Miami police arrest Panama’s ex-president on charges of wiretapping

Ricardo MartinelliPolice in the United States have arrested Panama’s former president Ricardo Martinelli, who is wanted in the Central American country on charges of using state resources to spy on his political opponents and business rivals. The center-right US-educated businessman won the 2009 presidential election in the country with a landslide, receiving over 60 percent of the national vote. His election prompted positive comments from Washington, because it marked a rare ascent to power of a conservative Latin American leader in a sea of socialist heads of state. But the euphoria did not last long. In 2014, Martinelli was succeeded in the presidency by his Vice President, Juan Carlos Varela. Varela promptly launched nearly 200 criminal investigations against his former political partner on issues ranging from embezzlement of state funds to political espionage.

Martinelli is now accused of embezzling $45 million in funds that should have been allocated to a government-run school lunch program for children of disadvantaged families. According to Panamanian prosecutors, Martinelli diverted $13 million of these funds to launch a secret wiretapping program that targeted some of his main political opponents and business rivals. Some of the individuals allegedly targeted in the secret surveillance program were senior members of Martinelli’s own Party of Democratic Change, Supreme Court judges, lawyers, journalists and union activists. The government of Panama also claims that Martinelli wiretapped the telephones of his business rivals, as well as their family members and mistresses.

It appears that Martinelli’s allies within the Panamanian government notified him early on that corruption investigations would be launched against him. This would explain why the former political strongman was able to flee the country days before these investigations were officially launched. Since January 2015, Martinelli has lived in Florida. In 2016, the government of Panama issued an arrest warrant against Martinelli. It also notified the international police agency, Interpol. Last month, Interpol circulated a ‘red notice’, an official alert notifying its counterparts around the world of a wanted individual. On Tuesday, US Marshals arrested Martinelli at his home in the city of Coral Gables in Florida, in response to the red notice issued by Interpol.

Speaking to reporters in Miami on Tuesday, Martinelli’s legal team questioned the timing of the Panamanian government’s arrest warrant, claiming that it came soon after the former president announced he would be running again for office. But the office of Adam S. Fels, the assistant US attorney who ordered Martinelli’s arrest, said that the US intended to fulfill its treaty obligations with the government of Panama. Martinelli is currently in prison in Miami and is expected to remain there until his preliminary court date on June 20.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 June 2017 | Permalink

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Mystery compound in Nicaragua shows Russia’s resurgence in Americas, say experts

GLONASS ManaguaA Russian facility built on a hillside facing the United States embassy in the Nicaraguan capital Managua is seen by some experts as symptomatic of Russia’s renewed presence in the Americas. The official Russian explanation for the heavily protected facility, which is surrounded by high walls, is that it is meant to operate as a tracking station for GLONASS, Russia’s version of the global positioning system (GPS). The Russians do not use GPS, because it is owned by the US government and operated by the US Air Force. But some believe that only part of the compound is dedicated to GLONASS activities, and that a major portion is a Russian listening base that sweeps US communications from throughout the region.

Nicaragua has a long Cold War legacy that culminated in the 1980s. In 1979, a leftist insurgency toppled the country’s longtime dictator, Anastazio Somoza. The rebels, who called themselves the Sandinista National Liberation Front (known widely as the Sandinistas), alarmed the government of US President Ronald Reagan. Consequently, the White House authorized a series of covert operations against Nicaragua’s leftist government. They centered on the Contras, an anti-communist counter-insurgency that was largely funded by Washington throughout the so-called Contra war that dominated the country’s politics in the 1980s. But the war also affected politics in the US, and almost toppled the Reagan administration when the Iran-Contra affair (illegal arms sales to Iran by the US government, which then used the proceeds to secretly fund the Contras) was revealed in the media.

In an article published last week, The Washington Post reported that, under the Presidency of Vladimir Putin, Russia has reemerged as a force in Latin American politics. Moscow now regularly supplies weapons to several countries in the hemisphere, including Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and Venezuela. It has also expanded its influence through the banking sector and via government loans in countries such as Brazil and Mexico. But Nicaragua, says The Post, has emerged as Russia’s closest ally in the region. For over a decade, the country’s political landscape has been dominated by the Sandinistas, who returned to power in 2006 and continue to govern the country today. The party was supported by the Soviet Union during the Cold War and thus retains strong historical links with Moscow. The Post reports that, according to some analysts, Russia seeks to cement its presence in America’s traditional backyard as a form of response to the eastward expansion of the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 April 2017 | Permalink

Peru crisis deepens as prime minister is ousted over spy scandal

Ollanta Humala and Ana JaraBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
For the first time in 50 years, the Peruvian Congress has voted to depose the nation’s prime minister, following allegations of espionage against opposition figures by the country’s intelligence agency. Prime Minister Ana Jara assumed office less than a year ago, after being asked to form a government by Peru’s embattled President, Ollanta Humala. Although her government faced sustained criticism from opposition forces almost from the very beginning, critics began calling for her immediate resignation on March 19, when allegations of politically motivated espionage surfaced in the national press. Peru’s leading weekly, Correo Semanal, said it had uncovered systematic spying by Peru’s National Intelligence Directorate (DINI) against law-abiding citizens who had voiced disagreements with the government. The paper alleged that DINI had for years gathered information on dozens of opposition politicians, military leaders and their families, business executives, as well as journalists known to be critical of government policies.

The revelations prompted a swift reorganization of DINI’s upper echelons on orders of the prime minister. But members of Congress said the restructuring of the intelligence agency had been an attempt by Prime Minister Jara to pacify her critics and called for her ouster. In a barrage of editorials in the Peruvian press, opposition figures accused the prime minister of failing to control the country’s unruly and corrupt intelligence community, whose controversial history is marred by excesses during and after the Cold War.

Late on Monday evening, the Peruvian Congress voted by 72 to 42 and two abstentions to unseat the prime minister. She will now have to tend her resignation to the president within 72 hours of losing Monday’s confidence vote. Presidnet Humala will then seek to form a government under a new prime minister, the eighth in his four years in power. The outgoing prime minster, meanwhile, accused Congress of treating her as a scapegoat and blasted the opposition for politicizing the issue of domestic espionage. In a message posted on her personal Twitter account, Jara said it was “an honor” for her to have been censured “by this Congress”.

News you may have missed #675

Maria del Pilar HurtadoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Panama refuses to extradite Colombian ex-spy chief. Panama’s foreign ministry cited the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, an international accord on asylum and Panamanian law, as reason for denying Colombia’s request to extradite Maria del Pilar Hurtado, who faces charges in Bogota over an illegal wiretapping scandal. Currently enjoying asylum in Panama are former presidents of Guatemala, Jorge Serrano Elias; and Ecuador, Abdala Bucaram; as well as erstwhile Haitian military strongman Raoul Cedras.
►►Russian spy chief to visit Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday he and Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) head Mikhail Fradkov will visit Syria and meet with President Bashar al-Assad on February 7. The visit will be made on instructions from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Lavrov did not reveal any details of the upcoming the visit.
►►US spy chief: ‘we don’t know if Iran is building a bomb’. At a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last Tuesday, James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence, released the following statement: “We assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so.  We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons”.

News you may have missed #654

Abdel Hakim Belhaj►►Libyan military commander sues British intelligence. Just as he said he would, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who commands the new Libyan military forces in Tripoli, has sued Britain for its role in his rendition into imprisonment and torture at the hands of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. He said he resorted to legal action after waiting in vain for the British government to offer an apology for his seven years spent in the jails of the secret police.
►►Argentine Admiral fired over espionage scandal. The head of the Argentine Navy, Admiral Jorge Godoy, has stepped down after being accused of illegal espionage. He has been indicted for alleged practices of “domestic intelligence” –which are prohibited by Argentina’s laws– against political leaders and of human rights activists, in the years between 2003 and 2006.
►►US intelligence warned of strive after US Iraq pullout. This is what Reuters news agency reports, citing anonymous sources inside the US government. Then again, US intelligence agencies warned in 2002 of increasing strife in case of a US invasion in Iraq, and nobody in government listened to them. So why would anyone listen to them now?

Colombian ex-spy chief gets 25 years for aiding death squads

Jorge Noguera

Jorge Noguera

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In a continent dominated by leftwing governments, Colombia is one of Washington’s few remaining allies. It is therefore unfortunate that the US-supported conservative government of Álvaro Uribe, which ruled Colombia from 2002 to 2010, has been one of the most corrupt regimes in recent Latin American history. The disgraced Colombian Administrative Department of Security (DAS) appears to have been the cornerstone in the Uribe administration’s corruption complex. Last Wednesday, Colombia’s Supreme Court convicted Jorge Noguera, Director of DAS from 2002 to 2005, to 25 years in prison, for systematically collaborating with illegal far-right death-squads. Noguera’s conviction was based on evidence recovered from the computer of a former death-squad commander, which led to a revealing testimony from former DAS director of information technology, Rafael Garcia. According to Garcia, Noguera routinely provided rightwing paramilitaries with lists of leftist politicians and activists, labor union leaders, and even journalists, who were then targeted for intimidation, blackmail or —in several instances— assassination. One such murdered victim was the late Dr Alfredo Correa de Andreis, who was shot by a death-squad in 2004. The court ordered Noguera to pay Professor Correa’s family nearly US$100,000 in restitution fees, as well as another US$2 million to the state for illegally destroying and expropriating confidential government documents. It is worth noting that at least one of Noguera’s predecessors, Miguel Maza Marquez, who directed DAS in the late 1980s, turned himself in to the authorities in 2009, and is now facing charges of ordering the 1989 assassination of reformist Colombian presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán —a self-styled enemy of Colombia’s drug cartels. Noguera’s successor at DAS, Maria Pilar Hurtado, is also wanted for her part in a nationwide wiretapping scandal that targeted several of Uribe’s political opponents, as well as labor leaders, journalists and academics. Read more of this post

White House reinstalls visas for 2009 Honduran coup plotters

Manuel Zelaya

Manuel Zelaya

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
On June 26, 2009, a clandestine meeting of the Honduran Supreme Court issued a secret warrant for the arrest of the country’s democratically elected President, Manuel Zelaya. Less than 48 hours later, in the early hours of June 28, uniformed officers of the Honduran Army stormed the Presidential Palace in Tegucigalpa and arrested Zelaya. Shortly afterwards, the deposed President was placed on a plane and sent into enforced exile. It was the first coup d’état in the Central American country since 1978, and the first in Latin America in several years. The US administration of President Barack Obama almost immediately condemned the coup and halted American military aid to Honduras; but it failed to officially designate Zelaya’s ouster as a ‘military coup’, which would have required Washington to outlaw and terminate nearly all forms of government —and some private— aid to Honduras. In August, after several weeks of heavy criticism from Latin American governments, the Obama White House proceeded to “temporarily suspend” non-immigrant visas for over 1,000 Honduran military and civilian leaders, who had endorsed President Zelaya’s unconstitutional ouster. Many of whom had participated in the first post-coup government of former Speaker of the Honduran Congress, Roberto Micheletti. But a news report by the Associated Press suggests that Washington may now be quietly reinstating visas to Micheletti government officials, and that some of them are already travelling to and from the United States. The article quotes a “US embassy spokesperson”, who “spoke on condition of anonymity”, as saying that “the Department of State has determined that some of the Hondurans whose eligibility for visas was restricted following the June 2009 coup d’etat are again eligible to be considered for visas”. Read more of this post