Thieves-in-law take the blow after the enactment of amendments targeting them
Article 210 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (creation of a criminal community (criminal organization) and participation therein) has been increasingly frequently applied to businessmen nowadays – designating them members or even leaders of organized criminal groups. However, in three months after the enactment of the amendment, only one person has been charged with holding a supreme position in the criminal hierarchy – thief-in-law Kolya Tomsky. Overall, this innovation likely won’t affect the thieves’ world in any way.
On June 20, 2019, during the live broadcast nationwide phone-in, President Vladimir Putin recommended the State Duma and experts to revise Article 210 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (creation of a criminal community (criminal organization) and participation therein). According to the President, any board of directors can now be charged under that article. Boris Titov, Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs’ Rights, suggested to abolish Article 210 or add a clause stipulating its inapplicability to persons charged with swindling.
According to Titov, Article 210 is increasingly frequently incriminated as an additional offense in economic cases. “The elements of a ‘criminal community’ are attributed to commercial operations of the organization, while the community (i.e. the gang – because Article 210 was specifically introduced to combat organized crime) may consist of the director, accountant, and driver,” – the commissioner emphasized.
Aleksei Kudrin, Chairman of the Accounts Chamber, has also prepared a bill prohibiting the institution of criminal cases under Article 210 of the Criminal Code against businessmen. Ex-minister Abyzov and billionaire Ziyavudin Magomedov are currently charged under this article and face up to 20 years behind bars.
Almost three months have passed since the enactment of amendments to this anti-thievish law. On April 1, 2019, the President endorsed the bill increasing the criminal liability for thieves-in-law and approved by the State Duma as per his recommendation. Part 1.1 has been added to existing Article 210 of the Criminal Code: the punishment for the creation of or leadership in a criminal community or participation in thieves’ congregations is now up to 20 years behind bars, while persons holding supreme positions in the criminal hierarchy face up to 15 years behind bars.
The media started actively discussing the innovation – both in relation to the work of law enforcement structures and possible reaction of crowned thieves.
According to criminal defense lawyer Evgeny Kharlamov, ex-head of the criminal investigation police, the pressure will be put, first of all, on criminals serving their terms. It is much easier to incriminate gang leaders locked up in penal institutions. The expert believes that criminal cases may be revised to meet the new statistical goals, and required confessions will be extracted from inmates.
Conflict management expert Mikhail Orsky, a ‘retired gangster’, is pessimistic and expects “unbearable conditions” to be created for members of the criminal world.
According to Rosbalt.ru, criminal ‘authorities’ and thieves-in-law have taken the new bill seriously and temporarily dropped out of sight by changing their phone numbers and canceling meetings.
Orsky confirms that the criminal world is worried. However, the expert believes that “the new law primarily targets the white collar crime”. The new policy has already resulted in criminal cases against Mikhail Abyzov, ex-Minister for Relations with Open Government, Senator Rauf Arashukov, and Grigory Pirumov, ex-Deputy Minister of Culture.
By contrast, lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky believes that the new bill will neither affect the criminal situation in the country nor disrupt operations of criminal ‘authorities’. The human rights activist considers the existing punishments for such crimes sufficient. Most probably, nothing will change in the society or criminal world – but the law enforcement authorities would be able to report “more intense struggle against crime”.
The initial reaction of crowned thieves to the new amendment was pretty muted – but later, it became known that some of them have relocated abroad. According to Rosbalt.ru, thief-in-law Oleg Pirogov (Tsirkach (Circus Man)) has moved from the Moscow region to Turkey. Ramaz Daneladze (Ramaz Kutaissky) – who had to be deported upon release but managed to stay in Moscow for some time – is also in Turkey. Crowned thieves Guram Chikhladze (Kvezhoevich) and Georgy Kalashyan (Kotik Mladshy (Kotik Junior)) moved to Israel. Ruslan Gegechkori (Shlyapa Mladshy (Hat Junior)) has relocated to Cyprus after the release – the clan led by his father Roland Gegechkori (Roland Shlyapa (Roland the Hat)) and Merab Mzarelua (Duyake) is currently operating there. Several more ‘mafiosi’ have settled in Bulgaria.
Oleg Pirogov (Tsirkach (Circus Man))
Overall, most vulnerable ‘criminal generals’, who could be detained any time, have left Russia. The increasingly frequent arrests and growing number of criminal cases instituted under Article 210 of the Criminal Code have scared them away.
But all leaders of the so-called ‘Slavic wing’ – Tyurik, Shishkan, Petrik, Aksen, and Vasya Voskres (Vasya Resurrected) – remain in Russia. Their departure entails the risk to lose control over income-generating assets – to the great delight of their rivals abroad: the struggle for control over the Russian thieves pooled cash fund has been ongoing for almost two decades, and the ruling thieves’ clan will defend its positions till the last breath.
Nobody is going to identify thieves-in-law by asking them direct questions. Therefore, operatives do so just to observe the formality. A crowned thief may keep silence – but he may not openly renounce his title; this is a mauvais ton. If a criminal is arrested, this means that the evidential base against him has already been gathered, and the only way to avoid a prison term is to turn in accomplices. Now crowned thieves have either to flee Russia, or keep a low profile, or find a good ‘cover’ able to protect them.
Petrik and Shishkan (sitting, 4th and 5th)
According to Znak.com, because of the increasing pressure of the law enforcement structures, the election of ‘thief № 1 in Russia’ has been postponed at least until 2024 (i.e. until the Presidential elections) or even until 2026 when Shakro Molodoy is expected to be released, thus, eliminating the need to hold such a vote. The authorities have taken a hard-line stance on organized criminal groups and their leaders and won’t allow them to elect ‘thief № 1’ earlier.
Last summer, thief-in-law Oleg Shishkanov (Shishkan) was elected – albeit nominally – the leader of the criminal world, while Vasily Khristoforov (Vasya Voskres (Vasya Resurrected)) and Merab Gogiya (Meliya) were permitted to continue collecting money for the thieves pooled cash fund.
Nikolai Kuz’michev (Kolya Tomsky) detained in late May became the first crowned thief charged with holding a supreme position in the criminal hierarchy (Article 210.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). He is not the most dangerous member of the criminal world – Kuz’michev has no criminal record and never wielded real power in his native Tomsk – but the local law enforcement structures decided to use him to demonstrate their compliance with the Presidential policy.
Kolya Tomsky (sitting in the center)
Experts believe that other regions are going to follow the example of Tomsk soon – the presence of a crowned thief in a region indicates the poor performance of the local law enforcement structures.
However, according to sources of Rosbalt.ru, the implementation of the new policy won’t really affect influential thieves-in-law controlling the situation not only in individual regions – but nationwide. The most vulnerable targets are criminals ‘supervising’ groups of bag snatchers, robbers, burglars, etc. in the same old way. But even if this category of the criminal elite flees Russia, this won’t affect the operations of their subordinates. The modern communications make it possible to control the processes remotely; therefore, many such crowned thieves have already relocated abroad. The most illustrative example is thief-in-law Nadir Salifov (Guli): without coming to Russia in person, he managed to seize control over the majority of vegetable markets where most vendors are Azerbaijani natives via his emissaries and significantly expanded his sphere of influence.
On the other hand, it is necessary to keep in mind that the criminal world is not limited to crowned thieves – this is a large social institute involving plenty of people following the ‘code’ and, thus, maintaining the system. In Georgia, they had nearly replaced at some point the official authorities – who were unable to satisfy the needs of the society. If the legitimate social institutes grow weak and become unable to guarantee security and justice to the people, the role of shady ‘guarantors’ increases.
Recent events in Orel Penal Colony № 2 demonstrate the strengthening and expansion of the thieves’ movement. A video demonstrating the real – contradicting to all regulations – life of inmates has leaked online. It shows convicts gathering around tables set for the Easter Feast. One of the inmates says that the banquet was organized by thief-in-law Arsen Mkrtchyan (Arsen Yerevansky). Prior to the feast, the convicts are shouting: “Christ Has Risen! Long live thieves!”
Aleksander Sidorov (Fima Zhiganets), an expert in the criminal and prison culture, considers this a show of the criminal world’s power amid the enactment of the bill targeting criminal ‘authorities’: “You try to suppress us, but you won’t succeed”. According to Sidorov, such feasts strengthen ties within the criminal world and remind inmates that they won’t be left without help. Especially taking that it is now possible to smuggle virtually everything into a penitentiary institution. The expert believes that the new laws won’t change the general situation – it is possible to control criminal operations from a penal colony using the Internet and telephone.
This is how the system based not on laws – but on the ‘code’ – operates. It involves not only criminals – but law enforcement and penitentiary officials as well. In this context, it is premature to talk seriously about the systemic struggle against thieves-in-law.
Inmates having connections, influence, and money are treated differently than ‘ordinary’ convicts. For instance, Evgeny Urlashov, ex-Mayor of Yaroslavl currently serving a prison term, has recently complained about henchmen of Shakro Molodoy having more liberties than others. And the penal colony administration had never tried to stop that.
Or take the recent scandal involving criminal ‘authority’ Vyacheslav Tsepovyaz: on photos published by the media, the person convicted for the mass murder in Kushchevskaya cossack village and serving a 20-year-long term in a colony in the Amur region grills shish-kebab and eats crabs and red caviar.
Vyacheslav Tsepovyaz eats crabs in a maximum security penal colony
Concurrently, officers of the Federal Penitentiary Service demonstrate their zeal on ordinary inmates having no ‘high patrons’.
In summer 2018, Novaya Gazeta newspaper has published a video showing tortures in Yaroslavl Penal Colony № 1. Eighteen correctional officers are beating convict Evgeny Makarov with batons. The events shown on the footage had occurred back in 2017 – and Makarov has reported the incident; however, a criminal case was instituted for exceedance of official powers with the use of violence only after the publication of the video. A month after the first ‘leak’, Novaya Gazeta has published another video showing correctional officers abusing another inmate.
Interestingly, the first reaction of the Federal Penitentiary Service was not to identify its officers involved in the tortures – but find those who had ‘leaked’ the high-profile records to journalists. In other words, it is permitted to torture – but prohibited to expose such incidents to the public. Still, 14 officers of Yaroslavl penal colonies are currently prosecuted in the framework of this case. Thirteen of them were remanded in custody, while Ivan Kalashnikov, Deputy Head of Yaroslavl Penal Colony № 1, has been put under home arrest for health reasons.
The same situation is observed with regards to the use of Article 210 of the Criminal Code. The general public was aware that Shakro Molodoy is not an ordinary crowned thief – but ‘thief № 1’; both investigators and prosecutors had named him thief-in-law during the trial – but still failed to prove that. Last year, the Nikulinsky District Court of Moscow has found Kalashov guilty only under paragraphs “a” and “b” of part 3 of Article 163 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (extortion committed by an organized group with violence on an especially large scale).
A new trend in the use of Article 210 of the Criminal Code has recently appeared. Last week, Ulyanovsk resident Igor Toporkov, a member of Movement for Human Rights, announced that officials of the Federal Penitentiary Service had threatened him with criminal prosecution. According to Toporkov, a man called him and offered to meet and provide information about practices used by the Federal Penitentiary Service of the Russian Federation. Toporkov suggested to meet in his home. Officers of the Federal Penitentiary Service came to him and, instead of providing any information, said that they need to talk about another human rights activist – Anna Malinovskaya. The officers told Toporkov that he and Malinovskaya must leave them alone; otherwise, Article 210 (assistance to thieves-in-law) may be applied to them. In other words, any group involving more than one person may be designated a criminal community, and Article 210 is currently replacing Article 228 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (illegal acquisition, storage, transportation, making or processing of narcotic drugs) as a punitive tool used against inconvenient people.
Only one crowned thief has been detained and charged under Article 210.1 of the Criminal Code – while the number of businessmen and officials arrested for creation of a criminal community is very large. The introduction of a special point for persons holding supreme positions in the criminal hierarchy was an attempt to separate thieves-in-law from other members of ‘criminal communities’ – but this does not improve the distressful situation with businessmen prosecuted under this article.
Magomed and Ziyavudin Magomedov
In addition to above-mentioned Abyzov, brothers Magomedov, and father and son Arashukov, Ingush activist Abo Dobriev has been detained in the last three months. Defense attorney Sherip Tepsaev told Caucasian Knot web portal that, on April 7, 2019, charges pertaining to the attacks on law enforcement officers during the protests in the Republic of Ingushetia earlier laid against Dobriev have been dropped – but he was arrested on the same day in the framework of a new criminal case. According to FortangaORG (@fortangaorg) Telegram channel, Dobriev is now suspected of membership in a criminal community (Article 210 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation).
On March 7, a Samara court has detained for two months four persons suspected of polluting oil shipped by Druzhba Pipeline to Ukraine and Europe via Belarus. The importing countries had to suspend shipments from Russia due to the high chlorine content in the oil. According to the investigation, a criminal community consisting of six persons had embezzled oil worth at least 1 million rubles ($15.8 thousand) and tried to conceal this by adding the pollutants. In addition to Article 215.3 (putting of crude-oil pipelines, oil-products pipelines and gas pipelines out of commission) and Article 158 (theft), the suspects have been charged under Article 210 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (creation of a criminal community (criminal organization) and participation therein).
In early June, it became known that Vladimir and Sergei Makhlai, top managers of TogliattiAzot Public Joint Stock Company, have been charged under the same article. The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) believes that members of the criminal community had used TogliattiKhimBank for illegal transactions. The Basmanny District Court of Moscow has already detained Aleksander Popov, Chairman of the Board of TogliattiKhimBank, for participation in an organized criminal group. “The embezzled revenues were deposited on accounts of offshore companies in this financial institution at high-interest rates; interest-bearing bills of TogliattiKhimBank Joint Stock Commercial Bank were purchased to create an illusion that the funds had a legitimate origin," – RBK Group reports citing URALCHEM.
This is just a small part of the people charged with the creation of a criminal community – but it is obvious that they are not members of the criminal world adhering to the thieves’ code and orchestrating criminal operations. On the one hand, the authorities have launched a war on organized crime; on the other hand, they use Article 210 against people having nothing to do with it.
A few days ago, Deputy Rifat Shaikhutdinov has introduced before the State Duma a bill prohibiting the application of Article 210 to business-related offenses.
“It is proposed to introduce amendments to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation prohibiting additional interpretation of actions committed by persons suspected of or charged with business-related crimes under Article 210 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation,” – the explanatory note states.
According to the bill author, “the existing and widespread application of Article 210 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation by preliminary investigation bodies and courts demonstrates the groundlessness of charges laid against this category of persons under the above article”.
Presumably, it concerns the US response to Ukraine’s help in the investigation against Joseph Biden, Trump’s main rival in the 2020 presidential election, who allegedly was in collusion with Kiev during the previous campaign.