A Colombian money laundering network that is suspected of fraudulent transfers of more than $10 million per month was dismantled by Peruvian authorities on Monday, InsightCrime reported.
Sixteen Colombians and a Peruvian operating out of Lima, Huancayo and Iquitos, Peru, were arrested. Firearms, money, ten vehicles, three buildings, and computers were also seized in the operation.
Public Ministry officials said the organized crime group used social networking sites and websites designed to lure customers with financial problems. The names, addresses, and phone numbers of potential customers were then collected and contacted with offers of unguaranteed loans up to $25,000, the Peruvian La Republica reported. The group then charged debtors 40-60 percent monthly interest rates. Cases of defaulting debtors being kidnapped were also reported. Family members were then compelled to sell their belongings to pay the debt.
The group was dubbed “Los Armenios de Colombia” (the Armenians of Colombia) and used fruit and pastry selling as a front.
Police report that in the last year 113 Colombians have been arrested in Peru for involvement in murders, extortion, robbery, fraud and other crimes. Peru remains an operation base for foreign and domestic criminals due to its lax money laundering controls.
Despite measures designed to combat money laundering, the Peruvian government has not achieved much success in its court cases against these crimes. Widespread police corruption further ignites the situation.
The National People’s Congress of China announced that Zhou Wenbin has been ousted following an investigation into allegations of bribery, embezzlement, selling of offices or other forms of corruption, the Washington Post reported Sunday.
Wenbin, 52, was dismissed from his post as President of Nanchang University in the province of Guangxi on June 18, the South China Morning Post reported. He served as president and deputy party chief of the university since 2002.
Since taking office in November, President Xi Jinping has announced a crackdown on corruption and government waste. While the Communist Party generally tightly controls information about cases of corruption among high-level officials, state media have recently been more open.
The case of a former district official, sentenced Friday to 13 years in prison in the city of Chongqing for taking more than 3.1 million yuan ($500,000) in bribes, was announced in the state media. Lei Zhengfu, 55, had been at the center of a sex-tape scandal involving a 25-year-old prostitute that turned into an extortion scheme, the Washington Post reported.
A criminal court in Skopje found former Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski guilty, along with four others, of misusing state funds and sentenced him to three years in jail, according to the website Balkan Insight.
The 2001 scheme involved the illegal procurement of spare parts for T-55 tanks from the MZT company. According to authorities, it cost the country’s budget over two million euro. The trial began in 2007.
Buckovski served as prime minister from 2004 to 2006. He denied that he acquired four times the necessary spare parts for the tanks, insisting that the parts were crucial for national security. At the time, there was a brief military conflict between Macedonian security forces and ethnic Albanian rebels.
The defendants argued that they did not damage the state budget with the procurement of the parts because they can still be sold. In January, the army’s general staff confirmed that the parts were being stored in military warehouses.
This ruling follows an appeals court decision that reversed an earlier ruling that sentenced Buckovski to three and a half years in jail.
The former chief of staff of the Macedonian Army, General Metodij Stamboliski, and MZT manager Mitre Petkovski received three-year sentences. Former army logistics officer Nelko Menkinovski and former defense ministry employee Aco Gjurcevski received two-year sentences.
All five have a right to appeal the ruling.
Customs and border protection officers seized 13,195 pounds of methamphetamine at border crossings between the US and Mexico in the 2012 fiscal year, the Associated Press reports.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit says the seizure rate has more than doubled in the past two years, most prominently at San Diego’s San Ysidro entry point.
San Ysidro is the busiest border crossing point, with an average of 40,000 cars and 25,000 pedestrians trying to cross daily. According to Gary Hill, assistant special agent in charge of the US Drug Enforcement Administration in San Diego, it provides a multitude of opportunities for smugglers to bring drugs across the border.
During 2012, the Border Patrol seized 5,566 pounds of methamphetamine at San Ysidro, which accounts for more than 40 percent of the methamphetamine seizures along the entire US-Mexico border. From October 2012 to March, 2,169 pounds of methamphetamine were seized at the San Ysidro border. As a result, San Ysidro accounts for 61 percent of the 6,364 pounds seized at all Mexican border crossings during the same timeframe.
This increase represents a shift in production to Mexico after recent crackdowns at US -based labs. Over the past decade, the US government has shut down a large number of methamphetamine labs and introduced severe limits on the chemicals needed to produce the drug.
The increase also reflects the Sinaloa cartel’s control over the Tijuana-San Diego area. “This is a new corridor for them,” Joe Garcia, assistant special agent in charge of ICE investigations in San Diego, told the Associated Press.
The drug is reportedly transported across the border in multiple ways. Children are caught walking across the border multiple times per week with the crystalized drug strapped to their body. Drivers usually transport it in liquid form through gas containers and tequila bottles, as it is harder to detect in the giant X-ray scanners that are used at border inspections.
An Interpol-led global operation involving 100 participating countries, targeted the illegal sale of medicine online and has resulted in 58 arrests and the seizure of 9.8 million fake or counterfeit medicines worth $41 million.
The week-long Operation Pangea VI took place June 18-27. It identified and shut down 9,000 websites and suspended the payment facilities of illegitimate pharmacies. In addition to online operations, multiple raids were done at addresses linked to the illegal websites. Customs inspected some 522,000 packages and seized 58,000.
Police, customs and national regulatory authorities in multiple countries were engaged in disrupting the global Internet-based sale of these medicines.
Interpol, Europol, the World Customs Organization, numerous pharmaceutical agencies, and private sector companies including Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, and Legitscript all participated in the operation. They focused on two main areas that are integral to the illegal trade, Internet service providers and electronic payment and delivery systems.
Fake medicines seized included antibiotics, cancer medication, anti-depression pills, food supplements and erectile dysfunction cures. The dangers of online pharmacies are that the products are unregulated and the medication sold can have unknown risks.
So far 175 investigations have been launched as part of the operation, exploring offenses like illegal manufacturing and selling and supplying counterfeit or unlicensed medicines.
Studio Monitori and OCCRP partner Nanka Naskidashvili has been awarded the Josh Friedman Prize for the best investigative journalism story in the Republic of Georgia.
Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a Vatican official, has been arrested on allegations of fraud and corruption in connection with an ongoing Vatican Bank scandal, BBC News reports.
Scarano, an accountant in the Vatican’s financial department, was recently suspended pending investigation of money laundering accusations against the bank, also known as the Institute of Religious Works (IOR).
Authorities suspect Scarano brought €20 million in cash to Italy from Switzerland aboard an Italian government plane, according to Huffington Post.
His attorney, Silverico Silva, claims that Scarano was just the middleman in an operation to return money friends had given broker Giovanni Carenzio to invest. The money was moved on a government aircraft in order to avoid reporting on it entering into Italy. The tactic was discovered when Carenzio did not follow through on his end of the deal.
An Italian secret service agent, Giovanni Maria Zito, and Carenzio were also arrested, reports BBC.
This is not the only scandal the Vatican official faces. Italian police began investigating Scarano after a series of suspicious transactions labeled as church donations were recycled through the Vatican Bank. Other transactions he was making in 2009 are also under investigation. Scarano allegedly took €560,000 out of his personal account at the IOR and took it out of the Vatican in order to pay off the mortgage on his Salerno home, reports Huffington Post.
Scarano took the money from his account and distributed in €10,000 amounts for friends to hold temporarily in order to hide its intended purpose and to avoid suspicion over having such a large amount. The money in his IOR account initially came from donors who gave it under the pretense that they were funding a home for the terminally ill.
Scarano continues to claim his innocence despite how the case is unfolding. He said he took the money temporarily for personal use.
BBC reports that the bank is one of the world’s most secretive: it only has 114 workers and holds €5.4 billion in assets.
Pope Francis recently ordered a full-fledged investigation into the bank. He created a commission to investigate its legal structure and activities. The investigation into Scarano preceded the Pope’s announcement.
A Vietnamese man and a woman who refused to disclose any information about the $47 million worth of heroin and methamphetamine they were found with have each been sentenced to 18 years in jail, the Australian daily The Courier reported.
Thi Tran, 45, and Manh Dao, were arrested two years ago after a routine police patrol in the park of a Melbourne suburb.
The couple was thought to be acting suspiciously when police saw them walking away from a black BMW as soon as they saw them. Police had just finished a separate investigation into drug trafficking, when the search of the vehicle uncovered 25.2 kilos of high-purity heroin and 6.6 kilos of methamphetamine plus $160,000 in cash.
Police estimated the drugs to be valued at more than $47 million on the street.
The couple first fought the charges, then pleaded guilty to one charge of trafficking a large quantity of drugs. They refused to give any information regarding where or from whom they got the drugs.
The pair will spend at least 13 years in prison.
Reporters from the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN), an OCCRP partner, won the award for Best Reported Corruption Story given by ACCOUNT (Bosnia’s Legal Anti-Corruption Network).
Aladin Abdagić’s investigation into the murky finances and properties owned by Kemal Čaušević, Bosnia’s former head of the Indirect Taxation Authority took the prize. It was edited by Azhar Kalamujić.
“CIN’s aim is to spread transparency, especially among officials,” Abdagić said. “This investigation continued that trend,” he said.
The award for best corruption video went to Bosnia Broadcasting Company’s CRTA for a story on drug kingpin Naser Kelmendi. The video was based on material previously published by CIN in an investigation which profiled Kelmendi and outlined some of his more dubious activities. That story was written by Azhar Kalamujić and edited by Drew Sullivan.
Marc Rich, oil trader and infamous white-collar criminal, died at 78 Wednesday in Lucerne, Switzerland, after a stroke, The New York Times reports.
The billionaire became the most successful and controversial commodity trader of his time, tapping into markets for aluminum, silver, and zinc. In the 1970s, his triumph was to develop a spot market for crude oil, making a name for himself amongst bigwig international oil companies.
Rich was accused of trading with revolutionary Iran, even when it was holding American hostages in Tehran, Forbes reports. Rich made illegal business deals with countries like Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, apartheid-era South Africa, and Fidel Castro’s Cuba, and others.
In 1983, Rich was indicted on 65 criminal charges, including tax fraud and his illegal dealings with Iran. The Times reports that one of the most serious accusations against Rich was that he misrepresented the provenance of crude oil he sold from 1980 to 1981, selling it at a markup of a maximum 400 percent. Rich profited by more than $100 million and avoided almost $50 million in US taxes in the scheme.
His company, known today as Glencore Xstrata Plc., paid about $200 million in civil duties to the government. Rich and his business partner fled to Switzerland to avoid prosecution.
The center of the biggest tax evasion case in US history, Rich was put onto the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List, alongside Osama bin Laden, for tax evasion, fraud, and racketeering, according to Yahoo Finance. The “King of Oil” continued to live in opulence in Switzerland, still the world’s biggest trader of metals and minerals.
The famous fugitive appeared on the presidential pardon list on Jan. 20, 2001, Former Present Clinton’s last day in office, after spending nearly two decades on the Most Wanted list, reports the Times. There was immediate speculation that Clinton gave the pardon due to political and donor pressure backed by Rich’s wife Denise. However, it was determined that her donations to the Democratic Party had nothing to do with the pardon, according to Forbes.
Others, including Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and ex-Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit, lobbied for the pardon on Rich’s behalf.
Clinton later stated that the pardon was “terrible politics,” as reported in the Times, and it was not, as he told Newsweek magazine worth the damage to his political reputation.
Rich will be buried in Tel Aviv, Israel.