South Korean ex-deputy spy chief sentenced to prison for diverting secret funds

Lee Jong-myeongA former deputy director of South Korea’s spy agency has been given a prison sentence for diverting funds from the agency’s clandestine operations budget, in order to aid South Korea’s disgraced former President, Lee Myung-bak, who has himself been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Lee Jong-myeong served as third deputy director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) under the conservative administration of Lee Myung-bak. In 2013, Lee was succeeded by another conservative president, Park Geun-hye, who is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for corruption. As intelNews has previously reported, several senior NIS officials, including three of its former directors, have been sentenced to prison for diverting agency funds to psychological operations aimed at preventing the election of liberal politicians.

Now the probe into the NIS’ illegal political activity has expanded to include the organization’s mid-level management, including Lee Jong-myeong. On Monday, the Seoul Central District Court found Lee guilty of spending nearly $500,000 from the NIS’ clandestine operations budget to discredit two liberal former presidents, Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Dae-jung. The goal of the campaign was to convince the South Korean electorate that a future liberal president would surrender the reigns of the country to North Korea.

These revelations have sparked a major overhaul of South Korea’s intelligence system, which some observers have described as the NIS’ “most dramatic shake-up in decades”. The government reportedly intends to prevent the NIS from having any domestic role, and to limit its operations to foreign targets. But some conservative politicians have accused the current administration of left-of-center president Moon Jae-in of “defanging” the NIS.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 29 September 2020 | Permalink

Spanish high court broadens illegal wiretap probe to include senior politicians

Luis BárcenasA court in Spain has begun to examine the findings of a long-running probe into an illegal network that spied on people in return for payments, which almost certainly implicates senior figures in the former governing party. The probe focuses on what is known in Spain as the Gürtel case, which is described by observers as one of the most extensive corruption scandals in Spanish political history. It centers on an extensive network of tax evasion, bribery and money laundering, which brought together leading business executives, criminal kingpins, and senior politicians from Spain’s conservative Popular Party (PP).

In May of 2018, Spain’s highest criminal court, the Audiencia Nacional, ruled that senior PP officials had enriched themselves with kickbacks and bribes, and had laundered the money with assistance from the criminal underworld. The scandal effectively brought an end to the government of conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy later that year, and has virtually annihilated the once robust electoral popularity of the PP.

IntelNews has followed a series of scandals linked to the Gürtel case, notably a case involving José Manuel Villarejo, a 67-year-old former police chief, who was arrested in November of 2017 for carrying out illegal wiretaps, and remains in custody. According to Spanish prosecutors, Villarejo was in charge of an illicit information-collection enterprise that violated the privacy of hundreds of unsuspecting citizens. The latter were targeted by corporate competitors and individual wealthy clients. Many of Villarejo’s targets were eventually blackmailed by the recipients of information collected by the former police chief and his network.

Now a new side of the Gürtel case is about to emerge, as the Audiencia Nacional has unsealed a probe that sheds further light into Operation KITCHEN. This refers to an espionage effort connected to the Gürtel case, which targeted Luis Bárcenas, a senator and party treasurer of Spain’s conservative Partido Popular. Bárcenas had in his possession bookkeeping documents that shed light on a secret system for recording illicit funds in possession of PP administrators and senior party figures —for which Bárcenas was eventually given a 33-year prison sentence that he is currently serving.

Once senior government executives were notified by advisors that Bárcenas had these documents, and that he may be planning to share them with the authorities in order to secure a lighter prison sentence for himself, they allegedly set up an espionage operation aimed at preventing Bárcenas’ documents from ending up in the hands of the authorities. Villarejo was allegedly in charge of the espionage operation, which is how Operation KITCHEN connects with the broader Gürtel case. The probe of Operation KITCHEN was unsealed on Monday by Audiencia Nacional Judge Manuel García Castellón. A new series of prosecutions is now expected to take place in the coming weeks, in connection to Operation KITCHEN, which will almost certainly involve leading PP figures.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 09 September 2020 | Permalink

More information on French spies’ mysterious plot to kill woman in Paris

DGSE FranceFrench media have released new information on a puzzling murder conspiracy by three operations officers in France’s external intelligence agency, who planned to kill a middle-aged woman in Paris. As intelNews reported earlier this month, the three men work for the Directorate-General for External Security, known as DGSE. The service is France’s equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Like the CIA, the DGSE is not permitted to carry out operations inside France.

Two of the men were arrested by police early in the morning of July 24 in Val-de-Marne, a boulevard in Créteil, a southeastern suburb of the French capital. On July 31, French authorities arrested a third man, also in Paris, who is also believed to be a DGSE operations officer. New media reports from France have identified the two men arrested on July 24 as “Pierre B.” and “Karl E.”. They are believed to be members of the DGSE’s Action Division, a group that is trained by DGSE to carry out covert operations on foreign soil.

In the past week, authorities arrested two more men, who are also believed to be among the plotters in this strange case. They have not been named. One is believed to own a private security firm and the other is a former DGSE employee who now works as a private detective specializing in electronic crime. The two men have been charged with conspiracy and attempted murder.

Bizarrely, when Pierre B. and Karl E. were arrested on July 24, they claimed they were on an official DGSE mission. This, if true, would violate French law, since the agency is not permitted to operate on French soil. Additionally, the two men appear to have broken the law by identifying themselves as DGSE employees to the police officers who arrested them. According to French media reports, the two suspects continue to claim that they were on a mission ordered by their superiors at DGSE, and believe that the agency will eventually help them clear all charges against them.

Meanwhile, their intended victim has not been named. She is reportedly a psychotherapist who specializes in hypnotherapy. She has allegedly told police investigating the case that her murder might have been planned by rival hypnotherapists. However, police are finding it difficult to believe that professional rivalries could have resulted in the hiring of highly trained DGSE operations officers to commit a murder.

Four suspects, including the two operations officers arrested on July 24, remain in custody. The fifth man, the DGSE officer arrested on July 31, has reportedly been released on bail.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 August 2020 | Permalink

Paris prosecutor charges three French spies with mysterious plot to kill woman

dgse franceThe Paris prosecutor has charged three officers of France’s external spy agency with a mysterious plot to kill a woman, after two of them were caught driving a stolen vehicle and in possession of weapons. The three men are reportedly operations officers in the Directorate-General for External Security, known as DGSE. The service operates as France’s equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Like the CIA, the DGSE is not permitted to carry out operations inside France.

Two of the men were arrested by police on the night of July 23 to 24 in Val-de-Marne, a boulevard in Créteil, a southeastern suburb of the French capital. They have been identified in the French media as ‘Pierre’ and ‘Karl’, and are reportedly 25 and 28 years old respectively. According to the Paris prosecutor, the men were found driving a stolen car with forged license plates. Inside the vehicle, police officers found a bag containing a handgun along with 12 rounds of ammunition. Both men were carrying military-issue knives. On July 31, French authorities arrested a third man, also in Paris, who is allegedly connected to the case. The third man, who has not been named in the media, is also believed to be a DGSE operations officer.

An official statement issued this week by the Paris prosecutor’s office said the three men plotted to kill a 54-old woman. It added that the murder plot was not part of their DGSE duties, and that the three operations officers were acting in a “rogue” fashion. There has been no information released about the motive behind the plot to kill the woman. On Wednesday, the Paris prosecutor said it filed preliminary charges for attempted murder against the two men who were caught in Val-de-Marne in the early hours of July 24. The third man was handed preliminary charges of complicity in the murder attempt and of being part of a criminal conspiracy. His co-conspirators were also charged with car theft and being in possession of a weapon. If convicted, each man could face up to 10 years behind bars.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 August 2020 | Permalink

Austrian financier dubbed ‘world’s most wanted man’ hiding under Russian protection

Jan MarsalekAn Austrian financier, who disappeared following the outbreak of a massive financial scandal in Germany last month, and is wanted by several Western spy agencies, is reportedly hiding under Russian protection. The financier, Jan Marsalek, dubbed by some as “the world’s most wanted man”, is connected with the sudden collapse of Wirecard AG in Germany last month.

Wirecard (est. 1999) was a German provider of financial services, such as mobile phone payment processing and other electronic payment transaction systems. The company also issued physical and virtual credit and pre-paid cards. But on June 25, the company declared itself insolvent, after an audit revealed that nearly €2 billion ($2.3 billion) in cash deposits were missing from its accounts. Soon afterwards, the company’s share value lost over 70 percent of its value and its management team, including its chief executive officer, Markus Braun, stepped down.

On June 22, Braun was arrested, and a criminal investigation was launched following reports that the missing €2 billion probably never existed in the first place. Meanwhile, German police sought to arrest Marsalek, who had worked as Wirecard’s chief operating officer since 2010. Marsalek, 40, was also in charge of Winecard’s operations in Asia and specifically the Philippines, where the fictitious €2 billion was reportedly deposited.

On June 18, after getting fired from his job, Marsalek told colleagues that he was leaving immediately for Manilla, in order to track down the missing funds and clear his name. However, he never arrived there, as he seemed to disappear into thin air on the way. An investigative report by The Financial Times revealed that Marsalek never made use of his airline ticket to the Philippine capital, and that the immigration records that showed him entering the country and then flying from there to China had been forged. This was later confirmed by the Philippines government.

According to the investigative website Bellingcat, Marsalek never went to the Philippines, but instead fled to Belarus via Estonia. By the time he arrived in Minsk, the Austrian financier was reportedly “a person of interest” to at least three Western spy agencies, and is now believed to have links to Russian intelligence. Bellingcat said Marsalek has made over 60 trips to Russia since 2010, in some cases staying on Russian soil for just a few hours before flying back to Germany. He is also wanted by several European governments on charges of embezzlement and fraud.

On Sunday, German financial newspaper Handelsblatt said Marsalek had been located in Russia and was allegedly staying at a villa outside Moscow, under the protection of Russian military intelligence. The newspaper claimed that the Austrian financier was being protected by officers of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, which is commonly known as GRU. According to Handelsblatt, the current tension in relations between Russia and Belarus made it “too risky” for the Kremlin to keep Marsalek in the Belarussian capital. The decision was therefore made to secretly transport him to Moscow.

The German newspaper said it found out about Marsalek’s whereabouts from sources including “financiers, judges and diplomats”. On Monday the Russian government said it had no information about Marsalek’s current whereabouts. It also denied that the Austrian financier has any ties to its intelligence services.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 July 2020 | Permalink

French counterterrorism officer charged with selling forged documents online

DGSI FranceAn officer in France’s elite counterterrorism agency is to be tried along with four accomplices for selling forged identity documents and private data on the darknet. The case first emerged in 2018, after officers with France’s Central Office for the Prevention of Illegal Immigration (OCRIEST) detected a seller of high quality forged copies of official documents on the darknet.

The seller, who went by the nickname Haurus, offered French identification cards, drivers’ licenses, birth certificates and even bank documents, in exchange for between €100 and €300 ($110 and $330). The quality of the documents on sale was substantially higher than most forgeries sold on the darknet. According to French government investigators, the fake docments qualified as what anti-forgery experts call “the gold standard”. Haurus also sold private phone records and other information to track the whereabouts of individuals.

Government investigators eventually received an anonymous tip that helped identify Haurus. According to prosecutors, Haurus was an officer in the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI), which serves as France’s main counterterrorism agency. In accordance with France’s strict privacy laws, he has been identified only as “Cédric D.”, 33. According to Le Parisien newspaper, Cédric D. worked as a counterterrorism investigator specializing on jihadist terrorist networks.

Upon his arrest, Cédric D. led prosecutors to four more people, including a private investigator, all of whom were eventually apprehended. Cédric D. was kept in pre-trial detention for several months. He was released five months ago and remains under judicial supervision. The investigation into his activities has now concluded, and a trial is expected to commence soon in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 January 2020 | Permalink

Executive of Danish bank implicated in massive money laundering found dead

Danske BankThe former chief executive of Danske Bank’s subsidiary in Estonia, which is implicated in a massive money laundering scheme, has been found dead in an apparent suicide in Tallinn. Aivar Rehe, 56, headed the Estonian subsidiary of the Copenhagen-based Danske Bank, one of Northern Europe’s largest retail banks, which was founded in 1871. He belonged to a group of dynamic young entrepreneurs who spearheaded the privatization of the Estonian economy in the post-Soviet era.

But the reputation of the Estonian banking sector was tarnished last year, when a criminal investigation was launched into an alleged money laundering scandal. The investigation focused on customers from Russia and other Eastern European countries who allegedly used Danske Bank’s subsidiary in Estonia to launder billions of dollars in illicit funds. The probe prompted Danske Bank to pull out of the Baltic countries. Meanwhile, the probe extended to Sweden, Germany and the United States. Deutsche Bank, one of the world’s largest financial institutions, is currently being investigated for allegedly helping facilitate Danske Bank’s customers launder money by converting it into United States dollars. The criminal probe has damaged the previously spotless reputation of the Scandinavian banking sector and has made Central European banks hesitant to do business in the Baltics. Some financial observers have even warned that the Danske Bank scandal could drag the Baltic economies into a prolonged recession.

Rehe was not involved in the money laundering scandal. However, much of the money laundering took place between 2007 and 2015, when he was in charge of the Estonian subsidiary of Danske Bank. Under his leadership the bank’s operations were allegedly marred by “deficiencies in controls and governance”, which allowed for criminal activity to occur unnoticed, according to an internal Danske Bank investigation into the money laundering affair. Rehe had been missing from his home since Monday, having apparently left without taking his wallet and cellphone. His body was discovered on Wednesday in the garden of his home in the Estonian capital. Police have ruled his death an apparent suicide and believe that no foul play was involved.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 September 2019 | Permalink

Security official confirms ‘unprecedented’ anti-corruption campaign in Iran’s judiciary

Ebrahim RaeesiA senior Iranian intelligence official has confirmed widespread rumors that an unprecedented anti-corruption campaign is taking place at the top echelons of Iran’s all-powerful judiciary, with some senior figures already in prison. The Iranian judiciary is one of the most powerful and secretive institutions in the Islamic Republic. It is nominally supervised by the Iranian Justice Ministry, but its senior officials, including the chief justice (the head of the judiciary), are appointed directly by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. It follows that the judiciary has been a deeply conservative institution throughout the country’s existence, and especially after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Until earlier this year, the judiciary was headed by Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani, a protégé of Khamenei, who named him chief justice in August of 2009. Throughout Larijani’s decade-long tenure, there were rumors of rampant corruption in the judiciary, but Khamenei never seemed to intervene. However, in March of this year Larijani was suddenly removed from his position and replaced with Ebrahim Raeesi (pictured), a conservative former attorney general with middle-to-low-rank clerical credentials. Almost as soon as he took charge of the judiciary, Raeesi announced a sweeping anti-corruption campaign. In July, rumors began to circulate in the media that Iran’s Deputy Chief Justice, Akbar Tabari, had been arrested.

On Wednesday, Ali Abdollahi, head of the judiciary’s intelligence and security wing, said during a speech that Tabari had indeed been imprisoned for “exerting influence on some legal cases” and “having unlawful and unethical relationships”. He added that a number of other members of the judiciary had been placed under arrest in connection with the investigation on Tabari. On Thursday, Abdollahi said that the arrests had taken place under the direction of Supreme Leader Khamenei and that they would continue both inside and outside the judiciary. There would be “no delay in cleansing the inside and outside of the judiciary”, said Abdollahi. Raeesi and Khamenei have not made any public comments. But observers now believe that the unprecedented wave of arrests would never have reached the upper levels of the judiciary unless the supreme leader had personally given the anti-corruption campaign the green light.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 August 2019 | Permalink

Analysis: Tension grows between Iraqi state and Shiite militias that helped fight ISIS

Popular Mobilization ForcesA powerful alliance of about 50 Shiite militias, who helped Iraq defeat the Islamic State, is resisting calls by the Iraqi government to surrender its weapons and join civilian life, according to observers on the ground. Much of the territory captured from the Islamic State (known also as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS) in northern Iraq is currently controlled by the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a collection of around 40 different Shiite militias consisting of over 150,000 armed fighters. The militias began to form in the summer of 2014, after Sayyid Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of the Iraqi Shiite community, issued a fatwa (religious degree) that called or the destruction of ISIS. The Iranian-supported PMF proved instrumental in the territorial defeat of ISIS. However, the group’s leadership is ideologically aligned with Iran, and many of its members will not cooperate with the Iraqi Armed Forces, because of the latter’s proximity to the United States.

According to the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, northern Iraqi cities like Mosul, Bashiqa and Nineveh are largely under the command of the PMF today, a full 18 months after they were recaptured from ISIS. All political and economic activity in the region is controlled by PMF fighters operating under the command of the 30th Brigade, which is one of the most hardline pro-Iranian militias in the PMF. It is alleged that the militias receive economic kickbacks from Shiite-owned Iraqi firms who are awarded multi-million dollar contracts to rebuild the city. Meanwhile, as The Washington Post and other news media have reported, PMF militia members are beginning to exhibit “mafia-like” behavior, establishing protection rackets and kidnapping motorists at night in order to release them for a fee paid by their families. There are also allegations, made by Deutsche Welle and other Western media, that the PMF has conducted mass executions of Iraqi Sunnis as part of its goal to rid Iraq of Sunni Islam.

Last month, Iraqi Armed Forces tried to dismantle PMF-controlled checkpoints into Mosul, but was confronted by armed PMF forces who refused to cede contro. Following the failed attempt to recapture the checkpoints, Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi warned the PMF that it had until July 31 to disband. Its members were called to join a newly established gendarmerie under the command of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. Failure to do so would mean that the militias would be considered outlaws and would be treated as such by the Iraqi Armed Forces, the prime minister warned. But the PMF has requested more time to lay down its weapons, as some of its more moderate commanders are trying to convince the Iran-aligned militias to declare allegiance to a state army that they consider to be pro-American. The future will show how likely that is to happen.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 August 2019 | Permalink

Spain’s second largest bank under investigation in massive espionage scandal

José Manuel VillarejoSpain’s second largest bank has been placed under investigation in connection with a probe into an illegal network that spied on scores of politicians, business executives, journalists and judges for over 20 years. The investigation centers on José Manuel Villarejo (pictured), a 67-year-old former police chief, who remains in pre-trial custody following his arrest in November of 2017 for carrying out illegal wiretaps. State prosecutors accuse Villarejo of running an illicit information-collection enterprise that violated the privacy of hundreds of unsuspecting citizens. Villarejo’s victims were targeted by corporate competitors and individual wealthy clients. Many were eventually blackmailed by the recipients of the information that was collected by the former police chief and his network.

On Tuesday, Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, placed the country’s second-largest bank, the BBVA, under formal investigation in connection with the Villarejo case. Audiencia Nacional Judge Manuel García-Castellón took the decision to investigate the BBVA after government prosecutors argued that the bank was one of Villarejo’s main clients, as shown in documents seized from the former police chief in 2017. According to the prosecution, the bank made illicit payments to a company called Cenyt, which was owned by Villarejo. The payments lasted for over 13 years, during which Villarejo earned close to €10 million ($11.1 million) from BBVA. In return, Villarejo and his employees carried out surveillance operations on behalf of the bank. One of the operations targeted Sacyr, a large Spanish-based construction company, which had tried to purchase BBVA in 2004 and 2005. Spanish government prosecutors now accuse BBVA of bribery, disclosure of sensitive information, and corrupt business practices.

In January of 2018 five active police officers and an employee of the Agencia Tributaria, Spain’s tax revenue service, testified in court about having worked for Villarejo’s network. They disclosed information about Operation KITCHEN, an espionage effort that targeted Luis Bárcenas, a senator and party treasurer of Spain’s conservative Partido Popular. The purpose of Operation KITCHEN was to wiretap Bárcenas’ communications without acquiring a court warrant, said the witnesses. Last year Bárcenas was jailed for 33 years for his role in the so-called Gürtel case, the largest corruption scandal in modern Spanish history, which brought down the conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in July of 2017. Villarejo’s trial continues.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 31 July 2019 | Permalink

Deposed president’s brother and two former spy chiefs arrested in Algeria

Mohamed MedièneThe younger brother of Algeria’s deposed president Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been arrested along with two former directors of the country’s spy services. All three men are known as some of the North African country’s most powerful figures. Saïd Bouteflika, 61, served as senior advisor to his brother for over a decade. In 2013, when President Bouteflika suffered a debilitating stroke, Saïd became what many see as Algeria’s de facto leader and its primary decision-maker. He had not been seen in public since February 22, when mass demonstrations broke out across the country just hours after President Bouteflika, 82, announced that he would run for the highest office in the land for a record fifth time. The massive protests forced Bouteflika, who had held the presidency for two decades, to resign on April 2.

But the demonstrators have continued to protest weekly. They demand that Bouteflika’s inner circle be removed from power. Saïd, who was widely believed to be his brother’s most likely successor to the presidency, topped the protesters’ list. He was reportedly arrested on Saturday afternoon by officers of the Intelligence and Security Department, known as DRS. Another group of DRS officers reportedly arrested General Mohamed “Toufik” Mediène (pictured above, in brown suit), who served as director of the DRS form 1990 until his firing in 2015. His successor, DRS Director General Athmane Tartag, was also arrested by a third team of DRS officers on Saturday, according to reports from Algiers. All three men were delivered to the armed forces and have remained in custody since.

Saturday’s arrests were significant, given the influence of these once all-powerful men. At the moment of his arrest, General Tartag was the head of the country’s feared spy agency, while General Mediène was once known as the world’s longest-serving intelligence director. All three are accused of conspiracy against the popular movement that prompted the end of the Bouteflika regime last month. Their accusers are the leaders of the country’s military, and are led by Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah, the Army’s chief of staff. General Salah has vowed to launch an anti-graft campaign and rid the country of corruption before surrendering power back to civilian rule. A nationwide election has been scheduled for July 4 of this year.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 May 2019 | Permalink

Libya gave French ex-president Sarkozy $8 million, says Gaddafi’s spy chief

Abdullah al-SenussiA senior intelligence advisor to Libya’s late ruler Muammar al-Gaddafi has reportedly told French investigators that the Libyan government gave $8 million to the election campaign of France’s ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy’s 30-year political legacy has been marred by a series of financial scandals, for which he is currently under investigation. In March of last year, the former French president issued strong denials of accusations that he accepted an illicit multi-million monetary donation from Gaddafi during his 2007 campaign for the presidency. During a 20-minute television interview, Sarkozy described the investigation into the allegations that he acted as an agent of influence for Libya as “a waste of time”, arguing that it was over an alleged donation of less than $45,000, which represented a tiny fraction of his campaign budget.

But according to the French investigative news website Mediapart, a team of French judges was told by Gaddafi’s former spy chief that Sarkozy was given millions of dollars in secret by the Libyan state. Abdullah al-Senussi, who oversaw the Libyan intelligence agencies under Gaddafi, reportedly told the French investigators that the funding was part of a secret deal between the two parties. In 1979, Senussi married the sister of Gaddafi’s wife and remained a trusted confidante of the Libyan leader until his violent death in 2011. According to Mediapart, he told the French judges that he personally supervised the transfer of funds to Sarkozy’s election campaign. He said that the payments entered the campaign’s coffers via a French government minister who received the funds from Libyan agents in two separate installments in 2006. In return, Sarkozy promised to help reinstate Gaddafi’s international image if he was elected president. He also promised to impede attempts by Western countries to arrest Gaddafi and some of his senior government aides —including Senussi— for terrorist crimes. Senussi allegedly said that Sarkozy himself promised him that his international arrest warrants would be quelled with the help of the French president’s personal lawyers. Sarkozy later hosted Gaddafi in Paris in a lavish setting in 2007.

Mediapart said that it accessed Senussi’s testimony before the French judges after getting hold of extracts from his formal statements during his interviews. It added that the information provided by Senussi appears to confirm similar claims made by other witnesses in the investigation about Sarkozy’s alleged illegal campaign funding. The former French president is currently involved in a separate legal dispute concerning alleged illegal spending during his failed campaign for the presidency in 2012.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 21 February 2019 | Permalink

Spanish judge broadens probe into 20-year illegal wiretap network

José Manuel VillarejoA judge in Spain has widened an investigation into an illegal network that spied on scores of politicians, business executives, journalists and judges for over 20 years, in return for payments by wealthy clients. At the center of the case is José Manuel Villarejo, a 67-year-old former police chief, who was arrested in November of 2017 for carrying out illegal wiretaps and remains in pre-trial custody. State prosecutors accuse Villarejo of running an illicit information-collection enterprise that violated the privacy of hundreds of unsuspecting citizens. The latter were targeted by corporate competitors and individual wealthy clients. Many of Villarejo’s targets were eventually blackmailed by the recipients of information collected by the former police chief and his network.

The court heard this week that the accused maintained an extensive network of informants with whom he had worked during his time in the police force. These informants worked for telecommunications service providers, the banking sector, and even at Agencia Tributaria, Spain’s tax revenue service. They are accused of providing Villarejo’s network with information that helped him zero in on his targets, such as confidential tax returns, subscriber records of personal telephone calls, bank account numbers, and asset ownership lists. It is believed that several Spanish politicians were among Villarejo’s clients, as was the Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, one of Spain’s largest banks.

On Wednesday, the court heard from five active police officers and an employee of the Agencia Tributaria, who testified about having worked for Villarejo’s network. The six men testified about so-called Operation KITCHEN, which targeted Luis Bárcenas, a senator and party treasurer of Spain’s conservative Partido Popular —known as PP, or the People’s Party. The purpose of Operation KITCHEN was to wiretap Bárcenas’ communications without acquiring a court warrant, said the witnesses. In 2018 Bárcenas was jailed for 33 years for his role in the so-called Gürtel case, the largest corruption scandal in modern Spanish history, which brought down the conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in July of last year. The trial continues.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 18 January 2019 | Permalink

Trial witness claims ‘El Chapo’ gave Mexico’s ex-president $100 million bribe

Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ GuzmánA high-profile witness has told the trial of Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán in New York that the accused bribed the then President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, with $100 million in order to stay out of prison. Guzmán, the leader of the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel, was arrested in February 2014 in Mexico. In January 2017, he was extradited to the United States, where he faces a litany charges ranging from conspiracy to import and distribute drugs to money-laundering and homicide. His trial began at the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, New York, last November.

All of last Tuesday was taken up by the testimony of Alex Cifuentes Villa, a Colombian former drug lord from Medellin who, until his arrest in 2012, was one of Guzmán’s closest collaborators. Villa told the court that Peña Nieto employed mediators to reach out to the Sinaloa cartel soon after he was elected president in 2012. He alleged that the mediators offered to strike a bargain with Guzmán, according to which he would stay out of prison in return for a $250 million bribe. The bribe would be shared between Peña Nieto and his closest government aides and advisors, said Villa. In return, the Mexican president would call off a national manhunt to capture the Sinaloa cartel leader. Following prolonged negotiations, Guzmán agreed to pay Peña Nieto $100 million, said Villa, in order to secure his freedom.

This is not the first time that a witness in the trial of Guzmán has alleged that the Sinaloa cartel leader bribed senior Mexican government officials, including police and military leaders. However, it is the most sensational allegation to have emerged the trial so far, and —if true— points out that even the highest echelons of the Mexican state have succumbed to the moneyed power of the drug cartels. Last November, when Guzmán’s trial began, his lawyers hinted that claims of corruption would be aired against the highest levels of the Mexican government, including two of its recent presidents, which they called “completely corrupt”. At the time, Peña Nieto’s office issued a statement condemning the allegations and saying that the former president had never received bribes from anyone.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 January 2019 | Permalink

Shiite militias ‘acting like mafia gangs’ in Iraq’s former ISIS-held areas

Popular Mobilization ForcesThe Shiite militias that fought in the war against the Islamic State are now “engaged in mafia-like practices” in former Islamic State strongholds, enraging Iraqi Sunnis and sparking fears of another Islamist insurgency, according to a leading article in The Washington Post.  In 2014, the meteoric rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria —ISIS, later renamed Islamic State— was largely aided by Sunni Arabs’ belief that they were second-class citizens in a Shiite-dominated Iraq. Popular support for the Islamic State among Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority took the Iraqi government by surprise and almost enabled the militant group to conquer Baghdad in 2015. Today, after the destruction of the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate, Iraq’s Shiite-dominated security and intelligence services have returned to Sunni-majority regions that were once ruled by ISIS.

But there signs that about 50 Shiite militias, which were supported by the Iraqi state throughout the war against ISIS, are now becoming highly autonomous armed gangs that are undermining the central government in Baghdad. These militias —many of which are politically aligned with Iran— are essentially armed wings of Shiite political parties that control more than a quarter of the seats in the Iraqi parliament. In 2014, the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government attempted to utilize the power of the militias by uniting them under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). PMF troops participated in every major front of the war against ISIS and today are an officially recognized military force with rank and salary structures that are equivalent to those of the Iraqi military and police. Technically, the PMF operate under the command of the Iraqi prime minister. In reality, however, the militias that make up the PMF are led by their respective Shiite commanders, many of whom are ideologically allied to Tehran.

The PMF militias are today in control of much of Sunni-dominated Western Iraq, which they helped retake from ISIS. According to Washington Post correspondents Tamer el-Ghobashy and Mustafa Salim, the militias are now using their newfound territorial power to make large sums of money. Various PMF militias operate countless checkpoints across Western Iraq, on roads between cities or —increasingly— within cities such as Mosul, imposing toll fees on supply trucks and even on individual motorists. The two Washington Post correspondents warn that these militia members are beginning to exhibit “mafia-like” behavior, establishing protection rackets and kidnapping motorists at night in order to release them for a fee paid by their families.

Additionally, PMF commanders make arbitrary decisions about which of the nearly 2 million Iraqi Sunnis, who were displaced in refugee camps due to the war, are allowed to return to their homes. Many of these homes and land that used to belong to Iraqi Sunnis are now being expropriated by PMF commanders, who claim that their previous owners collaborated with ISIS, often without evidence. This practice, say el-Ghobashy and Salim, is rapidly altering the demographic balance between Sunnis and Shiites throughout Western Iraq. The two authors forewarn that these mafia-like practices by the PMF are “fostering local resentments […] and revive the kind of Sunni grievances that underpinned the Islamic State’s dramatic rise three years ago”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 January 2019 | Permalink