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  • Biden warns confirming Supreme Court justice before election would cause ‘irreversible damage’ and promises to nominate a Black woman if he wins news

    'Last thing we need is to add is a constitutional crisis that plunges us deeper into the abyss, deeper into the darkness’

    Sun, 20 Sep 2020 17:00:03 -0400
  • Gore-Tex: Inventor of waterproof fabric Robert Gore dies aged 83 news

    Robert W. Gore's invention has been used in space suits, guitar strings and waterproof jackets.

    Sun, 20 Sep 2020 21:26:33 -0400
  • Tens of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts traveled to the Lake of the Ozarks for a bike rally weeks after a similar event in Sturgis was linked to COVID-19 cases in 8 states news

    Lake Ozark Mayor Gerry Murawski said last week that he didn't expect motorcyclists to wear masks to Bikefest because "that's just the way they are."

    Sun, 20 Sep 2020 11:39:30 -0400
  • Shark attacks a snorkeler in the Florida Keys, sheriff’s office says

    No description related. Click here to go to original article.

    Sun, 20 Sep 2020 14:16:38 -0400
  • Egypt discovers 14 ancient sarcophagi at Saqqara news

    Egypt's antiquities ministry announced Sunday the discovery of 14 sarcophagi in the Saqqara necropolis south of Cairo that had lain buried for 2,500 years.

    Sun, 20 Sep 2020 20:25:13 -0400
  • Navalny says nerve agent was found 'in and on' his body news

    Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny demanded Monday that Russia return the clothes he was wearing on the day he fell into a coma in Siberia, calling it “a crucial piece of evidence” in the nerve agent poisoning he is being treated for at a German hospital. In a blog post Monday, Navalny said the Novichok nerve agent was found “in and on” his body, and said the clothes taken off him when he was hospitalized in Siberia a month ago after collapsing on a Russian flight are “very important material evidence.” Navalny, Russian President Vladimir Putin's fiercest critic, fell ill on a domestic flight to Moscow on Aug. 20, was brought to a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk and was transferred to Germany for treatment two days later.

    Mon, 21 Sep 2020 09:20:15 -0400
  • 'Never be seen again': Where Confederate statues go after being taken from public spaces news

    More than 130 Confederate monuments and other historic statues were taken down across three dozen states amid a wave of protests and calls for racial justice over the past four months.

    Mon, 21 Sep 2020 03:26:00 -0400
  • A Vermont grocery store worker was fired after stopping a purse snatcher who stole from an elderly woman news

    Amir Shedyak, a grocery store employee, told local news that he was fired after trying to stop a purse snatcher during a shift in August.

    Sun, 20 Sep 2020 11:42:37 -0400
  • Leaked files contain more evidence of Kremlin links to one of the biggest donors to Boris Johnson's Conservative party news

    The husband of a major donor to Boris Johnson's Conservatives has allegedly been secretly funded by a Russian oligarch with links to Vladimir Putin.

    Mon, 21 Sep 2020 06:47:20 -0400
  • It's the economy, stupid: Biden frames the choice as between Scranton and Park Avenue news

    The 2020 winner must rebuild an economy slammed by COVID-19. Trump has an edge but Biden seeks to be the Main Street choice to Wall Street's Trump.

    Sun, 20 Sep 2020 07:00:55 -0400
  • McConnell locks down key Republican votes for Supreme Court fight news

    Sen. Lamar Alexander said he supported a vote on a nominee, hours after Lisa Murkowski became the second GOP senator to oppose the majority leader’s effort.

    Sun, 20 Sep 2020 12:27:40 -0400
  • Solomon Islands: Men working for WW2 bomb clearing agency die in explosion news

    The men were working to help dispose of the many unexploded World War Two bombs on the islands.

    Sun, 20 Sep 2020 23:07:27 -0400
  • U.S. Space Force deploys troops to the Arabian Desert news

    The newly formed U.S. Space Force is deploying troops to a vast new frontier: the Arabian Peninsula.

    Mon, 21 Sep 2020 06:51:16 -0400
  • US town hopes herd of goats will protect against wildfires news

    An Oregon town has recruited a herd of goats to head off the risk of another wildfire. According to the latest estimate, more than 938,000 acres of land were destroyed by the blazes which swept through the state in the north-west of the US. Forest City, a town with around 25,000 inhabitants 25 miles west of Portland, is taking drastic measures to ensure it does not suffer the same fate as other parts of the state. The 230 goats are set to start work this week, chomping through the vegetation in a 14-acre grove which has been earmarked for use as a city park. They have been hired from a company called Healing Hooves, based in Washington State which rents out its goats to landowners in the region. Renting the goats costs around $800 (£489) a day, not counting the costs of transportation. The animals are corralled by an electric fence. The goats are marshalled by Craig Madsen, who has been going the work for more than 18 years. As fires raged across California and Oregon, Donald Trump said poor land management by local authorities was to blame for the spread of the flames. Ecologists believe removing excess vegetation, especially near power lines and timber, is one way of minimising the risk of a catastrophic wildfire. Mr Madsen believes his herd of goats can clear an acre of brush in about a day and a half. The terrain at Forest City is ideal for his team. “Some of the grove backs onto people’s yards. It’s pretty steep, but goats don’t mind fences and slopes,” Mr Madsen told the Telegraph. “They chew up the undergrowth and if its a fire that is creeping slowly they create a fire break. “The ideal terrain for them is somewhere they have to climb. Their hooves grow fast so rocks can help trim them. “They are pretty agile and they are great for this kind of terrain. Goats have their preferences. They like to browse and prefer blackberries, brush and broad-leaved plants. “People say that goats will eat anything, but actually they are pretty picky.”

    Sun, 20 Sep 2020 12:26:12 -0400
  • Finnish cruise ship evacuated after running aground in Baltic sea news

    A Finnish passenger cruise ship was evacuated on Sunday after it ran aground off the island of Aland in the Baltic Sea, the cruise line and emergency services said Sunday.

    Sun, 20 Sep 2020 12:08:34 -0400
  • Israel court says woman can be extradited in child sex case news

    An Israeli court on Monday approved the extradition of a former teacher wanted in Australia on charges of child sex abuse, potentially paving the way for her to stand trial after a six-year legal battle. Malka Leifer, a former educator who is accused of sexually abusing several former students, has been fighting extradition from Israel since 2014. Leifer maintains her innocence and the battle surrounding her extradition has strained relations between Israel and Australia.

    Mon, 21 Sep 2020 03:28:54 -0400
  • Though it has no teachers, this company gets millions meant for private, charter schools news

    For-profit Prenda has seen a surge of interest in its microschools during the coronavirus pandemic. The company aims to be the Uber or Airbnb of education.

    Mon, 21 Sep 2020 05:10:49 -0400
  • New Zealand ends all pandemic restrictions outside main city of Auckland news

    New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday lifted all coronavirus restrictions across the country, except in second-wave hotspot Auckland, as the number of new infections slowed to a trickle. "Our actions collectively have managed to get the virus under control," she told reporters in Auckland. New Zealand, a nation of five million, appeared to have halted community transmission of COVID-19 earlier this year, but a fresh outbreak in Auckland in August prompted the government to place the city back in lockdown.

    Sun, 20 Sep 2020 21:33:57 -0400
  • DeKalb school board member accused of making racist remarks news

    Joyce Morley, a DeKalb County school board member, said those accusing her of making racially insensitive comments during a recent meeting are mishearing what she actually said. During an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday, Morley explained that video from the emotionally-charged board meeting shows her saying the word “rights” and not “whites” when discussing the school district’s plans to reopen schools. During the Monday meeting in question, Cheryl Watson-Harris, DeKalb schools superintendent proposed that students and staff return to in-person learning as early as October, but on a part-time basis.

    Sun, 20 Sep 2020 17:27:57 -0400
  • Does Trump have enough votes to confirm RBG’s replacement? A look at the senators who might block his nomination news

    Republican leaders came forcefully following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to urge their senate colleagues to toe the party line and demand the vacancy is filled before the November election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent a letter to Republicans on Friday telling them to “keep your powder dry” and avoid falling under pressure to announce their stance on whether the open seat on the nation’s highest court should be filled just six weeks ahead of election day. “Over the coming days, we are all going to come under tremendous pressure from the press to announce how we will handle the coming nomination,” the senate majority leader wrote to his colleagues.

    Sat, 19 Sep 2020 14:12:28 -0400
  • White House names three 'anarchist US cities' to lose funds news

    New York City, Seattle and Portland are named by the White House as cities that could lose federal funds.

    Mon, 21 Sep 2020 10:20:32 -0400
  • NC woman still missing two years after she left baby with family reportedly to visit sick mother in Mexico news

    Nancy Troche Garcia, 28, was last seen in Asheboro, North Carolina on May 20, 2018, when she dropped her baby off with the baby’s father. She then reportedly went to the father’s sister’s house nearby and asked her if she would help care for the baby since she would be traveling to Mexico to care for her sick mother. But her mother told police that she was not sick and there were no plans for Nancy to come to Mexico. Nancy’s burgundy 2001 Chevy Impala is also missing. The Asheboro Police

    Sat, 19 Sep 2020 11:02:00 -0400
  • Mexico's populist president left embarrassed by failed stunt to sell private jet news

    Mexico’s populist president Andrés Manuel López Obrador was voted in on a pledge to stamp out corruption and largess that went all the way to the country's highest office. So when he pledged to sell the presidential plane, with its marble bathrooms and king sized bed, it seemed like an easy win. But the $218 million, purchased under a predecessor in 2012, jet lies on the tarmac after the latest failed bid to find a buyer in a saga that has exposed the socialist leader to ridicule and embarassment. This week's attempt to raffle the plane during the country’s Independence holiday ended in predictable disaster. For López Obrador, also known by his initials as Amlo, the plane is a symbol of the opulence and waste of the country's political elite, and he vowed to sell it and return the money to Mexicans during his 2018 campaign. After his landslide victory, the President put it up for sale and has been flying on low-cost commercial flights. But it wasn’t that easy. The jet is a used and expensive luxury item with few potential buyers. After spending nearly two years parked for sale in California and spending almost the same amount of money for having it parked than he would have spent using it (about $1.5 million), Amlo decided in February he would just raffle it off during the September 15 Independence holiday. He even had to change the law in order to raffle an item instead of money through Mexico’s National Lottery. Only the plane wasn’t his to raffle. It turned out the Mexican government hasn’t finished paying for it. Amlo moved forward with the raffle but decided to give out the cash equivalent of the jet’s market value of about $95 million instead of the actual plane, split it into 100 winning tickets.

    Sat, 19 Sep 2020 11:57:40 -0400
  • The CIA sent a team of 4 operators on a spy mission targeting China. None came back. news

    In 2008, the CIA sent a team of four operators on a spy mission targeting China. None came back. Internally, the CIA officers blamed the mission failure and deaths of four of their men on Bob Kandra, the Special Activities Division chief at the time.

    Sun, 20 Sep 2020 09:48:34 -0400
  • Armed and Black. How a group of men licensed to carry guns say they are seeking racial justice news

    Armed Black groups like the Minnesota Freedom Fighters work to protect the streets as calls for racial justice mount.

    Mon, 21 Sep 2020 06:00:29 -0400
  • Whale swims free of Australian river as 270 are stranded news

    A humpback whale has found its way back to sea weeks after getting lost in a murky, crocodile-infested river in northern Australia, while an estimated 270 pilot whales became stranded in the country's south. There have been no previous recorded sightings of whales in remote East Alligator River in the Northern Territory’s World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, and no one can explain why at least three of the blue water mammals ventured so deep inland in a river with little visibility. In a more common phenomenon, about 270 pilot whales were reported stranded Monday on sandbars off Australia’s southern island of Tasmania state.

    Sun, 20 Sep 2020 21:10:30 -0400
  • India's coronavirus infections surge to 5.4 million news

    India's coronavirus case tally surged to 5.4 million as it added 92,605 new infections in the last 24 hours, data from the federal health ministry showed on Sunday. The country has posted the highest single-day caseload in the world since early August, and lags behind only the United States, which has 6.7 million cases in terms of total infections. A total of 1,113 people died of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, the health ministry said, taking mortalities to 86,752, which is a relatively low 1.6% of all cases.

    Sun, 20 Sep 2020 01:03:33 -0400
  • Army’s New Target Tracking System Aims to Quicken Artillery Kills news

    Test teams of soldiers will attempt to reduce the time it takes to see and hit targets to less than 20 seconds.

    Sun, 20 Sep 2020 09:58:48 -0400
  • What if there's a tie? How the Supreme Court works when there are only 8 justices news

    If the justices are deadlocked, they can find an incremental solution, reschedule the case for the next term, or leave a lower court ruling intact.

    Sat, 19 Sep 2020 13:22:36 -0400
  • ‘It’s a big, big swing’: Trump loses ground with white voters news

    The president is running well behind his 2016 pace with the demographic that sent him to the White House.

    Mon, 21 Sep 2020 04:30:37 -0400
  • Canadian police make arrests as tempers flare in lobster feud news

    Indigenous people launch their own fishery, bringing them into conflict with commercial operators.

    Sat, 19 Sep 2020 15:57:15 -0400
  • Meet Brock Pierce, the Presidential Candidate With Ties to Pedophiles Who Wants to End Human Trafficking news

    In the trailer for First Kid, the forgettable 1996 comedy about a Secret Service agent assigned to protect the president’s son, the title character, played by a teenage Brock Pierce, describes himself as “definitely the most powerful kid in the universe.” Now, the former child star is running to be the most powerful man in the world, as an Independent candidate for President of the United States. Before First Kid, the Minnesota-born actor secured roles in a series of PG-rated comedies, playing a young Emilio Estevez in The Mighty Ducks, before graduating to smaller parts in movies like Problem Child 3: Junior in Love. When his screen time shrunk, Pierce retired from acting for a real executive role: co-founding the video production start-up Digital Entertainment Network (DEN) alongside businessman Marc Collins-Rector. At age 17, Pierce served as its vice president, taking in a base salary of $250,000.DEN became “the poster child for dot-com excesses,” raising more than $60 million in seed investments and plotting a $75 million IPO. But it turned into a shorthand for something else when, in October of 1999, the three co-founders suddenly resigned. That month, a New Jersey man filed a lawsuit alleging Collins-Rector had molested him for three years beginning when he was 13 years old. The following summer, three teens filed a sexual-abuse lawsuit against Pierce, Collins-Rector, and their third co-founder, Chad Shackley. The plaintiffs later dropped their case against Pierce (he made a payment of $21,600 to one of their lawyers) and Shackley. But after a federal grand jury indicted Collins-Rector on criminal charges in 2000, the DEN founders left the country. When Interpol arrested them in 2002, they said they had confiscated “guns, machetes, and child pornography” from the trio’s beach villa in Spain. While abroad, Pierce had pivoted to a new venture: Internet Gaming Entertainment, which sold virtual accessories in multiplayer online role-playing games to those desperate to pay, as one Wired reporter put it, “as much as $1,800 for an eight-piece suit of Skyshatter chain mail” rather than earn it in the games themselves. In 2005, a 25-year-old Pierce hired then-Goldman Sachs banker Steve Bannon—just before he would co-found Breitbart News. Two years later, after a World of Warcraft player sued the company for “diminishing” the fun of the game, Steve Bannon replaced Pierce as CEO.The ‘Varsity Blues’ Screenwriter’s Cold-Blooded Crusade Against L.A.’s HomelessCollins-Rector eventually pleaded guilty to eight charges of child enticement and registered as a sex offender. In the years that followed, Pierce waded into the gonzo economy of cryptocurrencies, where he overlapped more than once with Jeffrey Epstein, and counseled him on crypto. In that world, he founded Tether, a cryptocurrency that bills itself as a “stablecoin,” because its value is allegedly tied to the U.S. dollar, and the blockchain software company Like his earlier businesses, Pierce’s crypto projects see-sawed between massive investments and curious deals. When announced a smart contract software called EOS.IO, the company raised $4 billion almost overnight, setting an all-time record before the product even launched. The Securities and Exchange Commission later fined the company $24 million for violating federal securities law. After John Oliver mocked the ordeal, calling Pierce a “sleepy, creepy cowboy,” fired him. Tether, meanwhile, is currently under investigation by the New York Attorney General for possible fraud. On July 4, Pierce announced his candidacy for president. His campaign surrogates include a former Cambridge Analytica director and the singer Akon, who recently doubled down on developing an anonymously funded, $6 billion “Wakanda-like” metropolis in Senegal called Akon City. Pierce claims to be bipartisan, and from the 11 paragraphs on the “Policy” section of his website it can be hard to determine where he falls on the political spectrum. He supports legalizing marijuana and abolishing private prisons, but avoids the phrase “climate change.” He wants to end “human trafficking.” His proposal to end police brutality: body cams. His political contributions tell a more one-sided story. Pierce’s sole Democratic contribution went to the short-lived congressional run of crypto candidate Brian Forde. The rest went to Republican campaigns like Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, John McCain, and the National Right to Life Political Action Committee. Last year alone, Pierce gave over $44,000 to the Republican National Committee and more than $55,000 to Trump’s re-election fund. Pierce spoke to The Daily Beast from his tour bus and again over email. Those conversations have been combined and edited for clarity.  * * *You’re announcing your presidential candidacy somewhat late, and historically, third-party candidates haven’t had the best luck with the executive office. If you don’t have a strong path to the White House, what do you want out of the race? I announced on July 4, which I think is quite an auspicious date for an Independent candidate, hoping to bring independence to this country. There’s a lot of things that I can do. One is: I’m 39 years old. I turn 40 in November. So I’ve got time on my side. Whatever happens in this election cycle, I’m laying the groundwork for the future. The overall mission is to create a third major party—not another third party—a third major party in this country. I think that is what America needs most. George Washington in his closing address warned us about the threat of political parties. John Adams and the other founding fathers—their fear for our future was two political parties becoming dominant. And look at where we are. We were warned. I believe, having studied systems, any time you have a system of two, what happens is those two things come together, like magnets. They come into collision, or they become polarized and become completely divided. I think we need to rise above partisan politics and find a path forward together. As Albert Einstein is quoted—I’m not sure the line came from him, but he’s quoted in many places—he said that the definition of insanity is making the same mistake or doing the same thing over and over and over again, expecting a different result. [Ed. note: Einstein never said this.] It feels like that’s what our election cycle is like. Half the country feels like they won, half the country feels like they lost, at least if they voted or participated. Obviously, there’s another late-comer to the presidential race, and that’s Kanye West. He’s received a lot of flak for his candidacy, as he’s openly admitted to trying to siphon votes away from Joe Biden to ensure a Trump victory. Is that something you’re hoping to avoid or is that what you’re going for as well?Oh no. This is a very serious campaign. Our campaign is very serious. You’ll notice I don’t say anything negative about either of the two major political candidates, because I think that’s one of the problems with our political system, instead of people getting on stage, talking about their visionary ideas, inspiring people, informing and educating, talking about problems, mentioning problems, talking about solutions, constructive criticism. That’s why I refuse to run a negative campaign. I am definitely not a spoiler. I’m into data, right? I’m a technologist. I’ve got digital DNA. So does most of our campaign team. We’ve got our finger on the pulse. Most of my major Democratic contacts are really happy to see that we’re running in a red state like Wyoming. Kanye West’s home state is Wyoming. He’s not on the ballot in Wyoming I could say, in part, because he didn’t have Akon on his team. But I could also say that he probably didn’t want to be on the ballot in Wyoming because it’s a red state. He doesn’t want to take additional points in a state where he’s only running against Trump. But we’re on the ballot in Wyoming, and since we’re on the ballot in Wyoming I think it’s safe—more than safe, I think it’s evident—that we are not here to run as a spoiler for the benefit of Donald Trump. In running for president, you’ve opened yourself up to be scrutinized from every angle going back to the beginning of your career. I wanted to ask you about your time at the Digital Entertainment Network. Can you tell me a little bit about how you started there? You became a vice president as a teenager. What were your qualifications and what was your job exactly?Well, I was the co-founder. A lot of it was my idea. I had an idea that people would use the internet to watch videos, and we create content for the internet. The idea was basically YouTube and Hulu and Netflix. Anyone that was around in the ‘90s and has been around digital media since then, they all credit us as the creators of basically those ideas. I was just getting a message from the creator of The Vandals, the punk rock band, right before you called. He’s like, “Brock, looks like we’re going to get the Guinness Book of World Records for having created the first streaming television show.”We did a lot of that stuff. We had 30 television shows. We had the top most prestigious institutions in the world as investors. The biggest names. High-net-worth investors like Terry Semel, who’s chairman and CEO of Warner Brothers, and became the CEO of Yahoo. I did all sorts of things. I helped sell $150,000 worth of advertising contracts to the CEOs of Pepsi and everything else. I was the face of the company, meeting all the major banks and everything else, selling the vision of what the future was. You moved in with Marc Collins-Rector and Chad Shackley at a mansion in Encino. Was that the headquarters of the business? All start-ups, they normally start out in your home. Because it’s just you. The company was first started out of Marc’s house, and it was probably there for the first two or three months, before the company got an office. That’s, like, how it is for all start-ups. You were later a co-defendant in the L.A. County case filed against Marc Collins-Rector for plying minors with alcohol and drugs, in order to facilitate sexual abuse. You were dropped from the case, but you settled with one of the men for $21,600. Can you explain that? Okay, well, first of all, that’s not accurate. Two of the plaintiffs in that case asked me if I would be a plaintiff. Because I refused to be a part of the lawsuit, they chose to include me to discredit me, to make their case stronger. They also went and offered 50 percent of what they got to the house management—they went around and offered money to anyone to participate in this. They needed people to corroborate their story. Eventually, because I refused to participate in the lawsuit, they named me. Subsequently, all three of the plaintiffs apologized to me, in front of audiences, in front of many people, saying Brock never did anything. They dismissed their cases. Remember, this is a civil thing. I’ve never been charged with a crime in my life. And the last plaintiff to have his case dismissed, he contacted his lawyer and said, “Dismiss this case against Brock. Brock never did anything. I just apologized. Dismiss his case.” And the lawyer said, “No. I won’t dismiss this case, I have all these out-of-pocket expenses, I refuse to file the paperwork unless you give me my out-of-pocket expenses.” And so the lawyer, I guess, had $21,000 in bills. So I paid his lawyer $21,000—not him, it was not a settlement. That was a payment to his lawyer for his out-of-pocket expenses. Out-of-pocket expenses so that he would file the paperwork to dismiss the case. You’ve said the cases were unfounded, and the plaintiffs eventually apologized. But your boss, Marc Collins-Rector later pleaded guilty to eight charges of child enticement and registered as a sex offender. Were you aware of his behavior? How do you square the fact that later allegations proved to be true, but these ones were not?Well, remember: I was 16 and 17 years old at the time? So, no. I don’t think Marc is the man they made him out to be. But Marc is not a person I would associate with today, and someone I haven’t associated with in a very long time. I was 16 and 17. I chose the wrong business partner. You live and you learn.You’ve pointed out that you were underage when most of these allegations were said to take place. Did you ever feel like you were coerced or in over your head while working at DEN?I mean, I was working 18 hours a day, doing things I’d never done before. It was business school. But I definitely learned a lot in building that company. We raised $88 million. We filed our [form] S-1 to go public. We were the hottest start-up in Los Angeles. In 2000, you left the country with Marc Collins-Rector. Why did you leave? How did you spend those two years abroad?I moved to Spain in 1999 for personal reasons. I spent those two years in Europe working on developing my businesses.Interpol found you in 2002. The house where you were staying reportedly contained guns, machetes, and child pornography. Whose guns and child porn were those? Were you aware they were in the house, and how did those get there?My lawyers have addressed this in 32 pages of documentation showing a complete absence of wrongdoing. Please refer to my webpage for more information.[Ed. Note: The webpage does not mention guns, machetes, or child pornography. It does state:“It is true that when the local police arrested Collins-Rector in Spain in 2002 on an international warrant, Mr. Pierce was also taken into custody, but so was everyone at Collins-Rector’s house in Spain; and it is equally clear that Brock was promptly released, and no charges of any kind were ever filed against Brock concerning this matter.”]What do you make of the allegations against Bryan Singer? [Ed. Note: Bryan Singer, a close friend of Collins-Rector, invested at least $50,000 in DEN. In an Atlantic article outlining Singer’s history of alleged sexual assault and statutory rape, one source claimed that at age 15, Collins-Rector abused him and introduced him to Singer, who then assaulted him in the DEN headquarters.]I am aware of them and I support of all victims of sexual assault. I will let America’s justice system decide on Singer’s outcome.In 2011, you spoke at the Mindshift conference supported by Jeffrey Epstein. At that point, he had already been convicted of soliciting prostitution from a minor. Why did you agree to speak?I had never heard of Jeffrey Epstein. His name was not on the website. I was asked to speak at a conference alongside Nobel Prize winners. It was not a cryptocurrency conference, it was filled with Nobel Prize winners. I was asked to speak alongside Nobel Prize winners on the future of money. I speak at conferences historically, two to three times a week. I was like, “Nobel Prize winners? Sounds great. I’ll happily talk about the future of money with them.” I had no idea who Jeffrey Epstein was. His name was not listed anywhere on the website. Had I known what I know now? I clearly would have never spoken there. But I spoke at a conference that he cosponsored. What’s your connection to the Clinton Global Initiative? Did you hear about it through Jeffrey Epstein?I joined the Clinton Global Initiative as a philanthropist in 2006 and was a member for one year. My involvement with the Initiative had no connection to Jeffrey Epstein whatsoever.You’ve launched your campaign in Minnesota, where George Floyd was killed by a police officer. How do you feel about the civil uprising against police brutality? I’m from Minnesota. Born and raised. We just had a press conference there, announcing that we’re on the ballot. Former U.S. Senator Dean Barkley was there. So that tells you, when former U.S. Senators are endorsing the candidate, right? [Ed. note: Barkley was never elected to the United States Senate. In November of 2002, he was appointed by then Minnesota Governor Jesse Venture to fill the seat after Sen. Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash. Barkley’s term ended on Jan. 3, 2003—two months later.] Yes, George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis. My vice-presidential running mate Karla Ballard and I, on our last trip to Minnesota together, went to visit the George Floyd Memorial. I believe in law and order. I believe that law and order is foundational to any functioning society. But there is no doubt in my mind that we need reform. These types of events—this is not an isolated incident. This has happened many times before. It’s time for change. We have a lot of detail around policy on this issue that we will be publishing next week. Not just high-level what we think, not just a summary, but detailed policy. You said that you support “law and order.” What does that mean?“Law and order” means creating a fair and just legal system where our number one priority is protecting the inalienable rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” for all people. This means reforming how our police intervene in emergency situations, abolishing private prisons that incentivize mass incarceration, and creating new educational and economic opportunities for our most vulnerable communities. I am dedicated to preventing crime by eliminating the socioeconomic conditions that encourage it.I support accountability and transparency in government and law enforcement. Some of the key policies I support are requiring body-cams on all law enforcement officers who engage with the public, curtailing the 1033 program that provides local law enforcement agencies with access to military equipment, and abolishing private prisons. Rather than simply defund the police, my administration will take a holistic approach to heal and unite America by ending mass incarceration, police brutality, and racial injustice. Did you attend any Black Lives Matter protests?I support all movements aimed at ending racial injustice and inequality. I​ have not attended any Black Lives Matter protests.​ My running-mate, Karla Ballard, attended the March on Washington in support of racial justice and equality.Your platform doesn’t mention the words “climate change.”  Is there a reason for that?I’m not sure what you mean. Our policy platform specifically references human-caused climate change and we have a plan to restabilize the climate, address environmental degradation, and ensure environmental sustainability. [Ed. Note: As of writing the Pierce campaign’s policy platform does not specifically reference human-caused climate change.]You’ve recently brought on Akon as a campaign surrogate. How did that happen? Tell me about that.Akon and I have been friends for quite some time. I was one of the guys that taught him about Bitcoin. I helped make some videogames for him, I think in 2012. We were talking about Bitcoin, teaching him the ropes, back in 2013. And in 2014, we were both speaking at the Milken Global Conference, and I encouraged him to talk about how Bitcoin, Africa, changed the world. He became the biggest celebrity in the world, talking about Bitcoin at the time. I’m an adviser to his Akoin project, very interested in the work that he’s doing to build a city in Africa. I think we need a government that’s of, for, and by the people. Akon has huge political aspirations. He obviously was a hugely successful artist. But he also discovered artists like Lady Gaga. So not only is he, himself, a great artist, but he’s also a great identifier and builder of other artists. And he’s been a great businessman, philanthropist. He’s pushing the limits of what can be done. We’re like-minded individuals in that regard. I think he’ll be running for political office one day, because he sees what I see: that we need real change, and we need a government that is of, for, and by the people. You mentioned that you’re an adviser on Akoin. Do you have any financial investments in Akoin or Akon City?I don’t believe so. I’d have to check. I have so much stuff. But I don’t believe that I have any economic interests in his stuff. I’d have to verify that. We’ll get back to you. I don’t believe that I have any economic interests. My interest is in helping him. He’s a visionary with big ideas that wants to help things in the world. If I can be of assistance in helping him make the world a better place, I’m all for it. I’m not motivated by money. I’m not running for office because I’m motivated by power. I’m running for office because I’m deeply, deeply concerned about our collective future. You’ve said you’re running on a pro-technology platform. One week into your campaign last month, a New York appeals court approved the state Attorney General’s attempt to investigate the stablecoin Tether for potentially fraudulent activity. Do you think this will impact your ability to sell people on your tech entrepreneurship? No. I think my role in Tether is as awesome as it gets. It was my idea. I put it together. But I’ve had no involvement in the company since 2015. I gave all of my equity to the other shareholders. I’ve had zero involvement in the company for almost six years. It was just my idea. I put the initial team together. But I think Tether is one of the most important innovations in the world, certainly. The idea is, I digitized the U.S. dollar. I used technology to digitize currency—existing currency. The U.S. dollar in particular. It’s doing $10 trillion a year. Ten trillion dollars a year of transactional volume. It’s probably the most important innovation in currency since the advent of fiat money. The people that took on the business and ran the business in years to come, they’ve done things I’m not proud of. I’m not sure they’ve done anything criminal. But they certainly did things differently than I would do. But it’s like, you have kids, they turn 18, they go out into the world, and sometimes you’re proud of the things they do, and sometimes you shake your head and go, “Ugh, why did you do that?” I have zero concerns as it relates to me personally. I wish they made better decisions. What do you think the investigation will find?I have no idea. The problem that was raised is that there was a $5 million loan between two entities and whether or not they had the right to do that, did they disclose it correctly. There’s been no accusations of, like, embezzlement or anything that bad. [Ed. Note: The Attorney General’s press release on the investigation reads: “Our investigation has determined that the operators of the ‘Bitfinex’ trading platform, who also control the ‘tether’ virtual currency, have engaged in a cover-up to hide the apparent loss of $850 million dollars of co-mingled client and corporate funds.”]But there’s been some disclosure things, that is the issue. No one is making any outrageous claims that these are people that have done a bunch of bad—well, on the internet, the media has said that the people behind the business may have been manipulating the price of Bitcoin, but I don’t think that has anything to do with the New York investigation. Again, I’m so not involved, and so not at risk, that I’m not even up to speed on the details. [Ed note: A representative of the New York State Attorney General told Forbes that he “cannot confirm or deny that the investigation” includes Pierce.] Fake Jeffrey Epstein Flight Logs Lead QAnon Crazies to Target Chrissy Teigen and BeyoncéWe’ve recently witnessed the rise of QAnon, the conspiracy theory that Hollywood is an evil cabal of Satanic pedophiles and Trump is the person waging war on them. You mentioned human trafficking, which has become a cause for them. What are your thoughts on that? I’ve watched some of the content. I think it’s an interesting phenomenon. I’m an internet person, so Anonymous is obviously an organization that has been doing interesting stuff. It’s interesting. I don’t have a big—conspiracy theory stuff is—I guess I have a question for you: What do you think of all of it, since you’re the expert?You know, I think it’s not true, but I’m not running for president. I do wonder what this politician [Georgia congressional candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene], who’s just won her primary, is going to do on day one, once she finds out there’s no satanic cabal room. Wait, someone was running for office and won on a QAnon platform, saying that Hollywood did—say what? You’re the expert here. She won a primary. But I want to push on if we only have a few minutes. In 2006, your gaming company IGE brought on Steve Bannon as an investor. Goldman later bought out most of your stock. Bannon eventually replaced you as CEO of Affinity. You’ve described him as your “right-hand man for, like, seven years.” How well did you know Bannon during that time? Yes, so this is in my mid-twenties. He wasn’t an investor. He worked for me. He was my banker. He worked for me for three years as my yield guide. And then he was my CEO running the company for another four years. So I haven’t worked with Steve for a decade or so. We worked in videogame stuff and banking. He was at Goldman Sachs. He was not in the political area at the time. But he was a pretty successful banker. He set up Goldman Sachs Los Angeles. So for me, I’d say he did a pretty good job. Steve Bannon, in His $1,400 Hotel Suite, Rails Against the ‘Elite’During your business relationship, Steve Bannon founded Breitbart News, which has pretty consistently published racist material. How do you feel about Breitbart?I had no involvement with Breitbart News. As for how I feel about such material, I’m not pleased by any form of hate-mongering. I strongly support the equality of all Americans.Did you have qualms about Bannon’s role in the 2016 election?Bannon’s role in the Trump campaign got me to pay closer attention to what he was doing but that’s about it. Whenever you find out that one of your former employees has taken on a role like that, you pay attention.Bannon served on the board of Cambridge Analytica. A staffer on your campaign, Brittany Kaiser, also served as a business director for them. What are your thoughts on their use of illicitly-obtained Facebook data for campaign promotional material? Yes, so this will be the last question I can answer because I’ve got to be off for this 5:00 pm. But Brittany Kaiser is a friend of mine. She was the whistleblower of Cambridge Analytica. She came to me and said, “What do I do?” And I said, “Tell the truth. The truth will set you free.”[Ed. Note: Investigations in Cambridge Analytica took place as early as Nov. 2017, when a U.K. reporter at Channel 4 News recorded their CEO boasting about using “beautiful Ukranian girls” and offers of bribes to discredit political officials. The first whistleblower was Christopher Wylie, who disclosed a cache of documents to The Guardian, published on Mar. 17, 2018. Kaiser’s confession ran five days later, after the scandal made national news. Her association with Cambridge Analytica is not mentioned anywhere on Pierce’s campaign website.]So I’m glad that people—I’m a supporter of whistleblowers, people that see injustice in the world and something not right happening, and who put themselves in harm’s way to stand up for what they believe in. So I stand up for Brittany Kaiser. Who do you think [anonymous inventor of Bitcoin] Satoshi Nakamoto is?We all are Satoshi Nakamoto.You got married at Burning Man. Have you been attending virtual Burning Man?I’m running a presidential campaign. So, while I was there in spirit, unfortunately my schedule did not permit me to attend.Read more at The Daily Beast.Got a tip? Send it to The Daily Beast hereGet our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.

    Sun, 20 Sep 2020 04:55:31 -0400
  • Sixty-nine percent of Americans have no confidence in Trump on coronavirus vaccine, poll reveals news

    Two-thirds of Americans say they are likely to get coronavirus vaccine

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  • ‘We’re suddenly drowning in people’: Argentinians flock to Uruguay amid pandemic news

    About 15,000 to 20,000 Argentinians are estimated to have moved to Uruguay since the pandemic beganAgustina Valls’ phone is ringing off the hook.“It started as a trickle when the pandemic first hit Argentina, but now we’re getting over 20 calls a day,” she said from her office in Uruguay’s luxury beach resort of Punta Del Este. Valls runs a thriving business guiding well-off Argentinians through the red tape of acquiring Uruguayan residence – a skill she learned arranging her own residency application after marrying a Uruguayan lawyer last October.“The pandemic hit us like a sledgehammer – we are suddenly drowning in people wanting to come here,” said her husband Diego Torres. About 15,000 to 20,000 Argentinians are estimated to have moved to Uruguay since the pandemic began in March – a number equivalent to about 0.6% of Uruguay’s population of 3.5 million. And Uruguay is encouraging the flow. South America’s smallest nation not only lowered the minimum value of property foreigners must acquire to obtain tax residency from $1.7m to just $380,000 earlier this year, but also passed a new law offering arrivals a 10-year “tax holiday”. Mariana, who asked to use a pseudonym, is typical of the Argentinians moving to Punta del Este.“We already owned a summer apartment here and I came in search of new professional horizons last November,” said the 52-year-old marketing consultant now working in Uruguay’s buoyant film services industry.“But when the pandemic struck in March, my husband and my two sons joined me permanently. My sons are taking their university courses online from here just as they would in Argentina.”Once known as “the Switzerland of South America”, because of its high quality of life and its former banking secrecy laws, Uruguay has now become its New Zealand.Its population is only 66% the size of the Kiwi state, but both countries have seen fewer than 2,000 cases and coronavirus deaths in double digits. Thanks to a large testing and contact tracing program, most of Uruguay’s schools, restaurants and sports clubs have remained open throughout the pandemic. In stark contrast, Uruguay’s neighbors, Argentina and Brazil, currently rank third and fourth worldwide in the daily number of reported new cases, according to WHO figures. With its wide beaches, luxurious mansions and expensive nightclubs, Punta del Este has for decades been the summer home of South American millionaires – and a smattering of wealthy Europeans. “About 100 Europeans arrived on private jets as soon as the pandemic started in Europe and only started flying back home around June-July when the virus panic abated,” said local realtor Juan Carlos Sorhobigarat, whose houses list at up to $6.5m. Argentinian surfer Jona Mela, 33, has ensconced himself at the summer home a friend lent him on Solanas beach. Mela, who usually runs surfing and yoga retreats in Bali, México, Brazil and El Salvador, is now hosting them in Uruguay. “My friends in Argentina are constantly writing me to ask how they can come here,” Mela says. “Apart from a refuge from the pandemic, what they mostly want is peace.” Uruguay has long offered a calm contrast to the deep social divisions and political animosity in its giant neighbouring countries. Uruguay ranks 21st in Transparency International’s “corruption perceptions index”. By contrast, Argentina and Brazil rank 66 and 106, respectively. Uruguay’s income per capita is the highest in Latin America, at $16,230 a year in 2019, compared to only $11,200 in Argentina.The country can also boast legal marijuana, legal abortion, gay marriage and – in contrast to the staunch Catholicism of its neighbours – a society so secularized that Christmas and Easter are referred to as "“Family Day” and “Tourism Week”. Its efforts to contain the coronavirus were helped by a relatively small population, but it also extensive public health coverage and almost 100% access to running water.Jaime Miller heads Uruguay XXI, a government agency in charge of attracting foreign investment. “Why we’re so successful against the pandemic? Because the government called in the scientists and respected their advice. People saw that and in turn respected the government’s recommendations to wear masks and socially distance without it ever having to be mandated,” he said. Warming to his theme, he continued: “We have a solid democracy with economic rules that don’t change with every new president, unrestricted press freedom, no corruption, a government-run fast internet across the whole country, powered by 100% renewable energy, a solid public health system, transparency, respect for the institutions and a strong respect for science.” It is a boast that in the mouth of an official from many other countries would probably sound presumptuous. But in the case of Uruguay, it may well be true.

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  • Walmart and Amazon donate to QAnon-promoting lawmaker news

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  • Pompeo finishes Latin America tour with focus on Venezuela news

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    Sat, 19 Sep 2020 15:34:28 -0400
  • Did Russian Spies Use Diplomatic Cover to Run a Global Cocaine-Smuggling Operation? news

    > This is a joint investigation by The Daily Beast and the Dossier Center.Six men await trial in Moscow and Buenos Aires, charged with operating one of the craziest, most ambitious narco-trafficking rings in history. Russia’s embassy in Argentina was the storage depot and Russian government transport was intended to move a cartel-sized consignment of virtually uncut cocaine from South America to Moscow. It was a transnational crime that astounded and confused the world, not least because authorities allege it was carried out by a small but resourceful cabal including one dirty embassy employee, one corrupt cop, and one charismatic chameleon who used some of the most secure Russian state real estate to store and smuggle $60 million worth of drugs. According to the official narrative, they did it all right under the noses of innocent diplomats and intelligence officers—and they would have gotten away with it without the plucky joint police work of Russian and Argentinian law enforcement. But what if that neat conclusion, which will soon be presented in court, is intentionally incomplete, a whitewash designed to protect more senior officials in the Russian government?The Daily Beast, in collaboration with the London-based Dossier Center, has obtained the documents from both the Russian and Argentinian investigations of the notorious 2018 cocaine bust, including hundreds of hours of telephone wiretap recordings, reams of witness and suspect interrogation transcripts, and nearly 10,000 pages of police and intelligence case files. These files were leaked to the Dossier Center from two separate sources, including one in Argentina connected with that country’s investigation who believes these forensic materials cast doubt on the alleged involvement in the affair of two indicted Argentines. The other source is close to the Russian investigation. All told, both sets of files show gaping holes, contradictions, discrepancies and implausible conclusions, which often border on the ludicrous.  At best, these documents suggest a staggering level of incompetence, with credible leads not followed up and government officials credibly implicated in the course of the joint investigation not investigated or prosecuted. At worst, they paint a darker picture of a coordinated, hemisphere-spanning coverup designed to protect those government officials and possibly other unnamed co-conspirators higher up in the food chain in Russia.One U.S. federal drug enforcement agent who spoke on the condition of anonymity thinks that all indications point to the latter. “According to our information, some members of the Russian embassy in Argentina... were aware of drug-related activities and were associated with the drug mafia. At some point there was a leak. The Argentinian authorities found out about the cocaine and contacted the embassy, after which the Russian side decided it was safer to ‘find’ the drugs. The scandal was resolved at a diplomatic level and no real investigation was conducted by Argentina.”But that’s not the public line of the Argentinian government. On Feb. 22, 2018, Patricia Bullrich, Argentina’s national security minister, lit up Twitter. She posted to her official account videos of the seizure of almost 400 kilograms of cocaine from the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires. “The investigation lasted more than a year, both in Argentina and Russia, and together we detained 6 members of this group that planned to transport a cargo worth more than 50 million euro,” one of Bullrich’s tweets read.The extraordinary location and sheer volume of the narcotics uncovered made this an explosive international story. It became an even bigger news event when Bullrich announced that Ivan Bliznyuk, the liaison officer at the Institute of Public Security, Buenos Aires’s police academy, had been arrested in connection with the same drug case. Yet the evidence for his participation in the drug-running syndicate rests almost entirely on the word of a Russian embassy security official, who, by his own admission, adopted a see-no-evil approach for several months to the presence of 12 strange suitcases stored on embassy grounds.Bliznyuk and a fellow Argentine, the U.S. drug enforcement agent said, “were detained in order to deflect suspicion from the embassy and [Russian] Foreign Ministry officials who used diplomatic channels for smuggling and were the drugs’ real beneficiaries.” An officer in Argentina’s Federal Intelligence Agency agrees that there were other embassy staff members involved, and adds that they likely had connections to Russian intelligence owing to the tradecraft and planning involved in the abortive scheme.At the center of this complex web of alleged criminality sits the main defendant in the case, Andrei Kovalchuk. He claims he is the victim of a vast conspiracy and ran afoul of the very intelligence organs he had faithfully served for years—the organs of two countries, in fact, Russia and Germany. “My misfortunes began,” he wrote from a prison cell in Berlin where he awaited extradition to Moscow, “after the operation to join the Crimea to Russia in 2014, in which I took part, for which I was awarded a medal for this operation, which is located here, in Berlin.” Kovalchuk’s lawyer insists his client has helped nab terrorists, mobsters, and gun-runners from Lower Saxony to Düsseldorf. He denies all of the charges.At once a cipher and a changeling, Kovalchuk is full of fantastical tales about himself and his various clients, cronies and accomplices but this much can be solidly established: He maintained lasting relationships with a series of security officials in various countries, as well as employees of the Russian Foreign Ministry. He had an excellent working knowledge of the layout and protocols of Russian missions, not to mention the protocol for wrapping and diplomatic parcels. And he allegedly seconded a host of Russian government vehicles and aircraft to move not just drugs but jewelry, clothes, and pharmaceuticals across national borders. Based on the Argentine and Russian indictments, we are invited to believe that all of this was arranged privately by Kovalchuk with a little cash and a lot of cognac, cigars, and candies courtesy of a burly and hirsute business associate, a camera-friendly Russian exile in Germany who’s taken to calling himself a “baron.”An international man of mystery requires manifold identities. Over a remarkable 20-year career, Kovalchuk has passed himself off not only as a spook, but also a diplomat, a Gazprom representative, a shrink, a philanthropist, and a man of leisure. Yet in spite of all his extraordinary Moscow connections, this Ukrainian-born grifter was never even a legal Russian citizen; all of his passports, the case files show, were invalid. Thus the main perpetrator sitting in pretrial detention in Moscow is technically stateless. Did Kovalchuk spy for the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, or was it the GRU, its military service? Both deny he was one of theirs. “Kovalchuk is a man of intelligence, perhaps retired, but still serving the Russian government,” a source in Argentina’s Federal Intelligence Agency told us. This Russian Spy Agency Is in the Middle of EverythingThat would certainly explain why the functionaries in the Russian Foreign Ministry clearly implicated in the case files as Kovalchuk’s blackmarket handmaids were never investigated or suspended or fired from their jobs. In fact, they all seem to have been untroubled by this scandal, all, that is, save the one who committed “suicide” outside his Moscow apartment three weeks after the cocaine was discovered at the embassy in Buenos Aires. Kovalchuk is also being tried in closed Russian court, a dispensation normally reserved for minors, sex offenders or those for whom publicized due process risks compromising matters of national security.Both the Russian and Argentinian governments have failed to account for how Kovalchuk, a man of limited financial resources, acquired eight-figures worth of high-purity marching powder or to determine its ultimate beneficiaries. At times, the investigators simply failed to follow up on obvious leads, such as investigating the possible involvement of the Sinaloa drug cartel as the manufacturers of the cocaine or following up on a Dutch phone number said to belong to the intended buyer or recipient of it.Still another curiosity of this affair is why Nikolai Patrushev, the chairman of the National Security Council, the former director of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, and one of the most powerful strongmen in Vladimir Putin’s inner sanctum, flew to and from Argentina, allegedly on the same Russian government plane used in the sting operation that snared Kovalchuk. And why did the Kremlin then deny that his aircraft (and possibly also Patrushev himself) had been involved in this drug-trafficking story?Whoever Andrei Kovalchuk is, or was, before his name appeared in bold multilingual print, his alleged coke-smuggling plan required a network of well-placed fixers and mules. He found his first alleged courier in an embassy. The First Mule?In 2012, Ali Abyanov, the head of the administrative and economics department at the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires, said he received a call from someone who introduced himself as Andrei Kovalchuk, a security officer at the Russian embassy in Berlin. According to the case files, Kovalchuk told his ostensible colleague that he’d be traveling to Argentina in the middle of the year and would very much like to meet. Abyanov later told Russian investigators that he didn’t know why this person had called him or why he wanted to meet him but he consented anyway. Kovalchuk must have made an excellent first impression because Abyanov agreed to drive him back to Buenos Aires International Airport by diplomatic car. Once they arrived at the airport Kovalchuk removed his luggage from the vehicle—all but one suitcase weighing between 25 and 30 kilograms. The heft, he told Abyanov, owed to the gustatory contents: wine, coffee grounds, and cookies. According to Abyanov’s interrogation, Kovalchuk then gave the property manager $1,000 and asked if he wouldn’t mind mailing the suitcase to Russia on Kovalchuk’s behalf at a later date. Abyanov said he took his new acquaintance’s word at face value and never opened the parcel. Around the end of year, Kovalchuk allegedly called Abyanov and told him it was time to send his package: a Russian cargo plane scheduled to fly to Moscow out of Montevideo, Uruguay, was leaving at the end of 2012 and his stuff should be on it. Montevideo is about a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Buenos Aires in good traffic, but Abyanov couriered the suitcase, then submitted it as cargo on the departing flight. The Argentinian ConnectionThe following year, 2013, Kovalchuk visited Argentina three times, now with an entirely different occupation. No longer a former security officer attached to the embassy in Berlin, he was now an employee of Gazprom, the Russian state-owned gas company. On one of these three trips, Kovalchuk met Nikolai Shelepov, the first secretary of the Russian embassy in Argentina, whose job is that of assistant head of security for the ambassador, a job often filled by an intelligence officer. They went to a cafe and Kovalchuk said he’d come to town to check on the “feasibility of Gazprom acquiring a historic building in the center of Buenos Aires,” according to Shelepov, who said Kovalchuk also boasted of his many contacts in the Russian Foreign Ministry.Shelepov was also sufficiently impressed with his vouched-for compatriot. He decided to introduce Kovalchuk to Ivan Bliznyuk, the liaison officer of the Institute of Public Safety, the point of contact for international relations at the Buenos Aires police academy. Bliznyuk is an Argentine of Russian heritage; he had three children but lived on a modest state wage and he “dreamed of finding a job with Gazprom,” according to Shelepov. As part of our investigation, we wrote to Bliznyuk about his role, and he confirmed that Kovalchuk had passed himself off as a Gazprom employee who needed a keyed-in local to help buy “a building in Buenos Aires for their headquarters... That’s why Shelepov invited me for a beer at a bar and introduced us to each other there.”According to the case files, Kovalchuk returned to Argentina in 2014, Abyanov told investigators, and handed off two more suitcases to his mule. He again told Abyanov they were filled with wine, coffee and cookies, only this time he had a special set of shipping instructions, as Abyanov recalled: “to pack the suitcases specially with paper, string and wax seal. Usually, this is how diplomatic mail is packed, which is not subject to inspection.” Kovalchuk is alleged to have paid $1,000 per suitcase. Abyanov might not have been the snooping type but nor was he under any illusions as to why he was so handsomely compensated, $1,000 goes a long way in Argentina. He sent them from Montevideo to Moscow aboard a Russian military transport plane. In his testimony to Russian investigators, Abyanov contradicted himself as to what he suspected he was transporting for Kovalchuk. First, in 2017, he said, he believed the packages contained “prohibited” items but in a separate interrogation, in 2019, he said he never suspected Kovalchuk was anything but above-board owing to his familiarity with “everyone at the embassy” and his frequent attendance at embassy receptions. The Policeman’s BallAt the invitation of the Russian Interior Ministry, a delegation of police officers from Buenos Aires, including Bliznyuk, traveled to Moscow. After the official ceremonies concluded, the guests decided to take a trip to St. Petersburg, and Bliznyuk was tasked with organizing the excursion. He asked Shelepov back at the embassy about how best to conduct a guided tour for the Spanish-speaking delegation of police officers , who are known as gendarmes in Argentina, through Russia’s cultural capital. Shelepov thought of Kovalchuk, the well-connected Gazprom rep, who was only too happy to help. He linked Bliznyuk up with one of his old friends and business associates from Germany, Baron Konstantin von Bossner. Konstanin Loskutnikov, as he was born, is a bearded bear of a man with more than a passing resemblance to Robbie Coltrane’s ex-KGB mafioso Valentin Zukovsky in the James Bond films. He owns a Berlin-based company, Bossner, which hawks chocolate, hand-rolled Nicaraguan and Dominican cigars, ostrich and python purses, crocodile shoes, Georgian wine, and its own signature brand of cognac, Bossner X.O. All of these products, the company website notes, are “designed to cause joy and positive emotions.” Bossner is as devoted to God as he is to bespoke leather accessories; he founded the Russian Orthodox Benefactors Club, a German-registered charity, in 2010, and was awarded the Order of Honor in Germany earlier this year for his philanthropic work. According to the investigative files, the Baron made sure Bliznyuk showed the Argentinian cops a good time. They were feted with Bossner staples—cognac, chocolate and cigars— and taken on a boating trip along the rivers and canals of Russia’s most European city. Kovalchuk at times portrayed himself as a representative of the Bossner company, someone who came into these many “samples” of booze and cigars, which he’d share with grateful officials and influencers from many nations. A letter from Bossner’s Russian Orthodox Benefactors Club, signed by Bossner, shows that Kovalchuk was an official representative of the Berlin-based charity. According to the wiretap transcripts, Kovalchuk even asked Bossner’s wife if she’d become his son’s godmother, an honor she accepted. Bossner, however, maintained throughout his Interior Ministry interrogations that he had no substantive relationship with Kovalchuk, whom he portrayed as a huckster and schnorrer, eager to lap up those free “samples” of the exile’s finest luxury goods as an advance on investments which never came. “Several years ago [Kovalchuk] was brought to my office by a high-ranking employee of Gazprom in Germany and introduced as a colonel, the head of the special services, who deals with consulates in Europe, Asia, Latin America and other rubbish,” Bossner told Germany’s OstWest TV in 2018. “Mr. Kovalchuk, like many others, tried our products, smoked our cigars, drank our cognac, then, over the years… asking for one sample, [then] another sample, [he told us] he will try to find a client, that he flies around to the whole world that he will try to organize the sale of our products, and naturally wants to make money on this. We are always open to any kind of cooperation, so it often comes from us samples of cigarettes and cognac, but not a single deal, not a single contract was concluded.”  A New Hiding Place, a New FriendKovalchuk flew back to Argentina three times in 2015, according to travel records. On his third trip, adhering to a now-established tradition, he gave Abyanov two suitcases and $2,000. Abyanov said he hid these away in a car garage attached to the embassy school where the diplomats sent their kids, awaiting Kovalchuk’s notice of when and how they should leave the country. In February 2016, a delegation of Russian policemen flew to Argentina as part of a kind of exchange program following the highly successful Argentinian delegation from the year before. Kovalchuk was in town and attended a reception in honor of the visiting officers at the Russian embassy. Abyanov said he introduced him to Oleg Vorobiev, the new first secretary and embassy security chief, who had replaced Shelepov. No longer a Gazprom rep, Kovalchuk was presented as a security official attached to the Russian Foreign Ministry.Kovalchuk relayed greetings to Vorobiev from his predecessor Shelepov, now back in Moscow. Vorobiev and Kovalchuk struck up a friendship and started to communicate. In March 2016, Kovalchuk told the security chief he’d been appointed the Berlin representative of Rossotrudnichestvo, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s cultural outreach arm, according to Vorobiev. (Vorobiev later told investigators that he never asked for nor saw a business card from Kovalchuk, even as the latter’s occupation morphed throughout their relationship.) An Impossible ScoreKovalchuk returned to Argentina several more times in the spring and summer of 2016, always stopping by the embassy, and, checking in to see Abyanov and Vorobiev, according to their statements to investigators. According to the Russian case files, including Abyanov’s statement to investigators, sometime in the middle of 2016, Kovalchuk gave 10 suitcases, all supposedly filled with wine and semiprecious gems, to Abyanov, who moved them to the same garage in the embassy school where he’d stowed the previous two. He asked another embassy employee to pack these suitcases as diplomatic mail. Abyanov then moved all 12 suitcases from the garage to a little-used utility room in the school. It was a seemingly ideal hiding spot, among broken tables, chairs, old computers and other junk.Each of the 12 suitcases, as would later be discovered, were filled with 30 briquettes of nearly undiluted cocaine, with each briquette containing a little over a kilogram. The value of 389 kilograms, the possible total weight in Kovalchuk’s alleged consignment, is around $60 million. Drug enforcement experts from multiple countries said that such a sizable score cannot have been purchased from local drug dealers. Kolvachuk, they said, would have needed a longstanding and trusted relationship with high-level narco traffickers to acquire and move that kind of volume. Neither the Argentinian nor Russian investigators tried to uncover the supply chain or find out how Kovalchuk, an alleged Russian spy, who had no significant sources of wealth, ended up with drugs worth tens of millions of dollars. Three types of cartel stamps—a star within a star, a horseshoe and the initials “LG”—were found on the briquettes. The first two are typically associated with the Sinaloa Cartel. Nothing in the Argentinian or Russian documents we have pored through indicates that this piece of evidence was investigated.  The Second Mule?On July 19, 2016, Abyanov’s embassy contract expired. A new property manager, Igor Rogov, took his place.Sometime during the month-long handover period, Abyanov says he told his successor about the presence of 12 boxes in the utility room, adding that he didn’t know what they contained but that they all belonged to Kovalchuk. Rogov didn’t know who Kovalchuk was and asked Abyanov about him. “Abyanov answered me that Kovalchuk is a person ‘from the center,’ that is, from the Russian Foreign Ministry,” Rogov told Russian investigators. “Abyanov spoke very well of Kovalchuk and said that Kovalchuk had visited Argentina many times and knew many people, including the embassy staff.”Several months went by. Then, in a Skype chat, Rogov said Abyanov asked him to send the suitcases to Moscow by special military plane, which was due to arrive at the Montevideo airport in early December 2016. Rogov needed help for the job. “I unsuccessfully turned to one or another embassy employee,” he told investigators, “eventually reaching the military attaché and even the Ambassador Viktor Koronelli."Koronelli had been ambassador since 2011, a year before Kovalchuk first made contact with Ali Abyanov. And yet, in spite of Kovalchuk’s frequent appearances at the embassy, Koronelli told investigators that he’d only met him once, in March 2016. It was at the request of Abyanov, who’d introduced Kovalchuk as a representative of the Russian Orthodox Benefactors Club, an employee, in other words, of Bossner’s charity. Kovalchuk took that occasion to name-drop several mutual friends and acquaintances, according to Ambassador Koronelli’s statement to investigators. Koronelli added that he never bothered to check on his interlocutor’s bona fides.“It’s incredibly easy to check on someone’s credentials from an embassy,” said Jan Neumann, a former FSB officer from Directorate K, the same financial crimes unit tasked with investigating the Kovalchuk case. Neumann defected to the United States in 2008 and became a CIA and FBI informant. “You put a call into Moscow. If the person you’re checking on claims to have been posted to another Russian mission, Moscow then calls that mission to verify he’s legit. All of this takes minutes. And it’s simply not possible that the head of security in the embassy in Argentina didn’t check on Kovalchuk. It’s a necessary protocol.”Koronelli’s term as ambassador to Argentina ended in June 2018, about four months after the cocaine scandal was publicized. Koronelli is now Russia’s ambassador to Mexico; he declined to comment on this story.According to the transcript of an Argentinian wiretap of Bliznyuk, Koronelli quarreled with Kovalchuk, a fact Koronelli did not recount to Russian investigators after saying he’d only met Kovalchuk once, casually, at the embassy. This conversation, dated Oct. 11, 2017, has never before been made public and undercuts Koronelli’s claim of a one-off encounter with the alleged primary drug smuggler. It also complicates the two Argentinian defendants’ role as alleged accomplices, as it suggests that Kovalchuk hadn’t paid Bliznyuk or Alexander Chikalo as part of the scheme.> Bliznyuk: Sanya [Alexander], we from Andriukha [Kovalchuk], neither I nor you, have not received a penny in all this time.> > Chikalo: Not once, nothing.> > Bliznyuk: Especially since the suitcases are at the embassy. First, the embassy issues... well, he [Kovalchuk] had a fight with Koronelli.> > Bliznyuk: Yes, the new ambassador will arrive soon.  A New Exit StrategyFor some reason, Kovalchuk allegedly changed his cocaine exfiltration scheme, and sped up the timeline. Instead of letting Rogov dispatch the suitcases by special military plane in December, Kovalchuk flew back to Argentina on Nov. 25 to retrieve the items himself. When he arrived, he spent a day roaming the city but stayed clear of the embassy, usually one of his first ports of call. It’s not known what he got up to that day, nor with whom, but the 24-hour interregnum cost him dearly.On Nov. 25, the day Kovalchuk touched down at Buenos Aires International Airport, Rogov finally told Vorobiev about the suitcases, according to Rogov’s testimony to Russian investigators. Vorobiev, he said, decided to check on their contents. He found the briquettes. “Vorobiev ripped the packaging off one of them, and we saw a compressed white powder inside,” Rogov said in his interrogation. “We realized that it could be drugs.”Vorobiev then notified Ambassador Koronelli, according to the Russian case files. Koronelli phoned the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow. The 9th Division of the K-Directorate of the Economic Security Service of FSB and the 14th Division of the Main Drug Control Directorate of the Interior Ministry opened an investigation. Except the Russian government hasn't kept the story of how it unfolded straight.Most of the files from the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office indicate that the suitcases of cocaine were officially “found”—meaning through a purposive search for them, not an accidental discovery—on the evening of Dec. 8, 2016, when, at the direction of the Foreign Ministry, embassy staff reopened them. The staff did so, according to these files, in the presence of FSB representatives who had flown to Buenos Aires from Moscow after Koronelli alerted the Foreign Ministry. And yet, in one FSB document the suitcases are recorded as having been “found” on Dec. 4 and opened the next day. That document makes no mention of FSB representatives from Moscow being present for this earlier unveiling. A similar discrepancy concerns the total weight of the evidence. Depending on which document you’re looking at, the 12 suitcases contain amounts of cocaine ranging from 357 to 389 kilograms, a shortfall of 32 kilograms, or $5 million worth of cocaine. (The true weight may never be known: In August 2018, the Argentinians burnt all the cocaine in accordance with what they say were the protocols of evidence destruction.) “Under the Federal Rules for Evidence, the date discrepancy and the weight discrepancy would potentially jeopardize any criminal prosecution of those responsible,” the U.S. drug enforcement agent said. “The evidence is not exact and the drug amount and weight need to be verified and weighed by a laboratory and a clear chain of custody must be intact. The Argentinian-Russian case reeks of evidence mishandling... of the investigation and prosecution.” The SwitcherooOn the evening of Dec. 13, Koronelli had a meeting with Patricia Bullrich, the Argentinian security minister, formally briefing her about the presence of hundreds of kilos of cocaine in the Russian embassy. At the same meeting, according to the case files, Vorobiev suggested to his Argentine counterparts that one of the smugglers was likely Ivan Bliznyuk, the point-man at the Argentinian police academy.On Dec. 14, a special operation was launched by the Argentinian gendarmerie to catch the domestic side of this narco-trafficking ring. The 12 suitcases were removed from the embassy and loaded onto a pickup truck and driven to a police facility. They recorded the procedure. There, the cases were opened, and the drugs were weighed. The officers then swapped the cocaine for a mixture of sand and flour, repackaged in bags rather than briquettes, and resealed everything as it had been. The suitcases were then returned to the embassy, where the gendarmes installed three cameras on the school premises. GPS systems were allegedly placed inside suitcases.Argentinian law enforcement opened their own criminal investigation and tapped Bliznyuk’s phones as well as those of Chikalo, a close friend and sometime neighbor in Buenos Aires. These wiretaps soon established that both men were in constant communication with Andrei Kovalchuk. So Russian authorities subsequently tapped Kovalchuk’s phones. The Smuggler’s DilemmaThe alleged main actor in what was now a seemingly compromised smuggling ring is accused of spending the next year or so attempting different exfiltration schemes. One, for instance, involved bringing Russian cadets to Argentina on a trip bankrolled by the fun-loving Bossner, the idea being that the cadets would fly home with undeclared cargo, easily explained away as souvenirs or somesuch. For various reasons, all of Kovalchuk’s alleged gambits fizzled. Then, on Oct. 11, 2017, he notified Vorobiev and Rogov he was coming back to Buenos Aires himself, unaware they were now part of a government plot to catch him.The FSB and Interior Ministry investigators weren’t quite ready to close the net. Instead, they ordered Rogov to leave town on a business trip to the coastal city of Mar del Plata, leaving Kovalchuk without his only keymaster for the embassy school utility room. We know what happened when Kovalchuk arrived in Buenos Aires because we have the wiretaps of Bliznyuk and Chikalo discussing it on Oct. 11. Kovachulk, Bliznyuk said on the phone, had asked him to move suitcases he’d left at the embassy in exchange for $10,000. Bliznyuk told Chikalo that Kovalchuk had said the cases contained “sea lion skins” from Uruguay that could be sold at high prices in Russia and Germany. Judging from their conversation, Bliznyuk and Chikalo clearly thought Kovalchuk was untrustworthy and suspect; Bliznyuk told his friend he’d have no part in Kovalchuk’s nutty scheme. We also know what Bliznyuk did next, based on another wiretap: he immediately called Vorobiev on Oct. 12, a day after his conversation with Chikalo, to tell the embassy security chief about Kovalchuk’s solicitation and the presence of suspicious parcels on embassy grounds, which Bliznyuk said probably contained “forbidden elements.” Vorobiev was now part of the sting operation to catch Kovalchuk and so he played dumb, casting doubt on the story. But on that same call Vorobiev asked Bliznyuk if the latter intended to help Kovalchuk, to which Bliznyuk answered, “Can’t do it and that’s all. Why would I mess with this?” The Latvian DeceptionAs Kovalchuk allegedly saw it, he was running out of time and willing or available intermediaries to get his drugs out of Argentina. Investigators claim that Kovalchuk first turned to a familiar pretext: the largesse of Baron Konstanin von Bossner when it came to spoiling friendly foreigners. According to this stratagem, an embassy car would drive to the airport to collect Bossner’s cognac and chocolate intended for the Argentinian policemen from the St. Petersburg delegation. The “gifts” would be flown to Buenos Aires from Berlin, where Bossner’s office was, on a private jet. For the return flight, Kovalchuk’s “sea lion skins” and the supposed paraphernalia of diplomats—in reality, the drugs—would allegedly be loaded onboard. Except the jet wasn’t flying directly to Berlin. First it would land in Riga, Latvia, where Kovalchuk allegedly said he had cronies who’d move the goods past customs without any problem. Flying on to Berlin would then mean facing no inspection hurdle owing to the European Union’s Schengen area of unrestricted travel across borders. One of Kovalchuk’s  business partners in Moscow, Ishtimir Khudjamov, said he was asked to help with the operation. On Oct. 14, 2017, Khudjamov flew to Berlin and picked up a box of cognac and sweets from Bossner’s office. To justify the stopover in Riga on the way back, Khudjamov said he picked up something else: three Latvian nationals who weren’t told of their real role as decoys in a drug-running operation. Instead, Khudjamov told the Latvians to pose as a technical crew attached to Zvezda, the Russian Defense Ministry’s TV station. All they knew was that they’d be delivering the gifts to Argentina, then transporting things on the way home. (Khudjamov now pleads innocence and ignorance to being a narcotrafficker at all; he told Russian investigators that Kovalchuk had claimed the return cargo was a rare and expensive brand of coffee beans.)The problem was Rogov was still away on his concocted “business trip” when the Bossner presents were due to arrive. And, as the property manager was still the only one who could access the utility room in the embassy school, investigators allege Kovalchuk couldn’t retrieve his drugs on time. On Oct. 18, the jet left Buenos Aires, light of the cognac and chocolate, but also any coke.Although it was a bust, the plan demonstrated Kovalchuk’s well-honed tradecraft. The TrapLess than a month later, on Nov. 8, Kovalchuk called Rogov and Vorobiev and told them he’d be back in Argentina in two days. This time Rogov wasn’t told to feign a work excursion. With Vorobiev's permission, he met Kovalchuk and told him the suitcases could be shipped aboard a Russian government aircraft the following month. Around the same time, Kovalchuk spoke to Khudjamov, according to Argentinian wiretaps. They discussed “200 kilograms” without specifying the substance (although we can probably guess) which were somewhere in Uruguay. Kovalchuk said he wanted that consignment flown out of Buenos Aires on the Russian plane.He was finally in luck, or so it may have seemed. On Nov. 13, his suitcases found themselves entered onto the manifest. His luggage was supposed to be transferred by RA-96023, a newish Ilyushin-96 long-haul airliner operated by Russia’s Special Flight Detachment, the property, no less, of Russia’s Presidential Administration used most frequently by Nikolai Patrushev. Patrushev is one of the most influential members of the Kremlin inner circle and a decision-maker when it comes to Russian foreign policy. He succeeded Vladimir Putin as director of the FSB when Putin was appointed prime minister of Boris Yeltsin’s government in 1999. Patrushev is now Secretary of the National Security Council and RA-96023 is so associated with his overseas jaunts that it’s colloquially known in Russia as “Patrushev’s plane.”On Feb. 27, 2018 Yelena Krylova, the spokesperson for Russia’s Presidential Affairs Directorate, denied that the aircraft was involved in the “cocaine case.” “Journalists made conclusions based on inaccurate information—in this case, photographs that can be easily falsified thanks to modern technology,” Krylova said. Her denial, however, contradicts what’s in the Argentinian case file, according to which the FSB informed Buenos Aires as early as Nov. 17, 2017 that Patrushev’s plane was to be used for the special operation. The plane number 96023 is clearly visible not only in the photographs publicly released by the Argentinian gendarmerie but also in the video, uploaded on their official YouTube channel on Feb. 23, 2018. The Argentinian files also confirm that RA-96023 was indeed used “during the visit” of Patrushev to Argentina, suggesting that’s how the Russian official got there and back. Yet someone in the Russian government doesn’t want this fact to be publicly acknowledged. Shortly after Russian media reports surfaced about Patrushev’s plane possibly being used in a covert drug bust, the website with the relevant flight data,, went offline. Moreover, the creator of that website removed the group from VKontakte, a popular social media network, as well as his personal VKontakte page and a sister portal,, dedicated to tracking seafaring vessels. “I just took it all and deleted it, maybe something didn’t work out right there,” the website operator, identified as “Kiba,” said in an interview with independent Russian outlet Mediazona. “I’m a little tense now, so I went and removed it, I don’t want to set anyone up.” Patrushev’s plane was scheduled to arrive from Moscow on Dec. 4, delivering Patrushev for one of those jaunts, a visit to Argentina. It was scheduled to return to Moscow with the national security secretary on board on Dec. 6. This is the conveyance Kovalchuk allegedly thought wise to transport almost 400 kilos of high-grade cocaine across multiple time zones.On Nov. 15, Kovalchuk and Khudjamov left Argentina. Shortly before departing, Kovalchuk spoke to Rogov and made a few final touches to his plan. He allegedly asked him to remove from the suitcases the name of the Russian diplomat they ostensibly belonged to: Alexander Nezimov, the deputy director of the consular department of the Foreign Ministry. Kovalchuk allegedly instructed Rogov to simply write Kovalchuk’s Russian telephone number on the cases and use the abbreviation “CD,” likely standing for “Corps Diplomatique,” which is carried by all diplomatic licenses overseas.On Dec. 4, Vorobiev drove the suitcases filled with sand and flour to Buenos Aires International Airport and loaded them onto Patrushev’s Ilyushin. There is every indication, based on both the public record and the Argentinian case files, that Patrushev was on board the plane when it departed Argentina for Russia, making the former FSB director and one of Putin’s most trusted national security advisers a party to the sting operation. “A Close Partnership”On the morning of Dec. 7, Patrushev’s plane touched down in Moscow. So did the suitcases allegedly belonging to Kovalchuk, which were sent directly to an FSB storage facility. The next day the FSB called Kovalchuk’s telephone number, scrawled on the cargo. He picked up; the FSB officer on the other end introduced himself as a courier from the Foreign Ministry and asked about the pickup. Kovalchuk said his associate Vladimir Kalmykov would come to collect the parcels. On Dec. 9, Argentinian gendarmes arrived in Russia to assume their role in the special operation to snatch the smugglers.On Dec. 12, Kalmykov and Khudjamov arrived at a Foreign Ministry facility to take custody of the suitcases. They were immediately arrested by the FSB. According to documents from the Prosecutor General’s Office, the intended recipient of the suitcases could be in Belgium or the Netherlands. Yet no attempt was made to look for them. Moreover, a Dutch mobile phone number allegedly affiliated with the ultimate beneficiary of the cargo was never investigated. On the evening that Kalmykov and Khudjamov were nabbed, Ali Abyanov, the former property manager of the embassy in Buenos Aires, was also arrested at his apartment in Moscow. Kovalchuk wasn’t, however, as he was abroad.According to a source in his company at the time, he remained remarkably calm. When his friends advised him to flee to a country with no extradition treaty with Russia, he insisted he had nothing to worry about. On Dec. 19, Moscow declared Kovalchuk a wanted man at home and internationally. Interpol issued a “red notice” for his arrest.  Despite the arrests of Kalmykov, Abyanov, and Khudjamov in Russia, the Argentine suspects remained at large for several months. Ivan Bliznyuk even took a vacation with his wife to Italy before he and Alexander Chikalo were arrested in late February 2018. Bliznyuk, in fact, was taken into custody at the airport as he returned home. A day later, Bullrich, the national security minister, issued the statement about the discovery of cocaine in the Russian embassy. Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson of the Russian Foreign Ministry, followed suit the next day, announcing an 18 month-long joint operation to disrupt a narcotrafficking syndicate. “As the investigation discovered,” Zakharova’s statement read, “the cargo belonged to a former maintenance worker who had by that time completed his fixed term employment contract,” referring solely to Abyanov. “This experience serves as further evidence of the close partnership that has developed between our countries in different areas, including law enforcement.” On March 1, Kovalchuk was arrested in Germany. A month later Berlin received a request about his extradition to Russia. Several days after filing that request, however, Russia’s Federal Migration Service found that Kovalchuk was not, in fact, a citizen of the country. All three of his Russian passports had been issued illegally, a wrinkle which didn’t interfere with his extradition proceedings. On July 27, Kovalchuk was flown to Moscow from Germany and was immediately remanded to the Matrosskaya Tishina detention center.The Argentines burnt all the cocaine the following month. According to Bliznuyk’s lawyer, they did so without a court order and in a civilian crematorium when a gendarmerie crematorium would have typically been used for such purposes. As of this writing the Argentinian prosecution has yet to provide Bliznyuk’s counsel with evidence of a proper court order for the evidence destruction.Actions in Buenos Aires should also have repercussions in Moscow. According to the Russian Criminal Procedural Code, evidence must be stored until a court order to destroy it is in force. Thus, the cases against Kovalchuk, Abyanov, Kalmykov and Khudjamov is set to be heard without the main evidence against them in existence.Germany, too, has questions to answer as to how and why it sent one of these defendants to Russia. Kovalchuk is a “stateless person,” according to Sergey Safonov, a senior prosecutor of the criminal and judicial department of the Moscow prosecutor’s office. And yet, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office consistently referred to him as a citizen of the Russian Federation in several requests made for his extradition. Alexander Hamburg, one of his lawyers in Germany, said Kovalchuk was extradited through an accelerated procedural mechanism that robbed him of the necessary time to file an appeal.  The Talented Mr. KovalchukThe criminal case against Andrei Kovalchuk gives him no nationality; it simply states he was born in Hertz. It does, however, note that on his various passport applications, Kovalchuk filled in Form No. 1P as having no definite place of residence and no form of employment—yet he was still granted three different Russian passports. Hertz is in the Chernivtsi region of Ukraine; Kovalchuk was born there in 1968. In 1986 he was drafted into the army in Kaliningrad; two years later he graduated from the 75th paratrooper school in Kirov, and then served for a year as a technician at the aviation school in Barnaul. He was officially discharged from the Soviet military in March 1989 for unknown reasons.His whereabouts and his activities disappeared into a black hole for about 10 years until he turned up in Germany in the late ’90s. Kovalchuk registered for a correspondence course in psychology at St. Petersburg State University. He stopped his higher education after only a few classes, according to the university’s psychology department chief, who said there was a rumor circulating at the time that Kovalchuk might have been arrested.According to the testimony of his friend Vadim Zhmurov, Kovalchuk next claimed to work as a security officer at the Russian embassy in Berlin in 2000. Witnesses interrogated by the Interior Ministry say that in the mid-2000s Kovalchuk lived in Amsterdam with his sister Irina Kuzmenko and her daughter Anastasia. There he met his first wife, Nadezhda Sorokina. In 2006, the entire family relocated to Germany, where Kovalchuk and Sorokina rented an apartment in the building used by Rossotrudnichestvo, the Russian Foreign Ministry science and cultural arm.At some point in his Berlin period, Kovalchuk is accused of beginning to move goods through diplomatic channels. Irina, his sister, owned Irgotrade GmbH, a cargo transportation company registered in Berlin, which Kovalchuk allegedly used to embark on his smuggling career. On several occasions, his ventures were foiled. In August 2011, employees of Irgotrade tried to ferry 3.7 tons of goods, including 216 kilograms of silver, medicine, jewelry, and clothing, from Latvia to Russia. All of the freight, the company claimed, belonged to Sergei Sedykh, an employee of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Sedykh’s signature was even on the declarations presented to Latvian border guards, who confiscated the contraband and impounded the vehicle. In Russia, two criminal investigations were opened. A customs official was arrested and the jewelry company listed as one of the intended buyers of the cargo was ordered to pay a fine of about $47,000.Sedykh denied all responsibility. He said he hadn’t given anyone a power of attorney to move items on his behalf, nor had he filled out a declaration and signed any documents. He couldn’t say how the driver of the car had got a copy of his diplomatic passport. He didn’t have to: Sedykh was neither investigated nor fired from his job at the Foreign Ministry. He’s not alone in this respect; officials caught helping Kovalchuk with his illicit schemes have often mysteriously been given the all-clear by the Russian authorities. Friends in High PlacesA trio of high-ranking officials in the Consular Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow—Alexander Dudka, Lev Pausin and Alexander Nezimov—all facilitated Kovalchuk’s alleged contraband business, according to their own testimonies contained in the Russian case files. All of them—individually or collectively—accorded Kovalchuk privileged information about the movement of special government transports; issued him passes to roam around sensitive ministry facilities; introduced him to others who would act as fixers; and provided him with other material assistance in what they must have at least suspected was a blackmarket business. To Dudka, the chief adviser of the Consular Department, Kovalchuk was a self-declared technical officer for Rossotrudnichestvo in Berlin, the Foreign Ministry’s cultural outreach agency. He told Russian investigators that he met Kovalchuk in Berlin in 2011 while on a “business trip.” Then, in December 2017, shortly before the dozen suitcases of flour and sand arrived in Moscow, Dudka said Kovalchuk asked him to find a diplomatic vehicle to transport “12 boxes” from Russia to Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. Dudka subsequently gave Kovalchuk the relevant schedules of Foreign Ministry vehicles driving along those routes. How a Soviet Triple Agent Recruited New Spies in the WestDespite his admission that he allowed Kovalchuk to requisition government vehicles for alleged international smuggling, Dudka is still employed at the Russian Foreign Ministry.Kovalchuk named Alexander Nezimov, the deputy director of the Consular Department, as one of his “bosses,” without specifying what he meant by that term. “Goodbye, no comments,” Nezimov said when reached for comment on this story.The other alleged boss, Peter Polshikov, was the chief adviser of the Latin American Department of the Foreign Ministry. He was found dead in Moscow in December 2016, three weeks after the discovery of the cocaine in the embassy. Polshikov had been shot in the head; an automatic pistol was found next to his corpse, outside his apartment. Authorities ruled it a suicide. Polshikov’s neighbors recalled that before his death he had been acting strangely and had stopped communicating with his friends.  The ‘Spy’ Who Loved ManyKovalchuk serially and convincingly posed as an intelligence officer, the Russian case file states, either attached to the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, or the GRU, its military intelligence service. But the official Russian report concluded he was really neither. “In the light of these events, relevant inquiries were made to those institutions and agencies, the responses of which indicated that Kovalchuk is not an employee of the Russian Foreign Ministry, is not an employee of any law enforcement agency of Russia, and is not a representative in foreign institutions of Russia. Kovalchuk used his cunning and ingenuity for his personal, selfish purposes, in most cases achieving the results he needed.”Several of his contacts still maintain he was a spy. Sergey Borshchev at the Nakhimov Naval School of the Russian Ministry of Defense, the school that sent the Russian cadets to Argentina, thought Kovalchuk was an officer of the SVR. “According to Kovalchuk,” Borshchev told investigators, “he often came [to Russia] to work in the Russian Foreign Ministry, to meet with top officials of the Ministry, as well as to the SVR. Also, I had no doubts about his service, since he would often bring gifts from the SVR: calendars, key rings and other gifts with the symbols of the SVR.” Russian army officer Mikhail Kazantsev met Kovalchuk in 2011 when Kovalchuk’s nephew was serving in Kazantsev’s unit, 3641. Kazantsev told investigators that, in 2015, Kovalchuk offered him an opportunity to transport “goods other than food” from Germany to Russia using diplomatic channels. Kazantsev, too, believed Kovalchuk was a Russian intelligence officer and even claimed to have seen his SVR ID: “I believed Kovalchuk, as he spoke very convincingly, and when we met, he once showed me an ID card of an officer of the SVR, where his photograph was, and the rank of colonel was indicated. I would like to clarify that I perceived this document as genuine and not a fake.”There is plenty of circumstantial evidence to suggest that Kovalchuk may have been entangled in some way with Russia’s vast national security apparatus. In his pretrial sessions in Moscow, media and relatives of all the defendants were removed from the courtroom to maintain secrecy. According to the Russian Code of Criminal Procedure, a closed trial is permitted if the case concerns minors, sexual inviolability or state secrets, or if an open hearing may threaten the safety of the participants in the process. Regarding the “cocaine case,” as it’s commonly known in Moscow, there was no hint of the first two preconditions; only the last two could have plausibly served as grounds to keep the press and families out of the courtroom.  Out of the Embassy, Into the ShadowsJan Neumann, the FSB defector, said he sees one of two likely scenarios for what really happened, based on plot holes and elisions in the Argentinian and Russian investigations. “The first scenario: Russian intelligence was tracking a narcotrafficking network from South America to Russia and the whole sting operation was compromised, possibly through leaks. So they hastily covered everything up with this elaborate show involving Patrushev’s plane. “The second scenario: Russian intelligence was using one of its agents and his narco-trafficking network in South America to finance its own clandestine operations. It’s not uncommon for the Russian services to engage in questionable behavior to keep a ‘black budget’ going for something highly classified and sensitive.”Inside the KGB’s Super Power DivisionIf scenario two is closer to the reality, we may never know what that “something” is or was intended to be. In any event, the shadow cast over this remarkable crime saga far exceeds any light that’s been shone on it by two separate governments. As we’ve seen, wiretaps show that Ivan Bliznyuk and Alexander Chikalo talked freely with each other about how they hadn’t received any money from Kovalchuk in all the time they knew him; they described him as a chancer and liar who tried to convince them that his 12 suitcases contained sea lion skins, not drugs. If Bliznyuk and Chikalo were his witting accomplices, as Argentine prosecutors argue, then why would Kovalchuk have lied to them about the material he was trying to export? And why did Bliznyuk, who declined Kovalchuk’s alleged offer of $10,000 to help move the suitcases, quickly alert Vorobiev, the embassy security official, to their presence on embassy grounds? It was Blizynuk, the evidence in the wiretaps shows, who blew the whistle on a drug-smuggling operation he declined to be a part of. Yet he and Chikalo nevertheless await trial on narco-trafficking charges.We still don’t know who, exactly, Andrei Kovalchuk is or who he worked for. Is he the Slavic George Jung, a charismatic and unlikely cocaine smuggler who managed to suborn diplomats and cops with smooth talk, mutable covers, and modest bribes? Was he an asset or officer of one of Russia’s spy agencies? A con man? A patsy?  Or he is that postmodern commonplace in Vladimir Putin’s “mafia state”: a forbidding combination of all of the above?Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. 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    Sun, 20 Sep 2020 04:56:43 -0400
  • Did Robert F. Smith use Black America? news

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  • Bahrain says foiled 'terrorist attack' backed by Iran in early 2020

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  • A Louisville judge ordered the federal courthouse to close as officials are expected to announce a decision in Breonna Taylor investigation news

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  • The daily business briefing: September 21 , 2020

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    Mon, 21 Sep 2020 07:33:00 -0400
  • Susan Collins says the president elected on November 3 should be the one to pick the next Supreme Court justice news

    Sen. Susan Collins stopped short of refusing to vote on a nominee before the election — she merely said she believed it would be most fair to wait.

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  • Trump touts herd immunity approach to COVID-19 that experts warn would kill millions of people news

    "'Herd immunity' without a vaccine is deadly," said one epidemiologist. "Trump's idiocy on science is killing us"

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  • Coronavirus: WHO sets rules for testing African herbal remedies news

    Sound science "will be the sole basis" for safe and effective therapies to be adopted, the WHO says.

    Sun, 20 Sep 2020 09:31:09 -0400
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