Iran Interlink, May 31 2021:… The State Department formally removed the MEK from the Foreign Terrorist List in September 2012. In May 2013, the first MEK members began arriving in Albania. Three tranches of ten million dollars were paid to the Albanian government. Some of which was intended to build an Institute for the De-Radicalisation of extremists, including the MEK. This was not established or created. Berisha Requested MEK Delisting
Berisha Requested MEK Delisting
Berisha admits asking Clinton to delist MEK
In May, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken banned Sali Berisha, former President of Albania, from entering the US on grounds of corruption. In a video speech, Berisha went on to defend himself. Remarkably, in the video he admits that he asked former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to remove the MEK from the US terrorism list before he would accept the group in Albania. The State Department formally removed the MEK from the Foreign Terrorist List in September 2012. In May 2013, the first MEK members began arriving in Albania. Three tranches of ten million dollars were paid to the Albanian government. Some of which was intended to build an Institute for the De-Radicalisation of extremists, including the MEK. This was not established or created.
As an organised crime group, the MEK lost no time in making itself at home in Albania – a country notorious for its three major mafia families and corrupt government and state institutions. The MEK bribed, intimidated and flouted its way into the Albanian system. This enabled the MEK to build a closed, military-style camp in which the enslaved members are held, and bend Albania’s foreign policy to its own agenda.
Meanwhile, after the MEK settled in Albania, Berisha and other politicians found lucrative work in advocating for the group. Berisha regularly spoke in the MEK rallies in Paris and, after Maryam Rajavi was expelled from the EU, in Albania. In 2019, Berisha boasted that by backing the MEK, he had chosen the right side.
It appears, however, that Secretary Blinken takes a different view of ‘the right side’ and has found Berisha on the wrong, corrupt, side.
Berisha Requested MEK Delisting
Maryam Rajavi Corrupt Advocate , Albanian Sali Berisha Under Sanction
Euro News May 22 2021:… The US State Department on Wednesday sanctioned former Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha and his immediate family members, citing “involvement in significant corruption.” . “In his official capacity as Prime Minister of Albania in particular, Berisha was involved in corrupt acts, such as misappropriation of public funds and interfering with public processes, including using his power for his own benefit and to enrich his political allies and his family members,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement. Maryam Rajavi Corrupt Advocate , Albanian Sali Berisha Under Sanction
Maryam Rajavi Corrupt Advocate , Albanian Sali Berisha Under Sanction
Berisha Requested MEK Delisting
1- US sanctions Albanian ex-PM Sali Berisha over corruption
Euro News, May 22 2021:
The US State Department on Wednesday sanctioned former Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha and his immediate family members, citing “involvement in significant corruption.“
“In his official capacity as Prime Minister of Albania in particular, Berisha was involved in corrupt acts, such as misappropriation of public funds and interfering with public processes, including using his power for his own benefit and to enrich his political allies and his family members,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement.
Former President of Albania Sali Berisha’s corrupt acts undermined democracy in Albania. I am publicly designating Berisha and his immediate family members as ineligible for entry into the United States. We remain #UnitedAgainstCorruption with our partners in Albania.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) May 19, 2021
76-year old Berisha, who is now a lawmaker in the opposition Democratic Party, will be barred from entering US territory along with his spouse and their two children.
The move will serve to “reaffirm the need for accountability and transparency in Albania’s democratic institutions, government processes, and the actions of Albanian public officials,” Blinken said.
The State Department furthermore reiterated ”the US commitment to supporting political reforms key to Albania’s democratic institutions.”
Taulant Balla, general secretary of Albania’s ruling Socialist party, hailed the US decision.
“I welcome the decision of the United States of America regarding Sali Berisha,” Balla wrote. “It is a beautiful day for the Albanian Democracy.”
There was no immediate reaction from Berisha nor from his Democratic party.
Berisha became the country’s first post-communist president from 1992 until 1997. He served as Prime Minister from 2005 to 2013.
Corruption has been an endemic problem in the Western Balkans nation since the fall of communism and a sticking point in the country’s negotiations to join the European Union.
2- US State Department Statement
Public Designation of Albanian Sali Berisha Due to Involvement in Significant Corruption
ANTONY J. BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE
MAY 19, 2021
Today, I am announcing the public designation of Sali Berisha, a former President of Albania, former Prime Minister of Albania, and former Member of Parliament of Albania, due to his involvement in significant corruption. In his official capacity as Prime Minister of Albania in particular, Berisha was involved in corrupt acts, such as misappropriation of public funds and interfering with public processes, including using his power for his own benefit and to enrich his political allies and his family members at the expense of the Albanian public’s confidence in their government institutions and public officials. Furthermore, his own rhetoric demonstrates he is willing to protect himself, his family members, and his political allies at the expense of independent investigations, anticorruption efforts, and accountability measures. With this designation, I am reaffirming the need for accountability and transparency in Albania’s democratic institutions, government processes, and the actions of Albanian public officials.
This designation is made under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2021. In addition to Berisha, I am publicly designating his spouse, Liri Berisha, his son, Shkelzen Berisha, and his daughter, Argita Berisha Malltezi. These individuals are ineligible to travel to the United States.
This designation reaffirms the U.S. commitment to supporting political reforms key to Albania’s democratic institutions. The United States continues to stand with the people of Albania. The Department will continue to use authorities like this to promote accountability for corrupt actors in this region and globally.
For more information, please contact INL-PAPD@state.gov.
Maryam Rajavi Corrupt Advocate , Albanian Sali Berisha Under Sanction
Berisha Requested MEK Delisting
MEK Money Laundering For Far Right In Europe
Walid & Theodore Shoebat, Shoebat.com, December 22 2019:… MEK Money Laundering . Vox in fact received a substantial amount of cash from the People’s Mujahideen of Iran (the MEK) which, until recently, was classified as a terrorist organization but nonetheless has been getting American backing thanks to people like Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton and Newt Gingrich. With such high level Republicans backing the MEK, it is fitting to quote Dina Esfandiary who wrote that the Trump administration “provides a platform to groups like the Mujahideen-e Khalq, an exiled Iranian resistance group once listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government” MEK Money Laundering For Far Right In Europe
MEK Money Laundering For Far Right In Europe
Maryam Rajavi Corrupt Advocate In Albania
Russian And American Geopolitical Scheming And The Destabilization Of Europe
The Spanish government has been recently investigating the activities of Denis Sergeev, a Russian spy and intelligence agent, and his alleged involvement in the rebellious Catalonian election of 2017 in which Catalans voted to secede from Madrid. They say that Sergeev is a member of “Unit 29155” which consists mainly of veterans of Russia’s bloodiest wars, including in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Ukraine.
One retired G.R.U. officer with knowledge of Unit 29155 who spoke anonymously said that the unit was efficient in preparing for “diversionary” missions, “in groups or individually — bombings, murders, anything.” “They were serious guys who served there,” explained the retired officer. “They were officers who worked undercover and as international agents.”
Sergeev went by the alias, Sergey Fedotov and according to the Passenger Name Record (PNR) database, which is used by airlines to document all of their travelers, he took two trips to Spain. In the first trip, Sergeev was in Madrid on November 5, 2016 and stayed there for six days before returning to Moscow through Zurich. Sergeev’s second trip was on September 29, 2017, only two days before the Catalan separatist referendum which occurred on October 1st. This time he stayed in Spain until October 9th and then returned to Moscow through Geneva. There is no known documentation about further trips. This information has been discovered in the investigation opened by High Court Judge Manuel García-Castellón and which is currently sealed but has been revealed by El Pais. The inquiry into Sergeev’s activities is being conducted by the National Police force’s General Information Office.
Currently the Spanish investigation cannot emphatically confirm that Russian intelligence collaborated with Catalan separatists. But what can be confirmed is how Russian media outlets published articles that were sympathetic towards the separatist cause. They even compared the Catalonian situation to Crimea where many people preferred Russian over Ukrainian rule, and comparing it to how Catalonia does not want to be ruled by Spain. For example, the Russian newspaper Vzglyad, put out an article on September of 2017 with the headline “Spain forcibly suppresses the Catalan spring,” words that denote that Spain is despotic towards the Catalan suffrage and that there is a “Catalan spring” which reminds one of the Arab Spring, conveying the message that there is a Catalonian revolution. The article even goes so far as to affirm that the cause of Crimea has expanded up to Catalonia: “the Crimean spring has moved to the Pyrenees.” Its as if to say that, in turn, the Russian cause of empire has also expanded to the Western Europe.
Vzglyad has a dark history. It was founded by Russian troll and politician, Konstantin Rykov who also went by his internet pseudonym, “Jason Foris.” His snide, trolling and attention grabbing ways earned him millions as an internet entrepreneur and even got him elected into the Russian Parliament. Rykov spent years on the internet as a troll, and would eventually land himself in a position to help put Russia in the battlefield of the trolling world online. Rykov created accounts on Russian social media sites like Vkontakte (VK), Live Journal, and Odnoklassniki, where he accrued large followings by sharing pictures of scantily clad women, telling crude jokes and spreading a satiric, nihilistic brand of humor. He eventually got a position with Russia’s state-owned Channel 1 as the head of its internet department. 2005 would be the year that Rykov would create the online publication, Vzglyad, which would eventually become a mouthpiece for the Kremlin. In fact, President Vladimir Putin’s former deputy chief of staff, Vladislav Surkov, had direct ties to Vzglyad’s editorial department and determined what they published.
Alexander Shmelev, who served as Vzglyad’s editor-in-chief in 2007 and 2008, recounted the type of control the Russian government had on the paper’s articles:
“There were weekly meetings at the presidential administration … Sometimes, there were situations when we published something, and Surkov’s assistant who was in charge of the media, Alexey Chesnakov, called and said, ‘No, please, replace this article,’ or, ‘Please, publish something about this issue.’”
Shmelev, exasperated over how much control the state had over the publication, left Vzgylad. In 2008, when Russia invaded Georgia, the general consensus in online media was that Russia was the aggressor and the antagonist. This pushed Russia to shift its gears from just being focused on television and newspapers to the internet. Russia had to adapt to the world of internet propaganda. Shmelev explained:
“It was discussed that we lost the information war — that on the internet, everyone around the world believes that Russia suddenly attacked Georgia, and the topic of Georgia attacking South Ossetia is never mentioned and that we came to protect it … We need to change this somehow, we need to learn to be proactive, we need to learn to work not only in the Russian segment of the internet but in the internet in general.”
Through Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s administration began signaling to Konstantin Rykov that they were interested in his skills as a troll. As we read from Molly Schwartz:
“In 2007, Surkov organized private fundraisers for Rykov’s ventures. Rykov was elected to the Russian Parliament in 2008 as a member of the United Russia party, the same party as Putin. Rykov was only 28-years-old.
In return, Rykov developed tactics to help the Kremlin boost support for its image online. Shmelev says that he attracted a new community of supporters for the government by advertising pro-Kremlin articles on sites like Mail.ru, porn websites and humor websites. Rykov showed the Kremlin how to spread competing narratives on social media to deflect attention away from reporting that was critical of their activities.”
Rykov’s Vzglyad site became, and still is a, a means to spreading propaganda and information that Russia wants inculcated online, nationalist and anti-European Union sentiment.
On September 8th of 2017, Vzglyad published another article stating: “Catalan politicians are already discussing what they’ll do after proclaiming independence. One of them told Vzglyad that Catalonia will seek recognition for Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” two regions that Russia recognized as autonomous and independent from Georgia in 2008. This one politician was J. Enric Folch Vila of the obscure Catalan separatist party, Solidaritat Catalana. In September of 2016, Folch attended a conference in Moscow funded by the Russian government and organized by the Russian Anti-Globalization Movement (MAR). “We were invited by the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, because the reason for the meeting was to meet other nations without a State or that seek to achieve independence. Basically, the objective was to contact other nations or countries that are in these processes, and make a change of impressions,” explained Folch. According to the president of the Anti-Globalization Movement, Alexander Ivanov, about 30% of the group’s general budget come from the Russian government. They have also received separatists from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Catalonia, and the Basque country. One thing that is fascinating about this group is how its name “anti-globalism” echoes the rhetoric of those on the Alt-Right, that is, that they are against “globalism,” which simply means, amongst other things, that they are against immigration and want to create a fixation on national pride and tribalism.
This tribalism can be seen in Folch who has called for open rebellion against Madrid and says that the days of reasoning with Spain are over, exlaiming : “We will follow our own law, our own institutions, our own Catalan Republic”.
In 2017, Pravda, the official newspaper for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, put out an article that said: “if Catalans hold the referendum and unilaterally declare independence, there will be a precedent for the EU similar to Crimea.” This article was shared by two Twitter accounts owned by Pravda, @pravda.ru and @pravdaonline, both of which have over a quarter of a million followers. Another Twitter account that advances the pro-Russian view, while at the same time disseminating propaganda for European nationalist parties (like the AfD), is Voice of Europe , which has over a quarter of a million followers. This page has retweeted posts sympathetic to the Catalan cause and with sensational titles like: “Spain BOILS: EU REFUSES to act for Catalonia despite Spain ‘violating basic human rights,’” or “Spain in CRISIS: Troops sent in as 40,000 protest over ‘WAR’ on Catalan independence vote.”
The Spanish Twitter account for RT (the most popular media voice for the Russian government), RT en Espanol which has over three million followers, and its Facebook page (currently over seven million followers) has posted stories with titles like “Catalonia: the dictator Francisco Franco has returned victoriously.” This last line on Franco implies that Spain, because she has suppressed the Catalan separatist movement, is like her past “dictator,” Francisco Franco.
The agenda of these media publications is to rile up the separatist side to vote in favor for their cause. Spain’s Defence Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal, said back in 2017:
“What we know today is that much of this came from Russian territory … These are groups that, public and private, are trying to influence the situation and create instability in Europe”
When Spain’s Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, was asked if he is emphatically sure of Russian meddling, he responded: “Yes, we have proof.” According to Dastis, a Spanish investigation confirmed a plethora of fake accounts on social media expressing support for Catalan separatism. These accounts were traced back to Russia and another 30% of them to Venezuela.
It makes sense as to why Russia would have an interest in Catalan nationalism, just like it makes sense that they would have an interest in nationalist parties like the AfD in Germany. By splitting up Spain, several things happen: firstly, it would destroy the European Union as we know it today, and secondly it would give the pretext to Germany to reinstate herself as the military ruler of Europe.
Germany is currently the economic controller of her continent, but she is still under American eyes when it comes to military defense. If Catalonia splits from Spain, it would trigger a continental emergency that Germany would then use to justify a return to militarism in the name of ‘European unity.’ Lets remember that Nazi Germany’s warpath did not begin in Poland nor Czechoslovakia, but in Spain, when the Spanish Civil War broke out after Franco and soldiers loyal to him overthrew the Left-wing government of Manuel Azana. Hitler used the conflict as an excuse to send in the German military to fight off the Left-wing forces that were combating the nationalists who would be on the side of Franco.
Hitler and Mussolini sent over 90,000 troops into Spain to back the Spanish nationalists (Ganser, NATO’s Secret Armies, ch. 8, p. 104) During the Spanish Civil War, the Soviet Union supplied the Spanish Left-wing fighters with weapons and training. It was a proxy war between Germany and Russia for power and influence over Europe. Hitler helped Franco’s regime, not because he really sympathized with Catholics who were being butchered by the anarchists and Republicans (Hitler butchered millions of Catholic Poles), rather he did so because he wanted to expand Germany’s geopolitical leverage, hence why Franco sent the Spanish military’s Blue Division to the Russian front to fight alongside the Wehrmacht (Ibid). Stalin backed the Popular Front government which was a coalition of Left-wing parties such as the Spanish Communist Party and the PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español or the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party). What is very interesting is that the PSOE, through Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, is the very party that today authorized the removal of Franco’s remains from the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum, an action which has angered the Right-wing but has pleased the Left. As we read from Time Magazine:
“While few defend the human rights abuses under Franco’s regime, many have argued that moving his remains serves little purpose and that his family should decide where he rests. “Sanchez has spent a year playing with [Franco’s bones] to try to divide us into reds and blues, but at this point this no longer matters to many Spaniards,” Alberto Rivera, leader of the centre-right Citizens, tweeted after the ruling.
Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain’s far-right party Vox, which in 2018 became the first far-right political force to win seats in national elections since Franco’s death, attacked the exhumation as “profaning tombs and digging up hatreds”.”
MEK Money Laundering .
While the Left in Spain is becoming more aggressive, with Catalonian Leftists working for separatism and the Socialists removing Franco’s remains, the Right-wing in Spain is also rising, and this is indicated in the fact that Vox — a nationalist and Right-wing party — went from being an obscure party to one that has 52 seats in the parliament (out of 350 seats), the first time a Ring-wing party won more than one seat since Spain returned to democracy in the 1970s. With the intensification of the Right-Left rift in Spain, its as if a strategy of tension is being done to cause all of this.
Vox in fact received a substantial amount of cash from the People’s Mujahideen of Iran (the MEK) which, until recently, was classified as a terrorist organization but nonetheless has been getting American backing thanks to people like Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton and Newt Gingrich. With such high level Republicans backing the MEK, it is fitting to quote Dina Esfandiary who wrote that the Trump administration “provides a platform to groups like the Mujahideen-e Khalq, an exiled Iranian resistance group once listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government”. In April of 2019, documents leaked to El Pais revealed that between its founding in December 2013 and the European Parliament elections in May 2014, Vox received almost a million euros from the MEK’s front group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). It was not as though the financial relationship between Vox and the NCRI began gradually, but right when Vox was founded. Joaquín Gil, a journalist with El Pais, explained: “From the day it was founded in December 2013—the same day that it registered as a political party with the Spanish Ministry of Interior—Vox started to receive Iranian funds”. These funds came from different countries including the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and Italy in amounts ranging from 60 to 35,000 euros, totaling almost 972,000 euros, from December 2013 to April 2014, right before the 2014 elections. According to Gill, Alejo Vidal-Quadras Roca, who was a leading member of Vox, “asked his friends at NCRI … to instruct its followers to make a series of money transfers.”
Vidal-Quadras has confirmed that the NCRI organized the international fundraising campaign for Vox and the group was willing to discuss the matter with Spanish journalists. “We knew that it was a new party, but not a far-right one,” a spokesperson for the NCRI told El País. In fact, Vidal-Quadras admitted that the NCRI organized the international fundraising campaign for Vox. “We knew that it was a new party, but not a far-right one,” a spokesperson for the NCRI told El País. Its difficult to believe the NCRI when it was obvious from the beginning that Vox had nationalist beliefs. The main question is: what interest does an Iranian lobbyist group have with Spanish nationalists? The NCRI is backed by influential American political agents like Giuliani and Bolton. Thus it would not be shocking if it is indeed the US government backing Vox through a third party, and that the support for Vox and Catalonian nationalists by international players like Russia and the US is simply a strategy of tension to get the whole of Europe to implode.
Is it possible that the removal of Franco’s remains is really part of a strategy of tension to get the Right and Left to eventually implode in violent war within Spain? It would not be surprising, given the fact that the Soviet Union backed the Left during the Spanish Civil War. It would not be to our shock if the US is also backing the Catalan cause, since even back in 1947, the OSS (the CIA’s precursor) armed Catalonian nationalists to overthrow Franco in what is known as Operation Banana.
It was a failed operation nonetheless, since not everyone in Washington or London agreed to topple Franco and some saw him as an asset. So the militants were arrested and the coup failed. Franco solidified his relationship with the US in 1953 after he made a deal with the Americans to allow missiles, soldiers and airplanes and Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) antennas in Spain. The United States backed the Spanish nationalists since the Franco regime was a true bulwark against Communism.
US intelligence collaborated with Spanish intelligence to combat Soviet influence; this was part of NATO’s Gladio operation. Andre Moyan, a leading Belgian counter-intelligence agent during the Cold War, said in an interview with the Communist newspaper, Drapeau Rouge, that Spain had played “a key role in the recruitment of Gladio agents” and that his first contacts with the Spanish Gladio network occurred in October of 1948 when “a cell of the network operated in Las Palmas” on the Spanish Canary Islands. Spain had become a center for Italian Right-wing radicals bent on overthrowing Italy’s government. For example, the Right-wing extremist, Marco Pozzan, a member of the terrorist organization, Ordine Nuovo, which was behind the massacre in the Piazza Fontana (in which 17 people were murdered) in 1969, revealed to judge Felice Casson in 1984 that there was a plethora of Italian fascists operating in Spain during the final years of Franco’s rule.
After Prince Valerio Borghese organized a failed neo-fascist coup against the Italian government on December 7th of 1970, 100 of the plotters fled to Spain. Borghese, as well as Carlo Ciuttini and Mario Ricce, regrouped in Spain under the command of the known neo-fascist terrorist, Stefano Della Chiaie. While in Spain, Chiaie was hired by the former Nazi, Otto Skorzeny (who was hired by the Spanish government as a security consultant) to target any enemies of Franco, especially anti-fascists. (Ganser, NATO’s Secret Armies, ch. 8, pp. 105-108)
If the United States was backing nationalists during the Cold War, and since the Cold War has never really ended, it would not be shocking that the US is still backing nationalists in Spain. NATO supported stay-behinds or Right-wing paramilitaries in Europe during the Gladio operation, and we know for a fact that the vice-president of Vox, Victor Gonzalez, has been involved in paramilitary training. In fact, we know this from our own personal conversion that we had with Gonzalez back in 2015.
We were in Madrid for a conference and Mr. Gonzalez, impressed by the subjects we delved in, sat by us to have a conversation on politics and religion. In the middle of the conversation, Gonzalez told us that he was a part of a secretive Catholic order that was involved in paramilitary training. He even said that he was jumping off of planes as part of the training. As he explained, this training was being done to prepare for a war with Muslims since, as he told us, “If we don’t fight them outside of Europe, then we will fight them in the streets.” He did not tell me the name of the order and when I requested an interview with him to discuss the paramilitary group he explained that he would first need permission from his superior. Weeks later we contacted Mr. Gonzalez and requested an interview to discuss his political ideology and paramilitary activity, but he declined. The fact that the vice-president of the biggest nationalist party in Spain has been, admittedly, involved in paramilitary training, should at least make us suspicious. Vox has been financed by the US-backed Iranian lobby, and its vice-president has been involved in paramilitary training. We wrote Gonzalez for this article but he declined to write us back. The apparatus has the trappings of a Gladio operation.
Russian outlets have been advancing the propaganda for Catalonian nationalism while backing other nationalisms like that of the German AfD, while at the same time the US government under the Trump administration has been pushing Germany to stop being independent on the US for its defense. Both of these actions are extremely dangerous. Russia wants to split the European Union, and if this occurs it will accelerate Germany to pursue militarist aims, since the a fragmented EU will be a national security disaster and will give Germany the opportunity to claim that allies no longer care about Europe and that European countries should follow Germany as the continent’s defender. In addition, with the US pushing for Germany to not be dependent on the US for defense spending, the Germans are taking this as a green light for German military independence. A Germany bent on military independence, alongside a fragmented Europe, will only spell disaster, and that is a revival of German military power. Russian trolling for anti-EU sentiment, and the US’ pushing for Germany to pay for her own defense, are ingredients for the recipe of Europe’s implosion.
MEK Money Laundering For Far Right In Europe
Maryam Rajavi Corrupt Advocate In Albania
MEK, Iranian friends of the Far Right Spanish VOX . MEK Money Laundering
Sohail Jannessar, Darren Loucaides, Foreign Policy, April 28 2019:… “You look at it and say, ‘Oh, Mojahedin are funding [Vox].’ No, they are not. The ones that are funding that party are funding Mojahedin as well.” Khodabandeh said he himself was involved in moving money for the MEK and its funders during the reign of Saddam Hussein. “I went to Riyadh and recovered three trucks of gold bars from agents of [the] Saudi intelligence agency [at that time] led by Prince Turki bin Faisal. We transferred them to Baghdad and then to Jordan. We sold the bars in Jordan,” he claimed. MEK Money Laundering .
Spain’s Vox Party Hates Muslims—Except the Ones Who Fund It (MEK)
(MEK, Iranian friends of the Far Right Spanish VOX . MEK Money Laundering )
The upstart far-right party is unapologetically Islamophobic, but without donations from Iranian exiles, it may have never gotten off the ground.
pain’s far-right party Vox launched its 2019 election campaign this month in the tiny town of Covadonga. Situated in a lush valley in the northern region of Asturias, with fewer than 100 inhabitants, Covadonga is sometimes referred to as the “cradle of Spain.” According to the historical narrative of Spanish conservatives, Covadonga was the site of the first victory by Christian Hispania against Spain’s then-Muslim rulers, and the start of the Reconquista, the 780-year process of reclaiming Iberian lands for Christendom.
“Europe is what it is thanks to Spain—thanks to our contribution, ever since the Middle Ages, of stopping the spread and the expanse of Islam,” Iván Espinosa de los Monteros, Vox’s vice secretary of international relations and a candidate in the April 28 elections, told Foreign Policy over the phone on his way to Covadonga. At the campaign launch, Vox leader Santiago Abascal added: “History matters, and we shouldn’t be afraid of that,” to cries of “¡Viva España!”
While Spain’s right-wing has previously been relatively light on anti-Islam rhetoric, preferring to rail against secessionists in Catalonia and elsewhere, Vox has no such compunction. One of the party’s earliest controversies was a wildly Islamophobic video conjuring a future in which Muslims had imposed sharia in southern Spain, turning the Cathedral of Córdoba back into a mosque and forcing women to cover up. Recently, Vox’s No. 2, Javier Ortega Smith, was investigated by Spanish prosecutors for hate speech after he spoke of an “Islamist invasion” that was the “enemy of Europe.”
Given Vox’s staunch Islamophobia, it was an embarrassment for the party when reports of Iranian funding emerged in January.
Vox’s racist, homophobic, and sexist policies had already provided plenty of ammunition for its critics and rival parties; the claims that Vox had been established with the help of Iranian money in 2013 was less expected. However, Vox was not actually funded by Iran itself. The reality is even more surprising.
Documents leaked to the Spanish newspaper El País show that almost 1 million euros donated to Vox between its founding in December 2013 and the European Parliament elections in May 2014 came via supporters of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled Iranian group. The NCRI was set up in the 1980s by Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) and a number of other Iranian dissidents and opposition groups. The MEK’s allies later abandoned the NCRI, making the organization functionally an alias for the MEK.
The MEK and NCRI dispute that they are synonymous, but many disagree, including Daniel Benjamin, a former coordinator for counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department, who refers to the NCRI as the MEK’s “front organization.” The MEK and NCRI also share the same leader, Maryam Rajavi. The U.S. government and a U.S. Court of Appeals decision affirm that the NCRI is an alias of the MEK, while a 2009 Rand Corp. report sponsored by the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense refers to the NCRI as an “MeK subsidiary.”
The MEK is billed by U.S. politicians like Rudy Giuliani and current National Security Advisor John Bolton as the legitimate opposition to the current Iranian government. But the MEK also happens to be a former Islamist-Marxist organization that was only taken off the U.S. list of terrorist organizations in 2012—raising the question of why supporters of such a group would want to back an Islamophobic, hard-right Spanish party like Vox.
In Spain, much has been made of Vox’s links to U.S. President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon, who met a senior figure from the party in Washington last year, and has promised to tour Spain in the near future. But the mysterious MEK-linked funding points to another controversial relationship.
With Vox poised to win more than 10 percent of the vote in this weekend’s Spanish elections, the party could end up propping up a new right-wing government, as happened in regional elections in Spain’s southern region of Andalusia in December. It would be the first time a Spanish government has depended on a far-right party since Francisco Franco, and this would send shockwaves through Spain’s entire political system.
The question of Vox’s funding is now more burning than ever.
In 1953, a U.S.- and British-backed coup overthrew the democratically elected prime minister of Iran and propped up a monarchical dictatorship led by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Waves of oppression followed, including scores of executions, thousands of incarcerations, and the choking of civil society. In the ensuing political vacuum, many radical groups popped up. One such group, the MEK, or People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, combined both Marxism and Islamism. The MEK set about fighting the Western-backed dictatorship, staging attacks against the shah’s regime and U.S. targets. The shah responded in kind, torturing and executing opposition leaders, including those of the MEK.
In the months preceding the Islamic Revolution of 1979, thousands of prisoners were set free, including Massoud Rajavi, a prominent MEK figure. Rajavi was a young, charismatic orator, who rejuvenated the organization and even met Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the revolution’s leader, hoping to secure his endorsement for the MEK. Khomeini refused. Rajavi then tried to run as a candidate in Iran’s first-ever presidential election, but confronted with Khomeini’s disapproval, he was forced to drop out. The winner of that election, Abolhassan Banisadr, was not an ally of Khomeini either. The MEK saw an opening and allied itself with Banisadr.
In 1981, Rajavi and Banisadr fled Iran together after Banisadr was impeached and removed from office with Khomeini’s blessing and MEK followers had lost deadly street battles with Khomeini loyalists that had threatened to turn into a civil war. The MEK was now an official enemy of the Islamic Republic, which was at the time fighting a bloody war with Iraq, so the MEK came to see Iraq’s Saddam Hussein as a viable ally. The MEK started helping Saddam in his war against Iran.
Since that moment, the group has been widely seen as a pariah among the Iranian public. Later, the MEK reportedly helped Saddam in his massacres of Kurds and Iraqi Shiites. As stated in the Rand report: “MEK officials strenuously deny any involvement in the atrocities against the Shia and Kurds. … However, the allegations of the group’s complicity with Saddam are corroborated by press reports that quote Maryam Rajavi encouraging MEK members to ‘take the Kurds under your tanks, and save your bullets for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards,’ as well as the timing of Saddam’s conferring the Rafedeen Medallion—a high honor in the Iraqi military—on Masoud Rajavi.” In return, Saddam gave the MEK near-unlimited funding and a stretch of land to build itself a city, about 60 miles north of Baghdad and just 50 miles away from the Iranian border.
When the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 overthrew Saddam, the MEK lost its biggest ally.
The country was now ruled by parties and people the MEK had helped suppress, friends of Iran’s Islamic Republic, and a United States at the height of its global war on terrorism and which had designated the MEK as a terrorist group. What’s more, the MEK had by now morphed into something resembling a cult, according to allegations by various people who have left the group.
Hassan Heyrani, a former member of the MEK’s political department who defected in 2018, told Foreign Policy about group rituals and routines designed to completely subjugate the individual self, including members’ sexual lives and the slightest hint of free thinking, while forcing near-religious worship of MEK leader Massoud Rajavi. Women were made to adhere to a strict dress code. Members were obliged to record the details of their daily activities and thoughts in personal notebooks and then share them in group meetings, with the risk of public shaming and punishments, according to Heyrani. The MEK did not respond to requests for comment for this article, but its representatives have denied such claims in the past.
Despite the MEK’s metamorphosis from an opposition group to designated terrorist organization, hawks in the George W. Bush administration decided that they could use the MEK in their redrawing of the Middle East. Instead of apprehending members of the group as terrorists, during the occupation the U.S. Army was instructed to defend the MEK’s base from possible attacks by Iraqi forces, various Iraqi militias, or forces loyal to the Iranian government.
The MEK quickly seized on Washington’s change of heart. The organization started an intense lobbying campaign to have itself removed from terrorist lists in the United States and European Union. A vast and impressive range of current and former U.S. politicians and officials ended up being linked to this effort, from Giuliani and Bolton on the right to Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean on the left. In Europe, the list included Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a now-retired Spanish politician, who previously served as one of the 14 vice presidents in the EU Parliament. The MEK was finally delisted by the U.S. government in 2012 and by the EU in 2009.
Spain’s Vidal-Quadras went on to help found Vox in late 2013. And supporters of the NCRI provided the funding needed to launch the right-wing party and contest the 2014 European elections, according to El País.
“From the day it was founded in December 2013—the same day that it registered as a political party with the Spanish Ministry of Interior—Vox started to receive Iranian funds,” said Joaquín Gil, one of the El País journalists who first reported on NCRI-linked funding of Vox. The donations came from dozens of individual sources, from several countries including the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and Italy in amounts ranging from 60 to 35,000 euros, totaling almost 972,000 euros, in the period from December 2013 to April 2014, shortly before the European parliamentary elections.
According to Gil, Vidal-Quadras said he had “asked his friends at NCRI … to instruct its followers to make a series of money transfers.” Vidal-Quadras told El País that he had informed the current leader of the party, Abascal, about his relationship with the organization and that the NCRI would finance the party. Vidal-Quadras has confirmed that the NCRI organized the international fundraising campaign for Vox and the group was willing to discuss the matter with Spanish journalists.
This money would be fundamental to the launch of the party—without it, Gil suggested, Vox wouldn’t exist. But the NCRI had already achieved the goal of having the MEK removed from the EU terrorist list years earlier, so why did its supporters agree to fund a fringe Spanish party? “It’s totally surreal,” Gil admitted.
When asked about the party’s links to the NCRI, Espinosa, the Vox vice secretary of international relations, told Foreign Policy: “We don’t have any relationship with them.” The funding of Vox by the NCRI came out of a “personal relationship” with Vidal-Quadras, who had supported the Iranian organization throughout his stint in the EU Parliament until 2014, when he lost his race to win a seat as part of the newly founded Vox. (Vidal-Quadras had previously been a lifetime member of Spain’s conservative People’s Party, or PP.) “They supported him,” Espinosa claimed. “Not the party so much as him. And when he left,” Espinosa added, “when the campaign was over, they never came back.” Like the NCRI and MEK, Vidal-Quadras did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article.
MEK Money Laundering .
In December 2013, Spain’s electoral commission reminded the political parties that foreigners were not allowed to finance parties during the 2014 European elections campaign. Spain’s electoral law prohibits parties from receiving money from foreign entities or individuals 54 days before elections, although foreign funding is permitted outside of the campaign period.
While there is no evidence that Vox has broken Spanish or EU funding rules, Espinosa clearly had no qualms about accepting foreign funding:
“I try to get as much funding from abroad as I can—not to say that it’s significant, but I’d be lying if I told you nobody from abroad [had made donations].”
Espinosa, who was part of Vox’s European parliamentary candidates list in 2014 alongside Vidal-Quadras (Vox narrowly missed winning a seat), went on to emphasize that the noncampaign funding was entirely legal, transparent, and came through verified bank wires by “professionals—lawyers, bankers, dentists, doctors who live abroad.” Other parties remain suspicious.
Spain’s ruling Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), currently in a minority in the Senate, has asked the Senate’s majority party, the PP, to request that Vox appear in front of the Commission of Investigation for Funding of Parties. The conservative PP, which would likely need Vox’s support to have any chance of forming a right-wing coalition government after the election, has expressed concerns about Vox’s funding but has stopped short of a Senate investigation, instead urging Spain’s Court of Auditors to investigate Vox. Espinosa told Foreign Policy that the party has presented all the related documents to the Court of Auditors.
Espinosa also insisted that Vox’s funding had never come from “foundations, organizations, parties”—only individuals. But while the donations to Vox technically came from followers of the MEK rather than directly from the organization, the distinction between “members,” as in those actually part of the MEK, and so-called “supporters” outside the organization itself is false, claimed Heyrani. “Those in other countries are also members. They have daily schedules. There are circles led by MEK offices in each country, and they act upon their orders,” he said. NCRI and MEK representatives have not responded to requests from Foreign Policy for comment on this allegation.
The MEK may have just been returning the favor to a long ally, Vidal-Quadras, who has been supportive of the MEK for years. But as one former member of the MEK executive committee told Foreign Policy, the financial resources the group gained under Saddam Hussein have likely run out—which suggests that it may have another source of funding today.
“Mojahedin [MEK] are the tool, not the funders. They aren’t that big. They facilitate,” said Massoud Khodabandeh, who once served in the MEK’s security department; Khodabandeh defected in 1996, a year before the MEK was designated by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization. “You look at it and say, ‘Oh, Mojahedin are funding [Vox].’ No, they are not. The ones that are funding that party are funding Mojahedin as well.”
Khodabandeh said he himself was involved in moving money for the MEK and its funders during the reign of Saddam Hussein. “I went to Riyadh and recovered three trucks of gold bars from agents of [the] Saudi intelligence agency [at that time] led by Prince Turki bin Faisal. We transferred them to Baghdad and then to Jordan. We sold the bars in Jordan,” he claimed.
Khodabandeh’s account raises the question of where the MEK’s money is coming from today. Heyrani, the recent MEK defector, also handled parts of the organization’s finances in Iraq and was blunt when asked about the current financial backing of the MEK: “Saudi Arabia. Without a doubt,” he said. Once the MEK was given a safe haven in Albania after U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, with no U.S. Army to defend the group’s camp and the Iraqi government wanting them gone, one of the ranking members of the political department told Heyrani that Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud had finally laid a “golden egg.”
The so-called egg was the massive installation, or camp, based just outside Tirana, Albania, which has been used by the MEK as its base of operations since 2016. “Habib Rezaei [a top-ranking member] told me that we will bring some U.S. senators to parade in front of Albanians so that they know who they’re dealing with,” Heyrani said. (In August 2017, Republican Sens. Roy Blunt, John Cornyn, and Thom Tillis visited the MEK in Albania and met with Maryam Rajavi.)
Saudi Arabia’s state-run television channels have given friendly coverage to the MEK, and Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, even appeared in July 2016 at an MEK rally in Paris.
“I want to topple the regime too,” the prince said, to cheers. It has also been widely reported that the MEK has collaborated with Israel’s Mossad, including in attacks against Iranian nuclear scientists, according to U.S. officials. The MEK has called the allegations of their role in assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists “patently false.”
There is evidence that Gulf leaders, fearful of Iranian influence and Islamist movements at home, are warming to anti-Islam parties in Europe, as Ola Salem and Hassan Hassan have argued in Foreign Policy. Khodabandeh agreed. “It’s all over Europe,” he said. “Far-right, anti-EU parties have support that comes from lots of places. … There is outside backing. This backing is the same as [those backing] MEK.”
Experts in the United States have reached similar conclusions about the source of the MEK’s funds. “Group supporters claimed the money came from the contributions of ordinary Iranians in exile, but the sums seemed far too great,” wrote Benjamin, the former State Department counterterrorism official, who added that some believed Arab governments of the Persian Gulf to be behind the MEK “lucre,” as he put it.
Even so, a fringe party in Spain just getting off the ground does not seem to be a natural destination for supporters of an organization dedicated to overthrowing the Iranian government, much less a party whose ideology was not known to the NCRI and MEK at the time of those donations, according to an NCRI spokesperson quoted in the El País report. Moreover, Spain’s governments and its royal family have long enjoyed amicable relations with the Gulf monarchies, reducing the likelihood of these governments wanting to prop up an extremist far-right party in Spain.
Ultimately, the revelations by El País about MEK-linked funding being used to establish Vox leave more questions than answers. As Benjamin wrote in 2016, the removal of the MEK from the list of foreign terrorist organizations ended “any hope of gathering more information from MEK proponents on their financial relations with the group, or where all that money came from.”
Renowned enemies of the Iranian government may have been happy to see their funding reach a European supporter of the MEK, given that the organization has been promoted internationally by some as the legitimate Iranian opposition-in-exile, but either these alleged financial backers didn’t realize their cash would ultimately be used to fund a far-right party—or they didn’t care.
Sohail Jannessari is a doctoral candidate in political science at Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University and a contributor to BBC Persian TV and other Persian-language media. Twitter: @SoJannessari