South Korean ex-president took millions in bribes from spy agency, say prosecutors

 Park Geun-hyeSouth Korea’s disgraced former president, Park Geun-hye, has been charged with accepting bribes amounting to millions of dollars from the country’s spy agency, according to reports. Park made history in 2013, by becoming the first woman president in South Korean history. However, almost as soon as she assumed office, her administration became embroiled in successive corruption scandals. By 2016, Park’s presidency had been brought to a standstill due to mass protests urging her removal from power, while increasing numbers of officials and administrators were refusing to work with her. She was eventually impeached in 2017, after the Constitutional Court of Korea found that she had violated the country’s laws by promoting the interests of personal friends and private corporations in return for cash and favors. She is currently in custody awaiting trial for 18 different charges, including abuse of power, coercion, blackmail and bribery.

On Thursday, government prosecutors charged Park with accepting between $50,000 and $190,000 in monthly bribes from the National Intelligence Service (NIS). The monthly sums were allegedly delivered to Park almost as soon as she assumed the nation’s presidency, in 2013, and continued until the summer of 2016. Prosecutors allege that the monthly bribes total in excess of $3 million. Prosecutors allege that the cash was delivered to Park’s aides in deserted parking lots and side streets located near the Blue House, South Korea’s presidential palace. The cash allegedly came from what the prosecutors described as “special operational funds” and was meant for highly secret undercover operations. It was therefore not subject to parliamentary oversight or annual audits, according to court documents. The secret funds were allegedly used by Mrs. Park and her aides for bribes in exchange for political favors, according to the indictment.

In November, prosecutors charged three former directors of the NIS with secretly diverting funds from the agency’s clandestine budget to Park. The three men, Nam Jae-joon, Lee Byung-kee and Lee Byung-ho, headed the NIS between 2013 and 2016, when Mrs. Park was head of state. The new charges will add two more counts, one of embezzlement of funds and one of bribery, to Park’s long list of accusations. The disgraced former president is expected to remain in custody until March 3.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 January 2018 | Permalink

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Luxembourg to further-probe Jean-Claude Juncker’s role in spy scandal

Jean-Claude JunckerA judge in Luxembourg has launched a criminal investigation into whether officials working for the country’s former Prime Minister and current European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, tried to conceal his role in a spy scandal. Until he stepped down from his post in 2013, Juncker, a member of Luxembourg’s Christian Social People’s Party, was Europe’s longest-serving elected leader, having served as Prime Minister since 1995. His resignation from his post came after a parliamentary inquiry found that the country’s State Intelligence Service (SREL) had engaged in serious criminal activity.

The investigation was launched in 2012, after a local newspaper alleged that SREL’s Director, Marco Mille, employed a surreptitious recording device disguised as a watch to record a private conversation with Juncker. This led to revelations that the SREL had carried out countless illegal wiretaps around the country and that it maintained extensive secret files on over 13,000 citizens and residents of Luxembourg. The report also alleged that SREL set up a front company in order to facilitate the transfer of $10 million from a corrupt Russian businessman to a Spanish intelligence operative, as a personal favor to the Russian. The probe also examined, but did not confirm, allegations that the Grand Duke of Luxembourg had been a trusted informant of MI6, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. The release of the report prompted calls for Juncker to resign, because, according to Luxembourg law, the Prime Minister is directly responsible for the conduct of the country’s intelligence services, including SREL.

Now Judge Eric Schammo has launched a new criminal investigation into whether government officials working for Mr. Juncker deliberately falsified crucial evidence during the 2012 parliamentary investigation and the subsequent judicial investigation. Government prosecutors believe that a small group of officials falsified evidence in order to protect Mr. Juncker and shield him from any political fallout caused by the scandal. According to reports, former SREL Director Mille, who is currently on trial over his role in the spy affair, has in its possession a recording of a private conversation with Juncker. It is said that the recorded conversation shows that Juncker was aware of and approved the wiretap operation. This evidence was allegedly shared with members of the parliamentary inquiry in 2012. However, according to reports, pro-Juncker officials deleted it from the committee’s files. Juncker denies having had any knowledge of, or having authorized, SREL’s illegal activities.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 December 2017 | Permalink

Three former South Korean spy chiefs charged with illegally diverting secret funds

NIS South KoreaA South Korean prosecutor has charged three former directors of the country’s spy agency of secretly diverting funds from the agency’s clandestine budget to aid the country’s disgraced former President, Park Geun-hye. The three men, Nam Jae-joon, Lee Byung-kee and Lee Byung-ho, headed South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) between 2013 and 2016, when Mrs. Park was head of state. The conservative politician was impeached late last year, following accusations of corruption, bribing and extortion. In March this year, Mrs. Park’s government was brought down and she is currently in prison, awaiting trial. Her successor in the presidency, leftist politician Moon Jae-in, was elected after pledging to combat corruption in South Korea’s political inner circle.

As part of his anti-corruption campaign, Mr. Moon has overseen the purging of numerous senior officials from the NIS, after the agency admitted that it tried to influence the outcome of the 2012 presidential election in favor of Mrs. Park. In the latest round of corruption charges, the three former directors of the NIS are accused of funneling payments of between $45,000 and $91,000 a month to the office of the president. The cash allegedly came from what the prosecutors described as “special operational funds” and was meant for highly secret undercover operations. As such, it was not subject to parliamentary oversight or annual audits, according to prosecutors. The secret funds were allegedly used by Mrs. Park for bribes in exchange for political favors, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors claim that the indictments of the three former NIS chiefs reveal high-level collusion between Mrs. Park’s conservative Liberty Korea Party, also known as the Grand National Party, and the spy agency. Earlier this month, two presidential aides who served under Mrs. Park were arrested for transferring the cash payments in briefcases from the NIS to the president’s office. Two of the three former NIS directors, Nam Jae-joon and Lee Byung-kee were denied bail and are currently in jail. The third, Lee Byung-ho, was not deemed to be a flight risk and remains free while preparing his defense.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 20 November 2017 | Permalink

Maltese reporter who exposed high-level political corruption killed in car bomb

Daphne Caruana GaliziaMalta’s best known investigative journalist, whose reporting about offshore tax evasion prompted a major political crisis in the European Union member-state, has been killed by a powerful bomb near her home. Daphne Caruana Galizia, who died Monday, aged 53, gained international prominence last year, when she used information from various sources, including the leaked “Panama Papers”, to accuse senior members of Malta’s government of implication in tax-evasion schemes. Her reporting led to the resignation and eventual re-election of the country’s Labor government last year.

Caruana Galizia began her career in the late 1980s as a regular columnist for The Sunday Times of Malta, before being appointed associate editor of The Malta Independent. She eventually launched her personal English-language news blog, called Running Commentary, which became one of Malta’s most influential websites. The site’s popularity was only augmented by the fact that it reported scandals affecting both of Malta’s main political parties, the governing Labor Party and the opposition Nationalist Party. In April of 2016, following the release of the so-called Panama Papers, Caruana Galizia accused senior members of the Labor government, as well as the prime minister’s wife, of being involved in large-scale tax-evasion schemes and receiving bribes from oil-rich Azerbaijan’s ruling family. The allegations led to the resignation of the government and national elections, which the Labor Party won.

On Monday, Caruana Galizia died instantly when the rented Peugeot 108 car she was driving exploded near her home in the village of Bidnija, near Mosta, in central Malta. Eyewitnesses said that the explosion was so powerful that it tore apart the vehicle and was heard from several miles away. Subsequent reports in the Maltese media alleged that the investigative journalist had recently filed reports with the police, claiming that she was receiving threats against her life from persons unknown.

The bomb attack shocked Maltese society and immediately threw the European Union member-state’s political life into disarray. The country’s Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, said in a statement that he was “devastated” by Caruana Galizia’s assassination, adding that he had instructed the island country’s police and intelligence agencies to “take all necessary steps to investigate” the murder and uncover its culprits. The killing was also condemned by nearly every senior European Union official and by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the international arm of the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, which uncovered the existence of the Panama Papers.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 October 2017 | Permalink | Research credit: J.A.

French-Swiss firm allegedly bribed Islamic State to keep its factory working in Syria

LafargeHolcimThe world’s largest building materials manufacturer, LafargeHolcim, which is headquartered in France and Switzerland, allegedly bribed the Islamic State to keep its factory working in Syria, according to court witnesses. The company specializes in the manufacture of building materials such as cement, concrete and various byproducts. It was formed in 2015 by a merger of France-based Lafarge and Swiss-based Holcim, and currently employs an estimated 120,000 employees in nearly 100 countries around the world.

In 2011, soon after the Syrian Civil War broke out, various militant groups began operating in the area around one of LafargeHolcim’s plants, located in in north-central Syria, 10 miles south of the Syrian-Turkish border. In June of 2016, French newspaper Le Monde published allegations that LafargeHolcim’s subsidiary, Lafarge Cement Syria (LCS), which owns the plant, bribed various militias to stay away from its factory. According to the paper, at least €20,000 (approximately $24,000) went to the Islamic State, which eventually conquered the area around the LafargeHolcim plant. The article further claimed that LCS managers in Syria sent detailed emails to LafargeHolcim executives in Europe about their dealings with various militias, including the Islamic State. LafargeHolcim approved the use of funds to bribe the militias, said Le Monde, in order to allow the factory to remain operational and to avoid having their employees taken hostage.

The newspaper’s allegations prompted the Office of the Public Prosecutor in Paris to launch a preliminary investigation in October of the same year. Eventually, an official complaint was filed by the French Ministry of Finance, which argued that the activities of LCS may have constituted illicit financial relations between a French-owned company and a terrorist group. An official investigation was opened in June of 2017 into whether LafargeHolcim illegally financed terrorist groups through its subsidiaries, Lafarge and LCS. Investigators are also examining claims that the company presented the French government with forged accounting documents in order to hide the bribes it gave to various Syrian armed groups.

Last week, investigators heard from the first time from witnesses, three of whom were LCS employees in 2014, when the company first made contact with Islamic State militants. They allegedly told prosecutors that the French-Swiss company paid approximately $20,000 a month to various armed groups, including al-Qaeda, al-Nusra Front, and the Islamic State. Prosecutors did not discuss details about the witnesses’ testimonies, but Le Monde said it spoke to individuals with direct knowledge of the investigation, who said that the witnesses’ testimonies were particularly damning for LafargeHolcim. The probe continues.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 September 2017 | Permalink

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

Ex-spy chief jailed as elite power struggle widens in oil-rich Kazakhstan

The Tengiz oil refinery in KazakhstanA former director of Kazakhstan’s feared intelligence agency has been given a lengthy prison sentence, as a ruthless power struggle between rival factions surrounding the country’s president widens. From 2001 to 2006, Nartai Dutbayev directed the Kazakh National Security Committee (KNB), a direct institutional descendant of the Soviet-era KGB. Founded in 1992, the KNB is today directly controlled by Kazakhstan’s authoritarian President, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Many officials serving in senior KNB positions are members of the president’s family, or close friends.

For many years, Dutbayev enjoyed unchallenged power, which was afforded to him by way of his close links to the presidential palace. But in 2006, he resigned from his top KNB post in the aftermath of the murder of popular Kazakh opposition politician Altynbek Sarsenbaev. Ten members of a specialist commando unit within the KNB were found guilty of Sarsenbaev’s murder. He was killed soon after he announced his decision to compete electorally against President Nazarbayev. But Dutbayev was never personally censured by the government. Then, in December of last year, Dutbayev was arrested on charges of “divulging government secrets”. The former spy chief’s trial began in July of this year, but was conducted in its entirety behind closed doors.

This past Monday it was reported that Dutbayev was sentenced to 7 ½ years in prison for espionage on August 24. It is not known why Dutbayev’s sentence was announced to the country’s media more than two weeks after it was formally imposed by the court. Additionally, Kazakh authorities have said nothing about who Dutbayev is believed to have divulged government secrets to, or why. Three alleged accomplices of Dutbayev, including former senior KNB officials Erlan Nurtaev and Nurlan Khasen, were also sentenced to between three and five years in prison for espionage.

Many observers believe that the jailing of the KNB officials is part of a broader power struggle that is currently taking place between rival factions competing to succeed President Nazarbayev. Kazakhstan’s leader has ruled the former Soviet Republic with an iron fist since before its independence from the USSR in 1991. The KNB appears to be a central player in the unfolding power struggle between the country’s governing elites. Almost exactly nine years ago, a Kazakh intelligence officer tried unsuccessfully to abduct another KNB former director, Alnur Musaev, who was living in self-imposed exile in Austria at the time. Many believe that he was acting under Nazarbayev’s direct orders. In 2014, two Kazakh men, believed to be KNB officers, tried unsuccessfully to abduct Viktor Khrapunov, Kazakhstan’s former Minister for Energy and Coal, who also served as mayor of Almati, before leaving Kazakhstan for Switzerland.

Dutbayev is reportedly already in prison. He is believed to be sharing a cell with Serik Akhmetov, Kazakhstan’s former prime minister, who is serving 11 years for alleged corruption.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 September 2017 | Permalink