Panama Covid-19 update – they have now opened the registration for vaccination to “foreigners”, though I still haven’t been able to register – as a permanent resident or a foreigner, due to ongoing computer bugs, it appears…
Today’s figures are 910 new cases and 23 new fatalities, with 18,756 active cases – 202 in ICU and 1,286 in other wards
12 FEBRUARY 2021
KYRGYZSTAN’S GRAND MUFTI DETAINED AMID CORRUPTION SCANDAL
On 11 February, Rferl reported that Kyrgyzstan’s top Muslim cleric, Grand Mufti Maksatbek Hajji Toktomushev, has been detained by police amid a corruption scandal. He is said to be suspected of being involved in the alleged misuse of funds raised by worshippers for a Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca later this year. In February, the Kyrgyzstan’s Religious Directorate’s chief accountant, whose identity was not disclosed, had been arrested on suspicion of misusing the equivalent of almost $2 million raised by worshippers.
BRITISH FINANCIAL FIRMS USING LETTERBOX COMPANIES TO SNEAK INTO EU
On 12 February, KYC 360 reported that the EU Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier has accused British financial services firms of using letterbox companies to gain access to the EU’s Single Market. They are said to be looking to circumvent post-Brexit rules by setting up shell companies to satisfy EU headquartering requirements. Some European regulators have been probing whether such letterbox companies are fully operational and staffed.
VENEZUELAN TIED TO EPIC CORRUPTION CASE FUNNELLED MILLIONS INTO SECRETIVE LUXEMBOURG COMPANIES
On 11 February, the Miami Herald reported another aspect of the OpenLux project on alleged misuse of Luxembourg companies and structures to avoid/evade taxes etc. It is concerned with Miami-based Alejandro Betancourt Lopez, under investigation for 5 years, and who has studiously avoided the US banking system and real estate market and invested the vast majority of his wealth in shell companies set up in Spain, Switzerland and — now, it turns out — Luxembourg, which has grown into a preferred haven for rich people seeking secrecy and tax benefits. Betancourt’s lawyers said he is using his network of Luxembourg companies for legitimate investments and has not hidden himself or them from the public.
ESG: KEY TRENDS IN 2020 AND EXPECTATIONS FOR 2021 (PART II)
On 11 February, the Compliance & Enforcement blog from the Program on Corporate Compliance and Enforcement from the New York University School of Law published Part 2 of a 3-part series of posts and contains the first 5 of 10 key environmental, social and governance (ESG) trends and topics that it expects to be prominent in 2021, some of which are continuing trends from 2020, while others may emerge in response to the events of 2020.
RANSOMWARE AND BITCOIN – TAX TROUBLES?
On 10 February, an article from Frost Brown Todd LLP in the US says that published reports suggest that many businesses, including HBO, Xerox, Garmin, ExecuPharm and several hospital systems and local governments, have fallen victim to ransomware attacks. The article says that in considering which path to take when faced with this issue, it is important for businesses to consider the tax and regulatory implications. The first tax consideration is whether these payments are a cost of doing business and can be deducted from taxable income – saying that, because illegal payments are not deductible, a taxpayer must be clear to differentiate ransomware payments. The article also says that, because ransomware payments are often required to be completed in the form of cryptocurrency, another consideration for businesses is whether these payments subject the company to federal and state oversight or disclosure regarding cryptocurrency transactions. It says that the IRS has declared that virtual currency is taxed as property rather than currency. FinCEN has also issued a statement providing that “an administrator or exchanger that accepts and transmits a convertible virtual currency or buys or sells convertible virtual currency for any reason is a money transmitter”.
AIR NEW ZEALAND APOLOGISES TO MPs OVER SAUDI ENGINE SCANDAL
On 10 February, 1 News reported that senior Air New Zealand leadership apologised to MPs over the controversial third-party contract with the Saudi Navy during an appearance at Parliament. Air New Zealand’s business unit, Gas Turbines, which specialises in servicing military marine engines and turbines, had been carrying out work for the Saudi Navy on 2 engines and a power turbine through a third-party contract.
NEW ZEALAND WOMAN FOUND SMUGGLING ALMOST 1,000 CACTI AND SUCCULENTS – STRAPPED TO HER BODY
On 12 February, Aged Care 101 reported that Wenqing (Wendy) Li, 38, an Auckland woman and a seller and trader of plants on TradeMe, has found herself in a prickly situation after trying to smuggle succulents and endangered cacti into New Zealand. She was flying back to New Zealand from China in March 2019 trying to smuggle 947 succulents and cacti through Auckland Airport.
ISRAELI INTELLIGENCE SMUGGLED ONE-TON GUN TO ASSASSINATE IRANIAN NUCLEAR SCIENTIST
On 12 February, republic World and others reported that the Iranian nuclear scientist assassinated near Tehran in November 2020 was killed by a one-ton gun smuggled into Iran in pieces by the Israeli intelligence.
VAT FRAUD CLAMPDOWN: INTERNATIONAL SCAM WITH MEMORY CARDS UNCOVERED IN THE NETHERLANDS
On 12 February, a news release from Europol advised that, on 10 February, the investigation service of the Dutch tax authorities – FIOD busted a criminal network involved in international VAT fraud with electronic devices traded via an online company and employing MTIC (missing trader intra-Community) fraud.
IRISH FAMILY-BASED GANG TARGETED IN PROBE INTO €4 MILLION LAUNDERING
On 12 February, a news release from Europol announced that fund transfers in excess of €4 million were identified from other jurisdictions to Irish bank accounts linked to members of this criminal network. The gang is believed to have made this money from illegal activity across Europe.
CYPRUS: WOMAN HELD IN CONNECTION WITH €300,000 SCAM
On 12 February, the Cyprus Mail reported that Cypriot police had arrested a 52-year-old woman in Prague on suspicion that she was involved in scamming a Cypriot businessman for €300,000. The businessman told police that he had been promised a loan of €50 million from a bank in Asia if he paid €100,000 cash in advance to sign the contract and a further €200,000 as expenses for the intermediaries.
US: WORKING TOGETHER, FDA, NTIA, AND DOMAIN REGISTRIES TAKE DOWN 30 WEBSITES ILLEGALLY SELLING OPIOIDS
On 11 February, an article from Mintz says that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) in partnership with 3 domain name registries disabled nearly 30 websites illegally offering opioids for sale. Working together as part of a pilot programme jointly created by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Commerce (Commerce), FDA and NTIA aim to reduce the availability of unapproved and misbranded opioids illicitly offered for virtual sale. It says that the FDA continued efforts to work collaboratively with other agencies denotes the seriousness of the enforcement actions’ message: be on the lookout. It would not be surprising if FDA continues to issue joint enforcement actions related to opioids.
UK: CONTEMPT OF COURT PROCEEDINGS TO BE BROUGHT AGAINST ENVIRONMENTAL LAWYER WHO LEAKED THE SUPREME COURT’S DECISION ON HEATHROW’S THIRD RUNWAY
On 12 February, a news release from the MoJ advised that the Solicitor General has initiated contempt of court proceedings against Tim Crosland, an environmental lawyer who leaked the Supreme Court’s decision on Heathrow’s third runway. The draft judgment was circulated on a confidential basis and an embargo setting out the need for confidentiality was clearly stated. It was also made clear that breaching the embargo might be treated as a contempt of court. It says that Crosland had confirmed that he had deliberately ‘breached the embargo as an act of civil disobedience’.
SUBSIDY CONTROL: CONSULTATION ON DESIGNING A NEW APPROACH FOR THE UK
On 12 February, a news release from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy advised that, following the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December, the UK has the freedom to design a new domestic subsidy control regime that reflects our strategic interests and particular national circumstances. The UK Government is consulting until 31 March, seeking views on an approach for establishing a bespoke UK-wide subsidy scheme.
IRELAND: MATHESON’S UPDATED FITNESS AND PROBITY HANDBOOK GOES ONLINE
Irish law firm, Matheson, has published an updated version of its Handbook for the approval of key persons in the financial services industry to ensure the fitness and probity of key office-holders within firms.
PORTS OF ANTWERP AND ZEEBRUGGE JOIN FORCES TO BECOME EUROPE’S LARGEST PORT
On 12 February, CILT reported that the City of Antwerp and the City of Bruges have reached an agreement to merge their respective ports. The two-city agreement marks the start of a unification process that is expected to take a year to finalise. Once completed, the ports will operate under the name ‘Port of Antwerp-Bruges’.
ESTABLISHING AN EU SINGLE WINDOW FOR CUSTOMS
A briefing paper from the EU Parliament Research Service provides an initial analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the European Commission impact assessment accompanying the proposal, submitted on 28 October, and referred to the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO). The proposed system would manage the expansion of international trade and compliance with all border formalities after the arrival of goods at the EU border, and addresses the wide range of EU non-customs product compliance requirements and standards relating to sensitive aspects such as health, environment, product and food safety and security.
UK: HIGH COURT HAS DISMISSED AN APPLICATION BY A TRUSTEE IN BANKRUPTCY WHICH ARGUED THAT PAYMENTS MADE BY THE BANKRUPT TO COMPANIES AFTER THE PRESENTATION OF A BANKRUPTCY PETITION WERE VOID
An article from out-Law on 12 February says that this is an important and useful decision, finally giving a reported authority based on which insolvency practitioners can analyse the meaning of “value” when looking to see if payments made after a bankruptcy petition can be overturned for the benefit of creditors.
UK: NON-PARTY ACCESS TO COURT DOCUMENTS
On 12 February, an article from Out-Law reviews the position in England & Wales, saying that people or organisations who are not a party to a piece of litigation (non-parties) in England and wales can obtain copies of some documents relating to civil proceedings that are held at court. Depending on the type of document requested, the permission of the court may be required.
US: OWNER OF CONSUMER ELECTRONICS WHOLESALE BUSINESS PLEADS GUILTY TO CONSPIRACY TO OPERATING AN UNLICENSED MONEY TRANSMITTING BUSINESS
A news release from the US DoJ on 11 February advised that AMIT AGARWAL, the operator of an international wholesale consumer electronics business, the Agarwal Electronics Business, based in New Jersey, pled guilty to participating in a conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmission business that operated primarily between Colombia and the US.
SPAIN: MAYOR OF MARBELLA’S HUSBAND, STEP-SON AND BODYGUARD UNDER INVESTIGATION FOR MONEY LAUNDERING AND DRUG TRAFFICKING
On 11 February, the Olive Press reported that the arrests followed police having raided a consultancy business in Marbella.
US: UKRAINIAN MAN SENTENCED FOR OPERATING MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR INTERNATIONAL MONEY LAUNDERING SCHEME
A news release from the US DoJ on 11 February reported that a Ukrainian man, Aleksandr Musienko, 38, has been sentenced to 87 months in prison and ordered to pay $98,751.64 in restitution after pleading guilty to committing wire fraud, stemming from his participation in a scheme to launder funds for Eastern European cybercriminals who hacked into and stole funds from online bank accounts of US businesses 2009-12. Musienko was involved in recruiting, supervising, and directing a network of “money mules,” or individuals who transmitted funds, with American corporate and individual bank accounts that could receive the stolen funds and transmit it overseas. Musienko, using an alias, recruited American “mules” by advertising on employment websites that he was hiring a financial assistant.
270 SERVICE DEPOSIT ADDRESSES DRIVE 55% OF MONEY LAUNDERING IN CRYPTOCURRENCY
On 11 February, Chainalysis published a post, being an extract of its 2021 Crypto Crime Report states the obvious, that money laundering is the key to cryptocurrency-based crime. The primary goals of cybercriminals who steal cryptocurrency, or accept it as payment for illicit goods, are to obfuscate the source of their funds and convert their cryptocurrency into cash so that it can be spent or kept in a bank. However, it says that criminals rely on a surprisingly small group of service providers to liquidate their crypto assets. Some of these providers specialise in money laundering services while others are simply large cryptocurrency services and money services businesses (MSB) with lax compliance programmes. Who, it asks, are these providers?
NEW VIDEO SHOWS MASSIVE SCOPE OF CALIFORNIA BOX-SHIP TRAFFIC JAM
On 11 February, American Shipper reported that newly-released US Coast Guard video offers proof of just how extreme the container congestion has become at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The new view from above reveals a vast armada of container ships scattered at anchor across California’s San Pedro Bay. The latest data from the Port of Los Angeles and from the Marine Exchange of Southern California tells the story behind those images. Delays on the landside are causing the logjam at sea. Extremely high inbound volumes combined with logistical complications both inside and outside the ports are causing the landside delays.
EL SALVADOR’S ANTI-CORRUPTION COMMISSION IS ALIVE. BUT CAN IT SUCCEED?
On 8 February, an article in Americas Quarterly says that the International Commission against Corruption and Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES) in 2019 seemed like a token gesture. It had few of the ingredients that had made its neighbouring predecessor, Guatemala’s International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG), a success: no mandate for independent investigation, no ability to help prosecute cases, no mandate to publicly press officials on malfeasance and virtually no collaboration with civil society. Failure to ratify the background agreement was one thing that led to the perception among civil society organisations that the CICIES was a showy tool of the executive rather than a binding and independent mechanism – although such an outside anti-corruption commission has become more apparent. But CICIES, with its strong team of national and international judges, investigators and auditors, has shown it has teeth, and in November, drawing on documents uncovered in cooperation with CICIES’ forensic audits, Salvadoran prosecutors raided 20 government offices, revealing massive corruption. However, it is said that El Salvador now stands at a crossroads. If the proposed necessary legislation is not passed and the CICIE’s dependence on the executive is not resolved, it may well become a politicised tool for undermining the rule of law.
3 BALTIMORE-AREA MEN FACING FEDERAL CHARGES FOR FRAUD SCHEME PURPORTING TO SELL COVID-19 VACCINES
On 12 February, a news release from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement advised that 3 men are facing a federal charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with a scheme to allegedly sell purported COVID-19 vaccines. They are said to have used a fake copy of a legitimate website.
EU COURTS ANNULS TERRORISM SANCTIONS LISTING OF TURKISH MAN LINKED TO PKK
The EU General Court has annulled the 2019 acts listing Dalokay Şanli, a Turkish national who in 2016 was added to the EU’s terrorism targeted sanctions on the basis of links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
MARITIME INDUSTRY SHOULD ‘RAMP UP’ INVESTMENTS IN CYBER DEFENCE
On 11 February, Homeland Security Today reported that the maritime industry needs to invest in a “more equitable balance” of offensive and defensive measures — especially ramping up a strong defence — to protect operations from potentially devastating cyber attacks, the former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has told the US Congress.
KYRGYZ STATE GOLD COMPANY CEO ARRESTED FOR EXTORTION OF A PART OF SALARY FROM MANAGER OF AFFILIATED COMPANY
ON 12 February, AKI Press reported that the anti-corruption service of the State National Security Committee has said it has found systemic cases of extortion of money by chairman of the board of Kyrgyzaltyn, Elmyrza Ukubaev, from some managers of gold mining companies.
FORMER MISSISSIPPI BAND OF CHOCTAW INDIAN OFFICIAL AND WIFE PLEAD GUILTY TO MONEY LAUNDERING CONSPIRACY
On 12 February, a news release from the US DoJ advised that Kevin Edwards, 48, a former member of the Tribal Council for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, and his wife, Sheena A. Edwards, 45, have pled guilty to a Superseding Indictment charging them with money laundering conspiracy. The new indictment charges the former lawmaker and his wife with defrauding the Tribal government, as well as misleading a federally insured bank with intent to obtain loans 2015-17.
‘SMUGGLING IS NOT EARNINGS’ – EU HELPS UKRAINIAN BORDER GUARD SERVICE TO LAUNCH INFO CAMPAIGN FOR WESTERN UKRAINE
On 12 February, the EU announced that the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service (SBGS) has launched an information campaign entitled ‘Smuggling is an illegal activity, not earnings’. The campaign has been developed in cooperation with the EU Advisory Mission in Ukraine as a part of its support to Ukrainian Civilian Security Sector institutions in the field of strategic communications. The campaign aims to inform citizens of the Transcarpathian and Chernivtsi regions that smuggling not only devastates the national budget but also contributes to the growth of corruption, hinders Ukraine’s integration into the EU, and negatively affects its international reputation.
CALIFORNIA STATE EMPLOYEE PLEADS GUILTY TO $2 MILLION SCHEME TO DEFRAUD THE OFFICE OF AIDS
A news release from the US DoJ on 11 February advised that Schenelle M. Flores, 45, of Sacramento, has pleaded guilty to wire fraud in relation to a scheme to divert funds from the California Department of Public Health. Flores allegedly used her employment at the Office of AIDS, within the California Department of Public Health, to coordinate the fraud scheme between December 2017 and November 2018. The Office of AIDS is responsible for working on behalf of the State of California to combat the HIV and AIDS epidemic.
MAN PLEADS GUILTY TO STEALING MORE THAN $400,000 FROM AN ILLINOIS OIL AND GAS COMPANY
A news release from the US DoJ on 12 February advised that a man has admitted in federal court that he stole $401, 146 worth of funds and oil and gas products from his former employer. David West was a trusted employee for close to 30 years at Petco Petroleum. West carried out 2 schemes against Petco Petroleum, an Illinois oil and gas company. In one scheme, he produced and submitted fraudulent invoices for services that were never rendered, totalling $129,038, which his employer paid in full and West pocketed. In a second scheme, he hired trucks to haul oil stolen from his employer’s oil leases to a reclaimer who then paid him $266,802 for the oil. Then West charged Petco Petroleum for the transport costs of their own stolen oil.
FORMER CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER OF GLOBAL PREMIER SOCCER CHARGED IN VISA FRAUD SCHEME
A news release from the US DoJ on 12 February advised that Justin Capell, 39, the former Chief Operating Officer of Global Premier Soccer (GPS), a now defunct youth soccer organisation formerly based in Massachusetts, has been charged in connection with a wide-ranging visa fraud conspiracy. According to court documents, from at least 2016 to October 2019, Capell conspired with other GPS executives and employees, and with GPS’s outside counsel, to defraud several federal agencies by submitting fraudulent visa petitions in order to secure work visas for hundreds of GPS employees.
UK: LANDFILL TAX ‘INCENTIVISES ILLEGAL DISPOSAL OF WASTE’
On 12 February, Let’s Recycle reported that Landfill Tax has “significantly” reduced the use of landfill sites but also “incentivised more illegal disposal of waste”, according to the government’s spending watchdog, the National Audit Office. In November 2019, HM Treasury began a review, which will conclude in 2021, into how the transition to net zero should be funded.
PLAYBOY FRAUDSTER SUES THE POLICE FOR CRUSHING HIS £200,000 FERRARI SPIDER – WHILE HE’S ON THE RUN IN DUBAI OVER FAKE CAR REGISTRATION SCAM
On 12 February, the Daily Mail reported that Zahid Khan, who ripped off motorists in an elaborate private number plate scam, and who fled to Dubai to avoid prison is suing police for crushing his £200,000 Ferrari.
THE NEW UK NATIONAL SECURITY INVESTMENT SCREENING REGIME
On 12 February, an article from Hogan Lovells said that the new National Security and Investment Bill laid before the UK Parliament will, on enactment, significantly affect the way investments in the UK can be reviewed by the UK Government where they raise national security considerations. The new legislation replaces stop-gap provisions that had been recently introduced with a stand-alone regime, especially (but not exclusively) targeted at foreign investors. The article explained the reason for the change, how it will work, and the impact of the new regime.
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