Tag Archives: Mafia

Silvio Berlusconi and the Mafia man with easy access to the horses’ heads

(This blog was also published in the Huffington Post)

A couple of days ago, I blogged about Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation as Prime Minister of Italy and quoted an English friend of mine who has lived there for around 25 years.

Yesterday, she told me the national newspaper Corriere della Sera carried an interesting front page.

The Rubik’s cube of Italian politics is not exactly simplified by the fact that the secret masonic lodge P2 (Propaganda Due), in effect, ran Italy from the end of the Second World War until at least 1976 and possibly until 1981. Its all-pervading power lay in its membership and links, which included Cosa Nostra (the Sicilian Mafia), politicians, media, the police and the intelligence services.

It was a bit like the Groucho Club with attitude problems and access to armed force.

A list of P2 members, discovered in 1981 included Silvio Berlusconi.

“Right in the centre of Corriere della Sera’s front page today,” my friend told me yesterday, “there is a photograph of the two Sicilian judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino who were both assassinated within a two month period in 1992 after they led the Italian government’s anti-Mafia investigation.

Corriere della Sera quotes Borsellino’s wife as saying he told her – only 24 hours before he was blown to bits in a car bomb outside his flat – that, if he was assassinated, it would not be the Mafia who killed him. Corriere della Sera presumably printed this article now because there is a current investigation into claims that the Italian State continues to be connected to organised crime in a big way.

“Ask yourself why,” my friend told me: “Ask yourself why – in this week of all weeks – on this day of all days – why this particular photo and story would be on the front page of a national newspaper that is otherwise all about Berlusconi…”

In his last video interview, given four days before Falcone’s assassination and two months before his own assassination, Paolo Borsellino spoke about the possible link between Cosa Nostra’s mafiosi and rich Italian businessmen including Silvio Berlusconi.

Borselino claimed that well-connected mafiosi Vittorio Mangano was the Sicilian Mafia’s link to its business interests in Northern Italy.

Somewhat bizarrely, Berlusconi employed Mangano to look after the horses at his villa in the small town of Arcore, near Milan, where Berlusconi lived. It has been alleged that Mangano’s real job may have been to deter kidnappers from targeting the Berlusconi’s children.

But there were also allegations made by Mafia supergrasses that Berlusconi was connected to the bomb blasts which killed Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

Magistrates in Caltanissetta spent almost two years examining these allegations and decisively rejected them.

The mafiosi supergrasses had also apparently wrongly alleged Berlusconi had had contact with Mafia ‘boss of bosses’ Totò Riina and arranged legislation favourable to Cosa Nostra in exchange for Cosa Nostra support for his political party Forza Italia.

Politics – in Italy perhaps even more so than in other countries – is a dark art involving smoke and mirrors.

It also reminds me of the ancient Roman saying Qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus sergeant.

It sounds very posh because it is Latin. But it has a more basic meaning:

“If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas”.

Something that applies to all politicians.

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The link between gangland Edinburgh and “The Sex Life of a Comedian”

Comedy performer Dave Thompson has been telling me more about his new novel The Sex Life of a Comedian, which I blogged about yesterday. Dave famously got fired as Tinky Winky in the TV series Teletubbies because, after a lengthy period playing the iconic purple creature, it was suddenly said his “interpretation of the role had not been accepted”.

The plot of his novel involves a stand-up comedian on the UK circuit who gets a job wearing a blue furry costume in a world-famous television show but then gets fired. The story involves drug-fuelled celebrity sex romps, the Mafia and wild parties aboard luxury yachts.

Dave tells me: “Although the novel is fictitious, I’ve drawn from the landscape I’ve worked in and mixed real events with made-up ones. That’s why one of the main characters is a promoter from Edinburgh with gangland connections.”

So I was particularly interested to hear more about the section of the book in which the central character, at a celebrity sex party, accidentally spurts on a member of the mafia…

“Well, yes,” Dave tells me. “I have done gigs overseas for promoters who were organised criminals. In one country which shall remain nameless, I found myself working for comedy promoters connected to the IRA.

“The local mafia had tried to extort protection money from them, but found themselves up against IRA tactics. The mafiosi came round to ‘teach the promoters a lesson’ for not paying them protection money, but the IRA guys beat up the mafia guys with baseball bats and threatened far worse if they ever came back. The beating was so severe the mafia left them alone after that.

“I had a great gig that night and, after the show, there was a party in the nightclub where the gig was held. I had some business to sort out with one of the promoters and we went back to my hotel room to do this. He and I hit it off and had a convivial chat and a drink from my mini-bar. When we returned to the party, people who knew the promoter looked very anxious.

“As soon as I was separated from the promoter, I was asked if I was okay. I said I was fine and didn’t understand why they were so concerned. It turned out that the man I’d invited to my room was notorious for his temper and they thought we were gone so long because I’d offended him and he was beating me up.

“There’s a lot more about their criminal activity that I can’t talk about because they could recognise themselves and I might end up like the mafiosi who annoyed them.

“I think there’s a mutual attraction between organised crime and show business – each lends glamour to the other.

“At the height of their power, the Kray Twins used to hang out with celebrities in the West End of London and Barbara Windsor was married to East End villain Ronnie Knight, who was jailed for his part in the £6 million Security Express robbery in 1983.

“He escaped and whilst he was on the run in the Costa Del Sol, taking advantage of the lack of an extradition treaty between Britain and Spain, he owned a nightclub called ‘Club R Knights’.

“I was invited to the opening night party and met Ronnie. He was very pleasant and pulled me a pint of lager. Barbara Windsor had already left him because she couldn’t stand the Spanish heat and he had another blonde partner, who looked very similar to Barbara Windsor. I had a long conversation with her and was impressed by how well-read she was.

“I had been invited to the party because of my girlfriend at the time – a pretty blonde actress and singer who appeared in West End musicals. Her mother and stepfather owned a villa near Fuengirola on the Costa Del Sol. The stepfather was from Essex, had a huge black Rottweiler and was a friend of Ronnie Knight’s. He took us to lots of parties thrown by ‘geezers from Essex’.

“We were warned never to ask anyone what they did for a living as this was contrary to etiquette. The stepfather told me that, whenever I took my girlfriend to a restaurant, I should tell them he had sent us. That way, we got the best table, free drinks and the meal was be less than the menu price.

“One evening we were relaxing by her mother and stepfather’s pool and the English language radio station was running a phone-in competition for couples in love. The stepfather told me to phone in and mention his name and, immediately, my request was played on the radio and we won a bottle of champagne.

“I never saw the bottle of champagne because, soon after we got back, the girl dumped me in favour of a criminal, who subsequently beat her up.

“That relationship is long over but she and I are still good friends. Years later we posed naked together for the News of the World.  One of the characters in the novel is partly based on her.

“As for Ronnie, the News of The World later paid him £45,000 to stage-manage his return to Britain, so he could see his mum before she died.  He was arrested and sentenced to another seven years in prison.”

Dave also tells me:

“I’ve checked the sales figures on the book again and it’s looking very encouraging!”

I am not surprised.

You can buy The Sex Life of a Comedian here.

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The conspiracy movie financed by drug money and destroyed by its distributors

There can’t be many 1970s movies which had Elizabeth Taylor in the cast yet which did not bill her in the credits. But, then, Winter Kills has a production history so quirky and so labyrinthine that it is worthy of a movie about its own production.

I saw it once about 25 years ago and – believe me – see it once and you don’t forget it.

I saw it again last night at the National Film Theatre in London.

Winter Kills is a baroque fictionalised fantasy about the conspiracy to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. It is so quirky that it can be described (although this is slightly misleading) as a black comedy.

It is based on a book by Richard Condon, author of The Manchurian Candidate – a book also about a political assassination but published before Kennedy’s death.

With an iconic cast and crew to die for, Winter Kills was produced by two wealthy drug dealers – Robert Sterling and Leonard Goldberg – who had made their names and a lot of money by releasing the Emmanuelle soft core porn movies in the US.

But they did not actually have the $6.5 million budget needed to make Winter Kills themselves.

Leonard Goldberg believed that, if you borrowed a large enough amount of money, the debtors would have to let you finish the movie to ensure getting their money back. The problem was that the film went at least $4 million over budget and, at one point, the production manager had a sawn-off shotgun shoved under his chin until he paid for a generator.

Eventually, in mid-production, Goldberg was murdered by the Mafia – his brains shot out, handcuffed to his bed – for failing to pay his debts – and, later, Robert Sterling was sentenced to 40 years in prison for marijuana smuggling. The production went so far over budget that it was shut down three times – twice by the unions – and it declared bankruptcy.

First-time director William Richert and several of the cast and crew eventually went to Germany and filmed a comedy called The American Success CompanyThey sold distribution rights on that movie, which made them enough money to finish shooting Winter Kills after a two-year hiatus.

Although “quirky and idiosyncratic” is an understatement for the Byzantine plot, the movie got good – occasionally rave – reviews when it was released.

The New York Times called it “a funny, paranoid fable… furiously funny”.

Rolling Stone labelled it “Boisterous Burlesque”.

Newsweek’s rave review said it was: “flamoyantly absurd, extravagantly confusing, grandiosely paranoid and more than a little fun”.

The New Yorker critic was so bemused that be went to see the movie a second time and then said – admiringly – that it  “was like listening to some marvelous, entertaining drunken storyteller”.

But it made little money because it was pulled quickly from cinemas after distributors Avco Embassy Pictures told director William Richert: “It’s not really in the best interests of Americans to watch a picture like this.”

Richard Condon, author of the original bestselling book, wrote an article in Harper’s magazine titled Who Killed Winter Kills? in which he pointed out that the Avco Embassy conglomerate had major defence contracts in which the Kennedy family were involved and that assassinated President John Kennedy’s brother Edward was thought likely to run for President in the near future.

Avco Embassy certainly chopped some scenes out (including Elizabeth Taylor’s two scenes) which William Richert re-inserted when he eventually bought his film back and re-released it on DVD.

Winter Kills is a bizarrely-plotted semi-fantasy film with strangely-scripted lines perfectly delivered by A-list actors.

Anthony Perkins has some of the most interesting, including:

“People tend to accept the plausible if it is wondrously documented… We pioneered these methods in modern society until, today, as we see, our politicians and political structure could not survive without them. Life and truths have been turned into diverting, gripping, convincing scenarios.”

Winter Kills is a maze of fanciful plots and bizarre scenes. As Anthony Perkins’ character says: “the techniques of fiction playing like searchlights upon a fancied facade of truth.”

It gives some of Michael Powell’s weirder films a run for their money.

You can see a trailer here and a 37-minute feature on the making of Winter Kills here.

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The Sex Life of a Comedian is to be revealed by Lulu in print-on-demand

A week ago, I wrote a blog blatantly plugging the fact that Sit-Down Comedy, the 2003 anthology written by 19 comedians which I edited with the late Malcolm Hardee, is now available as an iBook from iTunes and in a Kindle edition.

I said two of the Sit-Down Comedy contributors were considering publishing print-on-demand books. Now a third tells me he, too, is doing the same thing. He is currently checking the proofs.

Dave Thompson co-wrote a very quirky short story for Sit-Down Comedy with Jim Tavare and tells me:  “I am about to publish my novel The Sex Life of a Comedian via Lulu.com after having fallen out with a ‘proper’ publisher.”

Dave explains: “It was what I witnessed at the London book launch of another comedian’s book that made me realise what a shambles I’d got involved with. And then I bought a copy of a book by another comedian I knew and it was bursting with errors. There were so many mistakes, it looked like it hadn’t been proof read…

“From what I hear from other people who get involved in publishing books, publishers rival comedy promoters for incompetence and greed.”

Dave is highly-original. He has written for Ben Elton (they have been friends since schooldays); ITV’s BAFTA Award winning series The Sketch Show with Jim Tavare; Harry Hill’s TV Burp; and, uncredited, for many other Big Name comics. He has even amazingly written for the newly-enobled (as-of today) Sir Bruce ForsythTime Out called Dave “one of the finest joke writers in the country”. But, to the public, he is mostly known for the Tinky Winky incident in 1997.

He played Tinky Winky (the purple one) in the world-famous children’s television show Teletubbies but was equally famously fired after American fundamentalist tele-evangelist Jerry Falwell warned parents that handbag-carrying Tinky Winky could be a hidden homosexual symbol, because “he is purple, the gay pride colour, and his antenna is shaped like a triangle: the gay pride symbol”. Ragdoll, the show’s British production company, decided that Dave’s “interpretation of the role was inappropriate” and sacked him.

In Kazakhstan, the Teletubbies are still banned by order of the president who considers Tinky Winky to be a pervert.

The Sex Life of a Comedian is about a stand-up comedian on the UK circuit who gets a job wearing a blue furry costume in a world-famous television show but then gets fired. The story involves drug-fuelled celebrity sex romps, the Mafia and wild parties aboard luxury yachts.

Well, at least no-one in the television or comedy worlds has to worry about it being autobiographical, then.

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The Prime Minister, sex, sleaze, prostitutes and Boris Johnson

A friend of mine – an Englishman in Italy – used to work for a large international conglomerate and, in the 1990s, once had to take a briefcase stuffed with cash to Rome Airport and hand it over to a civil servant. Everyone accepted that was how the wheels were greased. That was how the Italian state worked.

I also used to know someone involved with an Italian TV show which had to employ a girlfriend of now-deceased Prime Minister Bettino Craxi on their series. In fact, that underestimates her role: she actually arranged orgies for Prime Minister Craxi. My chum thought, “Ooh, now there’s a big secret I know about!” But then he discovered everyone knew about the supposed ‘scandal’ and it was almost routinely printed in Italian newspapers and magazines; everyone just accepted it. That was how the Italian state worked.

So I am a tad surprised as well as being in moral confusion about the current Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s problems.

He is immensely entertaining, which is always a bonus in my eyes. A bit like London’s current mayor Boris Johnson but with dyed hair. My heart takes flight when I hear any news item about either Boris or Silvio. I just know it’s going to be knockabout laugh-a-minute stuff.

But now Silvio is accused of having sex with an under-aged prostitute. This is not good. He faces a court case and a potential 15 years in prison. This is definitely not good.

The age of consent in Italy is generally 14, though 13-year-olds can legally have sex with partners who are less than three years older. This seems much too low to me but, if that is the law in Italy, then that is what good Italians Catholics have decided is morally acceptable. As I understand it, the girl involved in the Berlusconi case was 17 when the alleged sex took place and, while prostitution is legal in Italy – just as it is in the UK – it is illegal in Italy for a man to have sex with a prostitute under 18.

So the girl involved was three years over the general age of consent but one year under the legal age for sexual consent as a prostitute. This seems a very complicated moral quagmire within Italy, though I can see why sex with a prostitute under 18 is proscribed.

However, both Silvio and the girl totally deny sex took place. If they both deny it, then quite how evidence can be presented that it did take place I don’t know. There was a payment of £6,000 but apparently well after the alleged sex allegedly happened and Silvio and the girl both claim the payment was connected to something totally different. He also got her released from police custody in a separate incident, but that is more abuse of power than directly relevant the sex charges. It’s all a bit murky but sounds too circumstantial for a prosecution.

They could be lying through their teeth, of course, though I’m not sure why a young prostitute would not admit sex took place if she is going to become rich on selling the whole story to the media.

There is also the question in my mind of why on earth Silvio Berlsconi would have to pay for sex with a girl. Call me cynical, but the man is a billionaire, he owns a string of high-profile populist TV stations so he can get anyone he wants onto TV and he is the most powerful politician in the country! Any one of those three facts, in my experience, would mean lithe young nymphettes would be throwing themselves at him for free every day! The casting couch stretches beyond the movie business.

Heavens! Nymphettes throw themselves at impoverished comedians in dodgy basement clubs on a nightly basis let alone powerful billionaires who can get them on several national television series.

BBC News reported that Silvio Berlusconi reckons he has been in court over 2,500 times during various cases over the years. He has been accused of tax fraud, corruption, infidelity, Mafia involvement, you name it. I’m surprised he hasn’t been accused of illegally importing birds’ eggs. At least once he was accused of paying bribes on behalf of his companies at a time when no large company in Italy could operate without paying bribes. It struck me as a purely politically-motivated prosecution. That was/is how the Italian state worked/works.

Last year he was accused of being a member of an alleged secret organisation allegedly called P3 – a revival, it was said, of the infamous Masonic lodge P2 – Propaganda Due which existed from 1946 to at least 1981 and of which Silvio really was a member.

I have no idea if he is guilty or innocent of the current charges. He is certainly not an innocent man in general. And Italy – run by P2 and the Mafia from the end of the Second World War to perhaps the mid-70s – is most certainly not an innocent country.

P2 comprised prominent politicians, industrialists, bankers, journalists and military leaders, the heads of all three Italian intelligence services and even the pretender to the Italian throne. In 1977, P2 took over the influential Corriere della Sera newspaper; it was rumoured to be involved in the 1982 killing of ‘God’s banker’ Roberto Calvi, who was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge in London, and it even had rumoured links to the 1980 bombing of Bologna railway station and the 1978 killing of former Prime Minister Aldo Moro by the heavily-infiltrated Red Brigades (allegedly because he had started to talk about NATO’s secret Gladio network).

It feels to me that Silvio is being stitched-up at the moment. He may very well be a reprehensible, ageing sleazeball, but this is a case where every fact seems to swirl in very muddied waters indeed.

It is not as if Silvio Berlusconi was running a prostitution racket, is it…

Is it?

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Dangerous holidays in quirky places

The most dangerous place I was ever on holiday was Bogota in Colombia in 1983, at a time when the Medellin and Cali drug cartels were on the rise. At that time, the presumption in Bogota was that any white Westerner speaking English was carrying large amounts of cash to use in major drug deals.

About an hour after arriving in the city, I was crossing a central road junction when I heard a slight scuffle behind me. My companion, walking about four steps behind had been mugged by two men.

“They held two knives at my throat, so I gave them my wallet,” he told me, slightly surprised. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” It must have taken all of four seconds.

I remember, one Sunday morning, the two of us walking down a main street in the city – walking on the actual road, not the pavement, because it seemed safer to risk being hit by a car than walking close to narrow alleyways and shop doorways. It was less paranoia than common sense. A week or so later, in Lima, Peru, I got chatting to a young American in the bar of the Sheraton hotel.

“Yeah, Bogota is dangerous,” he agreed. He told me he visited the city quite often.

“What do you do?” I asked.

“I’m in the import/export business,” he told me.

“Ah,” I replied.

I like interesting places but not dangerous ones.

Yesterday I went to the Destinations holiday exhibition at Earls Court in London, courtesy of the wonderful travel company Regent Holidays. In 1979, I went with them to Albania, largely because I had read the country had no motorised traffic and was dotted with pillbox bunkers in case they got invaded by unspecified other nations. “Dotted with pillboxes” turned out to be an understatement. Albania had concrete pillboxes like a pointillist painting has dots – and they were white curved things which could be clearly seen from a distance (surely not a good idea for a pill-box).

Albania in 1979 was a restful country – said to be the poorest in Europe – and, indeed, it had virtually no motorised vehicles. Occasionally you might spot a military truck or a Mercedes-Benz limo belonging to the Party; other than that it was horse-drawn carts and people walking. It was ruled by the admirably OTT Marxist-Leninist dictator Enver Hoxha who was said to always carry a pistol on his hip and once shot a member of his government over a dinner argument.

Now that’s my kinda ruler!

You can imagine Boris Johnson, given a tiny bit more power, doing that sort of thing.

Albania in 1979 was the most eccentric place I had been until I wisely went to North Korea with Regent Holidays in 1985. I recommend the country highly. When I went, it was ruled by The Great Leader (that was his official title) Kim il-sung about whom I’m saying nothing as I might want to go back there sometime. All I will say is that I went in 1985 and 1985 was a year late for North Korea’s definitive year. It was illegal for individuals to own a radio: the simplest effective piece of state control over people’s thoughts I have ever heard of.

Regent Holidays specialised then and specialise now in unusual destinations and, during the Cold War, that often meant extreme Communist regimes. I do lament the passing of widespread hardline Communism because you were always safe travelling to communist countries and right wing dictatorships. If anyone messed with foreign-currency-carrying tourists in those countries, the perpetrators tended to end up being thrown in a cell and the key thrown away or being shot in a football stadium. This tended to minimise casual street muggings.

I went to a lot of Communist countries during the Cold War because I was sadly too late for all the truly great right wing dictatorships. The only right wing dictatorship I did visit was Paraguay under General Stroessner. He is reported to have been ousted in 1989 because his military chiefs feared he would be succeeded either by his son Freddie, a cocaine addict, or by his son Gustavo, “who was loathed for being a homosexual and a pilot”. Bigotry apparently ran deep in Paraguay.

People have always told me I should go to Cuba and maybe I should, but I never felt it was extreme or eccentric enough. Fidel Castro always seemed to me a decent sort-of chap though, like comedian Ken Dodd, he tended to drastically over-run on his allotted stage time. He (I mean Fidel, not Doddy) ousted a particularly nasty dictator in Batista; this understandably annoyed the American Mafia, in particular Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky – and it is never a good idea to annoy powerful chaps like them. The modern-day equivalent might be a pub singer annoying Simon Cowell.

Having gained power, Fidel did approach US American President Eisenhower for aid and a meeting and was rebuffed. So it always seemed to me that Fidel was a decent bloke and the Americans brought on their own heads what followed. I mean, honestly, chaps in Langley getting CIA operatives to try to kill Fidel with an exploding cigar or to discredit him by trying to make his hair fall out… well, it’s the basis for a good comedy movie and I admire the lateral thinking, but leave the poor man alone.

I prefer holidays in quirky countries with eccentric dictators and there are precious few at the moment.

I did go to Turkmenistan in 1995 because President Saparmurat Niyazov sounded doolally. Sadly, he wasn’t, at that time, eccentric enough for my taste, though he did go slightly more impressively barking a little later: re-naming months of the year after members of his family and officially replacing the Turkmen word for “bread” with the name of his mother.

I like countries in a state of flux which will have changed utterly in 20 years time. Where is there to go now? Chechnya? Ingushetia? I’m not that mad. Somalia? You’re joking.

At Earls Court yesterday, the most interesting stand by far was Hinterland Travel, who were selling holidays to Afghanistan – their brochure was sub-titled “Discerning Adventures” which I don’t think anyone could dispute.

Around 1989, a friend suggested we go on holiday to Afghanistan because, she claimed,  “it’ll be safer in a couple of years or so”. It never did get safer. At the time she suggested it, I read that commercial jets were landing at Kabul Airport by making very tight spiral descents in an attempt to confuse any in-coming heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles. There comes a point where “interesting” strays into “fucking dangerous” and, call me a wimp, but this was well over that line.

On 15th October this year, Hinterland Travel are offering a 14-day trip starting in Afghanistan costing £2,100. This adventure holiday for discerning travellers who are attracted to something slightly different from a Spanish beach holiday is called “The Retreat”. It starts in Kabul and aims to recreate the retreat of the British Army from Kabul to Jalalabad in 1842.

A note at the back of the leaflet says: “We do insist that you take out some form of insurance… principally health and repatriation cover while recognising that you will not be covered for Afghanistan re War and Terrorism.”

Suddenly Bogota in 1983 doesn’t seem so dangerous.

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Russian & Soviet sleeper agents in Western Europe and the death of Ché Guevara

British newspapers are getting their knickers in a twist over Katia Zatuliveter who was working as a Parliamentary Assistant and Researcher for Mike Hancock, the Liberal Democrat MP who is currently on police bail over an alleged indecent assault against a female constituent; he also sits on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Russia as well as the House of Commons Defence Select Committee. The Security Service aka MI5 apparently reckon Katia Zatuliveter is a Russian agent. Stranger things have happened.

WikiLeaks have also recently released documents claiming modern-day Russia is, in effect, run by the Russian Mafia.

In 1995, when I was in Turkmenistan, I met and later almost wrote the biography/autobiography of a man who had been a Soviet ‘sleeper’ agent working in South America and Western Europe during the Cold War. He had been part of a network of agents run on behalf of the Soviets by East Germany’s ‘Economic Planning Minister’ Erich Apel. But then something happened and, in this extract from tape recordings, he tells what happened to him one dark night in East Germany back in 1967, when cracks were starting to appear in the Soviet Union…

*** *** ***

It was all falling apart. Ché Guevara was abandoned on his operation in Bolivia in 1966/1967 and then killed by the Americans. Between 1965 and 1968 – between the ousting of Khrushchev and the attack on Prague – the Soviet Union was closing itself in and creating a big, expensive conventional army and a shadow economy. It was closing down its destabilising operation around the world.

By 1967, most of the people I had worked with in the Soviet-backed Network had already been caught – they had ‘disappeared’ – some had been captured by the West, some had been disposed of by the East. I was the last one left of those I knew. I was in West Berlin and had been asked to deliver an envelope to a town in East Germany. I knew the envelope contained microfilm, because I had made the same delivery before. I had no overnight visa for East Germany, so I had to get a train back to East Berlin by 11.00pm and return through the Friedrichstrasse security checkpoint into West Berlin before midnight, otherwise I was in trouble.

East German Security was separate from the police. Everything was separate. Everything was chaotic. There were so many different agencies all working separately from each other – sometimes in competition with each other. I didn’t have full coverage. It wasn’t as if I was officially working for the East German secret service. I was working for the Network but the complete implications of that were uncertain. I knew my network was handled by part of a section of East Germany’s security system and was linked to the Soviet Union, but things had changed when Erich Apel ‘committed suicide’ in 1965.

When Apel was made to die in 1965, it sent a signal to all marginal people like me. Apel had been one of the masterminds and controllers of our subversion operation and when it was said he ‘shot himself due to depression’ it was clear something was changing very fundamentally. Our entire project of undermining and fighting American power in the Third World – and ultimately in Europe – was falling apart.

I took a metro to Friedrichstrasse, then a cab to another station. At about 3.30pm, I stepped into the very last carriage of a train, despite orders that I should board a carriage in the centre. The train arrived in the German town of Frankfurt an der Oder at about 4.30pm, when it was already getting dark. Because I was in the last carriage, I didn’t get out directly in front of the station building as ordered. Instead, I walked along the platform and discretely down the side of the station building. There were three men in expensive leather coats waiting inside the station; there was a black saloon car waiting behind the station with its engine running. I went silently back to the railway line and walked along the tracks away from the station.

Then the men came looking for me.

When they couldn’t find me, they sent for the soldiers – the VoPo.

I was an irregular; I was a Westerner. I was not supposed to be there. I had an envelope with microfilm showing heavens knows what. The soldiers started to close in on where I was hiding. There was a little passage for water under the railway tracks – something just a little bigger than a pipe. I pulled my dark sweater up to cover the white collars of my shirt. I crawled into the narrow little culvert and held myself up in the top of the passage by pressing my hands and feet against the vertical side walls. It was totally dark outside the culvert. I heard the boots of the soldiers coming closer on the stones by the railway track and I was terrified because, by then, I knew I had been sent by my Controller into a trap. My own side were going to catch, imprison, torture and possibly shoot me.

The muscles in my arms and legs were straining, I was aware of my own heart pounding. I saw an armed VoPo soldier come to the end of the darkened passage in which I was hiding. The VoPo man was outlined by the lights behind him. He held a sub machine-gun in his hands, wore an East German uniform and his dull metal helmet reflected no light. I was hiding about six feet into and up in the roof of the passage. The armed soldier squatted down and silently looked in, waiting until his eyes adjusted to the darkness. Then he saw me, took one step into the passage, looked me in the eyes, pointing his gun at me, and did something very strange. He took his machine-gun and turned it behind his back, which was a very dangerous thing for him to do. I could have been armed, although I was not. He took a few more steps into the passage, completely unprotected, and looked up into my face. We could see each other’s eyes and he said to me in German:

“I am your contact. I have the stuff.”

He gave me the password and, at first, I didn’t believe it.

I gave him the envelope with the microfilm in it.

“But who are you working for? I asked him.

“The other side,” he told me.

“What other side?”

“It’s neither of the two you’re thinking of. The Americans. The Brits.”

Even as early as 1966 or 1967 the Soviet system was disintegrating. They had started to fight each other within the system. There was money from oil, money from gas, blackmailing. The Red Army became more important than the networks…

Under Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet Union decided it no longer wanted to be leader of the Third World or to convert and subvert other countries to socialist ideologies. Nor to become the world’s industrial leader. What became important was to keep power internally by having a strong army – the biggest army and navy in the world – and to sell resources for hard currency. Russia is a country full of natural resources. Why bother becoming a rich industrial nation or risk giving power to the workers? With the profits from the sale of natural resources, the Soviet Union could buy industrial products from other countries. Better clothes, better cars. Give the people enough to keep them quiet and pocket most of the vast profits yourself.

Politicians under Brezhnev could become personally immensely rich by selling gold, oil and gas. The Party of the Russian People became the Party of the Russian Mafia. Under Brezhnev, the shadow economy became more important than the real economy. Eventually, it ruined the country.

To disguise the fact they had opted out of Third World subversion, they armed everyone they could. They sent huge stockpiles of weapons to Mozambique, Egypt, Nicaragua so that the locals could fight their own wars without involving the Russian Army or Soviet-backed irregulars run by the East Germans, Czechs or Cubans.

As part of this process, Ché Guevara was betrayed by the Russians in 1967.

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