Nigerian spy chief suspended after $43 million cash stash found in apartment

EFCC NigeriaThe director of Nigeria’s powerful intelligence agency has been suspended on orders of the president, after a massive stash of cash totaling $43 million was found in an apartment in Lagos. The money was discovered by investigators working for the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Based in Abuja, the EFCC is a high-profile body that was created in 2003, in response to accusations by the international community that Nigeria is used as a major base for global money-laundering schemes.

According to media reports, the money was found in a vacant apartment located in Ikoyi, arguably the most affluent neighborhood of the Nigerian capital and one of the wealthiest urban areas in Africa. The cash had been wrapped in transparent plastic sheets and hidden inside several metallic filing cabinets, as well as concealed behind a fake partition in a wooden wardrobe. According to a statement issued by the Nigerian government, the apartment was searched following tip-offs by local residents. The latter allegedly reported that a mysterious woman was seen entering or leaving the apartment with suspicious-looking bags at all hours of the day or night. Some residents told EFCC investigators that the woman may have been a man in disguise.

Government officials in Lagos said on Wednesday that the apartment belongs to the National Intelligence Agency, Nigeria’s primary intelligence organization. An investigation has therefore been launched into how the cash was accumulated in the apartment, and whether it had been authorized by intelligence officials or other government executives. In the meantime, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the immediate suspension of Ambassador Ayo Oke, who has been serving as director of the National Intelligence Agency. The ambassador is believed to be under house arrest and is not permitted to resume his professional duties until after the investigation has been completed. President Buhari has asked to be given the results of the investigation in two weeks.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 April 2017 | Permalink

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Brazil launches probe into plane crash that killed senior corruption investigator

Teori ZavasckiBrazilian authorities have launched an investigation into last week’s plane crash that killed the leading judge in the largest corruption probe in the nation’s history, involving government officials and two giant companies. Supreme Court judge Teori Zavascki died last Thursday with two other people, when the small airplane they were on crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. The Beechcraft King Air C90 that was carrying Zavascki went down near the Brazilian town of Paraty, located 300 miles east of Sao Paulo. Zavascki, was appointed to Brazil’s Supreme Court in 2012, at the age of 64. He soon earned a nationwide reputation for being a relentless prosecutor of Brazil’s notoriously corrupt governmental and corporate elite. In 2015, his reputation soared even further, after he ordered the arrest of Delcídio do Amaral, a leading member of the ruling Workers’ Party, who was serving as Senate speaker and head of the Senate’s Committee on Economic Affairs. Amaral was found guilty of having received bribes from Brazil’s state-owned oil company, Petrobras, and removed from the Senate.

In October 2016, Zavascki ordered the arrest of Eduardo Cunha, President of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies, and the man who had a few months earlier led the impeachment of Brazil’s disgraced former President, Dilma Rousseff. Cuhna’s arrest was part of so-called Operation Carwash, an enormous corruption investigation involving dozens of leading Brazilian politicians, who are accused of having taken bribes from Petrobras and Odebrecht, Brazil’s largest construction company. This coming February, Zavascki was scheduled to publicize a series of plea-bargain settlements, involving nearly 80 Odebrecht senior executives. It is believed that the plea bargains will implicate a large number of well-known Brazilian politicians, including Brazil’s President, Michel Temer, and his two immediate predecessors, Rousseff and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Shortly after Thursday’s plane crash, there was widespread speculation on social media that Zavascki’s death was not an accident. Several notable public figures in Brazil expressed concern about the timing of the judge’s death. They included detective Márcio Anselmo, the senior federal police investigator in Operation Carwash. On Friday, authorities launched an official investigation into the plane crash, which will inevitably remain in the news headlines for weeks, as the Supreme Court struggles to keep Operation Carwash alive. Several public figures have expressed strong concern about possible delays in the investigation, which could enable those being probed to evade justice. In a bizarre twist of fate, President Temer will now be expected to nominate a judge to take Justice Zavascki’s place on the Supreme Court, while knowing that his own name may be implicated in the ongoing corruption investigation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 January 2017 | Permalink

Malaysia immigration probe reveals growing insider threat to passport security

Datuk Seri Sakib KusmiAs many as 100 Malaysian immigration officers are implicated in a widening investigation involving the deliberate sabotage of the country’s electronic passport control system. The investigation, which began over three months ago, focuses on a criminal ring of immigration personnel at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), one of Southeast Asia’s major travel hubs. Reports suggest that 15 members of the alleged ring are in prison awaiting trial. Another 14 immigration officers have been suspended without pay, while 20 more staff members are under investigation by the intelligence subdivision of the Immigration Department of Malysia (IDM). On Wednesday, IDM Director-General Datuk Seri Sakib Kusmi said that the scope of the investigation had widened, and that 63 immigration officers would be transferred from the IDM’s headquarters in Putrajaya to KLIA, to replace members or suspected members of the criminal ring.

The officers implicated in the investigation are accused of deliberately sabotaging the automated passport control system used at KLIA. Known as myIMMs, the system allows passport control officers to validate the authenticity of international travelers’ passports, and to confirm that the latter have not been reported lost or stolen. It is believed that the myIMMs system was deliberately made to crash at least once a day, in order to allow human traffickers and other organized criminals to smuggle individuals in and out of Malaysia. With the system going offline, KLIA passport control officers were forced to screen passengers manually, which is now believed to have permitted countless individuals using forged and stolen passports to go through security undetected. The deliberate sabotage of myIMMs is believed to have been going on since 2010, and investigators are at a loss in trying to estimate the numbers of people who have been able to bypass computerized passport checks.

One investigator said Australia’s ABC news network that the criminal ring’s handlers were located overseas and would send immigration officers instructions via coded messages. The primary ring members had recruited IDM administrative staff, technology staff, and even software vendors, who were involved in sabotaging the system. The practice of organized criminal and terrorist groups using forged passports is both long and documented. But news of a criminal group that is able to set up an extensive ring of immigration officers, who then sabotage an electronic passport verification system at a major international transport hub, is rare and extremely alarming. It reveals a new form of insider threat, namely compromised immigration and passport control officers, who are bribed to facilitate the work of criminal groups and terrorist organizations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 June 2016 | Permalink

Poland’s intelligence watchdog chief says 52 journalists were spied on

ABW PolandOver 50 journalists and their contacts were systematically spied on by the Polish intelligence services between 2007 and 2015, according to the former director of an anti-corruption watchdog. Until 2009, Mariusz Kamiński led the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau, which was set up by the office of the Polish Prime Minister in 2006 to address corruption in the country. The body is also responsible for monitoring the operations of Poland’s intelligence services, including the Internal Security Agency (ABW).

Kamiński made the spying allegation on Wednesday at the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish Parliament, during a parliamentary hearing held to assess the performance of the previous government. He said that dozens of journalists of all political persuasions had been illegally spied on by the ABW between 2007 and 2015, on direct orders by the previous government. He was referring to the administrations of Donald Tusk and Ewa Kopacz, who held successive prime ministerial posts until last year. The two politicians represented a center-left alliance between the Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish People’s Party (PSL), which ruled Poland from 2007 to 2015. But Kamiński, who is currently a member of the Sejm elected with the governing Law and Justice party (PiS), claimed that, under Tusk and Kopacz’s watch, the ABW spied on prominent journalists, their families and their contacts, secretly photographing them and tapping their telephones in order to see who they communicated with. He also claimed that the ABW spied on him and his colleagues at the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau in an attempt to intimidate them.

The center-right Law and Justice Party (PiS), which Kamiński represents at the Sejm, rose to power in October of last year after gaining a majority in both houses of the Polish Parliament. It had remained in opposition from 2007 to 2015, while the PO-PSL alliance governed the country. In his presentation, Kamiński claimed that the current center-right administration is “not placing anyone under surveillance due to their political views”, as these types of illegal activities would “directly violate freedom of speech and democracy” in Poland. At the end of his talk, Kamiński presented a list of journalists’ names who were allegedly targeted by the ABW. But opposition politicians dismissed Kamiński’s charges as being politically motivated and said they aimed to discredit the previous administration.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 May 2016 | 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

Is brother of China’s ex-chief of staff seeking to defect to the US?

Ling WanchengA well-connected Chinese businessman, described by officials as potentially one of the most damaging defectors in the history of modern China, is reputed to have requested political asylum in the United States. Ling Wancheng, 54, is the multimillionaire brother of Ling Jihua, a close aide of China’s former premier, Hu Jintao, who rose through the ranks of the Communist Party of China to eventually lead its Central Committee’s General Office. With the help of his brother’s connections and political influence, Ling Wancheng transformed himself from a journalist to an entrepreneur in the early 2000s. Soon after receiving his graduate degree in business administration, he founded an investment firm and joined China’s nouveau riche elite. His wealth, which is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, coupled with his older brother’s senior position within the Communist Party, made him one of China’s most politically connected entrepreneurs.

However, the Ling family’s fortunes turned dramatically for the worse in March of 2012, when Ling Jihua’s 23-year-old son was killed in a Beijing street while driving a Ferrari after a night of wild partying. Two half-naked women, who were also riding in the car, were seriously injured; one later died of her wounds. The circumstances of the crash, as well as Ling Jihua’s failed efforts to cover it up, were seen as symbolic of a spoiled generation of government officials, whose corrupt practices have isolated the Communist Party from the Chinese populace. Soon afterwards, the new administration of President Xi Jinping initiated a massive anti-corruption campaign as a means of restoring the reputation of the Communist Party. Ling was immediately demoted, cut off from the top echelons of the Chinese government, and in 2014 there were rumors that he would soon be facing a corruption investigation. In July of this year, it was officially announced that Ling had been expelled from the Communist Party and that he would be facing trial on charges of accepting bribes.

The announcement of Ling’s trial stated that he was accused of “accepting certain bribes for himself and on behalf of his family”. But no charges were filed against Ling Wancheng, and there were rumors that he was being pressured by Communist Party officials to testify against his brother. But it appears that the multimillionaire businessman, who owns several properties in the US, was able to flee China and is now in an undisclosed location on US soil. The New York Times, who tried to locate Ling earlier this week, spoke to unnamed American officials, who confirmed that he had indeed fled China and was in the US. The officials refused to confirm that Ling had applied for asylum. But they said that, if he did defect to America, Ling “could become one of the most damaging defectors in the history of the People’s Republic”, due to his political connections.

The Times added that Beijing had contacted the White House requesting that Ling be extradited to China. But the administration of US President Barack Obama appears unwilling to satisfy the Chinese government’s request, given that Chinese hackers are believed to be responsible for the recent theft of up to 24 million American government workers’ personal data.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 August 2015 | Permalink