6 June 2002, Volume
CESIUM SALE THWARTED IN LITHUANIA
By Roman Kupchinsky
European investigators are looking for a German national suspected of trying to buy radioactive material in Lithuania. "The Guardian" newspaper reported on 1 June that six Lithuanian nationals were arrested in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, in a raid on 30 May, during which one kilogram of radioactive cesium-137 was confiscated. The German buyer of the cesium escaped.
According to "The Guardian": "U.S. officials have warned that terrorists might try to obtain some of the radioactive material that has become available on the black market since the break-up of the Soviet Union. This could be detonated with conventional explosives as a "dirty bomb" which would spew out radioactive particles.
"The cesium-137 was obtained by the Lithuanian suspects, unemployed men in their 30s, from another unspecified country in the former Soviet Union. They took the metal, weighing a kilogram, to the Lithuanian Institute of Physics in Vilnius, to have its value and content verified. A sale to a German national, believed to have connections with organized crime, was then arranged."
Shortly afterwards the police became aware of the plot and arrested the six men. The German national fled.
The case described by "The Guardian" is not the first attempt to sell nuclear materials in Lithuania. On 26 March 1996, Central Intelligence Agency Director John Deutch testified in Congress before the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee on global proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and illicit trafficking of nuclear materials. A chronology of such sales was provided in the appendix to his testimony. It included these two items:
"25 January (1995) -- According to Tallinn news broadcasts, Lithuanian border police, using U.S.-supplied stationary radiation detectors, seized two tons of radioactive wolfram hidden in a secret compartment in a truck trailer. (The "wolfram" is tungsten, which has a short half-life, and probably was "infected" by a radioactive contaminant.) The incident occurred at the Lithuanian-Belarus border, and the truck's owner and two other men were arrested. A similar incident occurred a week earlier at another border post but no details are available."
"4 March 1996 -- According to press reports (on 12 February), Lithuanian officials have determined that the 100 kg of radioactive material seized last month (February) from an armed gang is uranium-238. This material was stolen from a company responsible for maintenance at the nearby Ignalina nuclear power plant."
The problem of denying access to nuclear materials which might be used to produce a weapon of mass destruction has been a major concern to law-enforcement agencies throughout the world. One such response was described last year in an article titled "E-Notes: Nuclear Smuggling from the Former Soviet Union: Threats and Responses" published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute (www.fpri.org) by Rensselaer Lee on 27 April 2001:
"The Department of Energy (DOE) funds an initiative, underway since 1993, to improve 'material protection, control and accountability' (MPC&A) at former Soviet nuclear enterprises. The program enjoys substantial bipartisan support in the United States and is considered the first line of defense against unwanted proliferation episodes."
"As of February 2000, more than 8 years after the collapse of the USSR, new security systems had been installed at 113 buildings, most of them in Russia; however, these sites contained only 7 percent of the estimated 650 tons of weapons-usable material considered at risk for theft or diversion. DOE plans call for safeguarding 60 percent of the material by 2006 and the rest in 10 to 15 years or longer." Will Russia be capable of guarding these stocks in the meantime?
FORMER PRISON CHIEF SENTENCED FOR CORRUPTION.
The former head of Armenia's prison system was sentenced on 31 May to seven years in prison for abuse of office and allowing the brutal treatment of suspects, AP reported on 31 May. Musheg Sagatelian, who led the Prisons Department of the Interior Ministry until 1999, was convicted by a district court in the capital, Yerevan. Sagatelian's lawyers said they plan to appeal. Sagatelian was charged with condoning the torture of suspects and beating suspects himself, and reportedly often exceeded his authority.
IWPR HIGHLIGHTS TRAFFICKING OF WOMEN.
The trafficking of East European women into and out of Bosnia has dramatically increased in recent years. In a special investigative report for the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) issued on 18 April (www.iwpr.net). Nidzara Ahmetasevic and Julie Harbin describe such places as the "Arizona" market near the Bosnian-Serbian border. It is one of the many places in the country where women and girls are forced into prostitution with profits going exclusively to the owners. The IWPR report described the trade in detail:
"Nightclubs at the Arizona market also host 'sex slave' auctions, where girls appear naked on stage with numbers in their hands. They are given a thorough once over -- including a teeth check -- by potential buyers (usually women), who purchase them for 500-3000 euros, and then 'employ' them in their brothels.
"According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which runs shelter and repatriation programs for victims in Bosnia, between 6,000 and 10,000 foreign women are currently being coerced into prostitution in the republic. Many places registered throughout Bosnia as 'night-bars,' 'cafe-bars,' nightclubs, massage shops, and fitness clubs commonly function as brothels. While some of the women work as prostitutes by choice, many are forced."
PRAGUE MAYOR QUITS, CITING CORRUPTION AT CITY HALL.
The mayor of Prague, Jan Kasl, announced he was leaving his post and former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS) five months before the end of his term, Czech news agency CTK reported on 28 May. Kasl told the media that the main reasons for his departure were the high level of corruption at City Hall and the reluctance of his ODS party to act against it. During an appearance before the American Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic early this year, Kasl apologized for rampant corruption among city officials. In March, following a meeting of the Prague City Council at which Kasl's allegations were discussed, he physically collapsed and was admitted to a hospital for nervous exhaustion. According to recent media reports, Kasl has alerted police to possible corruption at the Town Hall. He told a local television audience on 2 June that he also has "reliable information" from businessmen who have complained of the problem.
The ODS leadership immediately accused him of trying to harm the Civic Democrats prior to the 14-15 June elections. Viewed by many observers as a budding rival to party leader Klaus, Kasl said the timing of his resignation was unconnected to the elections. He has had a number of high-profile disputes with senior ODS figures, including Klaus. Kasl said on 6 June that he planned to run again for local government and possibly help create a new political party, according to Czech daily "Mlada fronta Dnes." Kasl, an architect by profession, became Prague mayor after local elections in 1998. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May)
COUNCIL OF EUROPE GROUP PRAISES LATVIA'S STRIDES IN COMBATING CORRUPTION.
Experts from the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) organization presented a favorable report regarding Latvia's efforts to fight corruption to a Council of Europe plenary session in Strasbourg on 17 May, LETA reported. The experts visited Latvia in December. The report praised the operations of Latvia's Crime and Corruption Prevention Bureau and the passage of laws on combating corruption and on eliminating conflicts of interest on the part of state officials. The experts' recommendations will be presented to Latvia next week. GRECO, which Latvia joined in June 2000, currently has 27 member states. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 3 June)
PUTIN CALLS FOR END TO CORRUPTION IN LAW ENFORCEMENT.
Russia's crime problem has shown no signs of improving, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on 31 May as he opened a conference in Moscow on urgent measures to fight crime, Interfax reported on 31 May. Representatives of law-enforcement agencies and the federal districts gathered for a meeting in the Kremlin. Putin called the situation extremely serious, adding that, as a result, ordinary citizens feel vulnerable. "From year to year, we plan the widest range of measures to improve legislation. However, people still try to hide not behind the protection of the state and the law, but behind metal doors and railings. But there, as well, in doorways and in their own flats, crime befalls them," ORT TV reported on 31 May. While the situation has improved in some regions thanks to the skillful work of law-enforcement agencies, Putin said, the crime rate deteriorated in 28 regions in the first quarter of the year, during which 750,000 crimes were registered.
Law-enforcement agencies should get rid of officers who have turned their service into a kind of business, Putin said. The efficiency of commanding the agencies may be improved by introducing a rotation system that will keep professionals in the service and "tear them away from years-old connections and commitments that tend to obstruct their work", he said.
"Today almost every major entrepreneur sets up their own private security system. State and private security bodies often conduct the search for robbers and violent offenders in parallel, and citizens often prefer to approach them, rather than the state authorities. This all shows that our work in the fight against crime is not effective enough at the moment," ORT TV reported.
INTERIOR MINISTRY TO SET UP UNIT TO COMBAT MONEY-LAUNDERING.
The Russian Interior Ministry will set up a special unit to deal with money laundering, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 May. The move was initiated by Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov following the creation of the Committee for Financial Monitoring, which comes under Finance Ministry oversight. The new unit's duties will include tasks which once belonged to the Ministry of Interior, and it will carry out joint operations with the Committee for Financial Monitoring and other agencies to block, among other things, financial support for terrorist activity in Russia.
Money laundering has plagued Russian officials since the fall of the Soviet Union. According to the Interior Ministry, 1,439 money-laundering cases were investigated in 2001, though the ministry did not say what the results of those investigations were.
According to international press reports, much of the laundered money from Russia had been going into accounts in Cyprus. Recently, however, with Cyprus attempting to gain entry into the EU, its tax and banking laws are being tightened to bring them up to EU standards. As a result, large amounts of Russian money are leaving the island with some apparently being transferred back to Russia.
EUROPEAN POLICE CHIEFS MEET IN MOSCOW.
Police chiefs from 33 countries pledged to increase cooperation to fight terrorism, the international drug trade, and high-tech crime at the start of a week-long conference in Moscow on 21 May, "The Russia Journal" reported in its 27-31 May issue. "History teaches us that criminality doesn't have borders," Russian Interior Minister Gryzlov said at the start of the meeting. "All these new security threats in Europe demand a new quality of approach from us."
It marked is the first time Russia has hosted the annual event. According to "The Russia Journal":
"Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin said his force has first-hand experience with terrorism, having investigated a series of 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow and two other cities that killed more than 300 people." Those bombings, which were never solved, were a key reason the Kremlin cited for launching its second war in Chechnya, against fighters that Russian officials call international terrorists in the separatist republic.
While issues like terrorism and the drug trade topped the official agenda of the police conference, participants said they hoped to discuss other issues -- Russian organized crime, prostitution, and the illegal sex trade in Europe.
POLICE INVESTIGATE ALLEGED CHILD-TRAFFICKING IN KALININGRAD.
A district police department in the town of Chernyakhovsk, in Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast, is investigating possible child-trafficking cases. There are allegations that children have been stolen from a local maternity hospital and exported to the West through Kaunas, Lithuania, the Baltic news agency reported on 30 May. A representative from the Lithuanian prosecutor's office stated officials have no information about stolen babies being exported through Lithuania.
The head of the Kaliningrad regional prosecutor's department for monitoring investigation, Valerii Venediktov, told BNS that a criminal case was instituted under Article 153 of the Russian Criminal Code (theft or swap of a child) following complaints lodged with prosecutors by female residents of the town of Gusev. The law stipulates a prison term of up to five years for such a crime.
Russian NTV reported in early May that newborns were disappearing from maternity hospitals in Gusev. The report suggested the babies were being sold abroad -- after being transported to Lithuania and then to West European countries -- while the mothers were told that their babies had died.
NTV reported that 12 babies from Gusev have been sold abroad "for $25,000 each in the past three years." Gusev's maternity hospital denied the child-trafficking report as "absolute nonsense." Hospital Director Olga Lukinova told BNS that "not a single case of infant death was registered at the Gusev maternity home in 2002."
LITVINENKO ASSERTS INNOCENCE AHEAD OF TRIAL.
A military court will begin the trial in absentia of Alexander Litvinenko, a former security agent now living in self-imposed exile in Britain, on 28 May, the military prosecutor's office told AP the previous day. Litvinenko faces charges of abuse of authority and stealing explosives, according to prosecution spokesman Mikhail Yanenko. The unusual trial, at a military court 70 kilometers south of Moscow, will be closed to the public.
Litvinenko reiterated his insistence that the charges are politically motivated on the same day. He recently wrote a book accusing his former colleagues in the Federal Security Service (FSB) of carrying out a series of apartment-house bombings in 1999 that killed more than 300 people. Speaking by telephone from London, Litvinenko offered to testify at his trial if the court agreed to hold a session in London or allow his testimony via video linkup. Litvinenko's troubles with the FSB appeared to begin in 1998, when he publicly accused his superiors of ordering him to kill Boris Berezovsky.
DEFENDANT EXONERATED OF JOURNALIST'S MURDER DESPITE CONFESSION.
Donetsk Appeals Court Judge Ivan Korchystiy ruled on 17 May that there was insufficient evidence to convict Yuriy Veredyuk of premeditated murder, even though the 46-year-old ex-convict has confessed to killing journalist Ihor Oleksandrov, the "Kyiv Post" reported on 23 May. According to the Kyiv Post:
"Oleksandrov, the general manager of TOR television in the Donetsk Oblast town of Slavyansk, was found July 3 lying in a pool of blood near his TV station with his head cracked open and two baseball bats lying nearby. He was hospitalized but never regained consciousness. Shortly before he was murdered, Oleksandrov had exposed corruption in local law enforcement agencies. He had asked the Prosecutor-General�s Office for armed protection prior to airing the allegations, but it wasn't provided."
Officials from the Prosecutor-General's Office said the case is far from over. They have appealed the ruling to the country's Supreme Court.
Oleksandrov was the 11th journalist to be killed in Ukraine in the last five years, according to international watchdog group Reporters without Borders, which has accused the Justice Ministry and law-enforcement bodies of obstructing investigations into the killing.
COURT THROWS OUT LAWSUIT BY SLAIN JOURNALIST'S MOTHER.
A district court in Kyiv on 30 May threw out a lawsuit by the mother of a slain journalist against the country's former top prosecutor based on procedural technicalities, according to a lawyer with international journalists' rights group Reporters without Borders and reported by AP on 31 May. AP reported that: "The Pechersk District Court cited procedural faults and legal technicalities in tossing out the suit by Lesia Gongadze, the mother of [Heorhiy] Gongadze, said Maria Sambur, a lawyer of the Reporters without Borders' representative office in Kyiv. Gongadze had sued Ukraine's former prosecutor-general, Mykhailo Potebenko, for violating her son's constitutional right to life by ignoring his requests for protection after he received threats."
Gongadze filed a new lawsuit in the same court on 31 May against President Leonid Kuchma, Potebenko, and prosecutors from Lviv for neglect, complicity, and other charges, Sambur said.
Heorgiy Gongadze's wife, Myroslava, has indicated that she intends to file her own case soon with the European Court of Human Rights, according to a statement on 29 May on the Reporters without Borders website (www.rsf.fr). Meanwhile, in Strasbourg, France, the Council of Europe urged the Ukrainian government to intensify efforts to solve Gongadze's murder, news reports said.
Gongadze's killing remains unsolved, and Potebenko recently left his post as prosecutor for a seat in parliament. According to Ukrainian law, parliament members are immune from prosecution. The murder sparked a backlash in Ukraine against President Kuchma and his top aides. A former presidential bodyguard, Mykola Melnychenko, released audiotapes in December 2000 with what he says is Kuchma's voice ordering aides to silence Gongadze. The tapes were eventually authenticated by an American company, BEK-TEK, which stated that those fragments dealing with the plot against Gongadze had not been tampered with. Kuchma has vehemently denied involvement. Kuchma survived the political crisis and his supporters, while losing the popular vote, won the bulk of the seats in 31 March parliamentary elections. In April, a team of U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation experts was invited by President Kuchma to come to Ukraine and help in the investigation. After they arrived, the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office informed them that they would not be given access to the files of the case, nor would they be allowed to take part in the investigation. The FBI team returned to the U.S. shortly afterwards.
RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS SEIZE LARGE BATCH OF DRUGS ON TAJIK-AFGHAN BORDER.
Russian border guards found a cache containing 19 kilograms of heroin, about 4 kilograms of raw opium, and 1 kilogram of hashish in a mountainous area, the press service of the Russian border guard service in Tajikistan told RIA-Novosti on 28 May.
GUARDS SEIZE 54 KILOGRAMS OF HEROIN ON TAJIK-AFGHAN BORDER.
Two drug couriers from Afghanistan tried to cross the Tajik-Afghan border in one of the sections of the Panj border detachment on 27 May, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 May. Russian border guards tried to detain the trespassers, who opened fire on the Russian detail and managed to escape to Afghan territory. At the site of the incident, border guards found three sacks with 54 kilograms of heroin. Since the beginning of the year, according to the border guard press service, over 700 kilograms of drugs has been seized on the Tajik-Afghan border, the bulk of which was heroin.
OVER 100 KILOGRAMS OF HEROIN SEIZED ON TAJIK-AFGHAN BORDER.
The Russian border force patrolling Tajikistan's border told Interfax on 1 June that it discovered a cache containing more than 100 kilograms of heroin. The force's press service said a guard detail found 40 bags of heroin in the cache, the agency reported.
KAZAKH POLICE OFFICER DETAINED WITH LARGE HEROIN HAUL.
A captain in Kazakhstan's road police was detained with 9.9 kilograms of heroin near the town of Temirtau in the central Karaganda Region, Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency reported on 27 May. The official press service said the police officer was trafficking the drugs in a Lada car, which was en route to the capital, Astana. The drugs were found with the help of a sniffer dog. The heroin was hidden in the back seat of the car.
CZECH CUSTOMS OFFICERS SEIZE HEROIN SHIPMENT.
Customs officers discovered 27 kilograms of heroin worth an estimated 30 million crowns ($910,000) at the Czech-Austrian border. Three men, two Czechs and an Albanian, were detained on drug-smuggling charges. ("The Prague Post," 28 May 2002)