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

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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