The Multinational Mob: Case Study, Bavaria

Germany's Bavaria offers a snapshot of the global competition for the internatinal crime pie. There, criminal clans from Eastern Europe muscle in where Italian mobsters once reigned.

Kempten, Germany is not immune to organized crime.
Kempten, Germany is not immune to organized crime.
Rudolf Stumberger

KEMPTEN - A recent indictment by the Kempten District Attorney's office alleges that members of a Georgian gang were not just petty burglars, but rather foot soldiers in a bona fide criminal organization.

"Members of the organization made a living from institutionalized shoplifting of expensive everyday items, such as cigarettes, perfumes, alcohol, designer clothes and consumer electronics," read the indictment in this southern Germany city. So far, 18 people have been charged in an ongoing set of trials called "operation java."

It is a far-reaching case, but hardly the only so-called "mafia trial" to garner attention in recent years in this region of Bavaria. It shows how organized crime in this corner of German is shifting away from the "original" Italian mob to include sophisticated gangs from all over the world.

"At the moment, our attention is focused on Eastern Europe," says Gunther Schatz, team leader of the Kempton DA's organized crime unit.

On May 2, the main trial against a 27-year-old Georgian man is scheduled to open at the state court in Munich. He is the alleged head of the German-based Georgian mafia, which commissioned up to 1,000 small-time criminals to steal for them. The stolen goods were then sold, with the proceeds passed on to the group's European boss, stationed in Barcelona, Spain.

Two weeks ago, Kempten prosecutors and the Bavarian police also announced the break-up of a Russian mafia group. In total authorities arrested 39 men. The arrests are a result of a two-year covert investigation under the code name "Orjol." Among other items, investigators seized 5 kg. of heroin.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, mafia-like gangs with roots dating back to Stalin's work camps began to spread all over the world. At the helm of these organizations are men from all parts of the now autonomous republics. Members of the organization abide by so-called "laws of thieves," which prohibit individuals from accepting rules and norms set by the government, or to cooperate in any way with authorities. Normal day jobs are not allowed.

"This is a secluded world with its own code of rules," says Schatz. "They would rather go to jail than show remorse."

For years, organized crime was in the hands of the different mafia syndicates with bases in southern Italy, with the Bavarian area of Allgäu long the preferred base of operation for Italian cocaine dealers.

In 1998, Kempten police arrested Giorgio Basile, who allegedly committed dozens of murders on behalf of the Ndrangheta network based in the region of Calabria. For weeks, police questioned this son of a guest worker from the Ruhr area in central Germany, who went by "angel face," until he finally started talking, and became the first turncoat witness against the mafia in Germany.

A special code of honor

"Today, the structures from the past are destroyed," Schatz says, though the underlying system of family networks and relationships remain intact.

Forty investigators with Bavaria's state police, who deal exclusively with the fight against organized crime structures, also participate in occasional manhunts. "After a successful manhunt, everything is quiet for a while, everybody goes into hiding," he says.

"Just watching a pizzeria from the outside is not enough," explains Mario Huber, head of the police's anti-mob unit. Criminal groups targeted by state police keep to themselves, speak in codes on the phone and do everything to avoid the surveillance they expect to be under.

Bavaria has a special profile, having originally been in the sphere of influence of the Italian mafia, beginning in the 1950s with the recruitment of foreign workers from the South for Germany's recovering economy. Together with law-abiding families, the mafia-like structures moved to Bavaria. "Kinship," state police specialist Huber says, "played a huge role."

This is very different from the gangs from the East, which are distinguishing themselves through special rules and honor codes. Gangs from Albania are playing an important role in drug sales, though unlike in Berlin, Kurdish family clans are virtually absent. Chinese gangs have an equally marginal presence.

Administrative gridlock in Georgia

When charged with involvement in an organized crime group, no other offence is necessary to be indicted. Being a member alone is punishable in Germany and can be sentenced with up to five years in prison, with leaders facing 10 years.

Cooperation between Bavarian authorities and those in the home countries varies as much as the gangs differ from one another. "With Italians, personal contact is extremely important," says Schatz of the Kempten DA. It is very difficult to get information from the Italian authorities via regular mail. Cooperation with Eastern European countries such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic is very good. But the farther East one looks, the more difficult things become.

"There is virtually no cooperation with Russia," says Schatz. And indeed, the same can be said for Georgia.

Read the original article in German

Photo - le huf

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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