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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Complex Diamond and Gun Smuggling During Liberian Civil War

LIBERIA’S TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION has heard allegations that a retired agent of the CIA was instrumental in facilitating a vast diamonds-for-arms smuggling operation on behalf of Liberian warlord Charles Taylor.

Taylor, who headed the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), became the country’s President in 1997. He is currently held by the United Nations in The Hague, pending trial for crimes against humanity.

The allegations were made at the recent Economic Crimes Hearing of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Monrovia by Imants Liepiņš, an ivestigator with the Public Investigation Bureau, a business intelligence firm based in Riga, Latvia.

Mr. Liepiņš, who is a recent nominee for UNESCO’s 2009 World Press Freedom Prize, presented his findings during an official hearing titled “Economic Crimes, Corruption and the Conflict in Liberia: Policy Options for an Emerging Democracy and Sustainable Peace”.

AN INTRICATE NETWORK

Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which aims to unearth human rights violations and the exploitation of the country’s natural or public resources to perpetuate war, heard last Thursday that Roger D’Onofrio
Ruggiero, an Italian-American 40-year veteran of the CIA, worked with Charles Taylor and others to channel diamonds into Europe through a number of front-companies.

According to the allegations, D’Onofrio, who at the time lived outside Naples, Italy, helped organize the smuggling operation with Ibrahim Bah.

Bah is a Senegalese with Libyan connections, who at that time was a member of Liberia’s Revolutionary United Front, a guerilla group that fought unsuccessfully against the government throughout the 1990s. According to Douglas Farah’s book Blood from Stones (Broadway Books, 2004), Bah was connected with D’Onofrio in the 1970s, when the former was funded by the CIA to join the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the war against the Soviet Red Army.

In the early 1990s, Bah, who by then had established al-Qaeda connections, became Charles Taylor’s “Minister for Mineral Resources”, a post that enabled him to handle the majority of NPFL’s diamonds-for-arms deals.

SLOVENIANS, AMERICANS AND OTHERS

Bah is alleged to have also drawn on his Libyan connections to involve in the smuggling operation representatives of Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi.

The smuggling was conducted through a front-company, International Business Consultant Ltd, and Kintex, a Bulgarian import-export company with offices in Switzerland.

  • Kintex “supplied weapons and bullets to [International Business Consultant Ltd] and sold diamonds in return, camouflaged as oranges and olives”.
  • This was allegedly done with the help of a Swiss lawyer, Rudolf Meroni.

During last Thursday’s presentation in Monrovia, Imants Liepiņš recounted D’Onofrio’s 1995 testimony before Italian prosecutors, in which the former CIA agent admitted he owned shares in International Business Consultant Ltd, as did Charles Taylor, Ibrahim Bah, and others.

Interestingly, Liepiņš revealed that among the shareholders was Nill Taylor (no relation to Charles Taylor), an American who claimed to be “a representative of the US Government” (though not apparently connected with the US Embassy in Monrovia, which in the 1990s was headed by a series of interim chargés d’affaires).

Nill Taylor, who met with D’Onofrio in Liberia on at least one occasion, was an associate of Nicolas Oman, a notorious Slovenian weapons smuggler who was rewarded for his services to Charles Taylor by being named Liberia’s honorary consul in Slovenia.

Oman’s son, who lives in Australia, was appointed Liberia’s honorary consul in the county until 2006, when his family’s weapons smuggling ventures became the subject of a diplomatic row between Slovenia and Australia.

A RENEGADE AGENT


Mr. Liepiņš’ allegations have made headlines throughout Liberia, but have yet to appear in any mainstream Western media outlet.

This is extremely disappointing in light of the fact that these allegations about D’Onofrio are not new.

  • In 1995, the former CIA agent was arrested by Italian police officers investigating a money laundering and arms smuggling operation into the former Yugoslavia.
  • Italian authorities charged D’Onofrio, whom the local press dubbed “Specter’, “after James Bond’s arch-enemy”, with using CIA “contacts [he] made during the 40 years he worked for the US intelligence agency to organize illegal financial deals and arms shipments”.
  • These reportedly included a foiled attempt to supply Slovenian arms smugglers with osmium, a chemical element used to manufacture nuclear detonators.

The Rest @ Intelnews


* Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis has been writing and teaching on the politics of intelligence for over ten years. His areas of academic expertise include the institutional analysis of the intelligence community; the interception of communications; and the history of intelligence with particular reference to international espionage during the Cold War. He is co-founder and Senior Editor of intelNews.org.

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