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Corruption Watch: January 16, 2003

16 January 2003, Volume 3, Number 2
London police on 5 January found traces of the toxin ricin in north and east London during raids that led to the arrests of six Algerian men. Ricin, a highly lethal poison, can kill even in tiny doses. The Health Department warned doctors in Britain to be alert to symptoms of ricin exposure, including fever, stomach pains, diarrhea, and vomiting. There is no antidote to the poison, which, when inhaled, can cause respiratory failure. When ingested or injected, it can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms leading to massive fluid loss and organ failure. Ricin can cause death within days.

Four of those arrested were due to appear at Bow Street Magistrates Court on 11 January. They have been charged under the UK's Terrorism Act 2000 with "possessing articles of value to a terrorist" and developing or producing "chemical weapons." The four men are: Mouloud Feddag, Sidali Feddag, Samir Feddag, and Mustapha Taleb. A fifth man, Nasreddine Fekhhadji, was charged with two counts of possessing false documents under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act. According to CNN on 12 January, a sixth, unidentified man was not charged under the Terrorism Act but has been questioned over possible drug-possession and immigration violations.

According to the "Los Angeles Times" of 9 January, police did not say whether the suspects were believed to be linked to Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups. Police also did not say whether they thought the toxic substance was intended to be used in an attack. According to CNN on 9 January, French police who had been investigating their activities tipped off British authorities to the Algerian group.

The "Los Angeles Times" reported that this marks the first time that ricin, or any biological or chemical weapon, has been found in the possession of presumed Islamic terrorists in Europe -- if the arrested Algerians are indeed linked to the Al-Qaeda network.

Ricin is difficult to disperse and can be administered by injection, as in the 1978 assassination in London of Bulgarian exile Georgi Markov, who died four days after an assailant pricked him in the leg with a KGB-designed umbrella believed to contain just 450 micrograms of the poison. RK

European police investigators told "The Washington Post" of 29 December that a year-long inquiry has provided substantial evidence that Al-Qaeda leaders paid a bribe of $ 1 million to Liberian President Charles Taylor for access to a protected zone in Liberia on the border of Burkina Faso. It was there that they hid for two months after the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States. The Al-Qaeda operatives also purchased some $20 million worth of "blood diamonds," a portion of which they spent on buying weapons.

"The Washington Post" wrote that Al-Qaeda's diamond-buying operation appears to have been hatched in response to a move by the United States in 1998 to freeze Al-Qaeda assets after deadly attacks on two U.S. embassies in East Africa. Liberia was chosen for its lack of control over the illegal diamond industry, much of which is allegedly run by President Taylor and his son, Charles Taylor Jr.

Taylor has in the past paid Russian and Ukrainian arms traffickers in diamonds. One such reputed arms dealer, Leonid Minin -- currently indicted on illegal arms trafficking charges and in jail in Monza, Italy -- had $500,000 worth of uncut and polished diamonds at the time of his arrest, according to a UN Commission of Experts report from 26 October 2001.

"The European law enforcement investigations, launched soon after Sept. 11, have focused on three people who allegedly served as conduits to the al Qaeda operatives: Aziz Nassour, a Lebanese diamond merchant; his cousin Samih Osailly; and Ibrahim Bah, a Senegalese soldier of fortune who has trafficked for years in diamonds and guns across Africa. All three deny involvement with al Qaeda or in illegal activities," according to "The Washington Post."

The paper details how on 22 September a senior Al-Qaeda financial officer named Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who is listed on the FBI's list of most-wanted terrorists, arrived in Monrovia, Liberia. Ibrahim Bah allegedly arranged for Abdullah to meet with senior Liberian officials and their allies in the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in neighboring Sierra Leone.

Bah trained in Libya, then fought in the early 1980s alongside Islamic guerrillas in Afghanistan and then with Hezbollah in Lebanon. By 1998, he was the main weapons buyer and diamond dealer for Taylor in Liberia and the RUF, according to UN and European investigators. Bah holds the rank of general in the RUF, which won international notoriety for its brutality in the civil war that raged in Sierra Leone from 1989 until this year.

"The Washington Post" details the alleged money-laundering scheme that was in place until Al-Qaeda began stockpiling diamonds in July: Bah used Al-Qaeda money to pay RUF a small amount (far below market value) for diamonds smuggled out of Sierra Leone. Bah then resold the diamonds at much higher prices to diamond dealers whom the paper reports were based in Belgium. It is not clear whether the dealers were aware of any Al-Qaeda connection. The profits realized from the transactions were allegedly split among Bah, Al-Qaeda, and Liberian President Taylor, who allegedly received a commission on each deal.

Documents obtained by "The Washington Post" purport to show that on 2 January 2001, an Israeli arms dealer in Panama named Simon Yelnik sent an e-mail to an unnamed Russian arms merchant in Guatemala discussing an order that "our friends in Africa need." Attached was a list of assault rifles, ammunition, and rocket-propelled grenades, as well as 20 SA-8 missiles and 200 rockets for BM-21 multiple-rocket launchers. The "friends in Africa" were apparently the Al-Qaeda couriers.

Earlier, on 5 November, an Interpol expert on a UN panel investigating illegal diamond dealing in Liberia affirmed that conflict diamonds are likely an important channel for terrorists, like the Al-Qaeda network, looking to raise or transfer money. The UN Security Council met to review the panel's new report, which found widespread violations of UN sanctions on Liberia to curtail its diamond dealing with Sierra Leone rebels.

The diamond industry reacted quickly to earlier news of Al-Qaeda buying conflict diamonds in Liberia. The De Beers Group and its sales and marketing arm, the Diamond Trading Co., issued a statement "utterly condemning the way in which these organizations are preying on otherwise legitimate industries to further their criminal and murderous activities" ( RK

The head of Armenian state television and a staunch supporter of President Robert Kocharian, 36-year-old Tigran Naghdalian, was shot in the head by an unknown gunman or gunmen late on 28 December as he left his parents' home in Yerevan. He died in a hospital shortly afterward. It was the second attack on a media figure in recent months. In October, Mark Grigorian, deputy director of the Caucasus Institute for Mass Media and a correspondent for the international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, survived a grenade attack. The culprits have not been tracked down in either incident.

According to Transitions Online on 7 January, the Prosecutor-General's Office has refused to discuss possible motives for the crime. Law-enforcement agencies have focused their investigations on a paramilitary group, Tigran Mets, that represents veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Eight of its members, including one individual who is still in police custody, have been questioned. According to the RFE/RL Armenian Service, more than a dozen people were rounded up for questioning in the immediate aftermath of Naghdalian's murder.

The prime suspect now appears to be Albert Mkhitarian, a member of In the Defense of the Liberated Territories, an organization that opposes relinquishing any Armenian-occupied land in Azerbaijan as part of a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Two senior members of the opposition Socialist Armenia bloc, Grigor Sargsian and Azat Arshakian, were placed under arrest for 10 days on 31 December. According to RFE/RL, the charges appear unrelated to Naghdalian's murder, though initial reports suggested they had been questioned in connection with the killing. This has led members of the opposition to fear that the death of Naghdalian might be used to impose tighter political control over the media in the run-up to presidential elections.

According to analyst Richard Giragosian, writing in "RFE/RL Newsline" on 7 January: "The targeting of Naghdalian, who was a staunch and articulate supporter of the president, might have been intended as a strong message to Kocharian that his anticipated re-election next month is not a foregone conclusion. There are two factors that suggest the murder was intended to undermine the president and his ruling circle rather than to intimidate the state media." The first of these factors is related to elite power brokers allied with Kocharian: "With no party structure or organization to back him, Kocharian rules from a powerful, yet narrow, power base comprising oligarchs and influential power brokers. This reliance on a powerful elite, headed by resilient Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, only fosters a dangerous degree of vulnerability," Giragosian wrote. The second factor, according to Giragosian, stems from "an undercurrent of political intimidation and immaturity now infecting much of Armenian politics. The government's clumsy attack on the independent and opposition media, its questionable handling of several high-stakes privatization deals, and its shortsighted and financially unsound 'debt-for-assets' barter agreement that handed over strategic firms to Russia have combined to foster a national mood of political discontent." RK


By Roman Kupchinsky

Police formations in the states of the former Soviet Union are a formidable force in those societies. In Russia, there is the Interior Ministry (MVD) with its subunit, the State Automobile Inspectorate (GAI), perhaps better described as the traffic police. There is also the Tax Police, armed with Kalashnikovs and hand grenades instead of law degrees and briefcases, collecting taxes from reluctant businessmen who might have supported the wrong party during the last election. There is the Military Police (mainly to protect soldiers from each other), and there are armed units of the Federal Security Service (FSB): the ALPHA units (special-operations units) and the border troops. In all, the number of personnel among the police forces of Russia is almost twice as high as the number of individuals in the military armed forces.

In this respect, post-Soviet Russia is still far from resembling the United States, where law-enforcement agencies comprise: city and state police; the FBI; armed units of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA); the Treasury Department; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; the National Park Service (which even has a SWAT team); the Customs Service; the Immigration and Naturalization Service border patrol; and the military police (serving the same function as the Russian military police). State National Guard units are waiting in the wings and can be placed on active duty in case of emergency (such as the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968) to augment the civilian police. Other federal agencies employ police and special agents with the power to make arrests and the authority to carry firearms. These agencies include the U.S. Postal Service; the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Law Enforcement and the under the U.S. Department of the Interior; the U.S. Forest Service under the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Federal Air Marshals under the U.S. Department of Transportation; and the recently formed Airport Security Service. In all, police and detectives held about 834,000 jobs in 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. About 80 percent were employed by local governments. State police agencies employed another 13 percent, and various federal agencies employed a further 6 percent.

In addition to the above-mentioned local and federal formations, there are other well-armed security forces that supplement government law enforcement in the United States (as in Russia): private security forces. They are not only Pinkerton Guards in armored cars or security guards at the gates of adult communities in Florida -- there are hundreds of thousands of men and women who guard federal prisons or buildings in Washington, D.C., or are used by commercial entities for sundry guard and security duties.

In Russia, there are some 500,000 well-armed men, many of them former members of elite Soviet Army units like the Spetznaz or the former KGB, who were recruited into better-paid jobs after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They were recruited to protect, among other clients, companies with dubious reputations -- some of which were subject to "hostile takeovers" by competitors. Today, the 15,000 registered private-security companies in Russia employ more people then the German Bundeswehr, the largest army in Europe.

In his presentation entitled "Security and Rule-Enforcement in Russian Business: The Role of the 'Mafia' and the State" and available on the Harvard University website (, Vadim Volkov explained the rise of these private protectors of the new capitalist order in Russia:

"As the speed of liberalization was greater than that of institution building, the emerging markets spontaneously developed alternative mechanisms of protection and enforcement. These involved various private groups and agencies that managed organized force: criminal groups, private protection companies, informal groups of state security employees, and various semi-autonomous armed formations attached to the state "power" ministries. In the mid-1990s up to 70% of all contracts were enforced without any participation from state organs."

Volkov shows that after the adoption in March 1992 of the "Law On Private Protection and Detective Activity in the Russian Federation," "legal private protection companies -- set up by former state security and enforcement employees -- entered into direct competition with criminal groups in the market of private protection and enforcement."

What had earlier been the realm of criminal gangs selling protection to newly established companies was thus legalized, and scores of private-detective and security firms were formed to perform such duties. Among the new firms were former criminal gangs who now had the opportunity to continue doing what they had always done but without the dangers involved of breaking the law. The money they earned was no less, and in some cases was more, than prior to the new law. The new security firms offered the following services:

* Property-guarding services

* Transportation-security services

* Executive and VIP protection

* Physical-security personnel

* Investigative services

* Cash-in-transit services

* Operation and maintenance of facilities

* Protection of information and files administration

* Consulting services

* Correctional services

According to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in a report issued in 1999 (, the following prices were considered average:

* "physical protection of locations: $3/hour per one post per one licensed guard, unarmed

* physical protection of locations: $6/hour per one post per one licensed guard, armed

* physical protection of locations from crime/terrorism threat: $10/hour

* personal physical protection services: $10-15/hour per one bodyguard

* VIP escort: $6-15/hour per one body guard; $9-20/hour per driver-guard; and $20/hour per VIP vehicle

* transportation of valuables: $100/hour (complete range of services)

* freight escort: $8/hour plus $2/hour for the guard's commute

* vehicle escort with a driver: $16/hour

Discounts: In general, there are two types of discounts. One is based on the number of guards hired (3 percent per guard) and another is an advance-payment discount (15 percent for three-month prepayment)."

The U.S. Embassy meanwhile provides the following advice for prospective clients of these security firms:

"Examine the agency's licenses, and pay attention to the license expiration date. Normally, licenses are granted for three years, and after this period they are extended for another five years. Find out if the agency is able to provide you with licensed security guards. Russian licensing bodies require all private security agencies' personnel to have individual licenses. According to Moscow standards, a security agency with about 50 licensed security guards is small, from 50 to 100 guards -- medium, and over 100 guards -- large."

The seedy side of private security in Russia was recently highlighted in an article in "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 10 December: "The recently conducted police Operation Shield 2002 closed down 134 private security firms. Administrative sanctions were applied to 959 security guards and criminal sanctions to 89. During the operation, 23,000 firearms were confiscated, of which 5,800 were taken from private security firms.

The paper continued: "In general, somehow without noticing it ourselves, we have created a well-armed and trained parallel army, whose numbers exceed those of the Federal Security Service and the Federal Border Guard Service taken together. We have raised it and have finally got the wind up. And the private security firms are now taking the enforcers themselves under guard."