On sale now at amazon.com

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


BY DAVID GILBERT @DAITHAIGILBERT

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
BY EBEN BLAKE
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

BRIAN WHITMORE

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.

Tskhinvali, Moscow to set up info center to fight organized crime



The interior ministries of South Ossetia and Russia will sign before the end of January a supplement agreement to their Alliance and Integration Agreement, setting up a joint information coordination center, officials in Tskhinvali said.
"Once necessary procedures are completed by the governmental agencies of our republic, the South Ossetian side will be ready to sign this inter-ministerial agreement," South Ossetian Interior Minister Akhsar Lavoyev told reporters on Jan. 9.
The same necessary procedures are being carried out on the Russian side, the minister said. "Under our main agreement, on alliance and integration, the parties are obligated to sign the supplement in January 2016," he said.
Russia steps up fight against terrorist recruiters
The new document focuses primarily on the creation of a new bilateral agency between the ministries, a joint information coordination center.
"The objectives of the center are mainly the fight against organized-crime communities whose actions affect the interests of both sides (terrorism, illicit drug trafficking, illegal border crossing, and so on). They also include organizing important data sharing and maintaining necessary operational and criminalist records; forming and maintaining a special data bank on organized-crime communities whose illegal activities affect the interests of both sides," Lavoyev said.
Furthermore, the new document stipulates bilateral search and extradition of fugitive criminal suspects or convicts and "assistance in necessary coordinated efforts to fight dangerous crimes that pose a security threat to both sides," he said.
Under the alliance and integration agreement signed by Russia and South Ossetia in March 2015, the two sides are to sign supplement agreements in certain areas. The agreement comes into effect this February.


Tskhinvali, Moscow to set up info center to fight organized crime


January 9, 2016 INTERFAX

Moscow not ready to accept South Ossetia, despite calls for unification
SOUTH OSSETIA

The interior ministries of South Ossetia and Russia will sign before the end of January a supplement agreement to their Alliance and Integration Agreement, setting up a joint information coordination center, officials in Tskhinvali said.
"Once necessary procedures are completed by the governmental agencies of our republic, the South Ossetian side will be ready to sign this inter-ministerial agreement," South Ossetian Interior Minister Akhsar Lavoyev told reporters on Jan. 9.
The same necessary procedures are being carried out on the Russian side, the minister said. "Under our main agreement, on alliance and integration, the parties are obligated to sign the supplement in January 2016," he said.
The new document focuses primarily on the creation of a new bilateral agency between the ministries, a joint information coordination center.
"The objectives of the center are mainly the fight against organized-crime communities whose actions affect the interests of both sides (terrorism, illicit drug trafficking, illegal border crossing, and so on). They also include organizing important data sharing and maintaining necessary operational and criminalist records; forming and maintaining a special data bank on organized-crime communities whose illegal activities affect the interests of both sides," Lavoyev said.
Furthermore, the new document stipulates bilateral search and extradition of fugitive criminal suspects or convicts and "assistance in necessary coordinated efforts to fight dangerous crimes that pose a security threat to both sides," he said.

Under the alliance and integration agreement signed by Russia and South Ossetia in March 2015, the two sides are to sign supplement agreements in certain areas. The agreement comes into effect this February.

New Documentary Delves Into Dark Side Of Putin's Rise


The new documentary Who Is Mr. Putin looks at the Russian president's ascent to power, starting with his early days working in the St. Petersburg mayor's office.


The Many Faces Of Vladimir Putin
By Tony Wesolowsky

A Russian filmmaker is urging viewers to share his new documentary focusing on the less savory side of President Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, hoping to reach the widest possible audience.
"I call on all viewers out there to download and distribute the video so viewing of it can’t be blocked," said Valery Balayan, the creator of Khuiz mister putin.
The film, chronicling Putin’s ascent from the St. Petersburg mayor’s office to the presidency, was premiered for media in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, on December 29. It comes on the heels of fresh reports detailing allegations of corruption and links to organized crime.
 "My task was to make an informative and entertaining film, to explain some things to people in a clear way. To explain that Putin began his career with thievery -- only on the scale of Leningrad, St.Petersburg -- and that he hasn’t changed," said Balayan, who has made more than 60 documentary films and has worked for RFE/RL.
"A person doesn’t change, just develops. [Putin] has developed to such a degree that a corporation of [former KGB officers] and representatives of the criminal underworld has taken control of Russia," Balayan said.
The film's tongue-twister title is a Russian transliteration of "Who Is Mr. Putin?" but also includes a play on a vulgar Russian word for the male sexual organ.
 Balayan said that, for the most part, filming went smoothly -- until he and his team went to Ozero (Lake), a dacha cooperative that Putin and a group of business, political, and security acquaintances founded in 1996.

Their presence there apparently raised alarm bells.
 "What you see in the film is just the tip of the iceberg, because there were security guards everywhere. They took video of us, filmed the car I arrived in, its license plate. They were making calls, reporting something or other," Balayan said.
 "So, the four of us working on the film decided not to recount anything from that incident so as to avoid any information leaks," he said. "We understood that our subject was such that it was better not to attract any attention. And we were able to keep it quiet despite the fact that our work took eight months."
The film begins in the 1990s when Putin, after 16 years serving in the KGB, had a short stint in the mayor’s office in St. Petersburg, his hometown. Balayan said that it explains the future president’s involvement in barter deals that, he said, appear to have lined the pockets of Putin and his associates while bringing little benefit to the city itself.
The film focuses on a 1991 deal in which previous accounts have accused Putin of understating prices and permitting the export of metals valued at $93 million in exchange for foreign food aid that never made it to shop shelves.
 "The most well-developed bandit-bureaucrat criminal system [in Russia] was in St. Petersburg," local journalist Vladimir Ivanidze recounts in the film.
 Suspicions of connections with organized crime have dogged Putin for years. Such charges, however, have gained fresh momentum in recent weeks.
In November, the Russian journal The New Times published a summary of the findings of a Spanish probe into Russian organized crime that includes claims reaching all the way to Putin himself.

From Communist Gold To Kremlin Power: Spanish Prosecutors Outline Russia's

By Viktor Rezunkov and Robert Coalson
December 17, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG -- Suspicions of connections with organized crime have dogged Vladimir Putin since his stint in the St. Petersburg mayor's office in the early 1990s.
 The accusations have gained new momentum in recent weeks with two important developments. On December 1, opposition politician and anticorruption campaigner Aleksei Navalny released a film expose on Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika and his sons, outlining circumstantial evidence of ties to organized crime and abuse of the prosecutor's office for financial gain.
 The film has garnered more than 3.5 million views and it is becoming increasingly hard for the Kremlin to ignore, despite the fact that Chaika is part of Putin's closest inner circle.
 In November, the journal New Times published a summary of the findingsof a Spanish probe into Russian organized crime that includes claims reaching all the way to Putin himself. The nongovernmental Open Russia organization later published the entire, more than 400-page Spanish prosecutor's report in Russian. The report was submitted in May and a copy reached the media in June.
The Spanish report centers on Gennady Petrov, who is believed to be the head of a prominent ring known as the Tambov organized-crime group, and illuminates his alleged ties to Putin and members of Putin's inner circle that stretch back to their days in St. Petersburg. Petrov got his start as a co-owner of the Bank Rossia in 1998-99, together with close Putin friends Nikolai Shamalov, Viktor Myachin, and Yury Kovalchuk. All three were founding members of the Ozero collective, which was formed in 1996 and included Putin.
 "The criminal organization headed by Petrov managed to achieve a clear penetration of the state structures of his country, not only with the lawmaker [Vladislav] Reznik but with several ministers," the report says.
Telephone Transcripts
The Spanish report includes transcripts of alleged telephone calls between Petrov and other organized-crime suspects in Spain and officials and businesspeople in Russia.

"From this report, it emerges that it was not Vladimir Putin who placed many people in leading [government] positions, but bandits who were directly connected to the Tambov criminal group," said Andrei Zykov, a retired law-enforcement lieutenant colonel and a former senior investigator for the Northwest Federal District branch of the Investigative Committee who specialized in corruption and serious economic crimes. The district includes St. Petersburg.
 "For example, in 2007 Aleksandr Bastrykin was named head of the Investigative Committee. Gennady Petrov and other members of the gang just call him Sasha," Zykov told RFE/RL -- referring to a short name for Aleksandr that implies a close relationship . "They are constantly on the phone with him. 'Sasha' himself calls Gennady Petrov and thanks not President Putin, but Gennady Petrov for the fact that he was appointed chairman of the Investigative Committee."
 "If such important posts are occupied by people appointed by a criminal group and not President Putin, then it is definitely not clear what is the 'tail' and what is the 'dog' in this situation," Zykov concluded. "Who is really running our government?"
 Zykov said the Spanish prosecutors documented 78 telephone conversations between Petrov and Nikolai Aulov, a senior Russian law-enforcement official who is now the head of the Interior Ministry branch in the Central Federal District. Of those, 74 were initiated by Aulov himself.
 "Gennady Petrov gives orders to General Nikolai Aulov, and he reports back to Gennady Petrov," Zykov said.
 Petrov was arrested during a raid on his villa in Majorca in 2008 in a sweep that also netted 20 other suspected members of the Spanish branch of the Tambov gang. However, he was later allowed to travel to Russia and has been living peacefully in St. Petersburg ever since.

"Today the main figures in the Spanish report are living in Russia without any problems," Zykov said. "And they are doing fine.”
Network Of Companies
He said that Petrov lives in a building in which apartments are also owned by presidential aide Vladimir Kozhin and a pair of brothers who were both members of the Ozero collective -- former Russian Education Minister Andrei Fursenko and his brother Sergei Fursenko, a businessman and official at state-controlled gas giant Gazprom.
 “His son, Anton, is a businessman," Zykov said of Petrov.
 Spanish prosecutors allege that Petrov and 26 other suspects, including some Spanish citizens, created a network of companies and other structures in Spain beginning in the mid-1990s through which hundreds of millions of dollars were allegedly laundered and other criminal activities -- including drugs and arms smuggling -- were carried out.
 One of the suspects named in the report is Vladislav Reznik, a State Duma deputy from the ruling United Russia party and deputy chairman of the Finance Committee in the lower parliament house. He is from St. Petersburg as well, and in 1989-90 he served as deputy chairman of Bank Rossia. He is also the head of the Rus insurance company, which was a founding partner of the bank, together with the Leningrad Oblast branch of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev worked for Reznik at Rus in the mid-1990s.
 Zykov said the Spanish report makes a strong case that Bank Rossia was largely a mechanism for funneling money from the Soviet Communist Party to criminals and figures connected with the Ozero collective.
 "Mr. Reznik is tied to this bank," Zykov said. "Not long before the events of 1991 [the collapse of the Soviet Union], large sums of money were poured into that bank -- about 500 million rubles. The Spanish investigators draw attention to the idea that it is completely possible that Gennady Petrov is living on the money of the Soviet Communist Party. It turns out that all these years we've been looking for the Communist Party's money and we didn't notice Bank Rossia right in front of our noses. And those people who privatized that bank took loans from that very bank in order to buy the shares in that bank. That bank was de facto stolen from the state. Its money ended up in the hands of a criminal organization."
 The Ozero group included eight people: seven businessmen with scientific or engineering backgrounds and Putin, a political figure with a legal education and a background in the KGB.
 "The dawn of the activity of the so-called Tambov group came with the administration of [St. Petersburg Mayor] Anatoly Sochak and his deputy, Vladimir Putin," Zykov said.

 "[St. Petersburg journalist] Nikolai Andrushchenko remembered how at the beginning of perestroika, Anatoly Sobchak was considered an irreproachable liberal professor," Zykov said. "But after he got close to Vladimir Putin and Viktor Zolotov [a former Sobchak bodyguard who is now head of the Interior Ministry's internal forces], Anatoly Sobchak changed. He developed a taste for the luxurious life. He began to make bargains with his conscience."

New Documentary Delves Into Dark Side Of Putin's Rise


By Tony Wesolowsky
December 30, 2015

ARussian filmmaker is urging viewers to share his new documentary focusing on the less savory side of President Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, hoping to reach the widest possible audience.
"I call on all viewers out there to download and distribute the video so viewing of it can’t be blocked," said Valery Balayan, the creator of Khuizmisterputin.
The film, chronicling Putin’s ascent from the St. Petersburg mayor’s office to the presidency, was premiered for media in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, on December 29. It comes on the heels of fresh reports detailing allegations of corruption and links to organized crime.
"My task was to make an informative and entertaining film, to explain some things to people in a clear way. To explain that Putin began his career with thievery -- only on the scale of Leningrad, St.Petersburg -- and that he hasn’t changed," said Balayan, who has made more than 60 documentary films and has worked for RFE/RL.
"A person doesn’t change, just develops. [Putin] has developed to such a degree that a corporation of [former KGB officers] and representatives of the criminal underworld has taken control of Russia," Balayan said.
The film's tongue-twister title is a Russian transliteration of "Who Is Mr. Putin?" but also includes a play on a vulgar Russian word for the male sexual organ.
Balayan said that, for the most part, filming went smoothly -- until he and his team went to Ozero (Lake), a dacha cooperative that Putin and a group of business, political, and security acquaintances founded in 1996.
Their presence there apparently raised alarm bells.
"What you see in the film is just the tip of the iceberg, because there were security guards everywhere. They took video of us, filmed the car I arrived in, its license plate. They were making calls, reporting something or other," Balayan said.
"So, the four of us working on the film decided not to recount anything from that incident so as to avoid any information leaks," he said. "We understood that our subject was such that it was better not to attract any attention. And we were able to keep it quiet despite the fact that our work took eight months."
The film begins in the 1990s when Putin, after 16 years serving in the KGB, had a short stint in the mayor’s office in St. Petersburg, his hometown. Balayan said that it explains the future president’s involvement in barter deals that, he said, appear to have lined the pockets of Putin and his associates while bringing little benefit to the city itself.
The film focuses on a 1991 deal in which previous accounts have accused Putin of understating prices and permitting the export of metals valued at $93 million in exchange for foreign food aid that never made it to shop shelves.
"The most well-developed bandit-bureaucrat criminal system [in Russia] was in St. Petersburg," local journalist Vladimir Ivanidze recounts in the film.
Suspicions of connections with organized crime have dogged Putin for years. Such charges, however, have gained fresh momentum in recent weeks.
In November, the Russian journal The New Times published a summary of the findings of a Spanish probe into Russian organized crime that includes claims reaching all the way to Putin himself.

With reporting by Dmitry Volchek of RFE/RL’s Russian Service