Austrian court acquits Kazakh security officials in double-murder trial

Vadim Koshlyak and Alnur MusaevKazakhstan’s former spy chief and a former presidential bodyguard have been acquitted by an Austrian jury, five months after a co-defendant in their double-murder trial, who was also the Kazakh president’s former son-in-law, was found dead in his Vienna cell. As intelNews has written before, the case centers on the 2007 disappearance of Aybar Khasenov and Zholdas Timraliyev, both of them senior executives of JSC Nurbank, one of Kazakhstan’s largest private banking institutions. Their bodies were found in May of 2011 in a dumping site in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest urban center. They had been stuffed in large metallic barrels filled with lime. Both had been tortured and one of them had been raped prior to being killed.

The Kazakh regime of autocratic President Nursultan Nazarbayev accused Rakhat Aliyev of the murder of the two executives. Aliyev, who was Nazarbayev’s former son-in-law, had served for years as Kazakhstan’s deputy foreign minister before being appointed director of the country’s intelligence agency, the National Security Committee, also known as KNB. In 2007, however, Aliyev, who by that time was serving as Kazakhstan’s ambassador in Vienna, divorced the president’s eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva. He subsequently fell out with the presidential family in spectacular fashion. He was almost immediately stripped of his government positions, including the title of ambassador, and issued with an arrest warrant, while the Kazakh authorities demanded that Austria surrender him to Astana.

However, Austrian authorities rejected two extradition requests by the Kazakhs and decided instead to investigate the case for themselves. They soon arrested Aliyev along with two of his alleged accomplices in the murder of the Nurbank executives. The two, Vadim Koshlyak, a former bodyguard of Nazarbayev, and Alnur Musaev, who like Aliyev is a former director of the KNB, were also residing in Vienna at the time. All three were taken to prison while the Austrian authorities investigated the murders. The plot thickened in February of this year, however, when Aliyev was found hanged in his Vienna cell. The official verdict was suicide, but Aliyev’s family and lawyers have rejected it and they, along with many other exiled critics of Nazarbayev’s regime, have raised questions about possible complicity of the KNB in the killing. As intelNews reported back in 2009, a Kazakh intelligence operative was arrested by Austrian authorities in 2008, as he was trying to kidnap Musaev.

The trial of the two surviving defendants, Koshlyak and Musaev, opened in April of this year in Vienna amidst tight security, involving dozens of judicial guards. Over sixty witnesses testified either in person or via video-link, many of them in disguise in order to conceal their identities. The BBC described the court proceedings as “the most complex and unusual Austria has seen”. Both defendants pleaded not guilty, while their lawyers said they had been framed by the corrupt Kazakh government because they were friends of the late Aliyev. They also said that Kazakh authorities had provided the Austrian prosecutors with false evidence designed to convict Koshlyak and Musaev.

On Friday last week, Musaev was fully acquitted by the jury while Koshlyak was sentenced to two years in jail, of which 14 months were suspended. In accordance with Austrian judicial procedure, the jury gave no reasoning for its decision. The prosecutors said that they plan to appeal the decision.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 July 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/07/14/01-1734/

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Austria probes gruesome murders with alleged Kazakh spy link

Vadim Koshlyak and Alnur MusaevBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An Austrian court is hearing testimony this week on a gruesome murder case, allegedly by former officials in Kazakhstan’s intelligence agency, one of whom was found dead in his Vienna prison cell in February. The case, which resembles a Hollywood film plot, centers on the disappearance of two bank executives: Aybar Khasenov and Zholdas Timraliyev, both employees of JSC Nurbank, one of Kazakhstan’s largest private banking institutions, vanished without trace in 2007. Their bodies were found in May of 2011 in a dumping site in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest urban center. They had been stuffed in large metallic barrels filled with lime. Both had been tortured and one of them had been raped prior to being killed.

The Kazakh government of authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbayev accused Rakhat Aliyev of the murder of the two executives. Aliyev, who was Nazarbayev’s former son-in-law, had served for years as Kazakhstan’s deputy foreign minister before being appointed director of the country’s intelligence agency, the National Security Committee, also known as KNB. In 2007, however, Aliyev, who by that time was serving as Kazakhstan’s ambassador in Vienna, divorced the president’s eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva. He then fell out with the presidential family in spectacular fashion. He was almost immediately stripped of his government positions, including the title of ambassador, and issued with an arrest warrant, while the Kazakh authorities demanded that Austria surrender him to Astana.

However, Austrian authorities rejected two consecutive extradition requests by the Kazakhs and decided instead to investigate the case for themselves. They soon arrested Aliyev along with two of his alleged accomplices in the murder of the two Nurbank executives. The two, Vadim Koshlyak, a former bodyguard of Nazarbayev, and Alnur Musaev, who like Aliyev is a former director of the KNB, were also residing in Vienna at the time. All three were taken to prison while the Austrian authorities investigated the murders. The plot thickened in February of this year, however, when Aliyev was found hanged in his Vienna cell. The official verdict was suicide, but Aliyev’s family and lawyers have rejected it and they, along with many other exiled critics of Nazarbayev’s regime, have raised questions about possible complicity of the KNB in the killing. As intelNews reported back in 2009, a Kazakh intelligence operative was arrested by Austrian authorities in 2008, as he was trying to kidnap Musaev.

The trial of the two surviving defendants, Koshlyak and Musaev, opened on Monday in Vienna amidst tight security, involving dozens of judicial guards. Over sixty witnesses are scheduled to testify either in person or via video-link, many of them wearing disguises so as to conceal their identities.

Analysis: Europe’s ‘spy capital’ struggles to police espionage, terrorism

Vienna, AustriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Throughout the Cold War, Vienna was Europe’s busiest ‘spy hub’ linking East and West. Little has changed today, as the Austrian capital is still believed to feature “the highest density of [foreign spies] in the world”. A recently published book estimated that there are 7,000 spies among the 17,000 accredited diplomats who live and work in Vienna, a city of fewer than 2 million inhabitants. International spies have taken advantage of Austria’s relatively liberal espionage laws and have operated with near-unparalleled ease in the central European country for over 200 years. But now the country’s Ministry of Interior is seeking to terminate Austria’s liberal espionage regime and has initiated a plan to give local authorities more counterintelligence powers. Supporters of the proposal argue that Austria has “the most permissive spying laws in Europe”, which allow foreign agents to operate on Austrian soil with a high degree of impunity. This is because, under Austrian law, intelligence activities are not considered criminal unless they target the host country. For this reason, American, Russian, German, French, and other intelligence agencies have for years used Vienna as a base for recruiting agents and collecting intelligence. Supporters of the Interior Ministry’s proposal argue that the current legal regime has been used to harm the national interests of Austria and the security of the European Union —a reference to recent claims in the Austrian media that the United States National Security Agency has been spying on the United Nations headquarters in Vienna. Additionally, Austrian authorities say they are now worried about local Muslims who have been radicalized and have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State. The government estimates that at least 140 Austrian Muslims have made the trip to the Middle East to join the militant organization. Austria’s counterterrorist agency, the BVT, said in its annual report for 2014 that another 60 radical Muslims had returned to Austria from the Middle East since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. Interior Ministry spokesman Alexander Marakovits told Bloomberg that Austrian security services are “having a hard time doing their job the way they are expected to do”. Read more of this post

Austrian reporter alleges NSA spies on Vienna, including UN complex

Roof of the IZD Tower in ViennaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A reporter for Austria’s state broadcaster claims to have uncovered a United States National Security Agency listening post in Austrian capital Vienna, which he claims spies on the United Nations facility, among other targets. In September 2013, Austrian media alleged that a villa in Vienna’s Pötzleinsdorf district belonging to the US embassy there was part of a sophisticated communications interception network operated by Washington. At the time, both the US and Austrian governments denied the claims, with the US embassy claiming that the building served as an open-source center that processed and evaluated information that was openly available in Austrian media outlets and the Internet. Now, however, Austrian reporter Erich Möchel, who works for the country’s state-owned ORF broadcaster, says he believes he has identified another part of an alleged extensive NSA-run listening network in the nation’s capital. The reporter published a series of photographs from the roof of the so-called IZD Tower, a commercial 41-story skyscraper located in Vienna’s 22nd district, which is within walking distance from the UN facility there. Möchel said the photographs show the roof of the building, which is one of the tallest in Vienna, and were leaked to him by an anonymous source. They show what appears to be a grey-colored boxy structure, which resembles a maintenance hut on the roof of the tower. The hut is enclosed by rows of solid steel bars resembling a fence, and surrounded by approximately 10 surveillance cameras. Interestingly, the hut, which overlooks the UN building complex, cannot be seen from the street, or from nearby buildings. Möchel speculates that the hut is made of fiberglass, which would allow it to absorb radio signals and commercial mobile telecommunications messages, with the help of antennas located in its interior. Read more of this post

Pro-Russian oligarch arrested —first sign of US sanctions on Russia?

Dmytro FirtashBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A well-connected Ukrainian oligarch, who is considered one of Russia’s most trusted energy sales intermediaries, has been arrested in Austria at the request of the United States. Some speculate that this may be a first direct sign of America’s response to Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine. In an article published last week, The Washington Post suggested that the arrest of Dmytro Firtash, a citizen of Ukraine, may be “the beginning of a US effort to inflict financial pain on Russia over its role in the Ukrainian crisis”. Firtash’s lucrative business activities are inextricably tied to Gazprom, the world’s largest extractor of natural gas and one of the most powerful corporations in existence. The company, whose activities typically account for around 10 percent of Russia’s annual gross domestic product, is one of Moscow’s primary exporters of energy and among its most important sources of foreign revenue. Throughout the last decade, Firtash’s company, RosUkrEnergo, acted as the primary mediator between Gazprom and Naftohaz, Ukraine’s national oil and gas company. The latter would import Russian natural gas from Gazprom through RosUkrEnergo, which would purchase it from the Russian company and sell it to the Ukrainians at a noticeably steeper price. Eventually, in 2009, the government of pro-Western Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko managed to remove RosUkrEnergo as a broker from the energy deals between Kiev and Moscow. But Tymoshenko, who became herself embroiled in a financial corruption scandal, was soon imprisoned. And in 2013, Gazprom approached the pro-Russian government of Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych and offered to sell natural gas to Ukraine at a 33 percent discount, providing that RosUkrEnergo was permitted to return as Moscow’s natural gas distributor to Ukraine. Last Wednesday, a statement from the Ukrainian government in Kiev confirmed that the man identified only as “Dmytro F., 48” in a laconic Austrian police report was indeed Dmytro Firtash. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #851

EuropolBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Allegations that NSA has a listening post in Vienna. Both the US and Austrian governments have denied reports claiming to expose a major surveillance operation by the National Security Agency from within a villa in the Austrian capital Vienna. Austrian media reported last week that the US government had decided to end operations at the site because its cover was blown. Meanwhile, the allegations have turned into an Austrian affair of state.
►►Europol fighting unprecedented crime levels. Europe is dealing with an unprecedented surge in organized crime as sophisticated multinational groups, including child sex abusers and counterfeit gangs, expand their networks, according to Rob Wainwright, the British head of the European Union’s criminal intelligence agency, Europol. Wainwright says that thousands of gangs are capitalizing on the rise of smartphone and internet technology.
►►Are NSA revelations helping US tech industry? Edward Snowden’s unprecedented exposure of US technology companies’ close collaboration with national intelligence agencies, widely expected to damage the industry’s financial performance abroad, may actually end up helping. Despite emphatic predictions of waning business prospects, some of the big Internet companies that the former National Security Agency contractor showed to be closely involved in gathering data on people overseas –such as Google and Facebook– say privately that they have felt little if any impact on their businesses.

News you may have missed #722

Jose RodriguezBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Vienna police say Libyan defector’s death probably an accident. Former Libyan oil minister Shukri Ghanem, whose body was found floating Sunday in the Danube river, died from drowning, Austrian police said. Autopsy results on Ghanem’s corpse showed no signs of violence, a police spokesman said, adding that Ghanem, 69, had complained to his daughter late Saturday that he was not feeling well. No suicide note has been found and there is no evidence Ghanem was under threat, according to police. The results of toxicological tests are expected later this week.
►►Canadian spymaster’s card found in Gaddafi’s intel complex. It appears that William “Jack” Hooper, former Deputy Director for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), was among the Western intelligence officials who had cultivated ties with Libyan security services under the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Hooper’s business card was recovered last year in a trove of intelligence documents in Libya, providing a physical link between Canadian security agencies and Libyan spy services. Following his retirement in 2007, Hooper told The Toronto Star that Canada’s spy service has no choice but to team up with some unsavory foreign counterparts to protect Canada from terrorism.
►►Ex-CIA official defends torture of terrorism detainees. In an interview Sunday, Jose Rodriguez, who headed the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center until his retirement in 2008, said waterboarding and other interrogation methods now banned by the Obama Administration were essential to fighting terrorism after September 11, 2001. He also said that he ordered the 92 videotapes showing his CIA colleagues torturing al Qaeda detainees in order “to protect them from possible retaliation by al-Qaeda”. He said he was afraid the material would be leaked: “you really doubt that those tapes would not be out in the open now, that they would not be on YouTube?”. After the tapes were destroyed in an “industrial-sized disintegrator”, he said, “I felt good”.