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Exiled oligarch #VladimirGusinsky and his 'special' #Kremlin deal

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Many see Vladimir Gusinsky as a victim – a man forced out for his liberal beliefs and strength to stand up to Vladimir Putin and his henchmen. But others believe that is far from the truth. Some say Gusinsky is still “welcomed” in the Kremlin – indeed, he has made hundreds of millions of dollars from this “cosy arrangement”, writes Phillip Braund.

Gusinsky and former business partner Konstantin Kagalovsky recently clashed in the High Court in London in a dispute over a Ukrainian television station, TVi.

After the hearing, Kagalovsky said: “Everyone thinks that Goose – as he’s known – is a frightened man on the run from the Kremlin.

“Well, nothing could be further from the truth.

“He has a deal with the Kremlin – something he boasted to me about – that’s allowed him to make a fortune out of supplying television programmes to Russian stations for years.

“He never tired of telling me about his special deal with the Kremlin.

“Who signed the deal and how it meant that he’d have to stay away from politics back home.

“He called it his deal with the ‘Moscow Side’ and said it was signed by the Russian Federation, Gazprom and Gazprom Media.

“And, whenever he spoke about Putin, he rarely called him by his name – it was usually ‘Big Boss this and Big Boss that’.

“He insisted he had a special relationship with Moscow, but I’m not so sure.

“I think they had him on a hook and were playing him.

“To the public Gusinsky is a political victim and enemy of Putin.

“However, it’s typical KGB practice to make an open enemy into a hidden agent of influence.

“I remember him telling me that before he went to sleep at night, he wrote of list of people he hated and kept it by his bedside.

“You’d be surprised who was on his list.”

After falling out with the newly installed President Putin, Gusinsky left Russia in 2000.

He was languishing in the infamous Butyrka Prison in central Moscow on charges of “illegal privatisation”,when he was approached by Press Minister Mikhail Lesin to sell his “Media Most” company to Gazprom.

In return, Lesin promised Gusinsky he’d close the case against him.

Gusinsky agreed, and three days later he was freed, and he left the country for Spain.

Firstly, through the Spanish courts the Russians successfully had Gusinsky arrested but later attempts to extradite him failed.

By the time the Russians asked again he’d fled to Israel.

Later, Gusinsky obtained a Spanish passport by declaring he was a Sephardi Jew – Sephardi means Spanish or Hispanic.

He also holds an Israeli passport and currently lives in St Moritz Switzerland.

Two years later, as the now called Gazprom-Media was buying the final stake in his channels, Gusinsky reached another agreement with the Kremlin – a pact he crowedthat was confirmed by Putin.

Gusinsky would call this his “unbreakable agreement” – a deal that would guarantee him endless commissions and money for his dramas.

On the other hand, the contract also prevented Gusinsky from taking advantage of a decision made in his favour by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The ECHR ruled he [Gusinsky] could chase Gazprom’s foreign assets in a civil action.

It’s said he “cynically” used the ruling to open up negotiations with the Kremlin.

With his “unbreakable agreement” firmly in his back pocket, Gusinsky’s New Media Distribution Company (NMDC) produced more than 3,000 original episodes and picked up a host of awards along the way.

Many programmes are firm favourites with Russian viewers – “Agent of National Security”, “The War of Cops”, “Secrets of Investigation” all reached audiences of millions.

In total, it’s said Gusinsky’s companies supply 13% of content for Russian television.

However, renowned investigative journalists Ilya Rozhdestvensky and Roman Badanin, writing for Proekt [Project] Media, uncovered the fact that content producer Panorama made each “Secrets of Investigation” show for about $125,000.

But Russian TV channels were buying them at double that price – making Gusinsky’s media empire profits of more than $500 million since 2000.

And, some people are now suggesting, given his Russian “agent of influence" abroad, that Gusinsky should be registered in America under its Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

FARA was introduced in the 1940s to stop Nazi propaganda spreading in the US.

At one point the Soviet news agency TASS and newspapers Izvestia and Pravda were registered as agents.

Broadcaster Russia Today was registered but wanted exemption.

It was reluctant to disclose its finances, board members and demonstrate evidence of editorial independence.

It has now registered.

Since FARA was introduced 221 Russian companies have been registered as foreign government agencies.

© Daisy Dog Media

 

Crime

Over 40 arrested in biggest-ever crackdown against drug ring smuggling cocaine from Brazil into Europe

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In the early hours of the morning (27 November), more than a thousand police officers with the support of Europol carried out co-ordinated raids against the members of this highly professional criminal syndicate. Some 180 house searches were executed, resulting in the arrest of 45 suspects. 

The investigation uncovered that this drug trafficking network was responsible for the annual importation of at least 45 tonnes of cocaine into the main European seaports, with profits exceeding €100 million over the course of 6 months.

This international sting, led by the Portuguese, Belgian and Brazilian authorities, was carried out simultaneously by agencies from three different continents, with coordination efforts facilitated by Europol:

  • Europe: Portuguese Judicial Police (Polícia Judiciária), Belgian Federal Judicial Police (Federale Gerechtelijke Politie, Police Judiciaire Fédérale), Spanish National Police (Policia Nacional), Dutch Police (Politie) and the Romanian Police (Poliția Română)
  • South America: Brazilian Federal Police (Policia Federal)
  • Middle East: Dubai Police Force and Dubai State Security

Results in brief 

  • 45 arrests in Brazil (38), Belgium (4), Spain (1) and Dubai (2).
  • 179 house searches.
  • Over €12m in cash seized in Portugal, €300,000 in cash seized in Belgium and over R$1m and US$169,000 in cash seized in Brazil.
  • 70 luxury vehicles seized in Brazil, Belgium and Spain and 37 aircrafts seized in Brazil.
  • 163 houses seized in Brazil worth in excess of R$132m, two houses seized in Spain worth €4m, and two apartments seized in Portugal worth €2.5m.
  • Financial assets of 10 individuals frozen in Spain.

Global co-operation 

In the framework of intelligence activities underway with its operational counterparts, Europol developed reliable intelligence concerning the international drug trafficking and money laundering activities of a Brazilian organized crime network operating in several EU countries.

The criminal syndicate had direct contact with drug cartels in Brazil and other South American source countries who were responsible for the preparation and the shipments of cocaine in maritime containers bound to major European seaports.

The scale of cocaine importation from Brazil to Europe under their control and command is massive and over 52 tonnes of cocaine were seized by law enforcement over the course of the investigation.

In April 2020, Europol brought together the involved countries who have since been working closely together to establish a joint strategy to bring down the whole network. The main targets were identified on either sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Since then, Europol has provided continuous intelligence development and analysis to support the field investigators. During the action day, a total of 8 of its officers were deployed on-the-ground in Portugal, Belgium and Brazil to assist there the national authorities, ensuring swift analysis of new data as it was being collected during the action and adjusting the strategy as required.

Commenting on this operation, Europol’s Deputy Director Wil van Gemert said: "This operation highlights the complex structure and vast reach of Brazilian organized crime groups in Europe. The scale of the challenge faced today by police worldwide calls for a coordinated approach to tackle the drug trade across continents. The commitment of our partner countries to work via Europol underpinned the success of this operation and serves as a continued global call to action."

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Crime

European day on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse

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On the occasion of the European day on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse (18 November), the Commission reaffirmed its determination to fight child sexual abuse with all the tools at its disposal. Promoting our European Way of Life Vice President Margaritis Schinas said: “Under the Security Union Strategy, we are working to protect all those living in Europe, both online and offline. Children are particularly vulnerable, especially as the coronavirus pandemic correlates with increased sharing of child sexual abuse images online, and we have an obligation to protect them.”

Home Affairs Commisioner Ylva Johansson said: “Imagine as a child victim knowing the worst moment in your life is still circulating on the internet. Even worse, imagine that an opportunity to be saved from ongoing abuse was missed because tools had become illegal. Companies need to be able to report so that police can stop images circulating and even save children.”

Over the last years, there has been a significant increase in child sexual abuse and exploitation cases and recently the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the situation. Europol found that as member states introduced lockdown and quarantine measures, the number of self-produced materials increased, while travel restrictions and other restrictive measures means that offenders  increasingly exchange  materials online.

In July, the Commission adopted a comprehensive EU strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse. Under the Strategy, we proposed legislation to ensure that providers of online communications services can continue voluntary measures to detect child sexual abuse online. In addition, Europol provides support to operations such as the recent action targeting child trafficking. The agency also monitors criminal trends in the Internet Organized Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA) and dedicated reports on the evolution of threats, including child sexual abuse, in the times of COVID-19.

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Crime

High-level conference on anti-money laundering and countering terrorist financing - closing the door on dirty money

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On 30 September, the European Commission hosted a high-level conference on the EU's fight against money laundering and terrorist financing. This conference marked the conclusion of the public consultation that was launched in parallel with the adoption of the Anti-Money Laundering Action Plan on 7 May 2020.

There was a series of dedicated panel debates and keynote speeches by high-profile speakers who are on the front line of the fight against dirty money, including Catanzaro Chief Prosecutor Nicola Gratteri and French Court of Cassation General Prosecutor Francois Molins.

An Economy that Works for the People Valdis Executive Vice-President Dombrovskis said: “Dirty money should have nowhere to hide. The EU has been ramping up its anti-money laundering rules. They are now among the toughest in the world - but still not enforced equally across the board. It is clear that we must do a lot more to shut off remaining loopholes, remove weak links, and co-ordinate better between EU countries. Effectiveness, efficiency, enforcement: these are the governing principles of our strategy in tackling money-laundering. They should apply across the EU and across the world. That is how we can beat it.”

Three thematic panels will cover the areas for future reform of EU rules, while a closing roundtable will bring together representatives from the European Commission, the German Presidency and the European Parliament to highlight the EU's united position and commitment to fighting money laundering and terrorist financing. Each panel will include an opportunity for questions via Twitter with the hashtag #StopDirtyMoneyEU. For more information, details on the programme and a link to the live feed, please see here.

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