Category proliferation of strategic goods and WMD

The role of private intelligence companies in combating complex economic crimes

Private intelligence companies play an increasingly important role in combating serious economic crimes and in tracking stolen assets. Their analysis capability lies at the heart of the intelligence process. The intelligence received need not only be used in targeting the suspects in an investigation, or tracing their assets, but may also be used in a more strategic manner to develop assessments of threats and tactics to deal with those threats, allocate resources and provide an overall more effective response to them.

The use of intelligence disciplines to investigate complex criminal investigations is increasingly becoming the international norm. Although intelligence provides a platform for many different aspects of an investigation, it has a particularly prominent role to play in combating serious economic crimes, like massive asset misappropriation and corruption. In the case of complex economic crime investigations where there is often a myriad of personalities and different complex financial vehicles, frequently used in different jurisdictions, the use of differing forms of intelligence has become a ‘must have’ instrument, and proved critically important to initial research into allegations of criminal activities but also subsequently in substantive investigations.

There is great deal of conjecture on what precisely intelligence is, and as a result, raw information is often perceived, incorrectly, as intelligence. Information received from disparate sources such as public available records, mass media, informants, telephone complaint lines or banking records is just raw information with little context and often, therefore, no intrinsic value. It is the drawing together of such raw data, assessed for validity and reliability, and its analytical processing that provides the all-important intelligence product. Analysis lies at the heart of the intelligence process.

As the product of an analytical process that evaluates information collected from many diverse sources, one of the main challenges is how to package the product in a manner that provides meaningful value to a greater understanding of the way in which criminals and their enterprises work or how they conduct their criminal activity. In the context of serious economic crimes, and the tracing of assets derived from such crime, intelligence is the key to understanding how criminal proceeds flow and, ideally, where the proceeds are. All assessments of information provided should aim to describe the reliability of the source and of the information provided, to distinguish between reported facts and comment and to provide as much detail as possible.

It is evident, therefore, that the intelligence received need not always be just hard information for use in targeting the suspects in the investigation, or tracing their assets, but may also be used in a more strategic manner to develop assessments on threats and strategies to deal with them, allocate resources and provide overall a more effective response to such threats.

The goal of a large number of criminal activities is to generate a profit for the offender who carries out the activities in question. All over the world, these offenders do not wish to allow the detection of the proceeds of their criminal activity. This explains why offenders and many professionals offering their services try to launder the proceeds of crime – to disguise the illegal origin.

Private intelligence companies play an increasingly important role combating serious economic crimes and in tracking stolen assets. Most importantly, a successful private intelligence organisation needs to be able to conduct very complex intelligence operations: it needs an excellent analytic staff (analysis lies at the heart of the intelligence process) and needs to rely on an international network of business partners and affiliates located in multiple countries to ensure extensive information gathering. This network can also help in conducting intelligence operations once a clear link to the respective foreign country has been established. Not all private investigators are able to operate so extensively.

Identifying the individuals and companies involved in massive asset misappropriation or corruption schemes is the first step of any investigation, aimed at gaining an overview of what private and professional relationships exist between the parties involved. Furthermore, it may provide insight into the financial and proprietary conditions of, for example, a potential business partner.

As not all the parties involved are known from the outset of an investigation and may only become apparent during the course of research or enquiries, the gathering of intelligence on parties involved is an ongoing part of any investigation. The research for intelligence on the parties involved takes place in public registers and databases, such as commercial registers, court filings, rating agencies, business databases, phone books, asset registers etc.

At times, simple OSINT research can lead to extraordinary results. However, if no information is available through these sources, the required information can be captured by on-site inspections and conducting interviews with third parties, e.g., business partners, witnesses, creditors and other stakeholders.

Great care should be exercised to ensure that information obtained in the course of the investigation has been obtained lawfully. Examples of illegal sources of information include dishonest pretext calls, infiltration, information obtained in breach of data protection laws (for example Bank Data, SWIFT records) and hacking – illegally obtained evidence is sometimes admissible before the civil court but the court will decide how much weight to attach to the information and may also consider whether to exercise its discretion and disqualify it as evidence, given its provenance.

The outcome of the intelligence gathering process should be an overview ‘the big picture’ where all the different leads to the parties involved are included.


The respectable façade of modern shell companies

Tropical island’s and Alpine town’s offshore tax havens have more and more competion in Britain, the US and few European countries. Anonymous shell companies are behind so many crimes and misdemeanours that eliminating them should probably be “a no-brainer”, but today the OECD’s “white list” facilitates the money laundering industry to paint their facades with a new image. It is so easy to set up a company with hidden ownership in Britain and the US that even a dead man can do it: The great thing is that they look more respectable.

Criminals and corrupt politicians have found in offshore havens a tool so perfect that it has permanently changed how business is done in the region. By using offshore laws that stress secrecy over everything else including crime prevention, they have been able to set up networks of offshore companies where they can hide their assets from police, launder their money and evade taxes all at the same time. According to the Tax Justice Network, more than $250 billion is lost each year in tax revenues from wealthy individuals and criminals who hide their money in offshore accounts. That is money that by rights should be going toward better education, health care and infrastructure. On top of that, around $1 trillion — often money that corrupt leaders have stolen — flows out of developing countries into offshore accounts and wealthy banking centres.

Offshore registry firms are one-stop shops that for a fee will do everything from filing tax and annual reports to acting as the director of a client’s company. They often work with a registration firm in the offshore country with connections to local government officials. They may provide proxies to serve as directors. They will help a client issue shares and can find proxy shareholders. They might set up bank accounts. If law enforcement or journalists come sniffing around, the trail often ends with them. They will also help set up companies in other countries that will own, be owned by or work with the client’s company. In this way they set up a network of companies that are seemingly independent — but owned by the same person. This confusing arrangement more thoroughly hides ownership and thwarts accountability. They usually do this over the Internet and within a matter of hours or days and without a question. If they ask for identification, they will almost never verify the information they are given.

Offshore tax havens bring to mind tropical islands or Alpine towns. Today, England, the US and some European countries are replacing the more exotic Caribbean or Indian Ocean Islands as the tax havens of choice. On the Tax Secrecy index, the US state of Delaware is listed as the No. 1 offender by the Tax Justice Network. Delaware earns $700 million per year in company registration fees, a significant part of its budget.

Delaware is becoming the preferred location for organized crime figures and corrupt politicians worldwide. Despite complaints from federal law enforcement officials, congressional testimony, and reports from the Government Accountability Office, procedures in Delaware – and similar processes in other states – still let criminal groups infiltrate the corporate system. Professor Jason Sharman, an expert in offshore havens for the Centre for Governance and Public Policy at Griffith University in Australia agrees: “The US has been pretty robust in making sure that other countries live up to these standards, but they have been lax about applying the same degree of rigor to themselves. It’s nowhere near what the US has signed on to do,” he said. Delaware requires no information on actual ownership when companies fill out incorporating documents. Federal law enforcement agencies complain that this lack of identification makes it difficult at best for investigating suspected wrong-doing.

Criminals simply do not fear a legal crackdown. Hampered by offshore secrecy law enforcement especially in Eastern Europe has no talent working across international boundaries figuring out the real owners of companies cloaked in proxies.

Governments scrutinize the offshore industry and blame it for aiding criminals, but do little about fixing the problem. Organized crime has found common cause with business organizations to squash any efforts to radically change offshore laws. Some countries only pay lip service to efforts to provide greater transparency. Some keep on promising important actions and nothing else.

Numerous companies registered in Delaware by offshore businesses controlled by persons accused of organized criminal activities. For example:

  • Serbian fugitive Stanko Subotic registered the planes in Delaware that Italian prosecutors said were used to ferry stacks of illegally earned cash to banks in Cyprus and Liechtenstein. The money was earned, prosecutors say, from tobacco smuggling between the Montenegrin government and the Italian Sacra Corona Unita mafia group.
  • Fugitive Serbian drug lord Darko Saric, who allegedly tried to move 2.1 tons of cocaine from South America to Montenegro last year, registered many of his companies in Delaware where they are still active.
  • Marian Iancu, a Romanian businessmen charged with organizing a criminal group by Romania prosecutors, used Delaware based companies in his takeover of a state oil refinery through an alleged corrupt privatization and in its eventual resale to controversial Russian businessman Mikhail Chernoy.
  • And romanian offshore consultant Laszlo Gyorgy Kiss used Delaware companies to bill Petrom Service in consulting contracts for work that was never done.

Anonymous shell companies are behind so many crimes and misdemeanours that eliminating them should probably be “a no-brainer,” as a US district attorney recently put it. International law enforcement, justice officials and academics agree that knowing who really is reaping the benefits of offshore shell firms is crucial. Jurisdictions must have a way to find out who the really owns companies and a method to close loopholes that make shells operate, such as use of proxies or bearer shares. A major selling point of offshore registry companies, in fact, it that police can’t identify owners. Authorities basically have to ask information from the very people hiding it.We’re operating in this 19th Century manner, yet the money is moving in seconds. It’s long gone. Griffith University Professor Jason Sharman, who last year used Google and $20,000 to find and pay agents to set up anonymous shell companies in 17 jurisdictions, suggested regulating those agents. Sharman recommended that the US and Britain stipulate that agents not be allowed to set up companies unless they themselves know the actual owner and they keep records of that information. Sharman also suggested that the UK and US restrict non-residents from forming shell companies in their countries. “The most acute problem is non-residents setting up ostensibly respectable companies in these jurisdictions and doing crime around the world,” he said. “The great thing about US and British companies is that they look more respectable, and they’re more secret, so you get the best of both worlds. It might raise eyebrows to have a company from any small obscure island, but New York is respectable.” In fact, urisdictions such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands require far more certified ID from anyone wanting to establish a company or bank account there than do the US states of Nevada and Wyoming, which at the time require no certified ID documents at all. Member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), an international organization that has tried to push for laws to reduce the worst abuses of offshores, should get their own houses in order before pointing fingers at other countries. The OECD’s “white list” is maybe problematic?


Erik Vanagels™ – the extent of a money laundering supermarket

The full extent of the money laundering international Vanagels Connection, reported in a previous story, is not known at present day. But according to our experience, Erik Vanagels – together with some colleagues such as Stan Gorin, Juri Vitman, Elmar Zallapa, Danny Banger, Lana Zamba and Inta Bilder – preside over a sprawling network of companies with Baltic bank accounts (mostly at Trasta Komercbank, Rietumu Bank, Parex Banka, Regional Investment Bank JSG) and banks in Moscow and Cyprus. They have extensive dealings with several East European countries like Ukraine, Moldavia, Romania and Russia, covering everything from illicit arms exports, internet piracy, oil/gas/electricity related corruption, financial frauds, counterfeit pharmaceutical products, massive cyber criminality, drug dealing… Some of their customers are also overseas like the Asiatic Hoa Le Duc’s Mafia or the Mexicam Sinaloa Drug Cartel.

The Vanagels Connection

The organizations operates as a full service provider of off-shore companies: Its modus operandi is systematically based on the simple concept of forging beneficial owner identity documents and signatures (for example the real Erik Vanagels, is a simple homeless in Riga) to nominate fictive directors in off-shore companies in UK, Cyprus, Panama, Hong-Kong, New Zeeland… and opening respective bank accounts in Latvia, Cyprus or Russia. Sometimes, the same forged identity is used in multiple variations: for example Erik Vanagels (the most famous one) can occur in the following aliases: Eric Vanagelom, Erik Vanahels, Erik Vanagele, Erik Vallaste, … It is already like a Trademark: a symbol of quality and price in the money laundering industry. But the same is also valid, for example, for the proxy names of Juri Vitman (alias Juri Wittmann), Stan Gorin (alias Staņislavs Gorins, in reality he is a simple insurance broker in Riga), Lana Zamba (in reality she is a yoga trainer in Limassol) or Danny Banger (alias Daniel Banger)… For more information about the identity of these mythical persons see “A Farm Of Directors” by Inga Springe and Graham Stack.

The network is organized with several hubs of off-shores supermarkets in Riga, London, Limassol, Kiev and Moscow (with some supect also in Sotschi, to stay olympic). For excample….

XXXXXX this part of the XXXXXXXXXXXX

In Cyprus at the villa near the cemetery of Limassol in KIMONOS STREET or at the suites of PTOLEMAION 55 also in Limassol. Their customers are segmented as following: oligarchs, organized criminal groups, rebels/terrorist groups, simple individuals with the need of laundering money for business purposes. The latter is the less evident, but it covers the majority of the hidden cases: it is used for systematic commercial bribery or frauds. The access to the services of this network is exclusively based on recommendations of existing customers.

The Vanagels connectio’s role is only coming to light recently as the Latvian and Ukraine local press starts digging out more and more information. The network’s activity can be traced back over a decade to the establishment in the mid-1990s. Evidence suggests this connection laundered money for an amount of 10 to 100 billion $ around the world and those media information are only the ones that have come to light so far. This will catapult the value of the Erik Vanagels™ tradmark higher than the one of Apple! The Vanagels connection has been recently quoted in the media related to the following major allegued criminal cases:

  1. The Faina vessel Case – Ukraine / Sudan – Illicit Arm Trading
  2. The Chernomoreneftegas Case – Ukraine – Gov. Corruption
  3. The flu vaccines Case – Ukraine – Gov. Corruption
  4. The Ukrspetseksport Case – Ukraine – Illicit Arm Trading
  5. The Rockford Funding Case – Latvia – Financial Fraud
  6. The Moldavian Cases – Moldavia / Romania – Gov. Corruption / Fraud
  7. The Hermitage Capital Management Case – Russia / Switzerland – Massive Money Laundering
  8. The Trade Construction Company LLC Case – Russia – Financial Fraud
  9. Hoa Le Duc’s Mafia Case – Romania / Vietnam / China – Organized Crime
  10. The EURO 2012 Case – Ukraine – Corruption
  11. The Mexicam Sinaloa Drug Cartel Case – Mexico – Organized Crime / Drug
  12. The GT Group Case – North Korea / Iran – Illicit Arm Trading / Terrorism financing
  13. The file-exchange Case – Ukraine – Massive Internet Piracy
  14. The Case – Russia / New Zeeland / Nigeria – Money Laundering / Financial Fraud


(Dr. Andrea Galli, Scalaris AG)