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Russian Organized Crime

Belarus, Chechnya and Russia are virtual "mafia states" and Ukraine is going to be one. For each of those countries, one cannot differentiate between the activities of the government and organized crime groups. Economic influence, sooner or later always reaches political power. a key factor in a government's ability to combat OC depends on the extent to which the country's best attorneys and law firms represent the mafia.

The vory v zakone do not engage in racketeering and murder, preferring to distance themselves from this activity and focus on crimes that are further up in the hierarchy, such as corruption of high-level ministers. The level of power that vory v zakone operate at is indicated by their level of interaction with these public servants, because cabinet-level officials do not spend time with unimportant people and cannot be tempted by those who do not have something important to offer.

Whereas terrorists aim to substitute the essence of the state itself, organized crime [OC] seeks to be a complement to state structures. The Governmetn of Russia [GOR] strategy is to use OC groups to do whatever the GOR cannot acceptably do as a government. As an example, Kalashov worked for Russian military intelligence to sell weapons to the Kurds to destabilize Turkey. The GOR takes the relationship with OC leaders even further by granting them the privileges of politics, in order to grant them immunity from racketeering charges.

Putin’s power is founded on his links to organised crime. Putin has a close circle of criminal oligarchs at his disposal and has spent his career cultivating this circle. Karen Dawisha’s book, "Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia" documents how during Putin's time as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg he was alleged to be was involved with the local Mafia, ex-KGB apparatchiks and bureaucrats in schemes involving the diversion of municipal funds, illegal arms shipments, the food shortage scandal of 1991, the local gambling industry, and money laundering for the Cali drug cartel through the Real Estate Board of St. Petersburg.

Gennady Petrov is believed to be the head of a prominent ring known as the Tambov organized-crime group, and is alleged to have ties to Putin and members of Putin's inner circle that stretch back to their days in St. Petersburg. Petrov got his start as a co-owner of the Bank Rossia in 1998-99, together with close Putin friends Nikolai Shamalov, Viktor Myachin, and Yury Kovalchuk. All three were founding members of the Ozero collective, which was formed in 1996 and included Putin.

Petrov used Spain as a base to carry out criminal activities mainly in Russia, including murder, arms trafficking, drug smuggling, extortion and fraud. Petrov was arrested during a raid on his villa in Majorca in 2008 in a sweep that also netted 20 other suspected members of the Spanish branch of the Tambov gang. In a surprise move, Spanish judges granted bail to Petrov, who was out on house arrest as of January 31, 2010. He was later allowed to travel to Russia and has been living peacefully in St. Petersburg ever since. Russia doesn’t allow the extradition of its citizens, and Spain doesn’t try people in absentia.

A 488-page petition to the Central Court in Madrid filed in 29 May 2015 was the product of a decade of investigations into Russian organized crime during the Putin era. It depicts they links between the criminal enterprise and top law-enforcement officials and policy makers in Moscow, including some of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies - Viktor Zubkov, the chairman of gas exporter Gazprom who was prime minister and first deputy premier from 2007 to 2012, and Zubkov’s son-in-law, former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.

In the mid-1990s several vory v zakone began to enter Spain. Since 2004 Spanish prosecutors have created a formal strategy to "behead" the Russian mafia in Spain. This has been a top-down strategy done through extensive investigations of criminal actions by these vory v zakone living in Spain. These individuals have no known jobs and unknown sources of income, yet they live in large mansions. Spanish prosecutors have concluded that money-laundering is likely involved and the challenge has been how to prove this. Spain's longtime experience in fighting drug traffickers' use of money laundering has proven valuable in this regard.

The term "Eurasian mafia" is more socially acceptable and what the Russians certainly prefer. The term Russian mafia can be a misnomer since these criminal groups sometimes involve Ukrainians, Georgians, Belarusians or Chechens. There is a stigma surrounding the phrase "Russian mafia", but it is acceptable to say "Sicilian mafia."

The Thieves-in-Law (a.k.a. KANONIERI KURDEBI; a.k.a. KANONIERI QURDEBI; a.k.a. KANONIERI QURDI; a.k.a. RAMKIANI QURDEBI; a.k.a. RAMKIANI QURDI; a.k.a. SINIE; a.k.a. THIEF-IN-LAW; a.k.a. THIEVES PROFESSING THE CODE; a.k.a. THIEVES-WITHIN-THE-LAW; a.k.a. VOR V ZAKONYE; a.k.a. VOR-V-ZAKONE a.k.a. VORY V ZAKONI; a.k.a. VORY V ZAKONYE; a.k.a. VORY-V-ZAKONE; a.k.a. VOR-ZAKONNIK; a.k.a. ZAKONNIK , United States; Russia; Greece; Ukraine; Spain [TCO] is a Eurasian crime syndicate that has been linked to a long list of illicit activity across the globe. The Thieves-in-Law originated in Stalinist prison camps. Its members are initiated or “crowned” after demonstrating an “ideal” criminal biography and take an oath to uphold a code that includes living exclusively off their criminal profits and supporting other Thieves-in-Law. Gatherings of Thieves-in-Law are called “skhodka,” during which decisions are made on issues, such as specific criminal activity, redistribution of criminal spheres of interest, responses to law enforcement operations, crowning of new Thieves-in-Law, and punishment of those who violate Thieves-in-Law traditions and customs. Law enforcement in various countries have attempted to break up such gatherings in order to prevent Thieves-in-Law from coordinating activities by raiding them and detaining the participants.

The Thieves-in-Law has grown into a vast criminal organization which has spread throughout the former Soviet Union, Europe, and the United States, engaging in a variety of crimes, such as money laundering, extortion, bribery, and robbery. These criminals and their activities within the United States have become a target for U.S. law enforcement. In 1995, a Thief-in-Law was arrested in New York and later deported to Russia after serving a nine-year sentence on extortion charges; another Thief-in-Law was sentenced to three years in prison in 2013 after pleading guilty in Manhattan to a racketeering conspiracy. As recently as this year, U.S. law enforcement indicted over two dozen people, including a Thief-in-Law, for their involvement in crimes including acts of violence, fraud, identity theft, and trafficking in stolen goods.

There are two reasons to worry about the Russian mafia. First, it exercises tremendous control over certain strategic sectors of the global economy, such as aluminum. The US has a strategic problem in that the Russian mafia is suspected of having a sizable investment in General Motors via its interest in Canadian auto parts maker Magna International.

The second reason is the unanswered question regarding the extent to which Putin is implicated in the Russian mafia and whether he controls the mafia's actions. Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian intelligence official who worked on OC issues before he died in late 2006 in London from poisoning under mysterious circumstances, that the Russian intelligence and security services - Grinda cited the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), and military intelligence (GRU) - control OC in Russia.

By 2010 the FSB was "absorbing" the Russian mafia but they can also "eliminate" them in two ways: by killing OC leaders who do not do what the security services want them to do or by putting them behind bars to eliminate them as a competitor for influence. The crimelords can also be put in jail for their own protection.

Certain political parties in Russia operate "hand in hand" with OC. For example, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was created by the KGB and its successor, the SVR, and is home to many serious criminals. Grinda further alleged that there are proven ties between the Russian political parties, organized crime and arms trafficking. Some cite the strange case of the "Arctic Sea" ship in mid-2009 as "a clear example" of arms trafficking.

The threat and use of violence is a defining characteristic of Russian organized crime. Violence is used to gain and maintain control of criminal markets, and retributive violence is used within and between criminal groups. The common use of violence is not surprising since extortion and protection rackets are such a staple of Russian criminal activity.

ROC had relatively little or no involvement in some of the more traditional crimes of US organized crime, such as drug trafficking, gambling, loan sharking, etc. On the other hand, these varied criminal groups are extensively engaged in a broad array of frauds and scams [of teh sort they perferctd in the Soviet Union during the Period of Stagnation], including health care fraud, insurance scams, stock frauds, antiquities swindles, forgery and gasoline tax evasion schemes.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world became the target of a new global crime threat from criminal organizations and criminal activities that have poured forth over the borders of Russia and other former Soviet republics such as Ukraine. The nature and variety of the crimes being committed seems unlimited—drugs, arms trafficking, stolen automobiles, trafficking in women and children, and money laundering are among the most prevalent.

The spillover was particularly troubling to Europe (and especially Eastern Europe) because of its geographical proximity to Russia, and to Israel, because of its large numbers of Russian immigrants. But no area of the world seems immune to this menace, especially not the United States. America is the land of opportunity for unloading criminal goods and laundering dirty money. The transnational character of Russian organized crime, when coupled with its high degree of sophistication and ruthlessness, attracted the world’s attention and concern.

The privatization of state property that began in Russia in 1992 — when public property began to be sold to private investors — both expanded and solidified the complex relationship that had developed between the state and organized crime. Because of its connections to officialdom and to the shadow economy, organized crime took part in what has become the enormously lucrative scheme of privatization. As a result, the assets controlled by organized crime give it enormous economic power, and hence political power as well. These assets enable criminal organizations (in various guises) to deal directly with the state—on behalf of their own economic interests — from a position of parity.

Organized crime in Russia uses legal businesses as fronts for illegal activities and for setting up illegal product lines. It creates “political clans” to exercise political power and seeks to create and regulate markets to exercise economic power. Russian criminals make extensive use of the state governmental apparatus to protect and promote their criminal activities. For example, most businesses in Russia—legal, quasi-legal, and illegal—must operate with the protection of a “krysha” (roof). The protection is often provided by police or security officials employed outside their “official” capacities for this purpose. In other cases, officials are “silent partners” in criminal enterprises that they, in turn, protect.

Through networks of financial-industrial groups or holding companies, central and regional organized crime groups penetrate into each other’s territory, where they struggled for political and economic spheres of influence. The expansion of organized crime in Moscow, for example, occurred through buying real estate, and through gaining controlling shares of banks and other enterprises. These crime groups, in turn, bought up controlling shares in various regional banks and enterprises on a broader regional level outside of Moscow.

Because of the proliferation of groups, there is not a specific organizational structure that can be delineated as if it described one criminal organization. Even the characterization "Russian" is used generically to refer to a variety of Eurasian crime groups - many of which are not Russian. Among the active criminals in the U.S. are Armenians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, and persons from the Caucasus region of the former Soviet Union (Chechens, Dagestanis, and Georgians). The media and law enforcement call these groups various names - Russian mafia, Russian mob, Organizatsya, Bor, Bratva, etc. Some of the group names refer to geographical locations in Russia - Izmailovskaya, Dagestantsy, Kazanskaya, and Solntsenskaya. The latter are indicative of the local geographically defined roots of some Russian crime groups.

It was estimated in 2007 that approximately 15 of these loosely categorized criminal groups were operating in the United States, and that 8 or 9 of them maintain links to Russia. The estimated membership of those groups is 5 - 6,000 members. To put these estimates into context, a June 2000 report published by the Global Organized Crime Project of Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies ("Russian Organized Crime: Putin's Challenge") estimated that 200 large ROC groups were operating in 58 countries worldwide, including the United States.

Donald Trump

To all evidence, Donald Trump is the Manchurian Candidate. Trump has a variety of prior connections with Russian interests. He has said strangely friendly things about Russia, and early on in 2015 the Russians had clearly endorsed him as their preferred candidate.

The term “Manchurian Candidate” has evolved into common day political usage to refer to someone who is secretly working for an opposing hostile interest. Salman Rushdie proposed on the HBO show “Real Time with Bill Maher” a theory he had heard that Republican campaigner Donald Trump is in fact a manchurian candidate, planted by the Democrats to split apart the Republican Party. A number of other pundits and think-piece artists have minded the same vein of pop-culture reference, but none agree precisely how Trump fulfilled that role.

Starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, and Angela Lansbury, The Manchurian Candidate [United Artists, 1962] is a bleak, mordant spy thriller. A US Army platoon, captured in the Korean conflict, is whisked to Manchuria for three nightmarish days of brainwashing. Returned to the United States as war heroes, one of them - Raymond Shaw, with a Medal of Honor - is used by his mother and the Communists to promote her Joe McCarthy-like husband's political career. Raymond’s trigger mechanism is the Queen of Diamonds. The Denzel Washington version of the Manchurian Candidate [Paramount, c2004] is an homage to the first verion. During the first Gulf War, Sergeant Raymond Shaw saves his fellow soldiers. Using the incident for political gain, Shaw eventually becomes a vice-presidential nominee, for the the Manchurian Global corporation.

Human rights lawyer Scott Horton reported "Among the powerful facts that DNI missed were a series of very deep studies published in the [Financial Times] that examined the structure and history of several major Trump real estate projects from the last decade—the period after his seventh bankruptcy and the cancellation of all his bank lines of credit. ... The money to build these projects flowed almost entirely from Russian sources. In other words, after his business crashed, Trump was floated and made to appear to operate a successful business enterprise through the infusion of hundreds in millions of cash from dark Russian sources. He was their man.

"... his real estate deals were used to hide not just an infusion of capital from Russia and former Soviet states, but to launder hundreds of millions looted by oligarchs. All Trump had to do was close his eyes to the source of the money, and suddenly empty apartments were going for top dollar.... real estate has an arbitrary value. Is that apartment worth $1 million? Two million? Why not $3 million for a buyer who really wants it? When the whole transaction is just one LLC with undisclosed ownership paying another LLC with undisclosed ownership, it’s even neater than hiding the money in an offshore account."

Donald Trump used the mob-controlled concrete company S&A Concrete to build Trump Plaza condos. The company used underpaid undocumented Polish workers, most of whom entered the country illegally, lacked hard hats, and slept on the site. Trump avoided labor troubles, like picketing and strikes, and job safety inspections. But Trump and his associates were found guilty in 1991 of conspiring to avoid paying pension and welfare fund contributions.

Michael Cohen joined the Trump Organization in 2006, and eventually became Trump's personal lawyer, a role once occupied by Roy Cohn, Senator Joseph McCarthy's heavy-lidded hatchet man. Glenn Simpson, the private investigator who was hired to examine Trump's Russia connections during the 2016 election, testified in November 2017 before the House Intelligence Committee that Cohen "had a lot of connections to the former Soviet Union, and that he seemed to have associations with organized crime figures in New York and Florida – Russian organized crime figures". During the 2016 campaign, "One of the things that we learned that caught my interest," Simpson testified, "serious questions about Donald Trump's activities in Russia and the former Soviet Union went to Michael Cohen, and that he was the only person who had information on that subject or was in a position to answer those questions." Cohen was involved in the negotiation of Trump Organization business deals with oligarchs in Russia and Kazakhstan. Before he connected with Trump, Cohen had family ties to the Russian underworld. His uncle, Morton Levine, ran the El Caribe Country Club, a Brooklyn "social club" that was a popular watering hole for Italian and Russian gangsters in the 1980s and 1990s. Cohen and his siblings all had ownership stakes in the club. The club also served as the headquarters of Boris Nayfeld, once the most feared Russian crime boss in the US (though Levine himself was never accused of wrongdoing.) Cohen was a longtime friend of Trump business associate Felix Sater, who pleaded guilty to his involvement in a money-laundering scheme with the Russian mob before helping develop the Trump SoHo hotel. According to the FBI, Sater’s father was a right-hand man of Russian mafia chieftain Semion Mogilevich, considered to be the “boss of bosses” overseeing Russian organized crime worldwide.

The relationship beteen Donald Trump and Felix Sater represented a rather direct link between the presidential candidate and Russian Organized Crime. The Russian émigré — a twice-convicted felon with ties to the Mafia — appeared in photos with Trump, and carried a Trump Organization business card with the title “Senior Advisor to Donald Trump.” Trump confused when asked under oath in a 2013 about his relationship to the Russian émigré.

Sater served prison time for a grisly 1991 assault at the El Rio Grande restaurant and bar in New York. According to court documents, Sater allegedly told a man at the bar, “I’ll kill you. I’ll rip your f****** head off and stick it down your throat.” Sater then allegedly grabbed a frozen margarita from the bar, flung the contents in the air, smashed the glass on the bar, and stabbed the man in the cheek and neck, breaking his cheek and jaw, lacerating face and neck and severing nerves. He was convicted of first degree assault.

Sater emailed Cohen in November 2015. "I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. We both know no one else knows how to pull this off without stupidity or greed getting in the way. I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer. I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this."

Bayrock Group LLC was a real estate development firm that partnered with Trump on numerous projects after renting office space from the Trump Organization. Sater is a top Bayrock executive in the Bayrock Group, which is headquartered in Trump Tower. The founding chairman of Bayrock is Tevfik Arif, who has reputed Russian organized crime ties. In 2010 he was charged in Turkey for smuggling underage girls into the country for prostitution. Another principal in the deal is Russian émigré Tamir Sapir, who also lives in Trump Tower. Sapir’s executive vice president and top aide, Fred Contini, pled guilty in 2004 to “participating in a racketeering conspiracy with the Gambino crime family for 13 years.”

Sater pled guilty in 1998 to one count of racketeering for his role in a $40 million stock fraud scheme involving the Genovese and Bonanno crime families. The connection to Felix Sater dated to the early 2000s. After Sater's criminal history and past ties to organized crime came to light in 2007, Trump distanced himself from Sater. Less than three years later, Trump tapped Sater for a business development role that came with the title of senior adviser to Donald Trump.

Donald J. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, FL, describes itself as “one of the most highly regarded private clubs in the world”. In all but a handful of cases, Mar-a-Lago sought to fill the jobs with hundreds of foreign guest workers from Romania and other countries. Trump uses a recruiter based in upstate New York, Peter Petrina, to find foreign workers for his resorts, golf clubs and vineyard. Petrina is of Romanian descent and has an office in Romania.

Trump pursued more than 500 visas for foreign workers at Mar-a-Lago since 2010, while hundreds of domestic applicants failed to get the same jobs. Guest workers can be attractive to employers because they are essentially a captive work force, since they can work only for the company that sponsored the visa.

Louise I. Shelley presciently noted in 1999 that " ... the increasing wealth and power of transnational organized crime groups has the potential to undermine even the strongest democracies and impede the transition to democracy in transitional countries. The coordinated international effort needed to combat transnational organized crime does not presently exist. This situation may usher in a new form of authoritarianism with severe long-term consequences for much of the world's citizenry."

In an interview Sunday with ABC’s This Week, Trump commended campaign manager Corey Lewandowski for his “spirit” after the aide was caught on camera grabbing a protester by the collar at a weekend rally in Arizona. In Redstate, streiff wrote on 22 March 2016 that "This kind of vicious, suck-up-kick-down toady is attracted to Trump the way lint is attracted to Velcro. ... This is a warning about the people a Trump administration would attract and the way a Trump administration would operate. This is your preview of a Trump administration."

Sunny Isles Beach condominium towers drew in new moneyed Russians all too eager to pay millions. Kenneth McCallion, a former prosecutor who tracked the flows of Russian criminal money into Trump's properties, told Seth Hettena, "Trump's genius – or evil genius – was, instead of Russian criminal money being passive, incidental income, it became a central part of his business plan." McCallion continued, "It's not called 'Little Moscow' for nothing. The street signs are in Russian. But his towers there were built specifically for the Russian middle-class criminal."

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Page last modified: 01-09-2020 20:43:41 ZULU