Posts Tagged ‘prostitutes’

Steele dossier hasn’t provided Robert Mueller with long sought evidence of a crime or collusion

September 23, 2018

No evidence has emerged supporting Steele’s claims in the long investigation seeking a crime….

— The Steele dossier’s allegation that the Kremlin is blackmailing President Donald Trump with a so-called “pee tape” has cast a cloud over the Trump presidency.
— The Democrat-funded dossier claims Trump used prostitutes during a visit to Moscow in 2013.
— But a music publicist who has been interviewed at length in the Mueller investigation says he was with Trump for most of his time in Moscow and that the dossier’s allegations are “unlikely.” 

A British music publicist who was with President Donald Trump during a trip to Moscow in 2013 says it is “unlikely” the real estate mogul used prostitutes during his brief visit to the Russian capital, as the infamous Steele dossier alleges.

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In an interview with The Washington Post, Rob Goldstone said he was with Trump for 31 out of the 36 hours the future president was in Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant.

The Ritz Carlton in Moscow is the alleged site of the most salacious allegation made in the Steele dossier, which was funded by Democrats and written by former British spy Christopher Steele.

A June 20, 2016, memo from the dossier alleges Kremlin operatives have blackmailed Trump with video footage of him engaged with prostitutes in a hotel room at the Ritz. According to one of Steele’s sources, the video shows the prostitutes performing a “golden showers” act in front of Trump. (RELATED: Fusion GPS Doubted The Credibility Of Major Dossier Source)

Trump has vehemently denied the allegation and no evidence has emerged supporting Steele’s claims, but it is frequently touted by Trump critics as evidence the Republican is under Kremlin control.

Trump landed in Moscow in his private plane at around 3 p.m. on a Friday and left at around 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, according to WaPo. Goldstone said he was in Trump’s vicinity for all but five hours when Trump was seemingly asleep in his hotel room. (RELATED: ‘Fifty-Fifty’: Christopher Steele Is Unsure About The ‘Golden Showers’ Tape)

Goldstone, who is releasing a book Tuesday, has been questioned at length by prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller regarding his interactions with Trump and members of his campaign. Goldstone is who contacted Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016 to offer a meeting with a group of Russians who claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton. (RELATED: Rob Goldstone Speaks Out On Trump Jr.-Russia Emails: It Was ‘Puffed Up’)

Goldstone worked for Emin Agalarov, a pop musician whose father is billionaire real estate mogul Aras Agalarov. The Agalarov family partnered with Trump to host the beauty pageant.

Goldstone contacted Trump Jr. at the behest of Emin Agalarov on June 3, 2016. In an email, Goldstone said a “Russian government attorney” wanted to meet to provide information about potentially illegal campaign contributions from Russians to Hillary Clinton.

“If it is what you say I love it,” Trump Jr. responded.

The meeting was held at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016. But most participants, including Goldstone, say the meeting was a dud. The Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, reportedly used the opportunity not to talk about Clinton, but to focus on the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law that sanctions Russian human rights abusers.

Veselnitskaya was working closely at the time with Russia’s prosecutor general, Yuri Chaika, to overturn the Magnitsky Act. As part of the project, she was also working with Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that hired Steele to write the dossier.

Goldstone said Mueller’s team was less interested in the Trump Tower meeting than they were about the relationship between the Agalarovs and Trumps.

The dossier’s claims about Trump’s visit to Moscow have been called into question, even by Steele himself.

Steele, a former MI6 official, put the odds that the “golden showers” tape exists at “50-50,” according to “Russian Roulette,” a book from two journalists who met with Steele prior to the 2016 election.

Glenn Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS, also called the credibility of the dossier’s source into question. According to “Russian Roulette,” Simpson considered the alleged source, a Belarus-born businessman named Sergei Millian, to be “a big talker.”


German police crack down on suspected Thai prostitution ring

April 18, 2018

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – German authorities searched 62 brothels, offices and homes in several federal states and arrested seven people on Wednesday in a crackdown on suspected human trafficking in connection with a Thai prostitution ring, prosecutors said.

Masked police officers flank a civilian in Bonn (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Vogel)

Security forces in Germany conducted multiple raids and detained over 100 people on Wednesday

Police said on Twitter that the raids, which involved more than 1,500 officers, prosecutors and tax officials, represented the biggest mass search in the history of the federal force.

The investigation has turned up 56 people, aged 26 to 66, who are suspected of crimes related to human trafficking, forced prostitution, pimping, withholding of wages and tax evasion, the Frankfurt general prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

Prosecutors suspect that a number of people, led by a 59-year-old Thai woman and her 62-year-old German partner, brought women and transsexuals from Thailand to Germany on tourist visas and forced them into prostitution, it said.

The woman is suspected of keeping money that the prostitutes earned, supposedly to cover the cost of bringing them to Germany as well as for room and board at several brothels in the western town of Siegen, and of eventually passing them on to brothels elsewhere.

“The investigation has so far identified a total of 32 women and transsexuals who were smuggled into Germany by the suspects and who allegedly worked in the brothels as prostitutes,” the prosecutor’s office said.

Comey says in book Trump denied allegations of lewd behavior: Washington Post

April 13, 2018

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FILE PHOTO: Former FBI Director James Comey testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on “Russian Federation Efforts to Interfere in the 2016 U.S. Elections” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File PhotoREUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – President Donald Trump denied allegations of lewd behavior made in an intelligence dossier and asked whether the FBI would consider proving it was a lie, former FBI Director James Comey wrote in an upcoming memoir, according to the Washington Post.

    Comey, fired by Trump in May 2017, wrote in “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership” that Trump raised the dossier with him at least four times during meetings, the Post said. The dossier was compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele about Trump’s ties to Russia, and included an allegation that involved prostitutes.

    The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Reuters. Comey’s publicist also did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Federal Bureau of Investigation declined to comment.

The newspaper said it obtained a copy of the 304-page book, scheduled to be released on Tuesday, and that Comey detailed in it his private interactions with Trump.

    Comey’s firing led to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between Russians and the Trump campaign.

    Russia has denied interfering in the election. Trump has said there was no collusion.

Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, January 20, 2018 — They said of Jesus, “He is out of his mind.” — If not, why is he seen happily in the company of sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers and outcasts?

January 19, 2018

Saturday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 316

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Reading 1  2 SM 1:1-4, 11-12, 19, 23-27

David returned from his defeat of the Amalekites
and spent two days in Ziklag.
On the third day a man came from Saul’s camp,
with his clothes torn and dirt on his head.
Going to David, he fell to the ground in homage.
David asked him, “Where do you come from?”
He replied, “I have escaped from the camp of the children of Israel.”
“Tell me what happened,” David bade him.
He answered that many of the soldiers had fled the battle
and that many of them had fallen and were dead,
among them Saul and his son Jonathan.David seized his garments and rent them,
and all the men who were with him did likewise.
They mourned and wept and fasted until evening
for Saul and his son Jonathan,
and for the soldiers of the LORD of the clans of Israel,
because they had fallen by the sword.”Alas! the glory of Israel, Saul,
slain upon your heights;
how can the warriors have fallen!

“Saul and Jonathan, beloved and cherished,
separated neither in life nor in death,
swifter than eagles, stronger than lions!
Women of Israel, weep over Saul,
who clothed you in scarlet and in finery,
who decked your attire with ornaments of gold.

“How can the warriors have fallen–
in the thick of the battle,
slain upon your heights!

“I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother!
most dear have you been to me;
more precious have I held love for you than love for women.

“How can the warriors have fallen,
the weapons of war have perished!”

Responsorial Psalm PS 80:2-3, 5-7

R. (4b) Let us see your face, Lord, and we shall be saved.
O shepherd of Israel, hearken,
O guide of the flock of Joseph!
From your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth
before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Rouse your power,
and come to save us.
R. Let us see your face, Lord, and we shall be saved.
O LORD of hosts, how long will you burn with anger
while your people pray?
You have fed them with the bread of tears
and given them tears to drink in ample measure.
You have left us to be fought over by our neighbors,
and our enemies mock us.
R. Let us see your face, Lord, and we shall be saved.

Alleluia  SEE ACTS 16:14B

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Open our hearts, O Lord,
to listen to the words of your Son.
R. Alleluia, alleluia

Gospel MK 3:20-21

Jesus came with his disciples into the house.
Again the crowd gathered,
making it impossible for them even to eat.
When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him,
for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
Reflection on the Book of Samuel

He had fought the nation’s wars, leading his army against the enemies of the state in multiple campaigns. He was not perfect; however, he was God’s anointed to lead the nation. He had not obeyed God perfectly. He had deliberately sinned on multiple occasions. The sins were not significant in the eyes of many, even in the eyes of many among the churches in this day. Nevertheless, his sins were egregious and displeasing before the Living God.

His bravery was displayed in this final battle. To demonstrate the reality of this statement, it is necessary to go back a bit and examine the events preceding the last battle. Saul had become obsessed with killing David. His rage was inspired primarily by the knowledge that God had removed divine blessing from the king, anointing David. Though David had served Saul loyally, leading the army and valiantly defending the nation, Saul was quite unwilling to share any glory with the younger man. And David was idolised by the people.

Returning from battle against the Philistines, “the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. And the women sang to one another as they celebrated,

‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.’


 It is not enough to have great potential or show great promise. It is what you do with that potential that makes all the difference. A good beginning does not guarantee a good end. End your life well, to the glory of God.

Whatever we start, do it well and end it well. Put your heart in it and do a good job. It is more important how we end than how well we start.

• This is so true of Saul’s life. He started well, but did not end well.

• We are going to read about his death today (1 Sam 31), and I’ve entitled my message – don’t waste your life – to remind ourselves that we want to live a purposeful life and end it well, to the glory of God.

Saul started out well, actually. He was anointed by God and given the chance to lead his nation.

• 1 Sam 9:2 says he was “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites – a head taller than any of the others.”

• But a good beginning does not guarantee a good end. It is not enough to have great potential or show great promise. It is what you do with that potential that makes all the difference.

If we squander His blessings, you would have wasted the opportunities God has given us. Don’t spurn the grace of God in our lives.



Commentary on Mark 3:20-21 From Living Space

Today we are told that “Jesus came home”? Yet, at another time he will say that he has nowhere to lay his head. One, of course, can say that anywhere can be the home of Jesus or that home is where Jesus is. We have seen references already to the ‘house’ or the ‘home’ indicating any house where Jesus is gathered with his disciples, with those who listen attentively to what he says.

At the same time, so many people came looking for him that he did not even have time to eat. This is in strong contrast with what is going to follow. One might think such popularity would be welcomed especially by his family; a kind of reflected glory. On the contrary, he is an embarrassment to them. They think he is mad. He must be mad because he is in conflict with the religious leaders, with the Pharisees and the Scribes. (It reminds one of the parents of the man born blind who did not want to have anything to do with their son because of his relationships with his healer, Jesus.)

He must be mad because a genuine rabbi would never be seen happily in the company of sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers and outcasts.

Similarly, teachers of the Law who had come all the way from Jerusalem (news of Jesus must now be reaching that far) were saying that he must be possessed by the prince of demons and that it was by the power of the prince of demons that he drove out other demons.

From the experience that Jesus had, any of his followers must not expect, simply because he bases his life on truth and brotherly love, that he will be admired, respected and loved in return. From Jesus down, every true follower of Christ has faced misunderstanding, opposition and even verbal and physical violence. And this sometimes from within his own community.


Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
20 JANUARY, 2018, Saturday, 2nd Week, Ordinary Time

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 SM 1:1-411-12171923-27PS 80:2-35-7MK 3:20-21 ]

The two-liner gospel text is one of the shortest readings for mass.  Yet, this terse mention of Jesus having no time to take a meal because of the crowd and that the relatives were “convinced he was out of his mind”, shows the passion Jesus had for His ministry. Indeed, if many of us live mediocre and boring lives, it is because we lack passion in life and for life.  Nothing seems to excite us.  What are we living for?  What drives us to do what we do?  In most instances, we are driven by fear, obligation and peer pressure.  We are not driven by passion.

When we are passionate about something, we can give our whole mind and soul into it.  If a student is interested in a subject, there is no need to pressurize him to study.  Quite often, if a student is not studying, it is not because he or she is lazy. Rather it is because he or she finds the subject and the lessons boring and irrelevant in his or her life.  For this reason, the task of a teacher is not so much to teach or pass some information to his or her students but to excite the students by giving them a foretaste of the beauty of what is taught so that they would want to learn and discover more for themselves.

This is true in every area of life, whether it is with regard to faith, religion or work.  If many do not have faith in God, it is because they cannot connect with God and the doctrines of the Church.  They cannot see how their faith can add value to their lives.  It is also the same for those who are working.  Those who are simply working for money and promotion will never be able to excel because they are motivated wrongly.   They are motivated insofar as they are paid more or promoted.  However, such motivations cannot satisfy them for long, unless they believe in the vision and the mission of the organization.

If our passion is limited to worldly pursuits, we will never find life truly meaningful and fulfilling.  If our passion is to make money, more wealth, acquire fame and have power, we will end up chasing after the wind.  The moment our stomach is full; we are satiated and tired of rich foods.  The day we have plenty of money, it becomes just numbers in our account because in truth we cannot make use of all the money for ourselves, because our needs are limited.  At any rate, we do not need many things to be happy.  If it is ambition that drives us, when we arrive at it, we will find that we need another goal to keep us going.

So what can drive us to find true meaning and purpose in life?  Jesus was driven not by earthly pleasures, glory or honour.  He was passionate about establishing His Father’s kingdom.  His whole life was about making the love of the Father known.  “I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.”  (Jn 17:26)  “They brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.  And the whole city was gathered together about the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons”  (Mk 2:32-34)  And when they wanted Him to stay and build His own kingdom, He said, “’Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.’ And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.”  (Mk 1:38f)

This passion to make the love of His Father known and to establish His reign of love and mercy was also driven by the experience of His Father’s love for Him.  It was His own intimacy with the Father whom He addressed as ‘Abba Father’ that inspired Him to share His experience of the Father’s love with them.  Because of His intimacy with His Father, Jesus shared the love of His Father for humanity, His compassion for them, especially those who suffered from sickness, bondage and oppression.  The works of Jesus, His healing miracles, deliverance and eating and drinking with sinners were meant to demonstrate the power of His Father’s love.

David in the first reading was not motivated by greed or power.  Although he had earlier been anointed to be the next king of Israel, he was not eyeing the office nor was he impatient to be king. (cf 1 Sm 16:1-13)  His only desire was to serve Saul who was the Lord’s Anointed One.  He was motivated to serve God in His servant, Saul.  He was content to be the warrior of Saul, to protect Him and the kingdom.  This was in spite of the fact that Saul tried to kill David many times.  Twice, David could have killed Saul but he refrained from doing so.  The first time, he cut off a piece of Saul’s cloak.  (cf 1 Sm 24) The second time, he took Saul’s spear when he was sleeping.  “The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the Lord gave you into my hand today, and I would not put forth my hand against the Lord’s anointed. Behold, as your life was precious this day in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the Lord, and may he deliver me out of all tribulation.” (1 Sm 26:23f)

Indeed, so passionate was David in serving his master that he was grieved when Saul and Jonathan died in the battle against their enemies.  “David took hold of his garments and tore them, and all the men did the same.  They mourned and wept and fasted until the evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, for the people of the Lord and for the House of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.”  One would have thought that he would rejoice that his assassin had been paid his just deserts.  Instead, David was overcome with grief and sadness.

His love and devotion for Saul is beautifully expressed in the dirge that he wrote for them.  David was a man with a magnanimous heart.  Instead of recounting all the bad things Saul had done to him, pursuing him like a dog, forcing him to hide for years in their enemies’ territories among the Philistines, going hungry and taking refuge in caves, he cried out to Saul, “Why does my lord pursue after his servant? For what have I done? What guilt is on my hands?”  (1 Sm 26:18)  Notwithstanding the injustice that Saul did to him because of his jealousy, David did not choose to highlight the evils that he suffered under Saul.  Instead, he chose to see the goodness that Saul did.  He laid aside his hurts and grievances and focused on the positive aspects of Saul’s kingship.  He said, “Alas, the glory of Israel has been slain on your heights!  Swifter than eagles were they, stronger were they than lions.”  Such were the praises that David sang for his enemy and persecutor.

What gave him that passion to serve King Saul in spite of the latter’s ingratitude?  It was because David feared and trusted in God.  In spite of his sufferings, he believed that God would see him through.  He waited for God’s promise to be fulfilled.  He did not take things into his own hands.  He consistently believed that it was a crime to kill, regardless how evil Saul might have been because he was God’s anointed.  Only God could remove the king.  It was not his job to pronounce judgement on Saul’s sins.  (Lev 19:18)  Because David trusted in God and submitted his life into His hands, he was rewarded for his faith in God.  Rightly, he was fit to be enthroned king of Judah and Israel.  This was what Saul acknowledged too.  “And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand.”  (1 Sm 24:20) His struggles and sufferings under Saul prepared him for heavier responsibilities in the future.

But his passion was also supported by the love of Jonathan.  It was his friendship with Jonathan that gave him strength to love Jonathan’s father.  “O Jonathan, in your death I am stricken, I am desolate for you, Jonathan my brother. Very dear to me you were, your love to more wonderful than the love of a woman.”  Because he loved Jonathan as much as Jonathan loved him, David could continue to love Saul and not take revenge on him.  Quite often, it is the support of our friends that gives us the impetus to continue to do the work we are doing in spite of opposition and trials.  It is the love of God and of our friends that can support us in our passion to do what is good for humanity.

What about us?  What drives us in our work and in what we do?  Are we driven by worldly ambition or worse still, the things of this world?  If that is the motivation for doing what we are doing, we will face disappointment the day when we arrive.  After spending so much time and energy, we will find all these things and achievements a vanity, as King Solomon discovered. (cf Eccl 2:9-11)

Today, we need to discover what it takes to be passionate in what we do.  We need to be driven by a higher purpose in life, beyond the things of this world that cannot satisfy us and cannot last. Jesus warns us, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  (Mt 6:19-21)  Let our hearts seek God and serve Him through the service of our fellowmen.  It is when we give ourselves in helping others, enlightening them, empowering them, so that in turn they can continue the good we are doing, that we find passion, meaning and purpose in life.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

Netanyahu Jr.’s Smutty Tape Made His Family Do the Unthinkable

January 12, 2018

Netanyahu apparently knew about his son’s leaked strip club tape and tried to stop it from being published; the parts that weren’t broadcast were far harder to digest

By Yossi Verter Jan 12, 2018 4:18 PM

Image result for Yair Netanyahu with Benjamin Netanyahu, photos

The war room was set up in the Prime Minister’s Residence immediately after the broadcast of the smutty recording of Yair Netanyahu. The aides of Yair’s not-so-proud father studied the battle lines and made panicky phone calls to the troops in the Knesset building. The latter were urged to report for media duty, physically and by phone, to appear on the next day’s morning talk shows, to defend the “kid” and to declaim the aggressive messages conveyed in the family’s response, on which the prime minister and his advisers labored long and hard before the Israel Television News Company aired the tape.

> ‘God help us if this gets out’: The full transcript of Yair Netanyahu’s wild Tel Aviv night | ‘Strippergate’: Everything you need to know about Yair Netanyahu’s latest scandal >>
read more:

For nought. The Likud MKs, whose threshold for shame is especially high when it comes to the exploits of the Leader and his wife, were unavailable. Even the backbenchers, who balk at (almost) nothing, switched their cellphones to flight mode.

The collective cold shoulder that the prime minister was given in his distress was received with astonishment, sorrow and profound grief at home on Balfour Street. Its residents were left without a defensive shield, abandoned to their fate. Only then, while the story of the tape – recorded during a drunken night on the town two years ago that included visits to strip joints by Yair and some buddies, and featured misogynistic and other vulgar utterances – was flooding the websites and social networks in Israel and worldwide, did the scale of the blow become clear to them.

The Netanyahus realized that their usual sort of whining (vilifying the left and the media for trying to topple Likud, employing whataboutism aimed at the offspring of other prime ministers and so forth) would not relieve the feeling of nausea that had gripped a whole country. The situation thus called for a rapid change in strategy, from an all-out offensive, with shots being fired in every direction, to a defensive posture, damage control and a modicum of head lowering.

Just before the newspapers went to press, and in order to sidetrack slightly the “hell” (as per the accurate description of one of the recording’s protagonists) whose gates were about to open on them – Yair published a statement of apology. That’s never happened before. Not after he cursed the staff of the democracy-advocating institute Molad, not after he gave the finger to a woman on the street who made a remark to him for not cleaning up after his dog, and not after he shared anti-Semitic cartoons on his Facebook page, a post for which he received understandable praise from the Ku Klux Klan.

The new policy continued into the following day, making its way into a previously scheduled press conference with NATO-country ambassadors at the Prime Minister’s Office. Netanyahu looked ashen gray and crushed, as if he’d been run over the night before by a streetcar named desire.

He condemned his son’s remarks and attributed them to the influence of alcohol, explaining what took place as an immature and tasteless conversation between some young guys who had returned from an innocent night out. He let himself off lightly, of course.

The premier’s careful effort to express his dispproval related solely to what his son had said, not to his deeds, as though what happened was merely a slip of the tongue. And as though the one drink too many that Yair and his pals, Nir and Roman, imbibed came after they’d attended the opera and – their hearts surging from the experience – had gone on to a pub and toasted the orchestra and the conductor.

“My wife and I raised our children to respect every human being and to honor every woman,” Netanyahu said in an uncharacteristic tone of defeat and dispiritedness. It could be that dozens of people who have gone through the experience of being employed in the Prime Minister’s Residence, from Meni Naftali to Shira Raban – “You’re a lump of nothing,” Sara Netanyahu shouted at the latter, according to Raban’s testimony in her lawsuit – would dispute him on that point.

The text closely recalled the response by Donald Trump after a clip was made public in which he’s heard boasting to an interviewer about his habit of grabbing women “by the pussy.” It was “locker room talk,” he said; that’s just how guys talk. Millions of Americans declared that they had never said anything resembling that in locker rooms or anywhere else, just as parents in Israel protested the implicit message of Netanyahu family’s statement – namely, that this is how young people hang out on Friday night: by going to strip clubs and exploiting women for prostitution to the tune of 400 shekels (about $115). The son of the millionaire from Caesarea and from the Rehavia neighborhood in Jerusalem asked his pal – the son of the billionaire from London and from Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard – to pay even that sum, in return for his father’s having worked to enable the pal’s dad to benefit from Israel’s natural gas deal.

That’s the education Yair Netanyahu received at home: grab them by the pocket, because what’s ours is ours, and what’s theirs is also ours.

Benjamin, Sara and Yair Netanyahu study Torah with Rabbi Meir Lau in 2013.
Benjamin, Sara and Yair Netanyahu study Torah with Rabbi Meir Lau in 2013.Kobi Gideon / GPO

Yellow is the color

The recording was like the box of chocolates in the “Forrest Gump” aphorism, with something in it that spoke to every normative person in the country, whether on the right or left: a whiff of corruption, testimony to big capital-government relations, exploitation and objectification of women, and plain old vulgarity, along with the debased use of public funds (Yair and his pals were transported on their outing in a government car and escorted by a bodyguard).

The passages that the news company chose not to broadcast, and rightly so, were far harder to digest. The young scapegrace should thank the news program’s editors – not accuse them of “yellow journalism.” The yellowness is all his. They’re only the messengers, who comported themselves professionally and even spared both him and viewers.

The elder prince of the House of Netanyahu, whose parents like to present him proudly to presidents, leaders and high rollers who visit the official residence, was revealed to be a real hazard, a vulgarian, a parasite and just plain revolting. The last guy someone would wish as a husband for his daughter, despite his exalted lineage.

Beyond these heartwarming character traits, what was heard on the tape touches a particularly raw nerve in Israeli society: the circumstances in which the natural gas deal was approved in the summer of 2015. It turns out that ahead of the approval, a close friendship – of a sort that includes joint visits to “private rooms” in strip clubs – existed between the son of the prime minister who threw himself on the fence to get the deal done, and the son of the tycoon who was going to reap the fruits of the deal. Daddy, of course, knew nothing. Once again, he knew nothing. When it’s convenient for him, he’s always the last to spot what generally goes on under his nose.

The political arena was largely silent about the whole affair. MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union/Labor) was the first to comment publicly. She, who has never spoken against anyone in the family, despite the shameful deeds of Sara and Yair (the younger son, Avner, is apparently cut from different cloth; he eluded the “education in values”), lashed out sharply against what was heard in the recording.

In contrast, Culture Minister Miri Regev, a sycophant of the first order, took the opposite position at Thursday’s cabinet meeting. “It’s not acceptable for us to be held hostage,” she screamed. “They threaten us, and then make a profit vis-à-vis the media. If that’s how it is, I don’t want any bodyguards.”

Not a word on the content of the recording. Who if not Regev would reveal apathy to the suffering of the victims of prostitution, indifference to the waste of taxpayers’ money, and a lack of interest in depraved behavior? None of that should surprise when one recalls her statement that “it’s not fair” to compare former president and convicted rapist Moshe Katsav to the current resident of the office, Reuven Rivlin, who, she declared, “is the most unstatesmanlike president of all time.”

Her comments, which were likely ordered up by the prime minister, ignited a conversation that would not have embarrassed the government of Chechnya. Netanyahu offered his thanks, and asked Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to have her people look into the legality of the leaking of the recording to the press and of whether there might grounds for passing legislation against. That is, to prohibit the secret recording of conversations even if made by one of those involved in the conversation, something that is today completely legal.

Flashback to David Bitan: Three months ago, he announced his intention to introduce precisely such legislation. Just like that. He didn’t say how, why, who. Now it all becomes clear. In Netanyahu’s office, they apparently knew about a recording that was making its way around different editorial offices. They knew, and they tried – fortunately, without success – to stop it.

Keep smiling

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) paid a condolence call this week on MK Yossi Yonah (Zionist Union/Labor), who was in mourning for his brother. Yonah’s sister went over to him and asked: Moshe, how long are you going to stay in this corrupt government? Kahlon smiled and didn’t reply. Another woman, also a relative, asked him something similar.

Kahlon got uptight. “Listen carefully, and don’t have any illusions,” he asserted, the famous Kahlon smile never leaving his lips. “There’s no chance in the world that I’m going to leave the government because of police recommendations [i.e., a possible decision by the police to recommend the indictment of Prime Minister Netanyahu on bribery charges]. Got it? No chance!”

Kahlon and Netanyahu.
Kahlon and Netanyahu.Alex Kolomoisky / Pool

They got it. That’s it – he’s made the decision. The die is cast. All those who held great expectations can stuff them deep inside the drawer. Kahlon made similar remarks, albeit less explicit and without referring directly to the recommendations and with less agitation, in his address to the Israel Business Conference, sponsored by the Globes financial paper, on Wednesday evening.

The delay – it’s not clear for how long – in the publication of the conclusions reached by the police in Cases 1000 and 2000, made it possible for Kahlon and Netanyahu to submit on Thursday a state budget for 2019, which the government discussed late into the night. It’s a budget lacking both sharp cuts and radical measures. It’s main purpose is to preserve the coalition. The procedure, which will involve rounds of votes in the Knesset, and which will conclude before the Passover break, or immediately afterward, in the House’s summer session, presents obstacles, but they can be overcome. A mini-crisis here, an empty threat of one kind or another – and then the budget is anchored in law.

Nothing, then, would seem to stand in the way of Netanyahu’s fourth coalition getting through 2018 safely. Other than a decision by the attorney general to indict the prime minister. In a theoretical timetable, in which the police conclude their investigation in a few months, and the state prosecution and the attorney general do their work in seven or eight months, including a hearing, if there’s a need for one – we’ll get to the end of this year before the final decision on at least two of the cases under investigation is made.

If Netanyahu evades an indictment, he will complete a full term in November 2019 and become the prime minister who served more years than any other in the country’s history – more even than David Ben-Gurion.

The threat of an election this year has passed. MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), who’s soaring in the polls, will have to mothball his dreams of gaining the premiership. Avi Gabbay, who’s losing altitude fast, not least by continually shooting himself in the foot, will have to make a major recovery if the battle between him and Lapid for leadership of the center-left bloc is to be resumed. At the moment, Yesh Atid appears to have won the day.

Major pressure was released in the Knesset this week. The crisis between Likud and the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox parties, which erupted a couple of months ago because of Israel Railways’ repairs on Shabbat, and led to the resignation of Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) and threatened to infect Shas, too, has been resolved.

The “supermarkets law,” which bans most stores from opening on Shabbat, passed by a majority of one. Before that, the “Shabbat law” was passed, which accords the minister of labor the power to “weigh” the question of the Sabbath when authorizing urgent work on that day. Also passed was a law that brought Litzman back to the Health Ministry as a deputy minister with full ministerial powers.

Three laws that will help preserve coalition stability, only one of which has any substance. The first two are a façade, a caprice engendered by violent Haredi-media pressure that makes life hard for ultra-Orthodox MKs, who in turn abuse the country’s secular majority and provoke a prime minister who’s susceptible to pressure and extortion and whose supreme goal is political survival.

The danger of an early election was substantial, clear and even present. If the supermarkets law had been defeated, or, in the absence of a coalition majority, had not been put to a vote, the Litzman bill would not have been submitted, either. The former minister made it clear that he would not return to office until the supermarkets issue was dealt with properly. The result: UTJ would have remained outside the coalition, its members would have started to behave anarchically in the plenum, by not supporting certain bills, and so on. Interior Minister Arye Dery’s Shas party would have been dragged unhappily into the realms of rebelliousness and rejectionism. The coalition tower would have been buffeted time and again, until it imploded on its occupants, none of whom want or need elections now. But marches of folly have their own illogic.

Big-time screw-up

The opposition in the Knesset is steered by two MKs: Ofer Shelah, chairman of the Yesh Atid faction in the house, and Yoel Hasson, his counterpart in Zionist Union. In that order. Hasson is the prattler of the two, smug and media-hungry, boasting of achievements that are not always his. Shelah operates more quietly. Credit for the vigorous opposition activity in recent weeks, which didn’t bear fruit but shook up the coalition the way it’s supposed to, goes to Shelah.

This week, though, he and Hasson, in that order, screwed up big-time. Apparently the praise and applause went to their heads.

The Knesset plenum convened to consider the Litzman bill. The opposition submitted multiple objections, as part of a kind of mini-filibuster, which was supposed to gon on for a few hours. At midday, Shelah and Hasson looked at the board that shows which MKs are present, and saw that a large number of coalition MKs were not in the building. Some of them were attending the funeral of Rabbi Raziel Shelah, the settler who was shot to death Tuesday night near the outpost of Havat Gilad, where he lived.

The two decided to withdraw the objections forthwith, thus concluding the debate and necessitating an immediate vote. The essence of the maneuver was right. That’s what the opposition does. But the timing was atrocious. It was interpreted as an attempt to take advantage of the participation of right-wing MKs at the funeral of the slain settler. After the scandal recently generated by Arye Dery, when he tried to drag MK Yehuda Glick (Likud) from the shivah for his wife, a little more caution should have been called for in matters of life, death and mourning. (Hasson claimed that he “didn’t know” that the funeral was taking place at the same time. The time had been announced repeatedly on the news broadcasts that morning, but he didn’t know.)

The Knesset regulations stipulate that, in the absence of objections, the chairman of the committee that prepared a bill for a vote is not permitted to take the rostrum to sum up the debate and thus kill time until the missing MKs arrive. Fortunately for the coalition, Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin was on duty at the government table in the Knesset. A former coalition whip, there’s not a trick in the book that he doesn’t know from experience.

Elkin took advantage of his right as a minister to take the rostrum at any time and talk about whatever he pleases. He did just that, talking while the MKs were summoned urgently back to their place of employment. If Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beiteinu), or Economy and Industry Minister Eli Cohen (Kulanu) had been on duty instead of Elkin, it’s possible the Litzman law would have been defeated, and Litzman would not have attended yesterday’s special cabinet meeting in order to fight like a lion on behalf of the Health Ministry’s budget.

The joy that seized the coalition after everything ended happily was noticeable on the other benches, too. The MKs of Zionist Union are just as scared of an election as Likud and Shas. They were also quite pleased to see Litzman resume his former post; he’s considered a successful minister. On the eve of the budget’s approval, it’s best if he’s there, in the negotiations in the back rooms, to ensure his divinely ordained budget.

Yossi Verter
read more:

Netanyahu’s son under fire after ‘strip club’ tape

January 9, 2018


© AFP | Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his son Yair (R) visit the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem on March 18, 2015


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son has been caught on tape seemingly drunk outside a strip club talking about a key natural gas deal, leading to political fallout on Tuesday.

The audio recording of Yair Netanyahu, who has been the subject of controversy in the past, was aired by Israel’s Channel 2 television late Monday.

On the recording, said to be from 2015, Yair Netanyahu, now 26, can be heard speaking with the son of Kobi Maimon, a stakeholder in a company that owns a share in Israel’s offshore Tamar gas field.

Their conversation includes talk of strippers and prostitutes.

“My dad arranged $20 billion for your dad — you can give me 400 shekels ($116/97 euros),” he says.

Yair Netanyahu issued a statement apologising and saying he was only joking about the gas deal while “under the influence of alcohol”.

“These statements do not represent who I am nor the values on which I was raised,” he said.

“Regarding what I said about the gas deal, it was a joke. Anyone with a bit of common sense understands that right way.”

Netanyahu faced a difficult political battle over Israel’s natural gas arrangements, with opponents saying they overly favour the companies involved.

Labour party leader Avi Gabbay said the recording was a “new stain on the corrupt gas deal.”

There was also criticism over Yair Netanyahu’s security arrangements. A security guard employed by the state purportedly accompanied Yair Netanyahu to the strip club.

Netanyahu’s office said it “is not consulted on protection arrangements for his children decided upon by the security services.”

The Netanyahus in a statement denounced the broadcast of the recording, saying it was part of a “witch-hunt against the family that has reached an unprecedented low.”

“Apparently, everything is fair game to attack the Netanyahu government and family, including using a secret and illegal recording of young men drinking alcohol.”

Cambodia PM orders closure of child sex slave charity

August 1, 2017


© AFP/File | Hun Sen has long jousted with local and international NGOs, which he accuses of meddling in Cambodian affairs

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Cambodia’s premier Hun Sen on Tuesday ordered a Christian charity that rescues child sex slaves to be shut down, after it featured in a recent CNN report that he described as an “insult” to his country.The impoverished Southeast Asian nation has long been a destination for sex tourists, with minors often the victims of a flesh trade aided by endemic corruption.

A CNN report broadcast on 25 July featured three girls who were reportedly rescued from the sex trade by Agape International Missions (AIM), a charity founded by an American pastor which has been operating in the country since 1988.

The girls had first appeared in a 2013 documentary by CNN on Svay Pak, a poor suburb on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, before the network decided to pay them another visit this year and follow up on their fate.

Until a crackdown in the early 2000s Svay Pak hosted a huge red light district notorious for child sex slaves and the documentary showed the trade still existed a decade on.

The head of the charity, American pastor Don Brewster, was quoted in last week’s report as saying that Svay Pak was “at one point the epicenter” of the child sex trade.

He said things had dramatically improved in recent years but that some trade in minors still occured behind closed doors.

But Hun Sen, one of the world’s longest serving leaders, took exception to the report.

“I cannot accept the insult by an NGO that was broadcasted on CNN… that said in Cambodia mothers sold daughters to be prostitutes,” he told a graduation ceremony.

“This is an insult that cannot be tolerated. At any cost, this organisation must leave Cambodia. We cannot let them stay anymore,” he added.

AIM did not respond to requests for comment.

Hun Sen and nationalists seized on an early version of CNN’s online report which described the girls as Cambodian, when in fact they either spoke Vietnamese or Khmer with a thick Vietnamese accent.

CNN later removed the word Cambodian from their headline.

The network did not respond to an AFP request for comment but told the Cambodia Daily it “stood by its reporting”.

Many of Svay Pak’s poorest and most vulnerable inhabitants are indeed Vietnamese migrants.

But police raids, court cases and efforts by charities show ample evidence over the years that children from impoverished Cambodian families are also at risk of sex trafficking.

Hun Sen has long jousted with local and international NGOs, which he accuses of meddling in Cambodian affairs.

In 2015 he drove through a controversial and broadly-worded law that allows authorities to shutter any that harms national security or the “traditions and culture” of Cambodia.


Prayer and Meditation for Thursday, March 23, 2017 — “This is the nation that does not listen.” — “Walk in all the ways that I command you, so that you may prosper.”

March 22, 2017

Thursday of the Third Week of Lent
Lectionary: 240

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

Christ Healing, by Rembrandt, 1649

Reading 1 JER 7:23-28

Thus says the LORD:
This is what I commanded my people:
Listen to my voice;
then I will be your God and you shall be my people.
Walk in all the ways that I command you,
so that you may prosper.

But they obeyed not, nor did they pay heed.
They walked in the hardness of their evil hearts
and turned their backs, not their faces, to me.
From the day that your fathers left the land of Egypt even to this day,
I have sent you untiringly all my servants the prophets.
Yet they have not obeyed me nor paid heed;
they have stiffened their necks and done worse than their fathers.
When you speak all these words to them,
they will not listen to you either;
when you call to them, they will not answer you.
Say to them:
This is the nation that does not listen
to the voice of the LORD, its God,
or take correction.
Faithfulness has disappeared;
the word itself is banished from their speech.

Responsorial Psalm PS 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9

R. (8) If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me;
they tested me though they had seen my works.”
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Verse Before The Gospel JL 2:12-13

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
for I am gracious and merciful.

Gospel LK 11:14-23

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute,
and when the demon had gone out,
the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed.
Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons,
he drives out demons.”
Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven.
But he knew their thoughts and said to them,
“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste
and house will fall against house.
And if Satan is divided against himself,
how will his kingdom stand?
For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons.
If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul,
by whom do your own people drive them out?
Therefore they will be your judges.
But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons,
then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.
When a strong man fully armed guards his palace,
his possessions are safe.
But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him,
he takes away the armor on which he relied
and distributes the spoils.
Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”


Sinners, the Bible and Jesus

It’s common to hear Christians saying things like “We’re all sinners who need God’s grace,” and “Whoever is without sin, let them cast the first stone.” Cliché-ish though they may be, they carry a great deal of truth. Any honest person recognizes her faults, carries her regrets, and wishes she might improve. It’s a good thing God is kind because we’re pretty much a mess. But if it’s good theology to recognize that we all are sinners, that assumption can also lead to misunderstanding when it comes to reading the Bible.

Many biblical authors recognize the universality of sin. In Romans 3:10-18, Paul rattles off a series of indictments against sinful humanity: no one is righteous; no one truly seeks God; all have turned aside; people use their tongues to deceive and to curse; people do not know the way of peace or the fear of God. Paul’s account represents no uniquely Christian insight; the Apostle is simple quoting a variety of passages from the Jewish Scriptures. Almost all of them come from the Psalms.

But if the Psalms acknowledge humankind’s universal sinful condition, they also discriminate between the righteous and the wicked. Psalm 1 begins by blessing those who do not take the path of sinners: the wicked cannot withstand the judgment, nor can they assemble among the righteous. God watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction. Psalm 34 celebrates how God rescues the righteous from their troubles, while evil brings death to the wicked. And Psalm 37 instructs its reader to heed the example of blameless and righteous persons.

Some Christians might be tempted to object. “Well, the Old Testament may divide the world between the righteous and the wicked, but the New Testament is a book of grace. In the New Testament we’re all sinners who stand in need of God’s grace.” That objection simply fails. For one thing, the Jewish Scriptures testify to God’s grace just as fully as do the New Testament writings. When God reveals the divine nature to Moses, God’s voice proclaims, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6, NRSV). The passage does go on to name God’s judgment against the guilty, a sentiment no less consistent in the New Testament than in the Jewish Scriptures. The biblical God, whether “Old” or “New” Testament, is a God of grace.

The New Testament itself discriminates between righteous people and sinners. When the anonymous woman comes to anoint Jesus in Luke 7:36-50, the storyteller leaves no question as to whether she’s a sinner: “a woman in the city, who was a sinner…” (NRSV). Thinking to himself, Jesus’ host surmises that if Jesus were a prophet, he would recognize her status as a sinner. And Jesus himself says aloud that her sins are “many.” The story singles out the woman as a sinner, leaving open the assumption that others in her world must be righteous.

Jesus himself acknowledges the distinction between righteous people and sinners, claiming that he comes to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance (Matthew 9:13; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:32). His parable of the sheep and the goats divides judgment according to the righteous and the, well, goats (Matthew 25:31-46), while his parable of the lost sheep reemphasizes the distinction between sinners who repent and those who do not need repentance (Matthew 18:12-14; Luke 15:3-7).

Hence, many parts of the Bible do distinguish righteous persons from wicked ones. We may ignore that distinction. Or we may rationalize it: “Oh, we’re all sinners, but Jesus makes us righteous before God.” Both choices will prevent us from understanding passages like the ones we’ve just reviewed.

Simply, in the biblical world some people were considered righteous and others wicked. We may even assume that some people regarded themselves as righteous, while others accepted their own status as sinners. We lack clear evidence, biblical or otherwise, as to what defined the two categories. Most scholars think, as I do, that the distinction boiled down to whether people basically tried to live according to Israel’s covenant with God. People who flagrantly disregarded the Law were sinners; others could stand among the righteous.

But there’s a hitch. Without clear criteria — and what clear criteria could there have been? — the distinction between sinners and the righteous amounted to a social verdict. Modern anthropologists would interpret this distinction in terms of labeling and deviance: labeling has to do with the values societies assign to individuals, and deviance involves how societies determine who counts among the unworthy. In other words, categories like “righteous” and “sinner” reflect social values that are subject to change from one period to another and from one culture to another.

Why does it matter? Jesus’ opponents routinely criticized Jesus for cavorting with “tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 9:11; Mark 2:16; Luke 5:30). In turn, Jesus’ followers celebrated this reputation. They remembered that such people freely chose to follow Jesus (Matthew 9:10; Mark 2:15; Luke 15:1-2). They recalled how Jesus envisioned the tax collectors and prostitutes preceding the righteous in God’s new reign (Matthew 21:31-32).

The acknowledgement of tax collectors and prostitutes reveals something about sinners in Jesus’ day — and our own. Many people live in desperate circumstances. We may deplore their lifestyles, but we should also consider how they came to pass. No one in Jesus’ day grew up thinking, “I hope I’ll be a tax collector when I grow up” any more than young girls daydream about a life of prostitution today. Yet there they are: people corrupted by exploitative economics and people abused for others’ pleasure. Both “sinners” in society’s vision; both companions of Jesus in early Christian memory.

If you’d like to read more about the question of sinners and Jesus’ ministry among them, please read my book, ‘Sinners: Jesus and His Earliest Followers.’

Iran official calls for sterilisation for sex workers, homeless drug addicts

January 1, 2017


© AFP/File | “These women deal drugs, consume drugs and also work as sex workers,” a deputy provincial governor in Tehran said. “Over 20 percent of them have AIDS and (they) spread various diseases.”
TEHRAN (AFP) – Female sex workers and homeless drug addicts in Tehran should be “convinced” to undergo sterilisation to prevent social problems, a deputy provincial governor in the Iranian capital said on Sunday.

“These women deal drugs, consume drugs and also work as sex workers,” Siavash Shahrivar told the ILNA news agency.

“Over 20 percent of them have AIDS and (they) spread various diseases,” he said.

“In addition to … spreading depravity, they reproduce like hatching machines and as their children have no guardians, they sell them,” he added.

“There is a project, a reality, an opinion, agreed on by many NGOs and the social elite, that if a women is sick, and is also a sex worker and has no place to stay, she should be sterilised with her own approval, and not forcefully”.

“The sterilisation should be done through a project to convince homeless women to prevent social harm,” he added.

Last week, when images of homeless men and women sleeping in open graves outside Tehran shocked Iranian society, a cartoonist said on social media that the women must be sterilised because they give birth to children with “weak genes”.

The suggestion by Bozorgmehr Hosseinpour to “block the misery of poor humans who enter this world with many diseases, pain and addiction” outraged many people. Some said it reminded them of “Nazi cleansing” projects.

He later apologised and said the women should be given consultation for sterilisation “with their own approval.”

The controversy quickly turned into a political football with conservative media accusing Shahindokht Molaverdi, vice president for women’s affairs, of advocating the sterilisation of homeless women — which she denies.

In April Molaverdi said the government “has not yet offered any specific plans for sterilisation of homeless women” and such plans should be “proposed and reviewed by the Health Ministry”.

In recent years, there has been a growing crisis in Tehran where street children are born and sold by homeless or poor women living in and around the capital.

Thousands of such children are put to work as beggars or street vendors.

Last week the haunting images of dozens of homeless people living in empty graves in a town outside Tehran caused social media users and celebrities to react with expressions of alarm and sadness.

Oscar-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi aired his frustration in a letter to President Hassan Rouhani, in which he said he was “filled with shame and sorrow”.

The president responded to Farhadi’s “painful” letter on Wednesday.

“Who can see human beings hurt by social issues who take shelter in graves…. and not feel ashamed?” Rouhani said.

© 2017 AFP


The Epic Honey Trap: A Classic Case Shows Just How Far Moscow Will Go To Get What It Wants — It really did resemble something out of Dangerous Liaisons by way of The Lower Depths

August 1, 2016

By Michael Weiss

The French ambassador looked like an easy target, but 100 operatives were called on to get him laid, and get him recruited.

“Eh bien, Dejean, on couche.”

With that contemptuous locution, which one might translate very roughly as, “Well, De Jean, one gets laid,” with perhaps the added thought that having made one’s bed, one must lie in it, Charles De Gaulle dismissed his old friend Maurice Dejean from diplomatic service to the Fifth Republic.

It was 1964, six years after the KGB had staged one of its long-running and most elaborate honey traps in Moscow against a Western diplomat. The operation involved over 100 officers and agents of the KGB including, incognito, the head of the Second Chief Directorate, the branch responsible for domestic surveillance and the monitoring or recruitment of foreigners inside the Soviet Union.

Celebrated Russian writers, actresses, painters, and intellectuals, and not a few prostitutes were conscripted for this mission of interlocking plots and subplots, featuring Dejean’s wife and the wives of others. Even Premier Nikita Khrushchev played a role in snaring the high-value mark he himself ordered snared. It was a mission of entrapment that repeatedly risked coming undone and likely would have but for the cosmic surety of French womanizing.

Dejean had served faithfully with De Gaulle in the resistance during World War II, first in Morocco and then London. Although the two had quarreled in the Free French administration after the Allied liberation of Paris, Dejean went on to become political director at the Quai d’Orsay, the French foreign ministry.

From there, his career was largely a series of botched attempts to extricate postwar France from various folds in the Iron Curtain, a somewhat quixotic search for a “third way” between the democratic West and the totalitarian East.

Dejean served as ambassador to Prague and worked assiduously to restore Franco-Czech relations until the 1948 communist coup, which Dejean blamed (rightly) on the Soviets. He headed the French mission in Tokyo in 1950; then he was dispatched to Saigon where he watched the siege of Dien Ben Phu and its fall to communist insurgents in 1954: prelude to an engulfing conflict that would eventually lure the United States into its first disastrous war of choice.

Perhaps it was fitting, then, that Dejean’s next posting would also be his last, in Moscow, a year later. He was 56, eager to establish cultural ties and, as the haughty De Gaulle put it, not above sleeping around.

In the age of email hacking and cyber insecurity, it is easy to forget the more cunning, intimate, and human side of tradecraft, which is why over the last several months I’ve been taking slow, deep sips from KGB: The Secret Work of Soviet Secret Agents, a book published in 1974, at a time when we knew far less than we do now about how the Cold War was being fought in the shadows and street corners and embassies of the world.

The author, John Barron, a Reader’s Digest journalist (and not the “spokesman” Donald Trump used to conjure out of thin air) , spent years accumulating first-hand accounts from Soviet defectors about the nature and style of the special services’ invigilation of the citizenry and of usually unsuspecting foreign visitors to the USSR, or foreign marks abroad.

Barron, who was himself a spook in the 1950s, was so accomplished by the end of his spadework that he frequently testified for the FBI in prominent espionage cases, explaining the patterns of Soviet surveillance and spy-running. The Dejean operation is in many ways the summa of KGB and the subject matter therein.

It all began in 1956, the year of the Hungarian Revolution, at the Moskva Hotel, with KGB Col. Leonid Kunavin instructing one of his subordinates, the dramatist Yuri Krotkov, that Dejean was the target for recruitment, given his closeness to De Gaulle and the likelihood that the latter was on his way to ruling France. “The order comes from the very top,” Kunavin said. “Nikita Sergeyevich [Khrushchev] himself wants him caught.”

The use of Krotkov as the seconded scalp-hunter was as clever as it was customary, given his bona fides in the artistic milieu of Soviet Moscow. Born in Tbilisi, he was the son of a famous Georgian painter who once did a portrait of Lavrenty Beria that Stalin’s last-appointed security chief so admired, he had copies made and hung around the security service’s Lubyanka headquarters—until, of course, Beria was purged by Khrushchev following Stalin’s death.

Even so, paternal accomplishment and connections afforded Krotkov the necessary state protections, as a writer, to advance quickly through the ranks of the nomenklatura. He relied on his friends in the NKVD, as Beria’s spy service was then known, to evict squatters who had taken over his former room in Moscow, prior to the Nazi siege, which had forced him to flee. Krotkov then worked for TASS and Radio Moscow. He became an agent of the KGB in 1946, at the age of 28.

“As a writer, intellectual, and friend of the Boris Pasternak [author of Dr. Zhivago] family, Krotkov was welcomed by foreigners in Moscow. This tall, slender man, with a handsome shock of dark brown hair and an intense, expressive face, could talk suavely in English or Russian about the arts, history, and prominent Soviet personalities. Soon he learned to exploit the hunger of visitors for communication with the Soviet people. All the while, Krotkov was instructed to look for attractive girls whom the KGB could use to tempt foreigners into trouble. He picked them primarily from among actresses he met while writing film scenarios. The KGB offered them various inducements—the promise of better roles, money, clothes, a measure of liberty and gaiety absent from normal Soviet life.”

The girls were called “swallows” and they flew solo or in formation, depending upon the needs of Krotkov and his masters in the special services. Quarters were provided to them for assignations with their foreign marks—these were “swallow’s nests”—which consisted of two adjoining rooms; one for the tryst and one for the KGB’s audio-visual squad to record everything for the inevitable blackmail and Faustian offer.

Upon their arrival in Moscow, in December 1955, Dejean and his wife Marie-Claire had already been put under extensive surveillance. Their apartment at the French embassy was bugged. Their chauffeur was a KGB informant. They didn’t go anywhere or see anyone without the KGB’s knowledge, in accordance with Second Chief Directorate policy.

“We know everything about him there is to know,” Col. Kunavin told Krotkov during their meeting at the Moskva Hotel. A day later, the colonel told Krotkov his role would be to get to know Marie-Claire. “You must gain control of her; make her ours. You must get her in bed.”

Nor were the Dejeans the only mark. The Soviets also wanted to recruit an assistant air attaché at the French embassy, Col. Louis Guibaud, who was also married and whose wife Ginette would also have to play a sexual part in Krotkov’s little cinema vérité production. Moscow’s Frank Sinatra at the time, the actor and singer Misha Orlov, would be the one to seduce Madame Guibaud.

Charles de Gaulle (L), Chief of the French Free Forces, decorates six French officers in London on November 11, 1941 during World War II. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)


Charles de Gaulle (L), Chief of the French Free Forces, decorates six French officers in London on November 11, 1941 during World War II.

“When the time comes, it all will fit together,” Kunavin said. “You’ll see; we have something special in mind. There is one thing in our favor. Dejean really is trying to do his job. He wants to get out among the people—and his wife is trying to help him. He really wants to be friends. Well, we’ll show him how friendly our girls can be.”

Orlov and another KGB operative, Boris Cherkashin, who masqueraded as a Soviet diplomat named Karelin, arranged for a not-so-chance encounter with Madame Dejean at a resort by the Black Sea. She was duly impressed with their company and, perhaps not wanting to squander the opportunity to get to know a national celebrity and fellow foreign service officer, befriended them.

The three kept running into each other again and again at state functions, furnishing the perfect pretext for the eventual introduction of the ambassador’s wife to Krotkov. This happened aboard a police motorboat, repainted and redecorated to resemble a private boat, which, after being stuffed with fine wine and gourmet cuisine, took a picnic cruise along the Khimki Reservoir. Krotkov set to work on Madame Dejean, telling her that a friend of his, an official in the Sports Administration, had lent him the craft that had actually come from the Moscow militia, while Orlov hit on Madame Guibard.

Here the set-piece recounted by Barron really did resemble something out of Dangerous Liaisons by way of The Lower Depths.

Krotkov asked Madame Dejean how she was finding the Soviet Union. Too polite to tell the truth, she answered that she was “delighted” by it as well as the graciousness of her communist hosts. Krotkov then compared Moscow unfavorably to Paris, trying to provoke her into national amour-propre, a challenge she also (diplomatically) declined by refusing to compare the two cities.

Krotkov: “Would you have me believe that you like everything you have seen?”

Madame Dejean: “I am a guest. We did not come here to criticize. We came to help our countries be friends.”

Krotkov: “And I hope you succeed. But we should be honest, and I might as well tell you that there is much in Soviet reality that I detest. As a writer, I would be interested to know if we see the same reality.”

Madame Dejean: “If you insist. One difference between France and the Soviet Union: a conversation over a glass of wine can bring a Frenchman to the verge of revolution, while your people seem willing to tolerate anything. I think it very sad when people lose their capacity to be outraged.”

Krotkov: “I can see that you and I are going to be good friends.”

By the end of the cruise, Madame Dejean had invited the entire retinue to celebrate Bastille Day at the embassy. There was just one wrinkle. Cherkashin had previously been identified by French counterintelligence in Paris as a KGB spy, so he couldn’t attend.

Krotkov and Orlov showed up, however, and finally made the acquaintance of Amb. Dejean, who was also entertaining another Soviet luminary.

“Later in the evening,” Barron writes, “Krotkov watched as Dejean and Khrushchev, the guest of honor, drank champagne and traded jokes, occasionally poking each other in the ribs amid the laughter.”

Khrushchev, who had ordered Dejean’s recruitment, must have found the evening very amusing indeed.

The only Frenchman not susceptible to the KGB’s charms, it seems, was the second target, the assistant air attaché, Col. Guibard, who gave the operatives and plants there to toast French independence a frosty reception. Guibard would require more work, Krotkov and Orlov concluded.

The next cast member to enter the plot was nicknamed “Little Napoleon.” He was Lt. Gen. Oleg Gribanov, at the time the head of the KGB’s Second Chief Directorate. He was infamous—at least internally—for crushing dissent and “counter-revolutionary” activity within the broader USSR. He had won the esteem of his superiors by helping to oversee the destruction of the Hungarian uprising in 1956, the year Dejean came to Moscow. So Little Napoleon was enlisted to try to foment treason against La France.

Gribanov was given a “legend,” or back story, that made him an “important official in the Council of Ministers” named Oleg Gorbunov. He was married to a woman named Vera Andreyeva, who was in fact a KGB major. Her introduction to the Dejeans came by way of two more agents: Sergei Mikhalkov, the co-author of the Soviet national anthem, and his wife Natalia Konchalovskaya, a children’s book writer. Vera Andreyeva and Madame Dejean, who had yet to go to bed with Krotkov, became good friends.

The two couples took dinner together at the Grubanov’s supposed home, a spacious apartment in Moscow, which was really a KGB-run residence. They holidayed at a lavishly appointed log cabin in Kurkino-Mashkino, just outside the capital—actually, the dacha of Ivan Serov, the chairman of the KGB. Meanwhile, Andreyeva was tasked with keeping Madame Dejean preoccupied and out of town as often as possible, the easier to fly swallows across her husband’s line of sight.

The first to catch his interest was a French-speaking, curvy divorcee named Lydia Khovanskaya, who was repurposed as a translator and made a point of brushing her hair up against the ambassador’s face at a ballet put on just for the benefit of allowing her to entice him into an affair. A subsequent dinner at the pricy Praga Restaurant brought Lydia back into his attention; and, just in case he wasn’t interested, two more swallows—actresses—were invited along as insurance.

But Dejean was interested, as it turned out. At a later art exhibit, Lydia asked the ambassador for a ride home. Then she asked him up for coffee and to “see how an ordinary Soviet woman lives.” He came down two hours later, according to his KGB chauffeur.

Her mission accomplished, she was instructed by Kunavin to play hard to get. “Gradually build up the relationship,” he told her. “But don’t appear too available for a while.”

It would be a minor victory to let the cage descend upon Dejean when he was still just an ambassador to Moscow. The goal was to wait until he climbed the ladder from diplomat to cabinet official or national security adviser to De Gaulle, now coming into focus, in 1958, as the likely next prime minister or, indeed, president. Dejean’s recall to Paris now appeared inevitable.

Act II was an unexpected rearrangement of the dramatis personae.

Lydia had succeeded but had been miscast, according to Kunavin, because she only had an ex-husband—one well known in Paris—and this operation, to be fully realized, required an active spouse who could barge in on the ambassador and his swallow.

Lydia fashioned an excuse: She was leaving Moscow to shoot a film on location and wouldn’t return for some time. Her replacement was already known to Dejean; one of the beautiful young ingénues brought to the Praga Restaurant as backup.

Larissa Kronberg-Sobolevskaya was an unruly and flamboyant mess, overly fond of the bottle and inclined to take her clothes off without official permission. She had agreed to go along with Moscow Centre’s designs on Dejean in exchange for a permit to acquire a room in the city.

Maurice Dejean, The Epic Honey Trap: A Classic Case Shows Just How Far Moscow Will Go


French diplomat Maurice DeJean entering the Soviet Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The legend: Her husband, “Misha,” was a geologist away on assignment in Siberia. He was insanely jealous and given to fits of violence. No matter. At a lunch fixed at a former KGB colonel’s house, Dejean asked Lora to take him back to her apartment (another KGB spot). So she phoned Krotkov in a panic.

“Yuri, what should I do with him?”

“That’s a ridiculous question.”

“I’m serious. Oleg Mikhailovich [Gribanov] warned me not to do anything without permission. Nobody told me I could make a date today. The proposition just popped up at lunch, and I took advantage of it.”

“Very well, we’ll call from the apartment.”

Krotkov couldn’t find Gribanov to take orders, so he told Lora to go ahead and take Dejean to bed. The subsequent affair was even steamier than the one with Lydia, possibly because Lora went off script so much that she threatened to spoil the entire operation.

It happened during another picnic.

Dejean spent the entire meal lusting after Lora, while Krotkov watched the clock, given that the ambassador was due back at her “apartment” at 5 o’clock in order for Misha, a hulking Tatar employee of the KGB, and his “friend”—Kunavin himself, in disguise—to unexpectedly walk in on them.

Gribanov’s instructions to Misha, Kunavin and Lora: “I want you to beat the hell out of him,” meaning Dejean. “Really hurt him. Terrify him. But I warn you, if you leave one mark on his face, I’ll put you both in jail. And, Lora, the same goes for you if he is not in your apartment by five o’clock. This must go exactly according to schedule.”

Lora had other ideas. While driving back to Moscow, she ordered the car stopped and got out to swim in a nearby lake. Years later, in his memoir, Krotkov would recall frantically running up to Lora, now taking off her clothes as she splashed around, and hissing at her to get back into the damned car:

“She laughed in response and did whatever she pleased. (We made sure the ambassador didn’t hear us arguing, of course.) O, great is the power of woman! How right Lora was in everything, listening to her intuition and acting in accordance with some sixth sense. I was forced to follow her into the lake…. And so right in front of the ambassador’s eyes, she began undressing and climbing from the water in just her slip, which immediately conformed to her body, and when she came out of the water, she looked not just naked, but naked twice over. She came out of the water several times and walked around on the shore look like this. Poor Maurice!”

When Dejean and Lora finally made it back to the apartment, a telegram had been placed there, ostensibly from Misha saying that he’d be back from Siberia the next day. So Dejean and Lora undressed, this time together.

The code word for Misha’s abrupt entry was “Kiev” and as soon as Lora spoke it, the thuggish Tatar and Kunavin sprang into action, beating Dejean about the body and also smacking Lora around for theatrical effect. She screamed that the man they were on the verge of killing was the French ambassador, so Misha and Kunavin pretended to think it over. Misha decided that he’d instead call the police and Dejean would find himself in disgrace and out of a job in the embassy.

Dejean drove home in agony and terror.

In the apartment next door to Lora’s, the champagne glasses were clinking, as the actress-swallow still strutted around naked, taking her bows and chiding Misha and Kunavin for hitting her too hard. She’d earned her room with distinction.

Later, Kunavin received the Order of the Red Star, according to Barron. Krotkov was feted at an expensive feast at the Aragvi Restaurant. One KGB general referred to what had just transpired as “one of the most brilliant” operations “ever consummated by the organs of State Security.” He personally handed Krotkov a gold Doxa watch.

The same day he was beaten up, Dejean attended a dinner engagement black-and-blue under his black tie.

Gribanov/Gorbunov was at the dinner and, seeing a familiar face and someone plausibly in the Soviet Council of Ministers, Dejean approached him and confided all. Gribanov, ever the wise counselor, told him that if Misha sang, “he could make quite a scandal” given that Soviet law was on the jilted husband’s side in such circumstances.

Gribanov offered to try and help but made no promises to Dejean, being suitably downcast about the chances of plucking the Frenchman from his own misfortune. Days later, he delivered. Gribanov said that he’d convinced Misha to keep quiet “in the interests of Soviet-French relations.” The implicit understanding was that in future Dejean might have to return the favor.

But De Gaulle’s ascent had not yet led to the ambassador’s. So the KGB kept Dejean in its good graces; it even arranged to have Lydia return from her movie to take up with him again, all the while feeding every utterance and move by the incorrigible diplomat back to Moscow Centre.

For his part, Dejean relayed whatever Gribanov and his new secret-sharers intended for him to relay back to Paris, whether it be truthful or false.

Everything, in other words, had gone off beautifully, save for just one thing.

The assistant air attaché, Col. Louis Guibard, finally succumbed after a series of swallows had flitted past him and one proved irresistible. The KGB wasn’t as artful in entrapment this time, however. Plainclothes Chekists presented Guibard with photographic evidence of his indiscretion and told him he had two choices: either work for Moscow or be exposed. He opted for a third choice: suicide.

In death, he didn’t confess to what he had done, making it easier for the KGB to invent a story that he shot himself out of severe depression. But to one man, Krotkov, Guibard’s demise did not appear to be self-inflicted at all.

It was murder and it haunted the Georgian dramatist for years afterward and there was only one course of action he could conceive of to exorcise his demons.

While touring London with a delegation of Soviet writers and artists in 1963, Krotkov defected and explained what Barron calls one of the KGB’s “most massive entrapment operations since World War II.”

The British were shocked, but not nearly so much as their French counterparts. The counterintelligence official stationed at the French embassy in London flew back to Paris the same day he was briefed by MI6 about Krotkov’s tale. De Gaulle ordered an investigation and had Dejean recalled for interrogation.

The French concluded that everything Krotkov had said was true, but could not find evidence that Dejean had yet betrayed his country—he was still being cultivated at the time of the Soviet playwright’s defection, and had apparently not given up any state information. Nor did he know that Gribanov/Grubanov was a spy.

The entire plot had been uncovered just in time, before De Gaulle had had reason or chance to promote his old ally in the resistance to a more sensitive portfolio in the French government. When the pouty moralist De Gaulle pronounced his famous animadversion, he allegedly refused to shake Dejean’s hand in dismissing him.

Her Majesty’s Secret Service, meanwhile, faced its own dilemma: Should it out Krotkov’s story to humiliate the Russians, or would doing so only scandalize and antagonize the French, then still dyspeptic over Churchill’s policies toward Paris during the war, as the Soviets well appreciated and, indeed, tried to exacerbate. In the end, MI6 convinced Krotkov to keep his mouth shut, at least temporarily.

Krotkov came to the United States in 1969 to testify before the Senate about the Dejean case, by then no longer a secret. He decided to expatriate to these shores and write novels. He died, as it happens, the same year that his erstwhile victim Dejean did, in 1982.