FATIL Project. Germany links together Armenian ambassador, thieves-in-law, Italian mafia, and Hells Angels
Results of a journalistic investigation carried out by Der Spiegel and MDR TV Channel implying that high-ranked Armenian diplomats ‘patronize’ ‘Armenian mafia’ operating in Germany under the leadership of thieves-in-law compromised the reputation of the local Armenian diaspora, sparked lawsuits, and caused diplomatic tensions between the two countries. The CrimeRussia was figuring out what ties can exist between the Armenian organized crime, biker gangs, and Calabria-based 'Ndrangheta.
In early November, Der Spiegel weekly newspaper and the Thuringian branch of Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk TV Company have partially published results of their joint journalistic investigation based on the 19-page report produced by the Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt, BKA), thus, announcing the forthcoming premiere of a documentary entitled “Godfathers in Germany — Armenian Mafia and thieves-in-law” (Paten in Deutschland — die armenische Mafia und die Diebe im Gesetz).
The publications under such high-profile headings as “Armenian mafia exists” (MDR Thüringen) and “Thieves-in-law” (Der Spiegel) were dedicated to a joint special operation of BKA, the Federal Intelligence Service (Bundesnachrichtendienst, BND), police departments of some German states, and Europol dubbed “FATIL Project — Fight against thieves-in-law”.
Investigation without evidence
According to the journalists, a well-conspired and sophisticated ‘Armenian mafia’ network infiltrates a number of big German cities running various illegal businesses, including credit frauds, counterfeiting of money, laundering of criminal proceeds, racketeering, drug trafficking, and prostitution. According to the report, crowned thieves control this complex criminal structure. Fourteen criminal cases have been instituted in the course of the investigation; 42 people have been charged. However, the journalists haven’t provided the names of Armenian thieves-in-law defined by Der Spiegel and MDR as “high-ranked ‘authorities’ of the Russian–Eurasian organized crime”. It is also unknown whether these persons are currently in Germany – authors of the inquest, Maik Baumgärtner, Joerg Diehl, and Martin Knobbe from Der Spiegel and Axel Hemmerling and Ludwig Kendzia from MDR Thüringen, don’t insist on this.
Authors of the journalistic investigation
Contrariwise, the journalists emphasize strong ties between the bosses of ‘Armenian mafia’ in Germany and leaders of the Eurasian organized crime in Belgium, France, and Spain. For instance, in the course of KUS special operation carried out in July 2018, the police have detained 129 people, mostly ethnic Armenians. There were 8 crowned thieves among them, including Erik Dzhaginyan (Ero Tomsky) and Artem Sargsyan (Artem Saratovsky).
The authors admit that FATIL Project was closed by Bundeskriminalamt in summer 2018 due to lack of evidence, personnel, and technical means for monitoring. Still, the journalistic inquest refers to Ashot Smbatyan, Armenian Ambassador to Germany, in a pretty negative context. An instruction issued by BKA in March, recommends police authorities of German states “to avoid collaborating with him”. The reason behind such an attitude is the possible merger of state and diplomatic structures of Armenia with crowned thieves. Furthermore, Bundesnachrichtendienst had allegedly suspected Smbatyan of smuggling and complicity in illegal immigration back in 2008 – at that time, he was not the ambassador yet but already worked at the Armenian Embassy in the Federal Republic of Germany.
It is necessary to note that during the rule of Serzh Sargsyan – who has appointed Smbatyan the ambassador in 2015 – the Armenian Foreign Ministry had repeatedly found itself in sticky situations.
Russian ‘authoritative’ businessmen Ruben Tatulyan (Robson), who had attended in 2017 a thieves’ congregation in the Czech Republic together with thieves-in-law Gaioz Zviadze (Giya Kutaissky) and Gela Kardava, has presented an Armenian diplomatic passport to the immigration police and was immediately released. According to The CrimeRussia sources, it was Tatulyan who has financed the congregation in Karlovy Vary. A year earlier, the overseer of a portion of southern Russia appointed by crowned thief Aslan Usoyan (Ded Khasan) and vehemently denying any ties with the criminal world had rammed an access gate at the Sochi Airport by his Geländewagen with license plates issued by the Armenian Embassy in Russia. In the course of the subsequent investigation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia has confirmed the issuance of a diplomatic passport to Tatulyan “for active efforts contributing to the economic development of the country”. However, according to some information, a few years ago, it was possible to become an honorary consul of Armenia for mere $50 thousand. Furthermore, the then-President of Armenia was spotted dining with Ded Khasan.
After the 'Velvet Revolution' in Armenia in April 2018 that has brought to power opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan, the new authorities launched a ‘sweeping purge’ of criminals, including thieves-in-law who had comfortably lived in the country under the rule of Serzh Sargsyan. The police started mass arrests of crowned thieves and prophylactic talks with them. Before long, the operatives came with checks to residences of supreme Armenian crowned thieves: Samvel Arutyunyan (Samvelik), Zhirair Brutyan (Zhiro Shaumyansky), Norair Piloyan (Koncho), Suren Avetisyan (Surik Leninakansky), Artem Gazaryan (Artemik Leninakansky), Armen Manukyan (Sevo), Gevork Melikyan (Gevorik Oshakansky), Samvel Arutyunyan (Maneti Tkha Samo), Rafael Khotseyan (Afo) – son of other thief-in-law Rafik Khotseyan (Khoi), and many others. Some of them have been put under administrative arrest. Later thieves-in-law Andranik Arutyunyan (Ando Khromoi (Ando the Lame)) and Aleksander Makaryan (Alo) were charged with storage of narcotic drugs. Shortly before that, a thieves’ congregation was prevented in Yerevan; a day before it, the law enforcement authorities had forced Irakli, a grandson of Aslan Usoyan (Ded Khasan), to leave the country. Based on the recent activity of the local law enforcement structures, the experts suppose that Armenia is going to introduce a crime control model similar to that used in adjacent Georgia where crowned thieves face severe criminal liability.
Because Der Spiegel and MDR had no evidence against Smbatyan, a provocative and uneasy situation has arisen. The Federal Criminal Police Office ( BKA) cited by the journalists has neither confirmed nor refuted the published information, while the Armenian ambassador in Berlin has predictably resented. Smbatyan dismissed all allegations brought against him as absurd, demanded apologies from the journalists, and filed a lawsuit against Der and Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk with a Berlin court – and it prohibited the media companies from disseminating ungrounded allegations against the ambassador under penalty of a fine of €250 thousand. After some pause, Armenia has also come to the defense of its diplomat.
Ambassador Ashot Smbatyan
The Armenian Foreign Ministry has stated, citing the German authorities, that the operatives investigating the case against ‘Armenian mafia’ possess no information compromising Ashot Smbatyan, while Valeri Osipyan, Chief of Police of the Republic of Armenia, added that no inquiries were received from German colleagues in relation to the diplomat. Similarly with the Armenian authorities, the Armenian diaspora in Germany became really resentful at the journalists.
By various estimates, the Armenian community in Germany amounts to 50–80 thousand people, including some 15 thousand refugees seeking German citizenship. The mass immigration to Germany began after the Armenian Genocide of 1915–1916. Later, Armenians prosecuted in Turkey on nationalistic grounds started relocating to Germany as well. After World War II, many Soviet Armenian, former prisoners of war, have fled to West Germany occupied by the Allies. Since the 1950s and until 1980s, Armenians fleeing from military conflicts and civil wars had been coming to Germany from Iran, Azerbaijan, and Lebanon. The last wave of immigrants arrived to Germany from Armenia in the 1990s. The German Bundestag has officially recognized the Armenian Genocide on June 2, 2016.
Sharvarsh Ovasapyan, Chairman of the Central Council of Armenians in Germany, said that the investigation carried out by Der Spiegel and MDR discredits the Armenian community and institutions affiliated with it because “it promulgates the sole incident of 2014 and a decade-long myth created on its base”. Doctor Ovasapyan refers to a notorious shootout in Erfurt included in police textbooks in Germany.
The bloody skirmish occurred in July 2014 in the capital of the German state of Thuringia and became a high-profile event and the only proven criminal episode attributed to ‘Armenian mafia’ in Germany.
According to the German media, the shootout in Erfurt was caused by a visit of some boss of ‘Armenian mafia’ accompanied by his henchmen from Berlin. The ‘mafioso’ had allegedly tried to lay hands on the criminal business run by his compatriots in one of the most developed parts of Germany.
According to witnesses, after a short but fierce gunplay between representatives of two ethnic clans, who had arrived to the casino by deluxe cars, two severely wounded people, 27 and 54 years old, were left bleeding in the parking lot near the establishment. They were admitted to a hospital and underwent extended treatment. Based on the police reports, at least 12 people were involved in a brawl resulting in the shootout. In the morning, police operatives found 20 empty shell cases on the scene.
Twelve persons were criminally charged – but ultimately the case against them collapsed due to lack of evidence. A series of violent incidents have occurred in Erfurt after the shootout, including mass brawls, arson attacks on vehicles, and assaults against Armenian restaurants and shops – but all of those ended up in nothing as well. ‘Armenian mafia’ of Thuringia prefers not to wash dirty linen in public – normally, the police cannot locate not only perpetrators of an incident, but even its victims.
The authors of the journalistic investigation mention two famous German athletes with Armenian roots suspected of membership in ethnic criminal structures in connection with the Erfurt shootout: Arthur Abraham and Karo Murat.
According to the police, several facts indicate the involvement of 35-year-old boxer Karo Murat, current IBO light heavyweight champion, in the gunplay in Erfurt. His cell phone number was tracked on the scene together with numbers of other participants of the skirmish. In addition, security cameras have recorded his car in Erfurt that night, while a person in a white baseball cap resembling Karo Murat can be seen of the shootout footage.
However, the inquest launched against the boxer was closed on the basis of a statement made by his brother in court. The brother said that a day before, he had borrowed the champion’s car. However, by a bizarre coincidence, after the arrival of Karo Murat to Erfurt in April 2017 to watch the fight between his compatriot Arthur Abraham and German boxer Robin Krasniqi, he was attacked near the ring by several Armenians.
Attack on Karo Murat in Erfurt
According to Der Spiegel, it became known later that all the assailants had participated in the Erfurt shootout.
The police don’t have much evidence against Arthur Abraham – but on the next day after defeating Krasniqi, the
WBO super-middleweight champion (2012–2013, 2014–2016) has visited an Armenian restaurant keeper who was tried in 2015 in relation to the above-mentioned skirmish.
Abraham had also communicated with the restaurant keeper’s brother – who is a suspect in another criminal case pertaining to the ties between ‘Armenian mafia’ of Thuringia and Italian 'Ndrangheta.
On February 17, 2014, a police patrol in Naples has pulled over a black Mercedes with Erfurt license plates and a suspicious company inside – two Armenians, a Romanian, and two Italians. The vigilance of the police officers has prevented the release of 124,550 counterfeit euros in circulation. Authentic €5,260 also kept in the car have attracted the attention of the carabinieri and ultimately resulted in the discovery of the false money.
By that time, two Armenian natives suspected of dissemination of counterfeit money had been under investigation in Erfurt for more than a year. In the course of the inquest, it was established that false euros from Naples and Erfurt had been printed on the same machine, while two suspects, out of the four, were involved in the shootout near the casino. Their mobile phones had officially belonged to Brandenburg-based Abraham box sport GmbH – a part of a large real estate holding managed by the famous boxer and his partners. The Italians detained together with them – husband and wife – were residents of Hanover and had family ties with Calabria-based 'Ndrangheta organized criminal group. The journalists emphasize that 'Ndrangheta is not the only gang collaborating with ‘Armenian mafia’ in Erfurt.
According to MDR Thüringen, two Armenian clans have been competing in Erfurt for the last 15 years. The both ‘families’ own condos, townhouses, and villas in the southern part of the city, run legitimate businesses, and retain experienced economists and lawyers for their financial deals. Back in 2009, the Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt) had suspected ‘Armenian mafia' of drug dealing and credit and real estate frauds.
Two years ago, Axel Hemmerling and Ludwig Kendzia, authors of the documentary “Godfathers in Germany — Armenian Mafia and thieves-in-law” (Paten in Deutschland — die armenische Mafia und die Diebe im Gesetz), found out that the Armenian clans of Thuringia have always been running illegal businesses jointly with representatives of Hells Angels international motorcycle club.
Hells Angels is a legendary and largest in the world motorcycle club having chapters in most countries. It was named after the 303rd US Bombardment Group of World War II. Initially, in the late 1940s, its core consisted of war veterans, including pilots, unable to adapt to the peaceful life. The bikers, mostly unemployed, started amalgamating into chapters and running criminal businesses, including drug dealing, racketeering, and murders. The club got a rigid structure in the 1960s – at that time, Oakland biker Sonny Barger has taken charge of it and registered the Hells Angels brand and logo with a skull and wings. Barger had organized motorcycle rallies on a regular basis and imposed membership dues on the bikers. Law enforcement authorities of some countries consider Hells Angels an outlaw structure committing criminal offenses. In response, club members claim to be “peaceful motorcycle enthusiasts”. Hells Angels were repeatedly involved in biker wars. The bloodiest conflict between Hells Angels and Rock Machine in 1994–2002 known as Quebec Biker War has claimed lives of at least 150 people from both sides. In Germany and Scandinavian states, Hells Angels had long-term conflicts with another large motorcycle club – Bandidos – in the 1990s. Eleven people were killed and 96 wounded in 1994–1997 in Germany alone in the course of an armed battle for control over gambling establishments, prosecution, and drug trafficking with the use of automatic weapons and even grenade launchers. In 1997, the clubs made peace in Hanover; since then, Hells Angels and Bandidos often act as partners in their criminal affairs. At various times, attempts were made in the USA, Canada, and Australia to prohibit Hells Angels through court action. In Russia, Alexander Zaldostanov (Surgeon), leader of Night Wolves, Russia's largest motorcycle club, had asked the Prosecutor General’s Office to do so – but all such attempts have failed. In Germany, local Hells Angels chapters have been banned in Cologne, Kiel, Berlin, Flensburg, and Neumünster in the early 2000s. Since 2017, the club is prohibited in North Rhine-Westphalia.
In the end of the last decade, while the German police forces were raiding local branches of Hells Angels and Bandidos throughout the country searching for weapons and drugs, worthy successors to grimly-looking bikers were establishing themselves in Erfurt.
In 2009, young immigrants, mostly of Armenian origin, have founded, jointly with natives of Azerbaijan and Chechnya, Joker street gang. Similarly with Hells Angels, it had a uniform and rigid hierarchy.
Joker members, together with Hells Angels, were dealing drugs and firearms, kept brothels, and extorted money. In 2010, gang members have visited the grand opening of Red Devils motorcycle club in Erfurt affiliated with Hells Angels.
Five years later, the gang was disbanded due to internal conflicts. United Tribunes criminal group has been established on the basis of it. However, many leaders and members of Joker have grown up and became successful Armenian businessman, storekeepers, and owners of car service centers.
Joker in 2010
However, the influence of ‘Armenian mafia’ on the street life in the red light district of Erfurt is still very strong – as well as their control over drug dealing and prostitution. It is not surprising therefore that Joker was mentioned a week ago in the context of the investigation carried out by Der Spiegel and MDR.
35 kg of marijuana
On November 21, the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany presented the first actual output of FATIL Project – some Karo S. and Artur Z., former leaders of Joker, have been arrested in Erfurt for drug dealing on a large scale. In the course of the searches, the police have seized from the suspects 35 kg of marijuana. The court has remanded both of them in custody. BKA and police expect the detainees to make plea deals – which may push things along in the stalled inquest against ‘Armenian mafia’ in Germany. With regards to Armenian ambassador Ashot Smbatyan, German media outlets have different opinions on his further fate. Despite the current support of the Armenian authorities, the wind of changes in his native country may undermine his positions as well.