Posts Tagged ‘Panama Papers’

Pakistan Court Is Set to Rule on Political Fate of PM Sharif

July 28, 2017

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s Supreme Court is set to announce its much-awaited decision on the political fate of beleaguered Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after weighing whether adequate evidence existed to dismiss him from office on allegations of corruption against his family.

Fawad Chaudhry, a lawyer for petitioner Imran Khan, said Friday they will accept any decision by the court.

Sharif has been under pressure to resign since 2016 when leaked documents from a Panama-based law firm disclosed his family’s offshore accounts. In April, the court acting on petitions from the opposition set up a six-member team to probe the allegations.

The investigation concluded a “significant disparity” existed between Sharif family’s declared wealth and its known sources of income.

Under Pakistani law, the Supreme Court has the authority to dismiss the prime minister.



Opposition Hopes To Remove Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — Forensic experts close in

July 16, 2017

LAHORE, Pakistan — Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is facing increasingly loud calls to resign as an official investigation into allegations of corruption by him and his family continues to unfold.

And now, the fate of the political dominance of the Sharif family may hinge on a Microsoft font: Calibri.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court set up a five-member Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in April to investigate allegations of financial corruption that surfaced following the release of the infamous Panama Papers.

Image: Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Shari
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif speaks to media after appearing before an anti-corruption commission in Islamabad on June 15, 2017. Aamir Qureshi / AFP – Getty Images

Sharif was not named in the Panama Papers leak, but his three adult children were linked to numerous offshore accounts that also owned luxury apartments in London’s exclusive Mayfair area. In a months long trial, opposition leaders alleged that the money used to buy the real estate was earned through corruption.

The JIT finally presented their scathing 275-page report looking into the allegations to the Supreme Court on July 10. It charged that Sharif, his sons and daughter had engaged in irregular finances, forgery and perjury.

“There exists a significant disparity between the wealth declared by the respondents and the means through which the respondents had generated income from known or declared sources,” the report said, according to a partial copy released to reporters.

Related: Panama Papers: Offshore Assets of World Leaders Revealed by Leak

It also recommended to the court the Sharifs be tried for corruption through Pakistan’s anti-graft authority. The Supreme Court will take up the case on Monday.

As parts of the massive report slowly leaked to the press, the stock market tanked by more than 4 percent, the military declared its intention to stand by the country’s courts and Pakistan’s raucous media went into hyperdrive — predicting the end for Sharif, who is serving his third term as prime minister.

The opposition has seized on the allegations with Imran Khan, the cricket-legend-turned- opposition leader calling on Sharif to “immediately step down.” Other mainstream political parties have backed Khan’s demands for Sharif’s resignation and fresh elections.

Sharif explicitly dismissed the report for the first time on Thursday.

“The JIT report about our family businesses is the sum of hypotheses, accusations and slander,” Sharif said in a statement after meeting his cabinet meeting.

Image: Maryam Nawaz
Maryam Nawaz, daughter of the prime minister, arrives to appear before an anti-corruption commission in Islamabad on July 5, 2017. Aamir Qureshi / AFP – Getty Images

The extremely detailed report was drafted by five investigators, including representatives from the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) and the Corps of Military Intelligence (MI), with the support of foreign lawyers, forensic experts and international financial authorities.

Pakistan’s rowdy social media was particularly galvanized by the findings against Sharif’s daughter, Maryam, who is reportedly being groomed to take over Pakistan’s largest political party.

In an attempt to establish a complicated money trail to show that she is not real owner of the London real estate, but rather just a “trustee” of the properties, Maryam submitted a document dated 2006. The document was typed in Microsoft’s Calibri font.

The problem is, as the investigators noted in their lengthy report, forensic experts and even the creator of Calibri font say it was not commercially available as part of Microsoft Office until 2007.

Pakistan PM hits out at ‘slandering’ of his family over wealth

June 15, 2017


By Drazen Jorgic and Saad Sayeed | ISLAMABAD

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday lashed out at what he called the “slandering” of his family in connection with an investigation of their wealth, and said unidentified people with agendas against him posed a danger to the country.

Sharif was speaking after being grilled by a powerful panel investigating him and his family in an inquiry ordered by the Supreme Court that has gripped Pakistan and become increasingly politicized.

“What is happening here is not about corruption allegations against me, it is about slandering the businesses and accounts of my family,” a defiant Sharif, clad in traditional shalwar kameez tunic and trousers, said as he read from a statement.

Sharif, 67, spent about three hours at the offices of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in the capital, Islamabad, becoming the first Pakistani prime minister to be questioned by an investigative agency.

“No corruption charges have been proven against me in the past and, inshallah (God willing), it will not be so once again,” he said.

The Supreme Court agreed last year to investigate the Sharif family’s offshore wealth after the opposition threatened protests after the leaking of the “Panama Papers”.

Documents leaked from the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm appeared to show that Sharif’s daughter and two sons owned offshore holding companies registered in the British Virgin Islands and used them to buy luxury properties in London.

The Supreme Court ruled in April there was insufficient evidence to remove Sharif from office over corruption allegations leveled by the opposition, but it ordered further investigations.

Sharif, whose father was a prominent industrialist, has said his family wealth was acquired legally.

A three-time prime minister, Sharif was ousted twice in the 1990s, including in a 1999 military coup. He later lived in exile, mostly in Saudi Arabia.

He swept back to power in an election in 2013 but rumors of tension between his government and the powerful military, which oversees the foreign relations and national security, occasionally circulate.


Sharif suggested that unidentified enemies acting behind the scenes should be stopped from trying to subvert the wishes of the electorate that handed his party victory in a 2013 general election.

“If the factories that produce agendas and silence the decisions of the people are not closed, then not only the law and constitution, but the safety of this country will also be jeopardized,” he said.

Pakistan has been plagued by pervasive corruption for decades, with politicians often accusing rivals of underhand dealings.

The Supreme Court has given the panel two months to investigate the family and then deliver its findings.

The six-man panel, made up of members of civilian investigative agencies and military intelligence officers, are examining three generations of Sharif family wealth.

The team has accused government departments of tampering with old records, but Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Wednesday rejected such allegations, adding that the team’s claims meant the process was becoming “suspicious”, media reported.

Sharif’s camp has sought to remove two members of the investigation team and his ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party voiced outrage over a leaked photograph taken from security camera footage showing Sharif’s son, Hussain, appearing before the panel.

Opinion polls suggest Sharif’s party is likely to win the next election, due next year.

A senior PML-N official told Reuters the party was unlikely to call an early election if Sharif was ousted by a Supreme Court ruling, and would select a new prime minister to take over until the general election.

(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Pakistani Police Detain 1,500 in Crackdown on Opposition

October 31, 2016

ISLAMABAD — Pakistani police launched a nation-wide crackdown overnight, arresting at least 1,500 supporters of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan ahead of an opposition rally planned later this week in Islamabad, officials said Monday.

The arrests followed intermittent clashes over the weekend between Khan’s supporters and riot police in the capital that saw police using tear gas and batons to fight stone-throwing activists.

The violence erupted again Monday when police fired tear gas on nearly 3,000 supporters on a main highway some 80 kilometer northwest of Islamabad. Khan’s party rules in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and its chief minister, Pervez Khattak, and some cabinet ministers led the protesters.

Police official Hussain Awan said the protesters pelted police with stones and bricks and chanted slogans against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had warned Sunday that the government would extend protocol to Khattak if he arrived in the capital formally but that he would be dealt with strictly if he led the protesters.

On Monday, a Pakistani court barred Khan’s followers from demonstrating on Islamabad streets, restricting the rally to within the limits of a city park, said government prosecutor Saddique Awan. As of last week, the government has already enforced a two-month ban on street rallies in the capital.

Khan’s attorney Babar Awan said the party would appeal. The party has called for massive street demonstrations for Wednesday, threatening to lock down Islamabad in a bid to force Sharif to resign.

Sharif has been under pressure after his family members were named as holders of offshore bank accounts in leaked financial documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Police have conducted raids based on tips and information about planned violence, said government spokesman Zaeem Qadri. Those who pledge not to take part in violent actions are released, while those considered a threat remain in custody pending charges, he said.

Two security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said the number of those arrested overnight ranges between 1,500 and 1,800. Punjab provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah said 838 supporters were arrested.

Police have placed shipping containers on key highways leading to Islamabad to stop Khan’s party’s convoys from across Pakistan from reaching the capital.

The interior minister said Khan’s followers had violent plans, which included the storming of government offices.

Khan’s close aide Shah Mahmood Qureshi alleged that the police were manhandling and roughing up the family members of the workers. “The police are also trespassing on the houses of our leaders and activists,” he said. He said two senior leaders of the party were forcibly bundled in a police van. Both were later released on orders from the interior minister.

Sanaullah denied any manhandling.


Associated Press Writer Zaheer Babar in Lahore, Pakistan, contributed to this report.


Pakistan vows to crush anti-government protests

October 31, 2016

Opposition leader Imran Khan calls for a ‘lockdown’ of the capital, Islamabad

Supporters of Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan chanted antigovernment slogans outside his residence in Islamabad on Friday.
Supporters of Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan chanted antigovernment slogans outside his residence in Islamabad on Friday.PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—The government of Pakistan vowed on Sunday to prevent an opposition political protest planned for later this week, amid tension between the administration of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the country’s powerful military.

Police blocked roads into the capital, Islamabad, over the weekend after prominent opposition leader Imran Khan, who is leading the protest movement, on Thursday said he would paralyze the city with what he called a “lockdown.” Mr. Khan and his supporters have called for a Wednesday start to protests aimed at preventing government offices from functioning.

Mr. Khan is protesting what he alleges is corruption by Mr. Sharif, which Mr. Sharif denies, after it emerged that the prime minister’s family owned offshore companies. Police and paramilitary forces have surrounded Mr. Khan’s home, on a hilltop outside Islamabad, and dozens of his supporters have been arrested.

The government is at odds with the armed forces over a range of issues, including information leaked to a newspaper about a meeting between top government and military officials. The fallout led to the resignation of information minister Pervaiz Rashid over the weekend.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said in a news conference Sunday that the government doesn’t object to peaceful protests, but a lockdown of Islamabad won’t be permitted. He claimed that the closing of roads to the capital had stopped 1,200 armed protesters from reaching Islamabad.

“Lockdown of the capital is not just a crime against the government, it’s a crime against the state,” said the interior minister, who isn’t related to the opposition leader.

Imran Khan, a cricketer turned politician, leads Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the third-largest party in parliament. He insists all his supporters are peaceful.

“There is an impression being created that we’re going to cause unrest, but we’ve never been involved in the politics of guns. Peaceful protest is our democratic right,” Mr. Khan said Sunday.

Mr. Sharif was prime minister twice before, in the 1990s, and both his governments were cut short by military intervention before the completion of his terms in office. Since democracy was restored in 2008 after the most-recent spell of military rule, the armed forces have said they support democracy and aren’t involved in politics. Mr. Sharif returned to power by sweeping the 2013 election.

But Mr. Sharif fears that history is about to repeat itself, his advisers say, with a case being built against him again on alleged corruption and the suggestion that he is a national-security risk.

“We know this script,” said an aide.

A 2014 demonstration led by Imran Khan, which lasted four months, weakened the premier and forced the government to cede to the army more sway over policy, Mr. Sharif’s aides say. They allege Mr. Khan was supported then by parts of the military—something he and the military deny.

The military and the government have continued to tussle over the levers of power. Government officials say that army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif is pressing the government to extend his term, which is due to end in late November. The military denies that, saying Gen. Sharif wants to retire on time. He isn’t related to the prime minister.

The two sides have clashed over the military’s desire to expand its counterterrorism operations to the prime minister’s home province of Punjab, Mr. Sharif’s policy of outreach to rival India and control of the $46 billion program of Chinese infrastructure investment into Pakistan.

Dawn, a Pakistani daily newspaper, this month reported Mr. Sharif’s administration had complained to the military that inaction against jihadist groups targeting neighboring countries was leading to international isolation. The military says it is cracking down on all terrorists. Both the military and the government have described the article, which led to Mr. Rashid’s resignation, as “fabricated.”

Mr. Khan is demanding the prime minister resign or “submit himself for accountability” after Mr. Sharif’s children were named as owners of fancy London apartments through offshore holding companies in reports based on documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca & Co., a Panama-based law firm.

The reports, published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists earlier this year, didn’t allege any wrongdoing. Mr. Sharif’s opponents accuse him of laundering ill-gained wealth through offshore companies. The Sharif family has denied any wrongdoing, saying its wealth is based on legitimate businesses.

“We’re doing this [protest] because the prime minister was caught red-handed, because of the Panama Papers,” Mr. Khan said Sunday.

Mr. Sharif had said Friday that Mr. Khan wants to harm his government because the opposition are worried the ruling party will win the next election, due in 2018.

“Pakistan is on its way to becoming a developed country. That’s what concerns the opposition,” Mr. Sharif said on Friday. “If this development continues in Pakistan until 2018, their politics will be finished.”

Write to Saeed Shah at

Philippines: Why is President Duterte bent on sleeping with the wrong “enemy” (China), and insulting an old ally (America)

October 3, 2016


12:09 AM October 4th, 2016


WHY IS President Duterte bent on sleeping with the wrong “enemy” (China), and insulting an old ally (America) which can help us deal more effectively with our big northern neighbor that reportedly undermines human societies through the dangerous drugs it manufactures and smuggles worldwide?

He himself has told the media a number of times that “the real drug lords are not here—they are in China.”

An exposé of the extent of China’s global “drug war” (read: part of Beijing’s asymmetric warfare against America) was highlighted by the New York-based Epoch Times last month. In what is tantamount to a reverse “opium war” which rapacious Western nations waged against China in the 19th century to soften up its people by weakening its moral fiber through the highly profitable opium trade, Beijing “has been illicitly supplying huge amounts of synthetic drugs and methamphetamine (shabu) to Mexican and Latin American drug cartels,” the journal said.

The centrality of Mr. Duterte’s peace and order campaign is his war on the illegal drugs that he perceives as an existential threat to our society. He reasons that his draconian means will prevent the Philippines from becoming another narcostate.

People close to Mr. Duterte, such as Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, say that behind his folksy persona and incendiary rhetoric lies a deep “strategic thinker.” Academics like Clarita Carlos and Richard Heydarian commend his strong, savvy leadership.

If they are right, why is there a glaring disconnect between certain aspects of the President’s domestic and foreign policies? Briefly, why is he a roaring lion against those who oppose him (here and abroad) and a surprisingly quiet lamb toward China, where the drugs originate, and which continues to squat on vast areas of our 200-mile exclusive economic zone, despite the recent ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration that invalidates Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea?

The disconnect is crystal when one considers the following:

While the President obviously sees China as a great power destined to replace America’s declining superpower status, the realities on the ground say otherwise. China’s gleaming cities, high-end industries, ports, and First-World infrastructures are located on its narrow prosperous coasts. What few see is the other side of China beyond that crescent of prosperity, where a billion people still live in impoverished conditions and have to make do with less than $3.50 a day.

With the European Union shattering, triggered by the terrorist threat and the exodus of refugees from war-torn Middle Eastern countries, combined with a stagnant US economy still recovering from the 2008 crash of Wall Street, China, whose export-driven economy depends largely on the EU and US markets, has been hit very hard. The result? Economic dislocations such as stocks and real estate bubbles, ghost towns, shuttered malls, rising social unrest, resurfacing regional animosities, and soaring debt caused by stimulus packages to perk up the economy. The marked slowdown in the economy prompted even China’s second richest man, real-estate billionaire Wang Jianlin, to warn of the “biggest bubble in history.”

Such gloomy developments are bound to undermine China’s ambitious economic diplomacy, led by its multibillion-dollar “One Belt, One Road” projects.

So, is it really worth it to cozy up to China at the expense of our deep ties with America, which also happens to be our second largest export market? And which helps keep our economy afloat through the remittances of three million Filipinos living there? The mandarins are masters in strategy and tactics, and their hallmarks are stealth and illusion. The most President Xi Jinping will do—and appear generous in the process—is to allow Filipinos to fish again at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal. China will never give up its illegal occupation of areas within its “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea because it considers it vital to its national security.

And what is the heavy price we have to pay for getting a few Chinese-funded projects and being allowed to fish again in our traditional fishing grounds? Not to venture beyond our 12-mile territorial sea and thus violate our Constitution’s mandate to protect the Philippine EEZ, which is far larger than our land area (and may contain immense riches in energy, food, and minerals)? Downgrade our military ties with America?

Consider the dark clouds now hovering over Europe and Asia, reminiscent of conditions that preceded World War II: the Eurasian landmass seething in a cauldron of interacting crises. Even a layman could argue convincingly that the United States would be the least affected by this gathering global storm and thus remain, in the foreseeable decades, the most stable and powerful country in the world because its diversified, resilient economy has only 13 percent exports vis-à-vis GDP, and two of its largest trading partners are its neighbors, Canada and Mexico.

America is also geographically blessed, having two of the world’s largest oceans as buffers from invaders—barriers that have shielded it from the two global land conflicts that ravaged Europe and Asia.

If the future will shine much brighter on America than on China, why should Mr. Duterte jeopardize our relations with it? Isn’t it far better for our country’s wellbeing and future to improve our relations with China without losing our old friends?

Narciso Reyes Jr. ( is an international book author and former diplomat. He lived in Beijing in 1978-81 as bureau chief of the Philippine News Agency.

VIDEO : Duterte eyes cooperation with Vietnam in sea row, war on drugs
Duterte eyes cooperation with Vietnam in sea row, war on drugs

 (Who Knows More on Extrajudicial Killings and Torture than China?)


ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST Funeral parlor workers lift the body of one of the two drug suspects who were killed in an alleged shootout with police in Barangay Bonuan Tondaligan in Dagupan City on Monday. RAY B.ZAMBRANO/INQUIRER NORTHERN LUZON


PO3 Michael Manalad was wearing his uniform when he was found dead in Barangay Ubihan, Meycauayan in Bulacan yesterday morning. BOY CRUZ


Photo: Philippines — Dead bodies pile up after President Duterte Calls For Open Season On Drug Criminals


WikiLeaks and Assange may have more emails? It isn’t over until the fat lady sings….

October 3, 2016


Ten years on, WikiLeaks and Assange as controversial as ever

AFP | October 3, 2016
WikiLeaks launched in January 2007, with Assange saying it would use encryption and a censorship-proof website to protect sources and publicise secret information. The site has since published more than 10 million leaked documents.
BERLIN: Celebrating its 10th anniversary this week, anonymous whistleblowing platform WikiLeaks can look back on a decade that saw it turn classified documents into global headlines and inspire a host of copycat leaks.
But with founder Julian Assange hiding in Ecuador’s London embassy to evade rape allegations and critics accusing the site of being manipulated by shadowy forces for political gain, the organisation is fighting to maintain its image.
An anniversary party in Berlin on Tuesday will commemorate the 2006 registration of the domain name, while Assange will make a rare public appearance on the balcony of his 18-square-metre room.
WikiLeaks launched in January 2007, with Assange saying it would use encryption and a censorship-proof website to protect sources and publicise secret information.
The site has since published more than 10 million leaked documents.
It first caught the world’s attention when it released manuals for prison guards at Guantanamo Bay.
But it really hit its stride in 2010, unveiling logs of US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and a video showing a US helicopter crew mowing down a group of unarmed civilians — including two journalists — in Baghdad.
That same year it also published a cache of diplomatic cables from US embassies around the world, deeply embarrassing Washington.
“The most important single collection of material we have published is the US diplomatic cable series,” Assange told German news weekly Der Spiegel in an interview at the weekend.
But 2010 also saw grave blows to the organisation.
Assange was accused of having sex with a woman while she was asleep after the two met at a Stockholm conference.
The white-haired WikiLeaks founder took refuge in the London embassy of Ecuador — which granted him political asylum in 2012 after he lost a legal battle to block his extradition to Sweden.
The 45-year-old has always maintained the allegations are false and has refused to travel to Stockholm for questioning due to concerns that Sweden will hand him over to the US to stand trial for espionage.
In September, staffer Daniel Domscheit-Berg quit WikiLeaks, accusing Assange of being “chaotic” and “power-obsessed” in a 2011 book.
“The press said WikiLeaks was the end of journalism and the beginning of something totally new,” Domscheit-Berg remembers of the “hype” of 2010.
But Assange’s abrasive style and insistence on publishing unredacted documents quickly grated on colleagues and journalists who worked with him.
“If an Afghan civilian helps coalition forces, he deserves to die,” Guardian investigative journalist Nick Davies later recalled Assange saying in an argument over whether to remove names from the war logs.
Domscheit-Berg suspects Assange’s inflexibility discouraged future sources from turning to the organisation.
In 2013, former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden chose to leak documents exposing intelligence agencies’ mass surveillance programmes to selected journalists instead of offering the trove to WikiLeaks.
And many later whistleblowers have turned to other organisations.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists this year published stories based on data dumps from tax havens Panama and the Bahamas, while environmental group Greenpeace in May released documents from negotiations over a controversial US-EU free trade deal.
Tool for influence?
WikiLeaks caused a fresh stir in July when it leaked emails showing US Democratic Party officials favouring Hillary Clinton over left-winger Bernie Sanders in presidential primary elections, forcing high-ranking party members to resign.
After US intelligence organisations speculated that Russian hackers were behind the leak, some accused Assange of abetting a foreign power’s bid to influence the US election.
“We’re not going to start censoring our publications because there is a US election. Our role is to publish,” Assange told Spiegel magazine, pointing out that the site had also published documents relating to Russia and its President Vladimir Putin.
But Domscheit-Berg sees a danger in this publish-and-be-damned policy.
“Today people mostly go to WikiLeaks who see it as a tool, who want to instrumentalise it,” he said.
Assange himself is unmoved by criticisms of his organisation.
“We believe in what we’re doing,” he told Spiegel. “The attacks only make us stronger.”
UPDATED: After canceling a planned announcement in London, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is now planning to appear via video link Tuesday morning at Wikileak’s tenth anniversary celebration in Berlin.
.He’s a last-minute addition to the roster of festivities taking place this week in Germany.

According to @wikileaks, Julian Assange will appear via video link at Berlin press conference on Tuesday AM

Wikileaks used its Facebook page to confirm that Assange would speak at the event, which takes place at 3am Eastern time.

Sources close to the event tell Heat Street that Assange may be planning to release some new information his organization has obtained about the U.S. Democratic Party. But Heat Street has yet to receive independent confirmation that Assange plans to dump information specifically on Hillary Clinton.

The news that Assange plans to appear (remotely) in Berlin comes after Wikileaks abruptly canceled a much-anticipated announcement in London that was to be made from the balcony of London’s Ecuadorian Embassy, where Assange has sought sanctuary for years. The cancelation was first reported by NBC News. According to NBC’s Jesse Rodriguez, the announcement was canceled due to “security concerns”.

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There had been widespread anticipating that Tuesday’s announcement might have been Assange’s long-promised document dump on Hillary Clinton.

Due to security concerns at the Ecuadorian Embassy, Julian Assange’s balcony announcement on Tues has been cancelled, per @wikileaks


Julian Assange set to make an announcement from his balcony in London next Tuesday, according to @WikiLeaks

Assange appeared on Fox News last month, repeating his assertion that Wikileaks has damaging documents on Clinton and suggested WikiLeaks may soon release “teasers”. More than three weeks later, that release has yet to take place.

Clinton’s more fervent opponents have hoped for weeks that the promised document dump would be an “October surprise” – damaging and revelatory emails or the like — and inflict a mortal wound on her campaign. There’s no evidence however that such damaging information even exists.

It was only this summer that Assange’s group leaked thousands of embarrassing emails from the Democratic National Committee which showed their disdain for Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. The uproar over the disclosures forced DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz to resign in disgrace on the eve of the Democratic National Convention.

The political provocateur and bomb-thrower Roger Stone, a fervent Donald Trump supporter, predicted Sunday morning that Wikileaks’ revelations would doom Clinton’s campaign.

It’s unclear if Stone was aware that Wikileaks, according to NBC News, has canceled their Tuesday announcement.

Assange and his supporters have long claimed that his personal safety is at risk due to the danger he (supposedly) represents to Clinton’s presidential ambitions. In August, liberal commentator Bob Beckel suggested in a TV appearance that Assange be murdered, proclaiming that someone should “shoot the son of a bitch!”

Hillary Clinton strategist Bob Beckel called for WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange to be assassinated.

Assange himself has also recently hinted publicly that low-level DNC staffer Seth Rich, who was murdered this summer in Washington DC, had been the source for Wikileaks’ document dump on the DNC. And that Rich’s alleged role in the leaks was linked to his death.

There has been no evidence linking Rich to the leak and no evidence that his murder was anything more than a botched robbery.

Nonetheless, the Wikileaks’ cancellation of Tuesday’s announcement in London — and the scheduling of the Tuesday video link in Berlin — has anti-Clinton conspiracy theorists working up a frantic stew of speculation.

U.S., China Move Against Firm Suspected of Aiding North Korean Nuclear Program

September 19, 2016

Actions mark most serious effort so far to pursue Chinese companies thought to be helping Kim Jong Un’s regime

Ma Xiaohong, founder and owner of Hongxiang Industrial Development. Co., as seen in a corporate publication. Based in the northeastern Chinese border city of Dandong, Hongxiang Industrial handles cross-border trade with North Korea and has come under investigation from U.S. and Chinese authorities.
Ma Xiaohong, founder and owner of Hongxiang Industrial Development. Co., as seen in a corporate publication. Based in the northeastern Chinese border city of Dandong, Hongxiang Industrial handles cross-border trade with North Korea and has come under investigation from U.S. and Chinese authorities. PHOTO: CHUN HAN WONG/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

By CHUN HAN WONG in Dandong, China and JAY SOLOMON in Washington
The Wall Street Journal
Sept. 19, 2016 12:00 p.m. ET

The U.S. and China are targeting the finances of a sprawling Chinese conglomerate headed by a Communist Party member who the Obama administration believes has played a role in aiding North Korea’s nuclear program.

The actions against the company, Hongxiang Industrial Development Co., mark the most serious effort to date to pursue Chinese firms and business executives for their suspected role in supporting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s rapidly expanding nuclear-weapons program. Earlier this month, Pyongyang conducted its fifth atomic test in a decade.

The U.S. Congress passed legislation this year requiring the White House to sanction Chinese firms conducting business with the North Korean regime. Doing so, many lawmakers, officials and experts believe, will close a crucial gap in global efforts to restrain Pyongyang.



On Thursday, police in Liaoning, China’s northeastern border province, said they recently started investigating Hongxiang Industrial for alleged long-term involvement in “serious economic crimes” over the course of its trading activities. The police didn’t elaborate on the allegations.

Chinese authorities in recent weeks have frozen certain assets held by the company, its founder and top executive Ma Xiaohong, and some of her relatives and associates, according to government and corporate filings.

Prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice made two trips to Beijing last month to alert Chinese officials about alleged criminal activities being committed by Ms. Ma and Hongxiang Industrial, according to U.S. officials. They specifically cited alleged evidence that the Chinese businesswoman and her companies had aided North Korea’s nuclear program and Pyongyang’s efforts to evade United Nations and Western sanctions.

The Justice Department is preparing as early as this week to announce legal action against Chinese firms suspected of providing financial support to Pyongyang, according to these officials. They wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the charges.

Ms. Ma couldn’t be reached to comment. A Hongxiang Industrial official declined to comment on the Chinese investigation and didn’t respond to queries on the separate U.S. probe. Other company executives declined to comment and declined to relay queries to Ms. Ma.

U.S. officials said over the weekend that they welcomed the reports of Chinese action against Ms. Ma and her companies. At the same time, they voiced concern that Chinese authorities haven’t responded to U.S. requests for documents related to the asset freeze and criminal investigation. These officials said it was too early to tell if the Chinese were serious about cracking down on individuals suspected of being complicit in North Korea’s nuclear program.

In a series of military provocations, North Korea has been testing a variety of missiles over the last few years, some of which appear capable of reaching several thousand miles. Here’s a look at the country’s short- and long-range ballistic weapons. Illustration: Heather Seidel for The Wall Street Journal (Originally published March 23, 2016)

President Barack Obama repeatedly has said that China must do more to pressure Mr. Kim, the North Korean leader, financially and diplomatically, although Beijing historically has resisted taking steps that could destabilize North Korea.

U.S. lawmakers have increased pressure on the Obama administration to sanction Chinese firms following Pyongyang’s Sept. 9 nuclear test. “You must begin to designate entities that are assisting the North Korean regime, especially those based in China—the country with which North Korea currently conducts an estimated 90% of its trade,” Sen. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.) wrote Mr. Obama on Friday.

The headquarters of Hongxiang Industrial Development Co. are on the 16th floor of this bankside office tower in Dandong, across the Yalu River from North Korea.
The headquarters of Hongxiang Industrial Development Co. are on the 16th floor of this bankside office tower in Dandong, across the Yalu River from North Korea. PHOTO: CHUN HAN WONG/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Ms. Ma, 45 years old, was a shopping-mall worker and manager at an import-export firm based in Dandong, on the China-North Korea border, before founding Hongxiang Industrial in 2000. She grew her business into a conglomerate, Liaoning Hongxiang Industrial Group, with some 680 employees covering interests in cross-border trade, hotels and tourism.

Liaoning Hongxiang Industrial Group, of which Hongxiang Industrial remains the flagship firm, is based in a bankside office tower that enjoys a panoramic view of the Yalu River and stretches of North Korean territory. It trades in coal, chemicals, metals, textiles and machine equipment, among other goods, according to a government-run corporate registry.
A report to be released Tuesday by researchers from nonprofit groups in the U.S. and South Korea maintains that Hongxiang Industrial’s trade with North Korea includes goods that have both civilian and military purposes, including applications in nuclear-weapons development.

Researchers from the Washington-based C4ADS and the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul said they uncovered information suggesting that Hongxiang Industrial has sent aluminum oxide to North Korea, citing customs data collated by a third-party provider. Such material can be used in developing the centrifuges needed to enrich uranium, a crucial step in producing nuclear weapons.

The customs data indicate that the company sold $253,219 worth of aluminum oxide to North Korea as recently as September 2015, the report says.

According to online ads placed by Hongxiang Industrial in 2008 and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, the company in the past has sought to buy aluminum oxide, while selling North Korean-sourced aluminum ingots. It wasn’t clear if the company continued to trade in those goods.

The report by C4ADS and Asan, called “In China’s Shadow,” also outlines other aspects of Ms. Ma’s businesses that raise suspicions. They include cargo-shipping services linking Chinese and North Korean ports, and Hongxiang Industrial’s commercial relationships with North Korean state-run companies that Western authorities say may be involved in financing Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Hongxiang Industrial’s headquarters were shut when The Wall Street Journal visited the premises. Chinese authorities last week said they are investigating the company for alleged "serious economic crimes."
Hongxiang Industrial’s headquarters were shut when The Wall Street Journal visited the premises. Chinese authorities last week said they are investigating the company for alleged “serious economic crimes.” PHOTO:CHUN HAN WONG/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

In May 2009, Hongxiang Industrial and state-run Korea National Insurance Corp. set up a joint venture, Liaoning Hongbao Industrial Development Co., which engaged in the trade of industrial materials, electrical equipment and textiles, among other goods, corporate records show. The Chinese firm owns 51% of the venture while the remaining 49% is held by KNIC, which was sanctioned by the European Commission last year on grounds that the Pyongyang-based firm’s generation of “substantial foreign-exchange revenue” could be benefiting North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program.

Ms. Ma and her siblings control a number of Hong Kong companies that own and manage cargo ships believed to have shuttled between Chinese and North Korean ports, according to the researchers’ report.

“As our research shows, it is important to keep track of those business entities and personnel and have them designated,” said Woo Jung-yeop, a research fellow at the Asan Institute. “That means much swifter action needs to be taken by the international community.”

아산정책연구원 (The Asan Institute for Policy Studies)

A Wall Street Journal review of records on international shipping registry Equasis and Hong Kong’s corporate registry confirmed that Ms. Ma and her two sisters controlled companies that owned or managed cargo vessels listed in the “In China’s Shadow” report. Efforts to reach Ms. Ma’s sisters were unsuccessful.

In September 2015, Hongxiang Industrial launched a new shipping link between the Chinese port of Longkou and the North Korean port of Nampo, according to a company magazine published in February, which said a cargo vessel named Kum Ho 1 operates the route three times a month. A report by China’s official Xinhua News Agency said the new link was meant to facilitate trade, including coal shipments from North Korea.

The Liaoning police announcement on Thursday came two weeks after local authorities ordered the freezing of certain corporate shareholdings held by Ms. Ma, as well as some of her associates and companies. Several calls to provincial police and their municipal counterparts in Dandong weren’t answered, while a public-security official in the nearby city of Benxi, where some of the asset-freeze orders were issued, declined to comment.

The Dandong housing block where Ms. Ma registered an apartment as her residential address in Hong Kong corporate records.
The Dandong housing block where Ms. Ma registered an apartment as her residential address in Hong Kong corporate records. PHOTO: CHUN HAN WONG/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Ms. Ma and her mother-in-law Ding Ailian, who respectively own 80% and 20% of Hongxiang Industrial, had their stakes in the company frozen for six months by the Benxi public-security department bureau, corporate records show.

A district court in Dandong, meanwhile, imposed three-year freezes on equity stakes that Hongxiang Industrial holds in at least three companies, including two joint ventures with North Korean partners, according to a government-run corporate registry.

The names of Ms. Ma and her three siblings appear in leaked documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which indicate they each had set up offshore companies, according to a database run by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The addresses registered to Ms. Ma and her siblings in the Panama Papers match residential addresses registered to Hong Kong companies owned by members of the Ma family, Hong Kong corporate records show.

According to a 2012 report in Southern Weekly, a Guangzhou-based newspaper, Ms. Ma was already involved in North Korea-related deals while working at the import-export company in the 1990s, having arranged sales of heavy crude oil to North Korea in return for scrap steel, and setting up a mining joint venture in Pyongyang by transferring 80 trucks to North Korea.

In January 2000, Ms. Ma founded Hongxiang Industrial, licensed to sell a broad range of products ranging from textiles and electrical appliances to construction and chemical materials. On its website, the company describes itself as a “golden bridge for connecting North Korea and the world.”

Her business boomed despite fears that North Korean nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 could derail bilateral trade. In 2010, Hongxiang Industrial was ranked 189th by the Chinese Commerce Ministry in its annual list of top 500 private-sector companies involved in external trade. The company fell to 207th in the 2012 list and has since dropped out of the top 500.

Ms. Ma’s success earned her accolades from industry groups and praise from state-run media, and even helped her enter provincial politics.

For instance, Ms. Ma was voted in 2011 as one of Dandong’s top 10 “outstanding women” for becoming “a bright window in the development of Dandong’s external trade,” according to her company’s website. In 2012, the state-backed China Association of Women Entrepreneurs named Ms. Ma to its annual list of outstanding female entrepreneurs.

A year later, in 2013, Ms. Ma was among more than 600 people elected to Liaoning People’s Congress, the provincial legislature, where she has since made policy proposals on small-and-medium enterprise financing and local land-use regulations.

She was among roughly 450 Liaoning provincial legislators to resign their posts on Saturday amid an election-fraud scandal, state media said.

—Junya Qian in Shanghai contributed to this article.

Write to Chun Han Wong at and Jay Solomon at


North Korea’s NK-08 ICBM during the parade in Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung Square on Oct. 10, 2015

Estimated Range: 4,200 miles
Description: The possibility of North Korea’s developing a missile capable of delivering a chemical, biological, or nuclear warhead to the U.S. continent remains a grave concern. Given repeated test failures, most missile experts believe Pyongyang is far from achieving this goal.

Source: South Korea Ministry of National Defense; Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation

Beijing’s influence on Hong Kong’s top newspaper worries Hongkongers

July 25, 2016

By  in Beijing
The Guardian

Hong Kong’s most prestigious English-language newspaper is facing calls to explain how it obtained a controversial interview with a young Chinese activist amid fears of Beijing’s influence on the 113-year-old broadsheet.

The calls, from activists, media experts and former and current journalists at the South China Morning Post, come after the newspaper published a story in which a 24-year-old legal assistant, who had spent nearly a year in secret detention, claimed she regretted her activism.

Zhao Wei was seized in July 2015 at the start of a major government crackdown on human rights lawyers and was released on bail earlier this month, according to Chinese police.

‘Freed’ Chinese human rights activist Zhao Wei still missing, says husband

Within days of Zhao Wei’s reported release, the South China Morning Post managed to contact her despite the fact that her own lawyer and husband said they had been unable to do so. Photograph: Kin Cheung/AP

Within days of that reported release the South China Morning Post managed to contact her despite the fact that Zhao’s own lawyer and husband said they had been unable to do so and suspected she was still under some form of custody.

The Guardian understands that the newspaper talked to Zhao Wei with the help of a mysterious intermediary whose identity has not been revealed to staff.

Zhao Wei

“It’s just so sad. A newspaper that used to be one of the best in Asia is now becoming a mouthpiece,” one former employee told the Guardian this week.

Criticism of the South China Morning Post, or SCMP as it is widely known, comes after the newspaper was bought by one of China’s wealthiest business tycoons, the founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma.

Ma, a tech billionaire some call China’s Steve Jobs, brushed off concerns that the broadsheet’s editorial independence was at risk after the deal was announced last December.

“Trust us,” said Ma, scoffing at fears that under his watch editors at the SCMP might buckle to political pressure from the Communist party.

But, seven months later, there is anger in the Post’s newsroom and among readers and claims that what was once Hong Kong’s newspaper of record has lost its way.

That anger has been brought into relief after the publication of the mysterious interview with Zhao.

Zhao was the youngest target of what activists describe as an unprecedented crackdown on human rights lawyers in mainland China.

The interview with her was conducted by telephone on 10 July, just three days after Zhao’s release was announced, and was published the following day under the headline: ‘Young Chinese legal activist ‘regrets’ civil rights activism’.

“I have come to realise that I have taken the wrong path,” Zhao was quoted as saying in the article. “I repent for what I did. I’m now a brand new person.”

The story did not make clear how the SCMP had managed to make contact with Zhao and activists, media experts and Zhao’s husband and lawyer suspect the interview was set up by mainland authorities and conducted against her will.

They are demanding answers from the newspaper about the circumstances in which its reporter – who it has not named – was able to contact her.

“To be honest, I feel odd as well,” Zhao’s lawyer, Yan Huafeng, told the Guardian. “Even though I am her defence lawyer … I don’t know how they got in touch with each other.”

Murong Xuecun, an outspoken Chinese novelist, wrote on Twitter: “The South China Morning Post must explain its exclusive interview with Zhao Wei.”

David Bandurski, a respected Hong Kong media analyst, urged the newspaper to “come clean” about the “perplexing” episode, which he said raised “serious questions about the newspaper’s commitment to editorial independence” under Ma.

The interview looked “eerily” like the kind of forced media confession that has become common since the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, took power in 2012, Bandurski added.

Former and current employees at the SCMP have also expressed concern over the interview.

“People are upset and angry,” one newsroom insider, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said of the episode.

Husband of Chinese legal assistant Zhao Wei questions whether she has been set free

A former SCMP editor, who also asked not to be named, said: “This one does smell very, very fishy.”

Another former journalist, who also declined to be named, said they suspected the interview “was somehow planted by the Chinese authorities”, adding: “That’s why the Post got the scoop on that.”

In an emailed statement, signed by “the editors” of the SCMP, the newspaper said it was “tempted to conclude” that questions being raised over its interview with Zhao were an attempt “to paint the South China Morning Post in a negative light”.

The editors noted that their newspaper’s story had stated it had been unable to ascertain where Zhao was speaking from or if she was under surveillance.

However, the SCMP repeatedly declined to explain how it had been able to arrange an interview with a woman whose own husband and lawyer have not been able to contact her. It also declined to address claims that the interview had been handed to it by Chinese authorities.

“Like the Guardian and other principled news organisations, the South China Morning Post treats the protection of confidential sources as sacrosanct,” the SCMP’s editors said. “We therefore fail to understand why the Guardian is attempting to impugn our professionalism for maintaining a policy on sources that the Guardian follows as well.”

Founded in 1903, when Hong Kong was still under British rule, the SCMP was once one of the most profitable newspapers on earth; an award-winning broadsheet famed for chasing stories the Communist party forbade its state-run competitors over the border in mainland China from touching.

The newspaper, which claims a readership of nearly 350,000 and a print circulation of about 100,000, continues to market itself as a flag-bearer of the “gold standard of news publishing in the region”.

Its website was blocked by Communist party censors in March this year and remains inaccessible in mainland China without the use of a virtual private network.
Yet persistent doubts over the SCMP’s commitment to independent journalism resurfaced last December after Ma announced a $266m takeover of the newspaper.

Those behind the deal said they hoped to use the SCMP to paint a more positive picture of China and provide a counterbalance to the western media’s “too ideological and biased” coverage.

Willy Lam, a former SCMP editor who left the paper in 2000 claiming its bosses wanted to “depoliticise” coverage, said that since the takeover he had noticed an increase in the number of “very positive [articles] about the Chinese economy and the Chinese leadership” in the pages of the SCMP.

“Even before Jack Ma took over it had progressively become more pro-establishment,” Lam told the Guardian. “But I think after the Alibaba takeover it has become progressively worse.”

In interviews after the Zhao interview, journalists who have worked at the Post at different points over the last decade echoed that analysis.

They described an increasingly politicised working environment where senior editors were often reluctant to publish stories that might upset Beijing.
Most believed the editorial stance had become markedly less critical of Beijing since Wang Xiangwei and Tammy Tam – the broadsheet’s first mainland editor-in-chiefs – took over in 2012 and 2016 respectively.

Early in his four-year tenure Wang faced accusations – which he rejected – that he had deliberately downplayed the suspicious death of a Chinese dissident and become a form of “in-house censor” who shied away from sensitive stories.

Others pinpointed Hong Kong’s 2014 “umbrella movement” pro-democracy street protests as a turning point.

The newspaper’s management celebrated the spike in online traffic the demonstrations had brought as the world’s eyes turned on Hong Kong – “They were thrilled by the figures,” said one former journalist – but were concerned the SCMP’s coverage had been seen as too supportive of the protesters.

“I could feel a tension after Occupy,” said one reporter who said they believed the newspaper’s coverage had become “more ideological” and hostile to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement after the 79-day street occupation.

Paul Mooney, a veteran American journalist who worked for the SCMP until 2012 and has won multiple awards for his work on human rights issues in China, said the newspaper continued to produce good stories on sensitive issues.

“They realise they can’t become a Xinhua or a China Daily; they have to kind of maintain the semblance of being objective,” said Mooney, who has claimed he was forced from the newspaper for political reasons.
But Mooney and other former and current employees said it had become common in recent years to see stories heavily rewritten, re-crafted or scrapped entirely to remove aspects that might displease Beijing.

“It seems the whole paper has been co-opted by Beijing or people that are loyal to Beijing and they have destroyed a paper that has been around for many years,” Mooney said.

A former SCMP editor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, agreed the paper still produced major scoops and critical stories that Beijing would see as “very, very unwelcome”.

As examples, the editor pointed to recent articles about a group of booksellers thought to have been abducted by Chinese security agents, coverage of the umbrella movement protests and political scoops about the downfall of Communist party high-fliers including the former security chief Zhou Yongkang.

But the editor added: “The owners and the top editors have to at least maintain the facade of editorial independence. They couldn’t turn overnight into a Hong Kong edition of China Daily. But the whole balance seems to be tipping, for sure. Not overnight but gradually.”

Two former employees said Voices From Tiananmen, a multimedia project marking 25 years since the 1989 massacre, faced resistance from editors but was eventually published one day before its anniversary, on 3 June 2014.

But those involved in the award-winning project have all now left the newspaper, they said. “One by one we were forced to leave or it was made pretty clear to us that anybody who had [played] any part in that story would never be welcome again at the Post,” said one member of the team.

A second person with knowledge of the Tiananmen project gave a less dramatic account of the departures but said they were the result of “a general conflict of two visions for our China coverage”. The conflict was between those hoping to pursue more critical journalism against those apparently less inclined to offend Beijing.

A third SCMP journalist said they had been shocked by its coverage of the Panama Papers revelations in April.

The journalist claimed editors had largely buried reports that members of China’s Communist elite had been found to have concealed their wealth with offshore companies.

“They are most nervous about people or articles pointing fingers at the leadership. You cannot really criticise the leadership,” the journalist said, adding: “It is so demoralising.”

The SCMP has rejected claims it downplayed revelations about the Communist party in the Panama Papers, with one senior editor blaming such criticism on “butthurt ex-Post employees with axes to grind”.

The former editor said it would be wrong to blame all of the newspaper’s problems on self-censorship but admitted “there is a wider trend towards more control and a more positive line towards the Chinese government and that is hard to deny”.

“I think there is a sense that this is the new normal,” the editor added. “People have accepted that this is a different type of publication now, being published under different circumstances. It’s a different paper – and not for the better.”

The same journalist claimed SCMP journalists were now “fleeing” in their droves and said the Alibaba takeover – and its executives’ comments on their vision for the newspaper – had done nothing to staunch the outflow. “The paper already had a mixed reputation under the old ownership and under Wang Xiangwei’s editorship. Now it’s only getting worse in terms of self-censorship.”
Fears over shrinking press freedom in the former colony – which has far greater political liberties than the mainland thanks to the “one country, two systems” framework agreed before handover in 1997 – were voiced in a recent report by the Hong Kong Journalists Association.

The report, called One country, two nightmares, noted that Beijing had been fighting to gain control of Hong Kong’s newsrooms ever since the Tiananmen massacre in 1989.

“The relative success of this policy is seen in the fact that the Chinese government or mainland corporations now have direct control or stakes in eight out of 26 mainstream media outlets – 31% of the total,” the report said. Pointing to Alibaba’s acquisition of the SCMP, it added: “The upward trend of mainlanders investing in the Hong Kong media is worrying.”

Last week Reporters Without Borders, the international rights group, questioned Alibaba’s acquisition of “one of the last champions of the free press in Hong Kong”.

“Now that it has been snared by Jack Ma, what fate awaits the South China Morning Post?” the group asked in a new report about media ownership.

In a statement, the SCMP’s editors accused the Guardian of “selective bias” in its choice of interviewees.

They said: “Our stand has not changed before or after we changed ownership and it is this: the South China Morning Post’s future will continue to depend on independent, critical journalism.

“We continue to be able to attract the talented and committed professionals we need to do that job. Thus, unlike you, we are not inclined to take the doomsday scenarios you have painted too seriously.

“[We] hope you aspire and live up to the same standards of critical independent journalism you demand of us.”

Not all of those interviewed were critical of the broadsheet’s direction during their time at its Causeway Bay headquarters.

While one journalist described a “poisonous atmosphere” inside the SCMP newsroom other former employees said the editorial team was a tight-knit group that was still fighting to push the envelope with their journalism.

“There are lots of very good people,” said one serving journalist. “There’s a lot of camaraderie. Lots of people are trying to do a good job.”

David Lague, the newspaper’s managing editor between 2009 and 2011, said he had never felt the chill of censorship. “We had a tremendously free hand,” he said.

All the former Post journalists who spoke to the Guardian were at pains to praise their colleagues still working there, who continue to pick up awards for their reporting on social, environment, human rights and business issues.

“There are still professional people working there who want to do everything in their power – even though this ends them up in their bosses’ bad favour all the time – [to] challenge things, to argue for things at news meetings,” the former editor said.

But few retained any faith in the newspaper’s future as a speaker of truth to power.

“I’m sure they are trying to get out any chance they can,” the editor said. “They are so tired of this whole thing. So disgusted.”

Additional reporting by Christy Yao


One of the cartoons reflecting Liu Renwang's experience of torture in custody. Photo: SCMP Pictures

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Russian editors ‘fired over stories that irked officials’

July 13, 2016
Wed Jul 13, 2016 6:30am EDT

An exterior view shows the RBC media group office building in Moscow, Russia, April 15, 2016.

A former editor of a Russian media group described how he and colleagues were pushed out over reporting that angered officials, in the first public account of the taming of Russia’s last big news organization willing to take on the Kremlin.

In his first public comments since his dismissal along with two other top editors from RBC media group in May, Roman Badanin told Reuters that he and his colleagues were fired in the wake of a campaign of pressure on the group’s billionaire owner that came to a head after they published a story on the “Panama Papers” leaks.

Last week, RBC managers presented the replacement editors, recruited from state-owned news agency Tass, who told a tense meeting with staff that there would be limits on what and how they could report, according to someone who was present.

RBC’s owner Mikhail Prokhorov, a metals magnate who also owns the Brooklyn Nets U.S. basketball team, had previously shielded its journalists. The group’s news agency, newspaper and television station wrote stories about Putin’s friends and family, and other taboo subjects like the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine.

But after the Panama Papers story in April, which was illustrated with a picture of Putin and alleged that a close childhood friend of the president’s had offshore accounts, the official pressure was turned up a notch.

“It was precisely after this, so I’m told, that the problems started,” said Badanin.

Days after the story appeared, masked law-enforcement officers raided the headquarters of Prokhorov’s holding company Onexim in what officials called a tax investigation.

A short while after, the head of a utility company owned by Onexim group was arrested on suspicion of fraud.

“Apparently the build-up of attacks on the owner became very powerful,” Badanin said. “Listen: searches, criminal cases against the management of the company, demonstrations under their windows. Everything at the same time.”


Badanin said he had long been aware that officials were angry at RBC’s reporting: messages had been passed to its Kremlin reporters and other journalists. A nationalist group led by a pro-Kremlin member of parliament staged several protests in front of the group’s offices, accusing it of spreading pro-Western propaganda.

“Of course there are people in the Kremlin who don’t like us, that is nothing new,” said Badanin.

Under Putin’s 17-year rule, major television stations and newspapers have, one by one, come under the control of state firms or oligarchs loyal to the Kremlin, and their coverage has gone from combative to deferential.

However, RBC under Prokhorov’s ownership gained a reputation as the last big media company willing to write stories about the most sensitive issues. In the past two years it published articles on Putin’s daughter and the business interests of Kirill Shamalov, who Reuters reported last year is Putin’s son-in-law.

On May 13, the group announced that it was firing Badanin, the editor of its news agency, as well as group editor-in-chief Elizaveta Osetinskaya, and the editor of its daily newspaper Maxim Solyus.

One of the aims of the sackings “was that the editorial policy would become more cautious”, Badanin said.

Badanin said he had learned from executives in the media group that officials had, on occasion, called people close to the group’s owners to ask to have some articles removed.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied this: “Nobody, and they will confirm this, ever went to them (RBC) with a demand or a request to not publish anything, and certainly nothing was said to the owner. It is a gross exaggeration, an absolutely gross exaggeration.”

RBC declined to comment, as did Onexim, Prokhorov’s holding group.

By July 7, when RBC General Director Nikolai Molibog presented the new editors recruited from Tass, Elizaveta Golikova and Igor Trosnikov, many journalists had already handed in their notice and others were considering their positions.

Several journalists pressed the new bosses to say if there would be restrictions on what they could report to avoid angering the authorities.

“If someone thinks that you can (publish) whatever, just absolutely everything — that’s not the case,” Trosnikov said, according to a transcript of the staff meeting published by news site and which was confirmed as authentic by the person present.

“I can’t say to you that there are no restrictions at all. They exist. If someone believes there aren’t any, they should write for themselves on Facebook.”

(Writing by Christian Lowe; editing by Peter Graff)