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Austin developer cleared in 6-year-old fraud lawsuit

Austin real estate developer Peter Barlin has been cleared of any wrongdoing in a six-year-old federal fraud lawsuit.
A jury “completely exonerated” Barlin on Feb. 5 after a four-week trial in U.S. Western District Court in Austin presided over by Judge David Ezra, said Barlin’s lawyer, Dan Byrne.
The verdict showed that the claims of plaintiffs Steven Aubrey and Brian Vodicka — which included alleged connections to Russian organized crime and a real estate Ponzi scheme — were baseless, said Byrne, a senior partner at Fritz Byrne Head & Fitzpatrick PLLC in downtown Austin.
 “It was a huge relief to have this finally behind him, to have his name cleared once and for all,” Byrne said of Barlin.
A lawyer for Aubrey and Vodicka could not be reached for comment. Plaintiff attorneys Nicholas Reisch,David Scott, Thomas Watkins and Brian Weil Zimmerman were granted permission Feb. 23 to remove themselves from the case.
Barlin owns many buildings around town, especially in East Austin, and is responsible for the redevelopment of Penn Field and the Tillery Street Theater, among other projects. The Austin Business Journal most recently wrote about one of his properties when Zach Olschwanger turned a Springdale Road building into the Austin Bouldering Project.
There were two other defendants in the case: Sandra Gunn, who was cleared of all charges, and Greg Lahr, who was found partly negligent, said their attorney Anthony Icenogle. An order of final judgement listed a combined $1.57 million in judgements against Lahr.
Lahr is waiting to see how the post-trial period plays out, said Icenogle, a partner at Icenogle & Sullivan LLP. Barlin has filed a motion to throw out those claims and the judge has given Aubrey and Vodicka until March 1 to respond.
But Gunn “was completely vindicated” and felt “a mixture of relief that the case was resolved in her favor and anger that it took so many years and an unbelievable amount of money to resolve it," Icenogle said.
In the lawsuit, originally filed in 2010, Aubrey and Vodicka alleged Barlin and the other defendants orchestrated a real estate Ponzi scheme that resulted in them losing $1 million. They also said Barlin was allegedly linked to a Russian mobster.
Judge Ezra threw out the organized crime charges before the trial even began, Byrne said. The defense is trying to recoup some of the costs of defending those charges, which fall under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
Otherwise, Byrne said, “we have a very limited avenue to try to get a very small portion of our fees back.”
Will Anderson coordinates digital coverage of business news.

Estonian Residence Permit Scandal: 5 Years After

helencraig Mar 1, 2016 Crime, News

Residence permits in first-class countries have always been a hot product for wealthy Russians. They crave legal protection for their assets and in case things go too wrong in their home country – an ability to flee somewhere where they would at least have a day in proper court if extradition is requested.
Those reasons are perfectly acceptable if the migrants themselves are legitimate businessmen and investors. But as we have learnt over the years, a great deal of Russian exiles are anything but that: hordes of corrupt officials and their relatives, fraudsters, embezzlers, organized crime figures and other undesirables are successfully acquiring residence rights in the EU and other Rule-of-law adhering States.
About five years ago a scandal broke out in Estonia, a European Union member bordering northern Russia, which shows just how bad the Russian criminal emigration problem is.
In December 2011 it was revealed that two Estonian consulting firms (Advisory Partners and Integer Invest) affiliated with and run by prominent Estonian politicians created a scheme allowing wealthy Russians to obtain investment-based Estonian residence permits without actually going through the normal procedure of making a proper investment.
The residence-permit seeking applicants were asked to pay around 65,000 Euro per person as ‘investment’ into one of the 78 allegedly sham companies registered at a single address in Tallinn. The PEP-affiliated consulting firms then handled all the paperwork and permits were issued.
When Estonian media uncovered the scheme, the two politicians stepped down. However what appeared to be most interesting were not the corruption allegations, but the list of the successful applicants who got their EU residency through the scheme, which was made public in the wake of the scandal.
The Estonian Police said in 2011 that it was launching investigation into allegedly illegal acquisition of residence permits. However, after that not much happened. Many of the ‘new residents’ kept their permits, as the political stir subsided.
This year I did some current research on the people on the original 2011 list. The news which accumulated over the past years reveal now that a good deal of those ‘investors’ were dubious, corruption-linked or outright criminal individuals.
Below is some open-source information to substantiate that uncomfortable conclusion. All the persons mentioned are from the 2011 Estonian investor residence visa scandal list.
Sergei Lalakin (Сергей Лалакин) was a leader in the Podolsk organized crime group, a powerful Russian gang of 1990s. He is residing abroad and not subject to any current criminal proceedings. In 2011 he obtained Estonian residency for himself and several members of his family, all as ‘investors’.
Dmitry Akulinin (Дмитрий Акулинин), ex-shareholder and executive of the Bank of Moscow, was charged in 2012 with multiple counts of fraud, embezzlement and money laundering, billions of roubles in alleged damages. Indictments mention the stealing of shares of a Russian insurance company, stealing loans of the Bank of Moscow and laundering the proceeds offshore. Wanted by the Interpol (red notice).
Andrey Butorin, Sergey Kadanov, Ruslan Maksimenko, Igor Sitnikov and Alexander Veligodsky (Андрей Буторин, Сергей Каданов, Руслан Максименко, Игорь Ситников и Александр Велигодский) were direct and indirect shareholders in a Russian bank «Russian Financial Traditions» whose license was revoked by the Russian Central Bank for breaches of the money laundering law. Kadanov was reported to have been twice indicted for fraud.
Maria Kuzminova (Мария Кузьминова) and the previously-mentioned Sitnikov, Maksimenko and Veligodsky are beneficiaries of InvestTrustBank, a Russian financial institution. Its license was revoked in October 2015 for involvement in money laundering schemes.
Viacheslav Gubernatorov (Вячеслав Губернаторов), a Saint Petersburg businessman was indicted in June 2015 for large scale VAT refund fraud by a St. Petersburg court. His partner Andrei Kulev was arrested, while Gubernatorov absconded and is currently wanted internationally.
Evgeny Mulyukov (Евгений Мулюков), Russian businessman, currently subject to police investigation in Russia for large scale extortion (Interpol blue notice). Open court records from Russia reveal that this individual has a pattern of behaviour in line with these criminal charges: he was found to have caused damage to a local oil company by spreading damaging false information. He still has a valid Estonian residence permit and owns local real estate.
Yulia Artiakova and Dmitry Artiakov (Юлия Артякова и Дмитрий Артяков) are children of the ex-Governor of Samara Region (Russia) Vladimir Vladimirovich Artiakov. At the time of making the investments in Estonia they hardly possessed any capital earned independently of their father, a high-profile PEP. After Artiakov Sr. left the Governor post he was appointed deputy director in a huge State-owned corporation, Rostechnologii, headed by Sergei Chemezov. It would come as no surprise that Artiakov’s son Dmitry and Chemezov’s son Stanislav were revealed to be holding partner shares in an important hotel investment (Meridian hotel in Gelenjik). Any proper investigation would have a hard time proving that the origin of wealth of those Estonian investors has nothing to do with Russian PEP enrichment.
Bers Dzhambulatov (Берс Джамбулатов) is deputy general director for economy and finance in a Gazprom-controlled company, ZTP MOEK. This entity controls commercial access to heating network of Gazprom-controlled MOEK, an energy company. Obtaining swift access to monopoly-controlled energy networks is generally considered very corruption-intensive by Moscow commercial enterprises and property developers.
Gleb Ognyannikov (Глеб Огнянников) is a close person to, and some believe, a front man for, Mr. Leonid Reiman, ex-Minister of Telecommunications of Russia who is subject to multiple investigations for money laundering internationally. His corporate investment vehicles include Eventis Telecom and Sloane Square Capital Partners.
Valery Suraev (Валерий Сураев) is ex-head of an important department in the Russian Ministry of Fisheries responsible for regulating fishing fleet, sea fishing ports and allocation of funding for fleet repairs.
Anatoly Valetov (Анатолий Валетов) is an acting State official in the city of Moscow; he is deputy head of department of foreign economic and international relations of the city of Moscow since August 2011.
What I find peculiar about all of this is that much of the information on the likely real source of funds of those visa applicants and on their potential criminal affiliations was publicly available at the time they made their applications. Whoever created the visa scheme was greedy enough not to check.
Another conclusion one may draw from researching scandals like this one is how double-faced our policies are. We sign conventions on the prevention of money laundering and corruption with one hand, while opening the door to the holders of dirty money with the other.

Alleged leader of Russian gang released on bail by Austrian court - report

MOSCOW, March 3 (RAPSI) – A court in Vienna released Aslan Gagiyev, an alleged leader of Russia's organized-crime syndicate that is suspected of being involved in multiple murders, after paying bail of 100,000 euros, Kommersant newspaper reported on Thursday.
Earlier, press-secretary of Vienna Regional Court for Criminal Matters told the newspaper that Austrian authorities granted permission for Gagiyev’s extradition to Bulgaria where he is charged in absentia with documents’ forgery.
Austria is yet to review Russian extradition request for the second time. In the summer of 2015 extradition request was granted by the Austrian court, but later it was appealed by Gagiyev.
Bulgarian request has been appealed as well, according to Kommersant.
Russian investigators claim that Georgian-born Aslan Gagiyev’s gang has been operating since 2004 and includes over 50 members.
Members of the gang committed more than 40 counts of murder in Moscow and North Ossetia. Some of them have already been convicted and are serving long prison terms. Over ten of them have been arrested, and an additional thirteen suspects are wanted by Interpol and federal law enforcement agencies.
Three more members, including the gang’s leader Aslan Gagiyev were arrested in other foreign states and are to be extradited.
Gagiyev who was arrested in Austria in January 2015 faces life sentence in Russia.

The Daily Vertical: Russia's Spooks And Crooks


It's not every day that cigarette smugglers get convicted of espionage.
But that is exactly what just happened in Estonia -- and it's a sign of the times.
Prosecutors announced this week that three men -- all smugglers of contraband cigarettes -- were convicted of collaborating with Russia's security services, providing them with information on the operations and movements of Estonia's border guards and defense forces.
Now espionage cases involving Russian spies in Estonia are not uncommon, but they usually involve high-level officials with access to state secrets.
On one hand, the prosecution of low-level informants indicates heightened vigilance on Estonia's part as Moscow continues to menace and threaten the Baltic states.
But it also starkly illustrates the dark alliance between organized crime and Russia's security services -- the nexus between its spooks and its crooks.
It is worth noting that when Estonian law-enforcement officer Eston Kohver was abducted by Russian agents in September 2014, he was investigating a smuggling ring run jointly by organized crime groups and Russia's Federal Security Service.
Russia's nationalization and weaponization of its many mafias is one aspect of the hybrid war it is waging on the West.
And as a result, the West's response needs to go beyond traditional notions of defense.
In this environment, law enforcement, counter espionage, and national security are intertwined.
The Estonians are on the front lines, and they clearly get this.

And it's a lesson the rest of the West needs to learn as well.

Russian Spy Alexander Litvinenko Was ‘Probably Murdered’ On Putin’s Orders


UPDATE: 7:05 a.m. EST — The U.K. government has reacted to the publication of the  Alexander Litvinenko inquiry report, with Home Secretary Theresa May calling the killing a "blatant and unacceptable breach of the most fundamental tenets of international law and civilized behavior."
May also revealed that the assets of the two suspects were being frozen, adding that "senior representations" were being made to the Kremlin and the Russian ambassador in the U.K. was being summoned to the Foreign Office.
Speaking outside the court where the report was presented, Litvinenko's widow Marina Litvinenko said: "The words my husband spoke on his deathbed when he accused Mr. Putin have been proved by an English court."
A U.K. government-backed public inquiry into the death of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko has concluded that the former spy was “probably” murdered on the personal orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Litvinenko was killed while in London in November 2006 allegedly by Russian agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, having drank a cup of tea poisoned with radioactive polonium-210. There is a “strong probability” the two agents were acting on behalf of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the inquiry found. Both Lugovoi and Kovtun deny the allegations.
The inquiry, chaired by Sir Robert Owen, said that evidence given in court made a “strong circumstantial case” that the Russian state was behind the assassination, but added that there was a significant amount of evidence given in secret, most likely from Litvinenko's former employers MI6, which led him to the conclusion “that the FSB operation to kill Mr Litvinenko was probably approved by [Nikolai] Patrushev [head of the security service in 2006] and also by President Putin.” The 300-page report is based on evidence from 62 witnesses heard over the course of six months as well as evidence from sources within the U.K.'s intelligence apparatus.
Litvinenko's widow Marina said she was "very pleased" with the conclusion. Russia's foreign ministry, however, called the inquiry "biased" and "opaque," according to the official RIA news agency. Russia's Interfax news agency quoted Lugovoi, now a politician, as saying: "This is a poor attempt from London to use a skeleton in the closet to the advantage of their political position."
Litvinenko previously worked for the FSB spy agency but fled to the U.K. in 2000 where he was granted asylum and eventually citizenship. He worked as a writer and journalist, becoming a strong critic of the Kremlin in those years. It is also understood he worked as a consultant for MI6, specializing in Russian organized crime.
No-Show Suspect In Litvinenko Murder Stymies Inquiry
Suspect Dmitry Kovtun, who remains in Russia despite extradition attempts, has avoided in-person testimony during the U.K.'s ongoing inquiry into the death of Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko.


Russian mob hides cash in IFSC funds and land

Criminals have been buying up ground around Kildare, says Cab boss

 Maeve Sheehan

International mafia money is being routed through Ireland concealed in massive hedge funds, according to the head of the Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab).
Russian mafia money is hard to detect because it is hidden in high value investment funds that are often routed through international institutions in the Irish Financial Services Centre (IFSC).
Eugene Corcoran, chief superintendent of the Cab, said: "That money is in circulation. It does not tend to be the subject of much investigation here because it tends to be hidden in large international funds.
"They tend to be disguised in very large investment funds that are routed through here from time to time through international banks in the IFSC, but don't tend to be the subject of requests for assistance (from overseas police forces)," he said.
"Very often it can prove quite a difficult task to monitor that because you are dealing with very large funds that are otherwise genuine."
He said the most significant difference between the work of the bureau today and 10 or 15 years ago is that is the level of international cooperation with forces overseas.
"There is practically no case now that does not have some international dimension to it," he said.
The introduction of stringent international money laundering rules in recent years has forced Irish criminals back to the bad old days of smuggling cash out of the country in hold-alls.
"There is an increased amount of cash getting out of the country in notes and currency," said Mr Corcoran.
"Drug dealers have gone back to the cruder way of moving money, because of the tightening of banking regulations. There is a move back to moving money out ... more frequently and in small amounts, particularly along the border."
According to Mr Corcoran, investment in land - as opposed to houses - is also becoming a bit of a theme. Land is often cheaper, often maintenance-free and is less likely to attract attention. One group of criminals is investing heavily at the moment on sites in parts of Kildare.
"There is a quite a pattern developing there in north Kildare and we are trying to do something about that," he said.
"This is emerging over the last couple of years. They see it as a good way of avoiding making cash deposits or accumulating cash and there is a speculative element to it as well," he said.
The bureau is also targeting professionals who are helping criminals to hide their money.
"They are getting advice from professionals to structure their investments in a particular way," he said, adding that "there are a number of accountants and solicitors who they can go to, who know exactly what they are dealing with."
The latest annual report, published last week, showed that Cab seized over €10m in illicit proceeds in 2014. Almost €4m returned to the state and €6.5m in assets were frozen. Social welfare overpayments of €655,641 in jobseeker's allowance and €275,998 in disability allowance were also recovered.
The annual report disclosed the money the agency seized from the underworld, and also how criminals are trying to hide it.
Travelling crime gangs in particular are choosing mid-range cars, like Nissans and Hondas, a number of which were seized in 2014.
"People might wonder why some of the cars are of mediocre value, of around €15,000 to €20,000, whereas ordinarily you might expect the very high-end cars are the ones being seized," said Mr Corcoran.
"We noticed a change of pattern as a tactic really, adopted by gangs. They don't want to suffer the loss of a high-end car so they deliberately decide to downgrade themselves."
Sunday Independent

The Moment Russia Went Fully Rogue

Poisoning a British citizen on British soil crossed a line—and presaged nearly a decade of bad behavior.

The grave of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London Toby Melville / Reuters


In many ways it all began with the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko.
Not that Vladimir Putin’s Russia was exactly a model global citizen before the November 2006 killing of the former KGB spy who defected to Great Britain. But when Litvinenko was lethally poisoned after drinking tea laced with polonium in a London hotel in November 2006, it heralded Russia’s transformation from being a mere international pain to being a full-blown outlaw state.
An official British investigation into the incident has now concluded that former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoi and his accomplice Dmitry Kovtun killed Litvinenko, most likely with Putin’s approval. (Both men have denied the charges.) And that was the moment when Russia fully went rogue. It was the point where the Kremlin stopped even pretending to play by international rules. It was the point where Moscow’s gangster state truly went international.
In fact, at the time he was killed, Litvinenko waspreparing to testify in a Spanish investigation into ties between Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and Russian organized-crime groups operating in Europe. And after Putin’s agents allegedly whacked a British citizen on British soil and got away with it, Russia started breaking bad.
Months later, in April 2007, came Russia’s cyber attacks on Estonia that hit that country’s parliament, banks, and government ministries. And the following year, in August 2008, came the invasion of Georgia.
Litvinenko’s killing was also a prologue to the more recent litany of bad behavior and law-breaking: the little green men and the annexation of Crimea, the hybrid war in the Donbas, and the downing of Flight MH17 by Moscow-backed separatists.
It was a harbinger of Moscow’s new fondness for hostage-taking, a wave that has seen Estonian law-enforcement officer Eston Kohver, Ukrainian Air Force pilot Nadia Savchenko, and Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov kidnapped from their home countries and hauled before show trials in Russia to face ridiculous charges.
It was a prelude to the recent wave of cyberattacks on targets including a French television network, a German steelmaker, the Warsaw stock exchange, The New York Times, the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. State Department, and the White House.
The British investigation, which concluded that Litvinenko was “probably” killed on Putin’s personal order, is important because it provides by far the most damning confirmation of a link between the assassination and the Kremlin’s inner sanctum. It gives an official imprimatur to what has long been widely suspected. It reminds us of the utter outrageousness of what happened nearly a decade ago.
The Litvinenko killing crossed a line.
There were, of course, signs before Litvinenko’s killing that Putin’s Russia was headed for the dark side. A month earlier, investigative journalist and Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya was gunned down in the stairwell of her Moscow apartment building—on Putin’s birthday. And in 2004, Russia brazenly interfered in Ukraine’s presidential election, and is widely suspected of being involved in the poisoning of the eventual winner, Viktor Yushchenko. There was also the February 2004 assassination of Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev in the Qatari capital, Doha.
But the Litvinenko killing—which was described by a lawyer for the London police as “a nuclear attack on the streets of London”—crossed a line.
Nine years and two months ago, Putin learned that he could get away with murder—even of foreign citizens on foreign soil. And we’ve been living with the consequences ever since.