The Chechen mafia (Russian: Чеченская мафия Chechenskaya mafia) is one of the largest organized crime groups operating in the former Soviet Union next to established Russian mafia gangs, which originally consisted of criminals of Chechen ethnicity who later also tried to recruit former Russian special military forces, police and army officers.
It has substantially decreased its presence in Moscow by 1994 after Slavic mafia groups united against their Chechen counterpart, with assistance from Russian police and the FSB (the former KGB). As it happened most of Chechen gang members returned to Chechnya and joined the rising Chechen separatist movement.
Mistaken for the Russian mafia
The Chechen mafia is often incorrectly referred to as the generic "Russian mafia" in Europe, because most people of Chechen ethnicity speak Russian and many emigrated from the Russian Federation during the wars.
According to the documentary The making of a new empire directed by Jos de Putter, the group originated in 1974 after a Chechen student at Moscow State University named Khozh-Ahmed Noukhaev founded an underground opposition movement, which later became known as the widely feared Obshina.
To many Chechens it was regarded as the cradle of the liberation movement, with Noukhaev embodying a persistent Chechen tradition of the bandit-warrior. By 1987 Chechen criminals had developed into a well-organized community under Nukhayev and Nikolay Suleimanov, the group forced the most influential local OC gangs (the Lyubertsy, Solntsevo, and Balashikha) out of Moscow which allowed the Chechens to occupy the dominant position.
Recent reports estimated that the group's sphere of influence extends from Vladivostok to Vienna, with members involved in various areas of criminal activity ranging from automobile theft, money laundering, trafficking Chinese illegal immigrants to Japan, narcotics smuggling, and the illegal sale of plutonium. Unlike other Russian OC groups, the Obshina was considered a hybrid criminal-political entity, which used illegal proceeds to finance and arm separatists fighters during the Chechen Wars.
This unique characteristic has resulted in a trend towards blurring the distinction between organized crime and terrorists groups and has confused many observers as to the Obshina's overall motivations. It is still not entirely clear whether they are more interested in creating an independent nation-state or in perpetuating regional instability so that they might continue to profit from the drug trade and other criminal activities. The group was last rumored to be led by Nikolay Suleimanov, who as of 1998 trying to expand his way into the lucrative East European cigarette smuggling racket.
Such racket brought cases into investigations of Brazilian Mafia underground mob man Geogeo Santo Berlow. Ferdinand Verios victim in Moscow from Jamestown Written Palmeriato. The Chechen Mafia was also described in the book "Godfather of the Kremlin: Boris Berezovsky and the looting of Russia" by Paul Klebnikov, a famous Russian-American journalist who was killed in Moscow in 2004.
Chechen criminal groups and guerrilla factions reportedly play a significant part in the narcotics trade in Central Asia, Russia and the Caucasus region. In the First Chechen War guerrillas used funding from a variety of rackets as well as the sale of oil. However in the Second Chechen War the fighters received huge financial backing from Saudi Arabian militant Ibn Al-Khattab, who joined with guerrilla leader Shamil Basayev and became a prominent figure in the war. This marginalized some figures such as Ruslan Gelayev, who turned to the drugs trade full time.
The Chechen mafia appears to dominate the traditional Russian mafia organizations in the drugs trade. One Tajik drug trafficker stated he preferred to sell his product to Chechen gangs rather than Russians, because of the Chechen's high-reaching contacts in both the underworld and police force. The Chechen influence runs even so far as to Murmansk, where starting from 1997 the head of the province's Internal Affairs Administration was actually a puppet for a Chechen named Vaskha Askhabov, who brought with him large-scale heroin trafficking that dominated the local underworld. Eventually Askhabov was arrested but freed in Moscow shortly afterwards, apparently thanks to his connections in the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Connections to Islamic Fundamentalism
The Chechen independence movement has gained widespread attention and support in the Islamic world and throughout the conflict foreign charity organizations and fighters from many Arab countries have volunteered their services. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City, the Putin administration has made several attempts to link Chechen insurgents to Al-Qaeda. Allegations of Al-Qaeda and Taliban links to the Chechen mafia have recently appeared and well-known Chechen leaders have been at different times referred to in the media as Islamists, terrorists, and mafia bosses. In a 1995 interview, former president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria Dzhokhar Dudayev gave his opinion of the Russian media's representation of Chechen rebels:
The use of narcotics profits to finance the Chechen separatist movement and its links to Islamists groups has been suggested by various intelligence agencies. The Chechen mafia presence in Argentina has been linked primarily to the use of Argentina as a transit country for Andean cocaine shipments to Europe in fishing treaters and cargo ships, arms trafficking to Brazil and Colombia, and money laundering. In the so-called "tri-border" area between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay - which is home to a sizable Arab Muslim population - Argentine intelligence sources have detected contacts between Chechen separatist groups and "Islamic terrorists" and suspect Chechen use of these networks for arms smuggling purposes. On the other side of the globe, to finance their separatist movement, Islamist leader Shamil Basayev and his Chechen followers transported Afghan heroin through Abkhazia to the Black Sea or through Turkey to Cyprus and then on to Europe.
In 1998 it was reported by Riyad 'Alam-al-Din in Nicosia and an unidentified Al-Watan al-'Arabi correspondent in Moscow that Osama bin Ladin dispatched a delegation to the Chechen Republic made up of his group and representatives of the Taliban. Secret meetings were held in the outskirts of Grozny with some members of the Chechen Mafia to put the final touches on "the nuclear warheads deal." Allegedly the deal cost $30 million in cash from Osama bin Ladin's treasury and a grant of two tons of Afghan heroin donated by the Taliban. It was claimed that bin Ladin resorted to the services of the Chechen Mafia after many of his aides, some specializing in nuclear physics, failed in their attempts to acquire nuclear technology and equipment. However, these reports have yet to be confirmed by outside sources.
- The Making of a New Empire, Jos de Putter 1999
- Aleksandr Zhilin, The Shadow of Chechen Crime Over Moscow, The Jamestown Foundation 1999
- BBC News, So Who are the Russian Mafia, BBC Online Network, April 1, 1998
- BBC News, So Who are the Russian Mafia, BBC Online Network, April 1, 1998
- http://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/pdf-files/RussianOrgCrime.pdf INVOLVEMENT OF RUSSIAN ORGANIZED CRIME SYNDICATES, CRIMINAL ELEMENTS IN THE RUSSIAN MILITARY, AND REGIONAL TERRORIST GROUPS IN NARCOTICS TRAFFICKING IN CENTRAL ASIA, THE CAUCASUS, AND CHECHNYA - Federal Research Division report
- Professor Bruce M. Bagley, Globalization and Transnational Organized Crime: The Russian Mafia in Latin America and the Caribbean
- Georgia Dispatches Troops Towards Separatist Region, The Washington Post, October 12, 2001
- Al-Watan Al-'Arabi, November 1998, Paris; pp 20-21
- Johanna Granville, “Dermokratizatsiya and Prikhvatizatsiya: the Russian Kleptocracy and Rise of Organized Crime,” in Demokratizatsiya, vol. 11, no. 3 (summer 2003): 449-457.