Italian police seize largest amphetamines shipment ever found, bearing ISIS markings

Guardia di Finanza Italian policePolice in Italy have announced the seizure of the largest shipment of amphetamines in counter-narcotics history, containing drugs believed to have been manufactured by the Islamic State in Syria. The drugs shipment  was intercepted at the port of Salerno, located south of Naples in southwestern Italy.

Italian police announced on Wednesday that it had made “the largest seizure of amphetamines in the world”, both in terms of quantity and street value. The latter is estimated at approximately $1 billion. Drug traffickers are rarely known to transport such large volumes of drugs in a single shipment, due to the risk of capture by the authorities. However, the lack of supply in Europe due to the coronavirus pandemic has prompted suppliers to take unusual risks, according to experts.

The amphetamines —approximately 84 million tablets— were found hidden inside three containers filled with paper cylinders. More pills had been placed inside the hollow parts of agricultural machinery products, according to police. The confiscated tablets are marked with the logo for the drug Captagon, which is better known by its generic name, Fenethylline. Captagon was a popular drug in the Middle East in the 1990s, and today amphetamines produced by the Islamic State bear its logo, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.

The drug is regularly given to Islamic State volunteers prior to battles and terrorist attacks, in order to help reduce their inhibitions, including susceptibility to fear, and to prevent them from feeling physical pain. Security agencies in the Middle East refer to the substance as “the jihad drug”. It is particularly prevalent in Syria, which has become the global leader in the production of illicit amphetamines in the past decade.

Italian police said the shipment was most likely intended for distribution by “a consortium of criminal groups”, who would then traffic the substance to illicit markets across Europe. It would be unthinkable for a single distributor to be able to afford a $1 billion single purchase, according to officials. The largest buyer among these distributors was probably the Camorra —the organized crime syndicate based in the region of Naples. The Camorra has international links through which it can channel the illicit drugs in much larger volumes than other crime syndicates, according to experts.

Asked about the clues that led to the seizure of the amphetamines, a spokesman for the Italian police said the force knew when the shipment was coming in, due to “ongoing investigations we have with the Camorra”. He added, “we intercepted phone calls and members, so we knew what to expect”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 July 2020 | Permalink

Mexican drug cartels distribute COVID-19 ‘care packages’ to build community capital

Gulf Cartel MexicoDrug cartels are organizing sophisticated ‘care package’ drives throughout Mexico in an attempt to build political capital and solidify their community support. Nearly every drug cartel in Mexico is organizing its own handout distribution activities, including the Sinaloa Cartel, the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG), the Gulf Cartel, Los Viagras, and a host of splinter groups that came out of Los Zetas.

One of the most well-organized ‘care package’ drives is being carried out by the Sinaloa Cartel. The criminal group’s leader, Joaquín Guzmán (known as “El Chapo”), was arrested in 2016 and is currently incarcerated in a Super Max Federal Prison in the United States state of Colorado. But his family continues to run his operations, including his fashion/streetwear brand, “El Chapo 701”. The brand’s name refers to a 2009 article in Forbes magazine, which listed Guzmán as the world’s 701st richest person, with an estimated fortune of $1 billion.

The Sinaloa Cartel has published videos showing community drives carried out by young people wearing facemasks bearing a stenciled rendition of Guzmán’s portrait —reminiscent of the silhouetted portrait of the Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevarra. They are seen handing out cardboard boxes bearing Guzmán’s portrait and information about his company. The boxes reportedly contain hand sanitizer, oil, rice, sugar, salt, toilet paper, and other necessities.

Dante Sorianello, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in San Antonio, Texas, said these campaigns by the drug cartels are designed to build “community support”, which the cartels then use “as a buffer between them and the entities of law and order”. Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, adds that these community assistance drives by criminal organizations are not new in Latin America. In the past, drug cartels have built hospitals in Peru, soccer fields in Brazil and churches in Colombia. This is simply the latest manifestation of a time-tested practice by criminal organizations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 May 2020 | Permalink

One dead after masked gunmen with AK-47s raid Austrian Airlines plane in Tirana

Tirana Airport

At least two members of an armed gang remain at large after raiding an Austrian Airlines plane on the runway of the Tirana International Airport in Albania, and managing to get away with an estimated $11 million in cash. To defend against bank robberies —a regular occurrence in crime-ridden Albania— the Bank of Albania does not accept large cash deposits. Consequently, branches of foreign-owned banks that operate in Albania export their hard-currency deposits abroad via regular flights to Vienna, Austria.

On Tuesday, as the Austrian Airlines airplane was preparing to take off from the Tirana International Airport, a white van bearing the logo of the General Directorate of Taxation —the revenue collection agency of the Albanian Government— smashed through the gate used by the airport’s emergency services and drove up to the airplane. Three masked men dressed in military fatigues exited the van and reportedly threatened the luggage handlers with AK-47 rifles. They then forced open the cargo doors of the plane and removed several bags full of hard currency. In less than four minutes, they started to drive back toward the emergency gate, when they were confronted by a police patrol that opened fire on them. One of the robbers was reportedly shot in the head and died instantly.

On Wednesday, police identified the dead robber as Admir Murataj and said that he had been the mastermind of the operation. By the end of Wednesday, police had arrested four men and questioned at least 40 other people in connection with the robbery. Initial reports said that the robbers had left the scene of the crime with about $2.8 million in cash, but subsequent reports said that as much as $11 million had been stolen. Investigators said that the robbers must have had inside knowledge about the Austrian Airlines plane and its cargo. A spokesperson for Austrian Airlines said that there would be no further transfers of cash from Albania to Austria following the robbery.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 11 April 2019 | Permalink

Heavily armed gang attacks nuclear fuel convoy in Brazil

Angra Nuclear Power PlantA convoy of trucks carrying nuclear fuel to one of Brazil’s nuclear plants was attacked by a heavily armed gang on Tuesday, according to police reports. The convoy was carrying uranium fuel from Resende, an industrial city in the municipality of Rio de Janeiro in southeastern Brazil. Its destination was the Angra Nuclear Power Plant in the coastal city of Angra dos Reis, which is located 100 miles south of Resende. Angra is Brazil’s sole nuclear power plant. It consists of two pressurized water reactors, Angra I and Angra II. It is owned by Eletrobras, Brazil’s state-owned power utility firm, which is also the world’s tenth largest electric utilities company.

According to Brazil’s O Globo newspaper, the nuclear fuel convoy came under heavy attack by gunmen as it reached the outskirts of Angra dos Reis, just a few miles north of the power plant. The Brazilian Federal Highway Police said in a statement that its vehicles that were escorting the nuclear fuel convoy were shot at and returned fire. It added that the attackers fled the scene without anyone getting hurt, and that no arrests were made. The convoy then reached the power plant without further incident 20 minutes following the shootout. The police statement was followed by a public announcement by Eletronuclear, Eletrobras’ nuclear utility arm. The announcement argued that national security was not compromised by the attack, as the fuel carried by the trucks consisted of “uranium in its natural state”. It would therefore have to be weaponized with the use of advanced mechanical instruments before it could be truly harmful.

Brazilian Federal Highway Police officials told reporters that they did not believe that the gunmen had planned to attack the nuclear fuel convoy. They claimed that the convoy happened to be passing from the scene of the attack as a shootout was taking place between members of rival drug gangs, which are known to control the outskirts of Angra dos Reis. Some of the gang members began shooting at the police vehicles escorting the convoy, apparently without realizing that the trucks they were shooting at were carrying nuclear fuel.

The incident underscores the steady rise and increasing aggressiveness of organized criminal gangs in Brazil, which, according to some observers, are beginning to resemble Mexico’s drug cartels. Angra dos Reis’ Mayor Fernando Jordão told O Globo that the residents of his city felt unprotected by the federal government. “Regional security must be improved”, he added, especially since “there are nuclear plants here. This region is very sensitive”, he said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 March 2019 | Permalink

Swiss police saw Russian oligarch Abramovich as threat to security, files reveal

Roman AbramovichPolice in Switzerland cautioned that allowing the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich to live there would threaten public security and damage the country’s reputation, according to files released this week. The Soviet-born Abramovich took advantage of Russia’s privatization laws in the early 1990s to gain considerable financial and political influence there. His friendship with Russia’s first post-Soviet President, Boris Yeltsin, was instrumental in his business career, and eventually placed him in close proximity to Russia’s current President, Vladimir Putin. Unlike many other oligarchs, Abramovich is believed to have remained close to Putin, despite living mostly in the United Kingdom in the past decade. The Russian oligarch has been staying in a mansion valued at close to $120 million in London’s exclusive suburb of Kensington. His lawyers have been renewing his British residence visa every six months.

However, the attempted assassination of Russian former spy Sergei Skripal earlier this year prompted the British government to intensify its scrutiny of Britain’s sizeable Russian expatriate community. London introduced tighter regulations that require Russian citizens applying to live in the UK to declare the source of their income in a far greater detail than previously. Soon after the new regulations were put in place, Abramovich’s lawyers withdrew his application to renew his British residency visa. Then, in May of this year, the Russian oligarch acquired Israeli citizenship. He has made it clear, however, that he does not intend to live in Israel. Instead, his legal team focused on an application for Swiss residency, which Abramovich first filed in the summer of 2016. In the application papers, Abramovich wrote that he intended to reside full time in Verbier, an Alpine village in the canton of Valais that is a popular holiday destination for celebrities and royalty.

A year later, following resistance and increasingly persistent questioning from the Swiss government, Abramovich’s legal team withdrew his residency application. Last February, when the Swiss press attempted to investigate the reasons behind the Swiss government’s reluctance, Abramovich’s lawyers secured an injunction forbidding the publication of information regarding his application to live in Switzerland. But the injunction was overturned late last week, and on Tuesday the Swiss media conglomerate Tamedia published some of the relevant documents. They include a letter from the Swiss Federal Police that strongly cautions against allowing the Russian-Israeli oligarch to resettle in Switzerland. The letter remarks that Abramovich has been repeatedly implicated in “suspicion of money laundering” and that the billionaire is “presumed [to have] contacts with criminal organizations”. Additionally, the letter states that Abramovich’s “assets are at least in part of illegal origin”. The letter concludes by strongly cautioning against allowing the oligarch to move to Switzerland, and argues that doing so would pose a “threat to public security” and be detrimental to the country’s international reputation.

The letter has raised eyebrows since its publication, because Switzerland is known for being highly welcoming of foreign billionaires while displaying minimal curiosity about the sources of their fortunes. Moreover, there are no known court rulings against Abramovich for money laundering or connections to organized crime. It is therefore presumed that the Swiss police report is based mostly on confidential informants and other informal sources. On Wednesday, Abramovich’s Swiss lawyer, Daniel Glasl, issued a statement saying that the Russian-Israeli magnate has never been charged with involvement in money laundering. He also reminded readers that his client has a blank criminal record.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 September 2018 | Permalink

Italian mafia may be supplying weapons to ISIS, say investigators

AK-47Organized criminal groups in southern Italy may be supplying assault weapons to groups and individuals that are associated with the Islamic State, according to European investigators. British newspaper The Guardian said last week that security officials in Italy, Britain, and elsewhere in Europe have traced weapons used by Islamists to at least one arms cache that entered the European black market through a Sicilian crime family with links to the mafia.

According to The Guardian, the initial link to the supply of weapons seems to originate with an organized criminal family in Catania, on Sicily’s eastern coast. The family, known locally as the “Ceusi”, is part of the “Santopaula” clan, which is the dominant criminal network in that part of Italy. Investigators have confirmed that two years ago the Ceusi family purchased a cache of 160 deactivated AK-47s from AFG Security Corporation, a Slovakia-based European weapons dealer. The purchase of the weapons, for $40,000, was legal. But the Sicilian mafia then illegally reactivated the weapons by removing the deactivating metal pins that had been inserted into the weapons’ barrels. The reactivated weapons were then supplied to the ’Ndrangheta, the Italian organized crime network that operates in the region of Calabria, in the Italian mainland. In turn, the ’Ndrangheta, which specializes in the trafficking of contraband to and from Europe, sold many of these reactivated weapons to a smuggling ring headquartered in the Egyptian port of Alexandria.

It was the Egyptian network, say investigators, that sold the AK-47s to Islamist militants in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, who have close connections with the Islamic State in Syria and other Islamist groups. A few of the weapons even ended up in the hands of European Islamists in France and elsewhere. Much of the intelligence regarding the AK-47s comes from telephone intercepts, said The Guaridan. But the newspaper cautioned that concrete links between the Mafia and the Islamic State have not yet been established. Nevertheless, the paper said that, according to European investigators, “organized criminals are increasingly open to trading with extremists”, and there are mounting “signs of an even closer relationship between organized criminals and Islamists” operating in North Africa and the Middle East.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 July 2016 | 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

Continuity IRA claims killing by armed assailants disguised as police

CIRAA leading dissident republican group in Ireland has claimed responsibility for a bloody attack in Dublin, which was carried out last week by a group of masked assailants disguised as police and carrying AK-47 assault rifles. Police said that the carefully planned attack involved at least six people wearing SWAT-style police uniforms, at least one of whom was disguised as a woman. The assailants stormed a boxing match weigh-in and opened fire, killing Dubliner David Byrne, 33, and injuring at least two others. The boxing match for the European lightweight category, which was scheduled to take between the Portuguese champion Antonio Joao Bento and Dubliner Jamie Kavanagh, was cancelled by the World Boxing Organization.

Initially, the attack was said to have been carried out by an organized illicit smuggling gang. However, police were skeptical about such a claim, given that the use of disguises and AK-47 assault rifles is reminiscent of the tactics used by the Provisional Irish Republican Army prior to the group’s decommissioning in 2005. On Monday, a man who gave the BBC a prearranged code-word associated with the Continuity IRA (CIRA), a republican splinter group, said the attack had been carried out by the militant organization. He said the senior leadership of the CIRA had ordered Byrne’s killing in retaliation for his involvement in the murder of a well-known republican militant in Dublin, nearly five years ago. Alan Ryan, who was believed to be a member of the Real IRA (RIRA), another republican splinter group, was gunned down in Dublin in September 2012, in what the police described as a “planned, targeted killing”. It was believed at the time that Ryan had been killed by a criminal gang with which the RIRA had quarreled.

The alleged CIRA representative told the BBC that Byrne’s killing “will not be an isolated incident”, adding that the group had plans to carry out more attacks aimed against “drug dealers and criminals” in Ireland. Early on Tuesday, meanwhile, another man, Eddie Hutch, was shot dead in northcentral Dublin, in what police said was a reprisal for last week’s CIRA attack in the Irish capital.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 February 2016 | Permalink

Many arrested in Bosnia for having links with Islamic State

BosniaAuthorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina have announced the arrest of several people on suspicion of having direct links with the Islamic State and other militant groups fighting in Iraq and Syria. At least 11 people were arrested by police in simultaneous raids at a number of locations on Tuesday, including businesses and private homes, across the Bosnian capital Sarajevo. A police spokeswoman said the eleven men had been charged with having links to terrorist groups, financing terrorist groups, or inciting and helping organize criminal acts. A number of them were also charged with recruiting young men and women to join militant groups in Syria and Iraq, she said.

A statement issued by the office of the Bosnian prosecutor on Wednesday morning said the arrests were part of a “major operation […] to track down some 15 people” suspected of having close operational ties with Islamist organizations in the Middle East. The arrests were carried out less than a day after another five people were arrested in Sarajevo for illegally transporting weapons and ammunition from Bosnia to Germany. Large caches of weapons and ammunition were seized during the raids.

Depending on the source, there are estimates that the largely Muslim Balkan country of 3.8 million has supplied between 150 and 330 fighters to the Islamic State, the militant Sunni group that today controls much of Syria and Iraq. Hundreds more have joined from cities and towns in Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia and Albania. Of those, several dozen have already been killed while fighting for the Islamic State. Security services in Bosnia are reportedly monitoring a number of unregistered mosques in the country, which are believed to be preaching a version of Salafi Jihadism that promotes the worldview of the Islamic State. Many of these mosques are led or supported by individuals from Africa and the Middle East. These men first went to Bosnia in the first half of the 1990s to fight in the war against Serbia and Croatia, two predominantly Christian regions of the former Yugoslavia. They ended up settling in Bosnia after marrying local women.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 24 December 2015 | Permalink

Nuclear black market thriving in Eastern Europe despite efforts to stop it

MoldovaThe United States Federal Bureau of Investigation is assisting authorities in some of Europe’s poorest states in their efforts to stop criminals with Russian connections from selling radioactive material to foreign terrorist organizations. The Associated Press said earlier this month that joint efforts by the FBI and Eastern European governments have frustrated at least four attempts to sell stolen radioactive material in the black market since 2010.

In one case, which involved a criminal gang in the former Soviet Republic of Moldova, the smugglers were trying to sell radioactive material to representatives of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The Associated Press said it spoke to law enforcement and judicial authorities in Moldova, who have set up a small team of detectives to investigate the nuclear black market. The Moldovans told the Associated Press that they were working with the FBI, and even shared some of their investigative case files with the news agency.

In another recent case, which was cracked by authorities in February of this year, a smuggler in Moldova tried to sell a significant quantity of cesium, a radioactive metal typically extracted from the waste produced by nuclear reactors. According to the Moldovans, the quantity of the fission product was “enough to contaminate several city blocks”. Additionally, the Moldovan investigators told the Associated Press that the smuggler was specifically seeking a buyer from the Islamic State.

In yet another case, a joint US-Moldovan investigation targeted Alexandr Agheenco, a mysterious Russian-born smuggler, who in the spring of 2011 said he had access to bomb-grade uranium. According to Moldovan investigators, a middleman working for Agheenco told a prospective buyer from Sudan that he would be willing to sell an unspecified quantity of uranium, as well as “blueprints for a dirty bomb”. Although the sale was prevented by the US-Moldovan investigators, Agheenco managed to escape.

According to the Moldovans, the worsening relations between Washington and Moscow are making it more difficult for investigators from the two countries to share intelligence on nuclear smuggling rings. As a result, smugglers are finding it easier to operate across Eastern Europe and parts of the former Soviet Union. Many leading black-market operatives manage to avoid capture and prosecution, while even those arrested are usually able to evade lengthy convictions, which means that they quickly return to nuclear smuggling, reports the Associated Press.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 October 2015 | Permalink | News tip: J.B.

Dutch crime investigator charged with spying for organized criminals

AIVD HollandA 28-year-old criminal investigator of the Dutch National Crime Squad was arrested by Dutch police on September 29 over allegations of corruption, neglect of duty, and money laundering. The man, named as Mark M., applied for a job at the Dutch police in 2009. According to an online résumé, M. dropped out of professional college in journalism after several years of being self-employed as a freelance reporter covering crime issues.

According to Dutch media, M. did not pass the security screening carried out by the General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) as part of the job application. But he was hired nonetheless as trainee in a less sensitive position that is not subject to security screening by the AIVD. The reported reason for M.’s failure to pass the screening process is that he is married to a Ukrainian woman. The AIVD has no intelligence-sharing relationship with its Ukrainian counterpart agency concerning security screenings.

M. is reported to have access to the files “of all large national criminal investigations”, and allegedly sold information on a large scale to drug organizations and criminal biker gangs. He is reported to have close ties with leaders of the biker gangs Satudarah and No Surrender.

Newspaper NRC Handelsblad, which first reported about M., states that the screening involved an investigation into M.’s social environment and personal finances. Television news service RTL Nieuws, which was the first to publicly name the man, reports that M. stood out for his luxurious lifestyle: driving a Porsche Cayenne, frequenting Curaçao and the Dominican Republic for holidays, and wearing expensive watches. During a search of his residence, the police found €235.000 ($266,266), as well as confidential police information that M. allegedly intended to sell.

The police is investigating the extent of the damage caused by M., as well as the precise investigations that he may have compromised. The question of why M. was hired despite not having passed the security screening is part of the investigation. It is, so far, believed that M. acted alone.

Addendum, Nov. 4, 2015: Pending a security clearance from the AIVD, M. was granted access to BlueView, a confidential police data search engine. When the AIVD refused to issue a security clearance, M. was transferred to the traffic department, but superiors failed to revoke his access to BlueView. In 2007, BlueView contained 55 million documents containing data about suspects, transcripts of interrogations and police reports. M.’s authorization level included access to information from the Criminal Intelligence Unit (CIE), that works with informants. M. was able to access BlueView for close to four years.

Author: Matthijs Koot | Date: 20 October 2015 | 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.

Litvinenko was working for UK, Spanish intelligence when he was killed

Alexander LitvinenkoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A lawyer representing the family of a KGB defector to Britain, who died of poisoning in 2006, has told a court hearing in London that the late spy was working for British and Spanish intelligence at the time of his death. Alexander Litvinenko was an employee of the Soviet KGB and one of its successor organizations, the FSB, until 2000, when he defected with his family to the United Kingdom. He soon became known as a vocal critic of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2006, Litvinenko came down with radioactive poisoning soon after meeting a former KGB/FSB colleague, Andrey Lugovoy, at a London restaurant. Speaking at a preliminary court hearing on Thursday, in light of an upcoming British government inquiry into Litvinenko’s death, Ben Emmerson, QC, said that the late Russian spy was a “registered and paid” asset of the Secret Intelligence Service. This is not the first time that Litvinenko has been linked to the SIS —known informally as MI6— Britain’s external spy agency. Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, made similar claims to the British press in January of this year. But yesterday’s testimony by her legal team provided the public record with further revelations about her husband’s connections with British intelligence. The court heard that Litvinenko received a regular stipend from MI6 either in cash or via electronic transfer and that he had been provided with an encrypted telephone, which MI6 used to contact him on a routine basis. The night before his poisoning, said Emmerson, Litvinenko had met his MI6 handler, who went by the operational alias MARTIN. Read more of this post

Bulgarian spy services intercept PM assassination plot

Boyko Borisov

Boyko Borisov

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A conspiracy to assassinate the Prime Minister of Bulgaria has been intercepted in its planning stage by the country’s intelligence services, according to information published yesterday in the Bulgarian press. The Sofia-based 24 Chasa daily alleges that Bulgarian intelligence agents were able to intercept telephone conversations leading to a meeting of conspirators, which took place four months ago. The meeting, held at the luxury King George Palace Hotel in downtown Athens, Greece, was reportedly attended by several Bulgarian “participants [who] came onboard yachts, accompanied by numerous bodyguards”. The meeting centered on plans to fund an operation to “eliminate” Bulgarian Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, of Bulgaria’s conservative GERB party, who has led the country since the summer of 2009. According to 24 Chasa, participants at the meeting pledged the sum of €400,000 to fund the assassination of the Prime Minister of Bulgaria, a country that has been a member of the European Union since 2007. Read more of this post

Prince Albert’s former spymaster airs Monaco’s ‘dirty secrets’

Prince Albert II

Prince Albert II

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Last April I wrote that former FBI counterintelligence agent Robert Eringer, who until recently was spymaster to prince Albert II of Monaco, was completing a book on his experiences in the tiny principality, a project he began after leaving his post. But that’s not all. Eringer has now sued the prince for €360,000 ($542,000) in alleged unpaid income, including a severance pay package. The London Sunday Times, which has “obtained” a copy of Eringer’s lawsuit, says that the document “lays bare some of [Monaco’s] dirtiest secrets”. Among them are Eringer’s claims that he investigated activities in Monaco by Russian and Italian mobsters, that he was asked to “assist” a young woman who was romantically involved with prince Albert, and that he went after video evidence showing “a woman performing a sex act on the prince” at his 40th birthday party. Read more of this post