Malaysia charges senior intelligence officials with stealing government funds

Azam Baki MalaysiaEight senior officials of Malaysia’s external intelligence agency, including its former director, have been arrested, allegedly for stealing over $16 million from government coffers. The arrests represent a dramatic widening of the anti-corruption campaign that has gripped the Asian nation of 31 million since it was launched in May of this year. The campaign is led by a special task force within the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). The task force was set up by Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, with the aim of probing the so-called 1MDB scandal. The acronym refers to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a government-owned strategic development company spearheaded by Malaysia’s then Prime Minister, Dato Sri Najib Razak, with the aim of raising funds to match foreign direct investment in the country.

However, in 2015 opposition politicians began to allege that hundreds of millions of dollars had gone missing from the fund. In May 2018, when Malaysia’s current prime minister took office, the MACC launched a nationwide investigation into the allegations. Meanwhile, Western governments, including the United States, alleged that several billions in 1MDB funds invested from abroad were stolen and used to purchase a superyacht, private airplanes and other luxury items, such as jewelry, clothing and fine art. By August, the 1MDB probe had turned into the largest corruption investigation in Malaysia’s history. On August 6, former Prime Minister Najib Razak was charged with several counts of money laundering and was barred from leaving the country.

On Thursday, MACC’s Operations Commissioner, Azam Baki said at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur that police had arrested eight current and former member of the Malaysian External Intelligence Organization (MEIO). The eight included officials, case officers, and the agency’s former Director, Hasanah Abdul Hamid, said Baki. He added that during the arrests police seized over $6 million in cash and luxury items from several locations, including from MEIO’s headquarters in Putrajaya, Malaysia’s administrative center located 25 miles south of Kuala Lumpur. A ninth person, an unnamed Malaysian businessman who lives in London, had also been arrested, said the MACC official. According to a government press release, the eight current and former members of MEIO are connected to a transfer of $16 million from the 1MDB fund to private bank accounts in Malaysia and abroad. All eight have denied the charges through their lawyers.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 August 2018 | Permalink

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Radioactive device goes missing in Malaysia, prompting security fears

Malaysia’s Atomic Energy Licensing BoardA highly radioactive device used by an energy company has gone missing in Malaysia, sparking a nationwide emergency for fear that it might have been stolen by a militant group. According to Malaysia’s Straits Times newspaper, a radioactive dispersal device (RDD), which is used for the industrial radiography of oil and gas supplies, disappeared during transit on August 10. The device, which weighs approximately 50 pounds, or 23 kilograms, disappeared from the back of a company truck in the early hours of the morning while it was being transported by two technicians. They were reportedly transporting the RDD from Kuala Lumpur to Seremban, an industrial town with a population of approximately 600,000, located 40 miles south of the Malaysian capital.

The technicians told the police that they placed the RDD onto the back of a company truck for the routine transport, at approximately 2:00 a.m. Upon arriving in Seremban at 3:00 a.m. that night, they realized that the device had “simply disappeared” from the truck. The Straits Times said that both men were immediately arrested, but were released last Friday, August 17, after the authorities determined that they were not implicated in sabotaging or stealing the radioactive device. On Monday, August 20, the Reuters news agency contacted Mazlan Mansor, police chief of Selangor, the federal province that includes both Kuala Lumpur and Seremban. He told the news agency that “yes, there is a report and we are investigating”. However, he refused to elaborate on the missing RDD, according to Reuters.

A major question regarding the missing device concerns the amount of iridium that is inside it. Iridium is a radioactive substance that is used for the non-destructive testing (known as industrial radiography) of oil and gas supplies. Some experts have expressed concerns that the radioactive substance inside the missing RDD could be combined with conventional explosives and be used as a ‘dirty bomb’ in order to contaminate a highly populated area with radiation. The New Straits Times quoted an unnamed official at Malaysia’s Atomic Energy Licensing Board as saying that the RDD “cannot fall into the wrong hands, as the consequences can be deadly”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 July 2018 | Research credit: A.G.B. | Permalink

Did North Korean leader’s brother meet with a US spy before he was assassinated?

Kim Jong-nam murderThe exiled half-brother of North Korea’s leader, who was assassinated in Malaysia in February, is thought to have met with a man believed to be an American intelligence officer shortly before he was killed, according to reports. Kim Jong-nam the grandson of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-Sung, died after two women approached him at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and splashed his face with liquid poison on February 13 of this year. Kim was about to board a flight to Macau, where he had been living in self-exile with his family since 2007. His relations with his brother, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, and the regime in Pyongyang, were adversarial, and some suggest that he had survived at least one assassination attempt in the past.

According to Malaysian investigators, who have been probing Kim’s murder, the estranged half-brother of the North Korean dictator arrived in Kuala Lumpur from Macau on February 6, a week before he was killed there. Two days later, on February 8, he traveled to Langkawi, a resort island in the Andaman Sea, located 20 miles from Malaysia’s mainland coast, near the Thai border. According to the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, a day after his arrival at Langkawi, Kim met with a man believed by Malaysian authorities to be in the employment of American intelligence. The man, who has not been named, is reportedly middle-aged, Korean-American with United States citizenship, and lives in Bangkok. The Osaka-based paper said that Malaysian police have accessed footage from the Langkawi hotel’s security cameras, which show Kim and the American man enter a hotel suite and staying there for nearly two hours before departing.

The newspaper further claims that Malaysian counterintelligence has been tracking the American man each time he has entered Malaysia from Thailand for quite some time, believing him to be a case officer. It is also thought that Kim had met the same man in Malaysia “several times in the past”, said Asahi Shimbun. The paper further states that Malaysian investigators believe the meeting between Kim and the American man was the reason behind North Korea’s decision to kill him. The American man reportedly left Malaysia on February 13, the same day Kim was assassinated in Kuala Lumpur.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 May 2017 | Permalink

Malaysia assassination highlights North Korea’s network of front companies

North KoreaThe sensational assassination of Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, on February 13, revealed much about the current operational mindset of Pyongyang. But it also brought to light the shady network of front companies set up by the North Korean regime to facilitate the country’s illicit financial activities around the world. This extensive network permits Pyongyang to evade international sanctions against it, and to coordinate the activities of hundreds of clandestine operatives around the world. Through these activities, the reclusive country has been able to develop its weapons of mass destruction program unabated, despite concerted efforts by the United Nations to prevent it from doing so.

Writing for Forbes, Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea Studies and director of the program on US-Korea Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, notes that the UN has for many years employed sanctions to “block international financial and material support for North Korean nuclear and missile development efforts”. But now the UN’s own experts have concluded that Pyongyang has been able to evade these sanctions so skillfully that it has “largely eviscerated the intent and impact of UN sanctions resolutions”. How has it done so? Mostly through a network of countries that routinely turn a blind eye to North Korea’s illicit activities. These include several countries in the Middle East, as well as Singapore, China, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Pyongyang maintains an extensive network of front companies in these countries, says Snyder, with the main purpose of enabling it to evade international sanctions against it.

Malaysia has been a primary hub of North Korean illicit activity. In that, Pyongyang has been crucially assisted by the fact that —until last week— North Korean citizens could travel to Malaysia without entry visas. Malaysia thus provides a useful base for dozens of North Korean front companies, such as Glocom, which ostensibly markets radio communications equipment, or Pan Systems Pyongyang, which just happens to trade in exactly the kind of commercial items that could be described as “dual-use goods” in UN sanctions resolutions. Pan Systems is connected to several Malaysian-based subsidiaries, including International Global Systems and International Golden Services, which, according to investigators, are operated by North Korean intelligence.

Many of these companies also serve as exporting and importing hubs for Pyongyang. In the last five years, several ships have been intercepted while carrying illicit cargo dispatched from North Korea or destined for the reclusive state. In one such instance in 2013, the Jie Shun, a Cambodian-registered ship with a North Korean crew, was found to be carrying over 30,000 rocket propelled grenades hidden under thousands of tons of iron ore. The shipment was intended for an “undisclosed Middle Eastern destination”, says Snyder and was traced to a firm called “Dalian Haoda Petroleum Chemical Company Ltd.”. Many of these mysterious firms are headquartered in China, registered in Hong Kong, but actually work on behalf of North Korea, often using banking facilities in Europe and the United States to conduct financial transactions.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 March 2017 | Permalink

Indonesia to investigate North Korean restaurant reportedly used as spy base

Pyongyang Restaurant in Jakarta, IndonesiaIndonesian authorities said on Sunday that they will investigate a North Korean restaurant in the country, after a Singaporean news agency claimed it was being used as a center for espionage. The announcement comes amidst heightened tensions between North Korean and its neighbors, following the murder last week in Malaysia of Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il. Kim, the grandson of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-Sung, died after two women approached him at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and splashed his face with liquid poison. Sources in South Korea and the United States have pointed at Pyongyang as the culprit of the assassination.

On Friday of last week, the Singapore-based news agency Asia One published a lengthy report into alleged North Korean espionage operations in Southeast Asia. The report claimed that North Korean intelligence agencies have operated extensive networks of operatives in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, and that these networks have operated unimpeded for over two decades. The news agency cited an unnamed “intelligence source” as saying that the spy networks are operated by North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB). The RGB is in charge of special activities abroad, which include covert operations and intelligence collection involving espionage. It operates under the Ministry of State Security and answers directly to North Korea’s supreme leader.

According to Asia One, the RGB maintains some of its largest spy networks abroad in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, where Kim Jong-nam met a gruesome death last week. RGB personnel operating in these countries are North Korean citizens who are employed in the construction sector, as well as the tourism industry. Some operate North Korean restaurants, which are popular tourist attractions across Southeast Asia. The unnamed intelligence source told Asia One that North Korean restaurants serve “as a main front to conduct intelligence gathering and surveillance [against] Japanese and South Korean politicians, diplomats, top corporate figures and businessmen”. The RGB’s network in Indonesia is based in textile factories located in several Indonesian cities, said Asia One. There is also “an apartment located above a North Korean restaurant in [the Indonesian capital] Jakarta that is part of the RGB Indonesia office”, according to the report.

Following the news agency’s allegations, Argo Yuwono, senior commander for the Indonesian National Police, said that an investigation would take place into Asia One’s allegations. He said that his detectives would coordinate their activities with the Indonesian Foreign Ministry before moving ahead with the probe.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 February 2017 | Permalink

Two women arrested for assassinating North Korean leader’s half-brother

Kim Jong-namTwo women have been arrested in the past 48 hours in connection with the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of North Korea’s supreme leader, who died in Malaysia on Monday. Kim, the grandson of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-Sung, died after two women approached him at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and splashed his face with liquid poison. Some reports suggest that he was injected with a poisoned needle. According to Malaysian media, Kim was about to board a flight to Macau, where he had been living in self-exile since 2007. His relations with his brother, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, and the regime in Pyongyang, were adversarial, and some suggest that he had survived at least one assassination attempt in the past.

On Wednesday, Malaysian authorities announced the arrest of a woman carrying a Vietnamese travel document, which identified her as Doan Thi Huong (also reported as Doan Thin Hoang). No elaboration was offered on whether the travel document is genuine or forged. The 28-year-old woman is believed to have been arrested at the same airport where Kim’s assassination took place. Apparently she returned there by herself on Wednesday to catch an outbound flight to Vietnam, but was recognized by security personnel through the airport’s closed-circuit television monitoring system. Another woman, carrying an Indonesian passport, was arrested on Thursday in connection with the assassination, but no information was released about her. Some reports in the Malaysian media suggested that the second woman had been observed wandering around the Kuala Lumpur International Airport immediately following Kim’s assassination. It is believed that her co-conspirators inadvertently left her behind as they escaped the scene of the crime. Malaysian police said they also arrested a taxi driver who transported the women to the airport on the morning of the assassination. Four males, who are also believed to have helped organize the attack, remain at large.

Meanwhile South Korean and American government sources told news agencies that the assassins are thought to be agents of the North Korean government. Malaysian media said that senior North Korean diplomats were dispatched to Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday and held lengthy meetings with Malaysian government officials. Reports suggest that Pyongyang exercised pressure on Malaysian officials to cancel a planned post mortem examination of Kim’s body. But the request was allegedly denied. Malaysian officials did not respond to queries about whether Kim’s body will be handed to North Korea or flown to China for burial.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 February 2017 | Permalink

North Korean leader’s half-brother killed by female assassins in Malaysia

DPRK assassinThe half-brother of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has been killed in an audacious attack in Malaysia, reportedly by two female assassins who used a poisonous substance to murder him. Kim Jong-nam, was the eldest son of Kim Jong-il, and grandson of Kim Il-Sung, who founded the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1948. However, he left the country in 2007, reportedly after it became clear that his younger half-brother, Kim Jong-un, was the regime’s preferred successor to his father, Kim Jong-il.

Since that time, it is believed that the self-exiled Kim split his time between Singapore and China, and that he had a residence in the former Portuguese colony of Macau. It is also believed that he employed a variety of passports, including South Korean, Portuguese and Swiss, some of which were reputed to be forgeries. Even though Kim kept a relatively low profile in the past decade, relations between him and the North Korean regime were adversarial. He made occasional comments to the press that were critical of the government in Pyongyang, and at times criticized his half-brother’s character and actions. Intelligence sources in South Korea claimed that the DPRK tried to kill him at least once in the past.

It appears that Pyongyang may have finally managed to kill Kim on Monday morning, at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia’s main international flight hub and one of Southeast Asia’s largest. The attack is believed to have taken place at 9:00 a.m. at the airport’s economy class terminal, where Kim was waiting to board a 10:00 a.m. flight to Macau. According to Malaysian news media, Kim was approached by two women, one of whom attacked him from behind. The female suspect reportedly covered Kim’s face with a “cloth laced with a poisonous liquid” that burned his eyes. A frantic Kim managed to run away and alert an airport employee, who called an ambulance. According to police, the victim told paramedics that someone had grabbed him from behind and “splashed a burning liquid on his face”. Some reports claimed that Kim was attacked with a poisonous needle or acid spray. According to Malaysian police spokesman Fadzil Ahmat, the grandson of North Korea’s founder expired on the way to a nearby hospital.

It was later confirmed that, at the time of his death, Kim was using a North Korean passport issued under the name “Kim Chol” and giving his date of birth as June 10, 1970. However, the travel document is believed to have been forged. Malaysian authorities said on Tuesday they had been unable to identify the suspects, but that an investigation was ongoing. Early on Wednesday, Malaysian authorities released CCTV footage of one of the suspects (pictured). Meanwhile, Kim’s body has been subjected to an autopsy, but the results remain unavailable. South Korean authorities told the Reuters news agency that Kim had been killed by assassins working for the North Korean government.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 February 2017 | Permalink