Posts Tagged ‘corruption’

Philippines: Man-made rice crisis worse than typhoon

September 19, 2018

No one in government could have stopped typhoon Ompong’s rampage in Northern Luzon over the weekend, but a proactive administration could have forestalled the crisis scenario of having people lining up for cheap rice.

Malacañang said President Duterte was “satisfied” with the government’s response to Ompong’s devastation that affected 5.7 million people, left at least 30 killed, and destroyed infrastructure, property and crops worth billions of pesos before it exited Saturday.

The toll does not include the scores of miners and family members who were killed in Itogon, Benguet, when the mountainside slid and buried a chapel where they sought shelter during the storm Sunday. Duterte blamed the priest for their fate (see item below).

When nature runs amuck, there is hardly anything that we puny humans can do except to duck and hope that the mitigating measures taken before the calamity work.

On the other hand, the other crisis – that of rice running out – should be within the control of an administration that truly cares and is competent in the first place. Mismanagement of the food supply, especially of rice, potentially affects some 100 million Filipinos.

Ensuring food security in a country with a traditional agricultural base should not be too complicated. In fact, in an unlikely “kanya-kanya” global scenario where every nation will have to feed itself, the Philippines should be able to survive with a surplus to show.

Of the national budget of P3.767 trillion this year, the share of the Department of Agriculture is P53,336,259,000, showing an increase of 17.94 percent over its previous year’s appropriation.

With that outlay, the department, in tandem with related Executive offices and the National Food Authority should be able to ensure rice sufficiency without having to rely on importation from neighbors who ironically studied modern rice farming at Los Baños.

With rice as the main fare together with fish and veggies on the plate of the average Filipino, planners know how many kilos of the grain the country must have in stock at any given time, with the vagaries of supply and demand fluctuations considered.

With basic figures and options available, why should any administration, even one suffering from incompetence and corruption, not be able to plan and assure consumers a predictable supply of affordable rice?

Despite the foul weather and the crooks infesting the bureaucracy, plus the cartel and smugglers factored in, there cannot be any good excuse for the long “pila” for NFA rice.

Instead of taking selfies to promote his senatorial bid, presidential aide Bong Go should show to his boss the video of irate consumers, a few of them unable to hold back tears, waiting in long lines in the market.

(Then President Marcos had somebody taking notes of what he was telling callers/groups complaining about things. To give a proactive impression, he would sometimes say (lie) that he had already acted on what they were griping about. Marcos’ aide would then quickly tell the agency/official concerned what the President said supposedly had been done, and they made sure it was done. Bong Go does something like that?)

• The hungry can’t eat excuses, stats

Any administration that cannot prevent a man-made disaster of rice shortages in this agricultural country has no business pretending to be on top of the food situation.

President Duterte and Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol claim there is no rice shortage. But where is the cereal when needed at the point of sale? They explain that syndicates and saboteurs are hiding it. What is the mail-fisted administration doing?

Hungry people cannot eat excuses or statistics. Pity housewives who skip breakfast just to be able to line up before the NFA stalls open, but are not even sure they can buy a limited amount before the day’s supply runs out.

Is President Duterte also “satisfied” with his boys’ handling of this self-inflicted disaster? In the first place, do they have a well-thought-out integrated rice self-sufficiency program?

Before Malacañang answers that last question, maybe the President should first clarify the overlapping roles of the stars that have started to flicker in the darkening firmament.

Former MMDA chair Francis Tolentino of a past regime, now carrying the title of presidential political affairs adviser, was the one talking about typhoon preparation and responses when Duterte showed up Sunday in Cagayan after Ompong left the area in shambles.

Is Tolentino supplementing or duplicating the work of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) and taking over from presidential spokesman Harry Roque when the subject is typhoons, disasters and such?

Will the President appoint Army chief Lt. Gen. Rolando Bautista as NFA administrator to replace Jason Aquino who seemed to have been ineffective and after Piñol said cleaning up the NFA mess was not his job?

When Duterte learned during the disaster-related meeting in Tuguegarao of Bautista’s retiring on Oct. 15, he told him: “In the meantime, I cannot place you in the Central Bank, perhaps I can place you in the NFA to rationalize the idiotic… to come up with plans, make it structural.”

That gives us an inkling of how the vetting of key Duterte appointees goes, and why this country seems to be going nowhere.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2018/09/18/1852388/man-made-rice-crisis-worse-typhoon#ROov3c879q63rKXb.99

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Duterte issued Executive Order 62, which amends his first EO that reengineered the OP shortly after he assumed office in 2016.

Michael Varcas
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NFA returned to Department of Agriculture amid rice woes
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) – September 20, 2018 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — As the country’s rice problem persists, President Duterte has returned the National Food Authority (NFA) to the Department of Agriculture (DA) along with two other agencies previously placed under the Office of the President (OP).

Duterte issued Executive Order 62, which amends his first EO that reengineered the OP shortly after he assumed office in 2016.

The President has transferred the NFA, Philippine Coconut Authority and Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority from the authority of the Cabinet Secretary to the DA.

The Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, whose main function is to coordinate activities of the government housing agencies and ensure the accomplishment of the National Shelter Program will be directly under the supervision of the President.

“(The move) will ensure efficiency and coordination in the performance of the respective mandates consistent with the effects to streamline the operations of the government,” he said.

The move came after the country faced troubles in the supply of rice in some areas in the country, owing to failure of concerned agencies to augment rice supply locally.

NFA administrator Jason Aquino had offered to resign over the rice issue.

The agencies were placed by former president Benigno Aquino III under the OP through EO No. 165 in 2014 and by Duterte under the Office of the Cabinet Secretary through EO No. 1 in 2016.

EO No. 62 also reorganizes the NFA Council, which makes the DA secretary its chairman. The inter-agency council was previously headed by Secretary to the Cabinet Leoncio Evasco.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2018/09/20/1853090/nfa-returned-department-agriculture-amid-rice-woes#B1ajtpHdce4o88We.99

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Rigged Election makes news in Russia (For Once): Russia election chief recommends invalidating ‘rigged’ vote

September 19, 2018

 

Russia’s election commission on Wednesday recommended invalidating the results of a key regional poll, a highly unusual move triggered by claims of blatant vote-rigging in favour of a Kremlin-backed candidate.

The crisis erupted in Russia’s Far East where an opposition candidate accused a ruling party representative — endorsed by President Vladimir Putin — of “stealing” his victory in a gubernatorial vote last Sunday.

Communist Party candidate Andrei Ishchenko, 37, seemed poised to become the next governor of the far eastern region of Primorsky Krai until the results suddenly changed overnight allowing his Kremlin-backed rival to claim victory.

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Sunday’s vote was a second-round runoff after the Moscow-backed candidate, Andrei Tarasenko, failed to win at least 50 percent of the vote this month amid anger over rising poverty under Western sanctions.

While nearly every election in Russia is marred by claims of vote-rigging, the opposition and ordinary Russians said ballot stuffing and other irregularities during the far eastern vote were especially brazen.

In a rare move, the head of the Central Election Commission admitted Wednesday the Primorsky Krai vote was marred by irregularities and recommended that regional officials invalidate it.

– ‘Serious violations’ –

“In a number of cases, mostly at the final stage, there were serious violations of the legislation,” Ella Pamfilova said, referring to instances of ballot stuffing, voter pressure and bribery.

She however denied that the vote was rigged in favour of the Kremlin-backed candidate, saying both candidates complained of irregularities.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin supported the election commission’s stance but added that acting governor Tarasenko would for now remain at his post.

If regional election officials declare the results invalid, new gubernatorial polls should take place in three months.

Earlier this month Putin appeared to throw his support behind Tarasenko.

“I know you face a second-round runoff,” Putin told him during a meeting. “I think everything will be alright.”

Stanislav Andreichuk, a member of Golos movement, an independent election observer, said that if the far eastern vote were to be declared invalid, it would be the first such case since at least 2005, when the Kremlin scrapped gubernatorial elections before reinstating them in 2012.

“It is a pretty rare thing,” he told AFP.

Earlier this month, the Kremlin suffered several other blows in the regions of Khabarovsk, Khakasia and Vladimir where ruling party candidates failed to win gubernatorial elections in the first round.

Second-round runoffs are scheduled in those regions on Sunday.

AFP

Pakistan: Ten Problems Karachi Wants Imran Khan To Address

September 17, 2018

Prime Minster Imran Khan is on his first official visit to Karachi today. The city which boosted his party’s chances in July 25 elections by voting for it massively is in shambles and in dire need of focused attention of the Federal Government.

During his election campaign in May, PM Khan presented a 10-point agenda for the development of Karachi, which included water supply, city administration, public schools and hospitals reforms. He said if his party made it to power then they will revamp the city’s administration system and will hold a direct election for the mayor.

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Ownership of the city has been the biggest problem due to which successive governments never took keen interest in developing its commercial hub, which provides over 70 percent revenue even in worst conditions.

Now is the time for the prime minister to fulfill his promises he made with the people of Karachi. Here are a 10 key problems that Imran Khan must address.

Water Shortage

Karachi, a city of over 20 million suffers from a serious shortage of water and an all-powerful tanker mafia which operates in connivance of water board officials has made the masses hapless. Of the 1200 million gallons of water that Karachi requires every day, it is receiving only one-third of that amount. From that, much of the water is diverted to illegal hydrants and the tanker mafia, leaving 40 percent of the city without any water for the last two weeks.

Although there are several water supply projects underway but the delay in their completion has left the city high and dry.

Sewerage

Karachi Water & Sewerage Board, which is also responsible for managing city’s drainage system lacks proper mechanism to handle the massive flow of sewerage water with its meager resources. In absence of water treatment plants, the disposal of hundreds of gallons of untreated water from the industries have polluted the sea water.

Transportation

The government of Pakistan Peoples’ Party made announcements to overhaul the transportation network of the city but has never worked sincerely to resolve the crisis. Mega transport systems funded by the Federal Government remained incomplete even after many many months.

Waste management

The city gives the look of a garbage dump. Where ever you go, piles of garbage can be seen. The provincial government engaged Chinese companies to collect the waste from the selected points but that effort proved futile too owing to provincial authorities’ neglect.

Law and order

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government must not allow the fruits of the Karachi Operation go to waste and every effort should be made to keep the momentum going no matter what the cost is. Recently, street crimes witnessed a surge in the city once again.

Air pollution/Climate Change

Hundreds have died in the city due to heatstroke yet the provincial government is unmoved to look into this. The metropolis has become a concrete jungle. Billion Tsunami like plantation campaign here on war footings should be launched.

Police reforms

Just like  Punjab, Sindh Police too is rigged with political interference. Due to illegal appointments and corruption in the department the force is mostly dependent on Sindh Rangers to clear the city from criminals. Although it’s a provincial subject but the PM must put pressure on the Pakistan Peoples’ Party government to introduce KP-like reforms.

City Administration

The PTI is mulling to introduce a powerful local bodies system where the mayor is directly elected and has more powers and financial resources at his disposal. In his 10-point agenda Khan promised to change the administration system.

Census

Almost all the Karachi political parties have demanded an audit of the census claiming that the city population has been deliberately counted lesser. It is also important for better civic management that a factual assessment is conducted into this complain.

Electricity shortage/Over billing

The metropolis suffered hugely due to faulty transmission network of the power utility. The company entrusted to provide electricity to the whole of Karachi and a few areas of Balochistan need to be made answerable. Hundreds of Karachiites complain of over-billing which no one listens.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/369300-10-problems-karachi-wants-imran-khan-to-address

Elizabeth Warren: “Listen up, Mr. President: Tick, tock.”

September 10, 2018

With fewer than 60 days to the November elections, US Senator Elizabeth Warren rallied hundreds of supporters Sunday afternoon by excoriating President Trump and Republican lawmakers, warning him that GOP influence in Washington is coming to an end.

“For almost two years now, the only thing the American people have gotten from Donald Trump and Republicans is chaos, corruption, and hatefulness,” Warren told the crowd. “But listen up, Mr. President: Tick, tock.”

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At the end of her speech, US Senator Elizabeth Warren (center) joined hands in support with gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez (left) and US House candidate Ayanna Pressley.

Warren, who took the stage at a Democratic “Unity Rally” inside the gymnasium of the Cambridge Community Center, spoke before the crowd dispersed to launch a get-out-the-vote drive.
As she spoke, dozens held blue signs bearing the word “Persist” and a scattering of brightly colored rainbow flags rose above the crowd.

“Mr. President: You and your pals have been scamming the American people since day one,” Warren said. “And in 58 days, we’re coming to break up the scam.”

Warren gave her remarks after speeches by several other Democratic officials and candidates, including Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, who is running unopposed for the District 7 congressional seat, as well as Jay Gonzalez, who is challenging Republican Governor Charlie Baker in November.

Other speakers during Sunday’s rally included state Representative Marjorie Decker of Cambridge and US Representative Katherine Clark.

During the rally, Democrats stoked supporters’ energy with barbs aimed at Trump, who is unpopular with Massachusetts voters.

Democratic speakers also emphasized the party’s priorities, including broadening health care coverage, criminal justice reform, environmental protection, support for immigrants, and ending tax breaks that favor big businesses and the wealthy.

Bay State Democrats gathered a day after a group of Massachusetts Republicans met in Middleborough for a unity event that was closed to the press. It included appearances by Baker and state Representative Geoff Diehl, who is challenging Warren in the US Senate race. Diehl was a cochairman of Trump’s 2016 Massachusetts campaign, and has pledged to partner with the president if elected.

Democrats, especially Gonzalez, worked Sunday to link the crowd’s energy and opposition to Trump and national GOP lawmakers to local races, including his campaign against Baker. Gonzalez also criticized Baker’s endorsement of Diehl because of his support for Trump.

Gonzalez, who previously worked as a health insurance executive and cabinet secretary to former governor Deval Patrick, said Massachusetts voters have “lowered our expectations” about the conduct of Republicans in elected office.

“I get it — it’s a relief to have a governor who seems nice and isn’t a crazy, right-wing extremist,” Gonzalez said. “With Donald Trump setting the bar so low, nice and not crazy seem pretty good. But it is not good enough.”

Read the rest:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2018/09/09/listen-president-tick-tock-warren-tells-trump/tY4SKtcfLwap2uHZENyTCK/story.html?event=event25

China, Pakistan Pledge To Complete Economic Corridor

September 10, 2018

Wang Yi also conveyed the desire of Chinese leadership to work with the new government for further enhancing the strategic partnership between Pakistan and China.

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During the meeting, regional situation and global issues were also discussed

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and China on Sunday pledged to complete the multi-billion dollars China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as  Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on Prime Minister Imran Khan and expressed desire to further enhance the bilateral strategic partnership.

Mr Wang, who arrived on a three-day visit on Friday, met Mr Khan in Islamabad with a high-level delegation.

“Foreign Minister underscored the significance of the CPEC for the mutual benefit of the people of both countries,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Mr Wang also conveyed the desire of Chinese leadership to work with the new government for further enhancing the strategic partnership between Pakistan and China.

He underscored the significance of China-Pakistan relationship which served as a model of friendship in interstate relations.

Mr Wang also conveyed the invitation of Premier Li Keqiang for an official visit to Mr Khan.

Mr Khan reiterated that Pakistan’s friendship with China is a cornerstone of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy.

“The Prime Minister reiterated that the Government is committed to the implementation of the CPEC,” according to the statement.

During the meeting, regional situation and global issues were also discussed.

Earlier, he met his counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

He also attended the swearing in ceremony of new president, Arif Alvi.

Mr Wang’s visit came amidst reports of unease in Beijing over how the new PTI government would approach over USD 50 billion Chinese investments in various projects under the CPEC connecting China’s Muslim-majority Xinjiang province with Gwadar port in Pakistan.

Mr Khan in the past had criticised former prime minister Nawaz Sharif for the lack of transparency and corruption in the CPEC projects.

Newly-appointed Finance Minister Asad Umar has promised to bring about transparency to the CPEC projects whose details remained closely guarded secrets.

India has protested to China over the CPEC, which is being built through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/china-pakistan-pledge-to-complete-economic-corridor-1913890

In Burkina Faso, the terrorist threat is spreading to the east

September 8, 2018

Burkina Faso has become a frequent target for terrorist attacks. But while jihadist activity was previously confined to the north of the country, it is now moving to the east, a region already suffering from rampant organised crime.

On September 5, a group of Burkinabé soldiers were travelling to defuse mines laid by jihadist groups when, in the eastern town of Kabonga, they were hit by an improvised explosive device (IED). Two were killed and six were injured, while the perpetrators of the attack have not been identified.

This was the third deadly IED attack in a month in eastern Burkina Faso.

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“This is by no means a new phenomenon,” said Sidi Kounté, a sociologist specialising in jihadism in the Sahel. “But, since February, these attacks have become more and more frequent – daily even,” he told FRANCE 24.

Attacks on security forces ‘suggest jihadist group’

“We’re asking ourselves a lot of questions,” said Rodrigue Tagnan, an independent journalist focused on the Sahel, in an interview with FRANCE 24. “For example, we don’t know who the perpetrators of these attacks really are.”

These are pressing questions, especially in light of the fact that no one has claimed responsibility for these attacks. However, “the use of IEDs and the attacks targeting the security forces, police units and police stations all suggest that jihadist groups are responsible, although we should keep an open mind,” argued William Assanvo, an analyst at the ISS, a Pretoria-based think-tank specialising in African security and defence.

© AFP | Burkinabé soldiers at the funeral, in Ouagadougou on August 31, 2018, of seven soldiers killed by an IED while on an anti-mine operation in eastern Burkina Faso.

“The lack of any claims for these attacks might constitute a strategic move by a new group that is moving in and doesn’t yet have a solid base, but there’s no doubt that there’s an active group in the east of Burkina Faso,” Kounté added.

Attacks on capital

Since the fall of President Blaise Compaoré’s iron rule in October 2014, Burkina Faso – erstwhile relatively secure – has become a prime target for jihadist movements.

However, these attacks were mainly confined to the north of the country, and were often perpetrated by terrorists crossing the border from neighbouring Mali. Until January 2016 – when 30 people were killed in an attack on Capuccino, a café popular with expatriates in the capital Ouagadougou. The terrorist group AQIM claimed responsibility.

In March 2018, a coordinated pair of terrorist attacks struck the French embassy in Ouagadougou and the General Staff of the Burkinabé armed forces, killing eight soldiers and wounding 60 people – and exposing the vulnerability of the fledgling democracy, after 27 years of Compaoré’s strongman rule.

The attack was claimed by the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM). Led by Iyad Ag Ghaly, the notorious Touareg separatist turned jihadist and the most wanted man in the Sahel, the GSIM was formed out of a merger between Ag Ghaly’s Ansar Dine group, Al Qaeda in the Sahel and a range of smaller militant groups in Mali and Burkina Faso.

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Iyad Ag Ghaly

But, thanks to the efforts of anti-terrorist local militias and French, Malian and Burkinabé forces, “GSIM have moved to new areas, probably including eastern Burkina Faso”, according to Kounté.

East neglected by central government

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A forest region bordering Ghana, Togo, Benin and Niger, eastern Burkina Faso has long been regarded as a bastion of organised crime. Thanks to the central government’s neglect of the region, self-defence militias known as “koglweogo” have become the guarantors of security for the local population. And thanks to the dense forests and the lack of adequate road networks, the area is practically inaccessible for national security forces.

Thus, eastern Burkina Faso is fertile ground for jihadists.

“All places where jihadists can go and settle have been abandoned by the national authorities,” Kounté noted. “The big, thick forests give jihadists a place to organise themselves and put plans in place,” Assanvo added.

Burkinabé armed forces

A response from the Burkinabé government is long overdue. In a memo on the security situation in the east, relayed by local media, the regional police chief Commissioner Karim Drabo warned that “if security forces do not respond vigorously, the attackers will have time to settle and to spread IEDs throughout the areas they have occupied […] and they are gaining ground”.

But, according to Sidi Kounté, the Burkinabé army is already “overwhelmed by having to fight on numerous fronts”, while lacking sufficient manpower and equipment.

Alternatively, Burkina Faso could draw on the G5 Sahel, the French-backed military group set up in 2014 to combat armed groups in the region, combining troops from Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad. But, except for the latter two, these countries’ militaries “aren’t up to scratch”, François-Xavier Freland, an independent journalist specialising in the Sahel, argued in an interview with FRANCE 24 in April.

AFP, FRANCE 24

Russia-Linked Money-Laundering Probe Looks at $150 Billion in Transactions — Banks “institutionalized money laundering”

September 8, 2018

Transactions uncovered at Danske’s Estonian branch highlight the growing concern about illicit money flows from the former Soviet Union

A Danske Bank building in Copenhagen. The lender has been criticized by its regulator for lax oversight of illicit money flows.
A Danske Bank building in Copenhagen. The lender has been criticized by its regulator for lax oversight of illicit money flows. PHOTO: THOMAS LEKFELDT/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
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Denmark’s largest bank is investigating whether companies with ties to Russia used it to launder money, examining $150 billion in transactions that flowed through a tiny branch in Estonia, according to people familiar with the matter.

The $150 billion figure, covering a period between 2007 and 2015, has been presented to the bank’s board of directors and would equal to more than a year’s worth of the corporate profits for the entire country of Russia at the time. The flows would have stayed in the branch for only a short time before leaving Estonia, according to a person familiar with the investigation, so they might not show up in deposit statistics, which reflect the balance at the end of month and not from day to day.

Danske Bank DNKEY -5.21% investigators haven’t determined if the entire amount should be deemed suspicious. But such a large flow of money suggests that roughly $8 billion of suspected money-laundering transactions previously reported by a Danish newspaper could grow higher.

“Any conclusions should be drawn on the basis of verified facts and not fragmented pieces of information taken out of context,” Danske Bank Chairman Ole Andersen said in a statement. “As we have previously communicated, it is clear that the issues related to the portfolio were bigger than we had previously anticipated.” The bank says the results of its probe are being finalized.

Shares in the bank fell as much as 7% on Friday after The Wall Street Journal reported on the size of the amounts involved.

The U.S. has paid close attention to the ways Russia’s wealthy have taken money out of the country, according to U.S. officials, especially since sanctions imposed during the invasion of Crimea in 2014. Sanctions were strengthened following determinations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and again earlier this year.

Washington has watched illicit money flows channeled through European-regulated banks to the West. In February, the Treasury Department declared Latvia’s ABLV bank an “institutionalized money laundering” operation where weapons dealers and corrupt politicians from former Soviet Union countries sent their money into Europe. ABLV denied knowingly laundering money and later collapsed.

In 2017, Deutsche Bank agreed to pay nearly $630 million to settle investigations by U.K. and New York regulators into Russian equity trades that transferred $10 billion out of that country in violation of anti-money-laundering laws.

Since last year, NATO has positioned troops in three former Soviet Union republics—Estonia and its neighbors Latvia and Lithuania, all bordering Russia. In return, the U.S. has asked those governments to crack down on illicit Russian money flowing into the West through their banks, according to U.S. officials. That understanding was hammered out after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Danske’s Estonian branch is the subject of criminal investigations in Denmark and Estonia, prosecutors in the countries said. The Danish Financial Supervisory Authority reprimanded the bank for weak controls in May and ordered Danske to hold about $800 million more in capital, but didn’t issue a fine.

Shell companies, including many registered in the U.K., controlled most of the accounts in question, and many of the accounts had links to people in Russia and former Soviet Union countries, people familiar with the matter said. The U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority isn’t probing the bank, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Danske Bank’s Estonian office in Tallinn.
Danske Bank’s Estonian office in Tallinn. PHOTO:INTS KALNINS/REUTERS
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Estonia, a former Soviet Republic of 1.3 million people, became a European Union member in 2004 and joined the euro in 2011. Like its Baltic neighbor Latvia, it quickly became a way station for funds from other former Soviet states. The $150 billion figure is a substantial sum considering Estonia’s entire banking system reports total deposits of €17 billion ($19 billion).

At Danske, clients would typically move funds among several companies with accounts at its Estonia branch before transferring the money to accounts in banks in Turkey, Hong Kong, Latvia, the U.K. and other countries, one of the people familiar with the investigation said.

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Danske’s management dragged its feet dealing with the issue, according to a report filed by Danish regulators this year, ignoring complaints from internal whistleblowers and correspondent banks, which made international payments and transfers on its behalf.

Estonian regulators complained to Danish counterparts as early as 2012 and compiled a 200-page report in 2014 detailing the local branch’s extensive failures to ask even basic questions about the source of its clients’ income.

“There were many red flags,” said Kilvar Kessler, chairman of the management board of Estonia’s banking supervisor, the Finantsinspektsioon.

It was only after another bank refused to deal with Danske’s Estonian unit that the bank shut down “nonresident” Estonian accounts in 2015.

Danske Chief Executive Thomas Borgen was in charge of international banking—including in Estonia—during part of the period under investigation. He was promoted to run the bank in 2013. He declined to comment.

Denmark’s Berlingske newspaper earlier reported around $8 billion of illicit money went through the Estonian branch. The Financial Times reported this month that some $30 billion flowed through the Estonian branch in the year 2013. In both instances, Danske said it needed time to look into the reports.

Danske’s investigation is overseen by the bank’s legal counsel and assisted by forensic accountants at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and consultants at Ernst & Young LLP. Both firms didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Promontory Financial Group, a unit of International Business Machines Corp. , and Palantir Technologies Inc. are also helping in the probe and declined to comment.

Such large sums were able to slip by European regulators’ watch for years largely because of a series of design flaws in the Continent’s anti-money-laundering systems, said James Oates, the founder of Cicero Capital, a financial adviser in the Estonian capital of Tallinn.

“Everybody was looking the other way because they thought they were covered, and it turns out they weren’t,” said Mr. Oates.

Danske Bank’s Estonia branch isn’t directly supervised by the European Central Bank, which in any case lacks the authority to investigate money-laundering cases. Estonian authorities, meanwhile, say that because Danske operated as a branch—and not a subsidiary with a legal entity based in Estonia—they had limited authority and incomplete information.

Parent bank Danske said in a September 2017 statement that the Estonia branch “operated very much as an independent unit, with its own systems, procedures and culture regarding anti-money-laundering measures.”

Write to Bradley Hope at bradley.hope@wsj.com, Drew Hinshaw at drew.hinshaw@wsj.com and Patricia Kowsmann at patricia.kowsmann@wsj.com

Appeared in the September 8, 2018, print edition as ‘Bank Probes Russia-Linked Flows.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/danske-bank-money-laundering-probe-involves-150-billion-of-transactions-1536317086

Katyusha rockets fired at Basra airport in Iraq

September 8, 2018

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An official at Iraq’s Basra airport says unknown assailants have fired three Katyusha rockets at the airport, adding that no casualties were reported.

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The official says it was not clear who was behind the Saturday morning attack, which followed a chaotic night that saw hundreds of angry protesters storm and set fire to the Iranian consulate and other Iranian interests in Basra.

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The protests in Basra are the most serious to shake Iraq’s oil-rich southern Shiite heartland in years. Protesters are calling for an end to endemic corruption, soaring joblessness and poor public services.

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The airport official said the Katyusha attack did not disrupt flights in or out of the city. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack at about 8 a.m. local time.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1368661/middle-east

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Curfew declared in Basra as protests spread to main Iraqi port

September 6, 2018

A curfew has been imposed in Basra on Thursday, to come into effect at 3pm local time, after continued clashes between local residents and security forces, the country’s interior ministry spokesman said.

Seven protesters have died and scores more were injured on recents days as the unrest spread to the country’s main port, local health, security and human rights sources said.

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An Iraqi ambulance leaves during a protest against the government and the lack of basic services outside the regional government headquarters in the southern city of Basra. (Haidar Mohammed Ali/AFP)

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Southern Iraq, heartland of the Shiite majority, has erupted in unrest in recent weeks as protesters express rage over collapsing infrastructure, power cuts and corruption.

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Residents in Basra, a city of more than 2 million people, say the water supply has become contaminated with salt, making them vulnerable and desperate in the hot summer months. Hundreds of people have been hospitalized from drinking it.

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Overnight, protesters blocked the entrance to the nearby Umm Qasr port, the main lifeline for grain and other commodity imports that feed the country. They blocked the highway from Basra to Baghdad and set fire to the main provincial government building where they had been demonstrating for a third night.

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Protesters continued on Thursday to block the entrance to the port, port employees and local officials said, but it was not yet possible to determine whether the unrest would have a serious impact on its operations.

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Public anger has grown at a time when politicians are struggling to form a new government after an inconclusive parliamentary election in May. Residents of the south complain of decades of neglect in the region that produces the bulk of Iraq’s oil wealth.

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Earlier on Wednesday, security forces sprayed tear gas and fired into the air to try to disperse demonstrators. According to health sources, the dead protester was struck in the head by a smoke grenade during the clashes.

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The deaths of five protesters in clashes with security forces on Tuesday added to the fury. Security and health sources said 22 members of the security forces had been injured in Tuesday’s violence, some by a hand grenade.

Reuters

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1367656/middle-east

Six killed as armed protesters storm Basra government building in Iraq — “No for the corrupt government”

September 5, 2018

Six demonstrators were shot dead and many others wounded when armed protesters stormed a local government building in Basra on Tuesday.

Security forces responded by firing live bullets and tear gas, police and medical sources told Arab News. At least 39 people were wounded, including many from the security forces.

A curfew was imposed across the city on Tuesday night as authorities tried to stem the violence.

Iraqi protests erupted in Basra on Tuesday after the funeral of a man killed in demonstrations the day before. (AFP)

Basra, Iraq’s main oil hub, was the cradle of widespread protests over the summer. The demonstrations started over electricity shortages and quickly targeted corruption, poverty and a lack of jobs.

The security situation deteriorated significantly after a demonstrator was shot dead on Monday and another was seriously injured.

The heads of Basra’s tribes on Tuesday threatened to retaliate and target all government installations and oil companies in the province if the commander of the Basra security operations was not sacked and his forces replaced.

Assaib Ahl Al-Haq, one of the most prominent Shiite armed factions, also threatened to clash with security forces.

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More than 17 demonstrators have already been killed by gunfire since the protests started in June and spread to clashes with security forces across Iraq. Three of them were killed in Basra.

Makki Yasser Al-Kaabi was killed by a bullet to the chest on Monday evening after the security forces opened fire and used tear gas to disperse demonstrators who tried to storm the local government building in central Basra. Another seven demonstrators were injured, one of them critically.

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Mourners carry the Iraqi flag-draped coffin of Yasser Makki who was killed in a demonstration on Monday [Nabil al-Jurani/AP]

The security forces have been on high alert amid signs that the tribes would escalate the situation and target government installations, local security officials told Arab News.

On Tuesday evening, hundreds of demonstrators, some of them using Molotov cocktails and hand grenades again tried to storm the  local government building. Security forces deployed around opened fire, witnesses told Arab News.

Earlier, thousands of Basra’s people took to streets for the funeral of Al-Kaabi, whose coffin was wrapped in the Iraqi flag.

Video footage showed the mourners marching and led by red flag bearers representing the names of the clans attending the funeral.

Other banners showed photos of Al-Kaabi with some indicating that he was a member of s Shiite armed faction.

The mourner were chanting “no for the corrupt government” and “No for the (political) parties … the blood of Kaabi will not be lost.”

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Hundreds gathered to mourn the death of Yasser Makki, who was killed in clashes on Monday [Reuters]

The mourners  walked several kilometers before they arrived at the local government building, where some tried to storm the main gate where troops were deployed.

Others began to throw stones at the security forces. Police fired into the air and launched  tear gas as the majority of the mourners fled.

“Why was he killed?” asked one of Al-Kaabi’s relatives. “He did not do anything wrong. He was just asking to get drinking water.”

Basra is the home of Iraq’s largest oilfields and the revenues of its crude exports represent the backbone of Iraq’s economy.

But the province suffers from extended power outages and polluted and saline drinking water. Hospitals reported more than 17,000 cases related to contaminated drinking water last month.

The security problems will affect the work of hundreds of domestic and foreign oil companies operating in Basra.

The head of Al-Kaabi’s tribe and many other  tribal leaders have threatened to hit the oil facilities and government institutions in the province if the government did not expel Maj. Gen Jamil Al-Shimari, the commander of Basra military operations.

“He is wanted for the tribes as he is involved in killing and injuring their sons. We are demanding to fire him and expel him from Basra,” one of Al-Kaabi’s tribal chiefs said tried to persuade demonstrators not to attack the security forces on Tuesday.

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1366851/middle-east

See also (Al Jazeera)

Iraq: Deadly Basra clashes as protesters torch government office

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/09/iraq-deadly-basra-clashes-protesters-torch-government-office-180904184844773.html