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Corruption Watch: October 17, 2002

17 October 2002, Volume 2, Number 37
By Roman Kupchinsky
The following is excerpted from an exclusive interview conducted on 11 October by the RFE/RL Bulgarian Service with Bulgarian sailor Asparuh Chorbadziev, a safety officer aboard the French supertanker "Limburg," which was damaged by a 6 October terrorist attack off the Yemeni coast. Chorbadziev was aboard at the time of the explosion and helped battle the ensuing fire.

Chorbadziev: I was on the deck of the ship, about 50 or 60 meters from the explosion [when it took place]. As an eyewitness, I can tell you that [the explosion] happened from the outside of the ship.

RFE/RL: The owners of the "Limburg" have said a small boat rammed the oil tanker just seconds before the explosion. Did you witness that as well?

Chorbadziev: The boat that had approached our ship from the starboard side, where the explosion took place, was seen by only one of our crewmembers, who wasn't directly involved in the maneuvering of our ship. As far as I know, he is the only witness. I talked with him personally, and he told me that the boat approached our ship very quickly...and disappeared from view just seconds before the explosion occurred.

RFE/RL: Do you think it would have been possible for terrorists to load a small boat with explosives and crash it into the "Limburg" in the port area where the blast occurred?

Chorbadziev: In this region, there are a lot of fishing boats. Simply, nobody pays much attention to them.

A small boat laden with TNT was later believed to have struck the "Limburg," which was sailing off the Yemeni coast. One crewman was killed and 12 others were injured. Thousands of gallons of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Aden.

"The New York Times" on 11 October wrote: "The Arab-language newspaper 'Al-Sharq al-Awsat' reported today that it had received a communique from the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army, a Yemeni fundamentalist group, claiming responsibility. After the initial conclusion of the inquiry was announced, Agence France-Presse reported that its office in the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai had received a statement from the group saying that one of its 'squadrons' attacked the 'Limburg,' which was 'going to supply the Fifth Fleet for striking the brothers in Iraq.' The United States' Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain."

The Aden-Abyan Islamic Army is not mentioned on the U.S. State Department's most recently issued (August 2002) list of foreign terrorist organizations. French officials also said that they had no knowledge of the group.

The deadly attack on the American destroyer "Cole" took place in Yemen in the southern port of Aden nearly two years ago. Seventeen sailors were killed in the explosion and subsequent fire. The attack was carried out with a boat filled with explosives and was blamed on the Al-Qaeda network.

After the "Limburg" attack, on 8 October, the Al-Jazeera television network carried a statement recorded by Ayman al-Zawahiri, believed to be the second-ranking Al-Qaeda leader. In the broadcast, al-Zawahiri threatened continued attacks on "America and its allies" and added, "We have sent messages to allies of America to stop their involvement in the American crusade."

On 11 October, a bomb exploded in a crowded shopping mall on the outskirts of Helsinki, Finland, killing seven people and injuring 80 others. Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen said the explosion at the three-story Myyrmanni Shopping Mall in Vantaa -- which killed at least one child -- was "an act of terror." He added: "Whether it's a question of an organized group behind a terrorist organization..., we are looking into that."

Police said the suspect was a Finnish citizen who was among the dead at the scene. They said he was a male student, under the age of 20, and a resident of the Helsinki region. He had no criminal record, but they declined to further identify him.

The blast tore through the suburban shopping center, the second largest in the country, with about 2,000 shoppers present in the mall. In a search of the suspect's apartment, police found several Internet addresses that suggested to them that he used the Internet to find instructions on making the explosive device.

More sophisticated planning and coordination appears to have marked a deadly series of explosions the following day, when two bombs exploded in an area of Bali heavily frequented by Western tourists on 12 October. According to "The New York Times" of 14 October: "The destruction started when a small bomb exploded outside Paddy's Discotheque in the maze of clubs and bars on Kuta Beach, a popular haunt with young travelers. Shortly afterward, a huge blast from a bomb in a Toyota Kijang, a jeep-like vehicle, devastated the crowded Sari Club, a surfers' hangout about 30 yards down the street.... A third, smaller bomb exploded outside the U.S. consular office. No one was injured in that blast."

Altogether, the death toll had reached 187 by 14 October, with some 300 wounded and more than 200 missing, many of the victims appeared to be Australians on holiday in Bali. It was the worst terrorist act in Indonesian history. According to one eyewitness quoted by "The New York Times," New Zealand national Richard Poore, "There was one blast -- an explosion -- at the start. And about two seconds later, there was another explosion. That's when the building started to collapse. It didn't last very long and we just tried to find a way out." U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Ralph Boyce told AP there is increasing evidence of Al-Qaeda's presence in Indonesia and that it is recruiting local extremists. "The Christian Science Monitor" on 9 October reported that, in the case of Southeast Asia, "Al-Qaeda sought to win over loose networks of activists for Islamic law whose leaders are predominantly Indonesian. Key among them was the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), an organization that investigators in Singapore and Malaysia say was created in the early 1990s by a tight-knit group of Indonesian radicals who dreamed of a pan-Islamic Southeast Asia."

Indonesia has declined to pass an antiterrorist law that would give police the right to arrest people suspected of terrorist activities. "The New York Times" article stated: "While its neighbors have arrested scores of militants from Jemaah Islamiyah, Jakarta has done little and denied that it is a haven for terrorists."

By 14 October, the Indonesian government suggested that Al-Qaeda was involved in the bombing and claimed it knew the names of those responsible for the blast.

Commenting on the attacks in Bali, "The New York Times" wrote on 15 October: "This was the latest and deadliest of several recent assaults. Together they offer evidence that Al-Qaeda and its allies have survived the war in Afghanistan and are regrouping to organize new strikes." "The Guardian" the same day offered its view of the problem of terror: "Last weekend's atrocity has only underlined the tricky, slippery nature of the new enemy. No one is even sure if Bali was an Al-Qaeda operation or, for that matter, whether such thing as an 'Al-Qaeda operation' even exists. The Indonesian government says it was, noting the expertise required to trigger a series of simultaneous explosions -- a know-how only Al-Qaeda could possess. Others are doubtful, insisting that [Osama] bin Laden's men tend to prefer military, political or culturally iconic targets. It is the homegrown Indonesian Jemaah Islamiyah which hits nightclubs and similar symbols of 'western decadence.'"

The Czech Defense Ministry is concerned about recent thefts of hand grenades and other explosives from Czech Army storage dumps that might fall into the hands of militant anti-NATO groups and be used during the NATO summit in Prague on 20-22 November. According to "Jane's Intelligence Digest" of 11 October: "Most incidents continue to go unresolved. In one case, Czech military and civilian police continue to search for thieves who made off with 40 hand grenades from a munitions depot in Boletice." An unnamed security expert from the Czech Information Security Service told "Jane's": "It is interesting that these incidents are occurring at an increasing rate prior to the Prague summit."

Security officials are concerned that thousands of demonstrators might descend on Prague to protest U.S. threats against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein for his regime's alleged efforts to produce weapons of mass destruction. With such dignitaries as U.S. President George W. Bush, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair attending the summit, security precautions in Prague promise to be very tight.

According to the International edition of "Newsweek" on 16 October, "U.S. Air Force F-16 fighters will provide air cover and antiaircraft guns will be arrayed around Prague. An AWACS plane will patrol the skies, while 12,000 police officers and 2,000 Czech troops will blanket the city's medieval streets." RK

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) removed Russia from the list of countries that fail to combat money laundering, Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told journalists on 11 October. Earlier this year, the Russian Federation established a Financial Monitoring Committee and the State Duma passed an antimoney-laundering law. According to the "Financial Times" of 14 October, "FATF President Jochen Sanio said it was obvious Russia had 'invested a lot of money, a lot of technology and the best staff available' in the new agency." Sanio added, according to the paper, "The progress should be given a standing ovation," adding that "Moscow could become a full member of FATF by next year." The FATF also threatened "countermeasures" against Nigeria and Ukraine, unless they took steps to enact or expand existing anticorruption and anti-money-laundering legislation. RK

Ukrainian media reported 15 October that appellate court Judge Yuriy Vasylenko ordered the Prosecutor-General's Office to start an investigation into accusations that President Leonid Kuchma violated 11 articles of the Ukrainian Criminal Code -- including alleged involvement in the sale of embargoed military technology to Baghdad and in the disappearance of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Judge Vasylenko was quoted by "The Wall Street Journal Europe" of 16 October as stating: "I had no grounds not to open the criminal case against the president." Speaking by telephone to "The Washington Post" of 16 October, opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko, who was jailed for a few months last year, said, "Finally, there is an honest judge who made an honest decision that there is enough evidence against the president."

Speaking at a press conference in Kyiv on 15 October, the judge said his ruling means Ukrainian prosecutors can now be held accountable if they fail to probe the charges, according to local media. "The likeliest scenario is that a criminal case will be quickly terminated by the prosecutors," the judge said. "But my decision is not just a symbolic decision. If they proceed that way, it can have legal consequences." RK


By Roman Kupchinsky

The Polish Internal Security Agency (ABW) announced on 15 July that it has arrested 10 people suspected of complicity with a Nigerian drug-trafficking gang. The ABW and the District Prosecutor's Office in Warsaw, which was investigating the case for some time, claim the gang used young Polish women to smuggle cocaine from South America to Spain and Holland.

The development represents but one aspect of the diverse and increasingly international face of Polish organized crime today.

This is the second major drug-smuggling case uncovered by the ABW between South America and Poland. In an earlier case, more than 40 people were charged with smuggling around 2.5 tons of cocaine, worth $700 million, into Poland in the years 1994-2000. One of the defendants of that case was Leszek D., alias Walka, one of the alleged bosses of the infamous Pruszkow gang.

A U.S. State Department report on narcotics control in 2001 summarized the Polish narcotics situation as follows: "Poland has become a major center for synthetic drug production, particularly amphetamines. MDMA (ecstasy) is produced in large quantities in Poland, and law enforcement officials estimate that Poland is one of the leading suppliers of amphetamines to European markets. Available information does not suggest that synthetic drugs produced in Poland have a significant effect on the United States. Poland is also a major producer of precursor chemicals as well as a transshipment route from eastern suppliers of precursors and narcotics, particularly Ukraine and Turkey.

"Poland has an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 drug addicts with the drugs of choice being marijuana, amphetamines, and in the past four years the more expensive 'Brown sugar' (brown heroin from the Golden Triangle of Burma, Thailand and Laos). 'Kompot,' from poppy straw, is still the poor man's drug in Poland, and is often used by addicts who cannot afford 'brown sugar' or who develop a tolerance to it over time. Drug related crimes are increasing in Poland and represent a serious problem. (These crimes increased 27 percent over the previous year and arrests were up by 39 percent.) In recent years, Poland has seen significantly lower ages for first-time drug users as well as a much wider variety of illegal drugs available on the local market. Although there are more than 400 criminal groups operating in Poland, the drug trade is largely controlled by just three syndicates operating in the Warsaw area and Gdansk. Poland's law enforcement community has had marked success in breaking up drug smuggling operations, specifically ones that had smuggled cocaine from South America, and it is continuing to improve its ability to identify and locate locally produced narcotics, much of which come from mobile clandestine laboratories."

The second most lucrative criminal enterprise in Poland is the "importing and exporting" of young women from Bulgaria, Romania, and the former Soviet Union to work as forced prostitutes in Western Europe and on highways along Poland's borders. Polish police estimate that some 15,000 women, generally 16 to 20 years old, are brought into Poland annually for this purpose.

Organized-crime groups from Ukraine and Belarus are increasingly replacing Polish middlemen in this lucrative smuggling trade. Many of the women are afraid to report the abuse to police out of fear that they will be deported for having entered Poland illegally.

Another lucrative criminal enterprise is the smuggling of black-market cigarettes from Poland to Germany. Thus Poles, operating in small enterprises consisting of about four people who are linked by friendship and marriage, procure cigarettes in Poland, smuggle them across the border, and then sell them either on the street to consumers or to retail dealers. Many of these Polish dealers have become linked to Vietnamese mid-level dealers in Germany who control the supplies for illegal Vietnamese immigrants who in turn work as cigarette vendors.

The so-called Pruszkow mafia is one of the best-known Polish criminal groupings. It is the Polish equivalent of the Cosa Nostra and is considered responsible for car and art theft, money laundering, extortion, prostitution, trafficking in drugs and weapons, and gangland slayings. In December 1999, a man alleged to have headed the Pruszkow mafia, Andrzej K., better known as "Pershing," was gunned down by assailants in a passing car while putting his skis into his Mercedes automobile, which was parked in front of the Kasprowy Hotel in the southern Polish resort town of Zakopane. He was killed by two shots to the head. Police found the burned-out remains of the getaway car in a nearby forest. Fourteen alleged members of the Pruszkow mafia were arrested in 2001.

Over the past five years, the group has been battling its main rival: the so-called Wolomin mafia. In April 1995, police arrested eight members of the gang and claimed, somewhat prematurely, that the Wolomin group was badly damaged. The gang survived the arrests and continued its activities, however.

In 1999, police in Lodz, Poland's second-largest city, arrested nine men suspected of terrorizing wealthy local businessmen. A representative of Warsaw's notorious Wolomin gang was among those taken into custody. The blackmailers allegedly informed targeted businessmen that a death sentenced had been passed on them but they could buy themselves out of that fate. The accompanying ransom ranged anywhere from $2,300 to $200,000. A favorite tactic of the gangsters was the drive-by strafing of their victims' villas with machine-gun fire.

The leader of the Wolomin gang, known as "Klepak," was executed in August 2000, allegedly by a rival from a Belarusian mafia gang known as "Wolf" who lives in Warsaw, according to the "Zycie Warszawy" newspaper of 28 August 2000.

Foreign criminal gangs have been trying to gain entrance into the Polish market for a number of years. This has been made simpler by ongoing feuds between Polish organized-crime gangs. Foremost among them have been Turkish and Kosovar Albanian gangs who have made inroads into the narcotics trade in Poland and who are involved in supplying the growing demand for hard drugs among younger Poles.