Probe uncovers massive $3 billion secret bribe fund in Azerbaijan

Ilham AliyevAn investigation by a consortium of European newspapers has uncovered details of a massive slush fund worth nearly $3 billion, which was allegedly used by Azerbaijan’s governing elite to bribe officials, business leaders and journalists at home and abroad. The fund was operated out of Baku, the capital of the former Soviet state, which is routinely accused of human-rights abuses. Western countries, including the United States, censure the government of the oil-rich state for its role in systematic abuses. These involve high levels of public- and private-sector corruption, vote-rigging, politically motivated disappearances, and wide curtailment of basic civil liberties. This new information is bound to add to Azerbaijan’s image as a secretive oil-rich state ruled by corrupt elite connected to the country’s President, Ilham Aliyev, and his family.

The existence of the slush fund was revealed by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an international investigative consortium. The OCCRP’s report was published in Tuesday, following a lengthy investigation by members of 17 European news media, including publications in the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Denmark and Belgium. The report states that the fund, which it nicknames “the Azerbaijani Laundromat”, was operational for over two years, from 2012 to 2014. During that time, it participated in “over 13,000 transactions”, many of which were carried out through companies based in the United Kingdom but registered in the British Virgin Islands, Belize and the Seychelles. Payments were processed by the Estonian branch of Danske Bank, a major European banking institution.

According to the OCCRP report, most of the fund’s recipients were politicians, business executives, reporters and other influential people in Western Europe, as well as Turkey and Central Asia. Other recipients included wealthy families in Azerbaijan, who used the funds to finance a luxurious lifestyle, according to the report. Some foreign recipients of the funds were politicians, journalists or lobbyists who have been vocal in supporting Azerbaijan’s government and its policies. Most of the funds are believed to have originated from Azerbaijani-based companies, primarily Baktelecom MMC. But Russian-based companies, including Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-operated exporter and importer of defense-related technologies, also contributed over $30 million to the slush fund.

Perhaps most controversially, the OCCRP report alleges that some of the secret slash funds originated from senior cabinet members in Azerbaijan, as well as some intelligence officials. It also states that investigators uncovered “ample evidence of [the fund’s] connection to the family of [Azerbaijan’s longtime] President Ilham Aliyev”. Late on Tuesday, a statement issued by President Aliyev’s office rejected the report as “baseless, malicious and […] provocative in nature”. More reactions to the OCCRP report are expected in the coming days.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 September 2017 | Permalink

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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

Analysis: The security implications of the Panama Papers

First Post HAside from their immediate shock value, the Panama Papers reveal the enormous extent of tax evasion on a worldwide scale. This unprecedented phenomenon is inextricably tied with broader trends in globalized finance-capitalism that directly threaten the very survival of the postwar welfare state. National intelligence agencies must begin to view offshore tax evasion as an existential threat to the security of organized government and need to augment their economic role as part of their overall mission to protect and secure law-abiding citizens.

THE BACKGROUND OF THE LEAK

The source of the Panama Papers leak —the largest in history— is apparently a single individual who contacted the widely respected German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung over a year ago. After receiving assurances that his or her anonymity would be safeguarded, the source proceeded to provide the paper with what eventually amounted to over 11.5 million files. They include company emails, banking transaction records, and files of clients that span the years 1977 to 2015. The source asked for no financial compensation or other form of reimbursement in return, saying only that he or she wanted to “make these crimes public”.

Faced with the largest data leak in recorded history, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reporters contacted the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which is the international arm of the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity. With ICIJ acting as an umbrella group, the German reporters were eventually joined by 370 journalists representing 100 news outlets from 76 Q Quotecountries. On Sunday, following a year-long analysis of the data, the reporting partners began publishing revelations from the Panama Papers, and say they will continue to do so for several days to come.

THE ROLE OF MOSSACK FONSECA

The documents are from the internal records of Mossack Fonseca, a law firm headquartered in Panama City, Panama, with offices in 42 countries. The company is one of the world’s most prolific registrars and administrators of shell companies in offshore locations. It has created more than 300,000 shell companies throughout its history, most of them in offshore tax havens like the British Virgin Islands, Cyprus, or Guernsey. Its clients are offered the ability to incorporate a generic-sounding company and headquarter it in an offshore tax haven. In exchange for an annual fee, Mossack Fonseca provides the company with a sham director and shareholders, thus concealing the true owner and actual beneficiary of the business.

The power of the leaked documents is that they reveal the actual owners of 214,000 offshore shell companies managed by Mossack Fonseca. The long list of names includes dozens of current and former heads of state, as well as hundreds of politicians, public figures and celebrities. Many of these individuals have failed to declare their earnings from their shell companies in their annual tax Q Quotestatements, which means they have not been paying taxes in their country of citizenship or residency. Thus, there are now thousands of Mossack Fonseca clients in over 100 countries who are preparing to face the legal consequences of tax evasion.

SECURITY IMPLICATIONS

Equally importantly, however, the leaked documents reveal that Mossack Fonseca’s clients appear to include at least 33 individuals and companies that are involved in organized crime or have close contacts with terrorist organizations. This sheds light on the increasingly disappearing line that once separated illicit activities such as tax avoidance and tax evasion, from money laundering, organized crime and terrorism. This phenomenon is assisted by unscrupulous companies like Mossack Fonseca, which act as anonymizing platforms for wealthy celebrities, criminals and terrorists alike.

The leak also shows the extent to which national governments have been unable to stem the tide of unfettered finance-capitalism, which today threatens the stability and cohesion of developed and developing economies alike. Moreover, the sheer scale of offshore capital funds, which, according to one expert, amount to as much as $32 trillion, threaten the economic security of nation states and must be viewed as an existential threat to the ability of states to fund public expenditures though taxation. The political arrangement that led to the creation of the postwar welfare state is today being directly threatened by the inability or unwillingness of organized states to monitor the largely unregulated flow of capital to offshore tax havens.

Today, entire economies, including much of southern Europe, the Balkans, as well as Latin America, are crumbling under the fiscal weight created by mass-scale tax evasion and organized crime. Organized criminals are now actively working closely with the banking sector, thus creating even more opportunities for money laundering and other financial illegality on an unprecedented scale. The Süddeutsche Zeitung revelations demonstrate that the line that separates legitimate economic activity from the rogue underbelly of global capitalism is exceedingly thin. It is high time that Western intelligence agencies viewed this worrying development as an asymmetrical threat against the security of law-abiding societies and began dealing with offshore tax havens with the same intensity that they have displayed against terrorist safe havens since 9/11.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 April 2016 | Permalink

Russian whistleblower who died in 2012 may have been poisoned

Aleksandr PerepilichnyA Russian businessman, who died in London while assisting a Swiss probe into a massive money-laundering scheme, may have been poisoned with a substance derived from a highly toxic plant, an inquest has heard. Aleksandr Perepilichny was an influential Moscow investment banker until he fled Russia in 2009, saying that his life had been threatened after a disagreement with his business partners. A few months later, having moved to an exclusive district in Surrey, south of London, Perepilichny began cooperating with Swiss authorities who were investigating a multi-million dollar money-laundering scheme involving senior Russian government officials. The scheme, uncovered by a hedge fund firm called Hermitage Capital Management (CMP), and described by some as the biggest tax fraud in Russian history, defrauded the Russian Treasury of at least $240 million. The case made international headlines in 2009, when one of its key figures, a CMP lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky, died in mysterious circumstances while being held in a Russian prison. After Magnitsky’s death, Perepilichny said he too had been warned in no uncertain terms that his name featured on a Russian mafia hit list.

On November 10, 2012, having just returned to his luxury Surrey home after a three-day trip to France, Perepilichny went out to jog. He was found dead later that evening, having collapsed in the middle of a side street near his house. He was 44. A postmortem examination by police concluded that he had died of natural causes and pointed to the strong possibility of a heart attack. However, lawyers representing the late businessman’s family told a pre-inquest hearing on Monday that, according to new medical evidence, Perepilichny stomach was found to have traces of a poisonous plant. The shrub-like plant, known as gelsemium, is extremely rare and mostly grows in remote parts of China. One of the lawyers, Bob Moxon-Browne, claimed at the hearing that gelsemium is a “known weapon of assassination [used] by Chinese and Russian contract killers”. The Perepilichny family’s legal team said that further forensic tests are to be carried out, so that the claim of poisoning can be examined in more detail.

Jordan issues ‘immediate travel ban’ against former spy chief

Mohammed DahabiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The former director of Jordan’s powerful intelligence service has been barred from leaving the country and has had his personal and family assets frozen, according to reports from the Middle Eastern country. General Mohammed Dahabi assumed command of Jordan’s General Intelligence Department (GID) in 2005, after which time the agency began working particularly closely with the United States Central Intelligence Agency. By January of 2008, when a royal decree replaced General Dahabi with Mohammed al-Raqqad, many intelligence observers were describing the GID as “America’s most valuable intelligence partner in the Arab world”. But French news agency Agence France Presse (AFP) reported on Wednesday that the General Prosecutor’s Office in Jordanian capital Amman had ordered an “immediate travel ban” against General Dahabi, and declared all his known assets frozen until further notice. The AFP report quoted an anonymous “judicial source”, who told the agency that the order was signed by Amman’s Prosecutor-General Mohammed al-Surani, something that signifies the consent of Jordan’s highest governing echelons —namely the royal family. Reports from Amman suggest that the Prosecutor General’s order was issued less than 24 hours after the Central Bank of Jordan, which is totally owned by the government, filed “a complaint” against the former spy chief. No further details were been given to the media, but similar “complaints” from the Central Bank of Jordan in the past have usually concerned allegations of extensive money laundering. Last month, Jordan’s King Abdullah II launched —amidst great fanfare— a new national anti-corruption campaign, aimed at increasing the government’s popularity among younger voters. The campaign was launched in response to the increasingly vocal Jordanian opposition, which is inspired by events surrounding the Arab Spring, and accuses Jordan’s royal family of nepotism and corruption. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #565 (United States edition)

DHS seal

DHS seal

►►Secret watch-list proposal causes US privacy groups protests. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is planning to duplicate the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database to expand an extensive database called Watchlist Service. The proposed database will include names, birthdays, photos and biometrics of targeted individuals. But the DHS has proposed to exempt the database from Privacy Act provisions, which means that a person can never know if they are on it.
►►US blacklists Syrian banks over WMD ties. The Obama administration unveiled punitive measures on Wednesday against two Syrian financial institutions for their alleged ties to nuclear proliferation in Syria and North Korea. The government-run Commercial Bank of Syria and a subsidiary, the Syrian-Lebanese Commercial Bank, are now prohibited from engaging in transactions with US individuals and from accessing any assets under US control. The US Department of the Treasury alleges that the banks have carried out transactions on behalf of the Scientific Studies and Research Center in Syria and the Tanchon Commercial Bank in North Korea, both of which the US blacklisted several years ago for supporting “WMD proliferation activities”.
►►FBI revises surveillance exam after cheating revelations. About a year ago, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation revealed that hundreds of its agents were caught having cheated on an examination about new surveillance guidelines (known as Read more of this post

CIA bank accounts used to funnel oil deal money, court documents claim

CIA HQ

CIA HQ

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Court papers in a bizarre lawsuit involving $258 million in missing funds from an international oil deal, appear to show that the funds were channeled to dormant CIA bank accounts with the help of an Agency employee. The case is being ignored by US media, but has attracted attention in the Irish press, because an Irishman, Ed O’Neill, is the primary defendant in the lawsuit. O’Neil was the main consultant broker who helped facilitate a 2008 oil deal between involving NIB Petroleum of Venezuela and Russia’s Gazprom, both of which sold oil to Turkey’s UP Petroleum. Among O’Neil’s tasks was ensuring that six consulting companies were paid a total of $258 million for helping facilitate the complex deal. The Turkish company, UP, paid the funds to O’Neil, but they never arrived to the six companies. The latter are now suing O’Neil for the missing money. But Irish quality broadsheet The Independent, says it has seen copies of the court papers, filed in the US state of Illinois. According to the documents, O’Neil told his clients, who were awaiting the money, that he was having trouble wiring it to them, and that he had enlisted the assistance of a friend of his, by the name of Carlos Jesus Navarro, who was a CIA operative. According to the testimony of the plaintiffs, O’Neil told them that Navarro had access to several dormant CIA bank accounts, which could be used to wire the money around the world. With Navarro’s alleged help, the funds were then transferred to banks in Luxembourg, Lichtenstein and the island of Guernsey, before making their way to the Cayman Islands. From there they were transferred to Germany’s Commerzbank, and finally to a Bank of America branch in New York City. The money was supposed to be transferred one last time to the plaintiffs’ bank accounts in Chicago; but this last transfer never took place. Read more of this post