Baker McKenzie on 13 February reported that France has updated the list of non-cooperative states and territories (NCST) under the French Tax Code. Extensively overhauled, for the first time since 2016, with only Panama retained, while 12 new states or territories have been added – Anguilla, Bahamas, BVI, Seychelles, Vanuatu, Fiji, Guam, the US Virgin Islands, Oman, US Samoa, Samoa, and Trinidad & Tobago. Dropped from the list are Nauru, Guatemala, Brunei, Marshall Islands, Botswana and Niue. As a result of the changes, restrictive tax measures will apply as of 1 April (though the article reminds one that such measures have applied to Panama since 1 January 2017). The article explains the criteria for the listings and the relevant restrictive tax measures.
Art Critique carried an article on 14 February warning that many common art market practices, though legal, are questionable from an ethical standpoint and have helped distort the market. It claims that galleries and auction houses frequently plant fake bidders in auction rooms to bid up the artists they sponsor. Though this would be fraud elsewhere, the article says that in the art world, auctioneers are allowed to call out non-existent bids in order to conceal a work’s undisclosed reserve and create the illusion of competition, thereby inciting genuine bidders to offer more than they would have otherwise. It also questions the practice of third-party guarantees. The head of the Swiss non-profit, the Basel Institute on Governance is quoted as saying that “the art market is an ideal playing ground for money laundering. We have to ask for clear transparency, where you got the money from and where it is going”.
A news release from the EU on 17 February advised that it had renewed the arms embargo and asset freeze to 20 February 2021. The remaining restrictive measures against 4 individuals are suspended.
On 17 February, a Notice from HM Treasury advised that 8 individuals and 2 entities had been added to the UK Consolidated List. This followed the coming into force of EU Regulation 2020/211/EU. The entities are AL QATARJI COMPANY, a prominent Syrian company operating across multiple sectors, and the DAMASCUS CHAM HOLDING COMPANY, established by the regime as the investment arm of the Governorate of Damascus in order to manage the properties of the Governorate of Damascus and implement the Marota City project.
16 February 2020
US SAYS SANCTIONS MEAN RUSSIA CAN’T FINISH NORD STREAM 2 PIPELINE
On 16 February, Oil World reported that President Trump’s top energy official said he’s confident that Russia won’t be able to complete the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea — signalled that the US will press forward with its opposition to the project and dismissed claims that project owner Gazprom PJSC will face only a short delay.
PAKISTAN TO FACE MONITORING BY FATF’S INTERNATIONAL REVIEW GROUP
On 16 February, Devdiscourse reported that Pakistan, grey listed by FATF because of its shortcomings in terror financing controls, will have to submit regular reports to the International Co-operation Review Group (ICRG), according to reports from the FATF Plenary in Paris.
THE POLITICAL RISE OF SOUTHERN AFRICA’S MACHETE GANGS
On 16 February, The Article published an article about violent machete gangs from Mozambique – operating under code names “MaShurugwi” or “Mabhemba,” – offering their services to local power brokers and criminal gangs fighting for power in both Mozambique and Zimbabwe. It says that a 2018 report found that the group’s activities were funded by illegal trafficking of timber and rubies, and that the group wants the full adoption of Sharia law, along with an Islamic education system. Its membership is drawn from among unemployed and marginalised youth, particularly speakers of the Kimwani language, the study said. The new Mozambique President has vowed to tackle the gangs.
FUGITIVE SCOTS BUSINESSMAN GOADED FBI ON SOCIAL MEDIA BEFORE ARREST
On 16 February, the Sunday Post reported that a fugitive Scots businessman, Afzal Khan, 37, posted a series of bizarre videos on social media mocking the FBI for not arresting him while he was on the run. He was arrested and flown from the UAE to the US to stand trial for an alleged luxury car fraud. He fled the US 5 years ago with his family after being accused of masterminding a £1.3 million scam from his car dealership in New Jersey.
IRREGULARITIES FOUND AT PAKISTAN BANK HABIB UAE BRANCH AFTER US SANCTION
Gulf News on 16 February reported that a Middle East operation of Pakistan’s largest bank displayed “significant irregularities” in dealings with politically exposed clients and screening some transactions, according to an inspection by the Central Bank in Pakistan. An inspection was undertaken of the Habib Bank’s UAE operations. It also says that New York’s banking regulator had fined the bank for weak AML controls and sanctions compliance and ordered it to surrender its licence. According to the bank, problems in the UAE branch have since been addressed by a sweeping overhaul that the bank started to roll out in the Middle East and other international operations in early 2019.
INTERPOL CALLS FOR GLOBAL ACTION TO PREVENT MATCH MANIPULATION AND BET RIGGING IN E-SPORTS
On 14 February, Illicit Trade reported that Interpol has called for increased international action to guarantee the integrity of e-sports competitions during a meeting of its Match-Fixing Task Force (IMFTF). In less than a decade, e-sports has become a major part of the multibillion-dollar gaming business. E-sports events are also garnering increasingly large audiences online. It says that the growing popularity of e-sports tournaments is making the sector increasingly vulnerable to match manipulation and bet rigging, and the international organised criminal networks behind these types of crimes.
US NEO-NAZIS USING RUSSIAN “FACEBOOK” WHILST SOFTER MATERIAL GOES ON THE RELA FACEBOOK
On 13 February, investigative website Bellingcat published details of an investigation into the use of the Russian website VKontakte (aka VK), a Facebook-like popular Russian social medial platform that has much looser moderation, to “plot out in the open”, as the article puts it. Meanwhile, somewhat milder “public outreach” for the racist cause can be done on Facebook proper. The article also says that extremists have found numerous ways to get around Facebook bans imposed since the Christchurch shootings, with very slight amounts of obfuscation necessary to fool Facebook’s censors.
ISRAELI LAWMAKERS TO VOTE ON IMMUNITY REQUEST BY FORMER CABINET MINISTER HAIM KATZ
Haaretz in Israel in its 17 February edition reported that the Knesset is to vote on the request for legislative immunity of former Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Minister Haim Katz, after the Knesset House Committee approved the request last month. He is alleged to have promoted legislation that would have benefited him personally while concealing his conflicts of interest.
2 SOLOMON ISLANDS MPs LOSE SEATS AFTER BRIBERY VERDICTS – 20 MORE FACE COURT CASES
ABC in Australia reported that 2 MP in the Solomon Islands have lost their seats after the country’s High Court found them guilty of bribing voters ahead of last year’s national election, with the cases of around 20 other MPs to be heard in coming weeks. Those convicted were Education Minister John Moffatt Fugui and Jamie Vokia, a first-time MP from the same party. The night before the poll sees candidates openly handing out cash and other items to voters – on so-called “Devil’s night”!
KUWAIT REPORTS ON 2019 PENALTIES ON COMPANIES FOR “MONEY LAUNDERING” IRREGULARITIES
The Kuwait Times on 16 February reported that the Ministry of Commerce and Industry announced that last year up to 1,001 “precautionary measures” were issued against offending companies. This included written warnings to 200 realty companies, 77 jewellery companies, 37 money exchanges and 13 insurance companies. In addition, 3 realty companies and 4 money exchanges had their permits suspended, and 18 companies were advised that they must stop operating — including 6 property, 8 money exchanges and 4 jewellery companies.
BULGARIA HAS NOT BEEN NOTIFIED BY UAE OF GAMBLING MAGNATE’S REPORTED RELEASE
On 16 February, BTA, the Bulgarian News Agency, reported that the Foreign Ministry has said Bulgaria has not been informed by the UAE about a release from custody of gambling magnate Vassil Bojkov – who face numerous changes of evasion of fees, money laundering, extortion, bribery, murder, rape, leading an organised crime group since 2014, trading in influence and unlawful possession of cultural valuables.
MORE THAN 1,100 FORMER US PROSECUTORS AND DoJ OFFICIALS CALL FOR THE RESIGNATION OF ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR
On 16 February, Voice of America reported that the call came after Barr intervened to shorten the political corruption sentence for Roger Stone, a long-time confidant of President Donald Trump. Federal prosecutors had recommended that Stone be sentenced to up to 9 years in prison after his November conviction including for lying to Congress and witness tampering in case linked to the investigation into the 2016 US election. Both Trump and Barr publicly criticised the proposal, though Barr left it up to the judge hearing the case to decide what the appropriate sentence should be.
THE UK AND THE WTO POST-BREXIT
An article from King & Spalding sets out, it says, to demystify the WTO and discuss its relevance to a post-Brexit UK, in particular in relation to the food and beverage sector. So it explains just what the WTO is, and how the UK, EU and WTO intertwine. It concludes by saying that the WTO should be seen as, at best, a springboard rather than a destination for the UK to aim for.
US CUSTOMS REPATRIATES 7 ANCIENT COINS DATING BACK TO 81 BC TO CYPRUS ORIGINALLY DISCOVERED IN AN AIR CARGO SHIPMENT IN APRIL 2009
A news release from US Customs & Border Protection on 14 February reported that the coins were repatriated to the Cyprus Embassy. The consignee in 2009 admitted to not possessing authority from the government of Cyprus to import the artefacts, and the coins were seized, together with Chinese coins determined to be from the Zhou, Han and Western Han dynasties, dating from 400 BC through 220 AD. Subsequently, the coin collector lost a protracted legal challenge to regain possession of the coins.
“DRUGS” ARE NOT JUST FROM MEXICO AND COLOMBIA – US CUSTOMS SEIZES ILLEGAL STEROIDS FROM THE UK
On 14 February, a news release from US Customs & Border Protection announced, amongst other things, that it has seized 22 parcels containing illegal anabolic steroids consigned to various addresses in the US. It noted that anabolic steroids are considered a Schedule III controlled substance and are illegal to possess in the US without a prescription.
GIBRALTAR AND JAPAN TOBACCO INTERNATIONAL AGREE TO TACKLE SMUGGLING OF THE COMPANY’S BRANDS
On 16 February, Illicit Trade reported that officials in Gibraltar and HM Customs authorities have teamed up with Japan Tobacco International (JTI), with a new MoU to prevent smugglers from trafficking JTI brand tobacco problems into Spain via Gibraltar. One result of the new agreement is that customs officials based in Gibraltar receiving training on how to tell the difference between authentic and counterfeit tobacco products. JTI owns numerous high-profile brands that are routinely targeted by smugglers, including Winston, Camel, Silk Cut, Benson and Hedges, American Spirit and Old Holborn.