On Wednesday, Colombian investigative authorities from the CTI (Investigative police from the Attorney General) assisted by military police arrested 36-year-old Russian national Sergei Vagin in the Bogotá suburb of Suba, accused of laundering millions of dollars of Russian money through savings accounts “rented” by Colombian citizens in order to fund political unrest and anti-government riots in Colombia. Vagin was captured along with six other suspects: another Russian and 5 alleged Colombian collaborators.
In addition to Vagin, charges were filed against:
- Mauricio Garcia (former CTI Colombian government investigative agent)
- Giovanna Edilma Gutierrez
- Ana Maria Gutierrez
- Gina Paola Garcia
- Jorge Antonio
- Cristian Leandro Reyes
Colombia’s attorney general says Mauricio Garcia and the Gutierrez sisters have already accepted the charges against them.
The latest scandal erupts after Colombia expelled Russian spies Alexander Paristov and Alexander Nikolayevich Belousov in December of 2020 for recruiting agents and gathering information on Colombian natural resources, military capabilities, and the energy grid. Belousov was fingered as part of the notorious GRU, or Russian military intelligence, and Paristov was linked to the SVR, successor to Vladimir Putin’s own KGB.
Colombia’s then foreign minister speaking on the 2020 Russian spy exposure:
La Canciller Claudia Blum informa que el Gobierno Nacional tomó la decisión de solicitar el retiro de dos funcionarios diplomáticos rusos acreditados en Colombia. Más información aquí: https://t.co/2QeVDOuEdI pic.twitter.com/m2BfO9E4vK
— Cancillería Colombia (@CancilleriaCol) December 22, 2020
Operations carried out by Colombian counterintelligence investigators, supported by US signals intelligence have managed to record and document the activities of Vagin and a larger network of Russian operatives. Investigative reporting by Colombian daily El Tiempo reveals a vast operation pouring Russian money into Colombia with the objective of discrediting the government and destabilizing public order, in part, by funding much of the riots and civil unrest the country has experienced in the past three years.
While Sergei Vagin would be an “illegal,” or a spy working outside of diplomatic cover, El Tiempo fingers “alias Servac” as a Russian spymaster operating under diplomatic accreditation. Wire intercepts, according to El Tiempo, implicate Servac in coordinating wire transfers from Russia’s Sberbank to Colombia through Western Union, then filming evidence of the riots they supposedly funded, and reporting back to a “Dimas” (Diminutive of Dimitry) in Moscow.
“We confirm that they are renting accounts, money is coming in via ‘smurfing’ just as drug traffickers,” said Colombian Vice President and Foreign Minister Marta Lucia Ramirez. Smurfing is when large amounts of money are distributed across many small, unrelated accounts to disguise the source and destination of funds.
Just an innocent criminal
On Thursday, Sergei Vagin’s lawyer Francisco Gonzalez told Blu Radio that Vagin isn’t involved in financing protests but is a simple international gambling fraudster.
“Someone with a great imagination linked his nationality and the 2019 riots to ‘smurfing,’ which is appointing people to make and receive money orders from one place to another,” said Gonzalez, explaining Vagin’s innocent virtues. “People open accounts, register and enter bets fraudulently and earn a lot of money. The chance of loss is less than 10% and they beat the bookmakers.”
When news network RCN released video that Vagin himself took with rioters during civil unrest, Gonzalez called it “pure coincidence.”
En @LaNochentn24 y @NoticiasRCN revelamos pruebas de un dossier de inteligencia que acusa al ruso Sergei Vagin de ser jefe de red que desde Rusia alquila cuentas para traer dinero a Colombia. 4 días después de esta revelación fue capturado. ¿Qué hacía este ruso en las protestas? pic.twitter.com/cqKLrIe84T
— Jefferson Beltrán Neira (@JeffersonNTN24) March 30, 2022
Even if Vagin’s cover were true, he would likely be guilty of felony money laundering, tax evasion, and immigration violations. Colombia’s Information and Financial Analysis Unit accuses Vagin and his network of laundering a mammoth $146 million US dollars’ worth of Russian funds into Colombia since 2018.
Vagin is said to have entered Colombia in 2016 on a tourism visa valid for only 90 days.
Russia’s embassy, located in a quiet area of Bogotá’s Chapinero neighborhood, issued a statement denouncing all allegations. “Mr. Vagin, he is a simple analyst who offers his services to a business of sports betting. He has no link at all to the government of Russia or this Embassy. Imagine how much money Colombian contributors would be able to save if they had cleared the suspicions of this Russian citizen across the mechanisms of interstate police action.”
“We are attentive to the detention of the Russian citizen Sergei Vagin on March 30 of 2022 by the Colombian forces of public order. We hope that the competent organs offer impartiality and adherence to the law with regards to this citizen of the Russian Federation.”
#URGENTE || En vista de la continuación de la campaña mediática local premeditada orientada a desacreditar a Rusia y lesionar las relaciones bilaterales con Colombia, la Embajada se ve obligada a comunicar lo siguiente: pic.twitter.com/PlX9jvIyua
— Rusia en Colombia (@RusiaColombia) March 31, 2022
Unsurprisingly, Russia claims it is the innocent victim in all this, publishing: “All this seems a typical example of fake news, when they try to argue the necessary and already predetermined conclusion with crazy and incoherent things. This type of fabrication and ‘leakage to the press’ shows the desire of some media to join the current Western information mainstream characterized by a high degree of Russophobia and a blind fury towards everything linked to Russia.”
Of course, the same government claimed that the imminent invasion of the Ukraine was all a lie and fabricated western hysteria as well.
National Security Implications
Yesterday, Medellín-based daily El Colombiano revealed that it had reviewed hours of recordings of restricted proceedings by Colombia’s attorney general in the case where the dossier of materials gathered were presented to Casa Nariño (Colombia’s Presidential Palace). “The citizen Vladimir, attached to the Russian embassy, offered the colonel the sum of $200 million and the delivery of an apartment,” in an attempt to gain access to Colombia’s top secret National Weapons Acquisition Plan.
Defense minister Diego Molano in February accused the Russian military of installing five radar stations in Venezuela near the Colombian border, as relations between Casa Nariño and the Kremilin continued to deteriorate.