«Thief in Law» epitome shocks court by owning up

Risto Berendson
, reporter
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Photo: Tairo Lutter

This Wednesday, Harju County Court was served the surprise of its life: a most notorious criminal in Estonia and for decades making it his principle to avoid any cooperation with authorities, Chechen Ruslan Junusov announced he pleaded guilty in robbery and desired agreed punishment. 

This was indeed surprising as all in any way involved with Mr Junusov (62) over the years imagined this would be a lengthy procedure where the man denies and challenges everything. Not so.

«Yes, considering former behaviour by Mr Junusov, I was not quite prepared for such a solution,» also admitted Northern district prosecutor Natalia Miilvee.

Mr Junusov was brought to Estonia some weeks ago from Daugavgrīva prison, Latvia, where he is doing time for depriving policemen of liberty at gunpoint. The three years physically in jail for armed robbery sentenced him by Harju County Court is not overly strict, but a matter of principle.

Past painful mistakes

The last time Mr Junusov was brought before court as related to a paid murder, it was damaging to Estonian state. Due to procedural errors Mr Junusov was judged not guilty and the taxpayer needed to pay him about half a million Estonian kroons for the time spent in jail.

The rapid procedure this time was also important to spare the victim, a woman, the meeting with the man in courtroom. For that reason, the woman was quick to waive financial compensation for damages from Mr Junusov.

The woman knew Mr Junusov from earlier times through her husband. During the USSR, her husband was in prison together with Mr Junusov and together they did illegal business. At one point they quarrelled as Mr Junusov assumed the partner cheated him.

To settle affairs, on November 20th 2011 at 1:30 pm Mr Junusov donned a mask, joined the latter’s house as she arrived home and walked in after her.

Recognising the man for his peculiar accent, the woman let him is but then it quickly got ugly. Demanding money, Mr Junusov hit her on the head with a pistol.

He proceeded to shoot her daughter and her boyfriend and said he’d kill them all if not given money. Hearing there was no money in the house, he hit her again in the head with the pistol.

The watch and the jewels

The robber demanded to be shown all hidden nooks and crannies. Convinced there was no money, Mr Junusov asked for her golden jewels. The woman handed over her brilliants-adorned golden Cartier watch costing €10,000 and golden jewels worth a total of €3,800. Thereafter, Mr Junusov left.

As police was informed a couple of days later, Mr Junusov was no longer in Estonia. On November 26th, citing violation of Aliens Act, his Estonian residence permit was annulled.

Mr Junusov hid in Latvia where he has connection in the criminal world. While there, he got in trouble and was jailed for five years for various crimes at Bauska circuit court.

Mr Junusov will have to do that time in Latvia. Thereafter, it will be seen if he can serve the three years sentenced him in Estonia in Latvia of would he be brought to Estonia for that. The man wants the latter option saying he is planning several civilian court disputes with people financially involved with him in Estonia. At least that what he said in court, on Wednesday.


Claims to be illiterate

Earlier a long time inhabitant of Estonia, Mr Junusov is the only local criminal who would meet the USSR «Thief in Law» (вор в зако́не) criteria: he never went to work, has spent a minimum of 35 years in prison, and has never cooperated with investigative bodies claiming he cannot understand Russian and cannot read or write. The claims are probably false but thus far Mr Junusov has attempted to stubbornly stick to these at investigations.

He was at his peak in Estonia a decade ago with a whole gang under him accused of heavy crimes as paid murder, murder attempt, and possession of large amounts of explosives fro assassination.  Though for a long time at loggerheads with the local criminal «pot», the latter never threatened his life. It is assumed the reason is his powerful criminal connections in Latvia and Russia.