THE Costa del Sol has long been a hotbed for international crime.
British, Irish, Turkish, Chinese and South American gangs are among the hundreds of groups operating here.
But it is the Russian mafia, armed with AK-47 assault rifles, which now has the strongest grip on the region once known as the Costa del Crime.
Sometimes referred to as the Bratva (Russian for ‘brotherhood’), their members started moving to sunny Spain in the 1990s.
Some were hiding from persecution while some left to legitimise their hard-earned illegal income.
Over the years, Spanish investigators have found how they established a network of hundreds of companies in the country, which formalised real estate and then resold it many times at an increasing price through shell companies. Simply put, they sold everything to themselves – the definition of money laundering.
Meanwhile, any ‘pure’ money was sent to Panama and Liechtenstein.
Most of the laundered money is believed to have come from drug smuggling, arms trafficking and corrupt ‘connections trading’.
More recently Ireland’s mafia groups, headed by the likes of the Kinnahans, were forced to scale back following a crackdown which included several joint operations between Spanish cops and Ireland’s Gardai.
And while many of the clan are believed to have fled to Dubai, Russian mafia have been ramping up their operations along the Costa.
Just a few weeks ago the owner of Marbella FC, Alexander Grinberg, was arrested alongside 10 other Russians.
They were all suspected of laundering at least €30 million through the club, believed to have been siphoned from illegal activities in Russia.
According to sources, all suspects had links to two Russian crime gangs, the ‘Izmailovskie’ and ‘Solntsevskaya’.
The two groups used to be rivals in Russia but are thought to have joined forces to launder money abroad, particularly in Spain.
During Operation Oligarch, 18 searches in Mijas, Marbella, Estepona, and Puerto Banús revealed large amounts of cash, electronic data storage devices, 23 luxury vehicles – including Bentleys and Ferraris – and an entire arsenal of firearms and ammunitions.
In addition to handguns, numerous automatic rifles, submachine guns, assault rifles, silencers, and night viewers were also seized.
Below we take a look at the main suspects and their links to Russia and the coast.
Grinberg bought Marbella FC for €1 in 2013. Right out of the ‘laundromat’ handbook, he paid off its €250,000 debt and allegedly began investing money from illegal dealings in Russia.
In true Pablo Escobar style, he donated a significant sum to the town hall to restore the city stadium and trained dozens of local players, making him a popular figure, especially as he had saved the club from total ruin.
But the club is just one of several businesses owned by Grinberg’s Terminal Group.
His other ventures include the La Dama de Noche Golf Club, Marbella’s pricey Finca Besaya restaurant and the seaside Gloton Restaurant.
In true oligarch style, Grinberg is known for throwing extravagant parties and recently rented the Billionaire Club for his birthday.
Marbella F.C. Vice President German Pastushenko was among those cuffed in the latest operation. Pastushenko arrived on the Costa del Sol in 2001 – much earlier than his other arrested compatriots. In 2005, he was the only Russian among the suspects in a major anti-money laundering operation dubbed ‘Ballena Blanca’ – White Whale – carried out by Guardia Civil. Pastushenko was among 60 people arrested, including natives of UK, Germany, Ukraine, Finland, France, Canada and Israel.
Pastushenko was accused of running businesses by using funds from his friends from Russia and, later, the US and Germany. He was buying unfinished construction projects, completing them and selling them on at much higher prices. He was released on bail as authorities failed to gather strong-enough evidence. A few years later he would become business partners with Grinberg.
Arnold Arnoldovich Spivakovsky-Tamm is an experienced hotel manager and one of Grinberg’s closest advisors. He was described by local cops as the ‘big fish’ in Operation Oligarch.
Known in crime circles as ‘Arnosha’, in 1993 the 26-year-old was named as an active member of the ‘Solntsevskaya’ gang by the team investigating the murder of Valery Vlasov, the director of a Russian casino, but the charges never stuck.
He dodged jail time again in 2002 when a massive drugs stash was discovered at one of the hotels he oversaw and his lawyers convinced authorities that he had been framed.
The Spanish cops also consider him to have close ties with ‘criminal authority’ Semen Mogilevich, wanted by the FBI since 2009 in relation to a $150-million scam.
Aguas Sierra de Mijas, a water bottling plant located in Mijas, was described as another important ‘laundromat’ for the ‘Russian mafia’.
The police arrested its main shareholder Oleg Kuznetsov and two top managers – Sergei Dozhdev and Vladimir Dzreev.
Much like Marbella FC, the Russians bought the plant during a period of financial difficulties.
No information is available about its main shareholder, Kuznetsov. Little is also known about Dzreev but, according to his Facebook page, he relocated to Spain from Krasnodar and was employed by Google. Director Dozhdev is well-known to the law enforcement authorities of the Volgograd region. While being suspected of several illegal dealings related to many of his businesses, his good connections left him off the hook.
Costa del Solntsevskaya
The Solntsevskaya Bratva, also known as the Solntsevskaya Brotherhood, is the biggest and most powerful crime syndicate of the Russian mafia.
The gang was founded in the late 1980s by Sergei Mikhailov, a former waiter who had served a prison term for fraud. The gang’s members are known to be the most violent, aggressive and strongest criminals in the world. The ‘brothers’ are stereotypically massive, muscular men with a very violent attitude. They have a ‘Brotherhood Code’ which ensures a very strong bond between gang members and they are usually seen in ‘wolf-packs’.
According to Federico Varese, a professor of criminology at the University of Oxford, their structure is highly decentralised. The group is composed of 10 separate quasi-autonomous ‘brigades’ that operate more or less independently of each other, but the group does pool its resources.
The money is overseen by a 12-person council, thought to be called ‘The Syndicate’, which regularly meets in different parts of the world, often disguising their meetings as festive occasions. Their money comes mostly from assassinations, money laundering, drugs and arms trafficking. The group is believed to bring in more than €9 billion each year.