Swiss court reopens probe of alleged espionage by Kazakh agents

Viktor KhrapunovA Swiss court has reopened an investigation of alleged espionage activities by agents of the government of Kazakhstan against a high-profile political exile living in Switzerland. The case, which dates to 2014, centers on Viktor Khrapunov, a former senior Kazakh government official, who has been living in Geneva since 2008. In the years immediately following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Khrapunov served as Kazakhstan’s Minister for Energy and Coal, a post that was later renamed to Minister of Energy and Natural Resources. After 1997, he was appointed mayor of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, which is inhabited by 10 percent of the country’s population. But by 2006, Khrapunov had fallen out with the government of Kazakhstan’s authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The government claimed that Khrapunov was embroiled in a series of fraudulent real-estate schemes and that he laundered large sums of money for his own personal use.

In 2008, a chartered airplane carrying Khrapunov and his wife landed in Switzerland, reportedly with a millions of dollars in cash, fine jewelry and antiques onboard. The Khrapunovs were granted asylum in the small alpine country and have since lived in the Lake Geneva area. In 2012, the government of Kazakhstan requested that Khrapunov be placed on Interpol’s list of wanted persons. Khrapunov himself dismissed the charges against him as politically motivated and blasted Nazarbayev as “a third-world dictator”.

In early 2014, the Swiss Attorney General’s office opened an investigation into allegations by Khrapunov that he had been followed around by Kazakh intelligence officers, had an electronic tracker covertly installed in his car, and had his computers hacked by Kazakh spies. The case was closed in March of this year, after Swiss authorities said they did not have enough evidence to confirm the precise identity of the perpetrators, two of whom were reportedly holders of British passports. On Monday, however, the Federal Criminal Court in the Swiss city of Bellinzona ordered that the case be reopened, after allegations by Khrapunov that the espionage against him continues.

Kazakh authorities have been regularly accused by European governments of conducting aggressive espionage and intimidation operations targeting exiled adversaries of President Nazarbayev. Last year, Kazakhstan’s former spy chief and a former presidential bodyguard were acquitted after a lengthy trial in Austria after a co-defendant in their double-murder trial, who was also the Kazakh president’s former son-in-law, was found dead in his Vienna cell.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 November 2016 | Permalink

Swiss vote to give unprecedented surveillance powers to spy agencies

Federal Intelligence Service SwitzerlandVoters in Switzerland have strongly approved a proposed law that aims to expand the surveillance powers of Swiss intelligence agencies. The move is uncharacteristic of the Swiss, who have historically been skeptical of giving far-reaching surveillance powers to their government. In the late 1980s, Swiss public opinion was shocked by the revelation that the country’s Federal Military Department had spied without permission on tens of thousands of Swiss citizens for many decades under a top-secret project codenamed P-27. In response to the revelations, P-27 was ended, the Swiss intelligence agencies were reorganized, and stricter parliamentary controls were imposed on their activities. Today, even CCTV cameras are rarely used in Switzerland, while Google has not been given permission to incorporate the country’s streets into its Streetview application due to strict local privacy laws.

Opponents of the proposed law warned that it would end Switzerland’s long history of protecting civil liberties and would increase cooperation between Swiss and foreign spy agencies, thus harming the country’s tradition of political neutrality. But terrorist attacks in nearby Belgium and France have shaken public opinion in the small alpine country, which is home to numerous international agencies, including a regional branch of the United Nations. Consequently, nearly 66 percent of voters backed the proposal in elections on Sunday, which saw a 41 percent rate of participation. The result will allow the Swiss intelligence and security services, such as the Federal Intelligence Service, to put suspects under electronic surveillance using wiretaps, internet-based software, and hidden devices such as cameras and microphones.

Despite its long history of political neutrality, Switzerland is not unaccustomed to espionage scandals. In 2009, Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper said that a number of listening devices, most likely of Israeli origin, had been discovered in a room designated for sensitive meetings on disarmament issues at the United Nations building in Geneva. In June 2013, the Swiss parliament blocked legislation designed to help the United States identify tax evaders, just days after it was revealed that the US Central Intelligence Agency had conducted an espionage operation targeting a Swiss bank executive. And in 2015, the Swiss Federal Prosecutor launched an investigation into claims that the country’s largest telecommunications provider, Swisscom AG, had been spied on by a consortium of German and American intelligence agencies.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 September 2016 | Permalink

Colombian ex-spy head sent to prison over wiretapping scandal

Maria del Pilar HurtadoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The former director of Colombia’s intelligence service, who recently surrendered after being on the run for five years, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for organizing an illegal wiretapping campaign against politicians, judges and other high-profile personalities. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2009. But on October 31, 2010, she left Colombia, apparently unobstructed, despite being a prime subject in a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. She later surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted to her in November 2010, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who accused the Panamanian government of subverting Colombian justice.

Hurtado is among 18 senior officials facing charges for criminal activities during the administration of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe. His critics accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted former presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Last summer, after consistent diplomatic pressure from the Colombian government, Panama’s Supreme Court to ruled that Hurtado’s asylum had been granted to her in violation of the Panamanian constitution. Eventually, Hurtado’s asylum was revoked; but by that time the fugitive former spy director had once again disappeared. Her whereabouts remained unknown until September 30 of this year, when Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for her capture. That same evening, Hurtado appeared at the Colombian embassy in Panama and promptly identified herself, stating that she was turning herself in.

In reporting on Hurtado’s sentencing, the Reuters news agency noted on Thursday that approximately “two-thirds of Uribe’s closest political allies during his presidency […] have been convicted, sanctioned or investigated for crimes”. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports that several senior Colombian justice officials have called for a wider investigation of Uribe himself and several of his top aides, for their role in the DAS wiretapping program.

Colombian ex-spy head convicted over wiretapping scandal

Maria del Pilar HurtadoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The former director of Colombia’s intelligence service, who recently surrendered after being on the run for five years, has been convicted for organizing an illegal wiretapping campaign against politicians, judges and other high-profile personalities. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2009. But on October 31, 2010, she left Colombia, apparently unobstructed, despite being a prime subject in a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. She later surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted to her in November 2010, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who accused the Panamanian government of subverting Colombian justice.

Hurtado is among 18 senior officials facing charges for criminal activities during the administration of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe. His critics accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted former presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Last summer, after consistent diplomatic pressure from the Colombian government, Panama’s Supreme Court to ruled that Hurtado’s asylum had been granted to her in violation of the Panamanian constitution. Eventually, Hurtado’s asylum was revoked; but by that time the fugitive former spy director had once again disappeared. Her whereabouts remained unknown until September 30 of this year, when Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for her capture. That same evening, Hurtado appeared at the Colombian embassy in Panama and promptly identified herself, stating that she was turning herself in.

In delivering its unanimous guilty verdict, Colombia’s Supreme Court said on Friday that Hurtado had “abused her authority” through a series of “wrongful and arbitrary acts”, which included the systematic “unlawful violation of communications”. Commenting on the court’s decision, a lawyer for one of Hurtado’s victims, former senator Piedad Cordoba, said the court should also consider the question of “who drove [Hurtado] to commit the offenses” against Uribe’s critics. Many of the victims in the court case against Hurtado have publicly accused former President Uribe of ordering the wiretaps. He denies the accusations. Hurtado could face up to 18 years in prison. She is expected to be sentenced today.

Al Jazeera reporters not linked to mystery drones seen over Paris

Eiffel TowerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Three Al Jazeera journalists, who were arrested yesterday for flying a drone over a Paris park, are not linked to the earlier mysterious sightings of drones flying over famous landmarks and security installations in the French capital, according to media reports. The bizarre sightings began last October, when security officials from France’s state-owned power company EDF filed a police complaint after noticing several mini-drones flying over at least seven nuclear power plants. Another 20 sightings of drones were documented in November, all of them seen flying over nuclear installations in various parts of France.

On January 20, another drone was seen hovering over the Elysee Palace in Paris, which is the official residence French President Francois Hollande. Less than a week later, several drones were observed flying over a maximum-security French naval base in Brittany, which houses nuclear submarines. At least ten more sightings were reported on Monday and Tuesday night this week, this time flying over important buildings and landmarks in Paris. Among the apparent surveillance targets of the mysterious drones were the embassy of the United States, the Eiffel Tower, the Invalides national military museum, the Place de la Concorde at the eastern end of the Champs-Élysées, and the Bastille monument. Security forces also reported drone sightings near major public thoroughfares leading in and out of the French capital. French authorities said on Tuesday that they were investigating the incidents under the assumption that they were linked.

On Wednesday, French police announced that three journalists working for Qatar-based television station Al Jazeera had been detained for piloting a drone that was seen flying over a park in Bois de Boulogne, an area located at the edge of the French capital. But initial reports in the media that the three Al Jazeera reporters were somehow linked to the mysterious drone sightings of earlier weeks appear to be dismissed by the authorities. The latter said on Wednesday that there was “no suggestion” of any connection between the journalists and the string of drone incidents over the French capital. As for explaining the drone sightings, French authorities say they have no idea whether it is the work of tourists, practical jokers, criminals or prospective terrorists. Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll told reporters on Wednesday that “people should not be worried, but vigilant”, as the incidents were “taken very seriously”.

Colombia’s fugitive ex-spy chief wanted by Interpol surrenders

Maria del Pilar HurtadoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The former director of Colombia’s security service, who is accused of spying on senior political figures, has turned herself over to the authorities after five years on the run. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2009. But on October 31, 2010, she left Colombia, apparently unobstructed, despite being a prime subject in a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. She later surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted to her on November 19, 2010, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who accused the Panamanian government of subverting Colombian justice.

Hurtado is among 18 senior officials facing charges for criminal activities during the administration of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe. His critics accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted former presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Last summer, after consistent diplomatic pressure from the Colombian government Panama’s Supreme Court to ruled that Hurtado’s asylum had been granted to her in violation of the Panamanian constitution. Eventually, Hurtado’s asylum was revoked; but by that time the fugitive former spy director had once again disappeared.

Her whereabouts remained unknown until last Friday, when Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for her capture. That same evening, Hurtado appeared at the Colombian embassy in Panama and promptly identified herself, stating that she was turning herself in. Colombian authorities immediately flew her to Bogota on a specially chartered plane. Upon her arrival at the Colombian capital, a judge ordered her arrest and she was taken to prison. She is currently awaiting trial inside a high-security ward at the Office of the Public Prosecutor in Bogota. Authorities say Hurtado is under heavy police protection, as there are fears that some of her former colleagues in the now defunct DAS may try to assassinate her.

Panama tries to block extradition of Colombia’s former spy chief

Ana BelfonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Senior government officials in Panama continue to shelter one of Colombia’s notorious former spy chiefs, who is wanted in Colombia for spying on opposition figures. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2009. But on October 31, 2010, she left Colombia, apparently unobstructed, despite being a chief subject in a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. Hours later, she surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted to her on November 19, 2010, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who have accused the Panamanian government of subverting Colombian justice. Hurtado is among 18 senior officials in the administration of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe. Critics of DAS accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted the former Presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Finally, after years of diplomatic pressure by Uribe’s successor, Panama’s supreme court ruled last week that Hurtado’s asylum had been granted to her in violation of the Panamanian constitution. It consequently ordered that her residence permit, which was granted to her under the personal authorization of Panama’s heavy-handed President, Ricardo Martinelli, would become invalid after three working days. The three working-day deadline was set to expire at 5:00 p.m. local time on Tuesday. However, shortly before the cut-off time, Panama’s Attorney General, Ana Belfon (pictured), stepped in and effectively extended Hurtado’s residence permit deadline. In a dramatic move, Belfon filed an appeal on behalf of the government, asking the Supreme Court to clarify the conditions of the former spy chief’s deportation back to Colombia. In accordance with Panamanian legal procedure, the Supreme Court’s decision to cancel Hurtado’s residence permit is now suspended and the Colombian former spymaster will continue to enjoy the Panamanian government’s protection until the Supreme Court responds to the Attorney General’s appeal. Read more of this post