Cablegate: Spain Details Its Strategy to Combat the Russian Mafia
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FM AMEMBASSY MADRID
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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 05 MADRID 000154
DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/WE (ALEX MCKNIGHT, STACIE ZERDECKI),
EUR/ERA (ALESSANDRO NARDI), INR/TNC (JENNIFER MCELVEEN,
STEPHEN WOROBEC), INL (ELIZABETH VERVILLE, SCOTT HARRIS), L
EMBASSY MOSCOW (THOMAS FIRESTONE)
DEPARTMENT PASS TO NSC (GREG GATJANIS)
DEPARTMENT PASS TO ODNI/NIC (JOHN REGAS, MAT BURROWS)
DEPARTMENT PASS TO FBI (BARRY M. BRAUN,KAREN GREENAWAY)
DEPARTMENT PASS TO DOJ (BRUCE SWARTZ, TOM OTT, BRUCE OHR,
DEPARTMENT PASS TO TREASURY/OFFICE OF TERRORISM AND
FINANCIAL INTELLIGENCE (BOB WERNER)
EO 12958 DECL: 02/08/2035
TAGS KJUS, KHLS, PGOV, PREL, PTER, SP, PINS, KCOR, PINR,
SUBJECT: SPAIN DETAILS ITS STRATEGY TO COMBAT THE RUSSIAN MAFIA
REF: A. MADRID 76 B. 09 MADRID 869 C. 09 MADRID 870 D. 09 MADRID 1003
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Classified By: POLCOUNS William H. Duncan for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (C) SUMMARY AND COMMENT: National Court Prosecutor Jose “Pepe” Grinda Gonzalez on January 14 gave a detailed, frank assessment of the activities and reach of organized crime (OC) in both Eurasia and Spain and Spain’s strategy for how best to combat it in court. As he did so, he evaluated the levels of cooperation that Spain receives from numerous countries. Grinda presented his remarks on January 13 at the new US-Spain Counter-Terrorism and Organized Crime Experts Working Group meeting in Madrid (See Ref A). He provided a 17-page, English-language handout entitled, “The Organized Crime and the Russian Mafia,” which he used as the basis for his remarks, which were more explicit than the document is. (NOTE: Post will send a copy of the handout to interested parties.) Grinda’s comments are insightful and valuable, given his in-depth knowledge of the Eurasian mafia and his key role in Spain’s pioneering efforts to bring Eurasian mafia leaders to justice. END SUMMARY AND COMMENT.
2. (S//NF) Grinda, a Special Prosecutor for Corruption and Organized Crime, in early December wrapped up his prosecution of the alleged OC network led by Zahkar Kalashov, the Georgian-born, Russian citizen who allegedly is a “vor v zakone,” (“Thief in Law,” the highest echelon of Russian OC leadership) and reportedly the most senior Russian mafia figure jailed outside Russia. The defendants were arrested as part of Operation Avispa (see Refs B and C). A verdict is expected by early February, according to Belen Suarez, Deputy Prosecutor for Corruption and Organized Crime and one of Grinda’s superiors. Grinda is known to Post’s Legat Office as a skilled and rigorous professional with deep subject matter expertise. He is forward-leaning in his cooperation with the USG and grateful for USG assistance. His work places him under considerable stress, which make him suspicious of penetration attempts by intelligence services and causes him to have heightened sensitivities regarding his physical security. Grinda also will be the prosecutor in the trial for those arrested in Operation Troika (See Refs B and C).
3. (C) Grinda’s was the first presentation at the January 13 meeting and his candor set the tone for an open exchange of ideas and information. He began by urging those present to speak frankly with each other in this closed door session. He said that what we are confronting is the “Russian mafia” even if the term “Eurasian mafia” is more socially acceptable and what the Russians certainly prefer. He acknowledged that the term Russian mafia can be a misnomer since these criminal groups sometimes involve Ukrainians, Georgians, Belarusians
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or Chechens. He nevertheless questioned the stigma surrounding the phrase “Russian mafia” and noted it is acceptable to say “Sicilian mafia.”
4. (C//NF) Grinda stated that he considers Belarus, Chechnya and Russia to be virtual “mafia states” and said that Ukraine is going to be one. For each of those countries, he alleged, one cannot differentiate between the activities of the government and OC groups.
//Identifying The Scope of The Threat the Russian Mafia Poses//
5. (C) Grinda suggested that 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. He made a passing remark that the USG has a strategic problem in that the Russian mafia is suspected of having a sizable investment in XXXXXXXXXXXX 6. (S//NF) The second reason is the unanswered question regarding the extent to which Russian PM Putin is implicated in the Russian mafia and whether he controls the mafia’s actions. Grinda cited a “thesis” by 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. Grinda stated that he believes this thesis is accurate. (COMMENT: See Ref B on a reported meeting between Litvinenko and the Spanish security services shortly before his death.) Grinda said that he believes the FSB is “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.
7. (S//NF) Grinda said that according to information he has received from intelligence services, witnesses and phone taps, certain political parties in Russia operate “hand in hand” with OC. For example, he argued that 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. Without elaborating, he cited the strange case of the “Arctic Sea” ship in mid-2009 as “a clear example” of arms trafficking.
8. (S//NF) Grinda said what he has read from 10-12 years’ worth of investigations on OC has led him to believe that whereas terrorists aim to substitute the essence of the state itself, OC seeks to be a complement to state structures. He summarized his views by asserting that the GOR’s strategy is
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to use OC groups to do whatever the GOR cannot acceptably do as a government. As an example, he cited Kalashov, whom he said worked for Russian military intelligence to sell weapons to the Kurds to destabilize Turkey. Grinda claimed that 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.
//The Spanish Strategy to Combat the Russian Mafia: Follow the Money//
9. (C) Grinda traced the history of the Russian mafia in Spain to the mid-1990s, when several vory v zakone began to enter Spain. He said that since 2004 Spanish prosecutors have created a formal strategy to “behead” the Russian mafia in Spain. He explained that 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. Grinda says that Spain’s longtime experience in fighting drug traffickers’ use of money laundering has proven valuable in this regard.
10. (C) Grinda says the money-laundering investigations have a two-fold objective: to prevent the targets from profiting from the original crime and to prevent the targets from gaining enough clout to enjoy economic influence, which Grinda suggested sooner or later always reaches political power. This is why Spain’s Attorney General has grouped together the prosecutors’ office for anti-corruption and organized crime. As part of this strategy to prevent mafiosos from enjoying economic influence, Spain’s strategy includes the seizure of businesses, companies, furniture and other assets.
11. (C) Grinda also addressed the challenges of combating OC when it enjoys political, economic, social and - especially - legal protection. Grinda applauded a document provided by the U.S. delegation which addressed the important role the media can play in warning the public of OC’s activities and the threat that OC poses. The media can create an environment in which politicians would be reluctant to be friends with and do favors for mafia leaders, whom Grinda argued need to be seen as shady figures to be feared. Regarding legal protection, Grinda stated that 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. In this regard, he asked rhetorically, “Why is Cuatrecases constantly defending Russian mafia members?” (COMMENT: Cuatrecases is one of Spain’s leading law firms. Its website, available in English, is www.cuatrecasas.com.)
12. (C) Grinda stated that OC begins to accumulate both economic and political power when it begins to bid for contract tenders on civil works and infrastructure projects.
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He noted, however, that 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. Grinda commented that Gennadios Petrov, the chief target of Spain’s Operation Troika (See Refs B and C), was engaged in a “dangerously close” level of contact with senior Russian officials. COMMENT: In a surprise move, Spanish judges granted bail to Petrov, who is out on house arrest as of January 31, 2010. END COMMENT.
//Thoughts on International Collaboration//
13. (S//NF) Grinda addressed the collaboration Spain receives from other countries regarding the Russian mafia. Early in his remarks, he thanked the U.S. delegation for Washington’s assistance to his office on corruption and OC issues. He said that it is important to have the DOJ, FBI, and Post’s Legat office as collaborating partners and assessed that he and his U.S. interlocutors collaborate in “a very efficient manner.” He added that the close level of US-GOS cooperation on OC issues is known in some circles and has led some to say that he and Spain are “the executing hand of the USG regarding the Russian mafia.” He said that description is fine by him.
14. (S//NF) Grinda said that the Spanish National Police (SNP), the Civil Guard (GC), Spain’s financial intelligence unit (SEPBLAC), and the surveillance division of the Customs Police together have compiled a solid portfolio of information on the Russian mafia in Spain. He added that Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and the USG have been valuable partners in supplementing this information to further flesh out Grinda’s office’s understanding of the Russian mafia’s activities. He added that Spain is beginning to collaborate with France on these issues, but singled out the United Kingdom for its lack of cooperation. XXXXXXXXXXXX
15. (S//NF) Grinda described OC as “very powerful” in Georgia and claimed that the intertwined ties there between the government and OC began under former President Shevardnadze, when he alleges a paramilitary group served as a de facto shadow presidency. Although Grinda acknowledged improvements under current President Saakashvili, he said that there are still “limitations” in Georgia’s efforts to combat OC. Citing his personal experience in trying to secure Georgian assistance in the prosecution of Kalashov’s OC network in
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Spain (See upcoming septel on the Kalashov trial), Grinda said that he feels “completely abandoned” and “betrayed” by Georgia and the explanations that he has received from Georgia regarding its lack of cooperation are “more pathetic than the betrayal itself.”
16. (S//NF) To illustrate his thoughts on the level of cooperation Spain receives from Russia, Grinda reviewed Spain’s efforts to arrest Tariel Oniani as part of Operation Avispa. (See Refs B, C and D.) In June 2005, Georgian-born Oniani fled to Russia hours before he was to be arrested in Spain and Russia gave him citizenship in April 2006, despite the fact that he had fled Spanish justice. Grinda alleged that the granting of citizenship was neither “innocent” nor “something done for free,” and was an example of Russia putting crimelords to work on behalf of its interests. Grinda alleged that the Russian Ministry of Interior and the FSB are closely protecting Oniani in Russia (even in prison). Following Oniani’s arrest in Moscow in June 2009, Spain requested his extradition for charges stemming from Operation Avispa, to which Russia replied that Oniani’s Russian citizenship prevented him from being extradited. Grinda said that Russia “always tells Spain that it will take away Oniani’s citizenship, but it never does.” Grinda said that, from his experience, “A virture of the Russian government is that it will always say and do the same thing: nothing.”
17. (U) The U.S. delegation to US-Spain Counter-Terrorism and Organized Crime Experts Working Group cleared this cable. SOLOMONT