Special Report: Iran’s cat-and-mouse game on sanctions

Here’s another REUTERS Special Report that I helped put together:

By Rachel Armstrong, Stephen Grey and Himanshu Ojha

SINGAPORE | Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:30am EST

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Just before noon on a sticky, overcast Saturday morning earlier this month a truck carrying two white containers waited at an electronic checkpoint to leave Singapore’s main port. The containers bore the bright red letters IRISL, the initials of Iran’s cargo line, which has been blacklisted by the United Nations, United States and European Union.

Anchored just off Singapore’s playground island of Sentosa that same day, the container ship Valili was also stacked high with IRISL boxes. A couple of miles to the east the Parmis, another container ship, also carried IRISL crates. Shipping movements data tracked by Reuters shows the Parmis had pulled into Singapore waters from the northern Chinese port of Tianjin early that morning.

The ships and containers are key parts in an international cat-and-mouse game, as Iran attempts to evade the trade sanctions tightening around it. Washington and European capitals want to stop or slow Iran’s nuclear program. They believe Iran Shipping Lines(IRISL), which moves nearly a third of Iran’s exports and imports and is central to the country’s trade, plays a critical role in evading sanctions designed to stop the movement of controlled weapons, missiles and nuclear technology to and from Iran.

IRISL would not comment for this story. Last June the company said in an interview that there was no evidence it had been involved in arms trafficking. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and that IRISL has no links with any weapons program. Tehran complained vigorously last June when the European Union followed the United States with beefed-up sanctions that banned new contracts with IRISL. A United Nations resolution forces all states to inspect IRISL’s cargo.

But many in the West hold up IRISL as exhibit A for Iran’s ability to evade sanctions because the shipping line regularly reflags its ships and changes their official owners.

An analysis of shipping data sheds new light on that deception. Using data from IHS Fairplay, a ship tracking group that uses ship registration documents from various sources, and Reuters Freight Fundamentals Database, which compiles location data from every ship’s Automatic Identification System, shows that despite the sanctions 130 of the 144 banned ships in IRISL’s fleet continue to call at many of the world’s major ports hidden behind a web of shell companies and diverse ownership.

Dozens of Iranian ships have used Singapore several hundred times in the past two years, for instance, as a stop-off on their way to other destinations such as China.

The data shows that in the 48 months before U.S. sanctions began in September 2008, IRISL made 345 changes to its fleet including names, the flags ships sailed under, operators, managers and registered owners. In the 40 months since sanctions began there have been at least 878, including 157 name changes, 94 changes of flag, 122 changes of operator, and 127 changes of registered ownership.

Continue reading Special Report: Iran’s cat-and-mouse game on sanctions

Gangsters miss home – adventures in Karachi

While getting rather bored in London, I glanced through some old emails of mine and found this to friends of a trip to Karachi, in Pakistan, dated 16 May 2000. So i publish it here for the sake of amusement> it shows even when you discover almost nothing, the act of searching can be quite interesting.

It was the machine gun that rather betrayed his profession.  It was hanging from his shoulder down to his knees and he strode into my room at the Sheraton. Quite disconcertingly, he was also carrying a bouquet of roses and lilies. The note attached said: “With best wishes from Mr Shakeel”.

For those not familiar with Asian criminals, Chota Shakeel is the brother of what Indian papers like to call the “dreaded” or “notorious” gangster Dawood Ibrahim: the arch criminal master said to be in league with Pakistan intelligence in spreading all kinds of dastardly terror across the sub-continent, including hijacking a jet from Nepal and blowing up the Bombay stock exchange a few years ago and killing a large number of people. Continue reading Gangsters miss home – adventures in Karachi

Winners of the 2010 Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism

I’ve just been informed of this very great and thoroughly undeserved honour. Thanks to all involved – and most particularly to all those who are assisting me with my reporting, often at huge personal risk to themselves:

Winners of the 2010 Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism

Adrian Mogos (Romania) – Local journalist category

Stephen Grey (UK) – Freelance category

London, 19 October 2010

This year’s jury selected two outstanding candidates whose fearlessness and journalistic excellence represent the overall mission of the Kurt Schork Awards for International Journalism.

Kurt Schork Memorial Fund The 2010 Kurt Schork Awards for International Journalism will honour freelancer Stephen Grey (UK), and local reporter Adrian Mogos (Romania). The awards ceremony at Thomson Reuters headquarters, Canary Wharf on Wednesday 3rd November, will be followed by a reception and panel discussion.

This year’s Schork jury included Jeremy Bowen of the BBC, John Burns of The New York Times, Sir Harold Evans, author and former editor of The Times and The Sunday Times, Rana Husseini, author and human rights activist, and Michela Wrong, freelance journalist and author.

The jury was particularly impressed with the quality of Stephen Grey’s articles on Afghanistan, saying that they represented some of the best coverage anywhere, combining maturity with excellent analytical skills, and making a complex war more understandable.

The jury said Adrian Mogos provided an excellent in-depth investigation into issues of compelling importance. They felt that he showed great initiative, persistence and ingenuity, backed up with excellent research to expose human rights violations.

About the Winners

Adrian Mogos – 2010 Winner, Local journalist category




Adrian Mogos was born in the town of Cluj – Napoca on 1974. He graduated from the Faculty of Journalism at the West University of Timisoara, following up with postgraduate studies in European Studies in Slovakia. Since 2004, Adrian has worked for the Bucharest-based daily newspaper Jurnalul National. At the same time, he was accepted as a member of the Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism. In 2009, Adrian was made a fellow of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence, and this summer he was awarded the CEI – SEEMO award for outstanding merits in investigative journalism. Adrian is often invited to share his experience with young journalists in Romania and Moldova.

Winning Stories

Stephen Gray – 2010 Winner, Freelance journalist category




Stephen Grey is a freelance writer and reporter based in London, covering security issues for both newspapers and television and radio. A former foreign correspondent and Insight Editor of the Sunday Times, he has continued to work for the paper as a freelance, covering most recently the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but has also written regularly for publications including the New York Times, Guardian, Prospect magazine and Le Monde Diplomatique. He is best known for his work on reporting the CIA’s rendition program, which resulted in his first book, Ghost Plane. Since 2007, he has been reporting on the war in Afghanistan, particularly in Helmand and Kandahar, where he reported in the spring and early summer of this year. His account of the battle for Musa Qala – Operation Snakebite- was published last year by Penguin. He has made several films for Channel 4 Dispatches, BBC Newsnight, Radio 4’s File on Four, and is currently working on assignment for the PBS documentary series Frontline. Stephen is married with two children.

Winning Stories

Straw wanted ‘drug-smuggling’ informant freed

March 04, 2007, Sunday Times.
Stephen Grey

JACK STRAW, the former foreign secretary, instructed diplomats to lobby for the release of a convicted criminal described by police and customs intelligence reports as a leading smuggler of heroin into Britain.
Foreign Office telegrams ordered efforts to secure “the immediate release” from a German jail in 2001 of Andreas Antoniades who worked for years as a paid informer for Customs. At the time, he was wanted in Greece on drugs smuggling charges.
Although police or customs informers routinely receive rewards in cash, or reduced sentences if they are prosecuted, Straw’s attempt to help Antoniades avoid trial appears at odds with Customs’ code of practice, which states: “Informants have no licence to commit crime.”
Antoniades, who has never been convicted of a drug offence, was released shortly after the Straw telegrams and has since moved to Dubai. Continue reading Straw wanted ‘drug-smuggling’ informant freed

Turn to the lawyers for justice

first published in New Statesman, Monday 8th March 2004

Stephen Grey argues that when governments are so feeble, unions so weak and corporations so powerful, we should welcome the “compensation culture”

Everyone has their favourite story of the American culture of compensation.
Mine came towards the end of last year from the Iowa court of appeals, which
upheld a jury’s award of $41,267 to a shopper, Judy Krenk, who slipped on a
grape at a supermarket checkout. The parties agreed that “a customer, other
than Krenk, dropped the grape while bagging groceries”, reported the Des
Moines Register. The judge, while noting that “the evidence in support of
Krenk’s claim is less than overwhelming”, said that supermarket employees
“should have known” there was a smashed grape on the floor.
Are we, too, developing a compensation culture? Continue reading Turn to the lawyers for justice

The Ghost Patients


More than 250,000 people languish on hidden NHS waiting lists. Some die

before even appearing in official statistics. Insight investigates.

(Published in the Sunday Times, May 5, 2002)


When Iris Bailey suffered chest pains and was diagnosed with angina, she was

told that she needed a test to show how well her blood was circulating. The

waiting list for the thallium scan was three months – a delay not included

in published government figures.


Bailey, having worked as a hospital porter, accepted it with good grace and

put her faith in the National Health Service. The grandmother from Harlow,

Essex, kept busy helping to plan her son Gary’s wedding and hoped her

condition was not serious. Three weeks before she was due to have the scan,

she again suffered chest pains. This time it was decided that she needed an

angiogram, a heart test, at St Bartholomew’s hospital in London and that the

wait would be two weeks – another delay that many hospitals do not count in

the official waiting list figures.


David, another son, was so concerned that he sought assurances that his

mother would not die waiting for the angiogram. On the day he handed a

letter to the hospital’s management his mother, 75, had a fatal cardiac

arrest. It was more than four months since she had first felt ill in October

2000 but none of her waits counted in official statistics.


“For anyone to die waiting for a test is atrocious,” said David Bailey.


Independent health groups, such as the King’s Fund, say it is an indictment

of the waiting list system – a key measure of hospitals’ performance. Bailey

was an invisible patient left to languish.


What is even more shocking is evidence that hospital trusts are discreetly

moving patients from the published waiting list to the hidden ones.

Wittingly or not, it helps the government to trumpet improvements in NHS



The truth is, however, that many thousands of patients, perhaps similar to

Bailey, will still be waiting for tests and treatment that could save their

lives. An investigation of the way hospitals and the Department of Health

count NHS waits has revealed that an estimated 250,000 patients do not

appear in published figures.


To be fair, some will be waiting for scans or tests that will reveal nothing

untoward. For them the delay will not matter clinically, despite the anxious

wait. But for others, such as those needing radiotherapy for cancer, the

wait could be lethal.


As Joseph Meirion Thomas, a consultant surgeon at the Royal Marsden

hospital, puts it: “I would want to give pre-operative radiotherapy to

between 5% and 10% of my patients with sarcoma (cancerous tumours) to give

them a surgical advantage, but none gets it because of the waiting list.


“It’s disgraceful. It’s a waiting list that is creeping up and it’s a

waiting list you don’t know about – the hidden waiting list.”


IN opposition, Labour castigated the Conservative government over its

failure to publish details of patients waiting to see a consultant after

referral from a GP. Things would be different, it promised, if Labour was



Subsequently two published waiting lists set the standard. The first is the

outpatient list which shows the waits from referral by a GP to the first

appointment with a hospital consultant. The second is the wait for treatment

in hospital as an admission or a day case.


These figures, however, still do not cover the whole pathway from “pain to

scalpel”. Missing are waits for diagnostic tests, often to see whether

surgery is required; they can be as long as 20 months. The government says

these figures are not collected centrally and are not available.


Indeed, John Hutton, the health minister, told the House of Commons in

February: “Data is not collected on the number of patients waiting for



The reality is that angiogram waiting lists – and lists for other diagnostic

tests – are being compiled in hospitals across the country. They are just

not being published.


One manager at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital Trust said, “I’ve

got these waits on the wall in front of me”, but refused to release the

figures. Other trusts also declined to reveal the figures after seeking

guidance from the health department.


Yet some hospitals are willing to release the figures on request; some even

include these delays in their official waiting list figures. They are now

finding themselves under pressure from the NHS Executive to remove them.


“They tried to persuade us to remove angiography off the waiting list but we

refused,” said one manager at a hospital which records angiograms in its

figures. “We think it’s a proper surgical procedure.”


The second category of tests being excluded from the official lists are

endoscopies, used to help to diagnose cancer among other things. Those

hospitals that have been counting patients waiting for these tests are now

being instructed to remove them.


In a letter to chief executives of trusts in southeast England last October,

Bob Ricketts, then an NHS regional director, advised that the removal should

be gradual to “avoid sudden lurches in figures”.


A third large category of excluded diagnostic tests are computerised

tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, which can

be used to diagnose cancers, cardiovascular diseases and bone disorders.


Previously unpublished data from more than 30 trusts, obtained by The Sunday

Times, reveals long delays and huge regional variations for such scans.


At the Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Hospitals NHS Trust there were 523 patients

waiting up to 14 months for a CT scan at the end of March and 1,753 patients

waiting up to 20 months for an MRI scan. But at Hillingdon Hospital NHS

Trust there were just 89 patients waiting a maximum 21 days for an MRI scan.



At South Devon Healthcare NHS Trust there were 227 patients waiting up to 18

months for angiograms on March 31. But the maximum wait at Bradford

Hospitals NHS Trust was five weeks.


Hospitals point out that urgent cases can be given priority. The health

department claims that because such scans may be for preventive purposes, or

show nothing wrong, it is not meaningful to include them in the published

waiting list figures. Try telling that to a patient who finds, via a delayed

scan, that his cancer has become inoperable.


BUT perhaps the most damning omission from the official lists is for

radiotherapy cancer treatment. Alan Milburn, the health secretary, has made

tackling cancer a priority. But hundreds of radiotherapy patients are on

hidden waiting lists of up to six months.


Some cancer centre managers complain that their “invisible” patients are

given lower priority because their treatment does not count towards official

waiting list targets. “We asked for in excess of Pounds 1m (for this

financial year). It was reduced to Pounds 650,000 and has now been reduced

again,” said Jo Yardley, general manager of Kent Oncology Centre in



“The waits cause immense anxiety yet I have never reported on radiotherapy

waits for any (national) performance programme. It’s something that we have

been crying out for for years.”


Guidelines from the Royal College of Radiologists stipulate that breast

cancer patients should receive post-operative radiotherapy within a month.

But it is not uncommon for patients to suffer delays of up to three months –

a delay that appears on no published government waiting lists.


There are cases such as Joy Barthorpe, 72, of Battle, East Sussex, who was

diagnosed with breast cancer last October and had her operation on December

28. She has been told that her radiotherapy will not start until June 24.


Thomas Liston, 46, from west London, was put on a three-month wait for

radiotherapy for a brain tumour. His waiting time was reduced but he died

earlier this year before he received treatment.


These are not isolated incidents. The dangers of delay are reflected in a

report published in the British Medical Journal in January 2000. It said:

“Six weeks is the approximate volume doubling time for many tumours and

introducing an additional delay of four weeks between planning and starting

radiotherapy must prejudice outcomes.”


THEY are calling it Not The Waiting List. That is the title of a report that

the Association of Community Health Councils for England and Wales is

preparing to illustrate how many different types of waits are excluded from

government figures. Whether all of them should be part of published waiting

lists, or can be collected in practical terms, is debatable. What is clear

is that waits for certain diagnostic tests and treatment for some serious

illnesses are at present hidden from public scrutiny.


As Liam Fox, Tory health spokesman, said: “If you are interested in clinical

outcome, then one of the critical factors is access to diagnostics. The

horrendous delays in getting access may often mean that patients may die

before they get the treatment that they require.”


Hospital managers admit the disarray. Several, such as Plymouth Hospitals

NHS Trust, say they do not count angiograms, while several others, such as

the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Trust, say they do.


It creates a system that is both confusing and distorting, skewing managers’

attention away from life-threatening diseases to treatments for mundane

conditions that happen to reduce published waiting lists.


“When the money comes in, the chief executives want to put the money into

achieving the targets over which they will get sacked,” said Hilary Thomas,

professor of oncology at the Royal Surrey County hospital. That means

concentrating on published waiting lists.


“The public should know that one patient might be getting their varicose

veins surgery done to meet some silly target in a manifesto and another (who

does not appear on the waiting list) might not get radical treatment for

cancer and that may make a difference to whether they live to old age or



That, says Thomas, is “morally wrong”.