Argentina says fugitive ex-spy official hiding in the United States

SIDE ArgentinaAn Argentine former senior intelligence official, who is wanted in connection with the murder of a federal prosecutor in Buenos Aires, is hiding in the United States, according to the President of Argentina, who says Washington should extradite him. Antonio Horacio Stiuso, better known as Jaime Stiuso, rose through the ranks of Argentina’s Secretaría de Inteligencia del Estado (SIDE) to become its director of counterintelligence. In 2012, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner appointed Stiuso to chief operating officer of SIDE, working directly under the agency’s director. However, Stiuso was fired in a massive agency shake-up in February of this year, when the government suddenly dissolved SIDE and replaced it with a new agency, called Agencia Federal de Inteligencia.

The radical reorganization was prompted by the death of federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman, whose body was discovered in his Buenos Aires apartment on January 19. Nisman had caused international headlines in the week before his death, after launching a criminal complaint against President Kirchner and several other notable personalities of Argentine political life. Nisman accused them of having colluded with the government of Iran to bomb the Israeli embassy and a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in the mid-1990s. A dozen people died in the bombing of the embassy, while another 85 were killed two years later, when the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina community center in the Argentine capital was bombed.

But President Kirchner accused SIDE of feeding Nisman fabricated information implicating her and her government minsters in a fictional collusion with the Islamic Republic, and then killing him in order to destabilize her rule. She proceeded to dissolve SIDE and charge its leadership with involvement in Nisman’s killing. According to the Argentine government, Stiuso fled Buenos Aires for Brazil, from where he flew to Miami, Florida, on February 19, using an Italian passport. According to Reuters, President Kirchner said Washington had failed to answer “repeated enquiries” about Stiuso’s whereabouts, and suggested that the former spy official may have been working for American intelligence agencies all along.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 October 2015 | News tip: R.W. | Permalink

Is brother of China’s ex-chief of staff seeking to defect to the US?

Ling WanchengA well-connected Chinese businessman, described by officials as potentially one of the most damaging defectors in the history of modern China, is reputed to have requested political asylum in the United States. Ling Wancheng, 54, is the multimillionaire brother of Ling Jihua, a close aide of China’s former premier, Hu Jintao, who rose through the ranks of the Communist Party of China to eventually lead its Central Committee’s General Office. With the help of his brother’s connections and political influence, Ling Wancheng transformed himself from a journalist to an entrepreneur in the early 2000s. Soon after receiving his graduate degree in business administration, he founded an investment firm and joined China’s nouveau riche elite. His wealth, which is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, coupled with his older brother’s senior position within the Communist Party, made him one of China’s most politically connected entrepreneurs.

However, the Ling family’s fortunes turned dramatically for the worse in March of 2012, when Ling Jihua’s 23-year-old son was killed in a Beijing street while driving a Ferrari after a night of wild partying. Two half-naked women, who were also riding in the car, were seriously injured; one later died of her wounds. The circumstances of the crash, as well as Ling Jihua’s failed efforts to cover it up, were seen as symbolic of a spoiled generation of government officials, whose corrupt practices have isolated the Communist Party from the Chinese populace. Soon afterwards, the new administration of President Xi Jinping initiated a massive anti-corruption campaign as a means of restoring the reputation of the Communist Party. Ling was immediately demoted, cut off from the top echelons of the Chinese government, and in 2014 there were rumors that he would soon be facing a corruption investigation. In July of this year, it was officially announced that Ling had been expelled from the Communist Party and that he would be facing trial on charges of accepting bribes.

The announcement of Ling’s trial stated that he was accused of “accepting certain bribes for himself and on behalf of his family”. But no charges were filed against Ling Wancheng, and there were rumors that he was being pressured by Communist Party officials to testify against his brother. But it appears that the multimillionaire businessman, who owns several properties in the US, was able to flee China and is now in an undisclosed location on US soil. The New York Times, who tried to locate Ling earlier this week, spoke to unnamed American officials, who confirmed that he had indeed fled China and was in the US. The officials refused to confirm that Ling had applied for asylum. But they said that, if he did defect to America, Ling “could become one of the most damaging defectors in the history of the People’s Republic”, due to his political connections.

The Times added that Beijing had contacted the White House requesting that Ling be extradited to China. But the administration of US President Barack Obama appears unwilling to satisfy the Chinese government’s request, given that Chinese hackers are believed to be responsible for the recent theft of up to 24 million American government workers’ personal data.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 August 2015 | Permalink

Colombia’s ex-spy chief on trial for 1989 killing of election candidate

Luis Carlos GalánThe former director of Colombia’s intelligence service returned to court this week to face charges of complicity in the assassination of a leading presidential hopeful, who was gunned down in 1989 by a powerful drug cartel. Luis Carlos Galán, a senator and former minister, was tipped to win the 1990 presidential election in which he stood on the Liberal Party ticket. His popularity with the electorate is largely attributed to his uncompromising stance against Colombia’s powerful drug cartels. He had vowed to arrest leading drug lords and send them to the United States to face criminal charges. He would do so, he said, after signing a mutual extradition treaty with Washington. However, Galán was assassinated on August 18, 1989, during a campaign rally in Soacha, a working-class suburb of Colombia’s capital, Bogotá. The assassination took place before thousands of spectators who were present at the rally, and is considered one of the highest-profile political killings in the history of Colombia.

A notorious hitman for the Colombian mafia, John Jairo Velázquez, was convicted of Galán’s killing. Velázquez admitted in court that had been ordered to kill the Liberal Party senator by Pablo Escobar and Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez, the two most senior leaders of the powerful Medellín Cartel. In 2007, a former justice minister and presidential hopeful, Alberto Santofimio, was convicted of helping organize Galán’s murder. He is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for the killing.

On Monday, another senior government figure, General Miguel Maza Márquez, was taken to court to face charges of complicity in Galán’s assassination. Maza headed Colombia’s highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) in the late 1980s, and he has been in jail since 2013, awaiting trial for the murder. The prosecution alleges that Maza appointed a DAS officer who had known links to the Medellín Cartel as the head of security for Galán, and that he did so to “help the hitmen carry out the assassination”. This is the second time Maza is standing trial for Galán’s murder. He faced the same charges in 2012, after surrendering himself to justice in 2009, following two years in hiding. He denies all charges against him.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 03 June 2015 | Permalink:

Russian whistleblower who died in 2012 may have been poisoned

Aleksandr PerepilichnyA Russian businessman, who died in London while assisting a Swiss probe into a massive money-laundering scheme, may have been poisoned with a substance derived from a highly toxic plant, an inquest has heard. Aleksandr Perepilichny was an influential Moscow investment banker until he fled Russia in 2009, saying that his life had been threatened after a disagreement with his business partners. A few months later, having moved to an exclusive district in Surrey, south of London, Perepilichny began cooperating with Swiss authorities who were investigating a multi-million dollar money-laundering scheme involving senior Russian government officials. The scheme, uncovered by a hedge fund firm called Hermitage Capital Management (CMP), and described by some as the biggest tax fraud in Russian history, defrauded the Russian Treasury of at least $240 million. The case made international headlines in 2009, when one of its key figures, a CMP lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky, died in mysterious circumstances while being held in a Russian prison. After Magnitsky’s death, Perepilichny said he too had been warned in no uncertain terms that his name featured on a Russian mafia hit list.

On November 10, 2012, having just returned to his luxury Surrey home after a three-day trip to France, Perepilichny went out to jog. He was found dead later that evening, having collapsed in the middle of a side street near his house. He was 44. A postmortem examination by police concluded that he had died of natural causes and pointed to the strong possibility of a heart attack. However, lawyers representing the late businessman’s family told a pre-inquest hearing on Monday that, according to new medical evidence, Perepilichny stomach was found to have traces of a poisonous plant. The shrub-like plant, known as gelsemium, is extremely rare and mostly grows in remote parts of China. One of the lawyers, Bob Moxon-Browne, claimed at the hearing that gelsemium is a “known weapon of assassination [used] by Chinese and Russian contract killers”. The Perepilichny family’s legal team said that further forensic tests are to be carried out, so that the claim of poisoning can be examined in more detail.

Colombian ex-spy head sent to prison over wiretapping scandal

Maria del Pilar HurtadoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
The former director of Colombia’s intelligence service, who recently surrendered after being on the run for five years, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for organizing an illegal wiretapping campaign against politicians, judges and other high-profile personalities. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2009. But on October 31, 2010, she left Colombia, apparently unobstructed, despite being a prime subject in a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. She later surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted to her in November 2010, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who accused the Panamanian government of subverting Colombian justice.

Hurtado is among 18 senior officials facing charges for criminal activities during the administration of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe. His critics accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted former presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Last summer, after consistent diplomatic pressure from the Colombian government, Panama’s Supreme Court to ruled that Hurtado’s asylum had been granted to her in violation of the Panamanian constitution. Eventually, Hurtado’s asylum was revoked; but by that time the fugitive former spy director had once again disappeared. Her whereabouts remained unknown until September 30 of this year, when Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for her capture. That same evening, Hurtado appeared at the Colombian embassy in Panama and promptly identified herself, stating that she was turning herself in.

In reporting on Hurtado’s sentencing, the Reuters news agency noted on Thursday that approximately “two-thirds of Uribe’s closest political allies during his presidency […] have been convicted, sanctioned or investigated for crimes”. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports that several senior Colombian justice officials have called for a wider investigation of Uribe himself and several of his top aides, for their role in the DAS wiretapping program.

China’s once all-powerful security chief faces corruption charges

One of China’s most powerful government figures has been charged with criminal acts, including abuse of power and disclosure of state secrets, in what observers describe as an unprecedented development. At the height of his power, Zhou Yongkang, 73, headed China’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, which oversees the country’s security institutions, such as the police, as well as intelligence and paramilitary organs of the state. He remained in that position until his retirement in 2012. Prior to that he was one of only 9 members of the Chinese Communist Party’s 17th Politburo Standing Committee, which serves as the country’s most senior decision-making body.

A highly decorated and immensely wealthy government bureaucrat, Zhou Yongkang has a built an entire network of allies within the ranks of China’s energy industry, from which he gradually rose to the highest echelons of power. Last December, however, state media suddenly reported Zhou’s arrest for “violations of Party discipline”, while a press release from the Communist Party announced the commencement of an investigation into Zhou and his family. Shortly afterwards, and while he was in custody, he was expelled from the Communist Party. On Thursday, a court in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin charged Zhou with using his political power and influence to turn the state agencies he supervised into tools for advancing narrow personal interests. In the process, said the court, he violated Communist Party discipline by undermining the central authority of the government and the state.

Zhou is the most senior government official to be charged with corruption since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, in 1949. Observers note that his fall from power is part of President Xi Jinping’s much heralded crackdown on government corruption, which aims to improve the popular image of the Communist Party. Others suggest that the president is also trying to consolidate his power base within the Party and dissolve networks of powerful bureaucrats that are critical of his reform plans.

Many of Zhou’s former allies and associates in government are also being investigated as part of a series of related anti-corruption probes. Many of his immediate subordinates were sacked shortly after Zhou was first detained back in December of last year.

Peru crisis deepens as prime minister is ousted over spy scandal

Ollanta Humala and Ana JaraBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
For the first time in 50 years, the Peruvian Congress has voted to depose the nation’s prime minister, following allegations of espionage against opposition figures by the country’s intelligence agency. Prime Minister Ana Jara assumed office less than a year ago, after being asked to form a government by Peru’s embattled President, Ollanta Humala. Although her government faced sustained criticism from opposition forces almost from the very beginning, critics began calling for her immediate resignation on March 19, when allegations of politically motivated espionage surfaced in the national press. Peru’s leading weekly, Correo Semanal, said it had uncovered systematic spying by Peru’s National Intelligence Directorate (DINI) against law-abiding citizens who had voiced disagreements with the government. The paper alleged that DINI had for years gathered information on dozens of opposition politicians, military leaders and their families, business executives, as well as journalists known to be critical of government policies.

The revelations prompted a swift reorganization of DINI’s upper echelons on orders of the prime minister. But members of Congress said the restructuring of the intelligence agency had been an attempt by Prime Minister Jara to pacify her critics and called for her ouster. In a barrage of editorials in the Peruvian press, opposition figures accused the prime minister of failing to control the country’s unruly and corrupt intelligence community, whose controversial history is marred by excesses during and after the Cold War.

Late on Monday evening, the Peruvian Congress voted by 72 to 42 and two abstentions to unseat the prime minister. She will now have to tend her resignation to the president within 72 hours of losing Monday’s confidence vote. Presidnet Humala will then seek to form a government under a new prime minister, the eighth in his four years in power. The outgoing prime minster, meanwhile, accused Congress of treating her as a scapegoat and blasted the opposition for politicizing the issue of domestic espionage. In a message posted on her personal Twitter account, Jara said it was “an honor” for her to have been censured “by this Congress”.


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