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Swiss bank handled sale from Russian bioweapons company

by Lucy Komis­ar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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