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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

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