NewsCrime Desk

Kinahan-linked criminal caught with Hutch list in Dublin no stranger to gang wars

Imre Arakas (Pic: Irish Daily Star)
Imre Arakas (Pic: Irish Daily Star)

An Estonian criminal caught in Dublin with a list of Hutch associates previously went on the run from police, spent 13 years in a Soviet prison and led one of the bloodiest gang wars in Eastern European history.

Imre Arakas, nicknamed 'The Butcher', is currently being questioned at a Dublin garda station over his connections to the Kinahan crime cartel.

On Tuesday, armed gardai stormed a house in Blakestown, west Dublin where they discovered Arakas and two other known associates of the Kinahan gang.

Gardai suspect that the 58-year-old was being primed for a series of attacks on the rival Hutch gang. Detectives attached to the Drugs & Organised Crime Bureau (DOCB) also found a list of Hutch associates and disguises.

It sounds like a plot from a Hollywood gangster movie but it is just the latest chapter in a colourful criminal career that has spanned four decades and the entire continent.

It has also been revealed that Arakas:

- Led Soviet police on an 87-day manhunt

- Spent 15 years in maximum security prisons behind the Iron Curtain

- Was a senior member of a Tallinn gang who led a bloody war against the Russian mafia during the '90s

- Was convicted in 2011 over a bizarre plot to fake the murder of a senior businessman

- Was questioned by police after a media mogul was targeted with a Molotov cocktail;

- And admitted recently that he "continues to live dangerously"

Imre Arakas (archived image from 1979) via Independent.ie

Hailing from Estonian capital Tallinn, Arakas is not your typical career criminal.

Journalist Tarmo Vahter, who has written extensively on the subject for Ekspress newspaper, said Arakas first came to the attention of authorities in 1977, aged just 18.

The aspiring actor, who was interested in art in school, was caught painting anti-communist graffiti on a number of buildings and a police van in the capital city ahead of the November 7 Russian Revolution anniversary.

He was quite good looking, and at the time was a boxer and an artist.

He was convicted of the offence but avoided jail after one of his teachers spoke up for him in court, finding himself sentenced to two years in prison with conditional discharge.

Arakas later attempted to get into acting college but narrowly missed out and instead decided to flee the Soviet Union.

He hold of a small boat, along with his friend, and their plan was to travel by sea to Sweden. However, the plan hit a fairly significant stumbling block when their motor failed a short distance into their journey.

"It was Soviet made, so it was always going to fail," joked Mr Vahter.

Not put off by this initial setback, Arakas decided to try again. This time he believed that if he was going to escape, he would need a weapon because armed Soviet border guards were patrolling the seaside. And so he and two friends decided to rob a police sports club, which was a shooting gallery.

In the course of the robbery, one of the raiders kicked an old woman who was working in the gallery at the time. They escaped with 13 pistols and over a thousand rounds of ammunition.

"It was a very serious and dangerous crime in the Soviet Union," Mr Vahter said.

"At the start, the Soviet police had no idea who did it. It happened before a Supreme court election and investigators thought it was maybe a terrorist attack."

Following a tip-off, police tracked down Arakas and his accomplices.

However, he escaped their grasp again just days later when he fled from a court hearing through the streets of Tallinn. The court was located in Stenbock house, which is now the Estonian Prime Minister's office.

During his daring escape, Arakas jumped eight metres from a hill and managed to evade the police.

The escape and subsequent 87-day manhunt elevated Arakas to cult-hero status in his native Estonia, and today many people still view him as a "Robin Hood character".

"He was quite good looking and he was a boxer and an artist. It's very unusual because he was not a typical criminal at all," Mr Vahter explained.

The KGB and Soviet police were afraid that Arakas may target the highest communist party official in Estonia, and his photo was published in newspapers and on television. As a result, he became well-known and easily recognised. 

Eventually, he was captured and given the maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Because there were no maximum security jails in Estonia at the time, he spent the majority of this time in Russia alongside some of the most dangerous criminals from across the massive state.

"I think that he has seen in his life a lot of things. A lot of things that ordinary people have not seen and would not want to see.

"It was a terrible time in prison in the 1980s and the 1990s. A lot of people were killed but Arakas survived.

"It was a very tough time and he survived. He is a survivor. I think that he has a lot of experiences."

He went into prison in 1979 a bright-eyed boy but came out a hardened criminal 13 years later.

In 1990, Arakas was sent from Russia with other Estonian prisoners back to Estonia. He ended up in Rummu prison, where 52 prisoners were killed during one year alone. Not all of them were his friends but 45 of them were personally known by Arakas.

"It was like war," he said during an interview.

Some Estonian politicians started to call for Arakas' release because of his anti-Soviet past. One of the politicians was his former classmate Mart Laar, who has served twice as Estonian PM.

Arakas was released in the summer of 1992.

Tallinn had changed dramatically - the Berlin Wall had come down and Estonia was now an independent state.

However, some of the remnants of the Soviet era remained, including its criminal gangs.

Post Times journalist Joosep Vark said that Arakas quickly found himself in the middle of one of the largest gang wars in European history.

"There was a Russian mafia in Estonia but the ethnic Estonian mafia wanted to push them out. Arakas was part of the ethnic Estonian mafia, he was one of their leaders."

In late October 1997, five bullets were fired at Arakas but none landed. He then shot the gunman three times in the back but the shooter managed to flee and was never located. Mr Vark said over 100 people were killed in the bloody feud, with Arakas narrowly escaping death on several occasions.

Arakas spent a short time in prison from December 1996 to March 1997 after he was convicted of possessing illegal firearms.

At the turn of the century, with most of his gangland associates now dead or serving lengthy terms in prison, Arakas left Estonia and set up home in Marbella, Spain.

However, he wasn't safe there either and in December 2001, his car was shot at.

The Estonian was hit several times but managed to flee in his vehicle. Four Estonians were charged and two of them were jailed, Mr Vark said.

Five years later, Arakas was back in the headlines again when a Molotov cocktail exploded in a home connected to a well-known media business owner in Estonia.

Arakas was arrested in connection with the crime but was not tried.

In 2011, he was again back in the familiar surroundings of Tallinn court house charged in relation to a bizarre murder plot.

The then 50-year-old gangster was accused of staging a murder attempt on a businessman in a bid to get the businessman's partner jailed.

The unusual plan backfired when police got wind of the details, and Arakas was arrested alongside the businessman.

He was convicted in December 2012 in Tallinn and was sentenced to 14 months in prison. However, it was a conditional discharge and because of this he was not sent to prison.

Over the last number of years Arakas has lived in Denmark, the Netherlands and Spain and is regularly spotted at court hearings in his native Estonia.

Latest intelligence suggests that he is connected to an Eastern European organised crime group in Spain but has connections to a number of international crime groups, including the Kinahan cartel.

Despite his criminal background, Arakas continues to court the limelight and even featured on an award-winning advertisement (below) for the Ekspress newspaper. The ad featured a picture of Arakas under the headline, "There are people, with whom you are afraid to speak. We will do it for you." 

Mr Vahter has spoken to Arakas on a number of occasions, and in one telling interview in 2015 he asked the gangster what he did for a living.

"I got the answer: 'I will not tell it now.'

"He tells me that he has enough money to live how he likes.

"I ask him: 'How would you like to live?'

"He said: 'I am very lazy.'

"'Are you still living dangerously?' I ask.

"'Maybe a little yes,' Arakas responds."