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Corruption Watch: May 30, 2002

30 May 2002, Volume 2, Number 21
By Roman Kupchinsky

During his 23-26 May visit to Bulgaria, Pope John Paul II dismissed charges of a Bulgarian connection in the 1981 attempt on his life, the Associated Press reported on 25 May.

Bulgarian agents had been suspected of working for the Soviet KGB, which was said at the time to have been alarmed by the pope's support for the Solidarity trade union in his native Poland.

According to a joint communique issued by the Vatican and Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov, the pope said: "I never believed in the so-called Bulgarian connection because of my great esteem and respect for the Bulgarian people."

This was the first time the pope had publicly expressed his view about lingering suspicions that the Bulgarian secret police were behind the assassination attempt.

The attempt on the pope's life -- on 13 May 1981, less than three years after his accession to the papacy -- came as he drove across St. Peter's Square in Rome in an open car to hold a general audience with a crowd of 20,000 people.

While driving across the square, John Paul was hit by three bullets, and two of his aides were also injured in the shooting. Turkish national Mehmet Ali Agca was arrested by Italian police as he tried to flee the scene. He was later sentenced to life in prison.

The pope publicly forgave Agca and even visited him in prison, but the Vatican said it would not stand in the way of Italian justice in the case.

On 13 June 2000, Agca was pardoned by Italian President Carlo Ciampi, with the agreement of the pope, after serving 19 years of a life sentence.

Before he tried to assassinate the pope, Agca had been convicted of killing one of Turkey's leading journalists, Abdi Ipekci, in 1978. He escaped from prison while awaiting trial for that crime but was sentenced in absentia.

Russia's RIA-Novosti news agency reported on 25 May that a large amount of drugs had been seized in St. Petersburg. According to the agency's source, a 32-year-old man was detained on 24 May following a special operation involving officers from the Department for Combating Illegal Drug Trafficking and the St. Petersburg police's Criminal Investigation Department. The officers seized 1.2 kilograms of heroin, 340 grams of hashish, and 180 grams of marijuana.

Russian border guards seized more than 50 kilograms of illegal drugs on the Tajik-Afghan border on 23 May, the Tajik news agency Asia-Plus reported the next day. Border guards discovered a cache in a mountainous sector of the Moskva border detachment containing 52.6 kilograms of raw opium.

A joint operation by Russian and Afghan border guards seized another 2.95 kilograms of heroin on the Afghanistan side of the border the same day.

According to the Border Group of the Russian Federal Border Service in Tajikistan, Russian guards have seized more than 500 kilograms of drugs, including about 430 kilograms of heroin, so far this year.

Kazakh security officers seized 10 kilograms of heroin from a traffic-police officer during an inspection on the Karaganda-Astana road in the central Karaganda region, the newspaper "Ekspress K" reported on 23 May. During a follow-up search of the officer's apartment, security officers found live grenades, two pistols, several rounds of ammunition, as well as state signs, stamps, and forms from district courts.

Officers from the Kazakh National Security Committee have confiscated the largest-ever consignment of synthetic drugs in the country, Kazakh Khabar television reported on 22 May, when a total of 2,000 ecstasy tablets were discovered in a vacuum cleaner.

Nurgali Berisbekov, head of the National Security Committee's Department for Combating Illegal Drug Trafficking, told a press conference in Astana on 22 May that a car carrying domestic appliances stuffed with drugs was stopped on the Astana-Karaganda road. He said that officers have observed of late an increasing tendency for traffickers to transport drugs to Russia and Europe via southern regions of Kazakhstan.

In 2001, National Security Committee officers seized 56 kilograms of heroin and more than 1 ton of marijuana and hashish from illegal circulation. Thirty-five officials from the Interior and Justice ministries and the Prosecutor-General's Office were charged with being accomplices to drug-trafficking crimes last year.

About 2,500 wild Indian hemp plants have been destroyed during the Poppy 2002 operation in the mountainous Badakhshon region in eastern Tajikistan, Asia-Plus reported on 23 May.

The operation, which began in early May, will continue in other areas of the region, particularly in the eastern Pamirs, and will last until August.

The interim Afghan government reported in Kabul on 22 May that about 576 tons of poppies have been destroyed as part of a special program to eliminate poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, Iranian radio reported the same day.

Iran's IRNA news agency reported on 25 May that 427 kilograms of morphine and 2.5 kilograms of opium were seized from a gang of drug traffickers in the Sirjan area.

Four people were arrested and handed over to judicial authorities in connection with this. The police commander in charge of the operation said the haul was concealed in a truck destined for Europe via Turkey.

Former Hungarian Smallholders' Party deputy Zoltan Szekely has been sentenced to six years in prison and banned from public office for 10 years after being found guilty of two counts of bribery, Hungarian radio reported on 27 May. Hungarian media reported that Szekely was caught accepting a bribe in October 2000.

This is the first time since the collapse of communism in Hungary that a person has been convicted for corruption for actions committed while serving as a National Assembly deputy.

The Vladivostok Garrison Military Court has sentenced Aleksei Ilyukhin and Dmitrii Markin to 6 1/2 and 5 1/2 years in prison, respectively, for stealing a portable antiaircraft-missile system from a Russian warship, RIA-Novosti news agency reported on 27 May. Markin admitted to stealing the missile system to sell it on the black market. Ilyukhin was given a stiffer sentence, since the investigation revealed that he initiated the crime. Markin's trial took place after Ilyukhin's, as the former spent some time in hiding before being captured.

A two-day international conference on fighting economic crime and corruption was held at the Khoja Obigarm resort in central Tajikistan on 23-24 May, Tajik television reported on 24 May. It was attended by law-enforcement officers from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

The conference was organized upon the initiative of Tajikistan's Prosecutor-General's Office, with the cooperation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe office in Tajikistan, the Soros Foundation's Open Society Institute, and other international organizations.

Tajik Prosecutor-General Bobojon Bobokhonov said the country's crime rate decreased in 2001 compared to the previous year, Asia-Plus reported on 2 May. The prosecutor-general listed drug trafficking, theft, fraud, and hooliganism as the most widespread crimes in the country. He also said that 5,298 people had been freed from prison as a result of a 2001 amnesty.

Bobokhonov said that premeditated murder decreased in 2001 by 3.1 percent, rape by 20.4 percent, violent attacks by 60.9 percent, theft by 5.9 percent, kidnapping by 20.4 percent, and crimes involving firearms by 52.4 percent.

He said he was against abolishing, or introducing a moratorium on, the death penalty at present, because he thought that people who committed serious crimes during the civil war needed to be punished.

The prosecutor-general also said that 64 staff members of various law-enforcement agencies were prosecuted in 2001 and another 744 faced disciplinary action for concealing crimes.


By Roman Kupchinsky

The amount of money stolen annually from online merchants by means of credit-card fraud ranges from a conservative estimate of $500 million by the United States Secret Service, as reported by the Jones Telecommunications and Multimedia Encyclopedia (, to $1 billion by Celent Communications, a market research firm. And while this is a significant amount, it does not come anywhere near the $900 billion that VISA alone processes in a year. Still, the worldwide network of credit-card numbers stolen and offered for sale each week on the Internet at so-called "cyberbazaars" is growing rapidly.

"The New York Times" reported on 13 May that the majority of these bazaars are operated by residents of the former Soviet Union "who have become central players in credit-card and identity theft." Chat forums have revealed that several dozen of the top operators in this type of fraud had even discussed convening a conference of credit-card resellers in Odessa, Ukraine, at the end of May.

The report in "The New York Times" gives the cost of a single stolen credit card at between $0.40 and $5, "depending on the level of authentication information provided. But the credit-card numbers typically are offered in bulk, costing, for example, $100 for 250 cards, to $1,000 for 5,000 cards, with the sellers offering guarantees that the credit-card numbers are valid." Card buyers then use these numbers to make purchases on the Internet or to make cash advances directly from the stolen accounts.

The Russian and Ukrainian operators of the cyberbazaars buy the card numbers from "black-hat" computer hackers who break into computer systems of online merchants and steal thousands of card numbers at once.

Some other widespread types of fraud on the Internet have been identified by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, and the National White-Collar Crime Center:

-- Computer-network break-ins where software tools are used to break in to computer systems to steal data, plant viruses, or create mischief;

-- Industrial espionage, where hackers for hire break into networked systems to steal information about product development and marketing strategies;

-- Software piracy: According to estimates by the U.S. Software and Information Industry Association, as much as $7.5 billion of U.S. software may be illegally copied and distributed worldwide annually;

-- Child pornography;

-- Password sniffers: These are programs that monitor and record the name and password of network users as they log in, jeopardizing security at a site. Password sniffers are used extensively by the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, the Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, as well as the Iranian and other intelligence services to monitor e-mail traffic by political opponents in their countries; and

-- Spoofing: This is the act of disguising one computer to electronically resemble another computer in order to gain access to a system that would normally be restricted.

In response to such activities, the Council of Europe called a meeting in Budapest on 23 November 2001 where it adopted the Convention on Cybercrime. The convention specifically forbids "illegal the whole or any part of a computer system without right." It also established in its Article 3 the criminality of "interception without right, made by technical means, of nonpublic transmissions of computer data to, from, or within a computer system." This does not seem to have prevented the FSB or the SBU from monitoring e-mail messages.

The convention outlaws computer-related fraud and offenses related to child pornography. In addition, it forbids offenses related to infringements of copyright and related rights.

Despite these measures (which have not yet been ratified by national parliaments), cybercrime in the former Soviet Union continues to grow. The BBC reported on 26 May 2001 that Russian police arrested a gang of computer hackers led by a 63-year-old pensioner. His gang of five apparently worked from Moscow Internet cafes to steal money from Western credit cards.

As a former computer programmer at a Moscow institute, the gang leader was apparently bitter at receiving no royalties for his work. So he teamed up with a former policeman and three others to steal the details of credit cards that had been used to make purchases online. Now, the man who has become known as the grandfather -- rather than the godfather -- of cybercrime could be facing up to 10 years in jail.

As "The New York Times" pointed out, one of the most active bazaar owners, an 18- or 19-year-old man from Odessa who goes by the name "Script" and is a member of a group called "the family," has been able to supply credit cards that include the cards' CVVS code: a printed security code that appears on credit cards and is supposed to prevent fraud. He markets them for $300 for 100 cards.

The New York daily said that nearly 40 members of the gang were to meet in Odessa on 31 May to hold the first World Carders Conference, but the organizers appear to have moved the talks to a different, more private, setting.