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Investigative Stories from Ukraine: Russia spies in EU with its embassies’ satellite dishes, media find

by Alexander Khrebet April 25, 2023 2:41 PM 5 min read
Russian embassies in Europe use antennas for surveillance, espionage. (Credit: Mart Nigola/Delfi Estonia)
This audio is created with AI assistance

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Top investigative stories

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Media: Russian embassies in Europe install antennas for surveillance, espionage


Close to 200 satellite dishes on the rooftops of 39 Russian diplomatic missions throughout Europe are spying for Moscow, a cross-border investigation by nine European media outlets found.

The dishes and a series of pole antennas capable of intercepting national security signals are part of a large network of espionage and surveillance by Russia, according to the report.

Delfi, De Tijd, Expressen, Frontstory, Icjk, Lrt, VSquare, and Dossier Center reported these antennas are able to intercept radio signals and mobile phone data. They can allegedly listen to calls through mobile phone networks.

The most number of antennas can be found in Brussels, where the European Union and NATO are headquartered. There are at least 17 antennas on the roofs of the Russian embassy in Brussels.

The devices installed in the Russian embassy in Brussels are capable of intercepting conversations in neighboring countries, according to the report.

These surveillance devices allegedly allow Russia to deal with the expulsions of Russian diplomats, often reported as spies, according to the Dossier Center.

Since Russia started its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022, around 400 Russian diplomats have been expelled from European countries.

In addition, Russian surveillance vessels “Alpinist” and “Vishnia” are picking up electronic signals from NATO ships and attempting to intercept sensitive information, an unnamed Lithuanian military counterintelligence officer told the journalists.

Read the full story in English here.

RFE/RL: Oligarch Kolomoisky reportedly owns castle, apartments in France

A Ukrainian oligarch owns a 15th-century castle and several apartments in France registered under his sister’s French companies, according to Schemes, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s investigative project.

Larysa Chertok, the sister of oligarch Igor Kolomoisky reportedly owns six apartments, two basements, and two parking slots near the iconic site in Paris, Eiffel Tower, and a castle called Château de Buffavens in Lully in southeastern France, the report said.

The U.S. sanctioned Kolomoisky and investigated him for alleged fraud and money laundering. He may have been stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship last summer.

Apartments and other property in Paris bought in 2018 are owned by companies called Beethoven VI and Beethoven III. Both were established by the Chertok-owned Beethoven Holding, an entity from Monaco — a famous tax haven, according to the investigation.

Château de Buffavens and its 109,000 square meters of territory, are owned by SCI DE Buffavent, a company created by another one of Chertok’s Monaco firms, Lully Real Estate.

Chertok’s company bought the chateau in 2014 from Oksana Palytsia, the wife of Ihor Palytsia, Kolomoisky’s reported business partner at the time, according to the investigation.

Chertok also reportedly owns a chalet named Panda at the highest and most expensive part of Courchevel ski resort in France.

Read the full story in the Ukrainian language via the link.

OCCRP: Cyprus company helps sanctioned Russian oligarch move funds

Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev allegedly dodged sanctions with the help of a Cypriot corporate services firm, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) reported.

Malofeev was able to shift tens of millions of dollars worth of debt between his shell companies, helped by a trust provider from Cyprus, which got him around the U.S. and the EU sanctions imposed on him, leaked documents revealed.

In 2014, the U.S. and EU blacklisted Malofeev, founder of Russia’s propaganda outlet Tsargrad TV, for financing Russian-backed proxies in eastern Ukraine.

Cyprus is known for not being strict when it comes to enforcing sanctions.

Companies in the EU are prohibited from doing business with people under EU sanctions, but one Cypriot company kept working with Malofeev, according to leaked documents.

Back in 2005, Malofeev established a company, Tinello Investments Limited through the Cypriot corporate services provider MeritServus. An agreement was made for a subsidiary of MeritServus, called FinServus, to manage Tinello on Malofeev’s behalf.

From 2014 to as late as 2017, MeritServus helped Malofeev shuffle millions in loans between Tinello and his other entities.

Tinello and MeritServus may have violated sanctions, experts told OCCRP.

The U.K. imposed sanctions on MeritServus and its managing director for acting on behalf of Roman Abramovich, an oligarch from the Kremlin inner circle. OCCRP reported on MeritServus’ link to Abramovich in January.

Read the full story in English here.

Washington Post: Kremlin influences anti-war coalition in Germany to oppose support for Ukraine

Russia has reportedly tried to foster a coalition between Germany's far-left and the far-right to oppose support for Ukraine and encourage negative attitudes toward the West, according to The Washington Post.

The Post reviewed the Kremlin’s papers on recorded meetings among its officials and Russian political strategists on how to unite the Left Party and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) on pro-Russian narratives.

The files were first obtained by the unnamed European intelligence service.

In August 2022, Russian political strategists were tasked to persuade Germans they were being harmed financially by sanctions against Russia and to discredit the EU, the U.S., the U.K., and NATO, according to the report.

Papers also revealed that Russian strategists collected information about "peace protests" in Germany that were organized by the far-left and the far-right. The German Reichsbürger movement was among the organizers of those protests.

The Reichsbürger movement was allegedly implicated in a failed plot to overthrow the German government and install a new one.

The Russian strategists created the slogans such as "buy (Russian) gas, not war," and "Ukraine wants war, Germany wants peace." The slogans were featured at the pro-Russian rallies in Germany and shared online in coordination with troll farms, according to the report.

Another one of the Kremlin’s files suggested there was a goal to boost the share of Germans who support improved ties with Moscow by 10% within three months.

Read the full report in English here.

Recognition

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Kyiv Independent investigation shortlisted for European Press Prize

The Kyiv Independent's investigation into alleged wrongdoings in Ukraine’s International Legion has been shortlisted for the European Press Prize in the Special Award: Ukraine Reporting category.

The short list was announced at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, on April 20.

The European Press Prize "celebrates the highest achievements in European journalism” and has been awarded to journalists and media since 2012. The 2023 edition of the prize selected 30 articles and projects to the six categories among submissions from 40 countries.

In addition to the five usual categories of Distinguished Reporting, Investigative Reporting, Innovation, Public Discourse, and Migration Journalism, the prize this year created a new category called Special Award: Ukraine Reporting.

The International Legion was established following the full-scale Russian invasion for foreigners to defend Ukraine.

The international soldiers interviewed for the investigation spoke of the leadership's abuse, theft, and orders to conduct what soldiers described as “suicide missions.” After failing to get a response from Ukrainian law enforcement, the parliament, and President Volodymyr Zelensky's Office, they contacted journalists as a last resort.

Read the investigation here.

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