The Komisar Scoop Reports & Analysis by Investigative Journalist Lucy Komisar

Wednesday, November 14, 2001

Swiss Bank Denies Link to Bioweapons, Islamic Militants

Filed under: arms trade,offshore,Scoops — Lucy Komisar @ 11:36 pm

By Lucy Komisar
Pacific News Service, Nov 14, 2001

When tracking down the terrorist money trail, Washington will inevitably wind up in Switzerland. Swiss banks have long been used by shady characters worldwide to launder money. One of them might be a good starting point for U.S. investigators seeking terrorist funding sources and illicit bioweapons trade.

Geneva–To protect America from terrorist attack, the United States must investigate illicit trade in biological weapons and trace the movement of terrorist money. A good starting point is a controversial Swiss bank that may have facilitated the sale of hazardous biological materials to Islamic militants.

The bank, Banca del Gottardo in Lugano, appears to have handled one or more sales from a known Russian biological weapons producer to a Swiss company with links to several radical Islamic groups.

Banca del Gottardo, photo Lucy Komisar.

Banca del Gottardo, photo Lucy Komisar.

The bank denies involvement, and no document has appeared which might confirm an illicit bioweapons trade. Nevertheless, an examination of documents here, interviews and other sources raise enough red flags to suggest that those tracing terror money might look closely at such deals.

A December 1993 list of contracts with the Interplastica company obtained by this reporter lists a $20 million purchase of “injectables” by Biopreparat, the Russian state developer of biological weapons. According to two former Soviet Biopreparat insiders, bioweapons production at the plant was hidden under the cover of pharmaceutical work.

Dr. Vladimir Pasechnik, who was the administrative head of Biopreparat, defected to Britain in 1989 and revealed to British intelligence the true nature of Biopreparat. Dr. Kenneth Alibek, a former deputy director of Biopreparat who also defected and came to the United States in 1992, told the same to the CIA.

Biopreparat since at least 1973 carried out offensive biological weapons research, development and production. It produced and stockpiled hundreds of tons of anthrax and dozens of tons of plague and smallpox.

Interplastica is registered in Switzerland as an engineering and trading company dealing in chemicals and plastics. Founded in the 1960s, it specialized in helping the countries of the East bloc pierce Western embargoes.

From the early 1990s, the Banca del Gottardo exercised control over the indebted Interplastica through bank official Franco Peduzzi, according to a source in Switzerland familiar with the bank’s operations. A fax message accompanying the list of contracts is addressed to Franco Peduzzi at the bank. In a phone call, Peduzzi denied knowledge of the company.

A September 1994 fax to the bank indicates that the Banca del Gottardo handled what appears to be another Interplastica deal with Biopreparat. The memo notes that “for our friends of Torola, ‘Biopreparat’ deposited through ‘Interplastica‚’ two cont. of 20 kg of material in the security box of the bank. P. Mamaladze advised — ready for transaction [of] ‘bonds.'”

Torola is a shell company registered in Lugano and run by several individuals of Georgian and Yugoslavian origin. One of them, Paata Guramovich Mamaladze, was identified by a source familiar with the contracts as a Georgian arms trafficker.

The rest of the document purports to be about “trade related claims against bonds.” Biopreparat is not in the business of bond trading. The phrases referring to “bonds” are set apart in quotation marks throughout the document.

Franco Rogantini, spokesman for the bank in Lugano, said a bank investigation showed “no record of any commercial dealings with Biopreparat.” The bank denied “having knowingly entered into business with weapon producers and traders.”

The Banca del Gottardo has already been the object of legal inquiries in a Russian corruption and money-laundering case. A Swiss investigative magistrate accused Pavel Borodin, who managed Russian state property, of skimming $30 million from Russian government construction contracts. The Swiss dossier details how Beghjet Pacolli, a native of Kosovo and head of the Mabetex construction company, funneled payoffs to Borodin and other Russian officials, including Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his daughters.

The Banca del Gottardo held accounts for Borodin and other alleged culprits and moved money through its branch in the offshore secrecy haven of the Bahamas.

Pacolli ran Interplastica, and Pacolli is linked to radical Islamic groups. Pacolli finances the radically anti-Serb newspaper “Bota Sot,” based in Zurich, which has been condemned for sowing “hate, intolerance and strife” by the head of the Kosovo mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Through the Fund for Reconstruction of Kosovo (FORK), in Lugano, he finances the Kosovo Liberation Army, or UCK, (known in the West as KLA) described by Robert Gelbard, America’s former special envoy to Bosnia, as “Islamic terrorists.” Europol (the European Police Organization) says the UCK is involved in drug and weapons trafficking, prostitution and illegal immigration.

Attempts to reach Pacolli through phone and e-mail messages to his Lugano headquarters, his Swiss residence, and Mabetex offices in Florida and Albania yielded only an e-mail response from Lugano: “Mr. Behgjet Pacolli worked for Interplastica till 1990 and there is absolutely no relation with what you mentioned in your e-mail. He does not know anything about it because he has left the company [a] long time before. Thanks for taking notice.”

Interplastica is now in the process of liquidation. Renzo Peduzzi, listed in the government registry as a member of its board, refused to take a phone call.

Banca del Gottardo President Claudio Generali is a leader of the Radical Democratic Party, which governs Switzerland. The bank appears to enjoy protection from serious official scrutiny. Washington should encourage Swiss authorities to investigate.

Monday, November 12, 2001

Swiss bank handled sale from Russian bioweapons company

Filed under: arms trade,offshore,Scoops — Lucy Komisar @ 11:35 pm

By Lucy Komisar
Earth Times News Service, Nov 12, 2001

GENEVA– As the U.S. searches for the culprits who let loose an anthrax attack on America and for the money trail of Islamic terrorists believed to have plotted the attack on the World Trade Center, key questions are: “How does the illicit trade in biological weapons operate and how is terrorist money moved?”

For answers to both those questions, the U.S. ought to zero in on a Swiss bank that handled a sale from a known Russian biological weapons producer, Biopreparat, to a company, Interplastica, with links to Islamic militants.

Beginning in 1973, Biopreparat produced and stockpiled hundreds of tons of anthrax and dozens of tons of plague and smallpox. Documents obtained in Switzerland by this reporter show that the Banca del Gottardo in Lugano has been tightly involved in deals between Russian weapons firms and Interplastica, a company which beginning in the 1960’s, specialized in trade with the countries of the East bloc to pierce western embargoes. Interplastica is registered in Morbio Inferiore near Lugano, in the canton of Tessin in southern Switzerland.

Banca del Gottardo, photo Lucy Komisar.

Banca del Gottardo, photo Lucy Komisar.

Among the deals, documents show that the Banca del Gottardo financed a contract between Biopreparat and Interplastica in 1993.

After the international Biological Weapons Convention in 1972 outlawed biological weapons, the Soviets founded Biopreparat, supposedly for peaceful medical research. However, its deputy director till 1992, Ken Alibek, who now lives outside Washington D.C., has testified to U.S. intelligence agents and Congress that this was just a cover for the production of biological weapons. After the Soviet regime ended, Biopreparat was officially separated from its military function and “privatized.” However, Western experts have doubts that the military has given up its interest and control.

A list of Interplastica contracts dated December 12, 1993, notes contract number A-23366 with Bioprepeparat,. The paper lists Rosvneshtorg as “buyer” and Biopreparat as “client.” A contract dated June 18, 1993 was for $20 million for “400 mio aghi” or “injectables.” Rosvneshtorg Bank is a Russian state bank.

Alibek said that as he’d left in 1972, he did not know the details of contracts signed after that.However, according to the “cover” Abilek described, the contract with Interplastica would have been written in code to show a deal for a medical product to hide its true purpose.

The document that links the Banca del Gottardo to the sale is a memo faxed to the bank by Kate Geary, who worked for the bank and now is legal advisor in the Lugano law firm, Sganzini Bernasconi Peter & Gaggini, which represents the bank. She notes that “for our friends of Torola, ‘Biopreparat’ deposited through ‘Interplastica” two cont. of 20 kg of material in the security box of the bank. P. Mamaladze advised – ready for transaction [of] ‘bonds’.”

The rest of the document purports to be about “trade related claims against bonds,” all written in quotes as if to indicate that “bonds” stood for something else. Torola is a shell company registered in Lugano and run by several individuals of Georgian and Yugoslavian origin. Paata Guramovich Mamaladze is a Georgian arms trafficker.

Curiously, Mamaladze, with several Georgians, Russians and Swiss, is also an owner of Falkon Capital. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov — referred to by some Russian newspapers as “Misha two percent,” for his alleged collection of illegal “commissions” — arranged a deal, approved in October, under which Falkon was given the right to buy Russia’s $2.5 billion debt to the government of Czechoslovakia for only 23 percent of its value.

The Banca del Gottardo is already connected to Russian corruption in a money-laundering case described in a U.S. Justice Department brief filed in the detention hearing of Russian Pavel Bordin. He is accused of skimming more than $65 million from Russian government construction contracts and funneling some of the payoffs to then Russian President Boris Yeltsin, his daughters and top Russian officials. The Banca del Gottardo held accounts for Borodin and other alleged culprits and moved the money through its affiliate in the offshore secrecy haven of the Bahamas. The Swiss magazine L’Hebdo reported in June 2000 that Pacolli and Generali flown to Moscow together on a private jet. A Geneva magistrate last month recommended prosecution of Borodin and others in the Mabetex case.

The man who paid the bribes, Beghjet Pacolli, owner of Mabetex, ran Interplastica.

Pacolli, who was born in Kosovo, supports militant Muslim groups. He finances the ultra-nationalist newspaper “Bota Sot,” based in Zurich, which has been condemned by the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Mission to Kosovo for sowing “hate, intolerance and strife.” Through the Fund for Reconstruction of Kosovo (FORK), in Lugano, he finances the Kosovo Liberation Army or UCK, (known in the West as KLA) described by Robert Gelbard, who was America’s special envoy to Bosnia, as “Islamic terrorists.” Europol (the European Police Organization) says the UCK is involved in drug and weapons trafficking, prostitution, and illegal immigration.

Attempts to reach Pacolli yielded an email response that “Mr. Behgjet Pacolli worked for Interplastica till 1990 and there is absolutely no relation with what you mentioned in your e-mail. He does not know anything about it because he has left the company [a] long time before. Thanks for taking notice.” Interplastica is now in the process of liquidation. The Banca del Gottardo did not respond to phone and email queries.

On Wednesday, November 6, the U.S. announced that it was adding to its blacklist of banks and individuals believed connected to the Bin Laden network the Al Taqwa bank, with operations in Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein and the Bahamas, and its chief executive Youssef Nada and board members Mohamed Mansour and Albert Huber.

Mohamed Mansour is on the board of the Bosnian Institute in Zurich. So is Pacolli.

Pier Felici Barchi, Nada’s lawyer, and Claudio Generali, president of the Banca del Gottardo serve together on boards of a capital management foundation in Liechtenstein and several enterprises in Switzerland. They are both leaders of the Liberal Radical Party, which rules in Switzerland and Tessin and which till now has afforded the bank political protection from intrusive investigations by authorities. The U.S. should put an end to that.

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