DR Congo military intelligence chief found dead hours before court appearance

Delphin KahimbiThe head of military intelligence of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was found dead on Friday, just hours before he was due to testify before the country’s National Security Council. General Delphin Kahimbi, Deputy Chief of Staff of the DRC Armed Forces, and director of its military intelligence wing, was facing accusations of involvement in an alleged plot to depose the country’s new President, Félix Tshisekedi.

Tshisekedi took over from Joseph Kabila in January of 2019, in what was hailed at the time as the first peaceful transition of power in the DRC since the 1960s. Kabila, who headed the country from 2001 until 2019, has remained a powerful figure in Congolese politics, and participates in a governing coalition with Tshisekedi. But many of Kabila’s supporters want to see Tshisekedi removed from power, and accuse him of assuming the presidency after a fraudulent election. General Kahimbi was among Kabila’s supporters who voiced disagreements against Tshisekedi’s presidency.

Kahimbi rose through the ranks of the military in the 1990s and became a popular military figure after leading a bloody counterinsurgency campaign against secessionist rebels in the eastern DRC. But many accused him of carrying out human rights violations and subverting democratic politics in Africa’s second-largest country. Earlier this year, the European Union placed General Kahimbi in its sanctions list for alleged violations of human rights. Around the same time the United States began pressuring the Tshisekedi government to bring Kahimbi to justice for his role in alleged human rights abuses under the Kabila regime.

On Wednesday, General Kahimbi was briefly arrested by police and was subsequently released on bail. He was summarily suspended from duty and was due to appear before the DRC’s National Security Council on Friday morning. But local reports said he was found dead at his home in the Congolese capital Kinshasa, just hours before he was due to appear before the Council. His wife, Brenda Kahimbi, told the Reuters news agency that he had suffered a heart attack and was pronounced dead in hospital. There are rumors in Kinshasa that he committed suicide, but this is disputed by his family and supporters.

The DRC Armed Forces Council confirmed General Kahimbi’s death, but refused to comment on the cause of his death, or on the precise accusations that he was facing. Late on Friday, the Council released a statement praising General Kahimbi’s contribution to the national security of the DRC. It also announced the launch of an investigation into the general’s death.

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

Pakistani Taliban leaders found dead in Kabul hotel, culprits unknown

Inter-Continental Hotel KabulTwo senior members of the Pakistani Taliban, who were carrying fake identification documents, were reportedly assassinated earlier this month in the vicinity of a luxury hotel in the Afghan capital Kabul. The culprits remain unknown, although the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban has blamed the United States for their death.

According to the BBC, which reported on the incident on Friday, the bodies of the two men were found in or near the Inter-Continental, a five-star hotel located in western Kabul. According to Afghan government sources, the two men were carrying forged identification papers. In a statement issued on Thursday, the Pakistani Taliban identified the dead men as Sheikh Khalid Haqqani and Qari Saif Younis. Sheikh Haqqani had served as the group’s deputy leader, and was a member of its leadership council. Younis was among the group’s most powerful military commanders.

The Pakistani Taliban said that the two men had secretly traveled to Kabul from Paktika, a Taliban stronghold in the east-central region of Afghanistan, in order to attend a high-level meeting. The group did not say who the two men were meeting and why. But it is rare for leading figures of the Pakistani Taliban to leave the areas that the group controls, and even rarer for them to travel to Kabul or any other big city in the region.

The statement from the Pakistani Taliban claimed that the two men were killed “in a clash with American forces”. But the BBC quoted an unnamed “source within the group” who said that they could also have been targeted by militant groups linked to the Pakistani government, which is a sworn enemy of the Pakistani Taliban. United States officials have yet to comment on this developing story.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 February 2020 | Permalink

Head of Saudi king’s security detail shot dead in mysterious circumstances

Abdulaziz al-FaghamThe head of the security detail of Saudi Arabia’s king Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud has been shot dead in mysterious circumstances. Abdulaziz al-Fagham was a Major General in Saudi Arabia’s Royal Guard Corps, whose mission is to protect the senior members of the oil kingdom’s royal family. Al-Fagham served two kings, king Salman and his predecessor, king Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and was constantly seen alongside the in official functions. Since much current-affairs coverage in Saudi Arabia’s state-owned media revolves around the activities of the royal family, al-Fagham’s figure was familiar to most Saudis. They were reportedly shocked by the murder of such a familiar figure who was very close to the Saudi royal family.

But details of al-Fagham’s killing remain sparse. Saudi officials began posting social-media messages of condolence about al-Fagham and his family late on Saturday evening. It wasn’t until late on Sunday evening that the kingdom’s official media began to publish official reports of al-Fagham’s demise. State-run Saudi television said that al-Fagham, whom it described as a “bodyguard of the custodian of the two holy mosques”, had been killed following a “dispute of a personal nature”. A subsequent television report stated that al-Fagham had died on Saturday evening at a house belonging to a close friend of his in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second-largest city, which is located on the shores of the Red Sea.

It has since emerged that while visiting his friend’s house, al-Fagham had a prolonged argument with another visitor named Mamdouh bin Meshaal al-Ali. The latter left the house in anger and later returned with a rifle, which he used to kill al-Fagham and injure two others, according to reports. Al-Fagham was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died of gunshot wounds. Meanwhile, police surrounded the house where the shootout took place and tried to arrest al-Ali. But the alleged culprit refused to surrender to police and was subsequently shot dead by security officers, following a firefight that injured several people.

The New York Times said on Sunday that around al-Fagham’s murder the Saudi intelligence services contacted their American counterparts seeking information on a number o Saudi citizens with alleged connections to terrorism. But it is not known whether the request for intelligence was in any way connected to al-Fagham’s killing.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 September 2019 | Permalink

French ex-spy accused of plot to assassinate Congolese politician found dead in Alps

Lucinges FranceA former paramilitary officer in the French intelligence service, who was under investigation for allegedly plotting to kill a senior Congolese opposition figure, has been shot dead near a village in the French Alps. Daniel Forestier, 57, served for nearly 15 years in a paramilitary unit of the Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE) —France’s equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. After his retirement from the DGSE, he moved with this wife and two children to the alpine village of Lucinges, near Geneva, in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in southeastern France. He reportedly operated a tobacconist shop, served in the village council, and wrote spy novels in his spare time.

Last September, however, a judge placed Forestier under a pre-trial investigation for allegedly participating in a plot to kill General Ferdinand Mbahou. From 1992 to 1997 Mbahou (a.k.a. Mbaou) served as Director of Presidential Security in the Republic of the Congo. In 1997, Mbahou fled the country along with his employer, President Pascal Lissouba, who was ousted in a brutal civil war by militias loyal to Colonel Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Congolese Labor Party. From his new home in Val d’Oise, just outside of Paris, Mbahou has continued to criticize Colonel Sassou Nguesso, who is the current president of the Republic of the Congo. Forestier and another former DGSE officer, Bruno Susini, were accused of having hatched a plan to kill Mbahou. Their indictment mentioned “participation in a criminal organization” and “possession of explosives”. Forestier reportedly told the magistrate that he was a member of a group that planned to assassinate Mbahou, but that he abandoned the effort after conducting reconnaissance and realizing that the plan was “impractical”.

Forestier’s body was discovered on Wednesday “in a pool of blood” in a parking lot in Haute-Savoie, an alpine resort area on the shores of Lake Geneva. According to a police report, he had been shot five times in the chest and head in what public prosecutor Philippe Toccanier described as “a professional job”. He added that Forestier’s killing was “almost undoubtedly […] a settling of scores”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 March 2019 | Permalink

Putin’s ex-adviser found dead in Washington had broken neck, say medical examiners

Mikhail LesinA former senior adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who died allegedly by falling while intoxicated in a luxury hotel room in Washington, may in fact have been strangled to death, according to a newly released medical examination. The body of Mikhail Yuriyevich Lesin, a well-known Russian media mogul, was found in the luxury Dupont Circle Hotel on November 5, 2015. He became famous in Russia soon after the collapse of the communist system, when he founded Video International, an advertising and public-relations agency that was hired by Russian President Boris Yeltsin to run his reelection campaign in 1995.

Yeltsin’s electoral success was partly attributed to the well-tailored media message projected by Lesin’s company. The media magnate was rewarded by Yeltsin, who offered him influential government posts, including that of director of Russia’s state-owned news agency Novosti. Meanwhile, Lesin became a media personality and frequently gave interviews espousing a free-enterprise model for the Russian media industry. But soon after Vladimir Putin’s ascendance to the presidency, Lesin saw the writing on the wall and began advocating for increased government regulation of media and telecommunications conglomerates. In 1999, Putin made him Minister of Press, Broadcasting and Mass Communications, a post he held for nearly six years, until 2004. In 2006, Lesin was awarded the Order for Merit to the Fatherland, one of the most prestigious civilian decorations in Russia.

But in late 2009, Putin abruptly fired Lesin from his post in the Kremlin’s Media Advisory Commission, allegedly because the media mogul had developed close contacts with Russian organized crime. Lesin’s ties with Putin’s inner circle were further strained in 2014, when he resigned from his position as head of Gazprom Media, after he clashed with pro-Putin executives on the board. When Lesin’s body was found in his hotel room by a member of the hotel staff, some suggested that he may have been killed by the Kremlin. Read more of this post

South African probe into murder of Rwandan ex-spy chief unearths new evidence

Patrick KaregeyaA public inquest into the 2014 killing of a Rwandan dissident and former spy chief, who had been given political asylum in South Africa, has unearthed evidence showing that South African authorities believed the killers had close links to the government of Rwanda. It also appears that the South Africans chose not to prosecute the killers in order to protect their diplomatic ties with the Rwandan government. Patrick 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. In 2011, the Rwandan government issued an international arrest warrant for Karegeya, but South Africa refused to extradite him. His body was discovered on December 31, 2014, in a room at the Michelangelo Towers Hotel in Sandton, an affluent suburb of Johannesburg. He was 53.

Earlier this month, in response to pressures from Karegeya’s family and human rights groups, the government of South Africa began a formal inquest into the murder, in anticipation of launching a possible court case. Earlier this week, the magistrate in charge of the inquest, Mashiane Mathopa, made public a previously secret letter from the South African prosecutor’s office about Karegeya’s murder. In the letter, dated June 5, 2018, explains the prosecutor’s decision to “decline at this stage” to prosecute the murder. The decision rests on two arguments. The first argument is that the four men who were believed to have killed Karegeya had already “left South Africa and returned to Rwanda”. The second argument is that there were “close links […] between the suspects and the current Rwandan government”.

On Monday, Mathopa suggested that the South African authorities may have decided not to investigate Karegeya’s murder in order to “help repair” South Africa’s bilateral relations with Rwanda. He then halted the inquest and gave police officials two weeks to “explain their failure to prosecute” Karegeya’s alleged murderers. He also requested detailed information about the “steps, if any, [that] have been taken to arrest the four suspects […], since their whereabouts and their identity are known” to the authorities. Supporters of the inquest said earlier this week that Mathopa could potentially order a trial of the case, which might lead to a formal request made by South Africa for Rwanda to extradite the four men implicated in the case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 January 2019 | Permalink

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

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 visiting 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 to 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

Russian journalist who wrote about mercenaries’ deaths in Syria is found dead

Maxim BorodinA Russian investigative journalist, who wrote a series of articles about Russian soldiers-for-hire in Syria, has died after falling from the balcony of his apartment in western Siberia. Some of his colleagues say they suspect foul play. Maxim Borodin wrote for Novy Den (New Day) an investigative online magazine. In the past few weeks, Novy Den published a series of probing articles by Borodin about the activities of Russian mercenaries working for the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Borodin was one of just a handful of Russian journalists who reported on claims that more than 200 Russian mercenaries were killed in Syria on February 7.

According to the United States government, the Russians were part of a 500-strong Syrian government force that crossed the Euphrates River and entered Kurdish-controlled territory in Syria’s northeastern Deir al-Zour region. American-supported Kurdish forces in the area, which include embedded US troops, responded with artillery fire, while US military aircraft also launched strikes against the Syrian government forces. The latter withdrew across the Euphrates after suffering heavy losses, including at least 200 Russian troops. The incident was subsequently confirmed by the Kremlin, which said that the Russians were contractors and were not members of the Russian armed forces. Borodin wrote that the Russian mercenaries were employed by the Wagner Group, an arms-for-hire company owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a billionaire with close ties to the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin’s name is included in the most recent list of Russian oligarchs that are subject to economic sanctions imposed by the US government.

Last Thursday, just weeks after writing his exposé about the Wagner Group, Borodin was found by neighbors at the foot of the building that houses his apartment in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth largest city. The journalist was taken to a local hospital, where he later died from his injuries. The American news network CNN said it spoke to Valery Gorelykh, a local Russian Interior Ministry official, who said that no foul play was suspected in Borodin’s death. The door of his apartment had been locked from the inside and there were no signs of struggle, said Gorelykh. He went on to say that the most likely explanation for Borodin’s death was that he slipped and fell off the balcony while smoking a cigarette.

But some of Borodin’s colleagues and friends question the verdict of accidental death. Vyacheslav Bashkov, a close friend of the deceased, said Borodin had called him in a frantic state in the early morning hours of April 11. He said his apartment had been surrounded by armed security personnel wearing ski masks, one of whom had climbed on his balcony and appeared to be waiting for a court order so that he could search Borodin’s apartment. But an hour later, Borodin called Bashkov again, this time to let him know that the armed men had been conducting a training exercise and that they never entered his apartment after all. Another colleague of Borodin, Novy Den editor-in-chief Polina Rumyantseva, said she did not believe Borodin had committed suicide.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 17 April 2018 | Permalink

Russian ex-spy sees link between Skripal and GCHQ officer found dead in 2010

Boris KarpichkovA former officer in the Soviet KGB, who now lives in the United Kingdom, is to be questioned by British police after alleging that there is a link between the recent poisoning of Sergei Skripal and the mysterious death of a British intelligence officer in 2010. There has been extensive media coverage in the past month of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a Russian former military intelligence officer who spied for Britain in the early 2000s and has been living in England since 2010. Nearly every European country, as well as Canada, Australia and the United States, expelled Russian diplomats in response to the attack on the Russian former spy, which has been widely blamed on the Kremlin.

But eight years ago, another mysterious attack on a spy in Britain drew the attention of the world’s media. Gareth Williams, a mathematician in the employment of Britain’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ, had been seconded to the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Britain’s external intelligence agency, to help automate intelligence collection. He had also worked with United States agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. But his career came to an abrupt end in August 2010, when he was found dead inside a padlocked sports bag at his home in Pimlico, London. It remains unknown whether his death resulted from an attack by assailants.

Last weekend, however, Boris Karpichkov, a former intelligence officer in the Soviet KGB and its post-Soviet successor, the FSB, said that Williams was killed by the Russian state. Karpichkov, 59, joined the KGB in 1984, but became a defector-in-place for Latvian intelligence in 1991, when the Soviet Union disintegrated. He claims to have also spied on Russia for French and American intelligence. In 1998, carrying two suitcases filled with top-secret Russian government documents, and using forged passports, he arrived with his family in Britain, where he has lived ever since. In an interview with the British tabloid newspaper The Sunday People, Karpichkov said that Williams was killed by Russian intelligence operatives with an untraceable poison substance, because he had discovered the identity of a Russian agent within his agency, the GCHQ. According to Karpichkov, Williams had befriended the mole, codenamed ORION by the Russians, and had realized that he was working for the Russians. The mole then allegedly told his Russian handler, a non-official-cover officer with an Eastern European passport, codenamed LUKAS, that Williams had grown suspicious. Read more of this post