The trial in the case of the largest drug cartel linked to the former leader of the Moldovan Democratic Party, Plahotniuc, is coming to an end in the Moscow City Court.
At the trial in the Moscow City Court eight out of eight jurors found criminal authority Andrei Torkunov guilty of occupying the highest position in the criminal hierarchy (part 3 of article 210.1 of the CC), of robbery committed by a group of persons on a particularly large scale (part 3 of article 161 of the CC), and of extortion committed by a group of persons on a particularly large scale (part 3 of article 163 of the CC).
According to the investigation, Torkunov, nicknamed Turok in criminal circles, was the head of a drug cartel linked to Moldova’s wealthiest businessman, Vladimir Plahotniuc, in Russia. In June 2019, the Interior Ministry charged Plahotniuc in absentia with organizing Moroccan hashish shipments to Russia via Spain.
The retired colonel of justice Sergei Pelikh, the former head of the 3rd unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs department for the investigation of organized crime in the field of drug trafficking, who led the investigation team from 2017 to 2021, told the details of the investigation of the group’s activities. He said that out of 37 episodes of criminal activity of Torkunov, who was detained in February 2021, only three have so far reached court.
How the investigation found the drug dealers
According to Pelikh, in 2012, there were many natives of Moldova among the major drug traffickers. The most famous of them was Oleg Prutianu, aka Borman. “His people specialized in organizing the sale of hashish,” says Pelikh. “We started working on the deliveries, and gradually we found our way up the chain to the leaders of the criminal group, among whom were Moldovan politicians.”
According to the investigator, the investigation led law enforcers to the Spanish coast, Andalusia. According to Pelikh, Prutianu served time in a Portuguese prison in the mid-2000s and met other future leaders of the group, Alexander Stegerscu (Sasha Sportsman) and Manuel Silvio de la Paz (Lolo), a Spanish citizen.
According to investigators, Pruteanu and Stegerescu recruited for the cartel Moldovan citizens to transport large consignments of drugs across Europe, and the Spaniard was responsible for smuggling cannabis from Morocco to Spain. Andrei Popa, nicknamed Strashenski, was responsible in Borman’s group for organizing and controlling the delivery from Spain and the sale of hashish in Russia.
Prutianu entrusted his cousin Andrei Torkunov with control of the western part of the drug transportation route to Russia. Russian investigators first learned of his involvement in the case from his Spanish colleagues. Since 2013, Torkunov had been the so-called watchdog for ethnic Moldovan criminal groups in the Moscow region. "He was the only thief in Russia from Moldovan organized crime,” Pelikh claimed.
In court, the prosecution presented as evidence a certificate from the main department of the Federal Penitentiary Service in the Chelyabinsk Oblast, which said that Torkunov had established himself as a follower of thieves’ traditions, actively promoted a criminal subculture, and in detention facilities was considered a persistent violator of the established order having committed 241 violations. A report from an FSIN operative states that when Torkunov arrived at Penal Colony No. 10 in Perm Territory, the inmates were notified by a so-called run-in. Notes with information about the arrival of the thief in law were passed via ropes stretched between the windows of the cells. In 2020, when Turk was transferred to PDF-5 of the Federal Penitentiary Service in Moscow, when asked if he had the status of a so-called thief in law, the accused refrained from answering.
According to investigators, Torkunov, among others, supervised a gang of Nikolai Greku, who carried out robberies on cottages in the Moscow Region. In April 2020, the Moscow Regional Court sentenced ten people from Moldova who were found guilty of banditry (Criminal Code, art. 209), illegal possession of weapons (Criminal Code, art. 222), and armed robbery (Criminal Code, art. 162). According to the investigation, the raiders acted on the territory of Moscow region and New Moscow from May 2012 till October 2016. Armed criminals penetrated at night to preliminary studied facilities, tied their occupants and took all stored valuables. As a result of 15 robberies they seized money and valuables worth more than 150 million rubles. The victims include the families of major-general of FSB and Hero of Russia Umar-Pasha Khanaliev, former co-chairman of Business Russia Andrei Nazarov, authoritative businessman from Solntsevo Alexander Averin and restaurateur Mehdi Duss (owner of restaurant La Marée), witness in the case of colonel Dmitriy Zakharchenko.
The search of Torkunov’s house in Marushkinskoe revealed, in addition to weapons and drugs, several samples of collectible cold steel arms stolen during a robbery attack on the restaurateur’s cottage.
Sergei Pelikh said that the Moldovan law enforcement authorities were investigating the criminal cases of criminal association leadership and racketeering (Part 1 Article 284, Part 6 Article 189 of the Criminal Code of Moldova). They say that the Turk’s gang acted both on the territory of the republic and abroad. The materials noted that Torkunov appointed watchmen in different regions of Russia and Moldova, who were responsible for funding the common fund. In 2017, Torkunov was placed on an international wanted list in Moldova.
How the transportation from Europe to Russia was arranged
The materials of the case, which is under investigation by the Directorate for Investigation of Organized Criminal Activities in the field of illicit drug trafficking, says that Plahotniuc’s and Prutianu’s people organized “a stable smuggling channel of supply from Europe to Russia of the drug hashish in especially large amounts.”
According to investigators, the group members packed hashish into sealed packages, loaded them in batches of 300 kg onto small vessels and, equipped with GPS trackers, dumped them in the neutral waters of the Strait of Gibraltar. There they were fished out by small fishing boats. The drugs were stored in country houses and farms in the Spanish provinces of Huelva, Seville and Malaga. They were transported across the EU and CIS in cars with hidden compartments.
In August 2016, a native of Moldova was detained in the Moscow district of Yasenevo with 13.6 kg of hashish in his Range Rover Sport. Law enforcers found the drug in a hiding place equipped with an electromechanical lock. The car could carry up to 200 kg of drugs. The investigation revealed that the organizers of the delivery were Prutianu and Torkunov. The courier received several thousand euros per shipment, while the profit of the organizers amounted to tens of thousands.
As Russian investigators and officers of the Central Brigade for Combating Organized Crime of the Directorate for Combating Drugs and Organized Crime of the General Commissariat of the Judicial Police of Spain found out, the group also operated in Germany, Moldova, Russia, the Netherlands, Ukraine and Belarus.
In June 2019, the Investigative Department of the Interior Ministry charged Plahotniuc in absentia with leadership and participation in a criminal association (parts 1, 2 of Article 210 of the Criminal Code). The Moldovan businessman was also accused of 28 episodes of drug smuggling and sale on a large scale. “Plahotniuc, given his ability to influence the political situation and state authorities, using criminal methods to influence those who oppose him, entered into criminal collusion with the leaders of organized crime of Moldova, including persons occupying the highest position in the criminal hierarchy, for his personal enrichment,” said the Interior Ministry.