French prosecutors seek trial in high-stakes case involving ex-spy chief

DGSI FrancePROSECUTORS IN FRANCE HAVE asked for a trial in a high-profile case involving the former head of France’s domestic intelligence agency, a former senior Paris police official and a retired appeals court judge, among others. The decade-long case has become known in France as the “Squarcini affair”, after Bernard Squarcini, who headed France’s General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) from 2008 to 2012.

Squarcini is a former career intelligence official, who rose through the ranks to head the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DST) of the French National Police. In 2008, the DST merged with the Central Directorate of General Intelligence (RG) of the French National Police, thus creating the new DGSI. Squarcini served as the first director of the DGSI until 2012, when he was dismissed by France’s socialist president, François Hollande, once the latter assumed the French presidency. It is believed that Hollande saw Squarcini as being politically aligned with Hollande’s center-right predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Upon his dismissal, Squarcini founded Kyrnos, a consulting company offering intelligence services to private-sector clients. Among Kyrnos’ largest clients was Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), a Paris-based conglomerate, whose holdings include several dozen subsidiaries, among them highly prestigious brands like Louis Vuitton, Hennessy, Tiffany & Co., Christian Dior, Bulgari, and others. LVMH’s CEO and “public face” is Bernard Arnault, who is currently estimated to be the world’s richest individual by Fortune magazine.

In 2021, LVMH paid a $11.2 million fine to settle allegations that the firm hired Squarcini to acquire confidential documents relating to government investigations into several rival firms, and to spy on private individuals on behalf of LVMH. Lawyers involved in the case hailed the decision at the time as “a decisive step […] in an unparalleled case that shows how [the] intelligence services have been used for private ends”.

But the 2021 case gave birth to a series of follow-up investigations, once Squarcini’s list of surveillance targets became known. Among those targets was Francois Ruffin, a leftwing labor activist and documentary producer, who was investigating LVMH’s financial dealings for a film he was producing. Squarcini is a leading suspect in this new round of investigations, as are other former senior government officials, including a senior officer in the French National Police and a former appeals court judge.

The accused face a host of charges, among them conspiracy to defraud clients, receiving payments by private firms to influence government policies, and breaching secrecy and professional codes associated with being a civil servant. Now the French news agency Agence France Presse reports that the team of prosecutors in charge of this new round of investigations have asked the presiding judges to order a trial of the suspects. This means that the prosecutors believe they have amassed enough evidence to convict the suspects of the charges levied against them.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 January 2023 | Permalink

News you may have missed #821 (civil liberties edition)

Bernard SquarciniBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►French domestic spy chief cleared of snooping charges. Back in October of 2011, intelNews reported that Bernard Squarcini, who then headed France’s domestic intelligence agency, the DCRI, had been charged with spying on a journalist with the daily Le Monde. The accusation was part of a wider case of domestic snooping, in which Squarcini was believed to have been trying to detect the source of government leaks to the press, allegedly on orders by then-President Nicolas Sarkozy. Earlier this month, however, an appeals court in Paris rejected two of three charges against the former DCRI chief. Squarcini could face up to five years in prison if convicted of the remaining charge.
►►FBI documents termed Occupy movement as ‘terrorism’. A number of heavily redacted US government documents, released following a Freedom of Information Act request, reveal that the FBI organized a nationwide law enforcement investigation and monitoring of the Occupy Wall Street movement beginning in August of 2011. In some documents, the FBI refers to the Occupy Wall Street protests as a “criminal activity” and “domestic terrorism”.
►►Wiretapping by Russian spy agencies doubled in five years. Wiretapping by Russia’s intelligence agencies has nearly doubled over the past five years, according to The Moscow Times. In Western countries, intelligence agencies were given wider powers after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But in Russia, the exponential growth of wiretapping began after 2007, when terrorism by Islamic-inspired separatists was already on the decline. A federal law passed in 2010 expanded the legal grounds for wiretapping Russian citizens. Now, intelligence officers can wiretap someone’s phones or monitor their Internet activity simply because they allegedly received reports that an individual is preparing to commit a crime.

French spy agency denies Toulouse gunman was an informant

Mohammed MerahBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
France’s domestic intelligence agency has denied allegations, made by its former Director, that it employed as an informant the militant Islamist who recently killed seven people in Toulouse. Yves Bonnet, who headed France’s DCRI between 1982 and 1985, made the allegation in an interview with La Dépêche du Midi, one of France’s largest regional newspapers, headquartered in Toulouse. He was speaking about Mohammed Merah, the self-confessed al-Qaeda militant who died in a police assault on his flat last week. He was traced there after he murdered seven people, including three children and three soldiers, in three separate attacks. Speaking to La Dépêche on Tuesday, Bonnet said that Merah “was known to the DCRI, not especially because he was an Islamist, but because he kept contact with a correspondent [officer] in domestic intelligence”. By “correspondent in domestic intelligence”, Bonnet meant that Merah had a handler inside the DCRI, who met with him on a regular basis. But Bonnet’s claim was forcefully rejected on the same day by Bernard Squarcini, the current Director of the DCRI —France’s equivalent of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation. Squarcini confirmed that Merah did in fact meet with a DCRI officer in November in 2011. But he said that the meeting was arranged so that the DCRI officer could interview Merah about his trips to Afghanistan, which he entered in 2010 and 2011 using a tourist visa. Squarcini denied that this meeting designated Merah as an informant, and specifically stated that the self-styled al-Qaeda militant “was not employed as an informant by the DCRI or by any other French intelligence agency”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #614

James Clapper

James Clapper

►►US spy chief proposes double-digit budget cuts. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Monday said he has proposed double-digit budget cuts in intelligence programs to the White House because “we’re all going to have to give at the office”. Clapper, in a speech at the GEOINT conference in Texas, said his office had “handed in our homework assignment” to the Office of Management and Budget, “and it calls for cuts in the double-digit range, with a B (for billion), over 10 years”.
►►French spy chief charged with snooping on reporter. France’s opposition on Tuesday called for the resignation of Bernard Squarcini, head of the country’s domestic intelligence agency, the DCRI, after he was charged over spying on a journalist with the daily Le Monde.
►►Researcher forecasts new virus similar to Stuxnet. The discovery of an espionage computer virus in Europe similar to the virus that attacked Iran’s nuclear plants last year suggests that a new, similar cyberattack is about to launch, computer virus researcher Mikko Hypponen says. The new virus, Duqu, was first reported by security company Symantec on its blog Tuesday. Its code is very similar to that of Stuxnet, the virus detected last year that was designed to sabotage equipment at Iranian nuclear plants.

News you may have missed #432

  • French spy agency chief warns of high terror risk. Bernard Squarcini, director of France’s Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST) counterintelligence agency, has warned that the country’s military presence in Afghanistan is among the reasons that have made France a prime target for radical Islamist groups.
  • Iran frees one of three Americans held on spy charges. American Sarah Shourd, who has been held in Iran for more than a year on suspicion of spying, has been released by authorities in the Islamic Republic.
  • American civil rights photographer was FBI informant. New information shows that celebrated civil rights-era photographer Ernest Withers had been a paid informant for the FBI, reporting on the whereabouts and activities of the movement’s leaders, many of whom considered him a personal friend.
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