The Spanish police on Tuesday arrested several individuals alleged to belong to a Russian mafia clan implicated in money laundering and connected to high-profile Russian politicians. The daily El Mundo reported that Operación Usura (“Operation Usury”), conducted by the Spanish National Guard and the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, netted eight people: six Russians, one Ukrainian, as well as a Spanish lawyer. They have been charged with money laundering for the Tambov and Tagansk mafias, two of the most powerful criminal gangs in Russia. The Tambov gang has been linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin through its head, Gennady Petrov.
The detained mafia members allegedly created shell companies that bought real estate—at least 192 properties—in order to launder money. Two of the Russian citizens are charged with setting up the “infrastructure” required for the scheme to function, and frequently went to Tarragona in Spain’s Catalonia to oversee their subordinates.
Spanish authorities say they have evidence that several high-profile members of Russia’s ruling party, United Russia, stayed at several of these properties on weekends. The mafiosos not only had ties with Russian politicians, but also with two major Colombian drug cartels: Cali and Medellin.
Possible links between Colombian drug cartels and Vladimir Putin were first noticed in 2000, when journalists started looking into a mysterious firm called the St. Petersburg Real Estate Holding Company (more commonly known by its German acronym, SPAG). The real estate development company, founded in 1992, had four Russian politicians sitting on its special “advisory board”, including Vladimir Putin, who at the time was representing the office of the Mayor of St. Petersburg. One of the founders of SPAG was arrested and tried (but ultimately acquitted due to insufficient evidence) for laundering money for Russian mobsters and the aforementioned Cali cartel.
Spanish authorities made their first big moves against Russian mafia figures in 2008, when twenty people, including the bosses of the Tambov and Malyshev gangs—Gennady Petrov and Aleksandr Malyshev, respectively—were arrested. They faced a slew of charges, including money laundering, fraud, extortion, kidnapping and murder. According to Wikileaks cables, the evidence compiled by Spanish prosecutors included hundreds of wiretaps that connected Petrov in particular to figures at the highest levels of Russia’s government. The Spanish home of Vladislav Reznik, now the deputy head of the finance committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament and a member of the Putin-aligned United Russia Party, was raided at the time. Petrov and Malyshev were both released on bail to house arrest in 2010, and both fled to Russia in 2012.
Petrov was known to have been smuggling heroin into Russia through the port of St. Petersburg throughout the 1990s, while Putin was the city’s Deputy Mayor. (One of Putin’s closest allies, Viktor Ivanov, who also served in the Mayor’s office at the time, was implicated in the city’s drug trade by Alexander Litvinenko before he was killed.) Between 1998 and 1999, Petrov was a shareholder in Bank Rossiya, the St. Petersburg joint-stock bank with ties to many of Putin’s closest friends and allies. The bank was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2014, and was described at the time as the “personal bank for senior (Russian) officials.” And as the Panama Papers revealed, the bank was responsible for transferring at least $1 billion to offshore vehicles linked to Sergei Roldugin, Putin’s famous cellist friend. Roldugin happens to own a 3.2 percent stake in Bank Rossiya.
In May of this year, a Spanish court announced that it had issued new arrest warrants for twelve high-profile Russian officials close to Putin, and allegedly linked to the Russian mafia in Spain. Among them are Reznik, his wife Diana Gindin, Nikolai Aulov, who was the deputy head of Russia’s recently-disbanded Federal Drug Control Service, and Igor Sobelevsky, the former deputy head of the the prosecutor general’s Investigative Committee. The court also reissued its 2012 warrants for Petrov, his wife, and Malyshev.
The Spanish prosecutor’s report said that Petrov’s network “keeps strong links with Russia’s economic, political, judicial and police power in Russia, as well as with members of international organized crime for the achievement of joint projects,” and that “[Petrov’s network] achieved a clear penetration of his country’s state structures.”
Various other Russian politicians close to Putin are mentioned in recent Spanish prosecution papers, but are not yet indicted. Those include Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, former Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, and former Communications Minister Leonid Reiman.
It’s highly unlikely Russia will extradite any of them.