Australian police offer reward for information about murder of ex-KGB colonel

Gennadi BernovskiPolice in the Australian state of Queensland have offered a $250,000 (US $182,000) reward for information that can help solve the murder of a former Soviet KGB colonel 18 years ago. The victim, Gennadi Bernovski, worked in the domestic wing of the Soviet KGB, until his retirement, which coincided with the dissolution of the USSR. In 1996, he moved to Australia with his family and bought a house in Benowa Waters, a luxury suburb of Gold Coast, a city located south of Brisbane on the country’s east coast. But on the evening of July 24, 2000, Bernovski was shot to death outside his home by what witnesses said were two men in combat diver suits. They reportedly opened fire on Bernovski with a semi-automatic weapon, wounding him fatally in the stomach. He was dead within a few minutes. It is believed that the assailants sailed to Bernovski’s waterfront property on an inflatable boat, or swam there, having first sailed to the nearby seaside.

Since Bernovski’s murder, Australian authorities have refused to answer questions about how the former KGB colonel came to settle in the country, and whether he was given political asylum by the Australian government. They have also refused to answer questions relating to Bernovski’s citizenship at the time of his murder. Some reports have pointed out that he was an Australian citizen when he was murdered. Furthermore, little is known about his financial status or sources of income, though it is believed that he had access to “multiple bank accounts in Russia and Australia”. On Thursday, spokespersons for the Australian Federal Police and the Queensland Police Department refused to provide information on the investigators’ current working hypothesis about who might have been responsible for Bernovski’s murder. They were also asked whether some family members of the late former KGB officer continue to reside in Australia under assumed names, but declined to comment.

A spokeswoman for the Federal Department of the Australian Attorney-General said that the new reward offer was aimed at “cracking a cold case”, which is a routine police practice for unsolved crimes. She did not comment, however, on media speculation that police sought to interview another Russian national, Oleg Kouzmine, who was living in Gold Coast during the time of Bernovski’s murder. According to reports, Kouzmine is now living in another country, which means that Australian authorities would need to seek the cooperation of a foreign law enforcement agency in order to gain access to him. However, the Attorney-General Department spokeswoman told reporters on Thursday that, “as a matter of longstanding practice, the Australian government does not confirm whether it has made a request for assistance to a foreign country in a criminal matter”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 16 November 2018 | Permalink

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South Africa to probe mysterious death of former Rwandan spy chief

Patrick KaregeyaSouth Africa is preparing to launch an official inquest into the mysterious death of the former director of Rwanda’s external intelligence agency, who was found dead in a luxury South African hotel four years ago. The body of Patrick Karegeya, 53, was discovered on December 31, 2014, in a room at the Michelangelo Towers Hotel in Sandton, an affluent suburb of Johannesburg. Karegeya was a leading member of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), the armed wing of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which was founded in 1987 in Uganda by Rwandan Tutsi refugees. In 1994, the RPA, led by Paul Kagame, took control of Rwanda, thus putting an end to the genocide of up to a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Soon afterwards Karegeya was named Director General of External Intelligence in the RPA, which was renamed to Rwandan Defense Forces.

In 2004 however, after falling out with Kagame, who had become President of Rwanda in 2000, Karegeya was arrested, stripped of his rank of colonel, and served 18 months in prison for “insubordination and desertion”. He fled the country in 2007 and received political asylum in South Africa. The Rwandan government later claimed that Karegeya had been a double spy for South Africa. In 2010, Karegeya teamed up with General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, who used to head the Rwandan Army, and had also escaped to South Africa after falling out with President Kagame. The two formed a new Rwandan opposition party in exile, called the Rwanda National Congress. The response from the government in Kigali was to try Karegeya and Nyamwasa in absentia in a military court. They were both sentenced to lengthy prison terms for “promoting ethnic divisions” in the country. In 2011, the Rwandan government issued international arrest warrants for the two former military men, but South Africa refused to extradite them.

When Karegeya was found dead in his hotel room, his neck was abnormally swollen and showed signs of strangulation; a rope and a bloodied towel were found tucked inside the hotel room’s safe, according to media reports. Nobody has ever been tried for Karegeya’s murder. On Wednesday, however, French news agency Agence France Presse (AFP) said that the government of South Africa will be launching a formal investigation into Karegeya’s killing in a matter of months. The news agency said it had spoken to “a South African court official […] who did not have permission to speak to the media”. The official told AFP that the probe is “not a trial, it’s a formal inquest”, which may eventually lead to a court case. The inquest will be officially launched on January 16, 2019, said the anonymous official.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 November 2018 | Permalink

Britain knew of Saudi plan to target journalist, warned Saudis against it

Jamal KhashoggiBritish intelligence had prior knowledge of a plot by the Saudi government to target Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident journalist who was killed in the hands of Saudi intelligence officers in Istanbul on October 2, and allegedly warned Riyadh not to proceed with the plan, according to a report. Khashoggi was a former Saudi government adviser who became critical of the kingdom’s style of governance. He is believed to have been killed by a 15-member Saudi hit squad while visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He went there for a scheduled appointment in order to be issued a document certifying his divorce from his former wife in Saudi Arabia. After vehemently denying any role in Khashoggi’s killing, the Saudi government admitted last week that the journalist was killed while inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. It has pledged to punish those responsible and reform the Kingdom’s intelligence services. But critics accuse Riyadh of ordering the dissident’s murder.

Now a new report claims that Britain’s external intelligence agency, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), was aware of a plot by the Saudi government to kidnap Khashoggi in order silence him. British newspaper The Sunday Express says it has evidence from “high ranking intelligence sources” that MI6 was in possession of communications intercepts containing conversations about Khashoggi. The conversations were between Saudi government officials and officers of the General Intelligence Directorate (GID), the Kingdom’s primary spy agency. In the intercepts, a member of the Saudi royal family is allegedly heard giving orders for the GID to kidnap Khashoggi from Turkey sometime in early September. He also instructs the GID to secretly transport the dissident journalist to Saudi soil where he could be interrogated. During the conversation, a discussion took place about the possibility that Khashoggi would physically resist his abductors. At that point in the conversation, the high ranking intelligence source told The Express, the royal family member “left the door open for alternative remedies […] should Khashoggi be troublesome”.

The paper reports that MI6 “became aware” of the arrival of a 15-member Saudi hit squad in Istanbul on October 1, a day before Khashoggi went missing. According to the paper’s source “it was pretty clear what their aim was”, so MI6 contacted the GID directly and warned the Saudi spy agency to “cancel the mission”, said the source. However, the source added, “this request was ignored”.  On October 10, The Washington Post, the newspaper that employed Khashoggi, said that American intelligence agencies had evidence that the Saudi royal family tried to lure The Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia, in order to capture him.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 October 2018 | Permalink

US intelligence has evidence Saudis planned to capture missing journalist

Jamal KhashoggiAmerican intelligence agencies have evidence that the Saudi royal family tried to lure The Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia, in order to capture him, according to sources. Khashoggi, 59, is a Saudi government adviser who in 2015 became a critic of the kingdom’s style of governance. He moved to the United States, from where he began to criticize Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the civil war in Yemen, its support for the repression of political freedoms in Egypt, and other issues. He also joined the staff of The Washington Post and penned columns in which he criticized Saudi policies. He has been missing since Tuesday, when he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He went there for a scheduled appointment in order to be issued a document certifying his divorce from his former wife in Saudi Arabia.

Last Sunday, Turkish government officials said that Khashoggi was brutally murdered inside the Saudi consulate during his visit, probably on orders of the Saudi government. Turkish media reports said on Sunday that a 15-member Saudi team arrived in Istanbul shortly prior to Khashoggi’s visit to the consulate. The team, whose members carried diplomatic passports, tortured and then killed Khashoggi, said Turkish sources. They then dismembered his body and took it out of the consulate hidden inside a diplomatic vehicle. Saudi Arabia has denied the charges and said that Khashoggi left the consulate in Istanbul less than an hour after entering it on Tuesday afternoon.

On Wednesday, The Washington Post cited anonymous US officials in claiming that the Saudi royal family had devised an elaborate plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia in order to capture him. The paper said that US intelligence agencies are in possession of communications intercepts of exchanges between Saudi officials, in which the plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia is discussed. The Post also cited “several of Khashoggi’s friends” who said that in recent months he received phone calls from Saudi officials close to the kingdom’s controversial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. The officials reportedly offered Khashoggi political protection from prosecution if he returned to Saudi Arabia. They also offered him high-level government jobs, said The Post. But Khashoggi was skeptical of the offers and rejected them, his friends said.

The paper also cited an anonymous “former US intelligence official” who said that the travel details of the 15-member Saudi diplomatic team that went to Istanbul on the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance “bore the hallmarks of [an extralegal] rendition” —a person’s unauthorized removal from one country and detention and interrogation in another. Turkey has said that the Saudi team arrived in Istanbul in two separate groups using private aircraft, and departed from the country at different times going to different destinations in the hours after Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 October 2018 | Permalink

Major suspect in Maduro assassination plot dies in captivity in Caracas

Nicolás MaduroA leading suspect in a failed attempt to kill Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro using drones, has died in mysterious circumstances while being held by the country’s intelligence agency. The attack took place on August 4, 2018, in front of the Palacio de Justicia government complex in the Venezuelan capital Caracas. That afternoon, President Maduro was giving a nationally televised speech on the occasion of the 81st anniversary of the Bolivarian National Guard. An hour after the commencement of the outdoor ceremony, Maduro’s speech was interrupted by a loud noise that appeared to come directly from above, approximately 100 yards away from the podium. The noise turned out to have been a bomb affixed on a modified, commercially available drone. Moments later, another drone exploded after crashing into a building just two blocks northeast of where the Venezuelan president was standing. Seven members of the National Guard were injured in the attack.

President Maduro, who escaped unharmed, has blamed Colombia-based far-right extremists for the attack, and has named former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos as their leader. But the Colombian government has rejected these allegations and has demanded to see proof. Throughout August, several people were arrested by Venezuelan authorities and charged with treason in connection with the assassination plot. Approximately 30 people have been named as participants in the plan. Among them was Fernando Albán, a 56-year-old critic of Maduro, who was serving as an opposition city councilor in Caracas. Althouth his arrest was announced on Friday, there were no reports about his fate over the weekend. On Monday, however, the government said that Albán had died after committing suicide. A subsequent report said that the 56-year-old had died after throwing himself out of a window located on the tenth floor of the headquarters of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service, where he was being held. Later on Monday, Nestor Luis Reverol, Venezuela’s Minister of Interior, said that Albán voluntarily jumped out of the window as he was being transported to court in order to be formally charged.

On Monday night, Venezuela’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab said during a television interview that Albán had been given permission to go to the bathroom and used it as an opportunity to kill himself. But critics of the government see the August 4 assassination attempt as a false-flag operation orchestrated by the Maduro administration to justify a new crackdown on the opposition. They claim that Albán was murdered and that it would have been impossible for him to throw himself out of a window given the security precautions that are in place at the Bolivarian Intelligence Service building. Meanwhile, Albán’s attorney, Joel Garcia, dismissed the Venezuelan government’s explanation of his client’s death as “totally false” and doubted that he would have been allowed to go to the bathroom unaccompanied.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 October 2018 | Permalink

Turkey claims Saudi dissident was killed, dismembered inside Saudi consulate

Jamal KhashoggiTurkish government sources have said that a former trusted aide of the Saudi royal family, who was shunned by Riyadh after criticizing Saudi policies, was murdered inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. Jamal Khashoggi, 59, is an American-educated former adviser to Saudi royals. He worked for years as an advisor to Prince Turki al-Faisal, one of Saudi Arabia’s most recognizable public figures who represented the Kingdom as ambassador to the United States and the United Kingdom. But in 2015, when Mohammad bin Salman, favorite son of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, began to rise through the ranks of the royal family, Khashoggi became sharply critical of changes in the Kingdom’s style of governance. He moved to the United States, from where he began to criticize Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the civil war in Yemen, its support for the repression of political freedoms in Egypt, and other issues. Earlier this year, Khashoggi joined the staff of The Washington Post and penned columns in which he criticized Saudi policies.

In recent months, Khashoggi moved to Istanbul and planned to marry Hatice Cengiz, a local graduate student. Last Tuesday, in preparation for his wedding with Cengiz, Khashoggi went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on a prescheduled visit, reportedly to request a document certifying his divorce from his former wife in Saudi Arabia. The document was reportedly required under Turkish marital law. But The Washington Post columnist has not been seen since. On Sunday, Turkish government officials said that Khashoggi had been brutally murdered inside the Saudi consulate, probably on orders of the Saudi government. Turkish media reports said on Sunday that a 15-member Saudi team arrived in Istanbul shortly prior to Khashoggi’s visit to the consulate. The team, whose members carried diplomatic passports, tortured and then killed Khashoggi, said Turkish sources. They then dismembered his body and took it out of the consulate hidden inside a diplomatic vehicle.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia denied the charges and said that Khashoggi left the consulate in Istanbul less than an hour after entering it on Tuesday afternoon. But Turkish officials, speaking anonymously to local media, said that the government had “concrete proof” and that the case would be solved soon through a series of public announcements. However, no accusations have been issued publicly and some doubt that Ankara has evidence to implicate the Saudi government in Khashoggi’s disappearance. Others wonder whether the Turkish government will wish to enter into an escalating diplomatic confrontation with the powerful Saudi royal family. The New York Times said late on Sunday that the Turkish government “was waiting until the investigation was complete” before making a full disclosure regarding Khashoggi’s disappearance. Meanwhile government representatives in the United States, a close ally of the Saudi government, said on Sunday that the Department of State “cannot confirm Mr. Khashoggi’s fate” and that it is “following the case”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 October 2018 | Permalink

Dead Russian oligarch’s links to UK spy agencies must stay secret, judge rules

Aleksandr PerepilichnyA judge has ruled that the British government has the right to withhold information relating to alleged links between British spy agencies and a Russian millionaire who died in mysterious circumstances in England. Aleksandr Perepilichny was a wealthy and influential investment banker living in Moscow. In 2009, however, he fled Russia saying that his life had been threatened following a business disagreement. He resettled in Surrey, south of London, and began cooperating with Swiss authorities who were investigating a multimillion dollar money-laundering scheme involving senior Russian government officials. Described by some as the biggest tax fraud in Russian history, the scheme is said to have defrauded the Russian Treasury of at least $240 million.

On November 10, 2012, having just returned to his luxury Surrey home from 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 concluded that Perepilichny 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 that Perepilichny stomach was found to have traces of gelsemium, a shrub-like plant that is a “known weapon of assassination [used] by Chinese and Russian contract killers”.

The case is now being revisited following the failed attempt last March, allegedly by the Kremlin, to assassinate Sergei Skripal, a Russian former spy who defected to England in 2010. For the past several months, submissions have been filed for an inquest into Perepilichny’s mysterious death. But the British government said that it would not reveal any information relating to possible contacts between the late Russian businessman and British intelligence. The question was raised in June by lawyers representing Legal and General, Perepilichny’s life insurance company. They argued that if Perepilichny had close dealings with British intelligence, it would have raised significantly the threat that his life was under. But British Home Secretary Sajid Javid argued that releasing documents implicating the intelligence services with the late Russian businessman would endanger national security.

On Monday the judge leading the inquest into Perepilichny’s death ruled in favor of the British government’s position. The judge, Nicholas Hilliard QC, has security clearance and was therefore able to review the relevant evidence behind closed doors, during a secret session. He then ruled that “publicly releasing intelligence information [relating to Perepilichny] would pose a real risk of serious harm to national security”. Critics argue that the Skripal case has heightened public interest in Russian covert activities on British soil and that the public has the right to know whether the death of Perepilichny was in any way connected to the intelligence realm. The inquest continues this week.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 September 2018 | Permalink