On sale now at amazon.com

Tests Show Russian Whistleblower May Have Been Killed by Rare Poison

A Russian businessman who collapsed and died in 2012 while jogging near his home may have been killed by a rare poison, a new toxicology test has indicated. hny, 44, was a wealthy businessman who had turned in sensitive documents to Swiss prosecutors. These were used to implicate several Russian officials and organized crime figures in a US$ 240 million tax fraud case. 
The fraud case was uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian prison in 2009 after being held in inhumane conditions and denied healthcare.
Perepilichny died in Surrey, United Kingdom, on 10 November 2012. After two autopsies, his cause of death remained unclear. Following a police investigation, his death was officially deemed unsuspicious.
However, RFE/RL reports that the new tests – ordered in advance of a prospective inquest – found trace amounts of chemicals derived from the toxic gelsemium plant in Perepilichny’s stomach.
Further tests are needed to determine if this was also present in his body.

Suspect’s Request to Testify Adds Wrinkle to Litvinenko Inquiry


LONDON — An inquiry into the poisoning death of Alexander V. Litvinenko, a former K.G.B. officer, whistle-blower and bitter foe of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, ran into a last-minute delay on Monday after one of the two suspects in the killing demanded a chance to clear his name and exonerate the Kremlin.
The development offered one more tangle in a saga distinguished by layers of claim and counterclaim, drawn in halftones from a murky world at the intersection of political dissent, clandestine intelligence-gathering and what British lawyers have depicted as intimate ties between the elite in Moscow and organized crime.
Mr. Litvinenko, 43, died in November 2006 after drinking tea that had been laced with a rare radioactive isotope, polonium 210. He had the tea during a meeting at a London hotel with two Russians — Andrei K. Lugovoi, a former K.G.B. bodyguard, and Dmitri V. Kovtun, a onetime Soviet Army officer. Both men have denied accusations by the British police that they killed Mr. Litvinenko, and both have remained outside Britain.
A high-profile public inquiry into the death began on Jan. 27, after years of resistance by the British and Russian authorities. It was scheduled to conclude this week, but Mr. Kovtun complicated matters several weeks ago when he declared that he wanted to testify and to become what is known as a core participant in the case. That status would grant him privileges including the opportunity to have his lawyers cross-examine witnesses.
The maneuver was widely seen by British lawyers as a ploy to derail the inquiry’s schedule. It introduced the first direct challenge to an account of the case that until then had been dominated by the British police and scientists, and that seemed to lead directly to the Kremlin.
On his deathbed in 2006, Mr. Litvinenko accused Mr. Putin of responsibility for his poisoning, a charge that the Russian leader has dismissed. Mr. Litvinenko’s death came six years after he fled Russia, and a few weeks after he and his family were granted British citizenship.
Mr. Kovtun’s request threw the final days of the inquiry into disarray.
At a hearing on Monday, Robert Owen, the senior judge in charge of the inquiry, set conditions for Mr. Kovtun to become a core participant including requirements that he produce written evidence and a witness statement by May 22 and that he answer a series of questions posed to him earlier.
The judge set July 27 as the date for Mr. Kovtun to begin testifying by video link. “I am ready to answer everything,” Mr. Kovtun told the BBC last week. “I had nothing to do with the murder.”
Speaking to reporters in Moscow, Mr. Kovtun gave the impression that he expected core participant status to offer him access to classified documents. But Judge Owen said that neither he nor the existing core participants, including the British police and Mr. Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, would be shown secret material. Nor would witnesses who have already testified be recalled, the judge said.
He added that Mr. Kovtun would be required to say by May 22 whether he planned to invoke a legal right to remain silent to avoid self-incrimination.
“He will be expected to cooperate fully with the inquiry,” Judge Owen said, adding that the July 27 date for testimony was “fixed, and it will not be moved.”
Mr. Kovtun’s demand to participate caught British lawyers between a profound skepticism about his motives and an equally powerful reluctance to be perceived as blocking testimony. Robin Tam, a counsel for the inquiry, said on Monday that Mr. Kovtun’s “intervention” should not be permitted to delay Judge Owen’s final report, expected this year.
Apart from public hearings, the judge also plans closed-door sessions with security officials and others whose contents will not be divulged, in compliance with a series of gag orders intended to safeguard what Judge Owen on Monday called “the national security or international relations.”
Before the inquiry started, the home secretary, Theresa May, insisted that it not cover the question of whether the British authorities ought to have protected Mr. Litvinenko. A lawyer for Ms. Litvinenko has said that her husband acted as a paid agent of MI6, Britain’s overseas intelligence agency, after he fled Moscow.
Throughout the inquiry, which has included 29 days of hearings so far, the Kremlin has remained aloof, declining to hand over either of the suspects.
British scientists have said the isotope that killed Mr. Litvinenko could only have come from Russia, which produces most of the world’s commercial supply of polonium, a rare metal once used in triggers of nuclear weapons.
“The murder was an act of unspeakable barbarism that inflicted on Alexander Litvinenko the most painful and lingering death imaginable,” Ben Emmerson, a lawyer for Ms. Litvinenko, said when the inquiry opened. “It was also an act of nuclear terrorism on the streets of a major city, which put the lives of numerous other members of the public at risk.”
He said Mr. Litvinenko was killed “not because he was an enemy of the Russian state itself or an enemy of the Russian people, but because he had become an enemy of the close-knit group of criminals who surround Vladimir Putin and keep his corrupt regime in power.”

Some 3.5 tons of Afghan heroin worth $1 billion seized in Russia in 2014

30/03/2015 TASS

Law enforcement agencies have seized 3.5 tons of Afghan heroin worth more than $1 billion, Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service (FDCS) head Viktor Ivanov said on Monday.
FDCS was responsible for seizing 2.5 tons of heroin, Ivanov noted. "FDCS deals with seizing large batches of drugs, such as Afghan heroin. In their turn, Russian Interior Ministry’s departments clear the consumer market from already diluted drugs," he added.
The drug control service "persecuted organized criminal groups and intercepted large wholesale quantities of drugs," Ivanov noted. "The service fully dominates in identifying and arresting the assets of drug criminals. Out of 371 criminal cases on drugs in the country, 366 cases were launched by FDCS. Thus, by blocking almost all assets of Russian drug mafia, FDCS demonstrates significant potential for targeted strikes at organized crime," he added.
Last year, the drug control service solved 10,000 crimes linked to drug trafficking, Ivanov said. FDCS "tracked and destroyed ties between large international organized criminal groups and regional Russian criminal groups that distributed wholesale quantities of drugs, thus undermining technological schemes of distributive trafficking networks," he stressed.
Afghanistan remains the main producer and supplier of opiates. According to FDCS, around 93% of all opiates in the world is produced in Afghanistan. According to the drug control service, around 30 tons of heroin get to Russia annually.
Customs officers also prevent attempts of smuggling synthetic drugs from the Baltic States, Western and Eastern Europe. In February 2015, FDCS blocked a large channel of smuggling "spice" smoking mixtures from China to Russia.
First published by TASS.

Thailand Extradites Another Reputed Russian Crime Boss

Thailand has extradited a Russian citizen wanted by Kemerovo regional police in Siberia for banditry, kidnapping and extortion.
The Russian Interior Ministry said that Sergei Kovalenko, 25, was deported from Thailand on March 27.
Investigators say Kovalenko organized a criminal group, known as "Junior Sportsmen," in 2001 that was allegedly involved in stealing and extorting money from local businessmen in Kemerovo.
Kovalenko fled Russia after investigators arrested several members of his group in 2012.
In July, Thai authorities extradited another reputed Russian crime boss, Aleksandr Matusov.
Matusov, 52, was wanted in Russia for his alleged involvement in scores of killings and other criminal activities by an infamous criminal network in Moscow -- the Shchyolkovo Group.

Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax

How Russian, Chinese gangs use a tiny European state to wash 'dirty' cash

By Tim Lister, CNN

 (CNN)A Russian property developer, a Chinese outfit operating shell companies and Venezuelan officials ripping off the state-owned oil companies -- all of them are accused of coming to a bank in the European principality of Andorra to "wash" their money.
Now the U.S. Treasury is casting a spotlight on the alleged misdeeds of senior managers at the Banca Privada d'Andorra (BPA), several of whom have been arrested in the past few days.
The Treasury Department has alleged that "high-level managers [at BPA] accepted payments and other benefits from their criminal clients."
The Andorran authorities took over the running of the bank after the Treasury revelations, and the director general of the Banca Privada, Joan Pau Miquel Prats, was arrested late Friday. Two more bank officials were arrested Sunday.
Next stop for scandal: Spain
Tiny Andorra, nestled in the rugged Pyrenees mountains, has two big neighbors. One is France. And the scandal has spread to its other neighbor, Spain, where corruption among public officials is a hot-button political issue.
Prats had driven BPA's expansion into Spain, through its acquisition of Banco Madrid, in 2011. Banco Madrid caters to wealthy private clients and came under investigation by Spanish financial authorities last year.
Since the BPA scandal broke, the commission that investigates illicit financial activity, Sepblac, has raised questions about accounts held by influential Spanish political and business figures at the Banco Madrid. They have not been named.
The Central Bank has taken control of Banco Madrid and sent in two inspectors to examine accounts there. The bank's board, which included Prats and a former high-ranking official of the Central Bank, resigned on Thursday. Spanish officials say some 20 suspect operations at the bank are being examined.
Spanish authorities are separately investigating substantial assets held at the Banca Privada d'Andorra by members of the Pujol family, who have long been prominent in the politics of Catalonia, a region of Spain that includes Barcelona.
The director of the U.S. Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, Jennifer Shasky Calvery, said that "BPA's corrupt high-level managers and weak antimoney laundering controls have made BPA an easy vehicle for third-party money launderers to funnel proceeds of organized crime, corruption and human trafficking through the U.S. financial system."
BPA has correspondent accounts with four banks -- HSBC, Citigroup, Bank of America and Deutsche Bank -- through which hundreds of millions of dollars passed. Senior managers at BPA tailored services to their clients to disguise the origin of funds, the Treasury said.
Ties to Russian crime organizations
One manager provided "substantial assistance" to a Russian client, Andrei Petrov, described by the Treasury as a "third-party money launderer working for Russian criminal organizations." Petrov had also received a line of credit from Banco Madrid and is alleged to have bribed local officials in the resort where he set up a property development company. He was arrested in Spain two years ago and is accused of helping launder some 56 million euros ($59 million) in proceeds from Russian criminal organizations. Petrov is yet to go on trial.
According to the U.S. Treasury, Petrov has links with one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives, Simeon Mogilevich.
BPA is also alleged to have helped Venezuelan money launderers siphon funds from the state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela.
"This money-laundering network worked closely with high-ranking government officials in Venezuela, resident agents in Panama, and an Andorran lawyer to establish Panamanian shell companies," the Treasury said. BPA processed about $2 billion in transactions by shell companies related to the scheme.
Treasury said another senior official at BPA accepted bribes in return for processing bulk cash transfers for a Chinese money launderer, Gao Ping, who was arrested in Spain in September 2012.
"Through his associate, Ping bribed Andorran bank officials to accept cash deposits into less scrutinized accounts and transfer the funds to suspected shell companies in China," it said in a statement.
Credit rating agency Standard & Poor's has reacted to the growing scandal by downgrading Andorra's rating. Andorra is highly dependent on its banking sector, which makes up some 20% of its GDP.
Russians on the Costa
Spain has long battled the presence of Russian organized crime on its soil. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, wealthy Russians came to Spain for its climate and what were then lax financial controls. Among them were more than a few "vory v zakone," the top echelon of Russian organized crime, according to Spanish officials.
Spanish prosecutor Jose Grinda Gonzalez told U.S. officials five years ago that these individuals had no known jobs and unknown sources of income, yet they lived in large mansions. Grinda's remarks were reported in a diplomatic cable later published by WikiLeaks.
Grinda had prosecuted Zakhar Kalashov, a Georgian-born, Russian citizen widely regarded as one of the most powerful figures in the Russian mafia. Last year, before he completed his nine-year sentence, a Spanish appeals court deported Kalashov to Russia, where he is now a free man.
Another Spanish prosecutor, Fernando Bermejo, told US officials in 2009 that there was large scale money-laundering going on in Catalonia and "many, many" members of the Russian mafia were active there.
Because of growing international cooperation, Spanish prosecutors have stepped up their pursuit of alleged gang leaders, money launderers and embezzlers from Eastern Europe. Among the latest to be detained is a former finance minister from Ukraine, Yuriy Kolobov. He was detained at a luxury development in Alicante earlier this month, after prosecutors in Kiev charged him with embezzlement and is awaiting extradition.
Kolobov was a minister in the government of President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled Ukraine during street protests a year ago.

Helena Cavendish de Moura contributed to this report

‘Putin Involved in Drug Smuggling Ring’, Says Ex-KGB Officer


Russia's President Vladimir Putin has been implicated in helping run a drug smuggling and money laundering ring in St Petersburg in the 1990s. TONY GENTILE/REUTERS
Russian president Vladimir Putin and his long-time ally Victor Ivanov, who is currently head of Russia’s narcotics agency, have been implicated in helping run a drug smuggling and money laundering ring in St Petersburg in the 1990s. The allegations were made by ex-KGB officer Yuri Shvets who spoke at the inquiry into the death Alexander Litvinenko yesterday.
Shvets testified in front of Ben Emmerson QC, expanding on a report he had compiled with fellow ex-Russian intelligence agent Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, a few months prior to the latter’s death from polonium poisoning.
According to Shvets’ sources, which include the late Litvinenko, an anonymous party “sufficiently close to Ivanov to have been his former assistant”, as well as the Ukrainian security services, “Mr Putin was directly involved in a company that was laundering drugs from Colombia” [sic].
Try Newsweek for only $1.25 per week
The ‘due diligence’ report, which Shvets and Litvinenko compiled for Titon International, a security firm based in Mayfair, explains the alleged historical link between Putin, Ivanov and the infamous St Petersburg criminal gang Tambovskaya in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Tambovskaya criminal group, also known as Tambov, is one of the most infamous Russian organised crime groups and have been referred to as “The Russian’s Goodfellas”.
Shvets alleges that as Putin and Ivanov rose from their positions in the security services (KGB/FSB) to more prominent ones in the St Petersburg administration during the 90s, Ivanov “was cooperating with gangsters” such as the now convicted money-launderer Vladimir Kumarin-Barsukov - the leader of the Tambovskaya gang. According to Shvets, Putin “protected” Ivanov while he was engaged in criminal activity, using his position in the St Petersburg mayor’s office to do so.
In the late 1990s Ivanov was reinstated to the security services and became head of internal security, while Putin headed the FSB. Shvets says that by then the agency had “assumed the methods used in the past by the organized crime - racketeering, extortion, protecting ‘friendly’ businesses and cracking down on ‘unfriendly’ ones”.
Meanwhile the inquiry also heard from Shvets that Ivanov’s branch of the FSB in the 1990s “was most closely involved with systemic organised corruption”.
According to Shvets, his and Litvinenko’s report further described possible ties Putin had with Kumarin-Barsukov while Putin was working in St Petersburg government in the 1990s, including that Putin was named as a member of the advisory board of a real-estate company called SPAG in 1992, whose subsidiary company Kumarin-Barsukov was a board member of.
Kumarin-Barsukov denied ties to the Russian president, before being sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2009 for money laundering, having also been charged with organising murder and attempted murder.
The inquiry is currently investigating the possibility that Litvinenko’s murder was orchestrated by the FSB, something that Shvets says could not have been done without the knowledge and consent of “the top authority in Russia, which is Vladimir Putin”.
The inquiry continues.

Alleged Russian mafia arrested in Pattaya

Pattaya, Chon Buri: An alleged Russian mafia was arrested at the Chon Buri Immigration head office Tuesday when he applied for his student visa’s extension.
The arrest of Sergey Kovalenko was announced at a press conference by Chon Buri Immigration chief Pol Col Praphansak Prasarnsuk at 4 pm Wednesday.
Praphansak said the Chon Buri Immigration had been informed by the Russian Embassy in Bangkok that Kovalenko, who carries the passport No 719172304, is wanted by the Russian authorities under the arrest warrant No 2014/36611-1, dated June 18, 2014.
The arrest warrant alleged that Kovalenko was the leader of the so-called Student gang in Yurga, Russia.
The warrant alleged that the Student gang had committed extortions and robberies and had collected protection fees from many victims in Yurga.
Kovalenko was also alleged with involving with murders. Russian police have arrested six members of his gang but Kovalenko managed to flee to Thailand.
Praphansak said Kovalenko turned up at the Chon Buri Immigration on Tuesday to seek to extend his student visa so he was arrested for extradition back to Russia.
Pattaya is known to be a haven of Russian fugitives. Several of arrests of alleged Russian mafias or criminals have been made in Pattaya.
For example in February last year, Pattaya police arrested Dmitry Ishmukhametov, wanted in Russia on extortion charges. He escaped from Russia to live as a real estate developer in Pattaya.
Russian fugitives love Pattaya apparently because the seaside town is popular with tourists from their country. The high number of Russian tourists prompted many of them to start tourism-related businesses to make money from their own fellow citizens.