Rethinking Organized Crime and Corruption

Posted: April 17, 2012 at 8:34 pm, Last Updated: September 7, 2012 at 1:54 am

Author: Alexandre Kukhianidze

Re-thinking global, national and local security systems has been of vital importance since the end of Cold War. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact and the subsequent end of the Cold War alleviated fears of a third world war involving nuclear weapons. However, the rapid advance of globalization, post-Soviet turmoil, and political radicalism has increased new, non-traditional security threats all over the world: transnational organized crime, money laundering, smuggling in weapons and drugs, human trafficking, global terrorism, and threats of nuclear proliferation. Corruption is like a cancer, supporting these criminal activities and trying to penetrate into all sectors of public life. If a country is weak then corruption gives rise to metastasis and threatens both national and international security. All this is changing our understandings of security systems on the global, national, and local levels. In effect, these factors necessitate the creation of a whole new school of thought. In the United States, most of these new threats have brought about rapid research, development and the formation of new teaching disciplines, which are united under the umbrella of Homeland Security Studies. Many think tanks in the world have shifted focus from traditional military to non-traditional civil security studies, introducing new training program for their audiences. This process is only in its early stages, and there is high demand for training, analysis and policy recommendations on security for local, national and international communities.
The Caucasus
















The Caucasus map (

The Caucasus region, which includes Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and the North Caucasus of the Russian Federation, is one of the most complicated regions in the world, with local, separatist, nationalist, and global interests cross cutting different religious confessions, ethnicities, and cultures. Strategic transportation routes cross each other, ethno-territorial conflicts remain unresolved, and some national borders in the region are contested or only partially demarcated and delineated. Energy production, transport and security are very important in the Caucasusregion. Global and regional powers, international organizations and corporations compete for gas, oil, and transportation corridors, while corrupt local clans, organized crime groups, and terrorist networks try to benefit from political instability in the region, fostering religious fundamentalism and ethnic mistrust as means of manipulation. Russia, which suffers from extensive corruption, is a nuclear power producing nuclear materials and technologies, while Iranposes a potential nuclear threat to the international community – both are increasingly authoritarian and both have interests in the Caucasus. Cases of smuggling in weapons grade nuclear materials from Russiavia the Caucasus have been reported repeatedly since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the South Caucasus is one of the main transportation routes for Afghan heroin to Western Europe and Russia. Russia’s war in Chechnyatransformed the North Caucasusinto a war zone with rampant corruption, organized crime, and religious radicalism. Ethnic conflict from there has spilled into Russiaperiodically resulting in ethnic clashes between Russian ultranationalists and North Caucasians in Moscow, Rostov-on-Don, Saratovand other Russian cities during 2010 and 2011. Since the Russian invasion of Georgiain August 2008, relations between the two countries remain very tense. Corruption is also rampant in Armeniaand Azerbaijan, where their governments limit democratic freedoms and repeatedly declare that they are still at war because of Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkeykeeps its border closed with Armeniabecause of Armenia’s continued occupation of Azeri territory. Both Turkeyand Iranclaim that they are Caucasian states too – Turkey’s northeastern regions are former territories of Georgiaand Armenia, and much of the ethnic Azeri population lives in northern Iran. Russiais intensively developing strategic plans for military operations in the South Caucasus in case of hostilities between Iranand Israeland the USA, which is seen in Georgiaas a pretext for a new military invasion. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, a strategic military training exercise ‘Caucasus 2012’ will take place in September 2012 and will cover territories in Russia, Armenia, and Georgia’s occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  Russian military officials connect this training with potential conflicts connected with Iranin the Caspian and South Caucasusregions (See: Sergey Konovalov. (January 16, 2012). Genshtab razrabativaet plan masshtabnikh strategicheskikh uchenii, iskhodia iz vozmozhnoi ataki Izrailia i Soedinennykh Shtatov po Iranu. Available from: (accessed on January 17, 2012). For Russia, a war with Iran could be a good opportunity to switch the attention of the local electorate from domestic political tensions to the South Caucasus and restore military control of the whole Caucasus-Caspian region.
Therefore, a combination of regional and global security threats have made the Caucasus an extremely divided, precarious, and insecure region for the local population and for the international community as well. The region today is a serious trouble spot for corruption, transnational crime, violence, international terrorism, smuggling in nuclear materials, and armed conflict. It is a real threat that Russian strategic plans could implode the Caucasus, undermine the West’s all Caspian energy projects, and bring heightened corruption and organized crime back to Georgia.



Among countries of the Caucasus, Georgia has shown great success in combating organized crime and administrative corruption which in the1990s were rampant and threatened the national security of the country. After the ‘Rose Revolution’ in November 2003, the administration of President Mikheil Saakashvili implemented radical anti-corruption reforms of the law enforcement and governmental structures. The Georgian Mafia, which was the most powerful and influential OC group in the former Soviet Union, was efficiently cracked down and collapsed, their bosses (the thieves-in-law) have been imprisoned or escaped from the country and their property confiscated. Jan Van Dijk, Professor of Victimology and Human Security at Tilburg University, the Netherlands, concluded that by 2011 “Georgia had transformed itself from a high crime into a low crime country in just a few years. Georgia now emerges as one of the safest places in Europe. Tbilisi has become one of the safest capitals in the Western world, comparable to Lisbon or Vienna.” (See: Jan Van Dijk. (2011). International trends in crime: the remarkable case of Georgia. Available from: on January 20, 2012).

According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, in 2003 Georgia was ranked 124th among 133 countries while in 2010 – 68th among 178 countries. In 2010 it was next after Italy (67) and ahead of Romania (69), Bulgaria (73) and Greece (78) – European Union member states. For comparison with Caucasian states, in 2010 Armenia was ranked 123, Azerbaijan – 134, and Russia – 154. Today Georgia is the only island in the Caucasus with a very low level of organized crime and comparatively low level of corruption.

Administrative corruption is very low inGeorgia, thanks to reforms which have been implemented in law enforcement and governmental structures. Reform started through massive arrests of the most corrupt government officials and through newly adopted legislative amendments, plea bargaining and confiscation of property – hundreds of millions of US dollars were returned to the State budget. The methods used were from the arsenal of methods of fighting the Mafia and Cosa Nostra inItaly andUSA. The philosophy of this approach is that it is better to leave organized crime bosses and corrupt officials without financial and other economic resources to conduct their illegal activities rather than have them run their crime groups from prisons having all their resources at their disposal. The confiscated financial resources and assets have been used for implementation of reforms and other most urgent socio-economic needs.

Arrests of corrupt government officials continued on the lower level too, including law enforcement officials. As a result, the level of corruption went down as it became a very risky business. But arrests only of corrupt officials are not the whole solution. Combating corruption is sustainable only through implementation of the other components of reforms – creation of new institutions and systems of relations, in which human beings are motivated to honestly carry out their functions, and here Georgiahas already accumulated positive experience. For example, the totally corrupt old system of admissions exams to Georgian universities was replaced by a modern and fair system of admission tests in July 2005, and thousands of young people now enter universities without any need for them or their parents to pay bribes. Today Georgiahas one of most advanced systems of admissions in Europe.

Anti-corruption reform of law enforcement structures was another central aspect of the optimization of state government management. It touched all law enforcement agencies: Public Prosecutor’s Office, Police, Courts, Penitentiary system, Border Police, and Financial Police. Reform inspired a new legislative base, structural reorganization, human resources, and logistics.

The traffic police was the most corrupt structure in the police system of Georgia. In the summer of 2004, it was closed and up to 2700 traffic police officers were dismissed. Instead a Western- type patrol police was created and new police officers selected on a competitive basis, mostly from among young people with a high percentage of women and salaries up to ten times higher. Training of new policemen was carried out in the Police Academy with the participation of US and EU experts and policemen. Special attention was paid to logistics, repairing of police stations, new police vehicles, installation of a modern communication system, new police uniforms, and weapons. If traffic police were responsible only for automobile traffic, then the patrol police is responsible now for auto traffic, crime in the streets, neighborhood policing, and assistance to citizens in cases of emergency. All these steps, in combination with strict control by internal police inspection procedure, have led to extremely positive results. According to polls conducted by the International Republican Institute (USA) in 2011, the three most trusted institutions are the church (93 percent), the army (89 percent), and the police (87 percent). (See: IRI Releases Expanded Nationwide Survey of Georgian Public Opinion. (January 5, 2012). Available from: onwide-survey-georgian-public-opinion. Accessed on January 27, 2012). For comparison, prior to the 2004 reforms, national voter survey results showed only 49% in favour of the Georgian police. (See: Alexander Kupatadze. (April 26, 2011). Similar Events, Different Outcomes: Accounting for Diverging Corruption Patterns in Post-Revolution Georgia and Ukraine. Caucasus Analytical Digest. No 26, p. 6.)

Despite this impressive success fighting corruption on a lower level, political corruption still flourishes in Georgia. Leaders of political opposition and civil society organizations frequently make statements about the success only in combating administrative corruption at the low and middle levels, while the highest level remains untouched.

Western political systems are based on the fundamental principle – independence of three branches of political power which are able to control each other through a system of checks and balances. Soon after the 2003 ‘Rose Revolution’ and contrary to this fundamental principle, the parliament of Georgia adopted constitutional amendments which essentially strengthened presidential power at the expense of the legislative and the judicial branches. This came about due to the high level of legitimacy and standing of the newly elected authorities in conditions of the continuing post-revolutionary euphoria. The main justification at that time was the need for stronger executive power for rapid implementation of radical reforms which always are painful for a part of the population. As a result, Georgia got strong presidential and weak legislative and judiciary powers. The concentration of power in the hands of executive authorities became a strong factor preventing investigations by law enforcement authorities of possible illegal activities of the ruling team. In such a situation, police investigators do not open criminal cases against top government officials, and judges in courts do not make decisions against them. Currently, there are no cases of national law enforcement investigations on political corruption in Georgia and, therefore, there is no direct legal evidence of such corruption. Accusations of involvement in ‘political corruption’ which come from the political opposition or the government – remain largely political tools in their struggle for power. There are two proven cases of serious political corruption in Georgia but both of them are not a result of Georgian police investigations and court decisions: the detainment of Irakli Okruashvili, the former Minister of Defense of Georgia, in 2007; and the assassination of Girgvliani, a young employee of one of the Georgian banks in 2005 by high ranking police officers. The Prosecutor General’s Office opened a criminal case against Okruashvili only after a sharp conflict in the ruling team became known to the public. But before that, law enforcement structures (police, prosecutor’s offices, and courts) demonstrated negligence and inability to investigate Okruashvili’s involvement in corruption, smuggling, money laundering, and other serious crimes – despite repeated accusations coming from civil society organizations and the Georgian press. In the second case, on January 27, 2005 four police officers from the Department of Constitutional Security of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia tortured and then killed Sandro Girgvliani after he had an argument with his girlfriend, who was sitting in one of Tbilisi’s elite bars with the Interior Minister’s wife and several high ranking police officials. Only after the crime was publicized, were the culprits detained and sentenced to 7-8 years of imprisonment. In 2009, they were released and pardoned by President Saakashvili. The European Court of Human Rights recognized that during the investigation of Girgvliani’s case, evidence was falsified. It found violations of Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights (the right to life) and Article 38 (obligation of the state to cooperate with the courts in establishing the truth), and obliged the government to pay within three months 50,000 euros compensation to his family.

Georgia also did not improve its performance indicators after the Rose Revolution and remains a partly free country according to Freedom House’s rating, which together with the Russian factor is a key reason why it is still outside of NATO and European Union.

Political corruption can exist without the presence of professional organized crime, if high ranking officials have enough financial, military, and law enforcement resources at their disposal to eliminate any competitive professional criminal structure and establish political control in a country. In countries with weak democratic institutions, especially judiciary, and with territorial disputes such ruling teams can try to control the media and weaken political opposition under the pretext of preventing enemy’s ideological diversions and information wars, and justify increasing military expenses. Using administrative resources – police, prosecutor’s offices and courts, national banks, government-controlled media, and tax inspection to control and extort money from businesses and as tools for persecution of political opponents to maintain the ruling team in power – is abuse of political power and a form of political corruption.

As soon as the Georgian tycoon, Bidzina Ivanishvili – a person who sponsored most local charity projects in Georgia, declared in the beginning of October 2011 that he is in opposition to the ruling political regime and intends to participate in the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, he and his wife were immediately deprived of Georgian citizenship upon grounds they held both Russian and French citizenships. After that, on October 18, 2011, Ivanishvili’s Cartu Bank’s cash-in-transit vehicle with six employees was detained by police while it was transporting USD 2 million and EUR 1 million in cash from the Bank of Georgia’s headquarters in Tbilisi. The Interior Ministry said that criminal charges were brought in connection with laundering a very large amount of money but it did not provide details. This action was widely publicised by the government-controlled media. The Director-General of Cartu Bank, Nodar Javakhishvili, called it an act of vandalism but there was no reaction from the National Bank of Georgia. Instead, the latter decided to inspect the Cartu Bank. Later, the detained people, vehicle and confiscated money were returned to the Cartu Bank and the investigation stopped which was seen by the Georgian public as an attempt to intimidate political opponents. But the government-controlled TV, radio and print media have never stopped commenting on the origin of Ivanishvili’s more than five billions US dollars from Russia and his dependence on the hostile Putin’s regime, things which this media never did when Ivanishvili was on the side of the Government of Georgia and sponsored projects in the country. The Government of Georgia also has its arguments trying to convince the local public that it is one thing when Russian money is used for repairing museums, libraries, universities, and churches – and a completely different thing when it is used to buy access to political power in Georgia which only three years ago was at war with Russia, and with repeated attempts to support the Georgian political opposition and change Saakashvili’s regime. All this shows how complicated it is, on the one hand, to resist Russian destructive political pressure and, on the other hand, combat political corruption in Georgia.

A systematic and realistic study of theory and practice of Georgia’s experience (including its drawbacks) would be helpful for other countries where corruption and organized crime flourish.

Current interest in Georgian reforms is high among neighboring countries. In  2011,  governmental, law enforcement, and non-governmental delegations have visitedGeorgia to learn the ‘secrets’ ofGeorgia’s success. Government delegations fromUkraine,Kyrgyzstan,Armenia,Moldova, andEgypt which visitedGeorgia in 2011, have been especially interested in the police reform. In July 2011, the Director of the TraCCC Caucasus Office delivered lectures on anti-corruption and police reforms in Georgia to a delegation of 35 persons which consisted of members of parliaments, editors of newspapers, young academics, journalists, and leaders of key NGOs from the North Caucasian republics (Chechnya, Dagestan, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia) of the Russian Federation. What is needed, however, inGeorgia is an independent body which is responsible for the systematic analysis of reform results and training in anti-corruption, anti-OC and police reforms.


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