A fascinating, intriguing article from New York times on 1st November about the island, Sakkiluoto, in Finalnd that belongs to Pavel Melnikov, a 54-year-old Russian from St. Petersburg, who has dotted the property with security cameras, motion detectors and no-trespassing signs emblazoned with the picture of a fearsome-looking guard in a black balaclava. The island also has 9 piers, a helipad, a swimming pool draped in camouflage netting and enough housing — all of it equipped with satellite dishes — to accommodate a small army. It (and other places) was raided by Finnish commandos in September. Finnish officials have attributed the raid to a crackdown on money laundering and cheating on tax and pension payments. However, it is suspected that island and the other places were part of an undercover operation by Russia’s military intelligence service, the GU (the former GRU, of Salisbury poisoning infamy). It is said that intelligence sources have long warned that property purchased in Finland by Russian nationals could be used for military purposes. 2 people were taken into custody after the raids — an Estonian of Russian descent and a Russian — and officers seized a stash of cash in multiple currencies, including €3 million. Also seized were computer discs and flash drives containing more than 100 terabytes of data — more than 50 times the estimated size of the entire print collection of the Library of Congress. The identity of the company is said to hide true ownership behind opaque shell companies registered in the BVI and other tax havens, and is now headed, at least on paper, by an Italian, who says he took the position as a favour to a businessman he knows from Russia(!).
Thomson Reuters Zawya on 1st November published an article which says that each new free zone a country adds increases counterfeit exports by 5.9%, an OECD study has revealed. More scrutiny and transparency of companies operating in free trade zones is required to combat the spread of counterfeit goods, the Economist’s Global Illicit Trade Summit in Abu Dhabi conference in Abu Dhabi has heard. New guidance by and for the OECD is being developed following a pair of studies by the OECD – one in 2016 which put the global value of the counterfeit trade at $691 billion, and one in March 2018 which looked at the role of free zones worldwide in facilitating this.
Politico on 1st November reported that pressure is mounting on Belgium’s government to explain why payments of hundreds of millions of euros flowed to unknown recipients from frozen accounts in Brussels that once belonged to Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. A public broadcaster has linked the payments from the Libyan accounts in Brussels to arms shipments. Questions are being asked about why funds were paid out from accounts that were supposed be frozen under UN sanctions. They are also seeking assurances that the money did not end up in the hands of militia in Libya. Payments were made between 2011 and 2017. In September, a UN panel of experts concluded that Belgium had violated UN sanctions. “There has been one or two scandals linked to airplanes seized at the airport in Ostend with arms inside,” an unnamed source is quoted as having said. It is said that the Belgian finance ministry justified interest payments from the Belgian accounts by saying they were in accordance with an interpretation of the sanctions’ rules by RELEX, an expert group at the Council of the EU composed of diplomats from member countries.
UN PANEL FINDS BELGIUM IN VIOLATION OF LIBYA SANCTIONS
On 12th September, Politico had reported that a UN panel of experts on Libya has said that Belgium is in violation of international sanctions targeting assets once owned by the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The UN experts spent months this year traveling across the world — including several trips to Belgium — to investigate whether the frozen funds are in compliance with the 2011 UN sanctions. These assets included the interest payments that made their way from Euroclear – a financial institution headquartered in Brussels – to accounts belonging to the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA). The Panel concluded that payments of interest and other earnings were in non-compliance with the asset freeze.
DLA Piper on 30th October reported that the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has proposed new export restrictions on electronic waste. Proposed restrictions include domestic disposal of non-exempt e-waste; reporting requirements; and recordkeeping requirements. BIS is concerned that national security is jeopardised where counterfeit goods enter the US military and civilian electronics supply chain due to the unregulated recycling of e-waste, and its definition of “electronic waste” reflect this concern. Public consultation on the proposals is open to 24th December.