A Europe-wide crackdown on alleged mobsters from the former Soviet Union continued Monday, with arrests now totaling at least 69. The suspects are accused of robbery, drug smuggling, money laundering, and other crimes.
The crackdown, dubbed "Operation Java," has exposed the global reach of the Russian mafia, who some experts claim now dominate the criminal underworld in several European countries and are active as far away as Australia and Singapore.
The Associated Press reported Monday that the crackdown started as a probe into the Russian mob by Spanish authorities. Spain arrested 24 suspects over the weekend, with more arrests in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland, Reuters said.
The Guardian reported that the mob had targeted Spanish real estate investments for money laundering.
Police have carried out a series of operations against the Russian mafia and its money-laundering operations in Spain's corruption-riddled property sector over the past four years.
Among those to have been detained in recent years is Zakhar Kalashov, accused of being a senior mafia boss. Kalashov is on bail, awaiting sentence in a money-laundering trial that was carried out under tight security and that ended in December.
Armenians, Russians, and Georgians were arrested. Criminals from former Soviet states are often lumped together as the "Russian mob," despite varying origins.
Video at Spanish newspaper El Pais' website showed authorities hustling suspects into police cars, and carrying evidence away from raided buildings.
El Pais on Tuesday quoted Swiss prosecutors and a Spanish police source on the massive scope and reach of the criminal ring. (in Spanish)
"This is a perfectly structured, highly hierarchical international criminal organization, directed from Spain and mainly active in robbery, burglary, and receiving stolen goods," said Swiss prosecutors in a statement relating to 11 detainees.
The criminal group also raised money in Ireland, Sweden, Belgium, Britain, and Turkey. "We're going to find big mansions and enormous amounts of money, as we did in other operations," a Spanish police source said.
In March, investigative journalist Ruslan Gorevoy claimed that mobsters from the former Soviet Union operating outside Russia now numbered as many as 300,000 and have come to dominate the criminal underworld in several countries, the Moscow Times reported, citing an article in the Russian-language Versiya.
Gorevoy says law enforcement personnel in many countries – including Spain, Greece, Hungary, Italy, France, Mexico, “and even the United States” –have been surprised by how “confidently” criminal groups consisting of people from the former Soviet Union now dominate their national criminal worlds.
Indeed, the Versiya report continues, the Russian groups, which include “up to 300,000 of our compatriots,” have succeeded in pushing aside local groups and establishing their own “spheres of influence” to the point that they no longer need to “clarify relations with the help of arms.”