#18 - JRL 7209
28 May 2003
Gang Wars in Moscow, Changes Inside Criminal World Viewed
Article by Oleg Fochkin:
A Rusty Crown. Kingpins Live Now By Principles of Oligarchs, Killing, Buying Up Plants, and Resting on Islands
This spring has been marked in Moscow by reverberating criminal turf wars. Bloody executions of "active members of criminal groups" (as agents fighting organized crime call professional criminals) have become permanent features in police reports. Rumors have been getting around the city that a new war broke out among kingpins and that its outcome will be terrible. Is it so? How strong is currently the bandit movement anyway? What processes are taking place inside it?
Appetizer of Lead
On 21 March at 0130 hours, operatives and ambulance paramedics went out on a call to the upscale Takeh sushi bar on Kutuzovskiy Prospekt. On the crime scene, there were two corpses and four wounded people waiting for them.
Two hours earlier, six Caucasians drove to that by in a Jaguar, BMW, and a jeep. They sat calmly in the corner, ordered a bottle of wine, and talked quietly about something. At 0115 hours, two foreign-made cars, their back windows wound down, steered to the bar. Automatic rifle bursts shattered the bar's front window. All the visitors got hurt, while the hit men quickly threw down their weapons and disappeared. Nobody even managed to remember license numbers of their cars.
The hurt people were Chechens, who came from Groznyy, and Azerbaijanis. Killed on the spot were bodyguard and killer Rasim-ogly Badalov and kingpin Muslim Khaskhanov (Muslim), who received a shot in the head. Those wounded included Ruslan Musayev (Kazbek) from Shatura near Moscow, Khaskhanov's friend and right hand; 35-year-old Artik Dobchayev (Artek), also a kingpin and one of the Chechen diaspora leaders; kingpin Mubaris Gadzhi-zade (Rafis) and Isa Mustafayev, both leaders of the Azerbaijani group. Several days later, Artek died in the hospital. When the shooting started, shocked Dobchayev rose and managed to shout: "We are getting shot by the 'blacks!'"
A kingpin is a respected, experienced career criminal whose opinion cannot be ignored in the underworld. He is crowned in secret gatherings. This ceremony cannot be conducted without full compliance with the kingpin law.
Operatives believe that the assault victims convened for a routine "regional" gathering, which was attended by representatives of Azerbaijan, Chechnya, and Moscow and Nizhniy Novgorod Oblasts. The hit men's main target was undoubtedly 30-year-old kingpin Khaskhanov, one of the leaders of the Chechen organized group.
A New War?
Who and why shot the criminal visitors of the bar? Several theories at once appeared. According to one, it was an attempt to resolve a conflict between the Chechen and Azerbaijani groups for control over rich merchants from the Cherkizovskiy market. They reportedly discussed also a general situation in the city. After all, the events on Dubrovka heavily undermined the influence of ethnic groups in Moscow. Of course, the "Slavic" groups (some point to the Izmaylovo gang) immediately took advantage of the situation and started to push the Caucasians out. However, the Izmaylovo people clearly did not take part in the high-profile bar shooting. The fire was opened by Caucasians!
Some supposed that this could have been done by Dagestanis, who also had some economic claims to the killed gangsters. Specifically, the name of criminal boss Grigoriy Gimbatov (Grisha Rezannyy) was cited. He had long been at odds with Muslim and an attempt on his life was made in central Moscow in which two of his relatives died...
A criminal boss is a person belonging to the underworld and occupying a high position in it. He lives by the criminal code of honor. When the kingpin is away from the turf, he acts as "turf supervisor" and is appointed to this post only based on a written or verbal consent expressed by a group of kingpins. A kingpin can also be called a boss but in every-day life people call "boss" a criminal leader with a lower rank. This definition does not cover modern bandit bosses who do not recognize the leadership of kingpins: the so-called "freeze-offs."
Some suppose that the Chechens themselves are involved in the execution. A reason for these assumptions are events that occurred last fall, when Lecha Boroda (Islamov), a well-known field commander and a Chechen criminal boss, who was convicted in Krasnodar, was deported under guard to Moscow. Right after his arrest, he declared himself a kingpin. According to the "rules," however, the "brigadier general" who fought and killed may not wear the "criminal crown." Besides, the bandits held no meeting and there was no "recommending person," both of which are mandatory requirements in this situation. "General" Islamov's lot would have been a hard one, had influential kingpins Robinzon Arabuli, Sasha Tashkentskiy, Khuseyn Slepoy, Petso, and Omar Ufimskiy not come to his defense.
However, the Chechen kingpins, including Artek and Muslim, stuck to their guns and refused to recognize Lecha Boroda a kingpin. This is specifically why a local gathering was convened in the Salyut Hotel. Passions ran high at that meeting and evolved into a knife fight and Artek additionally got hit in the head with a stool. That did not resolve the problem, while "physical insults" inflicted on the gangster only worsened the strained situation inside the Chechen camp.
Meanwhile, the murder spree continued. On 30 April, 40-year-old Mirseymur Abdullayev (Seymur), an Azerbaijani kingpin, was killed at the Peshchera night club. He and his friends were shot and killed almost exactly the way it was in the sushi bar on Kutuzovskiy Prospekt. Two masked criminals broke into the club at 2200 hours and opened heavy fire from their pistols on a group of Caucasians sitting at the table. Seymur was hit by 12 of 25 fired bullets. His associate Ilyas Babayev was wounded. According to police, this crime was a response to the murder in the Takeh sushi bar. People say that Seymur was the leader of a wing in the Azerbaijani criminal community in Moscow, whose representatives did not want to share earnings from street markets with the Chechens. This is supposedly why he staged an execution of his rivals.
Also, operatives noticed that these murders were committed after a major criminal gathering held on 9 March in one of the casinos in Domodedovskiy Rayon, Moscow Oblast. According to different estimates, it was attended by 130 to 200 kingpins and criminal bosses. Most of the bandits killed later took part in that meeting. Is this a coincidence?
An Gathering of Federal Significance
An excerpt from the "Encyclopedia of the Russian MVD [Internal Affairs Ministry]:" "A kingpin gathering is a collective body governing the criminal community. It an illegal or semi-legal gathering of kingpins and criminal leaders connected with them, which is organized to discuss and adopt decisions on urgent issues relating to the operation of the criminal community. Issues placed on the agenda of such gatherings include 'baptism,' 'coronation' of criminal bosses with the title of 'kingpin,' conflicts inside the community, sanctions imposed for violation of traditions, collection and use of 'pool money,' discussion of measures to counter rivals and law-enforcement agencies, division of zones of influence..."
Moskovskiy Komsomolets has information that the top issue on the agenda of the 9 March meeting was an explosive condition of relations between Abkhazian and Kutaissi kingpins, or to be more accurate, serious complaints about one of the most respected and old kingpins, which threatened to strip him of his criminal "crown." The meeting participants tried to reconcile the kingpins with one another and decide how to clean their ranks out of those who buy the "crown" for money ("crackers" and "oranges").
The most famous kingpins that attended that meeting are Kako, Timur, Guram, Badri, and Vitalik Zver. There was also a novelty: The meeting was for the first time held in the form of... a conference call. Some of the thugs took part in it from far away, via mobile phones (earlier, all criminal bosses were required to be personally present at such gatherings).
As the meeting participants said later, the "top guys kept an eye on what was going on." They had in mind kingpins Lasha, Tariel, Shakro, and others, who have preferred recently to live in Spain, as far from our law-enforcement agencies as possible. "Those who have money will soon fly into outer space for meetings, while we will only listen to what they decided," the disgruntled grumbled later.
Nevertheless, the dispute among the participants was so hot that they started a fistfight. It seems, however, that the thugs had eventually not straightened out their relations. Next, they went to a procedure of accepting new members to the "family." By the way, candidates for "kingpin" should now secure at least four recommendations instead of two.
The kingpin family is a group of kingpins in a prison formed by territorial or other kinds of affiliation; a kingpin community as a whole.
See Who Left
Apart from banal turf wars, there are different, truly significant events going on currently inside the criminal world. The criminal elite has virtually ceased to exist.
On 13 January 2003 in Bryansk, kingpin Oleg Rogachev (Rogachenok), the so-called supervisor of Bryansk Oblast, was heavily wounded. Shortly before, Rogachenok had won a two-year war with the old "supervisor," kingpin Borey Petrushin-Bryanskiy (Baryga). Baryga came back in town after serving 15 years in prison and severely told the swashbuckler, in his opinion, Rogachenok where to get off. Petrushin was many times bombed and shot at; he was heavily injured and had medical treatment in Moscow. Finally, he was killed last summer. Yet, Rogachenok proved unable to retain power in the Bryansk region because he did not enjoy the kind of undisputable authority that Petrushin had. Oleg was even forced to hide for a long time. He came back only to celebrate the Old New Year. During the party, however, three of his friends received bad knife wounds and Rogachenok himself was hit by a burst of submachine gunfire and a grenade-launcher shot.
On 18 April, in broad daylight, kingpin Artur Lyudkov (Artur Astrakhanskiy), 42, was shot from a submachine gun with a silencer near the entrance to the Burdenko Military Hospital on Gospitalnaya Square. Police consider his murder a continuation of the conflict between kingpin Shakro and the Izmaylovo criminal group. It is a longstanding war and its death toll is increased periodically by both groups. Lyudkov was Shakro's driver for some time but became later a kingpin himself.
On 22 April, kingpin Merab Tabagua was killed together with his henchmen Aleksey Kryukov and Ivan Zankevich near a bus station in central Bryansk at night. Merab had just finished his eight-year term in prison.
All these facts show that there is no place in the new community for old-generation kingpins, who are accustomed to living by the laws created many years ago by "honest gangsters." Outwardly, everything looks quite decent. After serving their long sentences in jail, the kingpins are cordially welcomed back by their present brothers. Yet, prison and freedom are very different notions. The old "true" thugs try to recreate what they considered a law in prison in their life at liberty. They do not accept the fascination of the new generation with business and life in luxury, something the modern kingpins cannot live without anymore. Conflicts are inevitable. The old kingpins end up falling victims of bloody executions already several months after their release to freedom. Then, their younger colleagues bury them with honors and say respectful eulogies about experience and ideals of the "veteran" -- and, greatly relieved, go back to their already habitual lavish lifestyles, for which they could have lost their "crown" and even life 10 years ago.
Some criminal bosses are shot on the street, while others simply disappear. This is what happened to Serezha Lyublinskiy, who was set at liberty about one and a half years ago and started to rule on his old turf. But the place under the sun had already been taken by young wolves, who had no intention of sharing it with the stranger. As a result, Serezha Lyublinskiy disappeared without a trace exactly one year ago.
Who replaces the high-principled old career thugs, for whom there is no room in a new criminal hierarchy? This replacement is by far not always good even for members of the "family."
At present, there is only one kingpin in "Matrosskaya Tishina" [prison], 30-year-old Zviad Dzhincharadze (Gorilla or Zviad Kutaisskiy). He also attended the 9 March meeting.
Gorilla was arrested for the first time for illegal possession of arms back in 1994. Then, he was on a wanted list for a murder he committed in Moscow. But for a long time he managed to hide in... a St. Petersburg prison. In St. Petersburg, he was arrested for fraud. Finally, Zviad was deported to Moscow, where he emerged in all his beauty.
When Gorilla was delivered to "Matrosskaya," two kingpins had just shortly before been moved from that prison. Zviad decided to install his own rules there. First thing, he changed the "appointees," people who help a kingpin rule and distribute parcels from freedom. But he did not even try to discuss their candidacy with other kingpins at large, as is a habit in the criminal community. Meanwhile, Gorilla's proteges were not respected too much. Dissent among the "Matrosskaya Tishina" inmates evolved into anarchy, with which Zviad cannot cope now, which is one of his responsibilities by the criminal law. It seems, however, that he decided to live by his own rules.
This is evidenced also by Dzhincharadze's possible involvement in a murder committed in 1999. Back than in the Emil cafй on Vernadskiy Prospekt, Natik Ibragimov, one of its owners, was killed. Investigators believe that Gorilla attempted to take control of the cafй and that he could have killed Ibragimov when the latter started to balk. Employees of that establishment found the corpse of their master in a store room. But it was already after the killer had disappeared.
If it was actually Gorilla, he violated at once two kingpin laws. First, he personally committed a murder. Second, he did not kill his peer but a lowly trader.
Gorilla's case is very indicative. As recently as 10 years ago, one of the above violations alone was enough for the thugs to mete out quick justice. Today, it is something that can easily go unnoticed.
The "Family's" Secret Life
So, what is going on in the kingpin movement? To answer this question, your Moskovskiy Komsomolets correspondent met with one of the most respected criminal bosses in the capital city (we will not disclose his name at his request).
My interlocutor behaved confidently and at ease -- a real master of not only the drinking establishment where we had our conversation but the entire life. If I did not know who he was, I would take him for a successful Caucasian businessmen, one of many you can presently see in the capital now. Only the servile attitude of service staff toward him betrayed a special status of the guest.
"So, a new war among kingpins has finally broke out?"
"There is no new war among the Chechens and Azerbaijanis. The speculation that the problem is about one merchant from the Cherkizovskiy market is true only partially. It all started from simple tings about one year ago. Back then, both Muslim and Artek were involved in a feud over Muslim's crashed Mercedes. A commonplace situation. Unexpectedly, however, the whole thing erupted into a fight, in which Artek got hit with a stool in his head. But nobody has the right to get away without punishment for hitting a kingpin. Therefore, there were several more skirmishes, which ended in the shooting on Kutuzovskiy Prospekt."
"And what about Seymur's murder?"
"Believe me, these two events are not connected in any way. Seymur was killed because of money."
"Did the latest gathering influence the situation in any way?"
"It depends on which gathering you mean. There were several. Police talk about a violent meeting on 9 March, but it was preceded by another, more important one, in Kolomenskoye. Generally, three meetings have been held recently."
"I mean the 9 March meeting."
"There was no time at that meeting to handle other issues. A current conflict had to be resolved. In addition, a decision was adopted to curtail the admission of new 'family' members and toughen the rules."
"Did anyone become a kingpin at that gathering?"
"Many wanted to, about 20 people. But only one became a kingpin. Nobody listened to him. Besides, there was no time for that. So, he just jumped on the table and yelled: 'I am a kingpin, yeah! What else do you want from me, just ask!' His yelling was successful -- he was admitted to the 'family.' But not the other ones. They will have to wait for their turn."
"Why such complications?"
"At controversial gatherings, everything is complicated. Those standing in the back may simply not hear what those from the front say. Besides, many start speaking Georgian in the heat of an argument and kingpins of other nationalities do not understand them, and Georgian kingpins represent a majority."
"How many kingpins are there?"
"It is hard to say. About 300 in Moscow. As for the whole country, who can count them? We decided to restrict the admission specifically because new 'family' members have been admitted too easily in recent years and because we want to strengthen our position. Otherwise, nobody will respect kingpins. Besides, there are too many 'crackers' now."
"But there is hardly anyone left of those who live by old traditions."
"Traditions should change over time. There was a time when a kingpin appeared in a prison and told stories about television to old-timers about, who had served time since the czarist days and could not even imagine what television was. They thought that the young simply made everything up and the young could even get it in the neck for that or lose their 'crown.'"
Now, however, everything is changing. There are almost no kingpins left who do dirty work alone. What sense does it make to take an apartment alone when all its doors are made of steel, connected to a security system, and a squad of guards would be in place in no time? Our task is to unite and rule, and prove that the kingpin idea lives on. At present, we have contacts both with the authorities, power structures, and businessmen. And with journalists, too, if it does not hurt our cause. These are modern realities. Most important, however, we remain the 'family,' which will always be there to protect and help us."
Two days after our conversation in Moscow, St. Petersburg kingpin Kostya Mogila was shot to death. Will the "family" avenge his death or it is the kingpins themselves who punished him for betrayal?
It is obvious that although they pretend to abide by traditions, modern kingpins actively penetrate major commercial structures, trying at the same time to control the country's entire criminal world. Yet, it is no longer a kingpin movement that was so romantically and attractively described in books. The era of tramps is over. Modern kingpins are preoccupied more with capital than compliance with old laws, preferring to manage subordinates from European resorts. They are not against making friends with state officials, a reliable guarantee for prosperous and peaceful life. New wars are the last thing they want -- shooting attracts attention and hurts business. And money is more important than traditions.
From Vanka Kain to the "Family"
Before a criminal investigation system was created in Russia, the "daring people" were handled by the Banditry Office. It was engaged mainly in political investigation. Therefore, the preceding period can be called the "golden age" of thugs.
It is believed that the most legendary thug of the past is Vanka Kain, who started stealing back in the 1630's. Not only did he steal but he also knocked together an organized gang, which was a precursor of modern racketeering, as it extorted money from merchants.
During the rule of Peter the Great, Russia swarmed with bandits. In Moscow outskirts alone, there were more than 30,000 of them. They lived separately and went on "dirty" missions in isolated brigades. Criminal bosses quickly gained force after the revolution in 1917 after political enemies of the new state started enlisting professional criminals.
It has never been established precisely when modern kingpins appeared. They are believed to be a brood of Soviet prisons in the 1920's. Back then, however, gangs acted separately from each other. The only exception were pickpockets, who divided turfs at their gatherings. Perhaps the first kingpins appeared in this once most respected caste of the underworld.
According to a different scenario, kingpins were bred by GULAG [Chief Administration of Corrective Labour Camps]. After all, it had somehow to control its numerous labor camps from within. Therefore, the creation of organized kingpin communities was not particularly hampered. After the Great Patriotic War, kingpins emerged as leaders of the criminal world and laid down their "rules of the game."
The professional criminals sustained heavy losses in turf wars, which the authorities skillfully stirred up. For example, some kingpins fought in the Great Patriotic War and even came back from the frontline with war decorations. But the other thugs refused to accept them, viewing them as "bitched" (someone who betrayed the underworld laws). Those people were also called "Polish thugs." This underworld war was fought mostly in places of incarceration and lasted until compromise solutions were found.
After the GULAG system fell apart, the authorities no longer needed kingpins. The 1960's are called by the thugs a period of the "movement's collapse." Their number dropped dramatically, while the very kingpin idea was no longer attractive for young bandits.
The situation radically changed after the collapse of the USSR. At that time, the "kingpin families" flourished mainly in Georgia. Slavic kingpins could be counted on the fingers of one hand. But perestroyka introduced some novelties in the ranks of crooks as well. One of them, Dzhaba Ioseliani, even become an assistant to Georgian President Shevardnadze. Dzhaba died recently and was buried with honors.
Meanwhile, an outpouring of Georgian kingpins gushed into Russia. To take root there, they had to forge new clans by uniting loyal associates. The number of "crowned" thugs grew by leaps and bounds. Of course, this did not just undermine their quality but even reduced to zero the status of kingpin. Any title could be bought for money. Due to this radical increase in their ranks, the kingpins themselves could no longer tell true from self-declared members of the "family."
Not so long ago, the senior criminals realized how critical the situation was and now try to keep it under control, restricting rules of admitting new members to their ranks.