Panama Covid-19 update – the figures don’t get any better, another 1,880 cases today and 27 more fatalities; with 19,682 active cases – 161 in ICU and 1,047 in other wards. A new record for tests, I think, at 14,947 (with a 12.6% hit rate).
Of the 3,141 deaths to date, most (1,517 or 48%) were in the 60-79 age range; 26% in the over-80s; 20% in the 40-59 age range, with “only” 5% in the 20-39 age range and 0.8% (just 24 individuals) in the under-20s.
3 DECEMBER 2020
THE US’S LONG FINANCIAL WAR ON HEZBOLLAH – AND LEBANON
On 19 November, Middle East Eye published an article saying that over the past 2 decades, Lebanon has been under close scrutiny from the US Treasury for potential money laundering or financing of US-designated terrorist organisations. This has led to 2 banks shutting their doors, bans on the use of Paypal and other payment operators, headaches for ordinary Lebanese to make transfers, and lots of pressure on banks to comply with international standards. It is said that Lebanon is always under the spotlight because Hezbollah is in Lebanon. The article says that, in a new twist, it has now sanctioned Gebran Bassil, former foreign minister and head of Free Patriotic Movement, which holds the biggest bloc in parliament, for corruption earlier in November, said to be seen as linked to Bassil’s ties to Hezbollah. The article relates the history of US actions against Lebanese banks, saying that political parties and the bank, have tried to use the US sanctions against Hezbollah, and the spotlight on the overall financial sector, as a reason for Lebanon’s economic and financial problems; but the article says that you cannot talk about corruption in Lebanon for the past 3 decades without having corrupt people – this is not possible.
PAKISTAN: LeT FOUNDER HAFIZ SAEED SENTENCED IN 2 MORE CASES OF TERROR FINANCING
On 19 November, Hindustan Times reported on the sentencing of Hafiz Saeed, founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, to 2 separate 5-year prison terms under provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act for using and providing funds for acts of terrorism. He was also given a 6-month prison term for being a member of a banned group. Heblamed by India for masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks. 2 close aides were also prison sentences totalling 10½ years for terror financing.
EUROPEAN COURT OF JUSTICE HAS OVERTURNED THE LOWER COURT JUDGMENTS AND HAS ANNULLED SANCTIONS ON HOSNI MUBARAK, THE FORMER PRESIDENT OF EGYPT, HIS WIFE, THEIR SONS AND THE SONS’ WIVES
On 3 December, the EU Sanctions Blog reported that the Court had annulled the listings because, under the terms of the Kadi and Azarov judgments, where the EU relies on the fact that a non-EU country is investigating someone for the offence of misappropriation of public funds as the basis for EU sanctions, the Council of the EU must verify that that person’s rights of defence and to judicial protection have been observed by the third country authorities. The EU has the burden of verifying whether those rights had in fact been observed and had not done so.
ITALIAN MAFIA PROBE SHOWS BANKS EXPOSURE TO MASSIVE ALLEGED LAUNDERING SCHEME
On 2 December, a report from the ICIJ said that an investigation may provide a rare look into how illicit money moves across borders through flawed banking systems. Italian authorities had investigated a businessman suspected of laundering billions of dollars for mafia associates using banks in a dozen countries around the world. An IT entrepreneur from the town of Palmi, is alleged to be the brains behind the business dealings of several mafia groups, using fake identities and “special” bank accounts in countries at higher risk of money laundering. His alleged activities are documented in 2018 police records obtained by a newspaper. It is said that the records could provide a rare look into how such illicit money was moved across borders, in Dubai, Malaysia, Tajikistan and other countries.
LEBANON EX-ARMY BOSS, INTELLIGENCE HEADS CHARGED WITH CORRUPTION
On 2 December, Al Jazeera reported that a Lebanese judge has filed corruption charges against 8 former high-ranking security officers, including an ex-army chief and the former top brass of army intelligence. Those charged include former armed forces Commander 2008-17, General Jean Kahwaji, and ex-intelligence chiefs Edmond Fadl and Camille Daher, who were in office from 2008 till 2016 and 2016 till 2017, respectively. It says that high-level charges against a former army commander and intelligence heads are unprecedented in Lebanon, where corruption is notoriously prevalent but accountability is elusive.
UK: GAMBLING COMMISSION LAUNCHES CONSULTATION ON REMOTE CUSTOMER INTERACTION
On 30 November, an article from CMS Law says that the Commission has announced a consultation and call for evidence on customer interaction by remote operators, with a view to introducing stronger requirements for identifying and protecting customers who may be at risk of gambling related harm. If implemented, the proposed measures will cause significant changes to the gambling industry. The Commission says that it is keen to hear from consumers as to how operators should be required to identify when customers are gambling beyond their means, as well as the circumstances in which they would consider it appropriate for operators to take action to prevent harm. The article says that the most significant proposal is that the Commission will impose on operators the requirement to conduct affordability assessments at specific financial thresholds set by the Commission. It also says that this is an important consultation as it could lead to significant changes for the gambling sector, the most noteworthy being the potential for affordability checks to be enforced on operators, at thresholds set by the Commission.
The consultation itself is at –
AUSTRAC: HOW IS THE FINTEL ALLIANCE PERFORMING?
On 27 November, an article from Nyman, Gibson & Miralis explains that the FINTEL Alliance is AUSTRAC’s public-private partnership that brings together government intelligence, law enforcement agencies and Australia’s largest financial institutions and businesses to combat serious and organised crime. It reports on the entity’s annual report which outlines its major achievements including the combatting of new criminal threats related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Alliance focuses on various priority themes and related matters that require a joint public-private approach. It is concluded that the Alliance is successfully bringing together public and private organisations to achieve significant results in combating serious and organised crime. It is adapting to the changing criminal landscape, as evidenced by its development of a dedicated project to address the impacts of COVID-19 on the financial industry and numerous crime areas.
US-LISTED CHINESE FIRMS CAN GET DELISTED UNDER NEW AUDIT LAW
The Financial Times has reported that the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act requires Chinese firms to give the US Public Company Accounting Oversight Board access to audited accounts — something that is now not allowed by China. It will also force firms that are listed on US exchanges to prove that they are not controlled by a foreign government. In August, the US Treasury and the SEC issued recommendations to ban Chinese firms from US exchanges unless they complied with US accounting standards. The new legislation is part of a more general push by the US to take a more aggressive stance toward Beijing on economic areas including unequal market access to national security issues that are connected with spying and technology supply chains.
CHINESE STATE-BACKED FUNDS INVEST IN US TECH DESPITE WASHINGTON CURBS
The Financial Times reported that in recent months, Pixelworks, Black Sesame Technologies and LightIC Technologies — all in the US semiconductor sector — have attracted investment from these funds, raising bipartisan concern in Washington over the national security implications of these and other investments in sensitive US tech. After the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) was given new authority to screen any arrangement involving critical technologies, Chinese venture investments into the US plunged. A US-based analyst said it was not clear why some investments in apparently sensitive sectors were still taking place. However, it is suggested that it was possible that some deals had been approved by CFIUS, but its investigations had not been made public.
CHINA’S TRACEABLE DIGITAL CURRENCY THREATENS MACAU’S GAMBLING INDUSTRY
Bloomberg reported that China’s central bank-backed cryptocurrency, the digital yuan, will be introduced into Macau. It reported that some junkets, or businesses that act as middlemen for the gamblers who make up half the city’s gambling revenue, have begun exiting the industry at the arrival of a traceable, government-linked currency that could be a death blow to the industry. The introduction would potentially scare away high rollers from using the junket system, which has been linked in the past to money laundering, by giving Beijing clearer visibility over cash flows through Macau’s casinos.
HONG KONG: MEDIA TYCOON JIMMY LAI DENIED BAIL IN FRAUD CASE
On 3 December, Asian Lite reported that Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai has been denied bail after he was charged with fraud and is likely to spend Christmas behind bars. He and 2 senior executives from Next Digital — Royston Chow and Wong Wai-keung — are charged with defrauding a government-owned enterprise by breaching land-lease terms. He is the founder of Next Digital which publishes Apple Daily, a tabloid which is frequently critical of Hong Kong and mainland Chinese leadership.
ALBANIA MUST IMPLEMENT LEGAL FRAMEWORK TO PREVENT CORRUPTION OF MINISTERS, THEIR ADVISERS AND THE POLICE
On 3 December, a news release from the Council of Europe says that a new report from the Council’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) finds that in Albania, the legal framework for preventing corruption of members of the Council of Ministers and their political advisers, and of the police, is comprehensive, but still overly complex. It calls on Albania to focus on its effective implementation, in particular by improving the capacity of the bodies responsible for preventing corruption, and through a proactive approach to investigations.
Meanwhile, Exit News reported that the level of corruption remains high in Albania and is prevalent in many areas of public and business life, remaining an issue of concern. It leads to challenges in public trust of public institutions and political life.
EX-UZBEK PRESIDENT’S DAUGHTER GETS CHANCE TO WIN FROZEN $350 MILLION
On 3 December, BNN Bloomberg reported that Gulnara Karimova, the controversial daughter of late Uzbek president Islam Karimov, has won a court victory in Switzerland that allows her to try to unblock $350 million in frozen assets in the latest chapter of a almost $1 billion corruption scandal. A federal appeal court upheld her claim that she was the rightful beneficiary of Takilant Ltd., a Gibraltar-based shell company that had the funds in a Swiss bank account frozen as part of a 2018 penal order.
BREXIT: EXPORTING OR IMPORTING OBJECTS OF CULTURAL INTEREST FROM 1 JANUARY
On 2 December, the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport issued a news release advising what you need to know and do to export or import objects of cultural interest from 1 January.
OECD TAX REVENUES FALL SLIGHTLY BEFORE THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC, BUT COUNTRIES FACE MUCH LARGER DECREASES AHEAD, PARTICULARLY FROM CONSUMPTION TAXES
A news release on 3 December advised that tax revenues fell across the OECD for the first time in a decade during 2019, but a much larger decrease is expected in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic drives down economic activity and consumption tax revenues, according to new OECD research. A report shows that the average tax-to-GDP ratio has fallen to 33.8% in 2019, a decrease of 0.1 percentage points since 2018. This was due to decreases in 15 OECD countries that were larger, on average, than the increases in the 20 remaining countries for which 2019 data were available.
RUSSIA’S CLANDESTINE CHEMICAL WEAPONS PROGRAMME
On 3 December, an article from RUSI says that findings by the Bellingcat investigative group are a reminder of the power of open source research in enhancing deterrence posture.
NEW US IMPORT DETENTION ORDER ON GOODS MADE WITH COTTON FROM MAJOR CHINESE PRODUCER
On 3 December, Sandler Travis Rosenberg reported that US Customs and Border Protection officials have announced a new withhold release order that will require the detention at all US ports of entry of cotton and cotton products produced by China’s Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps and its subordinate and affiliated entities and products made in whole or in part with, or derived from, such cotton (e.g. textiles and apparel), including those made in third countries.
PHILIPPINES: CUSTOMS CONDEMNS OVER 4,000 KG OF EXPIRED MEDICINES AND OTHER SEIZED GOODS
On 2 December, UNTV reported that the Bureau of Customs (BOC) has said its operatives in the Port of Clark have disposed of a total of 4,146 kg of various goods and products that were abandoned and seized last November 24 in Trece Martires City, Cavite. Among the disposed of items were assorted expired medicines, food supplements, cosmetic products, and other items which were brought into the country without the necessary permit/approval.
HOW BOLIVIA IS COPING WITH CONTRABAND SURGE DURING PANDEMIC
On 3 December, Insight Crime reported that authorities in Bolivia have seized several large contraband shipments, as the country’s economic struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic continue to increase demand for black market goods. It says that cigarettes, alcohol, vehicles and agricultural products are being smuggled into Bolivia from Peru and Chile, among other neighbouring countries. In just one week, more than 70 vehicles were captured during numerous operations in Oruro, a department bordering Chile. It is said that while the flow of contraband into Bolivia is not a new phenomenon, it appears to be increasing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which complicated illicit cross-border operations earlier in the year and intensified the demand for cheap essential goods.
SUBMARINES FOR RENT IN COLOMBIA
On 3 December, an article from Insight Crime reported that 11 alleged members of an organisation which specialised in the manufacturing of submarines and adapting other vessels for the purpose of cocaine trafficking have been arrested. They are said to have obtained building materials, built the vessels, and coordinated logistics with different groups to move the drugs abroad, mostly to Mexico. It is said that, with cocaine production and export having boomed in recent years, as well as during the pandemic, it makes sense for criminal groups to outsource specific parts of the drug trafficking chain, such as the construction of submarines.
UK: HOW TO DEAL WITH DATA SUBJECT ACCESS REPORTS UNDER THE NEW CODE OF PRACTICE
On 3 December, Eversheds Sutherland offered a “Speedbrief” saying that the Information Commissioner’s Office has issued its new statutory code of practice on data subject access requests (DSAR). Many organisations are seeing a flurry of these requests during the lead up to the holiday period.
LEGAL OBSTACLES IN EU MEMBER STATES TO SINGLE MARKET RULES
A short brief from the EU Parliament Research Service refers to a study which reviews and analyses national rules of Member States that restrict the free movement of goods and services and the right to establishment across the EU Single Market. The study also analysed trends over time in national restrictions and offers recommendations on how they can be removed. It says that national rules, measures and administrative practices are rarely outright discriminatory or protectionist, but there are numerous restrictions to trade within the EU Single Market that are likely unjustified. The study has identified obstacles to achieving the full potential of the Single Market.
A CASE FOR ARMS TRACING
Conflict Armament Research has published a report saying that tracing weapon supply chains from the point of origin to the point of recovery is a powerful counter-diversion tool. The executive and legislative arms of the EU direct CAR to trace the provenance of military and related materiel circulating in conflict-affected areas of the world. Tracing, together with the investigations it supports, reveals vulnerabilities in supply chain security, exposes weaknesses in national trade controls, and identifies malicious actors and entities. The tracing process also fosters valuable information-sharing partnerships among states, industry, and civil society. The report explores the entire trace request archive, which comprises more than 3,000 trace requests. It analyses a large body of data, highlighting unique cases to illustrate the value of timely and comprehensive trace investigations in preventing the diversion of illicit materiel. It illustrates how tracing, which has traditionally been conducted by national law enforcement agencies that focused solely on crime weapons, can be applied in situations of major armed conflict; how and to what effect an organisation that is not a national law enforcement body conducts its tracing operations; and what lessons can be drawn from the limitations and opportunities experienced by CAR in the field of conflict tracing.
UN DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME IS FACING SEVERAL ALLEGATIONS OF FRAUD AND CORRUPTION LINKED TO THE MULTIBILLION-DOLLAR GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT FACILITY
On 1 December, MSN News reported a FT article claiming that a copy of a draft report by the UNDP office of audit and investigations in November described “financial misstatements” worth millions of dollars across UNDP’s portfolio of GEF-funded projects around the world. The report highlighted problems including signs of “fraudulent activities” at 2 country offices and “suspicions of collusion among the various project managers” at another, without naming the countries.
THAILAND: TIGER CUBS SEIZED AND PRIVATE ZOO SUSPECTED OF SMUGGLING
On 1 December, the Bangkok Post reported that the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) has impounded 5 tiger cubs suspected of being illegally smuggled from a private zoo. Officials ran DNA tests on the animals and confirmed 3 of them were not related to any local tigers in the park and therefore thought to have been smuggled. The seizure is a follow-up from an early crackdown at the tiger park in January 2018, when DNP officials had confiscated various locally protected species, including red pandas, grey-shanked doucs (monkeys) and elongated tortoises. The owner of the tiger park faces up to 5 years in prison if convicted.
BANK OF AMERICA EXECUTIVE ARRESTED FOR BRIBERY
On 30 November, the Charlotte Observer reported that a former New York-based Bank of America executive received tens of thousands of dollars at a time in cash bribes, federal prosecutors say, in exchange for fraudulently helping a New Jersey company get a line of credit at the bank. At the time of his arrest, he was a New York City market executive for Bank of America Business Banking, which meant he was responsible for much of the bank’s lending to mid-sized businesses in America’s largest city.
$10.8 MILLION IN INVESTOR FUNDS STOLEN USING HIDDEN BACKDOOR IN PROJECT’S SMART CONTRACTS
On 2 December, an article in Coindesk reported that the fraud involved an apparent con by developers attacking the decentralised finance (DeFi) project, and it is claimed that the developers had included a call function that allowed them to withdraw all funds from the project – an action a decentralised finance project should never allow – whenever they deemed the haul large enough.
HONG KONG: BIGGEST SEIZURE OF SEAHORSES IN 2 YEARS RECOVERS 75KG OF THE ENDANGERED SPECIES
On 1 December, the South China Morning Post reported that the consignments involved came from Indonesia. Under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, import or export of an endangered species without a licence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and a HK$10 million fine. A source said he did not rule out the possibility the seized seahorses were destined for neighbouring areas such as mainland China.
INDIA: RAIDS AT 26 PREMISES LINKED TO POPULAR FRONT (PFI) LEADERS IN 9 STATES
On 3 December, the Deccan Herald and others reported that the Enforcement Directorate had conducted raids at 26 premises linked to the Popular Front of India in 9 states, including those belonging to its Chairman O M Abdul Salam and Kerala chief Nasarudheen Elamarom, in connection with a money laundering. The Popular Front called it a “politically motivated” action.
EU: CROSS-BORDER ELECTRONIC DATA REQUESTS INCREASE SIGNIFICANTLY
On 1 December, Homeland Security Today reported that a report from Europol, Eurojust and the European Judicial Network which outlines the status of EU authorities in retrieving electronic data held by foreign-based online service providers (OSP) in 2019. It says that cross-border access to digital information is paramount to an ever-increasing number of investigations, ranging from economic crimes and drug trafficking to terrorism, cybercrime and child sexual exploitation. In one case mentioned in the report, law enforcement officers were able to find an abducted child after requesting GPS data from a social media platform.
VITOL INC ENERGY TRADING COMPANY HAS AGREED TO PAY A COMBINED $135 MILLION TO RESOLVE THE INVESTIGATION INTO VIOLATIONS OF THE FCPA AND TO RESOLVE A PARALLEL INVESTIGATION IN BRAZIL
On 3 December, a release on Mondo Visione advised that Vitol Inc, the US affiliate of the Vitol group of companies, which together form one of the largest energy trading firms in the world, has agreed to pay a combined $135 million to resolve the DoJ investigation into violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and to resolve a parallel investigation in Brazil. The case arises out of Vitol schemes to pay bribes to officials in Brazil, Ecuador, and Mexico. As part of the deferred prosecution agreement, Vitol Inc. and Vitol SA, another company within the Vitol group of companies, have agreed to continue to cooperate with the department in any ongoing investigations and prosecutions relating to the conduct, including of individuals; to enhance their compliance programmes; and to report to the department on the implementation of their compliance programmes. Between 2005 and 2014, Vitol and its co-conspirators paid bribes of more than $8 million to at least 4 officials at Brazil’s state-owned Petrobras.
SOUTH AFRICA: GUPTAS “WOVE AN INTRICATE GLOBAL WEB OF MONEY LAUNDERING”
On 3 December, the Daily Maverick reported claims of ‘round-tripping’, ‘smurfing’ and ‘cash firebreaks’ were detailed in the Gupta enterprise’s internal ledgers, which reveal how South African taxpayers’ money was laundered through the Guptas’ international web. The Zondo Commission heard that Estina Dairy project money flowed between various South African and offshore Gupta companies with at least 17 local and international bank accounts, serving as a “cash cow” for the Guptas. The Zondo Commission is the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture and set up by the government of Jacob Zuma, in 2018, to “investigate allegations of state capture, corruption, fraud and other allegations in the public sector including organs of state” in South Africa.
EU TO REFER THE UK TO THE ECJ AND TO REQUEST THAT THE COURT ORDER THE PAYMENT OF FINANCIAL PENALTIES FOR FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH A COURT RULING IN RELATION TO EU RULES ON MARKED FUEL
A news release from the EU on 3 December advised that, in 2018, the Court found that, by allowing the use of marked fuel for the purposes of propelling private pleasure craft even where that fuel is not subject to any exemption from or reduction in excise duty, the UK has failed to fulfil its obligations under EU rules on the fiscal marking of gas oils and kerosene. The UK has still not amended its rules to comply with EU law as laid down in the ruling and is liable to a lump sum penalty and daily penalties [though how far the latter apply post-Brexit, at least after 31 December, may be moot].
EU TO REFER IRELAND TO THE ECJ FOR FAILING TO TRANSPOSE EU RULES REGARDING THE RIGHTS OF SUSPECTS AND PRISONERS INTO IRISH NATIONAL LAW
A news release from the EU on 3 December advised that the Commission had decided to refer Ireland to the European Court of Justice as it had failed to transpose two mutual recognition Framework Decisions – to facilitate the social rehabilitation of convicted EU citizens by allowing them to serve their sentence in their home country; and to make it possible for suspected persons awaiting trial in another EU country to return home to their EU country of residence until their trial begins. Although it has produced draft laws, Ireland still has to adopt measures that would transpose the Framework Decisions into its national law and to notify them to the Commission.
I had omitted the following link (as it did not seem to generate much interest!), but it seemed time to add it again and say that, if you would like to make a (polite) gesture and help me with my removal and computer costs, I have a page at https://www.buymeacoffee.com/KoIvM842y