Friday, June 18, 2010

Meet the Israeli Intelligence Services That ‘Protect’ Panama

The SPI gets trained to shoot Arabs. Photo by the Presidencia

Who is this security firm that Martinelli hired?

by Eric Jackson

Since an alleged plot to kidnap him that was said to involve at least one member of the SPI presidential guard, President Martinelli has been watched over by Israelis as well as Panamanians and has announced the hiring of an Israeli firm to train Panama's elite bodyguards and national security apparatus. There have been a number of published reports that this involves current or former members of Israel's external spy and assassination agency, the Mossad. It's an emotional allegation, given that when the Mossad last had a relationship with the Panamanian government, through its former Latin America station chief Mike Harari, its job with the Noriega regime was to conduct a bloody purge of suspected disloyal elements within the Panama Defense Forces and to organize a thuggish "anti-terrorism" unit that abducted and killed a couple of non-combatant US citizens during the 1989 invasion.

It seems, however, that this time the suspicion falls upon the wrong Israeli paramilitary organization. The Martinelli administration identifies the Israeli company it hired as MLM Protection Ltd. Israel's leading newspaper, Ha'aretz, identifies the company as a 2003 creation of Sharon Botzer and Ofer Bar, former officers with the VIP protection service of Israel's "internal" security police, the Shin Bet. (Quotation marks are used around "internal" because Shin Bet's beat includes the occupied Palestinian territories, where it has frequently been accused of torture and assassination techniques.)

So is MLM Protection Ltd a private company, or a front for the Israeli government? Given the nature of Israel's mixed economy and especially the workings of its arms and security industries, this would not be an easy question to answer. Formally private, the company is advertised on the Israeli Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor (MOITAL) website. In that ad the company boasts of "broad expertise and operational experience accumulated within the framework of the Israel General Security Service (Israeli Secret Service)." The company offers consulting, training, security guards, technology and equipment to potential clients.

MLM Protection is not in the news a lot, but back in 2008 it was mentioned in relation to business dealings with a company called ML1 - International Trading Company, Ltd. It seems that in a stint between government jobs, and then later when he was a member of the Knesset, far-right Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman was on the payroll of ML1, which on the books is owned by his 20-something daughter. He was making an average of more than $25,000 per month from M.L.1 while out of office, but what goods or services the company actually produced or sold was a mystery. The payments to Avigdor Lieberman continued after he took his parliamentary seat, and that's a problem under Israeli law because members of the Knesset are not supposed to hold other employment. The police began investigating and the payments that Lieberman received were characterized as "severance pay" --- for three years of work, spread out over two years. 

In the investigation it was revealed that one of the companies with which ML1 did business was MLM Protection --- for what was never made entirely clear, but it appeared to be for security services to Lieberman's racist Yisrael Beiteinu party. Depending on the details of the transaction, that could be another scandal, Lieberman's private profiteering from a political party that he controls.

The police recommended that Avigdor Lieberman be prosecuted for fraud and money laundering, but by that time Israel was in another political crisis, about to go to war in Gaza and headed for new elections, so the matter was put on the back burner for political expediency. It's still lingering out there, and could be all the more explosive because Lieberman's now the Israeli foreign minister --- with whom, it should be presumed, Ricardo Martinelli has public and possibly private dealings.


Avigdor Lieberman, Ricardo Martinelli and Juan Carlos Varela. Photo by the Presidencia

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