#PandoraPapers: $32 trillion tax evasion

Strasbourg 05.09.2021 More than 600 journalists from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ @ICIJorg 2021 have conducted a vast investigation named #PandoraPapers which reveals how the offshore money machine operates in every corner of the planet, including the world’s largest democracies.
The Consortium @ICIJorg has uncovered tax evasion and corruption totaling up to $32 trillion involving:

– 35 current/ex-world leaders;
– 336 politicians/public officials;
– 130 billionaires, mostly from Russia, Brazil, UK, Israel.

The Washington Post, owned by the American billionaire Jeff Bezos, and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) gained an unprecedented look into the money flowing into trusts in the United States by examining a trove of more than 11.9 million confidential documents maintained by trust and corporate services providers around the world.

The records, presented to public under the name of the Pandora Papers, expose how foreign political and corporate leaders or their family members moved money and other assets from long-established tax havens to U.S. trust companies.

The investigation identified 206 U.S.-based trusts linked to 41 countries holding combined assets worth more than $1 billion. Nearly 30 of the trusts held assets connected to people or companies accused of fraud, bribery or human rights abuses in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.

The cache of confidential files, obtained by @ICIJ and shared with more than 150 media partners, describe only some of the trusts in the United States but is the most significant set of records ever made public from inside America’s trust industry.

The trust documents come mostly from the Sioux Falls office of Trident Trust, a global provider of offshore services. In a written statement, Trident said it is committed to compliance with all applicable regulations and routinely cooperates with authorities. The company declined to answer questions about its clients.

On Monday, October 4, the European Parliament included Council and Commission #PandoraPapers statements to agenda of the Plenary in Strasbourg. On October 6 at Strasbourg plenary of the European Parliament – implications on the efforts to combat money laundering, tax evasion and avoidance will be presented at 15h00. The MEPs will vote on the resolution at the next part-session.

Lavrov: AUKUS undermines ASEAN

Brussels 03.10.2021 New AUKUS alliance between the US, the UK, and Australia as well as the four-sided dialogue on security between the US, Japan, India, and Australia (Quad) are directed at eroding the long-standing universal formats of cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region existing under the auspices of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at the 29th Assembly of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy on October 2, Saturday.

The Russian top diplomat noted, “one of the most fashionable trends today is the so-called Indo-Pacific strategies that are invented by the United States,” in particular, AUKUS and Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between United States, India, Japan and Australia).

“All of this follows the line of eroding the universal formats in the Asia-Pacific Region which existed for the past decades under the auspices of ASEAN,” Lavrov underlined.

The minister named “East Asian summits, the ASEAN security forum, meetings of ASEAN defense ministers and partners, the so-called ASEAN+, and a number of other formats” based on the “principle of consensus” among such universal formats.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has previously questioned whether the EU would be able to strike a trade deal with Australia, in solidarity with France.

But on Friday, September 1, spokespersons for the European Commission explained than it is not “punishing anybody”. The decision to delay the talks by a month took place a couple of days ago and would “allow us to prepare better”, they said, adding that it was not “unusual” to push back trade talks.

Lavrov acts as Deripaska lobbyist

Brussels 16.09.2021 Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska has been lavishing gifts on Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his lady-friend and her extended family in exchange for lobbying his business interests internationally.

The recent investigation by the team of Alexei Navalny Anti-Corruption Fund has revealed the strong connection between the top civil servant and the prominent businessmen, indicating that Russian diplomat has been working relentlessly to promote internationally private business of the oligarch in exchange for support of an excessive luxury lifestyle of his favourite and her relatives.

Anti-corruption Fund researches have revealed that the top diplomat mistress Svetlana, as well as her mother Tamara and daughter Polina were frequent passengers on Deripaska’s planes, guests on his yachts and in his mansions since at least 2014. In particular, Lavrov’s favourite and her relatives took the oligarch’s private planes to Montenegro, Austria, Germany, Norway and many other countries for pleasure trips. They have also used systematically chances to join the diplomat on his foreign trips, disguised and a part of the Russian delegation.

Moreover, according to Navalny’s colleagues, the de facto stepdaughter of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Polina, has repeatedly posted photographs from houses belonging to Deripaska. So, for example, she was vacationing at the ostentatious property of an oligarch in Montenegro and celebrated her 22nd birthday at his extraordinary villa located in Sardinia, Italy. In the social networks, while showing off to friends, Polina was ecstatic about the properties dabbing Deripaska’s real estate her “second home”.

Colleagues of Navalny emphasize that Lavrov uses his public office to lobby private interests of Deripaska. In particular, the Foreign Minister made an effort to help the oligarch obtain an American visa.

It it common in contemporary Russia among top officials to exploit their public service to enrich themselves privately, however until present Sergei Lavrov has been considered as an exception of this rule. He has been regarded by majority of Russians and as a true patriot, serving Russian people, and promoting Russian national interests. Apparently after the Navalny Fund revelations the reputation of the Minister and his image of a patriot are in tatters.

AUSTRIA refuses Afghan migrants

Brussels 07.09.2021 This week Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has reiterated that he does not want to see a surge of Afghan migrants and praised Greece for reinforcing the external border of the European Union.

Chancellor Kurz made the remarks on Monday, September 6, during a press conference with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić in Belgrade.

“If there are waves of migration from Afghanistan, migrants must be cared for in neighbouring countries. That is why we are in contact with the countries of that region,” Kurz said, according to Euronews.

Adding: “They must not go to Europe.”

President Vučić agreed with the Austrian chancellor’s sentiments, stating: “Those who leave Afghanistan have a clear goal: Western Europe and the United States. Not many of them want to stay in the Western Balkans. We will show solidarity with everyone, but we will not be the place where they can camp.”

Chancellor Kurz also praised the Greek government for its stance on fortifying the European Union external border, saying: “Today, at the external borders of the EU, these phenomena are better dealt with, and the approach is different than it was in 2015 when with European funds, i.e. European taxpayers’ money, migrants were promoted through Greece to other countries in Europe. ”

“This has changed. Greece is now making a significant contribution, making great efforts, to guard the EU’s external borders,” he said.

While Sebastian Kurz has come out against taking in large numbers of Afghan migrants, at home, his Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and their stance on the issue has conflicted with their Green Party coalition partners.

The debate takes place while about 500 homeless people, mainly migrants including Afghans and families with children, set up tents on Wednesday September 1 in Paris, under the windows of the prefecture of the Ile-de-France region, in order to ask the state “Dignified and lasting hosting solutions”.

550 Afghan migrants welcomed in Hauts-de-Seine, accommodated in hotels.
At the same time, a homeless person is sentenced to prison for not wearing a mask.
“Hotel *** Mercure (in Strasbourg) for migrants, prison for the French” write indignant users of social networks.

NordStream II: Zelensky threatens with U.S. sanctions

Brussels 02.09.2021 The United States will impose sanctions against Nord Stream II in case other countries create energy problems for Ukraine, President Vladimir Zelensky said on Wednesday, September 2, after his visit to Washington.

“So far, we are at a stage when President Biden personally guarantees that if Russia or other parties to Nord Stream II after its commissioning … create energy problems to Ukraine, the United States guarantees it will impose sanctions against Nord Stream II,” he told at a briefing, which was aired by the Ukraina-24 TV channel.

Zelensky said it is a “big victory,” but the issue still needs further discussion.Ukraine’s position on Nord Stream II enjoys serious support in the U.S. Congress, he added.

Nord Stream II is an international project for the construction of a gas pipeline that will run across the seafloor of the Baltic Sea from the Russian coast to Germany bypassing transit states, such as Ukraine, Belarus, Poland and other Eastern European and Baltic countries.

The new 1,230-kilometer pipeline, basically following the same route as Nord Stream I, traverses the economic zones and territorial water of five countries, namely Russia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Germany.

Works under the project were suspended in December 2019 after Allseas, a Swiss company laying the pipes for the Nord Stream II pipeline, suspended pipe-laying works over possible US sanctions and recalled its vessels. The construction works were resumed only a year later in December 2020 after an intense legal struggle.

On July 21, 2021, the United States and Germany published an agreement on the Nord Stream II project, where Washington recognised that sanctions would not stop the project implementation and Berlin undertook the efforts to ensure the extension of Russian gas exports via Ukraine. The United States however reserved the right to take measures in case Russia, as it put it, uses energy as a geopolitical weapon in Europe and in case of its “aggression” against Ukraine.

The Russian side has repeatedly stressed that Nord Stream II is purely a commercial project and is being implemented jointly with European partners under the WTO rules. Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov expressed resentment over attempts of a number of countries to link the future of the project to political context and various circumstances unrelated to trade. Moscow has also repeatedly underlined that it has never used energy resources as an instrument of a political pressure, even providing Georgia with gas during the war.

President Biden recent promises to support Ukraine in its struggle out of economic difficulties, the endemic corruption is not the least factor,and reminds of his own son Hunter adventures in Ukraine entering the board of Burisma energy company without any relevant experience. It is also reminded about the impeachment documents failed by Representative Marjory Taylor Greene last year, clearly stating Joe Biden should be investigated over the conflict of interests caused by his son involvement in corruption scandal in Ukraine.

ex-President Ashraf Ghani brother joins Taliban

Brussels 21.08.2021 Ashraf Ghani’s brother joins Taliban, EHA News reports. Former President Ashraf Ghani’s brother Heshmat Ghani pledged allegiance to Taliban,the video of the ceremony was released on the social media.

Heshmat Ghani Ahmadzai joined the Taliban in the presence of Khalil al-Rahman Haqqani, a senior Taliban member, and declared his support for the Taliban.

Local Pajhwok news agency said on Saturday, August 21, that Hashmat Ghani, brother of former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, had pledged allegiance to the movement. Heshmat Ghani, who heads the Kush (Bedouin) Grand Council in Afghanistan, held no official post during Ashraf Ghani’s eight-year presidency.
Heshmat Ghani appeared in a video pledging allegiance to Khalil Rahman, a prominent member of the Taliban movement, according to the Afghan agency.

Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Tajikistan has accused Afghan President Ashraf Ghani of stealing nearly $170 million while fleeing Kabul, and the diplomat is calling for international authorities to arrest him.

Ambassador Zahir Aghbar, during a news conference said said Ghani, who fled the country as the Taliban entered Kabul on Sunday, on August 15, and “stole $169 million from the state coffers,” according to The Associated Press.

He did not offer any additional details regarding his allegation.

“Western Bishops” welcome Afghans

Brussels 19.08.2021 Vatican News ‘Western Bishops’ Conferences are speaking out on the situation in Afghanistan, urging their governments to welcome those fleeing the country, and praying for peace through dialogue.

In view of the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan as the Taliban ascended power, Bishops in Western nations are calling on their governments to help people fleeing the country – especially those who risked their lives to assist the military mission that began 20 years ago. The address has been issued after the Taliban declared the general amnesty, underlining that they have “forgiven all those who fought” against them.

From the United States, Bishop Mario Dorsonville and Bishop David Malloy, chairs respectively of the USCCB’s Committees on Migration and on International Justice and Peace, issued a statement calling on the US government “to act with the utmost urgency, considering all avenues to preserve life.” They note that Catholic organizations and partners have been assisting the government in welcoming Afghan refugees and their families, and add that they “will continue to work as long as necessary until those who are in harm’s way are brought to safety.”

With Pope Francis, the statement says, the US Bishops are “praying for peace in Afghanistan – ‘that the clamor of weapons might cease and solutions can be found at the table of dialogue.’”

In Europe, the chairman of the German Bishops Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing said he was “outraged by the widespread suffering and helplessness of those whose future is being stolen from them.”

He said, “The takeover by the Taliban in Afghanistan represents a disastrous defeat for the United States and the countries that until recently were committed to its side,” including Germany. He warned that the “life and limb of thousands and thousands of people are endangered and the flame of hope that has nourished them is extinguished” by the surrender of the country to the Taliban.

Bishop Bätzing insisted that western countries must evacuate Afghans who assisted their military forces and international aid organizations, saying “generous admission offers” should be granted, especially to those most at risk. He urged them to help countries in the region accept and care for refugees from Afghanistan, and said the European Union must be prepared to welcome refugees who arrive in Europe.

Bishops insisted on the power of prayer, and invited “everyone to join in prayer with the sufferings of the people of Afghanistan, and to call on God for His gracious help.”

Afghanistan: NATO Extraordinary teleconference

Brussels 19.08.2021 Extraordinary Meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs – Brussels, 20 August 2021
An extraordinary virtual meeting of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) at the level of Ministers of Foreign Affairs will be held via secure teleconference on Friday 20 August 2021. NATO Foreign Ministers will discuss developments in Afghanistan.

The meeting will be chaired by the NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg.
The meeting will start on 20 August 2021 at +/- 14h00 Brussels. The Secretary General is expected to brief the press after the meeting.

Previously at the press-briefing in NATO HQ Brussels on August 17, the Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg said: “The North Atlantic Council has met to discuss Afghanistan.
“The situation is extremely serious and unpredictable.
Kabul has fallen, and the Taliban have taken control of most of the country.
I am deeply saddened by what I see unfolding in Afghanistan.

“NATO’s focus right now is to ensure the safe departure of personnel from Allied and partner countries, and of the Afghans who have helped us.
NATO has been working round the clock to maintain operations at Kabul international airport.
Around 800 NATO civilian personnel have remained to provide key functions under very challenging circumstances.
“Including air traffic control, fuel, and communications.
And I would like to thank them.
Let me also thank the military forces of NATO Allies, in particular Turkey, the United States and the United Kingdom for their vital role in securing the airport.
Operations at the airport are now gradually resuming.
And during today’s meeting Allies announced that they are sending additional airplanes.

“We have also maintained our diplomatic presence.
Our Senior Civilian Representative Ambassador Pontecorvo and his team have been working closely with Allies and the rest of the international community to coordinate and facilitate the evacuation.
And we remain committed to completing evacuations including of our Afghan colleagues, as soon as possible.
The Taliban must respect and facilitate the safe departure of all those who wish to leave.
The airport, as well as roads and border crossings, must be open.
All Afghan men, women and children deserve to live in safety and dignity.
There must be a peaceful transfer of power to an inclusive government.
With no revenge or retribution.

“A government that does not respect the fundamental rights of all Afghans and reinstates the reign of fear, risks international isolation.

“The United States agreed with the Taliban last year that US troops would withdraw by May.
And after many rounds of consultations, all Allies agreed to follow the US decision.
Ending our military mission was not easy.
We were faced with a serious dilemma.
Either leave, and risk seeing the Taliban regain control.
Or stay, and risk renewed attacks, and an open-ended combat mission.

“We never intended to stay in Afghanistan forever.
Over the past few years, from over 100,000 troops we went down to less than 10,000 – and now to zero.
But what we have seen in the last few weeks was a military and political collapse at a speed which had not been anticipated.
Parts of the Afghan security forces fought bravely.
But they were unable to secure the country.
Because ultimately, the Afghan political leadership failed to stand up to the Taliban and to achieve the peaceful solution that Afghans desperately wanted.
This failure of Afghan leadership led to the tragedy we are witnessing today.

“At the same time, we need to have an honest, clear-eyed assessment of NATO’s own engagement in Afghanistan.
Despite our considerable investment and sacrifice over two decades, the collapse was swift and sudden.
There are many lessons to be learned.

“But we should also recognise the gains we have made.
NATO Allies and partners went into Afghanistan after 9/11 to prevent the country from serving as a safe haven for international terrorists to attack us.
In the last two decades, there have been no terrorist attacks on Allied soil organised from Afghanistan.
Those now taking power have the responsibility to ensure that international terrorists do not regain a foothold.
Allies have the capabilities and the vigilance to address future terrorist threats from Afghanistan.

“Due to our military presence and the support of the international community, a new generation of men and women have grown up in a new Afghanistan.
Able to get education, take part in the political process, run their own businesses, and enjoy a vibrant media scene.
Today’s Afghanistan is very different to the Afghanistan of 2001.
So those gains cannot be easily reversed.

“The world will be watching.
And must continue to support a stable and peaceful Afghanistan”.

KABUL: Russian Embassy remains functional

Брюссель 15.08.2021 Russian diplomats are not preparing the evacuation of the Russian embassy from Kabul, the diplomatic mission is working in a quiet mode, we are in touch with the ambassador, Zamir Kabulov (pictured), the special envoy of the Russian president for Afghanistan, director of the second department of Asia of the Russian Foreign Ministry, told RIA Novosti.

“No, the evacuation of the embassy is not being prepared. I am in contact with our ambassador, they are calmly working and closely watching the development of events,” Kabulov said.
The Taliban guaranteed security not only for the Russian embassy, but also for diplomatic missions of other countries, Kabulov added.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova, commenting on the situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban are taking over major cities, said that the world is watching with “horror” the result of another “historical experiment” of Washington.

“It’s surprising, but true: in Afghanistan, there is a confrontation between two forces, both of which are the fruit of the US thinking process. The world is watching with horror the result of another historical experiment in Washington,” Zakharova wrote on the Telegram channel.

The situation in Afghanistan has escalated in recent weeks with the Taliban militant attacks on the country’s major cities. On Sunday,August 15, media and sources reported that the Taliban control all border crossings in Afghanistan, are in the vicinity of the capital and have taken control of the Kabul University.

Meanwhile, the Afghan presidential administration said it was in control of the situation in the country’s capital, Al-Arabiya TV reported. Negotiations with Taliban are ongoing now in Presidential Palace.

Former Afghan Interior Minister and former Ambassador to Germany, Ali Ahmad Jalali, will be appointed head of the country’s transitional government, Afghan Khaama Press reports citing sources.

According to sources, negotiations are underway at the Presidential palace in Kabul to transfer power to the radical Taliban movement. It is noted that the head of the Supreme Council for National Reconciliation in Afghanistan, Dr.Abdullah Abdullah, acts as a mediator.

Earlier, the Taliban said they were negotiating with the government about the possibility of peacefully entering Kabul. They also stated that the Afghan government will be responsible for the security of Kabul until the end of the transition process.

The Taliban movement, while being a terrorist group banned Russia, guaranteed the security of the Russian embassy in Kabul, said Mohammad Sohail Shahin, a spokesman for the Taliban’s Qatari political office. Zamir Kabulov, special envoy of the Russian president for Afghanistan, director of the second department of Asia of the Russian Foreign Ministry, added that the evacuation of the Russian embassy in Afghanistan is not planned.

Zamir Kabulov, who was born in Soviet Uzbekistan, graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations in 1977, and carried on responsibilities in various diplomatic posts in the central offices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and abroad, in particular in Afghanistan. His Central Asian background further bolstered his career in dealing with Afghan and Pakistani issues.

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic for NATO leadership

Brussels 25.07.2021 Is Former Croatia President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic in Line for Top NATO Job?
As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, the Politico portal, announced that for the first time in the 72-year history of the Alliance, the incumbent Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is looking for a successor, preferably from Eastern Europe. Taking into consideration the equity agenda, the time for change and break glass ceiling,
the main candidate is Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, who was a former Vice President of NATO and was also an ambassador to the United States.

(Image above: archive, Moscow The 2018 FIFA World Cup Final: Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovich with Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin)

Another factor is whether the country from which the presidential candidate is coming from meets the NATO target of spending of a minimum of 2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

It has been noted that Croatia’s former President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic has an “impressive biography”, leading this hypothesis to be regarded among relevant political leaders and diplomats.

Back during the 2015 Croatian presidential campaign, the then HDZ candidate didn’t want to reveal what her salary was as an assistant working at North-Atlantic Treaty Organisaton.

“I still follow the instructions given to me by NATO, which oblige me as a former NATO employee to make sure this data isn’t to be disclosed to the public, and the salary is much less than twenty thousand euros,” said former President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic at the confrontation at which the matter was discussed with Ivo Josipovic (SDP), who claimed that salaries in NATO were not kept secret.

Afterwards in late 2016, there was speculation that former British Prime Minister David Cameron potentially becoming NATO’s new secretary general, and the British newspaper The Independent reported that the salary for the post was £220,000 a year (which is around €21,000 per month). According to the document from the beginning of 2020, the highest monthly salary paid out to a NATO employee stood at €23,646.

Fast forward to November 2020, NATO asked its members to increase funds in order to further improve the salaries of its employees, in accordance with the agreed methodology, which some allies refused, considering it inappropriate at hard times of the pandemic.

At Headquarters, formal talks on Stoltenberg’s successor have just begun, and the new Secretary-General is scheduled to introduce the NATO leaders’ summit in Madrid in late spring or early summer next year.

Image below: A competitor of Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovich  in NATO top job race – incumbent Estonia President Kersti Kaljulaid.

Continue reading “Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic for NATO leadership”