04 March 2010

Mossad's Dubai Hit: Who is Yuval Tal?

(See Updates below)

Hidden in the UK press coverage of terrorist organisation Mossad's Dubai hit, is information about the bank that issued credit cards used by the terrorists. The Times and the Financial Times are the only UK media to report this information, with the FT providing more than the Times.

The Times reports: "Dubai police have already traced credit cards used by the suspected assassins to the US-based MetaBank and Payoneer Inc, a card distributor. Payoneer, a company founded in New York in 2005 with offices in Israel, is run by Yuval Tal, who appeared as a television commentator on Fox News during the 2006 Lebanon war identifying himself as a former Israeli special forces soldier."

Meanwhile the FT's Simeon Kerr reports from Dubai: "Dubai police said it had also identified the use of 14 Mastercard credit cards issued by a US bank, MetaBank of Ohio, and two by IDT Finance of Gibraltar.
A visa card issued by Nationwide Building Society of the UK and DZ Bank of Germany were also used by other alleged members of the squad, to book hotel rooms and pay for air travel...
Dubai also said Payoneer, a New York-based company, was involved in issuing some of the MetaBank credit cards used by the suspects, but did not say what exact role the company played.
Payoneer, which also has a branch in Israel, has worked with MetaBank to issue prepaid credit cards since February 2009. Yuval Tal, its chief executive, identifies himself as a former Israeli special forces soldier.

A spokeswoman for Payoneer said: ”We are aware of the news reports. We are cooperating with the bank and the authorities to explore the matter.”"

Adam Scheck of AP also did a piece mentioning Yuval Tal, so we can be sure that the rest of the UK media received the information. They just decided not to publish it, thus participating directly in the cover-up of the murder.

Schleck: "Payoneer provides prepaid MasterCards issued by MetaBank and other lenders. The company is based in New York and has a research and development center in Tel Aviv, raising suspicions of Israeli involvement in the killing...
Payoneer is headed by Yuval Tal, who in a 2006 Fox News interview was identified as a former member of the Israeli special forces.
Payoneer has said it was cooperating with authorities but has declined further comment. It has not made Tal available to discuss the company's involvement."

Gulf News asks the pertinent question "Who is Yuval Tal?" And proceeds to answer:

"Tal started his career as a product manager, moved on to business development, and in 1999 founded his first company E4X where he was CEO. He then moved on to found his current company, Payoneer, in 2005.
Payoneer raised $14 million in venture capital funding, and although it is registered in the US, most of its employees are based in Petah Tikva, Israel. The company was named by Israel’s business newspaper Globes in 2008 as one of Israel's most promising start-ups."
"In a 2006 FOX News interview about Israel's summer war on Lebanon, Tal was presented as a "special ops commando" on Fox and Friends, and stated that "this is a war Israel cannot [afford to] lose" after an Israeli apache helicopter went down in Israel, apparently shot at by Hezbollah. The video had disappeared from video sharing web sites after the assassination, but was recently uploaded to YouTube again [see video below]."

"One of Payoneer’s investors, too, has a past in Israeli intelligence. Moshe Mor, founder of Greylock partners, one of the venture capital funds that has invested in Payoneer. According to Greylock’s website, Mor formerly served in the Israeli army as a military intelligence captain.
The other two venture capital funds that have invested in Payoneer are Carmel Ventures and Crossbar Capital.
Carmel Ventures is based in Herzliya, Israel and Crossbar Partners is run by Charlie Federman, who is also managing director of the BRM Group, also in Herzliya that was founded by Nir and Eli Barkat, the former of whom is the mayor of occupied Jerusalem."

Carmel Ventures co-founder Shlomo Dovrat began "his IT career in an elite technology unit of the Israeli Defense Forces."

TechCrunch, a website founded in 2005, is a weblog dedicated to obsessively profiling and reviewing new Internet products and companies, says this about Payoneer:

"Founded in 2005, Payoneer employs 25 and is headquartered in New York with R&D in Tel-Aviv, Israel. A $2M seed round was raised from Payoneer’s CEO himself, Yuval Tal and private investors including Zohar Gilon, Charlie Federman, Michael Loeb and Ilan Kaufthal. Greylock (Israel) added a total of $4M in Series A this year, with Moshe Mor the partner attached to the deal."

In reply to a couple of comments in the article: "What about Money Laundering and Know Your Customer laws? This sounds like a great way for drug traffickers and terrorists to move money around." and "payoneer is definitely in the legal gray area when it comes to the patriot’s act, anti-money laundering, and a host of other laws around “know your customer”", Yuval Tal himself replied: "Payoneer is meticulously compliant with all federal, state and MasterCard regulations, including AML, BSA, Patriot act, KYC etc. There is nothing grey about it. As a certified MasterCard Member Service Provider we undergo rigorous ongoing diligence related, among others, to our regulatory compliance level. We employ multiple layers of checks and balances, both technological and human, so that we are able to minimize the hassle that users have to overcome to receive their payments. As these regulations continue to evolve, we adapt our procedures accordingly to the changing needs."

On another page, Payoneer VP Marketing 'Tomer' (Tomer Bar Zeev) replies to a similar comment "Money laundering involves money from illegal sources, since we verify the source and destination of the funds and we open this service only to selected card holders this is not the case." A final comment of 'Tomer: "Payoneer will only issue cards if the users asking for the card registered to get the card from one of our partners , we only work with US corporation paying users worldwide, we don’t serve walk-ins, among our partners you can find companies like iStockPhoto, 2Checkout, Elance, oDesk, etc hence we always verify the destination of the funds are coming from one of them."

And onj yet another page we find that Payoneer "(whose headquarters are in New York City), will use the new cash to fund expansion into more markets and invest in technologies to detect and prevent fraud and abuse by criminals and terrorists."

Meanwhile, Dubai police will be asking "the Dubai prosecutor to issue arrest warrants for Binyamin Netanyahu and Meir Dagan this week".

And over at Al Jazeera's Clayton Swisher's Middle East Blog, we find that Yuval Tal could soon be behind bars:

"I also find the Payoneer connection interesting given that its CEO is Yuval Tal, a former Israeli special forces commando. Mr Tal did not exactly conceal his prior affiliations when he appeared on Fox News during the 2006 Lebanon war. He opined then that "this is a war that Israel cannot afford to lose".
If Tal or his Payoneer firm are in any way involved in the conspiracy to help a foreign intelligence service (like, say providing Mossad operatives with credit cards), he may soon find himself in his own battle with little prospects of winning - in a US courtroom. 
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the lead agency with statutory authority and responsibilities for investigating foreign espionage activities on US soil.  It's a job they take seriously and with a proven record of not shying away from the numerous instances when America's special ally played foul.
As an initial inquiry, I imagine case agents will subpoena all financial records associated with the fraudulently issued credit cards. This would include the original credit card applications, which requires such things as a delivery address (to mail the card to), social security numbers, dates of birth, and employment information.
If the applications were made on paper, then the documents may contain all manner of evidence, from handwriting samples to fingerprints. There will be a similar trail to pore over if the applications were made over the phone or electronically via computer.
I also smell money laundering, as the money was supposedly dumped into prepaid accounts to conceal its purpose and origination. So US investigators may even want to tap in on the US treasury department's crack financial investigator, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN).
Don't be put off by FINCEN's location in a Northern Virginia building that resembles a toilet seat. They have all manner of ways of putting a ring around financial transactions and credit reports in all reaches of the world. 
There is still no word on whether or not the US has begun co-operating.  On paper, there should be no reason why they would not. The Emirates are a friendly country to the United States and a member of INTERPOL. They have also been a key country used by the US administration to apply pressure on Iran, so presumably they want to keep them happy. 
It's not clear if the FBI is silently participating or if its officials are fence-sitting.
If it's the latter, then they may want to consider the following:  if a foreign national was murdered on US soil with the help of credit cards issued in the Emirates, what sort of co-operation would they demand?"

Update 1:

Interesting article from AP: "Dubai death: 'The last assassination of its kind'?" In particular, the last paragraphs, which tend to support the Haaretz claim that the fake passport photos were doctored.

"Jonna Mendez, who spent some of her 27 years in the CIA as the agency's chief of disguise, believes the Dubai perpetrators took the fallout into account, all of it: the TV footage, the blown aliases and the head shots. The agents, she said, clearly knew they were under surveillance — they had simply decided it was unavoidable and a price worth paying.
"You can be sure they knew they were being surveilled. Likewise, they would assume that the documents they were using would be made available after the fact," said Mendez. "What does this mean? It means it didn't matter. The faces and the documents that were captured by the cameras will probably never be seen again."
The fact that the perpetrators had to take the identities of real people rather than simply invent false identities is a symptom of the new world facing modern-day spies, one of databases and traceable passport information, she said.
The real agents likely don't resemble the faces in the photos, she said: "Bald? Not really. No facial hair? Not normally. Blonde? Are you kidding," Mendez said. And if they do, plastic surgery, dental implants and hair grafts can ensure they are unrecognizable afterward.
"Steal the identity, disguise the participants, be ready on the other side with another set of identities and documents, and embrace and conceal the protagonists on their return," she said. "With that goal in mind this may, in fact, be the operation of the future."

Update 2:

Website Designer Today carried an article back in 2008 "Is uTest and Payoneer a Scam?", in which the writer mused about whether Payoneer and Utest could be a "ruse to trick unsuspecting consumers into divulging personal information to be used for identity theft". Considering that identity theft is what hapened, this should surely be a line of investigation for the Dubai police, the FBI and the Australian, British, French and German police...
Update 3

Another article in Haaretz gets to the Tel Aviv offices of Payoneer: "Did they know? Israel-U.S. startup linked to Dubai hit"

Bloomberg's Business Week has a piece "MetaBank Says Dubai Suspects Used Fraud to Get Cards".

"Suspected assassins of a Hamas leader in Dubai “fraudulently” acquired prepaid payroll cards and stole identities to obtain jobs or compensation from U.S. companies, according to card-issuer MetaBank...The bank said the cards were issued through New York- based Payoneer, which markets them to U.S. companies and has a research and development facility in Tel Aviv."

This doesn't ring true if we are to believe Payoneer's previous statements above: "Payoneer VP Marketing 'Tomer' (Tomer Bar Zeev): "Money laundering involves money from illegal sources, since we verify the source and destination of the funds and we open this service only to selected card holders this is not the case." A final comment of 'Tomer: "Payoneer will only issue cards if the users asking for the card registered to get the card from one of our partners , we only work with US corporation paying users worldwide, we don’t serve walk-ins,".

Another blogger puts it better

"Payoneer is not a bank or credit card company and they don't solicit public customers. They only work through corporate and non-profit accounts (they have about 50)for their employees and/or customers. They don't work directly with the public. With only a few dozen employees, Payoneer would not overlook a new customer with Mideast ties, especially Arab or Iranian ones...Carmel Ventures only office is also in Herzliya with an all Israel cast. Crossbar Partners is a one man show of Charlie Federman of New Jersey (I've never met him or heard of him before now). However, Federman is a Managing Director of the BRM Group, a venture capital firm also located in Herzliya, Israel and run by the Barkats, Eli and Nir. Interesting enough Nir is now the mayor of Jerusalem and is the one in the center of the housing conflict in East Jerusalem.

Al Jazeera has an interview with Dubai police chief:

1 comment:

bernie4253 said...

Get real! For example:

"The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the lead agency" Yeah, just like they investigated 9/11

or " It's a job they take seriously and with a proven record of not shying away from the numerous instances when America's special ally played foul." Except their bosses report to Tel Aviv, so shy away they will.

or "There is still no word on whether or not the US has begun co-operating. On paper, there should be no reason why they would not." Come on; Americas greatest ally, and the Republicans and Democrats largest funders?

Like I said; get real.