Journalists from Switzerland’s Le Temps newspaper have unearthed a startling connection between the snooping private investigator, Nicolas Giannakopoulos, who conducted a bizarre seminar on 1MDB at Geneva University and Malaysia’s governing Barisan National party.
The newspaper has in the process identified concerns that individuals closely connected to Barisan National are preparing to employ the latest highly controversial (and expensive) ‘Big Data’ tactics to swing voters at the next election.
Nicolas Giannakopoulos, who was recently suspended from his position at the University following an expose by Sarawak Report, is the Swiss agent for SLC (otherwise known as Cambridge Analytica).
SLC specialises in collecting a mass of data, particularly about individuals in key marginal consituencies, in order to seek to deliberately influence their voting patterns. The company is credited with having swung Brexit in the UK and the Donald Trump win in the US.
Le Temps points out that SLC has now opened an office in KL headed by one of BN’s established public relations figures, Azrin Zizal, who has made no secret in public that his messaging to voters is to stick with the “safe” and “tried and tested” BN, rather risk than an ‘uncertain future’ with the opposition.
The connection provides a concrete link between agents active on behalf of Barisan National and Giannakopoulos, who roused the suspicions of Sarawak Report after persistently seeking to question the editor about 1MDB and his efforts to engage with members of the opposition parties, asking about their politics and their prospects.
The snooping culminated in a highly expensive “seminar” hosted by Giannakopoulos at the University of Geneva, together with operatives linked to a documentary film project on 1MDB, which has also been identified to Sarawak Report as having been infiltrated by BN.
Giannakopoulos originally claimed that the seminar and subsequent travelling to meet further with opposition figures was funded by the University itself as part of its academic programmes.
However, when pressed by Sarawak Report, he admitted it had nothing to do with the University and claimed he had paid for the thousands of dollars in expenses from his “own pocket”.
After Sarawak Report complained to the University it suspended Giannakopoulos, who has been long widely suspected of using his association with its Global Studies Unit as a front for his raft of private businesses, which are associated with commercial ‘black ops’, frequently on behalf foreign governments, such as Kazakhstan and now Malaysia:
See the Le Temps article (in translation) below:
On the garden side, political scientist and criminologist Nicolas Giannakopoulos is deputy director of the Observatoire universitaire de la sécurité in Geneva. On the court side, he combines the activities of investigator, activist shareholder, investor and communicator for his private clients. Revelations on a chameleon of economic intelligence.
In the gray morning of a café in Plainpalais, Nicolas Giannakopoulos cashed in. Recently suspended from his post as Deputy Director of the University Security Observatory (OUS) in Geneva, this organized crime specialist accustomed to the media would rather have done without a new burst of questions about his protean profile, his activities Official or discreet and the interests he defends.
As revealed Le Temps, the University has been looking for a week to shed light on the private financing of a seminar organized last October by the Genevan and devoted to the scandal 1MDB, the sprawling corruption case that threatens to submerge Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak.
Wary, or cautious, the one who defined himself as “political scientist, criminologist, criminal analyst and entrepreneur” produced in front of his cafe seven pages of written answers to our questions, which he had asked for in advance. With drawn features, he says he feels himself to be a victim of “a campaign.” He repeats that he paid half of the 16,000 francs of the budget for the event, the remainder having been settled by the Organized Crime Observatory (OCO), of which he is the founder and active member. But the University – which has already removed its name from its website – wants to ensure that this “non-institutional funding is fully compliant with the rules”.
And for good reason: guest of the seminar, Clare Rewcastle-Brown, the British journalist who broke the 1MDB scandal, has just thrown a big rock in the pond. On her blog, she suggested that the 47-year-old Genevan was working for the Kuala Lumpur government when he had organized the event in order to gather information about the Malaysian opposition and the ongoing international investigation. She suspects him of having orchestrated a black operation.
Nicolas Giannakopoulos refutes these accusations en bloc, which “hurt him”. “Since the beginning of the OCO, I have funded a lot,” he says. If I do not, no one will do it! “The October seminar – which was attended by Malaysian opposition politicians, NGOs and foreign journalists -” appeared as an opportunity, “he explains . “That’s part of my commitment. The 1MDB case is one of the most important corruption cases of the last 20 years. It naturally touches Switzerland. As usual, there are many pieces of the puzzle scattered all over the place. The role of the OCO is to gather these pieces together and put them together in a picture that provides clarity.” He promises a full academic report on the matter.
The speech has an air of déjà vu [seen before]. As Le Temps revealed in 2015, Nicolas Giannakopoulos has already participated in a vast operation of occult lobbying [black ops] on behalf of the Kazakh government working to obtain the extradition of France from the oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov. Confidential documents demonstrated how the OCO was engaged by FTI, a London-based public relations firm in Kazakhstan, to produce an “independent” – but critical – report on Ablyazov. Nicolas Giannakopoulos defended himself, claiming that the OCO had refused FTI’s money for his report, itself very real. He admitted, however, that he had accepted research contracts, and money, from companies close to the Kazakh government. Not through the OCO, he said, but via one of his companies, Inside.co.
Inside.co, specializing in criminal analysis and investigation; Global Risk Profile, active in security due diligence; CH-Communication SA, an “activist shareholder” outfit: these are three Geneva-based companies where Giannakopolous is the sole or principal facilitator. And there is futhermore High-Tech Bridge, which specialises in “ethical hacking” and computer security, of which he is an administrator. On the sidelines of his academic activity, and as discreetly as possible, Nicolas Giannakopoulos carries out jobs for his private clients, about which he remains silent. “My private part remains on one side, my public part is on the other,” he said. I never mix the two. On the other hand, my private income is used to finance my public commitment, which gives me independence and freedom that sometimes disturb. ”
Far from the commercial register, Nicolas Giannakopoulos is also responsible for the Swiss branch of an English company unlike any other: Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL). SCL is a behavioral research and strategic communication company that collects and uses mountains of data to profile and influencing decision-making. Established in 1993, SCL has long used its know-how to serve the army, governments and political parties. SCL worked for Nigel Farage, the leader of the English party Ukip, during his successful campaign for the Brexit. In 2000, the Wall Street Journal reported that SCL had been engaged to improve the image of Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, giving rise to controversy over its activities.
In the United States, SCL is called Cambridge Analytica. Frequently presented as the “machine that earned victory for Donald Trump,” the company boasts on its site of having collected “up to 5,000 data points on over 220 million Americans.” Cambridge Analytica is mainly funded by conservative billionaire Robert Mercer, who is very close to the newly elected president and counted Stephen Bannon – the founder of Breitbar News and very radical advisor to Donald Trump – among its directors.
Asked about his activities for SCL in Switzerland, Nicolas Giannakopoulos claims to being “their partner for a long time”. “Everyone wanted to work with them,” he says. I met them in London in 2010 and they offered to open an office in Geneva. Their profiling system is very impressive. This is micro-targeting: when you have the profile of people, you know how to talk to them. I was mainly interested in commercial applications. Especially for companies that have a lot of data. But the truth is that I have not done anything yet! ”
To believe Nicolas Giannakopoulos, SCL Switzerland would therefore be an empty shell. The Genevan also ignores the fact that the SCL office in Southeast Asia is in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. And that it is directed by a certain Azrin Zizal, former press officer of Mukhriz Mahatir, deputy minister of trade and industry until 2013, in the government of … Najib Razak.
In a February 11 interview with a Malaysian columnist, Azrin Zizal used the metaphor of the sofa to explain the group’s activity: color, size, durability, the way people choose their couch can inform about their political preferences. Reading the columnist – who “would not be surprised” that SCL intervenes in the campaign for general elections – Azrin Zizal does not hide his allegiance: the communicator explains that a voter of the ruling coalition, that of Najib Razak, will probably choose a “solid” and “stable” sofa, “something safe for the future”. Where an opponent of the regime opts for a “more adventurous” choice, “without considering its durability.” Hard to be any clearer.
Nicolas Giannakopoulos is thus officially the Swiss partner of a company that does not make any mystery over its proximity to the powers that be in Malaysia. Pure coincidence, or confirmation of Clare Rewcastle-Brown’s suspicions? “I knew nothing of all this, you are teaching me something,” promises the researcher. He reiterates that he was only interested in “the commercial part of SCL” and claims that he has now terminated his contract with SCL as a result of our information. When we approached the company it wished to know the subject of our investigation before answering. Once informed, it no longer answered at all. Nevertheless, it immediately removed the name of its Swiss official from its website.
[An archive search of SLC’s website shows that as late as February the office number of Giannakopolous’s company Inside.co was given as the Swiss contact for SLC]
Another continent, another matter. Since the beginning of 2016, Nicolas Giannakopoulos has been campaigning against two executives of Softbank, the Japanese telecommunications giant, notably owner of the US mobile phone operator Sprint. The Genevan acts here as “activist shareholder”, his company CH Communication SA holding 10’600 shares of Sprint, according to a document obtained by Le Temps. In his line of sight, the Indian Nikesh Arora, the number two of the group and in line to succeed the founder, Masayoshi Son. With the successive support of two major American law firms, Nicolas Giannakopoulos has alleged in numerous letters of malfeasances committed by Nikesh Arora and his “protégé” Alok Sama, in former positions. In the name of ethics and the principles of good governance, he asked for their striking off.
Asked about his motives, Nicolas Giannakopoulos said his mission is to lead this fight “first of all for Softbank”. “It’s an extraordinary investment box, built by a visionary,” he continues. You have to protect that. I was afraid that this great idea would be plundered by these unscrupulous predators. Again, I do it because nobody else does it. “The fight is not, however, free. Is he also personally responsible for the fees of the American lawyers and all the expenses of this crusade? No, he admits. But just says it is being supported by “many investors.”
So, is Nicolas Giannakopoulos really a white knight of corporate governance, a disinterested shareholder-citizen? A new coincidence disturbs the narrative. In 2010, he joined forces with an American, Charles E. Ergen, to found CH Communication SA, in Grand-Lancy (GE). Originally from Colorado, Charles E. Ergen is the son of Charlie Ergen, president of Dish Network, a US satellite broadcaster. An inheritor of $ 19 billion, he ranks as the 42nd wealthiest man in the world. Charlie Ergen is far from foreign to the business of Sprint and Softbank. In 2013, while Softbank offered $ 20.1 billion to buy the operator, Charlie Ergen and Dish Network offered $ 25.6 billion. That operation failed and Dish Network lost out to Softbank, but the raid had at least two merits, according to Forbes: having clutched at the Sprint prize from its competitor Charlie Ergen gained valuable information on Sprint, which could in theory provide grounds for a future partnership.
Will the campaign launched by Nicolas Giannakopoulos against the natural heir of Masayoshi Son and his protégé in one way or another serve the interests of billionaire Charlie Ergen? “It has nothing to do with it,” said the Genevan. Originally, we created CH-Communication with Charles E. Ergen to distribute Dish content on the internet outside the United States. But the project was abandoned and I found myself with an empty box. So I decided to direct it into the activist shareholders. “According to one source close to Softbank, “the duel for Sprint’s takeover was very hot between Dish and Softbank. But Masayoshi Son does not hold a grudge and Charlie Ergen now has no more or less interest than any another competitor to launch into such a campaign”.
Other sources claim that Nicolas Giannakopoulos could also serve the agenda of a rival to Nikesh Arora – who resigned from Softbank in July 2016 – in anticipation of the replacement of Masayoshi Son. But nothing confirms this hypothesis. The mystery remains whole, while the tone hardens between the activist and its target. In November 2016, the Genevan filed a criminal complaint in Geneva, claiming that one of its companies, Global Risk Profile, had been the victim of computer attacks. In this document, without directly accusing Softbank, he draws the attention of Attorney General Olivier Jornot to the Japanese giant, Nikesh Arora and Alok Sama.
Identifying temporal coincidences between the onset of computer attacks and the appointment of Nikesh Arora, and claiming to be the target of “foreign investigative agency mandated to harm his interests”, Nicolas Giannakopoulos writes that he “does not exclude the possibility that Softbank or individuals within the multinational are behind these attacks.” The Geneva Public Prosecutor’s Office will not comment on this complaint. However, according to our information, a new procedure has recently been brought before the Public Prosecutor’s Office: a defamation complaint filed this time against the Genevan by Softbank and Alok Sama. Contacted the multinational does not wish to comment on this counter-attack but one thing is for sure: the case is far from having found its epilogue.
Swiss correspondent for SCL, but totally inactive; Activist shareholder very prominent, but without a hidden agenda; An occult lobbyist for Kazakhstan, but not intentionally so: listening to Nicolas Giannakopoulos, there is no mystery in all this. Just many activities both compartmentalized and coherent, which he feels driven to expose himself to. “I do a lot of things, it’s my commitment. That’s why I find myself in all these things: I probe into what does not feel good, and I show it. It’s as simple as that.”
Will these explanations be sufficient for the University of Geneva to choose to reintegrate him? “The analysis in progress should enable the University to clarify its relations with Mr. Nicolas Giannakopoulos, if necessary,” the academic institution has responded modestly.