The Russian Mafia can be traced back to Russia's imperial period, which began in the 1700s, in the form of banditry and thievery. Most of the population were peasants in poverty at the time, and criminals who stole from government entities and divided profits among the people earned Robin Hood-like status, being viewed as protectors of the poor and becoming folk heroes. In time, the Vorovski Mir (Thieves' World) emerged as these criminals grouped and started their own code of conduct that was based on strict loyalty with one another and opposition against the government. When the Bolshevik Revolution came around in 1917, the Thieves' World was alive and active. Vladimir Lenin attempted to wipe them out after being robbed by a gang of highwaymen, but the criminals survived onto Joseph Stalin's reign. When Josef Stalin seized power after the death of Lenin, he sought to crush the Thieves' World, ordering the execution of thousands of not only criminals, but also political opponents, invalids, and Jews. Millions of others were sent to gulags (labor camps), where powerful criminals worked their way up to become vory v zakone ("thieves-in-law"). These criminal elite often conveyed their status through complicated tattoos, an act that is still used today by Russian mobsters.

After Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II, Stalin was desperate for more men to fight for the nation, offering prisoners freedom if they joined the army. Many flocked to help out in the war, but this act betrayed codes of the Thieves' World that one must not ally with the government. When the war was over, however, Stalin sent them back to prison. Those who refused to fight in the war referred to the traitors as suki ("bitch"), and the latter landed at the bottom of the "hierarchy". Outcast, the suki separated from the others and formed their own groups and power bases by collaborating with prison officials, eventually gaining the luxury of comfortable positions. Bitterness between the groups erupted into a series of Bitch Wars from 1945 to 1953 with many killed every day. The prison officials encouraged the violence, seeing it as a way to rid criminals. After the death of Stalin, around eight million inmates were released from gulags. Those that survived the imprisonment and Bitch Wars became a new breed of criminal, no longer bound to the laws of the old Thieves' World. They adopted an "every-man-for-himself" attitude that meant cooperating with the government if necessary. As corruption spread throughout the Soviet government, the criminal underworld began to flourish. In the 1970s, small illegal businesses sprang up throughout the country, with the government ignoring them, and the black market thrived. Then, in the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev loosened up restrictions on private businesses, allowing them to grow legally, but by then, the Soviet Union was already beginning to collapse. When Communism ended and a free market economy emerged, organized criminal groups began to take over Russia's economy, with many ex-KGB soldiers and veterans of the Afghan war offering their skills to the crime bosses. Gangster summit meetings had taken place in hotels and restaurants shortly before the Soviet's dissolution, so that top vory v zakone could agree on who would rule what, and set plans on how to take over the post-Communist state. The worldwide extent of Russian organized crime wasn't realized until the beginning of the global arms dealing.

With the restoration of the crown and the growth of the Russian Empire in recent years, the Russian Mafia has remained live and well. New Mafia bosses have sprung up, while imprisoned ones were released. Around the world, Russian Mafia groups have popped up as dominating criminal forces. Russian organized crime was reported to have a strong grip in Catalonia, Spain and in the Hawaiian islands. The Jewish branch of the Russian Mafia has created tremendous problems in many Jewish-dominated countries. As of last year, Russian Mafia groups have been said to reach over 50 countries and, as of the same year, have up to 300,000 members.

Structure and composition

Although most Russian criminal groups vary in their structure, there have been attempts at trying to figure out a model in how they work. One such model, which could be possibly out-dated structure, as it is based on the old style of Soviet criminal enterprises, works out like the following:

  • Elite group: the leadership, oftentimes a vor or vory, manages and organizes plans for operations.
  • Support group: they set specific tasks for subordinate groups or choose who does what task.
  • Security group: they are in charge with security and intelligence.
  • Working group: the individuals that actually carry out the crimes; they are often uninformed of the identity of the leadership.

Strongest ethnic criminal groups

Russian criminal gangs are rarely formed along ethnic lines. Within the post-Soviet criminal world there exist a multitude of strong ethnic criminal gangs who often cooperate with each other regardless of ethnic origin. The strongest, most well-represented groups are the following :

  • Russian criminal groups: These consist of both Slavic as well as Jewish criminals. The most well-known of these gangs is the Solntsevskaya Bratva.
  • Chechen criminal groups: The Chechen mafia has long held an important place in the Russian criminal underworld.
  • Armenian criminal groups: Organized criminal groups consisting of Armenians have long been active in the Eastern European underworld. Gangs with ties to the Armenian organized crime kingpins also exist abroad.
  • Georgian criminal groups: Organized crime operating out of Georgia is regarded to be one of the strongest in the former Soviet Union. Georgian criminals are mainly based out of the ethnic Georgian Kutaisi region, the Svaneti and the Mingrelian community and the Georgia-based Yazidi community.
  • Azerbaijani criminal groups: Gangs consisting of Azerbaijanis have long been a major force in the Russian criminal world. Azeri groups control a large portion of the illegal drug market, as well as being involved in weapon trafficking and kidnapping.
  • Dagestani criminal groups: The mountainous regions of Dagestan have been a hotbed of clan strife for centuries. The Dagestani immigration to Moscow and other major Russian cities have brought with them the formation of major organized criminal groups involved in a multitude of criminal activities.
  • Assyrian criminal groups: Assyrians who emigrated from the Middle East or who have lived in the former Soviet Union for centuries have formed criminal groups as well. Nowadays their power has waned, but ethnic Assyrian organized crime groups are active throughout Europe.

Most Powerful Russian Mafia

Kostroma Bratva

Kostroma Brotherhood
Founder(s) Sergei Yakushev and Boris Kvasha
Headquarters Moscow
Years active Mid-1980s to present
Territory Russia, Estonia, Hawaii
Ethnicity Russians, Russian Jews, Volga Germans, Georgians
Membership 5,000
Criminal activities Arms trafficking, arson, drug trafficking, extortion, forgery, fraud, human trafficking, identity theft, illegal immigration, money laundering, murder, pornography, prostitution, racketeering, smuggling, and theft
Rivals Tenʹ ruki Bratva, Pavlovsk gang

The Kostroma Bratva, also known as the Kostroma Brotherhood, or Kostroma gang, is a powerful organized crime association from Russia. It is named after the Kostroma oblast, the province where the brotherhood was founded. It is considered to be one of the most dangerous criminal organizations in the world and is the largest faction of the Russian Mafia. Sergei Yakushev and a fellow gangster, Boris Kvasha formed the organization in the mid-1980s. They chose to ignore the codes and guidelines of the traditional thieves in law and based themselves on a more Western style, with Yakushev preferring to call himself a "businessman" rather than a vor("thief"). However, strict discipline was still enforced and thieves in law were not excluded from the group's activities. Eventually, gangs under the control of the syndicate controlled virtually the entire south-west of the city. The organization also merged with the influential Tver gang, led by thief-in-law Mikhail Timov. The union was partly a result of fear of warfare with Chechen mafia groups and other "southerners".

After the arrests of several gang leaders including Yakushev, the organization was crippled. Several high-ranking gangsters tried to form their own separate crews but ended up being murdered. At a meeting of mafia bosses was held in Saint Petersburg, shortly after which Timov was murdered when a bomb in his car went off. Timov's heir to the leadership of Tver, Nikolai Tretiak, was killed shortly after. However despite all the killings, the bratva not only regained their strength lost but had become one of the most powerful criminal organizations in Russia. Yahushev used Timov's death as an opportunity to take control of businesses previously owned by the Tver organization. Soon it was estimated the Kostroma group controlled about 120 legitimate firms and businesses in the Moscow and the surrounding provinces. They also bought many businesses abroad and, according to law enforcement estimates, the gang contains around 5,000 members.

Tenʹ ruki Bratva

Shadow Hand Brotherhood
Founder Oleg Arshavin
Headquarters Saint Petersburg
Years active late 1800s to present
Territory Russia, Estonia, Hawaii, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan
Ethnicity Russian, Russian Jews, Volga Germans, Baltic Germans, Georgian, Armenian, Azerbaijani
Membership Roughly 5,500
Criminal activities highwaymen and banditry (eliminated in the modern era), Assault, Murder, Arms trafficking, Arson, Coercion, Extortion, Protection racket, Financial crime, Money Laundering, Counterfeiting, Tax evasion, Cybercrime, Identity theft and internet fraud, Copyright infringement, Cyberwarfare, Political corruption, Corporate crime, Drug trafficking, Human trafficking, Sex trafficking, Migrant Trafficking, Labour Racketeering
Rivals Kostroma Bratva

The Tenʹ ruki Bratva or Shadow Hand Brotherhood is by far the oldest criminal organizations in Russia to have survived from that old imperial period and still exist in modern times today, during the new imperial period. Ten' ruki Bratva trace their history to Oleg Arshavin and the small group of bandits and highwaymen he organized back in the late 1800s. Like others of their time period, the thieves of the Ten' ruki Bratva took on "Robinhood" persona as they would often times rob the wealthy aristocrats in order to give to the poorest of the peasantry. The gang was built on a foundation where the codes of the Thieves' World was at its core. Steeped in tradition, many of what would become the ways of the old world thieves would come from customs first started by those members and former-members of the Tenʹ ruki Bratva. Though some members would often break away from the gang in order to start their own, none lasted as long at the brotherhood itself. At the beginnings of the 20th century, the gang grew and a hierarchy of ranks was soon established. The organization was split into subgroups, each under the command of an authority figure known as an avtoritet. The gang also has an obshchak, a fund used by members to bribe law enforcement and authority figures, and also to provide funding for defense should they be arrested.

The gang continued to flourish until the rise of communism and the Soviet purges against the organized crime world. Like many, much of the leadership and membership of the Ten' ruki Bratva were sent off to the gulags or labor camps where many were worked to death. Others were rounded up and simply executed, thinning the membership of the gang considerably during these years and making their activities in and around Russia more difficult. Inside the labor camps however, Ten' ruki Bratva became a powerful voice within the thieve rings inside the camps. They were outspoken opponents when the Soviet Union offered freedom in exchange for those willing to fight for it during World War II. When these traitors, now called suki or bitch, were sent back to prison after the war, it would be the Ten' ruki Bratva that would lead in ostracizing them from the rest of the prison population. The Suki soon formed their own power base in the labor camps and the Ten' ruki Bratva , appalled by this, would eventually make the first strike that would lead to the Bitch Wars. Following Joseph Stalin's death in 1953, some eight million inmates from the labor camps were released, those who'd survived the Bitch Wars, and included many who identified themselves as Ten' ruki Bratva.

It was during the 1960s and 1970s that Ten' ruki Bratva regain a name for itself among the people. However, unlike the Robin Hood persona that the gang embody in the past, the new Ten' ruki Bratva transitioned itself into a mafia more recognizable to the modern era. By the end of the 1970s and into the early 1980s, the Ten' ruki Bratva controlled several strip clubs and legal brothels as well as had a large stake in the illegal sale of drugs through the Soviet Union. This brought a new income to the gang and allowed them to renew themselves as a dominant force in the criminal underworld. However, the late 1980s saw the rise of newer Russia gangs within the Russian mafia world. Some, like the Kostroma Bratva, abandoned the old ways for what they saw as the way forward following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Ten' ruki Bratva would be slower to evolve and this would hurt the gang and allow the Kostroma Bratva to become a true rival to their power. With the power waning, the Ten' ruki Bratva came under the control of Sergei Gribov, a third generation gang member. Sergei however, was a different breed of gangster than others in the gang. By the time he became leader he was also CEO of Moscovy Motors, today one of Russia's most powerful company's in its automotive industry. Using Moscovy Motors as a cover, the gang has now amassed an new wealth and uses the company as a front for much of its illegal activities.

Pavlovsk Gang

Pavlovsk Gang
Founder Andrey Chekhov
Headquarters Pavlovsk
Years active 1988-Present
Territory Pawlovsk, Saint Petersburg, and other areas of Northern Russia
Ethnicity Russian, Russian Jews, and Baltic Germans
Membership 500
Criminal activities Prostitution, pornography, and Drug Trafficking
Rivals Kostroma Bratva

The Pavlovsk gang was once considered one of the largest and most powerful groups of organized criminals operating in the Saint Petersburg area. The gang began in the spring of 1988 and in the few years that followed, the gang quickly rose to prominence within the town of Pavlovsk for which they take their name. Though some within their ranks were of the old thieves, the gang styled itself under the new strategies of the modern Russian mafias. Under the leadership of their founder Andrey Chekhov the Pavlovsk gang quickly rose to prominence within Pawlovsk and then quickly spread to Saint Petersburg. Dealing mainly in the field of prostitution, the gang made millions. However, operating within Saint Petersburg had its risks and not long after spreading their operations into the city, the gang came at odds with the Tenʹ ruki Bratva. Given their old-world thinking at the time, the Tenʹ ruki Bratva was unable to stop the spread of the Pavlovsk influence into the city and the additional competition they brought to prostitution in Saint Petersburg. This allowed the Pavlovsk gang to continue to grow both in membership and in influence. Within a few short years the gang began spreading outside the city limits of Saint Petersburg and began building a small empire of business in the northern territories of Russia. This success however, brought them to the attention of Kostroma Bratva, another growing criminal organization that had begun in the 1980s.

Luckily for the Pavlovsk gang, the Kostroma Bratva saw the much older Tenʹ ruki Bratva as more of a threat to their power in Russia that the Pavlovsk, and for many years ignore them, giving the Pavlovsk gang room to grow. However, as the gang pushed further south, the Kostroma Bratva realized that the gang was not an organization they could ignore any longer. By the late 1990s, the two gangs were at war with one another, and their battlefield was business. In hopes of simply washing the Pavlovsk gang, the Kostroma Bratva began making inroads into the same prostitution market that the Pavlovsk had all but locked down in the northern regions. This put serious competition in the north, between the Pavlovsk gang, Kostroma Bratva, and the Tenʹ ruki Bratva. The Pavlovsk gang suffered the most under the competition given that their entire organization was built on prostitution and the prostitute rings they had built and operated throughout the northern territories. The stress that the war was providing proved too much for Andrey Chekhov to handle and out of desperation, Andrey ordered the assassination of mafia leaders in the Kostroma Bratva. This would be a costly mistake as not only would those assassination attempts fail, but it would also lead to a price on his own head which would be collected as the 1990s came to an end.

The lost of Andrey Chekhov was a major blow for the gang. His son, Alexei, was a young face that many were not willing to take seriously as an heir to the leadership. However, though Alexei was barely out of his teens he brought something that the gang desperately needed if they were going to survive. Alexei would be instrumental in his leadership to diversify the gangs operation and bring them into newer markets. Alexei pushed the Pavlovsk towards a future in both the business of the pornography as well as drug sales. This saw new revenue for the gang, revenue that Alexei would help to further rebuild what was lost by his father. He would also work out a deal with the Tenʹ ruki Bratva, meeting to an understanding between the two groups that would allow the Pavlovsk gang to operate without interference from them in the northern regions. This understanding would prove beneficial to the Tenʹ ruki Bratva, as it would help herald in their own era of change that help to restore some of their own power. It would be with the help of the Tenʹ ruki Bratva, that the Pavlovsk gang would successfully assassinate several high-ranking Kostroma Bratva members including the boss which put a price on Andrey's head. Today, the Chekhov family remains at the head of the Pavlovsk gang. They continue to operate primarily in northern Russia, Pavlovsk naturally being their strongest area. Though not considered to be a strong mafia by some, the Pavlovsk gang have certainly secured themselves as a dangerous group to cross should other mafia's attempt to interfere within their region of operation.

The Beloarmiya

White Army
Founder Anton Markov
Headquarters Penza
Years active late-1980s to present
Territory eastern most Russia
Ethnicity Russian
Membership 450
Criminal activities Racketeering, money laundering, counterfeiting and illegal arm sales.
Rivals  ????

The Beloarmiya is a Russian mafia crime syndicate based in the city of Penza that sprung up int the late 1980s. The gang was founded by a group of former sportsmen led by Anton Markov and his slightly younger brother Vladimir. Never officially communist themselves, they held great disdain for the party and the Soviet Union in general. They took the name, Beloarmiya, in hopes of showing their opposition for the system as well as insulting the communist establishment in general. The group rose to power and consolidated control over several businesses in the city during the transition to a free market economy, including the famous Ural Computer Manufacturing factory. The Beloarmiya would establish for themselves a racketeering scheme within the city. The profits earned from racketeering went on to be reinvested in a number of legitimate businesses, expanding the groups reach beyond the city limits. The expansion of the Beloarmiya would put them in competition with a number of other mafia organizations that were born around the same time as themselves. Due to this, the Beloarmiya during the early 1990s would be involved in a number of gang wars. Much of the fighting was to help secure themselves as a power in the eastern regions of Russia, specifically those in close proximity to the city of Penza. There was also one internal conflict within the group.

The internal conflict of the Beloarmiya was between the more traditional criminals of the gang who obeyed the Thieves Code and the sportsmen, including the Markov brothers. The internal fighting was a bloody, mess affair that many outsiders believe would simply tear that organization apart. One of the most famous causalities of the fighting was Vladimir Markov, a murder Anton never forgave and one that many feel was the tipping point. After Vladimir's death, the sportsmen of the organization would become more ruthless and eventually came out on top, crushing the conservatives of the organization and flushing them out. Another infamous engagement for the Beloarmiya was their clash with a rival gang within the city of Penza itself. The Western Gang, calling themselves such due to the fact that the came from the western part of town, were the main rivals of the Beloarmiya in Penza. Believing the Beloarmiya had weakened themselves from infighting, the Western Gang attempted to wipe them out. The fighting turned out to be more brutal that the infighting of the Beloarmiya, and was more costly than either gang every believed it could be. The number of fatalities turned out to be so great that the two organizations would eventually take over two cemeteries just for their own dead. Gravestones became monuments to the fallen and were often extremely elaborate in design. Many bore the images of the buried, dressed in classical 1990s gangster fashion (tracksuit, leather jacket, etc.). Sometimes gangster's nicknames and/or their particular skills would also be etched on the gravestone (for example, expert in judo). By the time the 1990s were coming to an end, so too did the fighting. Eventually the Beloarmiya overcame the Western gang, many either defecting to the Beloarmiya or defecting for other mafias elsewhere in Russia.

By the time of the new imperial age, the Beloarmiya began working in the name of a local social program, A Drug-less City whose aim it was to rid the city of both drug dealers as well as the drugs themselves, specifically the heroin trade. Having never dealt in the drug market, the Beloarmiya choose to support the cause, though many critics says it was simply a move to crush any upstart organizations from cutting in on their power in the city. Nevertheless, the Beloarmiya saw to it that dealers were beaten and brutalized, often publicly to send a message to others. In addition, the Belaya Armiya would seek out the Addicts and would have them chained to radiators and forced to go cold turkey. Though many were skeptical of their tactics, these actions helped to clean up the city and put a sense of fear on the streets for anyone looking for or to sell drugs. This act legitimized the BeloaArmiya in the eyes of many in the city. The Beloarmiya even went on to organize fashion shows to raise money for the city's sick, orphaned, or otherwise disadvantaged children. By the end of the first decade in the 2000s, the leaders of the Beloarmiya legitimized their business ventures in the eyes of many both inside and outside of Penza. Some members of the group splintered and would go on to help be a founding force in the Beloaya Gvardiya political party. Today despite what the group has and continues to do for the good of the people of eastern Russia, members of the Beloarmiya are still believed to engage in criminal activity and racketeering. Indeed, many believe that the entire city is in fact controlled by Beloarmiya, or in their pocket (government, police, etc). Many businesses not directly associated with the Beloarmiya are still rumored to be paying protection money to the group for fear of retaliation.

Mts'velebi Satsmisis

Guardians of the Fleece
Founder Joseph Dadiani
Headquarters Tbilisi, Georgia
Years active 1989-present
Territory Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan
Ethnicity Predominantly Georgian, some Armenian and Azerbaijani
Membership  ???????
Criminal activities  ???????
Rivals  ????????

The Mts'velebi Satsmisis or Guardians of the Fleece, are a paramilitary group and political organisation that began in Georgia, a portion of which reconstituted itself as the paramilitary group sons of Moscow following the Georgian War. The group was originally founded in 1989 by Joseph Dadiani and the group presented itself as the heir to historic Georgian guerrilla groups who fought Persia and Ottoman occupiers. The group's name takes its inspiration from the Greek fables and myths surrounding the Golden Fleece. It was believed in ancient times that that ancient Georgia was the home of the Golden Fleece, and the Mts'velebi Satsmisis swore to protect it by protecting Georgia. Each member of the organization would take an oath to defend Georgia's people, the Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church and Georgia's land, and wore a medallion with a scene of Saint George slaying the dragon on one side and the bearer's name and blood type on the other. The establishment of the Mts'velebi Satsmisis took place as Georgia moved towards independence in the final years of the Soviet Union. Relations between Georgian nationalists and the country's national minorities, especially the Abkhaz and Ossetians, were difficult at best even during Soviet rule and grew more tense during the towards independence. The Mts'velebi Satsmisis was one of a number of nationalist paramilitary groups established during this period as a counterbalance to similar paramilitary organisations set up by rival nationalists elsewhere in Georgia.

The Mts'velebi Satsmisis's members gained an unpleasant reputation as heavily armed thugs who engaged in violent intimidation of their rivals. They were highly visible, wearing what amounted to a uniform of jeans, sweaters and jackets, topped off by sunglasses (even worn indoors). Leaders wore Armani suits bulging with guns, according to one author. Mts'velebi Satsmisis relied on illegal sources of income (targeting gasoline supplies) and exploited connections with Moscow's own mafia world. Mts'velebi Satsmisis members were often accused of criminal activity, extorting "protection money" from businesses in areas which they effectively controlled, operating roadblocks where drivers would be "fined", smuggling drugs and committing robberies. By the early 1990s, the Mts'velebi Satsmisis claimed to have had about 1,000 fighters and 10,000 associate members, considerably more than the official state National Guard.

Joseph Dadiani shared a lot in common with another Georgian nationalist by the name of Konstantine Rustaveli who was running for leadership of the new independent country. However, despite both men sharing a broadly similar nationalist outlook, the two fell out badly shortly after Konstantine Rustaveli came to power. In one of his first moves as President, Rustaveli imprisoned Dadiani without a trail, along with many of his supporters and co-leaders, and formally banned the Mts'velebi Satsmisis. Rustaveli believing he'd put away his only real competition to power, to looked to secure his place in power by also sacking the leader of the Georgia's national guard. He also forced the Prime minister at the time to resign. Outraged, the leader of the National Guard, Sergo Chakhava, soon began forming an anti-Rustaveli movement within Georgia, along with the help of the imprisoned Dadiani. Within two years, Chakhava's supporters released Dadiani from jail and launched a violent coup d'etat against the Rustaveli government in alliance with the Mts'velebi Satsmisis that had survived several government-led purges. Intense gun battles took place in the streets of Tbilisi between the rebels and the government holed up in the state parliament building. At least 100 people were killed in the fighting.

[edit]The Mkhedrioni after Gamsakhurdia

The Mkhedrioni played a crucial role in suppressing the remaining "Zviadists" after the downfall of Gamsakhurdia. Eduard Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister, was brought in to provide a respectable face for the new government, but it remained dependent on the Mkhedrioni: even inside the parliament building, Mkhedrioni gunmen had a constant presence as "bodyguards" for Jaba Ioseliani, who was now a member of parliament. Mkhedrioni were given the role of the interior forces under the new government.[1]

In 1993, worsening civil strife in Abkhazia prompted the Mkhedrioni and National Guard to launch a joint operation in the region to root out separatists and Gamsakhurdia supporters. This resulted in a disastrous defeat for the pro-government forces, who were driven out of Abkhazia along with virtually the entire ethnic Georgian population of the region: over 10,000 people were killed in the fighting. In September 1993, Gamsakhurdia took the opportunity to launch an armed uprising in western Georgia in an attempt to return to power. The Mkhedrioni played an important role in suppressing the uprising and were for a while given semi-official status as the "Georgian Rescue Corps". Russian intervention ensured Gamsakhurdia's defeat and on December 31 he reportedly committed suicide, though it has also been stated, and widely believed within Georgia, that he was murdered. Mkhedrioni forces were alleged in press reports to be responsible for his death, but they denied this.

The Mkhedrioni were subsequently given responsibility for rooting out "Zviadists" in western Georgia, which they did with a brutal efficiency that was widely criticised by foreign governments and international human rights organisations. Shevardnadze responded by gradually limiting the organisation's power. Although Ioseliani remained head of the supposedly civilianised organisation, it continued to function as a private army. In early 1995, Shevardnadze ordered it to disarm, accusing it of deep involvement in organised crime. He narrowly escaped assassination in a bomb attack on August 29, 1995, which he blamed on a shadowy coalition of "mafia forces" including Ioseliani and others. Other acts of political violence were also blamed on the Mkhedrioni. The organisation was outlawed and Ioseliani imprisoned, although many regarded the claim that it had been involved in the bombing as being inconclusively proven. In spite of its banning, the Mkhedrioni continues to have a somewhat shadowy existence in Georgian politics. A number of members, led by Tornike Berishvili, recreated it in 1999 as an ostensibly political rather than paramilitary organisation. It has been claimed that the Mkhedrioni has had relations with Chechen separatists and continues to be involved in criminal and paramilitary activities, including continued guerrilla attacks in Abkhazia. Jaba Ioseliani was released from prison in an amnesty in April 2000 and resumed his post as head of the Mkhedrioni, declaring his intention to run for President and participate in the November 2003 parliamentary elections. However, Ioseliani died of a heart attack in March 2003. When the Mkhedrioni failed to secure registration to stand in elections under its own name, it reconstituted itself in November 2002 as a political party called the Union of Patriots in alliance with former Gamsakhurdia supporters. It was again refused registration by the government. Its leader Badri Zarandia was assassinated on January 8, 2003