The effective expulsion of Lyudmyla Kozlovska, President of the controversial human rights NGO the Open Dialog Foundation (ODF), from the Schengen zone may well be the final chapter in a story that has held the attention of the Brussels Press Corps for some time now, writes James Wilson.
She was detained at Brussels airport during the late evening of Monday 13th August following a passport control check. This was on the basis of a Polish entry ban reported into the Schengen Information System (SIS II). In accordance with Article 6 of the Schengen Borders Code, all other Schengen States must on that basis consider her as an ‘inadmissible alien’ and refuse entrance to the Schengen territory. It has been reported that the ban was entered into the SIS system on July 31st.
She was identified as being a danger to Polish national security, something that she strenuously denies. It has, however, been reported that access to a certain part of her case file must be refused on the grounds that it contains secret information, the disclosure of which “would cause serious damage to the Republic of Poland”.
The following morning, Ms. Kozlovska, was deported to Kyiv. But she still has the right to reside in Poland, on the basis of her marriage to Bartosz Kramek, the Head of ODF’s foundation board and a Polish citizen, who also holds Ukrainian and Russian passports.
On July 27th 2017, Kramek published an article entitled “Let the State Come to a Stop: Let’s Shut Down the Government!” In this he proposed seditious actions such as the refusal of citizens to pay taxes. This was published under the auspices of the ODF, a somewhat unusual activity for a human rights NGO.
The article was published again in English, on August 25th 2018.
A call for the overthrow of the government is something that would attract the immediate attention of the security forces in any country.
But this is not the only activity that Ms. Kozlovska and the ODF have engaged in that might be considered out of character for a human rights NGO. The ODF briefly held a licence allowing the foundation to supply military equipment into Eastern Ukraine, (although this licence was promptly revoked by the authorities). The licence, it has been reported, was issued on the authority of a senior official who has subsequently been investigated for possible collusion with Russian Federal Security services, (the FSB).
Also somewhat out of character is paragraph 14, sub-paragraph 31, of the foundation’s statute which allows it to undertake “Gambling and betting activities”. This is interesting because the sources of funding for ODF have always been a subject of concern to the the Polish authorities. It has emerged that the ODF has received donations from Igoria Trade, a company behind an internet-based currency exchange site, and the Cyprus-based Banerco Ltd. a significant player in the world of online casinos and bookmakers.
The murky world of online gambling, and the currency exchange firms that can generally be found operating alongside them, are allegedly associated with large-scale money laundering.
This may be a coincidence of course, but in the course of its human rights work, ODF’s most prominent clients – and possibly financial backers – all appears to have one thing in common: they have outstanding arrest and extradition warrants, and in some cases criminal convictions, for money laundering.
Take the case of Mukhtar Ablyazov, “the world’s richest fraudster” according to the UK press.
Accused of embezzling $7.6 billion from Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank, he has a 20 year jail sentence awaiting him when he eventually returns to his home country; a 22 month sentence outstanding in the UK for contempt of court. He has already spent a couple of years languishing in a French prison and is facing litigation in the USA. Indeed, the High Court of England and Wales has recently suggested that his money may have been laundered by a criminal associate, Ilyas Khrapunov, who along with his father Viktor, is represented by the ODF, through Donald Trump properties in the USA.
There is also evidence that ODF has received donations from a company associated with Ms. Kozlovska’s brother, and which has supplied military equipment to the Russian navy. Again ODF is connected, albeit tenuously here, with the supply of military equipment. Is this a coincidence?
There is another thread of “coincidence” that runs through the saga of the ODF and it’s activities – that of “political persecution”.
The alleged money launderers mentioned above – and not all those involved with the foundation are named in this article – are represented by the ODF as “political opponents” of “oppressive” states and “defenders of democracy”. On her detention at Brussels airport on August 13th Ms. Kozlovska claimed that she was a victim of the political persecution of her husband.
At the present time it is not known if Ms. Kozlovska may lose her right of residence in Poland. She has managed to gain access to both Germany and Belgium since her expulsion, through visas issued with the assistance of European politicians, most notably German MEP Rebecca Harms, and former Belgian Prime Minister and currently MEP Guy Verhofstadt.
But the issuing of such visas undermines the integrity of the Schengen Information System, something that would appeal to the broader strategy of the Kremlin.
Ms. Kozlovska will be keen to regain access to Belgium, where her Foundation has offices. But, such has been the controversy over ODF’s activities recently that the future does not look good for her continued lobbying activities in Brussels.
The author, James Wilson, is the Founding Director of the International Foundation for Better Governance