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Crime boss of post-Soviet underworld shot dead in Turkey

Turkish police forces in Diyarbakır, Turkey. (Mahmut Bozarslan, Wikimedia Commons/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The killing of a notorious crime boss from the Caucasus region is echoing across the criminal underworld of the former Soviet Union, with reverberations reaching an alleged Uzbek crime boss in Turkey who is the nephew of the former international amateur boxing chief.

Nadir “Lotu Guli” Salifov, a reputed member of the “thieves-in-law” criminal syndicate, had been known as a top crime boss in Russia and Azerbaijan.

He was shot dead at a restaurant in Turkey’s southern coastal city of Antalya on the evening of August 19.

Multiple underworld sources have told RFE/RL that the killer was one of Salifov’s bodyguards.

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Speaking on condition of anonymity, those sources told RFE/RL the bodyguard stood behind Salifov and shot him four times — including at least one shot to the back of his head — while he was seated at a card game.

Those sources also told RFE/RL the killer had made a short mobile-phone video of Salifov earlier in the evening and sent it to several people before carrying out the killing.

They said the bodyguard fled the restaurant after the shooting.

According to Turkish media reports, a suspect was detained by Turkish police on August 19 as he tried to flee north along the Antalya-Denizli highway. Turkish authorities have not named the suspect.

But RFE/RL’s sources say Turkish police confiscated the suspect’s mobile phone and found that he’d sent the video of Salifov to at least four people.

All four of the individuals said to have been sent the video were detained by Turkish authorities for questioning.

They include Ravshan “Zolotoi” Muhiddinov, a reputed criminal boss from Uzbekistan and the nephew of Gafour Rakhimov, the disgraced former head of the International Boxing Association (AIBA) who is wanted in the United States as an alleged kingpin of international drug trafficking.

Muhiddinov was detained at his home in Istanbul at 3 a.m. local time on August 20 and questioned by Turkish police for seven hours before he was released without charge.

Meanwhile, Russian media reports say agents from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) detained one of Salifov’s associates in Siberia and released him without charge after questioning.

Criminal Roots

The 47-year-old Salifov was an ethnic Azeri who had been born in Georgia but moved to Azerbaijan with his family shortly after his birth.

Rising to the top of an Azerbaijani criminal syndicate, he had been repeatedly convicted in Baku on charges that included theft, banditry, and kidnapping.

After a conviction in the 1990s, Salifov spent 22 years in a Baku prison, where he is said to have continued issuing orders to subordinates, including members of his Azerbaijani crime syndicate in Russia.

By 2014, Salifov managed to gain control over three large markets in Moscow.

Russian authorities had launched several criminal investigations against Salifov in connection with kidnappings and extortion in Moscow and other Russian regions.

He was also under investigation in Russia as a powerful figure within the thieves-in-law criminal clan — a position he is thought to have risen to following the jailing in 2016 of the Russian mafia godfather and thieves-in-law leader Zakhary Kalashov, an ethnic Georgian Yazidi who uses the nickname “Shakro Molodoi.”

Thieves-In-Law ‘Code Of Conduct’

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) describes thieves-in-law as “a Eurasian crime syndicate that has been linked to a long list of illicit activity across the globe,” saying it poses a threat to the United States and its allies.

Thieves-in-law originated in Stalinist prison camps during the Soviet era.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the OFAC says thieves-in-law has expanded across the former Soviet republics, Europe, and the United States, with crimes that include money laundering, extortion, bribery, kidnapping, and robbery.

According to the OFAC, the syndicate’s members are “initiated or ‘crowned’ after demonstrating an ‘ideal’ criminal biography and take an oath to uphold a code that includes living exclusively off their criminal profits and supporting other thieves-in-law.”

Sources with ties to Central Asia’s criminal underworld told RFE/RL that Kalashov had issued a death order from his Russian prison cell against Salifov.

They say Salifov broke the thieves-in-law “code of honor” by assaulting rival members in a dispute.