Brazil launches probe into plane crash that killed senior corruption investigator

Teori ZavasckiBrazilian authorities have launched an investigation into last week’s plane crash that killed the leading judge in the largest corruption probe in the nation’s history, involving government officials and two giant companies. Supreme Court judge Teori Zavascki died last Thursday with two other people, when the small airplane they were on crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. The Beechcraft King Air C90 carrying Zavascki went down near the Brazilian town of Paraty, located 300 miles east of Sao Paulo. Zavascki, was appointed to Brazil’s Supreme Court in 2012, at the age of 64. He soon earned a nationwide reputation for being a relentless prosecutor of Brazil’s notoriously corrupt governmental and corporate elite. In 2015, his reputation soared even further, after he ordered the arrest of Delcídio do Amaral, a leading member of the ruling Workers’ Party, who was serving as Senate speaker and head of the Senate’s Committee on Economic Affairs. Amaral was found guilty of having received bribes from Brazil’s state-owned oil company, Petrobras, and removed from the Senate.

In October 2016, Zavascki ordered the arrest of Eduardo Cunha, President of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies, and the man who had a few months earlier led the impeachment of Brazil’s disgraced former President, Dilma Rousseff. Cuhna’s arrest was part of so-called Operation Carwash, an enormous corruption investigation involving dozens of leading Brazilian politicians, who are accused of having taken bribes from Petrobras and Odebrecht, Brazil’s largest construction company. This coming February, Zavascki was scheduled to publicize a series of plea-bargain settlements, involving nearly 80 Odebrecht senior executives. It is believed that the plea bargains will implicate a large number of well-known Brazilian politicians, including Brazil’s President, Michel Temer, and his two immediate predecessors, Rousseff and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Shortly after Thursday’s plane crash, there was widespread speculation on social media that Zavascki’s death was not an accident. Several notable public figures in Brazil expressed concern about the timing of the judge’s death. They included detective Márcio Anselmo, the senior federal police investigator in Operation Carwash. On Friday, authorities launched an official investigation into the plane crash, which will inevitably remain in the news headlines for weeks, as the Supreme Court struggles to keep Operation Carwash alive. Several public figures have expressed strong concern about possible delays in the investigation, which could enable those being probed to evade justice. In a bizarre twist of fate, President Temer will now be expected to nominate a judge to take Justice Zavascki’s place on the Supreme Court, while knowing that his own name may be implicated in the ongoing corruption investigation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 January 2017 | Permalink

Lebanese president says Israel is behind businessman’s murder in Angola

Michel AounThe president of Lebanon said on Wednesday that Israeli intelligence was behind the killing of a Lebanese businessman who was shot dead by a team of assailants last weekend in southwestern Africa. Amine Bakri, 54, who was from southern Lebanon, had lived and worked in Angola since his mid-20s. He was a well-known businessman in the Angola capital Luanda, where he owned a number of factories that make furniture and various medical equipment. On Sunday, Bakri was driving on an unpaved road in the Angolan capital, when his vehicle was ambushed by a group of three armed assailants. According to media reports, one of the men shot the windshield of Bakri’s car and then proceeded to shoot him in the head at close range. The men fled the scene and Bakri was transported to a local hospital, where he soon died from his wounds.

Initial reports stated that Bakri’s killing resulted from a botched robbery by a local gang of youths. But the murdered man’s nephew and business partner, Mohammad Maatuk, told Lebanese media that the men who ambushed his uncle were not interested in money. Maatuk told the Lebanese news website an-Nahar that the men did not give Bakri an opportunity to offer them money or other valuables. Instead they opened fire almost immediately and fled the scene in a calm, pre-arranged, professional manner, said Maatuk.

On Wednesday, the newly elected President of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, opened the weekly meeting of the Lebanese government by announcing that there was “information that the [Israeli intelligence agency] Mossad was behind this operation” to kill Bakri in Lebanon. He added that the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration was “collecting information” in light of new evidence about Israel’s alleged involvement. According to media reports, Aoun did not provide details about the evidence that the Mossad was behind Bakri’s murder. Nor is there any information about the reasons why Israel might want Bakri dead.

Angola is home to a sizeable Lebanese community, whose members concentrate mostly in Luanda. As of this morning there has been no information about whether Amine Bakri was in any way related to Imad Bakri. Bakri, a Shiite Lebanese merchant in Luanda, has been identified in several intelligence reports as a link between the Shiite Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and UNITA, the Western-supported right-wing rebel group that lost in the Angolan Civil War and today is the country’s second-largest political party. Bakri’s body is expected to arrive in Lebanon today. It will be transported to the Iraqi Shiite city of Najaf, where he will be buried.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 January 2017 | Permalink

Poland exhumes late leader’s body in probe of 2010 plane crash in Russia

Lech KaczyńskiAuthorities in Poland have exhumed the body of the country’s late prime minister and his wife as part of an investigation into the 2010 airplane disaster that killed them and nearly 100 others in Russia. The move has reignited persistent rumors that the crash that killed everyone onboard the plane, including Polish President Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria, was not an accident. At the time of their death, the couple were leading a delegation of Polish officials and journalists traveling to Russia to participate in commemorations marking 70 years from the so-called ‘Katyn massacre’. The term refers to the extermination of approximately 22,000 Polish soldiers and civilians that was carried out by the Soviet military and secret services in 1940, following the Soviet invasion of Poland.

Investigations of the air disaster have been carried out by Russia and by the previous Polish administration, headed by the centrist Civic Platform party, which governed the country from 2010 until 2015. Both concluded that the crash was an accident. But the governing Law and Justice Party (PiS), headed by Jarosław Kaczyński, twin brother of the late president, insists that previous investigations were incomplete and has initiated its own probe into the matter. Almost as soon as it formed a national government last year, the rightwing PiS reopened the investigation into the 2010 air crash. The exhumation of the victims’ bodies, which began on Monday, is the first step of the new probe.

Many supporters of the new investigation claim that bombs hidden onboard the plane caused it to crash. Others suggest that the Polish government at the time is to blame for the crash, because it neglected to properly service the plane. Some have even suggested that Donald Tusk, Poland’s prime minister at the time of the crash, who now heads the European Council, should be put on trial for the murder of President Kaczyński. Critics note that no credible evidence has been put forward to support the assassination theory or the deliberate neglect theory, barring some circumstantial discrepancies in the Russian-language documents. The current probe is expected to last several months.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 November 2016 | Permalink

Mystery death of Putin’s ex-adviser in DC was accident, say US authorities

Mikhail LesinThe mysterious death in Washington, DC, of a former senior adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had fallen out with the Russian president, was the result of an accident, US authorities have concluded after a year-long investigation. The body of Mikhail Yuriyevich Lesin, a well-known Russian media mogul, was found in the luxury Dupont Circle Hotel on November 5, 2015. According to reports, his body bore considerable injuries on his torso and limbs. Some unconfirmed updates suggested that Lesin had died from several “blunt force injuries to the head”. But United States authorities refused to speculate on the cause of Lesin’s death and opened an official investigation into the matter.

Lesin 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 in 1995 to run his reelection campaign. 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. Last November, when Lesin’s body was found in his hotel room by a member of the staff, some suggested that he may have been killed by the Kremlin. But On Friday, the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, DC, in cooperation with the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, said that Lesin’s death had been the result of injuries “induced by falls”, which came after “days of excessive consumption of alcohol”. The two agencies said that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which had assisted in the investigation into Lesin’s death, concurred with the results. Consequently, the investigation is now closed, they said. The Kremlin, the Russian embassy in Washington, and the FBI, have not commented on the case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 October 2016 | Permalink

Argentine ex-spy says government killed prosecutor Alberto Nisman

Alberto NismanAn Argentine former senior intelligence official has claimed in court testimony that the administration of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner murdered a state prosecutor who had accused senior officials of having colluded with Iran to bomb Israeli targets in Buenos Aires. In January 2015, the prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, prompted international headlines by launching a criminal complaint against President Kirchner and several other notable personalities of Argentine political life. Nisman accused them of having colluded with the government of Iran to obstruct an investigation into the bombings of the Israeli embassy and a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in the mid-1990s. A dozen people died in the bombing of the embassy, while another 85 were killed two years later, when the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina community center in the Argentine capital was bombed. Nisman was found dead on January 19, 2015, hours before he was due to give Congressional testimony on the subject. His body was found in the bathroom of his apartment, which had been locked from the inside.

Argentine authorities say they believe Nisman killed himself with a single shot to the head from a .22 caliber handgun. His family, however, as well as many notable personalities in Argentina, believe he was murdered on the orders of government officials who wanted to silence him. Such claims were reinforced this week following a dramatic 17-hour court testimony by Antonio Horacio Stiuso, better known as Jaime Stiuso, who served as chief operating officer for Argentina’s Secretaría de Inteligencia del Estado (SIDE) under President Kirchner. Stiuso was fired after Nisman’s death, when the government suddenly dissolved SIDE and replaced it with a new agency, the Agencia Federal de Inteligencia. In justifying the dramatic move, President Kirchner accused SIDE of feeding Nisman fabricated information implicating her and her government minsters in a fictional collusion with the Islamic Republic, and then killing him in order to destabilize her rule. She then charged SIDE’s leadership, including Stiuso, with involvement in Nisman’s killing. Stiuso promptly fled Buenos Aires for Brazil, from where he flew to Miami, Florida, on February 19, using an Italian passport.

But the former spy recently returned to Argentina and on Monday he testified in a closed-door hearing as part of an official investigation into Nisman’s death. Although Stiuso gave his testimony in secret, Argentine media published several extracts on Tuesday, which appear to have been leaked by witnesses. According to the excerpts, Stiuso accused members of an “inner circle” inside President Kirchner’s government of having killed Nisman and then tampered with incriminating evidence from the scene of the crime. The former spy appears to have told the judge in the case, Fabiana Palmaghina, that the state prosecutor’s death “was intimately linked to the work he was doing”. He is reported to have added that “the author of all this madness was that woman, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Stiuso has refrained from talking to the media, and his comments to the court have not been confirmed. However, the judge in the case, who previously favored the view that Nisman committed suicide, has now referred Nisman’s case to a higher federal court in Argentina with instructions that it be examined as a possible homicide.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 March 2016 | Permalink

Forensic experts to probe alleged poisoning of Nobel Laureate poet Neruda

Pablo NerudaTwo teams of international experts will examine the exhumed remains of Chilean Nobel Laureate poet Pablo Neruda, who some say was deliberately injected with poison by the Chilean intelligence services. The literary icon died on September 23, 1973, less than two weeks after a coup d’état, led by General Augusto Pinochet, toppled the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, a Marxist who was a close friend of Neruda. The death of the internationally acclaimed poet, who was 69 at the time, was officially attributed to prostate cancer and the effects of acute mental stress caused by the military coup. In 2013, however, an official investigation was launched into Neruda’s death following allegations that he had been murdered.

The investigation was sparked by comments made by Neruda’s personal driver, Manuel Araya, who said that the poet had been deliberately injected with poison while receiving treatment for cancer at the Clinica Santa Maria in Chilean capital Santiago. According to Araya, General Pinochet ordered Neruda’s assassination after he was told that the poet was preparing to seek political asylum in Mexico. The Chilean dictatorship allegedly feared that Neruda would seek to form a government-in-exile and oppose the regime of General Pinochet. Last year, Spanish newspaper El País said it had been given access to a report prepared by Chile’s Ministry of the Interior, which allegedly argues that it was unlikely that Neruda’s death was the “consequence of his prostate cancer”. According to the paper, the document states that it was “manifestly possible and highly probable” that the poet’s death was the outcome of “direct intervention by third parties”. The report also explains that Neruda’s alleged murder resulted from a fast-acting substance that was injected into his body or entered it orally.

On Wednesday, it was announced that two teams of genomics and forensic experts, one in Canada and one in Denmark, will examine Neruda’s bones and teeth in an effort to extract fragments of bacterial DNA. According to reports, the experts hope that the extracted DNA will provide them with genomic data that can help identify pathogenic bacteria. That, in turn, could help establish a possible cause of death. The two teams are based at the Ancient DNA Center at McMaster University in Canada and the Department of Forensic Medicine at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 February 2016 | Permalink | News tip: R.W.

Dead body found on plane carrying millions in cash in Zimbabwe

HarareAn American-registered airplane carrying large quantities of cash on behalf of a South African bank was impounded by authorities in Zimbabwe after a dead body was found on board. Zimbabwean media said police was notified after human blood was seen dripping from the plane’s cargo area during an emergency refueling stop. Authorities said the plane belonged to Western Global Airlines, a Florida-based transportation company that specializes in chartering flights to Africa. Its crew includes at least two Americans, a Pakistani and a South African citizen.

According to officials in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, the cargo plane had been traveling from Germany to South Africa when it made an emergency request to land at the Harare International Airport. An earlier request by the crew to land in neighboring Mozambique had been turned down. But after refueling the plane, attendants at Harare airport noticed that there was blood dripping from the plane’s cargo area. When they opened the door, they discovered “a suspended body in the plane”, said The Herald, one of Zimbabwe’s largest newspapers.

It was later established that the plane was carrying millions of South African rand on behalf of the South African Reserve Bank (SARB), which is the central bank of South Africa. An official at the bank said on Monday that SARB was “aware of an aircraft carrying a SARB consignment that stopped in Harare and was detained”, but gave no further information. The Zimbabwe Civil Aviation Authority said the matter had been forwarded for investigation to police authorities. The ambassador of South Africa to Zimbabwe, Vusi Mavimbela said media reports about the incident were accurate, but refused to provide details, saying the matter was under investigation.

The last time authorities in Zimbabwe impounded a foreign-owned airplane was in 2004, when a Boeing 727 registered in South Africa was found to contain several tons of weapons and 64 troops. The troops, who were mercenaries from several countries, including South Africa, Britain and Armenia, were on their way to Equatorial Guinea to stage a military coup in return for a share in profits from the country’s lucrative oil sector.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 February 2016 | Permalink