Telecom Scam: Is Swan Telecom being let off?

Is the UPA Government serious about investigating the 2G Spectrum Scandal? While the investigating agencies are pursuing all aspects of the scam, the government seems to be busy giving clean chit to companies already under the cloud of suspicion.

Canary Trap, in a post on November 2, 2009, reported about the complaint sent to the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) with regard to Swan Telecom. The most important issue that the original complaint raised was “who owned Swan Telecom and who actually benefited from the sale of those licenses to other companies at a higher market price later.”

Now, another complaint has been sent to the CVC with regard to Swan Telecom. According to the letter (produced below), the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MoCA) and its senior officers are involved in a criminal conspiracy for cover up in the 2G scam by giving a clean chit to Swan Telecom. For a complete understanding of the issue and the alleged irregularities, read below and also the communication between the Department of Telecom and MoCA regarding Swan Telecom.

Read the complaint submitted to the Central Vigilance Commissioner on December 30, 2010:

To
Chief Vigilance Commissioner
New Delhi

Complaint against the Minister of Corporate Affairs and other officials for cover up in the 2G scam.

Kindly refer to my complaint on the 2G scam dated 13/5/09 and registered as complaint no 416/09/2. The complaint was enclosed as an annexure in the writ petition filed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court and was read out in Court by the learned Counsel.

This complaint relates to reference made by DOT to Ministry of Corporate Affairs  regarding the ownership of Swan Telecom. By giving Swan Telecom a clean chit , MoCA  and its senior officers are involved in a criminal conspiracy to cover up and this complaint is directed against them. The clean chit given to Swan Telecom vide MoCA letter in file no 3/92/2010/CL-II  dated 24/12/10 is enclosed.. As the enclosed letter has been issued with the approval of the Corporate Affairs Minister (last line of the letter), the Minister too is  involved.

The clean chit has been given by certifying that Reliance Communication through its subsidiary Reliance Telecom never held more than 10% (9.9%) of equity shareholding of Swan Telecom. It has also been certified that Reliance Communication or its subsidiary Reliance Telecom did not hold any shares in Tiger Trustee, the company which held 90% of the shares of Swan Telecom. It has been stated that preference shares is not capital but more in the nature of debt and cannot be added to equity shares for the purpose of computing the percentage shareholding.

The certificate of clean chit given to Reliance Communication and the ADAG group is assailed on the following grounds and is to be seen as an act of cover up and corruption: .

Is it not true that the promoters of Reliance Communications held more than 66% of the shares of the company throughout the period of the scam that is from 2/3/07 to 16/12/07? Kindly refer to the filings on the shareholding pattern of Reliance Communication with the National  Stock Exchange.

Is not true that there are 11 individuals and 23 corporate bodies who have been identified as the promoter group in the filings made with the NSE?

Is it not true that the UAS guideline provided “ No single company/ legal person either directly or through associates shall have substantial equity holding in more than one licensee  company in the same service area…The ceiling for substantial equity was notified at 10%..

Does the guideline mean that only the company cannot hold more than 10%  in another company or that the promoters of the company too cannot hold more than 10% of the shares in another company with a license. It definitely means the latter because if it was the former then Tatas, Mittals and the Ambanis , not to forget the Essars (who incidentally  are in a similar Swan Telecom like situation) would float companies by the dozens and corner as many licenses as possible.

Can  the ROC and the Minister give a certificate that no money has been invested directly or indirectly by the eleven individuals and the various shareholders of the 23 companies who promoted Reliance Communications? Can they give a certificate that Anil Ambani as the head of the ADAG group did not control Tiger Trustee?

Is it not true that more than 90% ( 90.09% to be precise ) of the shares of Swan Telecom were held by Tiger Trustee Pvt Ltd). Refer Auditors report for 31/3/07 and 313/08..

Is it not true that Swan Telecom was registered as Swan Capital Pvt Ltd, was incorporated on 13/7/2006.

One share was allotted to Himansu Agarwal and 4999 shares to Powersurfer Interactive (India) Private limited and that the address of both the shareholders was Reliance Energy Centre, Santa Cruz (East), Mumbai, 400055. In addition another 5,000 shares was subscribed by Reliance Energy Management Services Private Limited with the same address. The persons signing  the Memorandum and Articles were all having the same address of Reliance Energy Centre, Santa Cruz (East), Mumbai, 400055.

Can the Minister certify that the directors of Swan Telecom/Tiger Trustee who were also directors in a large number of ADAG group of companies (over thirty companies) and that none of these companies in which directors are common hold shares as promoters in Reliance Communication?

If all the statements made above in the form of questions are true then the clean chit given to Swan Telecom is an extension of the ongoing corruption in the 2G scam.

The decision of the MoCA that the ADAG group had nothing to do with Swan Telecom group is further assailed on the following grounds:

If the incorporation of Swan Telecom (registered as Swan Capital) with the registered office address, the subscribers of the share capital and the directors of the company was not sufficient evidence of the company being a 100%  ADAG group company, then one wonders what would be evidence?

Swan Telecom was a company, incorporated owned and controlled by the ADAG group.

It was among the various shell companies that the Reliance group keeps on forming for multifarious activities depending on what is the requirement of the day. Most of them are investment companies in which the ownership is to be layered so that the identity of the true owner has to be concealed as India is the ultimate destination of hot money and crony capitalism. It is the vehicle through which the political masters are bribed and become part owners of the business they help to benefit through their illegal decision making process.

It is because of this reason alone that these shell companies are formed and kept ready in time of need. They can also be the vehicle of major frauds and bribes .

In fact transfer of  Swan Telecom was the bribe paid for the license given to Reliance Communications on 18/10/07 and it was transferred to the benami of the politicians on the very same day.

This is how it happened:

Swan Capital was the original name at the time of incorporation and it’s  name was changed to Swan Telecom on 15/2/07 since the company was needed for the telecom sector.

The company needed a capital on paper of over Rs 1100 crores to comply with minimum capital requirement norms for applying for license in the thirteen circles..

The GSM license for which application was made by Swan Telecom was not pan India but for only those circles in which Reliance Communication did not have GSM license. The application was made for thirteen circles as Reliance Communication had GSM license for Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Kolkata, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal. The fact that  licenses for only thirteen circles were applied for and that only those circles in which Reliance had GSM license was excluded shows that the ADAG  group was the owner and in control of Swan Telecom through its proxy directors.

Second and more important, the company needed to have capital and reserves of over 1100 crores in the balance sheet to apply for the license for 13 circles, according to the fee that was paid in 2001 in the bidding process for the fourth operator.

Whether the ADAG group had clairvoyant powers of  anticipating the future telecom policy of A Raja of allotting licenses on 2001 prices on a first come first serve basis or were a conspirator in dictating the policy can be decided by the quantum of investment made in Swan Telecom and the circles for which the application made seven months before the policy was announced .

The greater dilemma was to get 1100 crores in Swan Telecom and also not apparently violate the licensing norms of an existing telecom company not owning more than 10% of the shares in another telecom company.

The money was there in the public listed company Reliance Communication from where it had to be re routed. It was not there in any of the privately held ADAG companies. The old model of using money from the public listed company and retaining control off the shares by privately held company was used. While 90% of the money was invested by a subsidiary of Reliance Communication, a public listed company (1002 crores), a little less than 10% of the shares of Swan Telecom  were allotted to the ADAG group subsidiary of Reliance Communication. This was done by Reliance Communication subscribing to preference shares at 8% interest at an unimaginable premium of 99900%. for an amount of Rs 992 crores.

The rest of the shares 90% were allotted to a company registered on 20/6/06 as Tiger Traded Private Limited which  was rechristened as Tiger Trustee with the approval of the Registrar of Companies. (Will be referred to as Tiger Trustee to avoid confusion)

It is this company which in effect was the owner of Swan Telecom, which has been ignored in the investigation by the MoCA deliberately. In fact it is this company which is at the root of the fraud and bribe giving. It is therefore not surprising that the Minister has chosen to ignore the holding company of Swan Telecom –  Tiger Trustee – while giving a clean chit. The omission is deliberate, malafide and smacks of a quid pro quo.

Tiger Trustee registered address was Reliance Energy Centre, 3rd Floor, Santa Cruz (East), Mumbai, 400055. It had two directors, Ashok Karyekar and Paresh Rathod. The residential address of both the directors was Reliance Energy Quarters, Chembur. While Ashish Karyekar held directorship in 13 companies of the ADAG group whose name began with Reliance, Parash Rathod was a director in 12 ADAG companies.

The paid up capital of Tiger Trustee was one lac. The capital remained at one lac, till 17/10/07, that is well beyond the unrevised cut off date of 1/10/07 for applying for fresh telecom (UAV) license. Tiger Trustee owned 90% of the share capital of Swan Capital, while contributing only 10% of the funds and the balance was contributed by the public listed ADAG company Reliance Communication subsidiary.

Given the address of the holding company Tiger Trustee, the directors and their addresses, the paid up capital of mere one lac, and fact that over 1000 crores of money was siphoned off from the public listed company (inspite of the so called independent directors) into Swan Telecom to make it compliant with capital norms; can there be any doubt that Swan Telecom was anything but a Anil Ambani Company?

If Anil Ambani was not the owner of Tiger Trustee then it has to be either the Congress party (or its nominee) or DMK or A Raja or some other leader of a major political party who was the actual owners of  Tiger Trustee which in turn owned Swan Telecom. This is because Anil Ambani will invest 1000 crores either to benefit himself or the politicians involved as crony capitalist.

None of the people involved in the cover up have answered the question as to who was the owner of Tiger Trustee from 2/3/07, the date on which the application was filed to 18/10/07, the date on which pan-India license was given to Reliance Communication and on which date the company Tiger Trustee was transferred to Balwa and Goenka for a paltry investment of 4.99 crores? That was the bribe for the license given to Reliance Communication on 18/10/07, one day before the policy was announced.

A K Agrawal
Bangalore
30/12/10

Leaked cables and Indian policy in Myanmar, Iran

India’s policy in Myanmar:

1. In a meeting between the Indian and US officials in New Delhi (Cable dated November 2, 2004), an outspoken Indian foreign affairs official told American counterparts in Delhi that democracy leader Aung San Sui Kyi’s “time had come and gone” and that democracy could only be encouraged through “greater engagement” with the ruling regime. India was best placed to do this because the United Nations is no longer credible and the E.U. is too shabby and short-sighted…….

……The Indian official reiterated India’s belief that only constructive engagement of the military regime could bring about any meaningful change, saying sanctions have only isolated Burma, and have not encouraged democratic reforms there. Burma is so isolated that members of Than Shwe’s delegation wondered whether they would have to “go nuclear” to get US attention, she remarked, noting the comparison to Pakistan. She emphasized that if India also isolates Burma, no one will be able to engage Rangoon on democracy or other issues.

2. Another cable, dated April 27, 2007, details meeting between Indian and US officials. MEA Joint Secretary Mohan Kumar, the Indian official, states: India is losing influence — and gas deals — in Burma to China, and suggested that American pressure on India to press the junta on democracy and human rights was counterproductive. The more the U.S. presses India to bring Burma before the UN Security Council, he said, the more the Burmese tell India to “go to hell.”

India-Burma relations have deteriorated to being unidimensional, Kumar said, with the only cooperation being on the anti-insurgency campaign along the border. India is not getting any gas contracts from Burma (“We’re getting screwed on gas” were Kumar’s exact words, reflective of his candid nature), nor is it getting the transit rights it seeks which would open a bridge to East Asia. Burmese officials have told Kumar that they “hate” the Chinese and would prefer not to cooperate with China, but do so because they feel Beijing is more reliable than New Delhi.

Indian policy on Iran:

1. In a cable (dated May 1, 2008) that details meeting between then Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and then US Ambassador to India David Mulford, the former told the US not to tell India who to meet or not to meet. This was regarding Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s brief visit to New Delhi………..Menon responded that “there is nothing in this visit that should upset you (the US).” He emphasized that the Indian government had little choice to say yes when the Iranian government requested a stop in transit. Moreover, Menon explained, India and Iran need to talk about Afghanistan and energy issues. “We can talk with him without affecting our other relationships,” Menon contended, and cited the strong India-Israel relationship that withstood India’s flirtation with Iran. Menon also cautioned the U.S. against telling India what to do, especially in public. “This government has to be seen following an independent foreign policy, not responding to dictation from the U.S.,” he stated. He recognized that Iran presents a global problem, and the U.S. and India differ in how to fix the situation because of geography.

The US Ambassador then tried to pressurize India by reminding Menon how the U.S. government and Congress stood up for India by passing the Hyde Act because they believed that as a rising power, India must come into the global nonproliferation system. However, the Ambassador posited, those supporters will wonder if India is ready for prime time since it “let the enemy in and did not stand up and say, ‘don’t do this.'” Menon countered that such a position sounded like what theCommunists have accused the U.S. of doing.

Mulford’s final assessment states: By providing Ahmadinejad with a platform to berate the U.S., the Indian government has attempted to prove that it has an independent foreign policy, as the Communist critics have demanded since India’s first vote against Iran in the IAEA in 2005. By kowtowing to political concerns, India has put at risk its image of an emerging, responsible major player in the world. We have warned the Indian government quietly about the implications, but sharp, public comments from the U.S. government will only push India and Iran closer together.

2. A May 4, 2007 cable mentions how a senior Indian External Affairs official tells a US official about overtures from Tehran towards prominent Indians who were US critics.

Ambassador K.V. Rajan, former Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs and current Chairman of the Prime Minister’s National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), told the US official that he had been invited by the Iranian Embassy for an all expenses paid trip for “politicians, scholars and commentators.” The list of invitees in a fax from the Iranian Embassy press section included notorious America-critics. The visit was scheduled for April 28-May 4, and the Embassy said the guests would meet Iranian officials, scholars and would visit “one or two Iranian nuclear establishment(s).”

The cable further states that “Rajan’s analysis of Iranian intentions to influence PM Singh’s domestic constituencies is deeply worrying and spot-on, and confirms what we have been reporting. Rajan also noted stepped up Iranian funding to sympathetic Shia clerics. The United Progressive Alliance government is deeply interested in appeasing its Muslim and Left Front supporters, and is concerned about the outcome of elections in Uttar Pradesh state, where a large number of Muslim constituents reside. We see evidence that Iran has been buying off journalists, clerics and editors in Shia-populated areas of Uttar Pradesh and Kashmir, doling out large sums to stoke anti-Americanism. Now, it seems Iran is focusing squarely on influential elite audiences in Delhi, with a view to shaping the debate of India’s IAEA policy and the nuclear deal.”

3. Another cable (dated February 25, 2010) gives details of a meeting between Indian National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon and US officials. The discussion was centered around regional security and trade. Menon also talks about the Iranian role in Afghanistan and its nuclear program.

Menon agreed with Senator Jeff Merkley’s (D-OR) assertion that a nuclear Iran would be bad for everyone. Merkley had supported the Obama Administration’s efforts to seek dialogue with Iran, but it was now clear the Islamic Republic was not open to dialogue. Menon replied that “the last thing we want is another nuclear power in our neighborhood.” That was why India voted against Iran three times at the IAEA and implemented UN sanctions. Iran was “hopping mad” over India’s IAEA votes and Iranian Foreign Minister Moutakki “blew up” at former National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan during his last visit to Delhi. “It goes without saying,” according to Menon, that India would continue to implement any sanctions against Iran approved by the Security Council.

India had a more complex relationship with Iran and was convinced that it could work with Iran on some issues. For instance, Menon asserted that Iran was more worried about the Taliban today than ISAF, which was not the case a year ago. The trouble was that the Iranian elite was divided, so the normal rules of Iranian politics no longer seemed to apply. Under these circumstances, Menon asked, “What effect will sanctions have?” “If you must impose sanctions, we will go along with it,” according to Menon, “but we should be aware that it could end up benefiting the regime.” He said any sanctions should be carefully targeted so they do not end up hurting the people rather than the elite. He concluded that the Iran situation was “very unsatisfactory from our point of view as well,” and that the United States had “a choice among unsatisfactory strategies.”

Wikileaks, Rahul Gandhi, and terror debate in India

BY MANOJ KEWALRAMANI

The terrorism debate in India, at least within the mainstream media, is perhaps the best example of public discourse growing bereft of depth.

The furor over the leaked US cables that revealed Rahul Gandhi’s statement to US Ambassador Timothy Roemer is a case in point.

Without going into the merits or demerits of Gandhi’s statement, what is clear is that such an assertion before a foreign envoy – while keeping in mind that India at that time, and still continues to, was seeking American influence over Pakistan to clamp down on extremists groups targeting India – was not merely distasteful but smacked of naivety.

The existence of terrorism is, and has been for more than a while – to put it mildly – a fact of life for Indians, urban and rural alike. Its definition remains contentious. That is particularly more so with the notion of state terror – a proposition that is beyond the purview of this article.

Yet what are clear are the pre-requisites that lead a person or a group of people to perpetuate the violence that we generally classify as terrorism.

These could be broadly identified as economic deprivation, a perception – true or not – of social discrimination/isolation, ideological and religious predilections and disaffection with the existing institutions of politics and governance.

Based on our experiences through the past, it is safe to surmise that none of these factors operate exclusively nor is the existence of any of them in itself, or even all of them, sufficient to result in violence.

However, in general, when a person or a group resorts to the instrument of terror to either express discontent, cause mayhem or challenge the order, their motivations can be traced back to these. And an exclusion of this knowledge in framing any policy to tackle terrorism can at best be termed as ignorance and at worst administrative and strategic inadequacy.

That brings us to the argument over our public discourse, more so in the aftermath of the Wikileaks revelations.

In response, what we have heard is the stock discussion over phrases and terminology, calls for the need to stand united to fight terror and the emphasis on external powers and their role in exporting terrorism to India.

While all these are important, particularly in the immediate aftermath of an event like 26/11 when the fabric of the Indian state and our society faced a serious challenge, today we are not in that situation. Muscles are still tense, but flaring tempers have eased; now is the time for us to have a more nuanced approach.

In the case of Maoist violence, over the last two years, we have witnessed a reasonable amount of introspection over the government’s policy options. In the end, there seems to be at least an uneasy consensus that merely expression the will of the Indian state through force will prove insufficient.

Development that is participatory, better planning and recognition of people’s rights over their resources are critical in tackling the root causes of the problem.

How well the central and state governments can implement that agenda, however, only time will tell. At the moment, we can take some comfort in the knowledge that at least in theory our policy has undergone refinement.

Yet when it comes to terrorism that finds its root in socio-religious ideologies, there is a sudden retreat to the trenches laden with the ammunition of age-old, stated positions. The state and political actors suddenly tend to play coy, lest they rouse sentiments. It’s a paranoia that isn’t completely unjustified, but the fact that it continues to exist is a cause for serious concern.

It may be a truism that terror has no religion, but it’s foolhardy to say that it doesn’t find its justification in religious doctrines. Not all men who are religious are terrorists, but among those who espouse terrorism there are more than enough who believe that they are fulfilling a divine purpose.

That fact in itself requires any policy aimed at contending with religious extremism and the violence that it spawns to incorporate social and religious reformation as key components. In doing so, it is crucial for the state to encourage internal debate within and between communities. And mass media is an important tool for that.

Nevertheless, it is perhaps far too much to demand complexity on television. The shows are structured so and meant to be brief, laden with platitudes and a mere reiteration of superficial and stated positions between political rivals. I would, however, stop short of laying the entire blame on the media. A large proportion of it rests with the viewers.

Often we tend to relish the gladiatorial aggressiveness displayed by spokespersons of parties and clap at quixotic responses to questions of a practical and urgent nature. Between these, there remains a whole lot unsaid and unexplained, leaving us woefully uninformed.

It’s time for us to seek depth and display a willingness to permit social and political introspection. It seriously is high time that as a nation, we steel our sensitivities on such issues and rather let them be inflamed by the corruption and scams.

(Manoj Kewalramani is a guest writer with Canary Trap. He has worked with top media houses like NDTV before becoming an Independent Blogger and Writer.)

‘Ratan Tata should have ignored Chandrasekhar’s letter’

BY ARUN AGRAWAL

Mr Chandrasekhar should have been  the last person in the country to join issues with Mr Ratan Tata on the telecom scam, which has been going on since 1999, as he was a major part of the scam. The fact that he chose to do so, shows the rapid degeneration that takes place when an unsuccessful industrialist tries to become a successful politician, courtesy money earned through the telecom scam.

Mr Chandrasekhar’s journey from an employee of a tech company to a rival of the Tatas in the telecom sector, from President of COAI to having become an independent Member of Parliament with the support of BJP, and to using (misusing) his status as MP to criticize Ratan Tata is indeed a long journey.

The most important disclosure he should have made is that he profited by more than Rs1200 crores by trading in the BPL mobile license for Bombay, Maharashtra, Goa and Tamil Nadu and selling it to Essar Hutch after the companies became sick due to his mismanagement.

He should have also disclosed his falling out with his father-in-law TPG Nambiar (along with other shareholders and creditors), the owner of BPL, over the sale of stake in the cellular holding company BPL Communication to the point that Nambiar dragged him to the Company Law Board.

He should have also disclosed the real amount that he spent for becoming a Rajya Sabha MP with BJP support as everyone knows that he bought his seat as an industrialist, more so because he was criticizing Ratan Tata as an MP and he had purchased political power from the proceeds of the gain made by trading his mobile license!

Any investigation/inquiry should include making public the amount BPL gained by selling their license/spectrum and the amount written off by the public sector banks in the credit defaults by the BPL group and the same should be recovered. I hope Mr Chandrasekhar who has chosen to wear the patriotic cap will not have any objection.

Mr Chandrasekhar’s arrogance has been exposed by Mr Ratan Tata enclosing the letter that was sent to him by Chandrasekhar for his signature. It was a letter that was addressed to the Prime Minister and was written to serve the interest of the GSM mobile operators. For Chandrasekhar to even imagine that any industrialist on the opposite side (having a limited mobility of WLL) would sign the letter betrays the mindset of a person who thinks he is too clever and that others are foolish enough not to see through his game.

It is to the eternal credit of Mr Ratan Tata that he was the only major player in the telecom sector who was serious in advocating the auctioning of the spectrum. The rest of them made fun of him because they knew that they could manipulate the system by bribing the political establishment and get the spectrum for a much lesser price..

Was it the games played by operators like Chandrasekhar that prompted Mr Ratan Tata to appoint a lobbyist like Nira Radia who could charm her way to the powers that be and ensure that Tatas too got a portion of the largesse that was being distributed to all and sundry?

That she used her position of proximity with the Minister to lobby for others and cut in other shady deals to a point of being a co conspirator is another matter.

It is for some strange reason that Mr Chandrasekhar does not find anything wrong in Anil Ambani’s  RCom being given a GSM license on 18/10/2007 when there was no notification for applying for a GSM license under dual technology but finds fault with the Tata’s application of  22/10/07 for GSM after the notification for dual technology was made on 19/10/2007. The notification was made to regularize the allotment made to RCom in which a bribe was paid through transfer of Swan Telecom by Anil Ambani to benami holders on the very same day (18/10/2007) that RCom got a license.

Tatas, under the existing rules could not apply for a fresh license under the first-come-first-serve window of 24/07 to 1/10/07 because they already had a license but whether they did so through Unitech is a matter to be probed. Tatas benefited because they were in the same CDMA boat as the Ambani, but did not benefit entirely in the allotment of spectrum.

Tatas benefit is quantified in the deal with DOCOMO, who acquired a stake (Rs 13,000 crore for 26% stake), but the valuation included their earlier license and roll-out along with the fresh license. In fact the premium represents the sins of all the bribing and wheeling dealing that has been going on in the telecom sector combined with the subscriber base and infrastructure required for a successful roll-out.

Mr Tata should have ignored the letter coming as it did from a person who lacks the basic credentials to write the letter and conveniently forgets to make disclosures about himself.

However, it is also a fact that Mr Tata  is not a victim but a beneficiary of the great telecom scam.

After all one cannot be wearing a three piece suit in a nudist colony!

(Arun Agrawal is the author of the book Reliance: The Real Natwar)

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Leaked US cables fail to shed light on Litvinenko killing

The killing of former KGB agent Alexandar Litvinenko in 2006 is still a mystery. The recently leaked US diplomatic cables by whistleblower website Wikileaks throw some light on the entire episode but there are no clues regarding who might have killed him and why.

A cable, dated December 1, 2006 (from Moscow), by US Ambassador William J. Burns details various conspiracy theories put forward by the Russian media after the killing. Nothing substantial come out of the document as to whether who could be responsible for the elimination of Litvinenko.

The killing of Litvinenko was also discussed in a meeting between top US and French officials. According to another leaked cable, dated December 12, 2006, then US Ambassador Craig Stapleton was of the view that the British investigation into the killing might point to some sort of Russian involvement. But the then French presidential diplomatic advisor Maurice Gourdault-Montagne speculated Litvinenko’s killing was a result of “settling of accounts between services rather than occurring under direct order from the Kremlin.” To this, the US official argued whether “rogue security elements” could operate in a country like Britain without the knowledge of then Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Two more leaked cables have references to Litvinenko but have no significant details about the killing.

To understand more about the entire episode, I have reproduced below an article that I had written in December 2006 after Litvinenko’s brutal killing.

FROM RUSSIAN WITH POISON: DEATH OF THE INCONVENIENT

In the latest James Bond movie Casino Royale, ‘M’, while struggling with the complexities of terror financing, comments how she misses Cold War. The recent incident of the poisoning of an ex-Russian Spy in London suggests that her real life counterparts wouldn’t have to wait long for its return.

Forty-three-year-old Alexandar Litvinenko, an ex-KGB agent, died on the night of November 23 at the University College Hospital of London after apparently being poisoned by a radioactive element polonium-210.

The ex-Russian spy complained of feeling sick on November 1, after he met two Russian men at a London hotel, one of them a former KGB officer. He also met Mario Scaramella, an Italian security consultant, at a sushi bar where he is believed to have received documents about Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya’s death.

Litvinenko was transferred to the University college hospital in Central London after his condition worsens on November 17.

On November 19, it was reported that he was poisoned with thallium. His condition deteriorated and he died on November 23 in the intensive care unit of the hospital. Doctors attending Litvinenko failed to identify the cause of symptoms that reduced the healthy and fit agent to virtually a ghost with his organs failing one by one.

On November 24, health experts said that the ex-spy might have been deliberately poisoned by a radioactive matter, believed to be polonium-210.

Litvinenko’s death is being treated as a murder by the British investigators. He was laid to rest on December 7 after a Muslim prayer service.

Litvinenko was in the military and after that he became a security agent in the KGB, rising to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. The ex-Russian spy came in news when he said his superiors ordered him to kill exiled Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky. He was charged with abuse of office and spent nine months in jail before he was acquitted. He fled from Russia and was granted political asylum in UK in 2000.

Long arm of SMERSH

Litvinenko was a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. His struggle with life until he died was extensively reported in the Western press.

But the big question is who poisoned Litvinenko. The mystery is becoming complex with every passing day.

There are a host of conspiracy theories floating as to who was responsible for the ex-spy’s death. Some analysts have suggested that the way Litvinenko was murdered, strongly suggests the long arm of a reborn SMERSH has struck again.

In April 1943, Russian dictator Joseph Stalin ordered the creation of a new military counterintelligence service. Stalin suggested that the organisation be given the name SMERSH or Smyert Shpionam – loosely understood as Death to Spies.

The unit holds a vital position in Russian intelligence history. The duties of SMERSH were to trace, and kidnap or assassinate prominent Russian émigrés considered enemies and traitors to Russia. It is said that one of its most prominent victims was Leon Trotsky who was assassinated in Mexico.

History of assassinations

  • Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident, died in 1978. He was stabbed in the thigh in London with a spring-loaded umbrella that left a poison pellet in his leg. The KGB was suspected.
  • Ivan Kivelidi, a Russian banker, died along with his secretary in 1995 after using a poisoned telephone.
  • Yuri Shchekochikhin, an anticorruption journalist who wrote about corruption in Russia, died in 2003. Poison was suspected.
  • Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist and Kremlin critic, fell ill in 2004 on a flight from Moscow. She suspected poison. She was later murdered in October 2006 by gunfire.
  • In 2004, Victor Yushchenko, Ukrainian presidential candidate during the elections was poisoned after deadly dioxin was slipped into his food. Yushchenko survived but was disfigured.

The prime assassination method that SMERSH uses is poison, administered in various ways, including on darts, in cigarettes and in inhalers for asthmatics.

Analysts believe that Litvinenko’s defection to UK and the subsequent allegations he made against his former agency and his colleagues made him a target. Litvinenko was punished for his betrayal and more than that the entire world saw it to be punished.

Litvinenko had written a book, Blowing up Russia: Terror from Within, in which he claimed that FSB agents and not Chechen rebels carried out the bombings that leveled apartment buildings across Russia in 1999.

According to him, the motive behind pinning the blame to Chechen rebels was to garner public support to attack Chechnya and help Putin win the presidential polls.

But there are some who believe that Litvinenko’s death could be a warning to Russian exiles living in the West to show what can happen to them.

Barrage of allegations

The former agent, in his deathbed statement, accused Putin of having him killed.

“You may succeed in silencing one man. But a howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life. May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me, but to beloved Russia and its people?” read his statement.

But Putin said the ex-spy’s death was being used by as a political provocation against Russia.

“Death is always tragic. I present my condolences to the friends and the family of Mr Litvinenko,” said Putin in Helsinki.

Kremlin spokesman was more blunt. He said the charges of their involvement in Litvinenko’s death were absurd and nonsense.

However, the past allegations that Litvinenko made against the Russian president suggest that Putin had enough reason to see him go. Litvinenko’s job at FSB (Federal Security Bureau), KGB’s successor, was corruption busting. He had claimed that inside his own office, senior officers were hand in glove with criminals. According to him, when he tried to appraise Putin about this rot he was fired.

Litvinenko, in an article written by him, also claimed that President Putin is personally involved at least in a cover-up of organized criminal activities connected with drug traffic in Russia and Europe.

Litvinenko also publicly blamed Kremlin for the killing of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. He was investigating the death of the journalist before he was infected with poison. Politkovskaya was highly critical of Russian policy in Chechnya and was shot at her apartment building in Moscow on October 07, 2006. An attempt on her life was made in the past too when she was poisoned in a flight from Moscow, but she had survived then.

According to his fans, Litvinenko was not only investigating the murder of Politkovskaya but he was trying to procure incriminating documents regarding Kremlin’s role in dismantling of the energy giant Yukos energy and jailing of its billionaire owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

In yet another bizarre allegation, the ex-Russian spy wrote a sensational article dated July 05, 2006, on Chechenpress website, accusing President Putin of having sex with under age boys. He claimed that Putin was a paedophile.

He even alleged that al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri was trained by the FSB in Dagestan in the years before the 9/11 attacks.

Yet many political commentators doubt that Kremlin would risk such negative international publicity to silence an inconsequential figure whose accusations were never taken seriously.

But the British intelligence services are convinced that FSB was behind the poisoning of Litvinenko.

A team of British investigators is in Moscow to collect information on Litvinenko’s death. The Russian authorities have said they would cooperate with the British investigation but they refused to extradite any of the possible suspects in the poisoning.

According to sources, one of the possible suspects is former Russian agent Angrei Lugovoi, who traveled to London three times over the month before Litvinenko’s death and met with him four times. Lugovoi met Litvinenko on November 1, the day he is believed to have been poisoned. He is also in hospital and is being treated for poisoning.

“We suspect that someone has been trying to frame us. Someone passed this stuff onto us…so as to point the finger at us and distract the police,” said Lugovoi.

But the investigators believe that a former FSB agent was intentionally employed to easily lure Litvinenko at various locations. This would also shield the officials in Kremlin from any direct wrongdoing in the plan to get rid of Litvinenko.

Deliberate action

Russia, on the other hand, has announced its own criminal investigation into the murder of Litvinenko and the attempted murder of a Russian businessman Dmitri Kovtun who had met with him in London.

But according to Kremlin sources, exiled Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky might have a hand in Litvinenko’s death. Berezovsky stays in London and is believed to be another fierce Putin critic. He had financed Litvinenko’s stay in UK. Even the book written by the ex-spy about FSB’s involvement in apartment bombings was financed by Berezovsky.

“Berezovsky could have staged a deliberate action against Russia,” said a Kremlin official.

According to this version, Litvinenko’s slow death in full media glare offered a propaganda tool to Berezovsky who is considered one of Putin’s bitter enemies.

Another theory put forward by political commentators in Russia is that Litvinenko became a victim in the ongoing power struggle for control in Kremlin. According to them, the killing was carried out to undermine President Putin ahead of the 2008 presidential elections.

Litvinenko was in the FSB’s anti-corruption department before he was arrested and charged. Former security officials claim that he could have been bumped off by the mafia due to his past investigations.

Controversial character

There are doubts surrounding Litvinenko’s life also. Several media reports even portrayed him as a blackmailer, smuggler and even a gangster. Some of the key details that emerged after this death include:

  • A story in the The Guardian newspaper revealed that FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) has also got involved in the investigations of the ex-spy’s death after details emerged that he planned to make thousands of pounds by blackmailing senior Russian spies and Oligarchs.
  • Julia Svetlichnaja, a Russian doctoral candidate at the University of Westminster claimed that Litvinenko had told her that he was going to blackmail or sell sensitive information related to powerful people inside Kremlin.
  • Another British newspaper claimed that Litvinenko had admitted to Scaramella that he was the mastermind behind the smuggling of radioactive material in Zurich in 2000.
  • Litvinenko converted to Islam before his death and requested to be buried according to Muslim rites. This was revealed by his father.
  • Another unexplained link in this fascinating and murky tale is the way Litvinenko’s pictures were released to the media by one of the leading PR firms of UK. There is no information about who footed the 10,000 pounds a day PR bill for him.

The mystery behind Alexandar Litvinenko’s death is getting thicker as each day passes. To some, Litvinenko was a courageous defector and whistleblower, to others a traitor and an Oligarch’s assistant.

Doubts are being raised about all the people who met him on November 1. But what happened behind the scenes and who benefited from Litvinenko’s death would perhaps never come out. (With media inputs)

Lashkar planned to kill Modi: Wikileaks

Pakistan based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba planned to assassinate Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, according to a US diplomatic cable leaked by the whistle-blower website Wikileaks.

The cable, dated June 19, 2009, also notes that the group was looking at setting up training sites in southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka.

Excerpts related to India from the released cable are mentioned below:

17. (S//NF) SCA – India – LT member Shafiq Khafa possibly preparing for operations: Tearline reports, &Hussein, an India-based Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LT) member, continued operational planning on three tasks in early June. The tasks were associated with a possible operation against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendar Modi, the establishment of a training camp, and unspecified work involving a car. Hussein would coordinate his activities with an India-based colleague identified as Sameer.8

18. (S//REL TO USA, FVEY) Separate tearline indicates, &Pakistan-based Shafiq Khafa prepared in mid-June with India-based associate S J for possible operations in India. Khafa was looking for information on possible training sites in the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala.8

19. (S//NF) DS/TIA/ITA notes earlier credible tearline suggests Khafa,s network is striving to stand up two teams in southern India that rely on the support of LT members based in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Nepal. Although specific details of planned LT attacks remain unknown, late-May intelligence indicates Khafa,s cells were engaged in surveillance activities of potential targets, likely in southern India. Early-May reporting further suggests Kerala or Tamil Nadu may be used as a base of operations following the establishment of a facilitation team in Sri Lanka, with the estimated time of completion for setting up the facilitation route and camps to be two to three months. (Appendix sources 8-18)

Click here to Read and Download the entire cable here…