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LICENSED TO KILL: Right wing zealots, Big Oil and the tattoo that hid an icon of hatred

May 31, 2009

IRISH MAIL ON SUNDAY

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LICENSED TO KILL
Right wing zealots, Big Oil and the tattoo that hid an icon of hatred

By Michael O’Farrell and Paul Henderson

In the latest Bond movie, Quantum Of Solace, the South American republic of Bolivia is characterised as a fearsome police state, riddled with murderous government forces, villainous coup plotters… and a savage would-be dictator waiting to take power in the Andes on behalf of shadowy corporate forces.  This is fiction.

The truth is far worse.

In the steamy, ramshnckle city of Santa Cruz, fear does stalk the streets.  Fatal duels really do happen, although rarely as cleanly and professionally as on the silver screen.

The CIA’s official analysis of Bolivia documents a continuous series of 200 coups and counter coups since independence in 1825 – more than one a year for well over a century.  Each of those added to the murderous toll of death and destruction wreaked ever since the conquistadors first arrived in South America.

But then again, there is a great deal at stake.

The country’s biggest business is cocaine.  After Columbia and Peru, it is the third largest producer in the world.

Bolivia also has huge reserves of natural gas, and of lithium – the metal of the future, which will power pollution-free cars and homes.

It was into this maelstrom of power, money and opportunity that Michael Dwyer, a 24-year-old nightclub bouncer from Co. Tipperary, walked last year.  And it was in this same maelstrom that Michael Dwyer ended up dead, gunned down by heavily-armed special forces in the bedroom of a tatty hotel in Santa Cruz.  Lying in his underpants, with bullet holes riddling his body and those of two friends, Dwyer achieved the kind of international fame he may have fantasised about at his beloved  video-games console.  His death is now at the centre of an international manhunt and an even bigger worldwide  debate over the key question; was he just an innocent kid on an adventure holiday, executed by the Bolivian state  forces for their own propaganda purposes?  Or was he, in fact, part of a right-wing hit squad that, for political or  financial purposes, had been sent to the Andes to murder the president?

What is indispulably true is that Bolivia is dangerously divided since socialist leader Evo Morales was swept into power in 2005 on a promise to sieze wealth from prosperous non-indigenous communities and share it out among the natives.

‘Since taking office, his controversial strategies have exacerbated racial and economic tensions between the Amerindian populations of the Andean west and the non-indigenous communities of the eastern lowlands,’ is how the CIA public analysis sums up the situation.

Privately, no doubt, the spooks at Langley would have other ways of describing this South American hotbed.

Claims of interference by Washington are common.  Indeed, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg was expelled last September, accused by Morales of aiding violent opposition groups based in Santa Cruz – a city of wealthy merchants vehemently opposed to Morales and his stated intention to rid thorn of their wealth.

There are plenty of multinationals, too, such as Shell – which has extensive interests in Bolivia’s lucrative gas fields.  Morales nationalised a pipeline part-owned by the oil giant – not something the multinational took lightly.

Cocaine, gas and power.  Such assets are worth fighting for.  In a Bond movie, they would be worth killing for.

Enter Dwyer, infused with a sense of derring-do gleaned probably from the movies.  He became associated with an unholy mix of right-wing nationalists and fascist ‘freedom fighters’.  And, conspiracy theorists take note, he met some of these unsavoury characters while working as a security guard for Shell, through a security firm employed on Shell’s Corrib project in Mayo.

Pre-Bolivia, Dwyer’s world appears to have been dominated by the familiar cliches that most young men eventually grow out of.  Popular culture and a sense of freedom and adventure – not political idealism – appeared to dominate his psyche.  Nowhere, in more than a month of trawling through his past, has anyone found any reference to any form of political interest.

He had been brought up by his parents, Martin and Caroline, in a loving home in Ballinderry.  He had two sisters and attended St Joseph’s College secondary school in Borrisoleigh.  A fun-loving hurling fan, he went on to study at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology – and it was his part-time work as a nightclub bouncer in Galway that may have got him started on the path that would lead to his blood-soaked end in a Bolivian hotel room.  He never served with the armed forces and has no criminal record.

‘He is supposed to have gone from being a doorman to opening and closing gates in Mayo to plotting to assassinate a president.  That’s a hell of a jump.’ a security source told the Irish Mail on Sunday.

Friends of Dwyer point out that, throughout his trip, he posted Facebook pictures of himself – in nightclubs, partying with friends, out in the jungle – hardly the actions of an international terrorist.  Indeed, he even named his “co-conspirators’ as his Facebook friends. Could this smiley young man really be a modern-day Carlos the Jackal, intent on overthrowing an elected leader in the name of international power politics?

Having posed for macho photos in assorted Santa Cruz hotels brandishing a range of assorted firearms, it is ironic that the final photo of Dwyer was of his lifeless, bloodied corpse splayed out on the tiled floor of Room 457 of the Hotel Las Americas in his underwear.

His travelling companions – Eduardo Rozsa Flores, 49, a Bolivian-born poet turned ‘freedom fighter’, and Arpad Magyarosi, 39, a Romanian of Hungarian descent – were also killed in the now infamous raid.

The presence of Flores immediately gave weight to Morales’s assassination claim.  A communist in his youth, – Flores later fought with the Croatians in the Balkans conflict, and was awarded Croat citizenship.  He then converted to Islam and supported a wide and often contradictory range of causes, many on the right-wing fringe.

‘There is a need for weapons so it , isn’t about the boys marching in the streets with flags and bamboo sticks – if co-existence doesn’t work under autonomy we will be ready, in a few months, to proclaim independence and create a new country,’ Flores had told a journalist in Budapest prior to his departure for Santa Cruz.

He had proclaimed chillingly that he was prepared to die if that’s what it took to make Santa Cruz ‘independent’ – an echo of his success in helping to win independence for Croatia.

Nevertheless, the events surrounding the death of Dwyer and his friends, on April 16, at the hands of Bolivia’s elite Delta Group are still to be satisfactorily explained.

The official version – doubted by many and now under investigation – is that FIores and Dwyer were part of a terrorist cell that planned to assassinate Morales and cause an uprising against the current regime.

But the conspiracy theories grow daily, fuelled by all sides, including Morales, who immediately accused the US of being behind the assassination plot.  He was taken seriously enough by Washington to force a denial from Barack Obama.

‘The United States, obviously, has a history in this region that’s not always appreciated from the perspective of some,’ Obama told reporters the following day.

‘Specifically on the Bolivia issue, I just want to make absolutely clear that I am absolutely opposed to and condemn any efforts at violent overthrows of democratically elected governments.’

It is extraordinary by any standards to think that those words, uttered by a serving president of the United States, could refer to a happy-go-lucky construction-management graduate who, less than 12 months earlier, had been sitting final exams in the halls of GMIT.

The truth about Dwyer’s intentions in Bolivia may never be known but a vast amount of research largely carried out by bloggers and contributors to forums such as politics.ie <http://politics.ie>  has raised many disturbing questions.

Debate on the site has raged between posters who claim to have been friends with Dwyer who insist he was just a big kid – and those who claim he was a neo-Nazi, as evidenced by the tattoo on his shoulder (which can appear to contain the twin lightning-stripe insignia of the SS).

Chief among the questions posed on the site is the role that an Irish security company led by former army special forces commanders played in introducing Dwyer to others involved in the conspiracy.

It is now known that Kildare-based security firm Integrated Risk Management Services (I-RMS) played a part in bringing Dwyer together with right-wing Hungarian elements from a group known as the Szekler Legion – an outfit prepared to use violence to achieve autonomy for ethnic Hungarians in a border region of Romania.

One of those elements was Tibor Revesz, a commander of the Szekler Legion and the owner of its websites – upon which appeals for volunteers for an insurgency campaign in Santa Cruz were advertised late last year.

Both Revesz – who is being sought by Bolivian law enforcement and thought to be still in Ireland – and Dwyer worked for I-MRS protecting the Shell Corrib gas project.  It is here, facing down protests from the Shell to Sea campaign, that the pair are thought to have met.

Revesz also travelled to Bolivia as part of a group of 15 but had left before the police raid that killed his friends.

Appropriating the lingo of the Irish special forces unit, the Army Ranger Wing, Revesz even took to selling mission badges with Irish team names such as Foireann Cahill and Foireann Ardal on his website.

Other items on sale included hyped-up memento badges commemorating supposedly ‘glorious battles’ against anti-Shell campaigners in Mayo.

One such badge, referring to the defence of Shell’s Glengad Beach depot, incorporated a traditional Nazi-style graphic with a Shell logo.

Revesz also used his website to advertise an I-RMS close-protection course that included pistol, carbine and tactical firearms training.  All of Revesz’s web pages have been deleted in recent weeks.

I-RMS – based beside the Army Ranger Wing HQ in the Curragh in Co. Kildare – has refused to comment about its role in bringing Dwyer and right-wing fanatics together.

Apart from raising issues about its recruitment policies and vetting procedures, the I-RMS connection also provides an intriguing link to Shell.  The I-RMS website is ‘being updated’ and unavailable since the Bolivia controversy erupted.  But the now unavailable company website used to refer to an African subsidiary – I-RMS Africa Ltd – as being based in Nairobi, Kenya.

According to the site, the African subsidiary provides ‘specialised security services’ in east Africa.

Just what these services are is not known.  Whether I-RMS has any involvement with Shell in any other African countries is also not known. In the wake of the Bolivia controversy, the company has repeatedly refused to respond to questions from reporters.

Shell, though, has a controversial past in Africa as demonstrated by its conflict with the Ogoni people of Nigeria.  In fact, a case being taken by a group of Ogoni suing Royal Dutch Shell plc over the execution of environmentalist and writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and others was due to get under way in a federal court in Manhattan on Wednesday but was stalled again for the umpteenth time.

The case, being taken by the relatives – including Saro-Wiwa’s brother, Owens – of seven activists killed, between 1990 and l995, has now been rescheduled for early next month.

According to the complaint, Shell recruited Nigerian police and military to attack villages and suppress opposition to its presence in the Niger Delta.

Shell’s previous form in Nigeria and the fact that its assets in Bolivia were being part-nationalised and seized by a determined Evo Morales has led to speculation about whether it or agents on its behalf, would like to topple the country’s regime.

Last June, Morales nationalised Bolivia’s main gas pipeline company, Transredes Transporte de Hidrocarburos SA – forcing US-based owners Ashmore Energy International to sell its majority holding for $48 a share.  Ashmore had previously co-owned the company with Shell, but had bought out the Dutch giant’s 25pc stake in 2007.  Morales had previously forced oil companies to renegotiate contracts in 2006.

There is no indication that Shell had any intention of doing anything illegal in Bolivia and it is only one of myriad commercial interests in the country’s natural resources.

After all, Bolivia has the second largest gas reserves in South America – after Chavez’s Venezuela – and in many cases, exploration has just begun, with the Russians recently pledging a billion-dollar-plus investment for exploring the country.

But there is no doubt that any of the foreign-owned oil companies present in Bolivia would certainly have an easier life if something were to happen to Morales.  Same goes for the wealthy separatists in Santa Cruz.

In the fantasy world of James Bond, the unseen hand pulling the strings could be a foreign intelligence service, a stereotypically evil oil company willing to stop at nothing to secure its assets or a group of wealthy Bolivians intent on overthrowing a president who is threatening their livelihoods and security.

But all these options have also played themselves out in real life elsewhere.  Frequently, it is only years later that the truth emerges.

Many have made much of the apparent ineptitude of Dwyer and the band of would-be revolutionaries he accompanied to South America.

‘The key issue, to my mind, is that no member of the group had the skills necessary for a military operation that would involve confronting the entire State security apparatus of Bolivia. The only two with any military experience were late middle-aged men. Mike Dwyer’s brief experience as an Airsoft enthusiast (just a step or two above paintballing) hardly qualified him as a potential assassin,’ wrote one contributor to the massive online debate still raging more than a month on from the Bolivia killings.

But others, including security specialists who spoke to the MoS, had a different view.

‘The Rangers had paintball before anyone else had it,’ an Irish security source said. ‘It’s even modified specially to suit their weapons.  All security services train with paintball systems.’

Those familiar with the security industry also point to the fact that these days, trained-up former special forces members have adequate employment opportunities in the private sector, protecting commercial personnel and business interests in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The six-figure sums available for such work have all but eliminated the days of professional mercenaries hiring themselves out to one side or another in some desert civil war or banana-republic coup.  The people attracted to such activities are, more often than not, emotionally or ideologically driven and not necessarily the most professionally trained for the job – like the rag-tag band of men the sense of adventure in Michael Dwyer seems to have been attracted to.

But that is not to say they could not have been successful.  History has shown that assassinations are frequently carried out by amateurs.

An inept, overweight self-styled freedom fighter is just as capable of starting a revolution with one lucky or well placed shot as a crack commando. And if there are sinister backers with political or financial motives behind the plot, it is all the better for them that those seen to be responsible are written off as crazy amateurs.

There are ample examples of ultimately successful but initially inept assassinations leading in some cases to even world-wide consequences – remember Gavrilo Princip, the Bosnian Serb twice rejected by revolutionary groups for being too small and weak, who managed to spark off World War I by assassinating the Austro-Hungarian Arch-Duke.

And coups are not historical fiction: even now in Africa, a group of British-led mercenaries languishes in jail after being caught trying to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea for its oil reserves.

What is also notable is the muted reaction of our Government.  Last week, the Department of Foreign Affairs was refusing to comment on the status of the investigation it had called for into Dwyer’s death.  His case is not being publicly raised by ministers, leading some to believe that our administration wants nothing to do with a plot to overthrow an elected leader.

Moreover, this is a government that already stands accused of selling out to multinationals over the very same Corrib gas project where Dwyer worked as a security guard.  The truth, when it finally emerges, will make the last Bond movie seem very, very tame indeed.

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RELATED ARTICLE

MAY 22, 2009
THE PHOENIX MAGAZINE

DWYER, IRMS AND THE SZEKLER LEGION

IN THE aftermath of the death of Michael Dwyer in Bolivia last month, some interesting information about the type of people being employed in the Irish security industry has surfaced.  While there have been plenty of conspiracy theories set in motion, some of the material which has come up on the likes of politics.ie <http://politics.ie>  suggests that  are questions to be answered about the manner in which the security industry is controlled here.  Certainly there are some strange people involved.

As is now well known, Dwyer was employed by Integrated Risk Management Services (IRMS) protecting Shell’s Corrib gas field operations in Mayo (see The Phoenix, 24/4/09).  There, Dwyer fell in with a group of right-wing Hungarians led by one Tibor Revesz, commander of the so-called Szekler Legion, a paramilitary movement seeking autonomy for ethnic Hungarians in Romania.  The various security teams working on the Shell Corrib project for  IRMS – which was set up by former Irish Army Ranger Jim Farrell – were apparently given names in Irish, Foireann Cahil, Foireann Ardal, Foireann Fiachra, etc.  So taken was Tibor Revesz by these names that he established a group called Foireann Cahil (or ‘Charlie Team’) complete with its own section on his Szekler website.

Revesz also sold souvenir tee shirts and hoodies with badges designating the various security teams and commemorating two of the ‘glorious battles’ against the anti-Shell campaigners in Mayo – Operation Solitaire and Operation Glengad Beach (the latter incorporating neo-Nazi style death’s heads).  After the killings of his comrades in Bolivia, Revesz posted an online tribute, following an RIP for ‘Michael’ with the words ‘suaimhneas siorai”.

Revesz’s web pages have now been pulled although the ‘mainstream’ content relating to autonomy for Hungarians in Romania is still available.  However, the content included a flash video of a Foireann Cahil paramilitary exercise apparently in Hungary, with a notice advertising a course in Debrecen in east Hungary last February which was free to members of that group.

The Foireann Cahil webpage also relayed last January a notice which claimed to be for an IRMS ‘close protection course’ to be held in March and April costing €3,000, with a special discount for full-time IRMS staff.  The course overview included references to pistol and carbine training, “basic” and “advanced”, as well as “tactical firearms” and it would be interesting to know if Michael Dwyer was the beneficiary of any such education before embarking on his fatal Bolivian escapade.  Certainly, there is no shortage of pictures of Dwyer posing with a variety of guns. 

Ironically, some of the media has been fretting lately about alleged republican paramilitary infiltration of the anti-Shell protests in Mayo, but a more serious issue appears to be right-wing paramilitary infiltration of Shell’s security operations (see The Phoenix 8/5/09).

Revesz had used the Foireann Cahil web address to appeal in October 2008 for volunteers to join an expedition to Bolivia, whose leader was later revealed to be Eduardo Rosza Flores, a Balkan war veteran, author, film star and former communist turned rightist ideologue.  It seems likely that it was through his fellow IRMS employee Revesz that Dwyer was drawn into the Bolivian misadventure, which was apparently designed to destabilise President Evo Morales’s regime and support the Nacion Camba separatist movement in the resource-rich east of the country. 

Coincidentally, Shell has also been having difficulties in Bolivia as a result of Morales’s decision last year to nationalise the country’s main gas pipeline company.

Luckily for him, Ibor Revesz himself had quit Bolivia before Morales’s special forces paid his group a visit in the Las Americas Hotel in Santa Cruz on April 16 last, and while he has been reported to have returned to Ireland, his present whereabouts are unknown.  It has been reported in the News of the World as well that members of the Szekler Legion staged some sort of tribute at Dwyer’s grave after his funeral in Tullyglass Cemetery in Tipperary. 

Another Hungarian named Arpad Magyarosi was killed in Bolivia along with Dwyer and Flores, while captured alive were Elod Toaso and Mario Tadic.

Since the Bolivian shoot-out in April, websites appear to have been falling like ninepins, not least that of IRMS itself.

For the past month, visitors to the firm’s website have been greeted with the following notice: “Our website is being updated at the moment.  Please come back soon.”  As Goldhawk revealed, web content removed for updating included an offer of “special services” involving “international armed and unarmed security”.  There was also a link to something called the “Ranger Training Academy”, which appears to be IRMS’s training wing, as well as a section headed “International Security Services in Hostile Environments”, illustrated with a picture of an armed guard. 

Meanwhile, a reference in Revesz’s online CV to his having worked for IRMS was deleted in the wake of Dwyer’s death, and the entire bio has now been removed.  IRMS is still refusing to answer questions, but did previously issue a statement to the effect that Dwyer and Revesz left its employment last October.

As a result of the Dwyer affair, some light has been shone on the fact that there is now in Ireland a large number of private security operatives supplementing and, in cases such as the Shell operation in Mayo, working closely with the Gardai.  Many of these security men are from eastern Europe and, worryingly, security checks on foreign security operators working in Ireland are lax to say the least.  The Private Security Authority issues licenses to firms and individuals involved in security work, but a spokeswoman admitted last week that it merely seeks a criminal record certificate and does not follow this up with any background checks for up to one-third of the 22,000 security operatives it has licensed.

The PSA has confirmed that both Revesz and Dwyer had been issued with licenses, but Dwyer had an application in to upgrade his “door security” license to “static security” status, which is necessary for the kind of work being performed for Shell.  According to politics..ie, another suspect named by Bolivian authorities also appears on the PSA’s list of license holders, although it is not clear if he ever worked for IRMS.  It is thought that other Szekler Legion members have been or are still working as security men in Ireland, and not all may be licensed. Indeed, the PSA has admitted that it “does not currently license those working as bodyguards”, which certainly provides a loophole for those wishing to operate free of even the comparatively light official scrutiny now applying.

RELATED ARTICLE

MAY 22, 2009
THE PHOENIX MAGAZINE

IRISH TIMES SHELL PR

Two years ago The Irish Times penned an editorial criticising the government for having “ignored local needs and the concern of individuals” and accusing Shell of “bully boy” behaviour in the local furore caused by Shell’s pipeline in north Mayo.  This followed Shell’s hired PR handlers’ over-kill against IT western correspondent Lorna Siggins and a letter of complaint from the same handlers to the IT board over the top of Madam Editor Geraldine Kennedy’s head.  Since then, however, opinion editor Peter Murtagh has more than compensated for Siggins’s objective reporting – Siggins has always given both sides of the case – in articles that have abused and pilloried the local protestors, calling them liars and subversives with abandon.

This week Murtagh derided Willie Corduff, hospitalised after being “removed” from the Glengad site by Shell’s security men, because the Shell to Sea campaign did not send on his medical records when Murtagh demanded same.  There was, therefore, “no supporting evidence” for the claim that Corduff was beaten up.

Murtagh would once have described himself as an investigative journalist but he seems not to question why Corduff was brought to hospital in the first place – an ambulance was called by those on the scene (Shell security and two gardaí) as a “precaution”, according to a Garda spokesperson.  Neither did Murtagh query why the local hospital detained him overnight in a much-needed hospital bed.  The IT’s opinion editor has also sneered at the “ginormous conspiracy” theorists of the protestors; does he himself believe that Mayo General Hospital was in a conspiracy involving Corduff and local protestors?  If so, we really ought to be told more.

In another article last March, Murtagh lumped in the late “notorious INLA murderer” Dominic McGlinchey (because his son supports the protestors) – as well as the Continuity IRA and the IRA – with the protesters, describing their united efforts as a “poisonous mixture of lies and propaganda”.  According to Murtagh “anyone associated with the Corrib (Shell) project” has been “the victim of sustained abuse and intimidation”.  That’s a lot of people to intimidate and another very good story if Murtagh ever investigates it – even a few factual examples would be worth reading about.  The paper then denied the protesters a right to reply to these charges.

Another example of the newspaper’s capitulation to Shell’s PR handlers since Madam asserted herself two years ago has been the recent deployment of the paper’s ‘crime correspondent’, Conor Lally, whenever protests are being organised at Shell’s operations.  This looks suspiciously like an effort to criminalise the protestors who are mainly local residents with little history of political activity; apart, that is, from the great majority of councillors on Mayo County Council and the town councils of Ballina, Castlebar and Westport, all of whom voted for the government to renegotiate the Shell/Corrib deal two years ago.

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