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FRANCE: Interpol co-ordinates raids on ‘Russian speaking’ criminal kingpins in several days of action aimed at disrupting money laundering operations

By Dan Byrne for AMLi

A CO-ORDINATED campaign against major Russian-speaking criminal networks has so far seen several results in France – with multiple days of action in the first half of this year, INTERPOL has revealed.

A two-year operation to root out suspected “thieves in law” syndicates has seen French police take family heads into custody and seize hundreds of thousands of euro in cash, among other assets, the international policing agency said in a statement last week.

The most recent day of action was 25th June last, when over 100 officers of France’s Gendarmerie Nationale carried out a series of raids in Strasbourg and Nancy.

The heads of two “thieves in law,” clans were arrested that day – one based in Georgia, the other in Armenia. In addition, vehicles, handguns, illicit cigarettes and €17,000 in cash was also confiscated.

The news followed a previous day of action in April, when the Gendarmerie conducted another series of crackdowns in Lyon, Nancy and Paris.

This time, 25 suspects were arrested, vehicles were seized, and over €300,000 in cash was taken from various different bank accounts. Police also uncovered documents related to a central Russian criminal fund or “Obshak,” which is a major call-sign of “thief in law” activity.

Both operations saw the French authorities supported by INTERPOL.

“Organized crime groups like the Thieves in Law operate across national borders, which means that any effective police action must also be international in scope,” said INTEROL Criminal Networks Assistant Director José de Gracia.

He praised what has become known as “Project Millennium,” – the agency’s international campaign to root “thieves in law” networks and shut down their activity. It began in 2015, with more focused France-specific work starting in April 2019.  

“With Project Millennium, INTERPOL stands ready to offer our expertise and support any member country in their efforts to dismantle the criminal web of Eurasian organized crime with real-time access to our dedicated crime file and global databases.”

“Thieves in law” are perhaps some of the world’s most influential criminals. They generally have some connection to Russia or other former Soviet states, where the term originates.

Essentially, it refers it individuals possessing a significant level of influence over other groups, and therefore connected to a variety of crimes including drug trafficking, extortion and money laundering.

“Like other mafia-style organizations, the ‘Thieves in Law’ pollute economies around the world by investing the proceeds of their criminal activities into legitimate funds and businesses,” INTERPOL said.

“Contributing to a common criminal fund worth billions, and managed by the most influential and high-ranking members, known as the “Obshak”, they invest in shares, real estate and companies.”

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