Notorious Russian arms dealer ‘refused US offer for lighter sentence’

Viktor BoutThe wife of Viktor Bout, the imprisoned Russian arms dealer dubbed ‘the merchant of death’, said he rejected an offer by his American captors who asked him to testify against a senior Russian government official. Born in Soviet Tajikistan, Bout was a former translator for the Soviet military. After the end of the Cold War, he set up several low-profile international air transport companies and used them to transfer large shipments of weapons that fueled wars in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. He made millions in the process and acquired international notoriety, which inspired the Hollywood blockbuster Lord of War. But his business ventures ceased in 2008, when he was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand, by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, with the cooperation of the Royal Thai Police. He was eventually extradited to the US and given a 25-year prison term for supplying weapons to the Afghan Taliban, and for trying to sell arms to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Bout is currently serving his sentence at the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center in New York.

In a newspaper interview on Tuesday, Bout’s wife, Alla Bout, said her husband could have gotten away with a considerably lighter sentence had he agreed to testify against a senior Russian government official. Speaking to Moscow-based daily Izvestia, Alla Bout said her husband had been approached by American authorities after being extradited to the United States from Thailand. He was told that US authorities wanted him to testify against Igor Sechin, a powerful Russian government official, whom American prosecutors believed was Bout’s boss. In return for his testimony, US prosecutors allegedly promised a jail sentence that would not exceed two years, as well as political asylum for him and his family following his release from prison. Alla Bout added that her husband’s American lawyers were told by the prosecution that the ‘merchant of death’ “would be able to live in the US comfortably, along with his wife and daughter”, and that his family could stay in America during his trial “under conditions”. Alla Bout claimed she was told this by Bout himself and by members of his American legal team.

From 2008 to 2012, Sechin, who has military background, served as Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister. Today he heads the Board of Directors of Rosneft, a government-owned oil extraction and refinement company, which is considered one of the world’s most powerful business ventures. Many observers see Sechin as the most formidable man in Russia after Russian President Vladimir Putin. He is also believed to be a senior member of the Siloviki, a secretive group of government officials in the Putin government who have prior careers in national security or intelligence. Although Bout and Sechin have never acknowledged having met each other, some investigators of Bout’s weapons-trading activities believe that the two were close allies. It is believed that the two men first met in Angola and Mozambique in the 1980s, where they were stationed while serving in the Soviet military. But the two men deny they knowing each other. According to Alla Bout, Viktor told his American captors that he “never worked for Sechin and did not know him in person”. He therefore turned down the prosecution’s offer and was handed a 25-year sentence. When asked by the Izvestia reporters whether Bout was simply protecting the powerful Russian government official, Alla Bout insisted that the two “have never even met, not once”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 August 2016 | Permalink

Ex-Yugoslav spy testifies in German trial about 1983 murder of dissident

Josip Perkovic Zdravko MustacA former officer in the Cold-War-era Yugoslav intelligence service has begun testifying at a trial concerning the 1983 murder in Germany of a Yugoslav dissident by assassins sent by authorities in Belgrade. Stjepan Đureković, who was of Croatian nationality, defected from Yugoslavia to Germany in 1982, while he was director of Yugoslavia’s state-owned INA oil company. Upon his arrival in Germany, he was granted political asylum and began associating with Croatian nationalist émigré groups that were active in the country. He was killed on July 28, 1983, in Wolfratshausen, Bavaria. His killing was part of an operation codenamed DUNAV, which was conducted by the Yugoslav State Security Service, known by its Serbo-Croatian acronym, UDBA.

In 2009, following testimonies by several former UDBA agents, who were arrested in connection with the crime, the Office of the German Federal Prosecutor issued a European Arrest Warrant for Josip Perković, a former senior official in the UDBA. He is accused of having played a central role in organizing Đureković’s assassination. In 2014, Croatia, where Perković has been living since the demise of Yugoslavia, agreed to extradite Perković to Germany. The agreement materialized after heavy pressure was exercised on Croatia by the European Commission, after the country’s admission into the European Union.

Perković is now co-defendant in the trial taking place in Munich, along with another former UDBA intelligence official, Zdravko Mustać (see photo). Tuesday’s proceedings included testimony by another former UDBA man, Vinko Sindicić, who named both Perković and Mustać as direct accomplices in Đureković’s murder. Sindicić told the court that Perković was acting on orders to kill the German-based dissident, which came directly from the office of UDBA Director Zdravko Mustać. He added that Perković helped organize the logistics of Đureković’s assassination, including the location in Munich where the killing actually took place. Sindicić told the court that a female UDBA operative living in Munich was also involved in organizing the operation, and that the weapons used to kill Đureković had been secretly transported to Germany through Jadroagent, an international shipping and freight company based in Yugoslavia. During his testimony, which lasted for several hours, Sindicić claimed that the two men who carried out Đureković’s murder were UDBA assassins Branko Bijelić and Luka Sekula. The former died in 2004, but the latter still lives in Sweden and has yet to be extradited to Germany in connection with the murder trial.

It is worth noting that Sindicić spent a decade behind bars for his role in a failed attempt to kill another Yugoslav dissident émigré, Nikola Stedul, whom the UDBA tried to kill in the United Kingdom in 1988. Further charges against him were dropped in 2000, in a trial where he stood accused of complicity in the murder of yet another exiled Yugoslav dissident, Bruno Busić, who was killed in Paris in 1978. Both Perković and Mustać deny any involvement in Đureković’s assassination.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 July 2016 | Permalink

Chile will ask US to extradite three men wanted in killing of UN diplomat

Carmelo SoriaThe Supreme Court of Chile will request that the United States extradites three individuals, including an American former professional assassin, who are implicated in the kidnapping, torture and murder of a United Nations diplomat. Carmelo Soria was a Spanish diplomat with dual Chilean nationality, who in the early 1970s was employed in the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. In 1971, when the leftist Popular Unity party won Chile’s elections and became the nation’s governing coalition, Soria became an advisor to the country’s Marxist President, Salvador Allende. After the 1973 violent military coup, which killed Allende and overthrew his government, Soria used his diplomatic status to extend political asylum to a number of pro-Allende activists who were being hunted down by the new rightwing government of General August Pinochet.

Soria’s activities made him a target of the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA), Chile’s domestic security service, which was a leading implementer of Operation CONDOR, a widespread anti-communist program that began in 1968 with the participation of most Latin American governments. CONDOR, which ended in 1989, included psychological operations, kidnappings and assassinations that targeted leftwing organizations and activists. On July 14, 1976, Soria, who had by then resumed his previous UN post, was kidnapped by agents of the DINA. He was tortured and murdered under detention. His body was found on July 16 inside a car that had been dumped in a river in Santiago de Chile. The Pinochet government refused to investigate the incident, saying that Soria had been driving under the influence of alcohol.

Last Tuesday, however, after an investigation that dates back to 1991, the Supreme Court of Chile said that an extradition request will be sent to the United States for three individuals who were allegedly directly implicated in the murder of Soria. They are: Michael Townley, a US citizen; Armando Fernandez Larios, of Chile; and Cuban Virgilio Pablo Paz Romero, all of whom were agents of DINA at the time of Soria’s murder. Townley is a former professional assassin who was hired by DINA for a series of murders. In 1978, a US court convicted him for his participation in the assassination of Orlando Letelier, former Chilean ambassador to the US, who was killed in 1976, when his car exploded in Washington, DC. Since his release from prison, Townley has been living in the US under the Witness Protection Program.

Larios, a Chilean national, was also convicted of being “an accessory after the fact” in the Letelier assassination and is also living in the US, having struck a plea bargain with Washington. The third individual, Paz Romero, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 1991, after admitting that he personally detonated the remote-controlled car bomb that killed Leteler. He was paroled after serving half of his sentence and was ordered to be deported to his home country of Cuba. However, due to the absence of a bilateral deportation agreement between Washington and Havana, Romero remained in the indefinite custody of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service. In 2001, the US Supreme Court ruled that indefinite detentions were unconstitutional, so Romero was released and has been living freely in the US since that time.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 May 2016 | Permalink | News tip: R.W.

Portuguese appeals court orders extradition of ex-CIA officer to Italy

Sabrina De SousaAn appeals court in Portugal has ruled that a former officer of the Central Intelligence Agency is to be extradited to Italy, where she faces charges of helping kidnap a man as part of a secret operation sponsored by the United States government. Sabrina De Sousa, 59, was an accredited diplomat stationed at the US consulate in Milan, Italy, in 2003, when a CIA team kidnapped Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from a Milan street in broad daylight. Nasr, who goes by the nickname Abu Omar, is a former member of Egyptian militant group al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and was believed by the CIA to have links to al-Qaeda. Soon after his abduction, Nasr was renditioned to Egypt, where he says he was brutally tortured, raped, and held illegally for years before being released without charge.

Upon Nasr’s release from prison, Italian authorities prosecuted the CIA team that abducted him. They were able to trace the American operatives through the substantial trail of evidence that they left behind, including telephone records and bill invoices in luxury hotels in Milan and elsewhere. In 2009, De Sousa was among 22 CIA officers convicted in absentia in an Italian court for their alleged involvement in Nasr’s abduction. Since the convictions were announced, the US government has not signaled a desire to extradite those convicted to Italy to serve prison sentences. However, those convicted are now classified as international fugitives and risk arrest by Interpol and other law enforcement agencies, upon exiting US territory.

De Sousa was arrested at the Portela Airport in Lisbon, Portugal, in October of last year. She spent two nights in jail before being released. However, her passport was seized by Portuguese authorities until they decided whether to extradite her to Italy to face her conviction. After a decision was made to extradite De Sousa, her lawyers filed an appeal. Last week, however, her appeal was denied, which means that she is to be extradited after May 4. It appears that De Sousa will now have to travel to Italy in order to be given official notice of her conviction, as well as the sentence, according to European legal conventions. Following that, she will probably have to return to Portugal to serve her sentence. Her lawyer said, however, that De Sousa plans to challenge her conviction at the Supreme Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest court of appeal.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 April 2016 | Permalink


Portugal court rules to extradite ex-CIA officer wanted in Italy for kidnapping

Sabrina De SousaA court in Portugal has ruled to extradite a former officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency to Italy, where she faces charges of kidnapping a man as part of a secret operation. Sabrina De Sousa, 59, was an accredited diplomat stationed at the US consulate in Milan, Italy, in 2003, when a CIA team kidnapped Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from a Milan street in broad daylight. Nasr, who goes by the nickname Abu Omar, is a former member of Egyptian militant group al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and was believed by the CIA to have links to al-Qaeda. Soon after his abduction, Nasr was renditioned to Egypt, where he says he was brutally tortured, raped, and held illegally for years before being released without charge.

Upon Nasr’s release from prison, Italian authorities prosecuted the CIA team that abducted him. They were able to trace the American operatives through the substantial trail of evidence that they left behind, including telephone records and bill invoices in luxury hotels in Milan and elsewhere. In 2009, De Sousa was among 22 CIA officers convicted in absentia in an Italian court for their alleged involvement in Nasr’s abduction. Since the convictions were announced, the US government has not signaled a desire to extradite those convicted to Italy to serve prison sentences. However, those convicted are now classified as international fugitives and risk arrest by Interpol and other law enforcement agencies, upon exiting US territory.

De Sousa was arrested at the Portela Airport in Lisbon, Portugal, in October of last year. She spent two nights in jail before being released. However, her passport was seized by Portuguese authorities until they decided whether to extradite her to Italy to face her conviction. The Reuters news agency said on Friday that De Sousa would “be surrendered to Italian authorities” so that she could be informed of the Italian court’s decision to convict her in 2009. The news agency was reportedly told by a Portuguese court official that De Sousa would have to travel to Italy in order to be given official notice of her conviction, as well as the sentence, according to European legal conventions. Following that, she would have to return to Portugal to serve her sentence. Her lawyer said, however, that De Sousa planned to challenge her conviction at the Supreme Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest court of appeal.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 January 2016 | Permalink

Portugal detains ex-CIA operative wanted for 2003 kidnapping

Sabrina De SousaA former officer in the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who is wanted by Italian authorities for her alleged role in the abduction and rendition of a suspected Islamist militant in Italy, has been arrested by police in Portugal. Sabrina De Sousa, 59, was an accredited diplomat stationed at the US consulate in Milan, Italy, when a CIA team kidnapped Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from a Milan street in broad daylight. Nasr, who goes by the nickname Abu Omar, is a former member of Egyptian militant group al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and was believed by the CIA to have links to al-Qaeda. Soon after his abduction, Nasr was renditioned to Egypt, where he says he was brutally tortured and raped, and held illegally for years before being released without charge.

Upon Nasr’s release from prison, Italian authorities prosecuted the CIA team that abducted him. They were able to trace the American operatives through the substantial trail of evidence that they left behind, including telephone records and bill invoices in luxury hotels in Milan and elsewhere. In 2009, De Sousa was among 22 CIA officers convicted in absentia in an Italian court for their alleged involvement in Nasr’s abduction. Since the convictions were announced, the US government has not signaled a desire to extradite those convicted to Italy to serve prison sentences. However, those convicted are now classified as international fugitives and risk arrest by Interpol and other law enforcement agencies, upon exiting US territory.

According to The Associated Press, Vice News and Newsweek, De Sousa was arrested at the Portela Airport in Lisbon, Portugal, on Monday. She is believed to have spent two nights in jail before being released on Wednesday. However, De Sousa’s passport was seized by Portuguese authorities, who are now trying to decide whether to extradite her to Italy to face charges for helping kidnap Nasr in 2003, and for failing to appear in court in 2009. Shortly after her conviction, De Sousa told American media that the CIA operation against Nasr in Italy “broke the law”, but had been authorized by the leadership of the CIA. The latter, she said, “abandoned and betrayed” those who carried out Nasr’s abduction, leaving them “to fend for themselves”.

In 2013, another convicted CIA operative, Robert Seldon Lady, who is believed to have been the CIA’s station chief in Milan at the time of Nasr’s kidnapping, was detained while attempting to enter Panama from Costa Rica at a remote jungle border-crossing. Costa Rican authorities said later that “a check on his passport [had] triggered an INTERPOL alert”. However, he was released a day later. According to the Panamanian foreign ministry, Lady was released because “Panama did not have an extradition treaty with Italy and because documentation sent by Italian officials was insufficient”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 October 2015 | Permalink

Rwandan ex-spy chief freed after UK court refuses to extradite him to Spain

Karenzi KarakeA Rwandan former intelligence chief, whose legal team is led by the wife of British former Prime Minister Tony Blair, has been freed after a court in the United Kingdom refused to extradite him to Spain to face war crimes charges. General Emmanuel Karenzi Karake, 54, was the most senior intelligence official in the administration of Rwandan President Paul Kagame. He rose to fame as a commander in the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), an armed rebel group from Rwanda’s minority Tutsi tribe that fought to end the genocide inflicted upon the Tutsis by their rival Hutus. In 1994, following the death of nearly a million people, the RPF took power in Rwanda and ended the slaughter. That accomplishment caused a rapid upsurge in the popularity of Karake and other senior RPF leaders. Karake’s popularity remains strong among the Tutsis despite his dramatic falling-out with Kagame in 2010, which led to the general’s dismissal from the government.

Critics, including groups like Human Rights Watch, have accused the Kagame government of instigating mass reprisals after assuming power in Rwanda, including mass murders of Hutus and other tribal members. In 2008, the Spanish government issued an arrest warrant for Karake, accusing him of having participated in “crimes of terrorism” and “war crimes” directed against civilians. Of particular interest to the Spanish authorities was Karake’s alleged participation in the 1997 killing of three Spanish citizens, who were in Rwanda as part of an outreach effort by Spanish medical charity Médicos del Mundo. The former RPF intelligence chief is also accused of having authorized the killing of six more Spanish citizens in Rwanda in the mid-1990s.

Karake was arrested in late June at London’s Heathrow International Airport on a European Arrest Warrant stemming from the Spanish indictment. Shortly afterwards he was granted bail pending extradition proceedings. But the case was dismissed on Monday, following an early morning hearing at the Westminster Magistrates Court in the British capital. According to the British Crown Prosecution Service, the Spanish extradition request was thrown out because the law did not permit UK authorities to hear offences committed abroad by non-British nationals. Karake was then able to leave the court, cheered by many of his supporters who were demonstrating outside.

It is worth pointing out that the Rwandan general was represented in Britain by an international law firm called Omnia Strategy, which was founded by Cherie Blair, wife of British former Prime Minister Tony Blair. It has been reported that Mrs Blair also led General Karake’s legal team in London.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 August 2015 | Permalink