of the Economic and Property Crime Unit at Europol.
According to Felicio, Operation KUS has neutralized the largest and most dangerous criminal group operating in Europe.
Paul Stanfield, Director of the Organized and Emerging Crime Program at Interpol, emphasizes the importance of coordinated international approaches to the struggle against organized crime: “These criminal networks have nothing to do with national borders because their purpose is to derive profits from their illegal activities”.
According to the local media, the Catalonia independence issue was an informal reason behind the recent clampdown on the ethnic ‘mafia’ with a particular focus on the Armenian origin of the criminals. During the Catalan Independence Referendum, Armenia had kept silence, thus, tacitly supporting the Catalans. Having a territory disputed with Azerbaijan – Nagorno-Karabakh – near its borders, Yerevan allegedly supports unrecognized sovereignties to create precedents. The Ministry of Internal Affairs of the self-styled Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (the Artsakh Republic) has entirely supported the Catalan separatists and issued the following statement: “The right of the people of Catalonia to independently determine their political status through a democratic expression of will is undeniable”. In response, Spain has dubbed the entire ethnic criminal group ‘Armenian mafia’. The Armenian Ministry of Internal Affairs has immediately reacted to this.
The embassy has expressed its concern with regards to the use of this term by the Spanish Ministry of Internal Affairs: “Completely trusting the professionalism of the Spanish public security structures, we consider [placing] the emphasis on ethnic origin to be unproductive in the fight against crime gangs. The embassy expresses its concern in connection with such formulations and emphases; they cause significant damage to the reputation of several tens of thousands of law-abiding and exemplary Armenians living in Spain”.
Artur Vanetsyan, Director of the National Security Service of Armenia (NSS)
It is necessary to note that the current purge in the Armenian circles of power launched by new Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has exposed close ties between the authorities and criminal world controlled by thieves-in-law. Mass arrests of crowned thieves began in mid-May, after the appointment of Pashinyan’s henchman Artur Vanetsyan the Director of the National Security Service of Armenia (NSS). Initially, reports about prophylactic talks with them had appeared. Then it became known that a congregation planned to be held in a Yerevan hotel has been prevented. In addition, the law enforcement authorities forced Irakly, grandson of criminal ‘patriarch’ Aslan Usoyan (Ded Khasan), to leave the country. Then the operatives came to residences of supreme Armenian crowned thieves: Samvel Arutyunyan (Samvelik), Zhirair Brutyan (Ziro Shaumyansky), Norair Piloyan (Koncho), Suren Avetisyan (Surik Leninakansky), Artem Gazaryan (Artemik Leninakansky), Armen Manukyan (Sevo), Gevork Melikyan (Gevorik Oshakansky), as well as Samvel Arutyunyan (Maneti Tkha Samo) who was already detained recently, Rafael Khotseyan (Afo) – son of other thief-in-law Rafik Khotseyan (Khoi), and many others. Firearms, ammunition, and drugs were found during the searches, and some members of the criminal world have been put under administrative arrest. Later thieves-in-law Andranik Arutyunyan (Ando Khromoi) and Aleksander Makaryan (Alo) were charged with storage of narcotic drugs.
Catalan President Quim Torra and Armenian President Armen Sarkissian
The Spanish media specially note an incident that has occurred on June 27 in Washington, DC. During the ceremonial launch of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Armenian President Armen Sarkissian declined to shake hands with Pedro Morenés, Ambassador of Spain to the USA. Concurrently, the Generalitat de Catalunya has published in its Twitter a photo of Catalan President Quim Torra shaking hands with Armenian President Armen Sarkissian during a reception.
In other words, Spain is clamping down on the organized crime and concurrently pursues its geopolitical goals.