December 23, 2019

How a Poisoning in Bulgaria Exposed Russian Assassins in Europe
SOFIA, Bulgaria -- The Russian assassin used an alias, Sergei Fedotov, and slipped into Bulgaria unnoticed, checking into a hotel in Sofia near the office of a local arms manufacturer who had been selling ammunition to Ukraine.He led a team of three men.Within days, one man sneaked into a locked parking garage, smeared poison on the handle of the arms manufacturer's car, then left, undetected, except for blurry images captured by surveillance video.Shortly after, the arms manufacturer, Emilian Gebrev, was meeting with business partners at a rooftop restaurant when he began to hallucinate and vomit.The poisoning left Gebrev, now 65, hospitalized for a month. His son was poisoned, and so was another top executive at his company. When Gebrev was discharged, the assassins poisoned him and his son again, at their summer home on the Black Sea. They all survived, though Gebrev's business has yet to recover fully.Western security and intelligence officials said the Bulgaria poisonings were a critical clue that helped expose a campaign by the Kremlin and its sprawling web of intelligence operatives to eliminate Russia's enemies abroad and destabilize the West.Entering his third decade in power, President Vladimir Putin of Russia is pushing hard to reestablish Russia as a world power. Russia cannot compete economically or militarily with the United States and China, so Putin is waging an asymmetric shadow war.In October, The New York Times revealed that a specialized group of Russian intelligence operatives -- Unit 29155 -- had for years been assigned to carry out killings and political disruption campaigns in Europe.Based on interviews with officials in Europe and the United States, it is also now clear that the assassination attempts against Gebrev served as a kind of Rosetta Stone that helped Western intelligence agencies to discover Unit 29155 -- and to decipher the kind of threat it presented.Security and intelligence officials are still working to understand how and why the unit is assigned certain targets. Even now, investigators have not determined the precise motive in the Gebrev case. Most likely, intelligence officials said, Gebrev was a target because of the way his business rankled the Kremlin: his arms sales, his company's intrusion into markets long dominated by Russia, and his efforts to purchase a weapons factory coveted by a Russian oligarch.The poison took effect slowly.Gebrev first realized something was wrong on the evening of April 27, 2015, when his right eye suddenly turned "as red as the red on the Russian flag."The next evening, Gebrev went to his favorite restaurant on the 19th floor of the Hotel Marinela. At dinner, Gebrev began to vomit violently and was rushed to a military hospital. There, he began to see explosions of vivid colors. Then, his field of vision suddenly turned to black and white.As his hallucinations intensified, he imagined angry, fantastical creatures that threatened to drag him away.A day later, the company's production manager, Valentin Tahchiev, was hospitalized, too. Days after that, Gebrev's son, Hristo Gebrev, who was being groomed to lead his father's company, Emco, was also rushed to intensive care."When they get rid of me and my son, the company will be destroyed," Gebrev said later. "Who would sign contracts? Who has the rights?"For the next month, as the elder Gebrev recuperated in the hospital, Bulgarian authorities made little progress on the case. In a former Soviet satellite country with a long history of contract killings, Bulgarian news media barely paid attention. The prosecutor general suggested that Gebrev had been sickened by tainted arugula. Eventually, though, officials concluded that all three men had been poisoned.In late May, Gebrev was released from the hospital and joined his son at the family vacation home on the Black Sea. There, the two men were poisoned again. This time, the symptoms were less dramatic, and they drove themselves back to Sofia and checked into the same hospital for about two weeks.Despite two poisonings, Bulgarian prosecutors failed to unearth any leads or evidence.When the hospital failed to determine the substance used in the poisoning, Gebrev enlisted a Finnish laboratory, Verifin, which detected two chemicals in his urine, including diethyl phosphonate, which is found in pesticides. The other chemical could not be identified.By the following summer, Bulgarian authorities had dropped the case. They apparently had no idea that Unit 29155 even existed. Neither did intelligence and security officials in the rest of Europe.Yet as Gebrev's case remained colder than cold, members of Unit 29155 were very busy, according to partial travel records reviewed by the Times. From 2016 to 2018, operatives made at least two dozen trips from Moscow to different European countries.Their operation in Bulgaria most likely would never have been detected.Then there was another poisoning.In March 2018, a former Russian spy named Sergei Skripal was poisoned by a lethal nerve agent in the English town of Salisbury.British prosecutors blamed the attack on assassins working for Russia's military intelligence agency, known widely as the GRU. Working with European allies, British authorities analyzed travel records of known Russian operatives. One stood out: a man using a Russian passport with the name of Sergei Fedotov.For five years, he had traveled extensively in Europe, visiting Serbia, Spain and Switzerland. He was in London a few days before Skripal was poisoned, leaving shortly after that attack, and British authorities have now identified him as the commander of the team that poisoned Skripal.It also turned out that he had been in Bulgaria in 2015, making three visits: in February; in April, when Gebrev was first poisoned; and again in late May, coinciding with the second poisoning.Investigators from the Britain-based open-source news outlet Bellingcat have identified the man using the Fedotov alias as Denis Sergeev, a high-ranking GRU officer and a veteran of Russia's wars in the North Caucasus. British authorities confirmed the accuracy of the report.The revelation that he was connected to the poisonings in both England and Bulgaria was critical in helping Western officials conclude that these were not one-off Russian attacks but rather part of a coordinated campaign run by Unit 29155.Armed with new evidence provided by the British, the Bulgarian prosecutor general, Sotir Tsatsarov, reopened the case in October 2018. Almost immediately, investigators discovered fresh clues. Before the initial poisoning, Fedotov and two other operatives from Unit 29155 had checked into the Hill Hotel, in the same complex where Gebrev has his office. They insisted, prosecutors now indicated, on rooms with views of the entrance to an underground parking garage where Emco executives kept their cars.In the garage, prosecutors discovered grainy surveillance video that showed a well-dressed figure approaching Gebrev's gray Nissan as well as the cars owned by Gebrev's son and the production manager. The figure appears to smear something on the handles of all three cars. Western intelligence officials have surmised that the substance was a poison.There is little doubt that Gebrev's profession -- the manufacture and sale of munitions and light weapons -- places him in a risky field, especially in Bulgaria.In recent years, the Kremlin has grown increasingly alarmed as smaller countries have nibbled away at Russia's dominance in the arms industry. At a meeting in June with high-ranking security officials, Putin warned that Russia's position in the industry was threatened.Bulgaria now sells more than 1.2 billion euros, about $1.3 billion, in weapons annually, a relatively modest figure for the sector, but a sum that has not gone unnoticed by Moscow.Gebrev was also entangled with another project that might have displeased Moscow. Shortly before he was poisoned, Gebrev tried to purchase Dunarit, a large arms production plant in Bulgaria coveted by a Kremlin-backed oligarch, Konstantin Malofeev.The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Malofeev for funding Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.Today, Gebrev has recovered physically, though his business is still ailing. In August 2017, the Bulgarian Economic Ministry temporarily revoked his export license. The ministry is headed by Emil Karanikolov, who was nominated to his post by the far-right Ataka party, which has long faced scrutiny over its close ties with Moscow.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company
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Star Wars Director Says It's About Time A Woman Makes A Star Wars Movie
Jan 02, 2024
Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Sharmeed Obaid-Chinoy is directing an upcoming Star Wars movie that brings back Daisy Ridley in the role of Rey. Obaid-Chinoy will become the first woman to direct a Star Wars film, dating back to the franchise's origins in the 1970s. Speaking about this, Obaid-Chinoy told CNN that she is "very thrilled" to make the movie and create something that is "very special.""We're in 2024 now, and I think it's about time we had a woman come forward to shape the story in a galaxy far, far away," she said.Obaid-Chinoy won Best Documentary, Short Subjects Academy Awards for Saving Face (2012) and A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness (2015).In 2020, Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy told the BBC that a woman would eventually direct a Star Wars movie, saying that would "absolutely" happen, "without question." Victoria Mahoney was a second unit director on The Rise of Skywalker, but a woman has never claimed a top directing credit on a Star Wars movie.On the TV side of things, The Mandalorian has featured a number of female directors, including Deborah Chow and Bryce Dallas Howard. Chow went on to direct the Obi-Wan TV series, too.Another high-profile franchise that has never had a female director is James Bond. Producer Barbara Broccoli and Skyfall director Sam Mendes have both said they want to see a woman direct a future 007 film.As for Obaid-Chinoy's Star Wars movie, little is known about it apart from the fact that Ridley will come back to play Rey. It is expected that this film will be the first of the three new Star Wars films to come to theaters, possibly releasing in December 2025.According to a report, Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight is writing the Rey movie, taking over for Damon Lindelof and Justin Britt-Gibson.
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NBA Names Clare Akamanzi CEO Of NBA Africa
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The NBA named Clare Akamanzi – an accomplished business executive and international trade and investment lawyer – as CEO of NBA Africa. Akamanzi will start her position on Jan. 23, 2024, and report to NBA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Mark Tatum. In this role, Akamanzi will oversee the NBA’s business and basketball development efforts in Africa and will be responsible for continuing to grow the popularity of basketball, the NBA and the Basketball Africa League (BAL) across the continent, including through grassroots basketball development, media distribution, corporate partnerships, and social responsibility initiatives that improve the livelihoods of African youth and families. For the last six and a half years, Akamanzi was CEO of Rwanda Development Board (RDB), where she spearheaded Rwanda’s economic development by enabling private sector growth. Under Akamanzi’s leadership, RDB implemented several business policy reforms and initiatives that led to significant investment and development for the country, including through partnerships with the BAL, Arsenal FC, Paris Saint-Germain FC, FC Bayern Munich and TIME Magazine, among others. “Clare’s business acumen, international experience and familiarity with basketball and the NBA make her the ideal executive to lead our business in Africa,” says Tatum. “NBA Africa and the Basketball Africa League are well-positioned for continued growth, and under Clare’s leadership we believe these initiatives will transform economies, communities and lives across the continent.” “I’ve seen firsthand how sports can positively impact businesses, families and communities in Africa, and the NBA and the BAL are a perfect example of that,” says Akamanzi. “The NBA has done an incredible job growing basketball and the economy around it across the continent, and I’m excited about the enormous opportunities ahead to build on that momentum.” Previously, Akamanzi was Chief Operating Officer of RDB and Head of Strategy and Policy Unit, Office of the President of the Republic of Rwanda. She has extensive international trade, business and diplomatic experience, having previously worked for the Rwandan Government at the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland and at the Rwandan Embassy in London, England. Akamanzi has worked or studied in seven different countries and holds an honorary LLD from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, in recognition of her work in Rwanda. She earned a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she was the recipient of three prestigious awards for academic excellence and distinguished contribution to the community: the Lucius N. Littauer Fellows Award, the Raymond & Josephine Vernon Award and the Robert Kennedy Public Service Award. In addition, Akamanzi holds a Master of Laws degree in international trade and investments from the University of Pretoria in South Africa, and a Bachelor of Laws degree from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. Akamanzi has served on several company boards, including the World Health Organization (WHO) Foundation, ECOBANK and Aviation, Travel and Logistics (ATL) company. She was recognized by Forbes as one of Africa’s Top 50 Powerful Women in 2020.
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