Pakistan probe links Iranian supreme leader’s representative to money laundering

Pakistan probe links Iranian supreme leader’s representative to money laundering
A collage of photos shows suspects arrested in a money laundering case in January 2022 and parts of a charge sheet against them dated Feb. 10, 2022 and submitted by the Federal Investigation Agency to a court in Karachi, Pakistan. (FIA)
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Updated 10 April 2022

Pakistan probe links Iranian supreme leader’s representative to money laundering

Pakistan probe links Iranian supreme leader’s representative to money laundering
  • Federal Investigation Agency says ‘colossal amount’ of money illegally transferred between Pakistan and Iran
  • Investigation began after Pakistani police arrested members of Iran-backed Zainabiyoun Brigade militant group

ISLAMABAD: A money laundering network in Pakistan transferred a “colossal amount” of allegedly illicit funds to Iran, with a representative of the Iranian supreme leader among the recipients, court documents recently submitted by Pakistani investigators show.

Investigation reports and WhatsApp chat logs — all viewed by Arab News and corroborated by security officials — show that members of the network operated between Pakistan, Iran and Iraq over the past seven years.

“On scrutiny it has come on record that a colossal amount of Foreign Currency has been remitted in/out of Pakistan vide illegal transactions of Hundi/ Hawala,” a charge sheet dated Feb. 10, 2022, submitted by the Federal Investigation Agency to a court in Karachi, said. 

Hawala and hundi are informal ways of transferring cash across borders — both are illegal in Pakistan. FIA documents say that the group also used pilgrims traveling to the cities of Najaf in Iraq and Qom in Iran to smuggle money.

BACKGROUND

The probe into the money laundering network began after police in Karachi arrested several members of an Iran-backed militant group, the Zainabiyoun Brigade, in December 2020 and January 2021.

One of the recipients of the transfers, according to the charge sheet, was Abolfazl Bahauddini, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s former representative to Pakistan.

The supreme leader appoints representatives to all provinces of Iran, universities, certain government agencies, and also countries, such as Pakistan, where Shiite communities are present.

Representatives are expected to promote Khamenei’s value system and theocratic principles through their sermons and public speeches, and also pressure local authorities to accommodate his policies. Their appointment in foreign countries is not officially announced.

According to FIA records, Bahauddini received money from the main suspect in the case, identified as Ali Raza. 

Raza was among 13 people arrested during raids in Karachi in January this year, on charges of money laundering and being “associated with a foreign intelligence agency.”

His testimony led to the arrest of another person, a government official, Syed Wisal Haider Naqvi, who he said was Bahauddini's associate.

“Accused Ali Raza also disclosed that he was giving an amount of $200,000 monthly to Agha Adbul Fazal (Abolfazl) Bahauddini through his representative Syed Wisal Haider Naqvi,” the FIA charge sheet reads, but it does not specify when Bahauddini had received the money and for how long. 

A source in Iran told Arab News that Bahauddini had already left Pakistan, most likely between August 2021 and February this year.

The FIA is going to supplement the accusations in the initial charge sheet with forensic analysis of mobile phone data. However, material already analyzed indicates that Raza also transferred cash — estimated by the FIA to be about 30.8 million rupees ($16,400) — to a local Pakistani TV network and 1 million rupees to an Islamabad-based madrasah, or religious school, belonging to a leader of a religious political party.

Naqvi had “remitted a huge amount in the shape of dollars through illegal transactions of hawala to Iran,” the charge sheet said.  

FASTFACT

Investigation reports and WhatsApp chat logs — all viewed by Arab News and corroborated by security officials — show that members of the network operated between Pakistan, Iran and Iraq over the past seven years.

Both Raza and Naqvi remain in custody after their bail pleas were dismissed by the court while the investigation is underway.

The probe into the money laundering network began after police in Karachi arrested several members of an Iran-backed militant group, the Zainabiyoun Brigade, in December 2020 and January 2021.

“The network was identified during the investigation of the militants of the Zainabiyoun in Karachi,” an official with links to the probe told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

The Zainabiyoun Brigade is believed to have sent young members of the Pakistani Shiite community to fight in Syria. It was placed on the US Treasury’s financial blacklist in 2019.  

The Pakistani Ministry of Interior, the director-general of the FIA and the agency’s director for Sindh province, where all the arrests took place, were unavailable for comment despite repeated attempts.

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LONDON: A 26-year-old Iranian-Kurdish people trafficker and 38 members of his gang were behind bars on Wednesday after police in five European countries smashed a major cross-border network that smuggled migrants into the UK.

The gang leader was arrested in Britain along with five other people smugglers. Germany arrested 18 gang members, French police nine and Dutch police six.
Police also seized more than 1,200 life-jackets, about 150 rubber boats and 50 engines, and tens of thousands of euros in cash, firearms and drugs.

The EU law enforcement agency Europol said the trafficking network could have smuggled as many as 10,000 illegal migrants to Britain over the past year and a half and netted as much as €15 million. Police officials said the gang was one of the most active criminal networks smuggling people from France and Belgium to Britain in small boats.

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“This is the most significant operation ever mounted against smuggling operations across the English Channel, especially with this phenomenon of small boats,” Europol deputy executive director Jean-Philippe Lecouffe said.
More than 28,500 people arrived in England illegally last year, mostly from the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan, after making the dangerous cross-Channel journey in often flimsy and dangerous vessels.

“Given the number of boats we seized yesterday ... we can expect a fall in the number of crossings in the immediate future,” Matt Rivers of the UK National Crime Agency said.
The British government hopes to start sending some of the illegal migrants to Rwanda but that plan — widely criticised in the UK and internationally — is being held up by legal challenges.


Russia’s Lavrov to join G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in Indonesia

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Updated 06 July 2022

Russia’s Lavrov to join G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in Indonesia

Russia’s Lavrov to join G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in Indonesia
  • The G20 includes Western countries that have accused Russia of war crimes in Ukraine, but also nations such as China, India, and South Africa that have remained neutral

JAKARTA: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will this week attend a meeting in Bali with his counterparts from the Group of 20 largest economies, officials confirmed on Wednesday, as host Indonesia tries to mediate rifts in the bloc over Moscow’s participation.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, one of the world’s breadbaskets, has delivered shockwaves to global supply chains and also stoked an energy crisis following international sanctions slapped on Moscow — a major oil and gas producer — which has also led to rising inflation in many countries.

The G20 includes Western countries that have accused Russia of war crimes in Ukraine, but also nations such as China, India, and South Africa that have remained neutral. The gathering will be the first time that foreign ministers of some of the world’s top economies have met Lavrov since the beginning of the invasion in late February.

Indonesia, which this year holds the rotating G20 presidency and has been facing pressure to exclude Russia from the summit scheduled to take place in November, is expecting a full attendance during the ministerial meeting on Friday.

“All G20 foreign ministers will be present in Bali,” Teuku Faizasyah, spokesperson for the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Arab News.

Lavrov’s attendance was further confirmed by Denis Tetiushin, a spokesperson of the Russian Embassy in Jakarta, who told Arab News that the “agenda is the same for all the delegations,” including Russia’s.

Friday’s meeting comes after Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s trip last week to Kyiv and Moscow to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin — both of whom have been invited to the November summit.

The G20 foreign ministers are expected to discuss ways to strengthen global collaboration and overcome the food crisis and global rise of commodity prices.

“With the new situation in Ukraine, issues related to food security will also be widely discussed at the G20 meetings,” the Indonesian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “This meeting will serve as a strategic forum to discuss global recovery efforts.”

Indonesia has also invited non-member countries to attend this week’s meeting, including Ukraine. The Ukrainian ambassador in Jakarta, Vasyl Hamianin, told Arab News that Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba will join the meeting virtually and that the eastern European nation sees its participation “positively.”

He said: “The global agenda at present is closely related to what happens in Ukraine.”

In a G20 finance meeting in Washington in April, top officials from the UK, Canada, and the US walked out on Russian representatives. The reaction to Lavrov in Bali may provide an indication of how the bloc’s members will respond if Putin attends in person the summit in Bali later this year, which has not been confirmed.

On Lavrov’s attendance at the ministerial meetings, Hamianin said: “War criminals and officials representing terrorist states must not be allowed to appear at any authoritative and respected international fora.” He added that Lavrov was the minister of the state that was, “committing massive crimes against humanity in Ukraine.”


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Updated 06 July 2022

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ANKARA: Somalia’s president on Wednesday called for assistance from Turkey to combat the effects of severe drought that is threatening the Horn of Africa.

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud made the comments during his first visit to Turkey since returning to office following an election in May. The two countries have forged close ties over the past decade.

“The humanitarian situation caused by the drought was one of the issues we discussed in our meeting with (Turkish) President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan,” Mohamud told reporters following a meeting with the Turkish leader.

He said: “I would like to take this opportunity to call upon our Turkish brothers to support us and do what they can, as they did before. Your solidarity and support will save the lives of the Somali people and will never be forgotten.”

Some areas of the Horn of Africa could be declared in famine within weeks because of the driest drought in the region in decades.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has abruptly drawn millions of dollars away from other crises and Somalia, facing a food shortage largely driven by the war, might be the most vulnerable.

Erdogan visited Somalia in 2011, amid a severe drought and devastating famine as Turkey sought to increase its influence in the Horn of Africa. The visit marked the start of Turkish humanitarian, development and infrastructure projects in Somalia. Turkey also established a military base in Somalia to train Somali soldiers.

“The Somali state and its people see Turkey and the Turkish people as true friends who support our efforts for development and stability in our country and stand by us,” Mohamud said in comments that were translated into Turkish.

Erdogan said Turkey’s humanitarian and development assistance to Somalia in the past decade has exceeded $1 billion.

Turkey has trained about 5,000 soldiers and 1,000 special forces police, he said, adding that Turkey would continue to support Somalia’s “stability and security.”


Brazilian ex-model, Peshmerga sniper killed in Russian airstrike

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Updated 06 July 2022

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  • Thalita do Valle had fought among Kurdish forces against Daesh in Iraq
  • 39-year-old was killed in Ukrainian city of Kharkiv

LONDON: A Brazilian former model who fought against Daesh in Iraq has been killed in a Russian airstrike in Ukraine, Metro newspaper reported on Wednesday.
Thalita do Valle, 39, was killed while serving in the city of Kharkiv on June 30. She had traveled to the conflict zone earlier in June with former Brazilian Army soldier Douglas Burigo, 40, who was also killed in last week’s airstrike.
Metro said Do Valle had experience in other warzones, including a period spent in Iraq fighting among Kurdish Peshmerga forces against the terror group Daesh, another conflict that attracted thousands of foreign volunteers.
She was given sniper training by Kurdish forces that were a key Western ally in the international coalition to defeat Daesh.


Putin's aide warns US against pressing for war crimes court

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Updated 06 July 2022

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  • Dmitry Medvedev denounced the US for what he described as its efforts to “spread chaos and destruction across the world for the sake of 'true democracy'"
  • “That's why the rotten dogs of war are barking in such a disgusting way"

MOSCOW: A top Kremlin official warned the U.S. Wednesday that it could face the “wrath of God” if it pursues efforts to help establish an international tribunal to investigate Russia's action in Ukraine.
The Russian lower house speaker urged Washington to remember that Alaska used to belong to Russia.
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin, denounced the U.S. for what he described as its efforts to “spread chaos and destruction across the world for the sake of 'true democracy.'"
“The entire U.S. history since the times of subjugation of the native Indian population represents a series of bloody wars,” Medvedev charged in a long diatribe on his Telegram channel, pointing out the U.S. nuclear bombing of Japan during World War II and the war in Vietnam.
“Was anyone held responsible for those crimes? What tribunal condemned the sea of blood spilled by the U.S. there?”
Responding to the U.S.-backed calls for an international tribunal to prosecute the perceived war crimes by Russia in Ukraine, Medvedev rejected it as an attempt by the U.S. “to judge others while staying immune from any trial.”
“It won't work with Russia, they know it well,” Medvedev concluded. “That's why the rotten dogs of war are barking in such a disgusting way."
"The U.S. and its useless stooges should remember the words of the Bible: Do not judge and you will not be judged ... so that the great day of His wrath doesn't come to their home one day,” Medvedev said, referring to the Apocalypse.
He noted that the “idea to punish a country with the largest nuclear potential is absurd and potentially creates the threat to mankind's existence.”
The warning follows a series of tough statements from Putin and his officials that pointed at the Russian nuclear arsenals to warn the West against interfering with Moscow's action in Ukraine.
Medvedev, who served as Russia’s president in 2008-2012 when Putin shifted into the prime minister’s post due to term limits, was widely seen by the West as more liberal compared with his mentor. In recent months, however, he has remarks that have sounded much tougher than those issued by the most hawkish Kremlin officials.
In another blustery warning to the U.S., Vyacheslav Volodin, a longtime Putin aide who serves as the speaker of the lower house of parliament, warned Wednesday that Washington should remember that Alaska was part of Russia when it freezes Russian assets. Russia colonized Alaska and established several settlements there until the U.S. purchased it from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million.
“When they attempt to appropriate our assets abroad, they should be aware that we also have something to claim back,” Volodin said during a meeting with lawmakers.