Bursting a criminal syndicate: The Shadow List (Book review)

By Kunle Ajibade

In May 2005, Holden Harriman Quinn, a hedge fund arbitrage based in Manhattan, New York, placed a huge bet against the future of Turkey. The very next day, the chief of police in Ankara, the capital of that country, and the CEO of one of the country’s major industrial conglomerates, were found dead, shot by an assassin in a moving car. Holden Harriman Quinn—HHQ for short—made a lot of money from trading in Turkish Bonds that month. Harvey Holden, the principal partner of this company, had made so much money in the past trading in oil futures, Indonesian currency swaps and Ukrainian debt, using assassinations and other crooked means.

Harvey instantly became a celebrity as he lived in a glittering world of illusion. Some journalists and writers were falling over themselves to craft his hagiographies. He was the toast of many on the Wall Street. He became the principal owner of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team and a prominent philanthropist who was well-connected to the State Department, the Pentagon and the Capitol Hill.

Indeed, Shepard Truman, the three-term Congressman from the Tenth District of New York, was one of his close associates. But Harvey Holden soon ran into deep financial trouble after overpaying for distressed asset such as Wildcat Oil. In order to save HHQ and Wildcat Oil from going under, he sold a silent majority share to Bolshaya Neva, a company based in St. Petersburg, Russia. He was determined to make Wildcat Oil a profit-making conglomerate around the world by any means necessary. He, therefore, pressed into service his political connections with Shepard Truman, who was a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and on the House Oversight Committee on National Security.

Speaking in New York one day in 2005 at the Council on Foreign Relations packed full with the bigwigs in politics and the economy, he severely criticised the American policy that was falling short in the global energy markets. He recalled that he recently led a Congressional delegation to visit parliamentarians in emerging energy partners in West Africa, the South China Sea and the Caribbean, and he was extremely disappointed with what he saw. That all the countries that had never before been energy suppliers were now entering the market as a result of rapid advances in modern extraction technologies, and American energy companies from New York, Texas and elsewhere were not in these new places.

He told the Council that, meticulously and aggressively, Chinese energy companies were moving into those new places and securing long-term contracts for the benefit of their people and their country. He noted that it was not only China that was doing this. Russia, Turkey, and even India were all making inroads into these emerging energy regions of the world. True, he observed, the United States, had energy bounty in oil, gas, coal, hydro, wind and sun but it should still push hard to magnify and diversify its energy supplies and never concede any promising new energy source to its competitors.

He also told his audience that in the course of his trips he heard stories of how oil and gas concessions were sold on the basis of greed and graft; there were no open competitive market any more, where the American companies were expected to compete fairly and adhere to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The bottom-line, he concluded, was that, America that should be the first, was losing out because of the practices of corrupt foreign officials.

To combat this growing scourge of corruption, he promised to introduce new legislation in the House of Representatives. This legislation would allow punitive steps to be taken against all those crooks who were stealing the future of America. He concluded by saying that the intention was to name-and-shame the countries where under-the-table contracts had become the norm. To focus the US government on the threat this poses for its national security, and most of all to shine a bright light on the cancer of corruption. Very impressed, the audience took it all in. It was a glorious moment for Truman.

he handsome, very popular politician was already fundraising to contest for the vacant New York seat in the US Senate. Many political analysts agreed that he was bound to beat his main challenger, District Attorney Arturo Osceola hands down. He was celebrated in the media for his hard stand against international corruption and his plan to introduce Truman Zero Tolerance Amendment, which would impose stringent sanctions on corrupt activities. The amendment would reduce political donations to the barest minimum. But Truman was a con man. Unknown to many who were hoodwinked by his rhetoric, he was merely serving his own interest and that of his partner in crime, Harvey Holden, who at that time, was one of the paymasters of the killers and kidnappers of petroleum engineers and bankers who worked for competitors of his company, Wildcat Oil.

Shortly after his speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, Truman worked the phones, calling the US ambassador in Manila, the Commerce Department, seeking information on oil contracts in Indonesia; he called the Justice Department urging it “to open investigations into Chinese companies that were in direct competitions with Wildcat Oil.” He also called on a top official of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), to lobby on behalf of Wildcat Oil.

He later said that from his contact with the NNPC official, he was convinced that Nigerians were very corrupt. Yet this was a man whose friend, Harvey Holden, worked for Bolshaya Neva, which laundered money for the Russian organised crime syndicate whose nominal boss was a psychopath called The Bear, who was based in St. Petersburg, Russia, but who had his tentacles all over the world. His contract killers had ruined thousands of lives. His network had been linked to extortion, trafficking, sabotage, cybercrime and terrorism.

According to Jessica Ryker, who led the Central Intelligence Agency investigation team that eventually tracked him down, The Bear was involved in gun running in Mexico, he traded in hard drugs in Pakistan and human organs in India. He financed Somali pirates to capture Saudi oil tankers in the Gulf of Aden. His pirates killed 64 oilmen, including Jerry, an American engineer and father of two little children, in the Gulf of Guinea. He was behind the theft of smallpox from a Russian laboratory and attempted sale of the virus to an extremist group in Western China. He kidnapped thousands of young women in Romania and sold them into sex trade in Western Europe, the Persian Gulf and the US. In 2004, 44 women he loaded in a shipping container suffocated to death.

His hacker network was responsible for the breach of the Pentagon’s personnel system. A series of blackmailed attempts against members of Congress were traced to him. He had many rogue companies and criminal organisations. He worked, presumably, for the KGB or the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, FSB, or a high-ranking official of the Russian government. For him, your hands must be rough and filthy to survive in this terrible world. After the Chinese oil giant, Sinopec won the bid for the prized Mega Millennium Field, beating the Italian, Russian, Norway and American oil companies, The Bear’s contract killers went after the Chinese. They killed their workers on the instruction of Harvey Holden. They even wanted to murder a Chinese judge and Zhangtao, a Chinese tycoon based in the Philippines. Huan, the Chinese account officer of one of the Chinese oil companies in the Niger Delta, was killed. Negative stories were sponsored in local papers against the Chinese.

There has never been any time in the history of mankind that high-level criminals didn’t show up. The Bear was a modern day Al Capone being hunted by Eliot Ness in The Untouchables, the ever-green award winning American movie, about crime fighting. With advancement in technology, the narrator in Todd Moss’s The Shadow List, tells us that criminals get better at targeting, deceiving, and at avoiding the authorities. Yet if the justice system fails to wipe out corruption and criminality, our world will be captured by just a few heartless robbers.

That was partly why the combined forces of the CIA, the State Department, Justice Department, the FBI and Bola Akinola’s Nigerian Crime and Corruption Task Force (CCTF) moved in courageously to unravel the well-guarded mystery of the Russian collusion that is the major plank of Moss’s The Shadow List. The Bear’s syndicate and his accomplices in the US were hunted down by the sting operation carried out for many months by the State Department’s Crisis Reaction Unit under its meticulous first director Judd Ryker; the Central Intelligence Agency’s Purple Cell, under the daring Jessica Ryker whose foot soldiers and agents worked tirelessly in Jakarta, Marrakesh, Shenzhen, Nairobi, Tikrit, Caracas, and Moscow; the Justice Department’s Isabella Espinosa and Donatella Kim; United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), based in Stuttgart, Germany; Mariana Leibowitz, the lobbyist of Leibowitz Associates International; and the Washington DC Metropolitan Police. The officers here came to their job with impeccable academic records. As a matter of fact, they were simply pulled out of the academia to join the elite team of the intelligence community. To these officers, the welfare of any country depended upon the morals of its citizens.

Truman had criticised, in the past, the State Department for doing so little except flying around, having fun and spending a fortune on airline tickets. When CNN broke the big story of his arrest and that of Harvey, many of his constituents were shocked beyond belief to learn that one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in unmarked bills were found inside the freezer of Truman’s basement. That reminds us of the US Congressman William Jefferson, 62, who was videotaped in July 2005 accepting one hundred thousand dollars in a leather briefcase at a hotel in Arlington, Virginia, and putting it in his car.

Jefferson had said that the bribe was for the then vice president of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar. It is noteworthy that The Shadow List insists that bursting some vicious organised criminal syndicates in one year does not put an end to criminality. As you know, there is no progress in history that cannot be undone. The narrator, therefore, urges institutions saddled with the responsibilities of preventing and combating corruption and allied crimes to be ahead of new innovation and imagination of the crooks in our midst.

In the same way that the South China Sea was of tremendous strategic importance to the US, so were Bola Akinola and the Nigerian Crime and Corruption Task Force—the names for Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in this novel. It was not for nothing that the notorious kingpin in Moscow wanted him dead because his reports were helping the Americans to monitor, frustrate and counter his own agents of fear and death. In fact, Mikey the diligent, gun-wielding agent of The Bear, who was killed near Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, was in Nigeria to kill Akinola. In The Shadow List, he was once shot on the Third Mainland Bridge, yet he refused to leave the country where Funke Kanju, the investigative journalist, had just been assassinated, even when America was ready to give him asylum. This novel is partly a celebration of Ribadu’s defiance and commitment. It is also a celebration of the Nigerian rugged spirit of enterprise.

His local intelligence on the Yahooze gang, especially the one named Kayode alias The Coyote, his dossiers on the Niger Delta militants, and religious charlatans and terrorists were always rock solid. He knew the people on the hit list, the list of people marked down for 419 attack or outright elimination, which is called the shadow list in this novel. When Tunde Babatunde, the Nigerian-American Brooklyn Nets basketball player was kidnapped in Lagos, the CIA was under intense pressure to get him released without paying any ransom. It was Akinola who got Babatunde out effortlessly. He once told Judd Ryker: “Nigeria is my country. I know about the politicians, the criminals, the celebrities. I know the chiefs in the villages, the con artists on the streets, the boys in the swamps, the ogas in the palaces.” The CIA team gained immensely from his deep understanding of the inner workings of international fraud. His insightful report and that of Jason Sanders, the 26-year-old graduate of the New York University Business School, who was working for Harvey Holden, would be used in court to convict both Truman and Holden.

He is one of the heroes of The Shadow List, who were driven to the finest level of courage, determination and sense of obligation in their relentless chase after the villains who were brought down to the painful depths of shame. This novel, then, is very much an offering of praise for the intrepid and genuine fighters against corruption all over the world. And our own Nuhu Ribadu and his EFCC, and Adeola Fayehun, the sassy SaharaReporters journalist, are present in this novel.

Finally, like the other Judd Ryker thriller series, The Golden Hour, Minute Zero and Ghosts of Havana, The Shadow List has many melodramatic moments which fast track the plot in breath-taking paces. Todd Moss’s simple prose is laced with diplomatic intelligence, ruminations and memories. As you read the book, you will have the pleasure of recognition of names and descriptions of some of the places in the world that you have known. Moss is obviously using the genre of thriller to examine serious ethical issues of our time. He is very critical of the deceit and arrogance of power. He disturbs the peace of the corrupt. He reminds us gently that we are all connected as human beings. He uses some characters in this book to show that supremacist ideology is stupid – it is at best a product of shithole minds. As the heroes and heroines in this novel have shown, we just need to annex our prodigious human and material resources to make our beleaguered world a better place to live in.

Kunle Ajibade, executive editor of TheNEWS and P.M.NEWS, is author of the award-winning Jailed for Life: A Reporter’s Prison Notes and What a Country!

This review was read at the public presentation of The Shadow List at the International Conference Centre in Abuja on Tuesday, 30 January, 2018.

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