Germany’s celebrity spy Werner Mauss on trial for multi-million dollar tax evasion

Werner MaussGermany’s most famous living spy is on trial this week for hiding assets totaling $50 million in offshore bank accounts. He claims the money was given to him by unspecified “Western intelligence agencies” for his services. Werner Mauss became widely known in 1997, when he was arrested in Colombia for using a forged passport. He had traveled to the Latin American country to secure the release of a German woman who had been kidnapped by leftist guerrillas. The Colombian authorities eventually released him, following heavy diplomatic pressure from the German government. But the German media began investigating his background, and it soon became apparent that he was working for the German Federal Intelligence Service.

Following his unmasking in 1997, Mauss enjoyed celebrity status in Germany. Published accounts of his exploits claim that he was directly involved in neutralizing over 100 criminal gangs and that his work led to the capture of 2,000 criminals and spies. Mauss also claims to have helped prevent dangerous chemical substances from falling into the hands of terrorist groups, and that he stopped the Italian Mafia from killing Pope Benedict. Last year, however, Mauss saw his celebrity status diminish after the German government charged him with tax evasion. German prosecutors uncovered several overseas bank accounts belonging to him, which they said contained tens of millions of dollars in hidden income. They alleged that Mauss used the funds to finance a luxurious lifestyle centered on expensive overseas holidays, luxury cars, expensive gifts to women, as well as a private jet.

On Monday, the 77-year-old Mauss made his final plea in a lengthy court case concerning two of his off-shore accounts, located in UBS bank branches in the Bahamas and Luxembourg. The prosecution alleges that he failed to pay tax on assets totaling in excess of $50 million in the decade between 2002 and 2012 alone. Additionally, it is claimed that Mauss traveled from Germany to Luxembourg several times a year, to withdraw approximately $330,000 in cash per month from his secret accounts. But the accused former spy claims that the money was given to him by “Western intelligence agencies” in return for his services against international crime and terrorism, and that he should not have to pay taxes on it. In previous court appearances, he claimed that the money was not his, but belonged to various Western intelligence agencies and he simply used it to carry out intelligence operations.

The trial continues. If Mauss is convicted, he could spend nearly seven years in prison.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 19 September 2017 | Permalink

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South African spy agency can’t account for over $100 million in expenses

National Treasury of South AfricaSouth Africa’s National Treasury threatened to terminate all funding for covert operations last year, after the country’s spy agency refused to account for tens of millions of dollars in expenses, saying the money had been put to “secret use”. An investigation by two leading South African news outlets, the Afrikaans-language weekly newspaper Rapport and the English-language online news portal News24, has revealed the existence of a major bureaucratic spat between the National Treasury and the State Security Agency (SSA), the country’s primary civilian intelligence organization.

The investigation cited “seven independent sources” with direct involvement and knowledge of the National Treasury and the South African intelligence services. According to the report, National Treasury officials contacted the SSA last year, demanding to know how it used 1.5 billion rand (approximately US $114 million) that it took from government coffers between 2012 and 2016. But the spy agency refused to provide a detailed answer, and said instead that most of the money had been used to fund unspecified “secret operations”, and that its use was therefore classified.

However, the SSA did not realize that National Treasury officials have the same level of security clearance as senior SSA officials, said sources. Consequently, a Treasury probe was launched by Treasury investigators with access to SSA’s activities. The probe uncovered several instances of irregular expenditures and serious mismanagement, said the report. There were repeated instances when funds assigned to non-covert operations were “inexplicably moved to the covert fund” and SSA officials were unable to explain why. There were also numerous cases of abuse of procurement procedures. One source told the News24/Rapport team that “Treasury officials kept asking [SSA officials] how they tender for goods and services, and they kept saying that they can’t tell us, because it is classified information”. At that point, the National Treasury threatened to terminate all funding for intelligence operations unless answers were provided by the SSA leadership. After a series of frantic and tense negotiations, the SSA agreed to change its procurement practices and “at least submit [to National Treasury] a list of suppliers so that there could be a degree of oversight”.

The SSA’s reputation has not emerged unscathed from the broader crisis that has been plaguing South African politics in recent years. In 2014, the Johannesburg-based newspaper City Press alleged that the SSA maintained a secret unit used to target domestic political opponents of South African President Jacob Zuma. The paper also said that senior SSA official Thulani Dhlomo, a close ally of President Zuma, had been placed at the head of the secret unit in 2012. Another leading Johannesburg-based newspaper, The Mail & Guardian, repeated these claims earlier this month.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 18 September 2017 | Permalink

Australian parliament reviews use of Chinese-made cell phones

ZTE CorporationThe Parliament of Australia is reportedly reviewing the use of cell phones built by a Chinese manufacturer, after an Australian news agency expressed concerns about the manufacturer’s links with the Chinese military. The cell phone in question is the popular Telstra Tough T55 handset. It is made available to Australian parliamentarians though the Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) unit of the Department of Parliamentary Services (DST). Any parliamentarian or worker in Australia’s Parliament House can order the device through the Parliament’s ICT website. According to data provided by the DST, 90 Telstra Tough T55 cell phones have been ordered through the ICT in the current financial year.

The handset is manufactured by ZTE Corporation, a leading Chinese telecommunications equipment and systems company that is headquartered in the city of Shenzhen in China’s Guangdong province. On Monday, the News Corp Australia Network, a major Australian news agency, said it had contacted the parliament with information that ZTE Corporation’s links to the Chinese military may be of concern. News Corp said it informed the DST that members of the United States Congress and the House of Representatives’ intelligence committee, have expressed serious concerns about the Chinese telecommunications manufacturer in recent years.

As intelNews reported in 2010, three American senators told the US Federal Communications Commission that the ZTE was “effectively controlled by China’s civilian and military intelligence establishment”. The senators were trying to prevent a proposed collaboration between American wireless telecommunications manufacturers and two Chinese companies, including ZTE Corporation. In 2012, the intelligence committee of the US House of Representatives investigated similar concerns. It concluded that telephone handsets manufactured by ZTE should not be used by US government employees due to the company’s strong links with the Chinese state. And in 2016, US-based security firm Kryptowire warned that some ZTE cell phone handsets contained a suspicious backdoor feature that could potentially allow their users’ private data to be shared with remote servers at regular intervals.

A DST spokesman told the News Corp Australia Network that the ZTE-manufactured cell phones had been selected for use by Australian parliamentarians based on “technical and support requirements, [DST] customers’ feedback and cost”. The spokesman added that the DST “is currently reviewing the ongoing suitability” of the T55 handsets, following reports about ZTE’s links with China’s security establishment.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 September 2017 | Permalink

South Korean former spy chief sent to prison for meddling in elections

Won Sei-hoonThe former director of South Korea’s main intelligence agency has been sent to prison for organizing a large-scale illegal campaign to influence the result of the country’s 2012 presidential election. Won Sei-hoon headed the NIS from 2008 to 2013, during the administration of conservative President Lee Myung-bak. During the 2012 presidential election, Won ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing liberal political candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. One of those candidates, Moon Jae-in, of the left-of-center Democratic Party of Korea, is now the country’s president. Mr. Moon succeeded his main right-wing rival, Park Geun-hye, who resigned in March of this year following a series of financial scandals. She is now facing charges of bribery, abuse of power, leaking government secrets, and corruption.

In February 2015, the Seoul High Court upheld an earlier sentence of 2.5 years in prison, which had been imposed on Won by a lower court. But his conviction was overturned on appeal. Earlier this August, an internal inquiry conducted by the NIS found that many its officers were tasked by Won to manipulate the outcome of the 2012 presidential election with 30 dedicated teams of officers —some of whom were hired specifically for that purpose. A number of teams were in charge of creating fake social media accounts and using them to post negative views of Mr. Moon and positive views of his conservative rival, Mrs. Park. Other teams were tasked with creating the false impression that South Korea’s rival, North Korea, was supportive of Mr. Moon’s candidacy. The probe also found that the NIS launched similar —though on smaller scale— efforts to influence the outcome of parliamentary elections in 2011 and 2012.

On Wednesday, based on new evidence provided by the government, including the results of the NIS’ internal investigation, the Seoul High Court sentenced Won to four years in prison for political meddling. Two other former senior officials in the NIS were sentenced to 30 months in prison each. In delivering his sentence, the judge said Won assembled a team of NIS operatives “with the specific intention to sway public opinion”. Throughout the operation, said the judge, Won was “regularly briefed” and exercised precise control over it. Won was transferred directly from the court to prison, where he will serve his sentence.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 30 August 2017 | Permalink

Sean O’Callaghan, Provisional IRA defector-in-place, dies at 63

Sean O’CallaghanSean O’Callaghan, one of the most contentious figures in the history of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, has died in Jamaica. He was born in County Kerry, Republic of Ireland, in a strongly republican family, which sided with opponents of the Ango-Irish treaty and fought against the official Irish government in the Irish Civil War of 1922-1923. In 1971, aged just 17, O’Callaghan joined the Provisional Irish Republican Army, which fought to unite British-controlled Northern Ireland with the independent Republic of Ireland. Not long after, O’Callaghan was arrested by the Garda Síochána (Irish police) in his home county of Kerry, when a small quantity of explosives he was hiding in his parents’ house accidentally detonated.

After serving his prison sentence in Ireland, O’Callaghan returned to active duty as a Provisional IRA volunteer, and even pulled the trigger in the killing of Detective Inspector Peter Flanagan, a Catholic officer in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the police body of Northern Ireland, who was assassinated by the Provisional IRA in 1974. Gradually, however, O’Callaghan became disillusioned with armed militancy and distanced himself from the Provisional IRA, eventually moving to London. By 1979, when the Provisional IRA contacted him and asked him to return to active service, O’Callaghan had become an ideological opponent of militant Irish republicanism. He contacted the Irish government and offered to become an agent-in-place for the Special Branch of Garda Síochána.

O’Callaghan operated as a spy for the Irish government within the Provisional IRA from 1979 until 1988. During that time, he continued to participate in Provisional IRA operations, including an attempt (which he claimed to have foiled) to murder the Prince of Wales and his then wife, Princess Diana. He also remained a member of Sinn Féin, a republican political party that was widely viewed as the political wing of the Provisional IRA. In 1985, he was elected county councilor representing Sinn Féin. Three years later, fearing for his life, O’Callaghan turned himself in to British authorities. He was prosecuted, convicted, and served a prison sentence, during which he wrote his best-selling memoir, published under the title The Informer: The True Life Story of One Man’s War on Terrorism. In it, he details his ideological change from a socialist republican to a pro-unionist, who occasionally advised the Ulster Unionist Party, a pro-British conservative political party in Northern Ireland.

After he revealed his pro-unionist sympathies, O’Callaghan was disowned by most of his family and did not even attend his father’s funeral in 1997. He lived openly in England, refusing police protection and rejecting pleas from his supporters to change his name and hide his whereabouts. He died last week from a suspected heart attack while visiting his daughter in Jamaica. He was 63.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 29 August 2017 | Permalink

Canadian intelligence monitoring far-right activities after Charlottesville

Unite the Right rallyCanadian spy organizations are working with domestic and international agencies in response to reports that several Canadian far-right activists attended the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month. The rally drew the attention of the world’s media after violent clashes between protesters and counter-protesters left a woman dead. Two Virginia State Police officers were also killed when a helicopter used in crowd control in Charlottesville crashed near the site of the demonstrations. The rally, which took place on August 11 and 12, drew members of various white supremacist, white nationalist, neo-Nazi and neo-Confederate groups. There were also heavily armed members of a self-styled militia at Emancipation Park, where a soon-to-be-removed statue of the late Confederate General Robert E. Lee became the focal point of the far-right demonstrators.

Canadian news watchers were surprised to find out that several Canadian citizens traveled to the United States to participate in the “Unite the Right” rally. At least two were identified on social media after appearing in a Vice News documentary about the rally. One Canadian participant is believed to be an activist with Le Meute (The Wolf Pack), a far-right group that appeared in Quebec in 2015 and today boasts 43,000 registered members. The stated position of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Canada’s primary national intelligence agency, is that far-right extremism is not a major problem in Canada. In 2014, the agency said that rightwing extremism was not “as significant a problem in Canada in recent years”. The statement added that Canadians who held far-right extremist views “have tended to be isolated and ineffective figures”.

Speaking to the Canadian online newspaper The National Observer, the CSIS declined to comment specifically about the events in Charlottesville. It also did not respond to a question about whether it monitors the international travels of Canadian far-right activists. A CSIS spokeswoman, Tahera Mufti, told the newspaper that the agency was unable to discuss details about its ongoing investigations into Charlottesville “due to national security reasons”. But she added that CSIS was working “with its Canadian and international partners” to combat the activities of “those who support right-wing extremism”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 August 2017 | Permalink

Serbia recalls all staff from embassy in Macedonia, alleges espionage

Serbian President Aleksandar VucicSerbia recalled its entire diplomatic staff from its embassy in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on Monday, claiming that it wanted to protect its diplomats from “offensive intelligence activities” directed against them. The move came without warning and surprised journalists in the two former Yugoslav republics. No official reason was given for the recall on Monday morning. Later, however, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said that he had decided to recall the diplomats back to Belgrade due to “sufficient evidence of highly offensive intelligence activities against certain bodies and institutions in Serbia”. He did not specify what he meant, but added that the duty of the government of Serbia was to ensure that “our people be prepared and ready”.

Some reports in Macedonia media suggested that Serbia’s move was related to rumors in Skopje that the Macedonian government plans to support an expected attempt by the Republic of Kosovo to join the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Kosovo was a province of Serbia until 2008, when it proclaimed its independence, a move that was backed by many Western powers, including the United States. However, Serbia has not recognized Kosovo’s independence and has actively opposed Kosovo’s attempts to become a full member of international bodies. Belgrade successfully blocked Kosovo’s entry into UNESCO in 2015. At that time, the former Serbian province country did not receive enough votes to join the organization. But there are concerns in Serbia that, Kosovo might apply again this year and that this time it may be successful.

Serbia has kept a cautionary stance on the current political crisis in Macedonia, which began in 2015 when thousands of people took to the streets in Macedonian capital Skopje to protest against the conservative government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. The crisis deepened in late 2016, when many intelligence officers, including a former director of the national spy service, were accused of illegally wiretapping thousands of people on orders of the government. Under growing pressure, Gruevski stepped down and was eventually replaced by the leader of the center-left opposition, Zoran Zaev, who is now prime minister. During his election campaign last spring, Zaev was critical of Serbia, which he accused of behaving nationalistically against other former Yugoslav republics.

Speaking to reporters in Belgrade on Monday, Serbia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ivica Dačić, said he believed Serbian diplomatic staff would be back in Skopje by the end of August. Mr. Vucic simply commented that there was a “different, new atmosphere” in the Macedonian capital and said he hoped that the situation would become clearer in the coming days.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 August 2017 | Permalink