NEWS

Organized crime by the quickly growing numbers

The crime scene in Attica is like a pie cut into 13 pieces, divided among as many gangs, according to police who have mapped out the underworld scene and observed a recent qualitative change indicating that more organized crimes rackets are the new trend rather than individual groups working on their own, particularly with regard to protection rackets. «Things used to be relatively simple in the past,» one nightclub owner told Kathimerini. «A group of thugs would come in and cause trouble, damaging the premises. Then the head of the gang would demand a monthly fee, not only so they themselves wouldn’t smash the place up again but to prevent others from doing so.» Times appear to have changed, with organized gangs having broadened their range of activities in the search for higher profits. One of the reasons is the lull in nightclub entertainment in recent years. «When the clubs were full every night, protection money didn’t seem a lot, but now that they only open half the week and fill up only on weekends, no one can pay a lot for protection,» said the same club owner. There has also been another change. In the past, nearly all gangs brought in new members, mostly foreigners – Albanians, Russians, Romanians and Poles. Not only were the gangs bigger, but they needed more money to keep them going and so had to expand into new fields. Many of the protection rackets got into the distribution of adulterated drinks – known in club lingo as «bombs» – produced and bottled in illegal plants and distributed to the clubs controlled by each gang, where owners are forced to serve them. Prostitution is another sector that has grown considerably in recent years, run by gangs that also control a major part of the drug trade, dealing in large quantities which they offload onto pushers. Some gangs undertake extortion «contracts» for third parties, seeking debt repayment by means of threats, intimidation, warning bomb blasts or even bodily harm. They are also increasingly involved in the smuggling of cigarettes and fuel. Extortion rackets are more often headed by people operating on the sidelines who are not directly involved in any of the crimes. Their function is to plan and direct, and to «launder» revenues through a legitimate business. Open war between ‘godfathers’ Meanwhile, an underground war is also being waged among extortionists. The biggest settling of accounts occurred in the summer of 2000, when, over a three-month period, there was an unprecedented run of murders, explosions and ambushes. Four killings and another attempt to kill two people marked major changes in the underworld scene, where the map was being redrawn and emerging gangs were deciding to do away with the old guard. The bloodbath lasted several months before order was restored. Over the past year, however, a new front has emerged between two gangs, accounting for five murders in western Athens between last November and last week. The first was that of Aristides Lakiotis on November 18 of last year, who was ambushed in the parking lot of his home in Nikaia. His killers, who pumped him full of bullets, have not been found. An Albanian, Andrea Simeone, was the next victim, on March 6 of this year. His body, with four bullet holes in it, was found in a car in Sepolia. Simeone had a police record for taking part in an extortion racket, robberies and pimping. A few days after a bomb explosion at a car showroom, which was believed to be linked to extortion, Costas Koutelieris and Yiannis Katsios were shot dead on August 26 in Peristeri. Police are investigating the possible involvement of the Albanian criminal Alket Rizai. The two victims had been sitting in a cafe when they were shot by an unidentified assailant, who managed to flee the scene. The latest killing was that of Yiannis Gavakis on September 18 in Moschato, southern Athens, and bore all the characteristics of a gangland shooting. Two men on a motorcycle approached Gavakis and opened fire in broad daylight as he stopped his car at a traffic light. Police are watching these events with concern and are trying to resolve one of the recent cases which they hope will lead some people involved to talk and bring an end to the bloodbath.