Key Hezbollah financier arrested in Brazil after years on the run

Assad Ahmad BarakatBrazilian police have announced the arrest of Assad Ahmad Barakat, a Lebanese national who is believed to be one of the most prolific international financiers for the Shiite group Hezbollah. Barakat was born in Lebanon but fled to Paraguay in the mid-1980s in the midst of Lebanon’s brutal civil war. He began an import-export business and eventually acquired Paraguayan citizenship. He gradually built a small business empire in Paraguay, which included engineering and construction, as well as transportation firms. Throughout that time, however, Barakat maintained strong connections with Hezbollah, the paramilitary group that has a strong following among Lebanon’s large Shiite Muslim community.

By the mid-1990s, Barakat was one of Hezbollah’s most active representatives in the Americas and operated as the Shiite group’s head of paramilitary and fundraising activities in South America. It is believed that he used his Paraguayan passport to travel to Iran and Lebanon for meetings with Hezbollah’s leadership at least once a year. In 2001, following pressure from the United States, Paraguay charged Barakat in absentia with money-laundering. He was eventually caught in Brazil in 2002 and extradited to Paraguay, where he was tried and sentenced to six years in prison. Upon his release in 2008, Barakat returned to his role as Hezbollah’s fundraiser. Using fake passports, he traveled frequently to Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and other Latin American countries, despite having been described by the US government as “one of the most prominent and influential members of the [Hezbollah] terrorist organization”. He was wanted in Paraguay for identity theft and in Argentina for laundering in excess of $10 million in casinos in the north of the country.

Last Friday, the Brazilian Federal Police announced that Barakat had been arrested in the city of Foz do Iguaçu, which is adjacent to the Paraguayan and Argentinian borders. The city of 250,000 is the largest urban center of the so-called Tri-Border tropical region, known for its tropical climate, spectacular mountain views and casinos. Aside from being a year-round tourism center, the area is a known as a hotbed of money-laundering, forged currency smuggling and drug-trafficking activity. It is now known whether Barakat will face charges in Brazil or whether he will be extradited to Paraguay or Argentina.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 September 2018 | Permalink

Advertisements

Argentina’s spy chief allegedly implicated in Brazil money-laundering scandal

Gustavo ArribasThe director of Argentina’s spy agency has been accused by security officials in Brazil of being implicated in a multi-million dollar money-laundering scandal that involves dozens of senior officials across Latin America. The allegations were made in the context of the so-called “operation car wash”, known in Portuguese as Operação Lava Jato. The term refers to a money-laundering probe that began in 2014, following allegations of illegal financial practices by a number of private import-export companies in Brazil. Soon, however, Lava Jato led to the exposure of large-scale corruption, nepotism and bribing practices at the core of Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobras. Today, four years later, the constantly expanding investigation has implicated nearly 200 people —many of them well-known politicians— in numerous Latin American countries, including Mexico, Peru and Venezuela.

On Thursday, the car wash probe appeared to implicate for the first time a senior state official in Argentina. The figure at the center of the allegations is Gustavo Arribas (pictured), the Director General of the country’s Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI). A former sports tycoon, who made his fortune as a footballers’ representative, he surprised many in December 2015 when he was appointed spy director by Argentina’s President, Mauricio Macri. Arribas has financial dealings with Brazil, where he owns real estate. But these properties may become liabilities after Arribas was accused by Victor Ferreira, a federal police official and Lava Jato investigator, of having received nearly $1 million in a money-laundering scheme involving fraudulent invoices submitted for financial compensation to the Brazilian government by bogus companies. The money was allegedly sent to Arribas via a wire transfer that was routed to him through a bank in Hong King. The transfer had not been approved by the Central Bank of Brazil, which is supposed to supervise all overseas money transfers involving government contracts.

Brazilian prosecutors served several suspects across Brazil with search warrants on Thursday, in an attempt to uncover more information about the alleged illegal money transfer. Arribas, however, issued a statement later on the same day, in which he denied any connection with Lava Jato and said that allegations against him were motivated by malice. In 2016, Arribas was accused in Argentina of having received nearly $600,000 from corrupt officials of Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which is implicated in operation car wash. However, he was cleared by a federal judge, who threw the case out of court. In his statement issued on Thursday, Arribas stressed that he had not been officially charged with any crime in Argentina or Brazil.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 02 March 2018 | Permalink

Discovery of cocaine in Russian diplomatic luggage leads to numerous arrests

FSB drug arrestsA Russian former diplomatic employee and an Argentine police officer are among six people arrested following the discovery of nearly 1000 pounds of cocaine inside the Russian diplomatic compound in Buenos Aires. The arrests took place last Thursday and were announced in Argentina by the country’s Security Minister Patricia Bullrich. She told reporters that the arrests came after a 14-month investigation in Argentina, Russia and Germany. She added that the investigation unveiled “one of the most complex and extravagant drug-dealing operations” in Argentina’s history.

The 14-month probe dates to December of 2016, when Victor Koronelli, Russia’s ambassador to Argentina, and thee members of Russia’s Federal Security Service, discreetly approached Argentinian authorities. They informed the Argentinians that they had discovered 16 pieces of luggage filled with drugs inside an annex of the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires. Argentinian authorities were given permission to secretly enter the embassy grounds and inspect the suitcases. They confirmed that they contained more than 850 pounds (390 kilos) of cocaine, with a street value of more than $60 million. The suitcases were intended for transfer to Russia via a diplomatic flight. Cargo transferred on diplomatic flights cannot be searched by international customs officials due to the privilege of diplomatic immunity.

According to Bullrich, diplomatic counter-narcotics officers secretly transferred the bags to a separate location, where they replaced the cocaine with flour and fitted the suitcases with GPS tracking devices, before returning them to the Russian embassy annex. The luggage was eventually transferred to Russia via airplane in December 2017, a year after it was bugged by the Argentinians. Several Argentinian customs officers traveled to Russia to monitor the transfer of the shipment, in coordination with Russian authorities. The latter arrested two Russian citizens who tried to collect the suitcases. Another Russian citizen, and former staff member of the Russian embassy in Argentina, Alia Abyanov, was arrested in Moscow. Officials said Abyanov helped plan the transfer of the suitcases to Russia.

Two Argentines with dual Russian citizenship were also arrested in Buenos Aires. One of them has been named as Iván Blizniouk, a police officer, who is believed to have mediated between the drug smugglers and corrupt Argentine customs officers. A seventh suspect, identified only as “Señor K.” by the Argentine authorities, remains at large. He is believed to be living in Germany and is currently wanted by Interpol pursuant to an international warrant that has been issued for his arrest.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 February 2018 | Permalink

Argentine ex-spy says government killed prosecutor Alberto Nisman

Alberto NismanAn Argentine former senior intelligence official has claimed in court testimony that the administration of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner murdered a state prosecutor who had accused senior officials of having colluded with Iran to bomb Israeli targets in Buenos Aires. In January 2015, the prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, prompted international headlines by 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 obstruct an investigation into the bombings of 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. Nisman was found dead on January 19, 2015, hours before he was due to give Congressional testimony on the subject. His body was found in the bathroom of his apartment, which had been locked from the inside.

Argentine authorities say they believe Nisman killed himself with a single shot to the head from a .22 caliber handgun. His family, however, as well as many notable personalities in Argentina, believe he was murdered on the orders of government officials who wanted to silence him. Such claims were reinforced this week following a dramatic 17-hour court testimony by Antonio Horacio Stiuso, better known as Jaime Stiuso, who served as chief operating officer for Argentina’s Secretaría de Inteligencia del Estado (SIDE) under President Kirchner. Stiuso was fired after Nisman’s death, when the government suddenly dissolved SIDE and replaced it with a new agency, the Agencia Federal de Inteligencia. In justifying the dramatic move, 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 then charged SIDE’s leadership, including Stiuso, with involvement in Nisman’s killing. Stiuso promptly fled Buenos Aires for Brazil, from where he flew to Miami, Florida, on February 19, using an Italian passport.

But the former spy recently returned to Argentina and on Monday he testified in a closed-door hearing as part of an official investigation into Nisman’s death. Although Stiuso gave his testimony in secret, Argentine media published several extracts on Tuesday, which appear to have been leaked by witnesses. According to the excerpts, Stiuso accused members of an “inner circle” inside President Kirchner’s government of having killed Nisman and then tampered with incriminating evidence from the scene of the crime. The former spy appears to have told the judge in the case, Fabiana Palmaghina, that the state prosecutor’s death “was intimately linked to the work he was doing”. He is reported to have added that “the author of all this madness was that woman, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Stiuso has refrained from talking to the media, and his comments to the court have not been confirmed. However, the judge in the case, who previously favored the view that Nisman committed suicide, has now referred Nisman’s case to a higher federal court in Argentina with instructions that it be examined as a possible homicide.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 March 2016 | Permalink

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 obstruct an investigation into the bombings of 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

UK spied on Argentina to prevent second Falklands war, papers show

Port Stanley, FalklandsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The British government carried out an extensive program of intelligence collection and psychological operations in Argentina until 2011, because it was concerned about the security of the Falkland Islands, according to newly leaked documents. In 1982, the two countries went to war over the islands, which are ruled by Britain but are claimed by Argentina. The 74-day conflict, which killed nearly 1,000 soldiers and civilians on both sides, ended in defeat for the Argentinian forces and solidified British authority in the South Atlantic territory. But Argentina continues to dispute Britain’s rule over the Falklands, which it calls Malvinas, and has repeatedly threatened to take them over.

Documents released last week by Argentine online news portal TN.com, reveal that a consortium of British intelligence units implemented a broad program of spying and propaganda operations against Argentina. The program, codenamed Operation QUITO, lasted from 2006 to 2011, and was aimed at hampering perceived efforts by the Argentine government to subvert British rule in the Falklands. The news portal said it received the documents from Edward Snowden, an American former intelligence contractor who currently lives in Russia under political asylum. According to TN.com, the secret program was implemented by the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG, as reported by intelNews in February 2014). It is believed that JTRIG is an office operating under the command of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s signals intelligence agency. Its focuses on psychological operations —known in Britain as “effects operations”— which are aimed at discrediting their targets through sabotage and misinformation campaigns.

According to the newly released documents, JTRIG launched Operation QUITO as a “long-term, far reaching” program that included the interception of communications of Argentine politicians, the planting of computer viruses on Argentine networks and the spreading of misinformation or pro-British propaganda online. As of Sunday night there had been no official response to the news report from either the Argentine or the British governments.

Argentine prosecutor probing Israeli embassy bombing found dead

Alberto NismanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An Argentine state prosecutor, who accused senior Argentine officials of having colluded with Iran to bomb Israeli targets in Buenos Aires, has been found dead hours before he was due to give Congressional testimony on the subject. Alberto Nisman’s body was found on Monday morning in the bathroom of his apartment, which had been locked from the inside. Argentine authorities say they believe Nisman killed himself with a single shot to the head from a .22 caliber handgun. Nisman caused international headlines last week, after launching a criminal complaint against the President of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hector Timerman, and several other notable personalities of Argentine life. He accused them of having colluded with the government of Iran to obstruct an investigation into the bombings of 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 (AMIA) community center in the Argentine capital was bombed. For years, Israeli authorities have accused Iran of perpetrating the attacks. But Nisman claimed that, after the bombings, the Iranians formed a “secret pact” with Argentine authorities. Under the alleged deal, Tehran would be allowed to get away with the bombings in exchange for lucrative commercial deals with Argentina, involving oil and arms exports. Nisman was given protection by a 10-member police squad after he announced he had prepared a 300-page report on the subject, which allegedly included material from wiretaps given to him by senior Argentine intelligence officials. Members of Nisman’s police protection team said they found him dead after he failed to respond to messages sent to his personal cell phone overnight. On Monday evening, as news of Nisman’s death spread across Argentina, thousands of people participated in spontaneous demonstrations throughout the country, protesting about this latest chapter in a mysterious case that has haunted Argentine politics for over two decades.