Posts Tagged ‘Switzerland’

U.S. seniors struggle more to pay for healthcare compared to other countries

November 16, 2017
By Steven Reinberg, HealthDay News  |  Nov. 15, 2017 at 9:57 PM

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 15, 2017 — A new report finds the availability of health care for U.S. seniors lags behind that of other affluent nations.

Access to insurance isn’t an issue, because all Americans 65 and older are covered by Medicare. But America’s seniors are still sicker than the elderly in other countries — and are more likely to go without essential care because they can’t afford it, according to the Commonwealth Fund study.

“Our Medicare is not as generous as comparable insurance in other countries,” fund President Dr. David Blumenthal said during a media briefing on Tuesday.

In other countries, government health insurance is not restricted to the elderly, but covers everyone, he said.

The United States is complacent about the value and benefits associated with Medicare, even though it’s a universal system, Blumenthal said.

“We do know that we, as a country, do tolerate higher levels of inequality. That’s most evident in the fact that we underinvest, compared to other countries, in social services and overinvest, despite the lack of generosity of our insurance, in health care,” he said.

Providing more social services to the elderly might help reduce the inequality of care, Blumenthal said.

For the study, researchers surveyed older adults about their health care. Participants came from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Almost one-quarter of U.S. seniors didn’t go to a doctor in the past year when sick or they didn’t get a recommended test or fill a prescription because they couldn’t afford it.

In France, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom, no more than 5 percent of older adults skipped care because of costs, the researchers found.

In the United States, 22 percent of seniors spent $2,000 or more on out-of-pocket costs during the past year. The only country with higher out-of-pocket costs was Switzerland, with 31 percent spending more than $2,000 out of pocket.

Among all the other countries, less than 10 percent of seniors spent $2,000 or more, researchers found.

Among U.S. seniors, 25 percent said they worried about having the money to buy food or pay rent or bills for heat or electricity or medical care.

However, in France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden and the United Kingdom, only 10 percent or less said they had these concerns.

Seniors in many countries who suffered from several chronic health problems or had trouble with the basic activities of daily living reported being dissatisfied with the quality of their care.

For example, in Australia, 41 percent were somewhat or not at all satisfied, compared with 26 percent in the United States and 21 percent in Switzerland, the country rated the best in satisfaction.

Cost was also a concern for the sickest. In the United States, 31 percent skipped health care due to costs, compared with 2 percent in Sweden. Additionally, almost a third of the sickest U.S. seniors worried about having enough money for meals, rent or other bills, researchers reported.

The sickest seniors in other countries struggled as well, with about 25 percent of those in Australia and Germany also saying that they worried about paying for food, rent or other bills.

Many of these seniors also suffered from anxiety or depression, which can lead to poorer health and higher costs, Blumenthal said. Social isolation was also a problem faced by a number of seniors, particularly in European countries, the study found.

Access to care, especially after hours and on weekends, is another challenge seniors face.

Fifteen percent of U.S. seniors and 11 percent of Canadian seniors went to the emergency room for a condition that could have been treated by a regular doctor or clinic had one been available. In other countries, that figure is 8 percent or less, the researchers said.

U.S. doctors did well when it came to counseling seniors on diet, exercise and the risk of falling. Only doctors in Australia and France were similarly likely to discuss falls with their patients, the researchers found.

Dr. Ken Brummel-Smith is professor emeritus of geriatrics at Florida State University College of Medicine, and a spokesman for Physicians for a National Health Program. He said that providing more home care, social services and after-hour doctor and clinic times could help improve the care of the elderly.

“What older people really need are the support systems to manage themselves,” Brummel-Smith said. “Everyone wants to live independently if possible, but we aren’t set up to do that.”

The report was published Nov. 15 in the journal Health Affairs.

More informationFor more on elder care, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


U.S. Treasury Declines to Label China a Currency Manipulator

October 18, 2017

Nation remains on formal Monitoring List, along with Japan, South Korea, Germany and Switzerland

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The U.S. Treasury again declined to label China a currency manipulator, though it continued to criticize Beijing for its large trade surplus and restrictions on foreign investors.

“Treasury remains concerned by the lack of progress made in reducing the bilateral trade surplus with the United States,” the department said of China in its semiannual report on international exchange rates. “China should take concrete steps to level the playing field for American workers and firms.”

The Treasury Department’s report, released Tuesday, is the document in which Washington could formally criticize Beijing for manipulating the yuan lower in an effort to boost its exports. As a candidate, President Donald Trump said he would label China as a currency manipulator, but this is now the second of the semiannual reports in which his administration has declined to make the designation, a label that may have led to a deepening trade confrontation. The U.S. also is trying to encourage China to work with it in cracking down on trade and finance flows to North Korea.

The U.S. gave China credit for allowing the yuan to rise this year and noted that China’s trade surplus has been narrowing.

The report kept China on the Treasury’s formal Monitoring List, which is what the U.S. uses to place countries on notice that the government considers their currency and other economic policies to be putting the U.S. at unfair disadvantage.


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Since the spring, the Treasury has removed Taiwan from its monitoring list. It has continued to keep Japan, South Korea, Germany and Switzerland on it.

In removing Taiwa n from the watch list, Treasury cited the progress Taiwan has made in reducing the scale of its foreign-exchange interventions.

Placement on the list can trigger sanctions if the countries satisfy three criteria: persistently intervening in currency markets, running a significant trade surplus with the U.S. and running a large current account surplus overall. None of the countries met all three criteria.

The five countries remaining on the watchlist—China, Japan, South Korea, Germany and Switzerland—all trigger some of the criteria.

In blaming China for currency manipulation during his presidential campaign, Donald Trump may have been fighting the last battle: China’s visions are far more potent and complex. Photo: Getty

The report faulted China for running the largest bilateral surplus with the U.S., and faulted Germany, Japan and South Korea for its U.S. surpluses and overall surpluses. Germany now runs the world’s largest current account surplus. Switzerland has a large current account balance and intervened heavily in its exchange markets, but runs a relatively small trade surplus with the U.S.

“The administration remains deeply concerned by the significant imbalances in the global economy,” the report said. “More broadly, current account surpluses in several major trading partners have not only been large but unusually persistent over the last decade.”

The report also added criticism of India, saying that there has been “a notable increase in the scale and persistence of India’s net foreign exchange purchases.”

Although it didn’t formally add India to its monitoring list, it said “Treasury will be closely monitoring India’s foreign exchange and macroeconomic policies.”

Write to Josh Zumbrun at

Russia-tied hackers can gain control of power network: report

September 6, 2017


© Getty/AFP/File | In the past year the Dragonfly 2.0 cyber-espionage group has become “highly focused” on energy systems, the security firm Symantec said, and its hacking attempts accelerated in the first half of this year

WASHINGTON (AFP) – A Russia-linked cyber-espionage group has hacked into the controls of electricity distribution networks in the US and Europe, raising the risk of malicious, remotely-caused blackouts, computer security firm Symantec said Wednesday.Symantec said the group, dubbed Dragonfly 2.0, gained access to the operational systems in a number of energy operations in the United States, Turkey and Switzerland, “to the extent that the group now potentially has the ability to sabotage or gain control of these systems should it decide to do so.”

Symantec did not link Dragonfly 2.0, which has been around for several years, to any specific country. But other cyber security analysts and the US government say Dragonfly, also dubbed Energetic Bear, has Russian roots and links to the Russian government.

It said Dragonfly 2.0 had been known to target Western infrastructure in recent years, attempting to access computer systems to install its own backdoor entryways through phishing ruses.

But in the past year it has become “highly focused” on energy systems, Symantec said, and its hacking attempts accelerated in the first half of this year.

“This is clearly an accomplished attack group,” Symantec said.

“The Dragonfly group appears to be interested in both learning how energy facilities operate and also gaining access to operational systems themselves, to the extent that the group now potentially has the ability to sabotage or gain control of these systems should it decide to do so.”

Vince Cable raises doubts about Brexit ever happening — Plus a final salute to Sir David Tang

September 2, 2017

Image result for Vince Cable, photos

FT Weekend Festival debates life after the EU and political polarisation in a post-truth era

by: Naomi Rovnick There is a growing possibility of a second referendum on Britain leaving the EU as tensions grow within the Conservative and Labour parties about the likelihood of a beneficial Brexit deal being achieved, Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable has said.

In a debate at the FT Weekend Festival held at Kenwood House in North London on Saturday, Mr Cable said: “I think there is more than a possibility that Brexit may never happen.

He added: “The balance of probability is still that it does, but there is a strong possibility of it being stopped because tensions within and between major parties are so large, that one or other may want to let the public decide on the facts whether this is something they want to go ahead with.”

Mr Cable, who became leader of the pro-EU Lib Dems at the age of 74, promising voters an “exit from Brexit,” was replying to a point made by pro-Brexit Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan who argued that Brexit would happen, but in a gradual and low-impact way.

Mr Hannan said: “The day after Brexit is going to look very much like the day before. It’s going to be a process. We will still have all the same rules and regulations we’ve assimilated for 44 years, but that’s the day the divergence can begin.”

Mr Hannan added that Britain would not be damaged by losing its access to the EU single market as it could have a “Swiss-style” deal that “keeps the essence of the single market,” despite not being a member. He also argued that leaving the EU would allow Britain to look towards a “more global future,” and strengthen trade links with non-EU economic powers.

Mr Cable, who has a reputation for being one of the most financially literate critics of British governments since 1997, argued there was “a real risk of a train crash” because it had become apparent the UK government was “woefully unprepared” for the Brexit negotiations that started with the EU in June.

The day after Brexit is going to look very much like the day before The Lib Dem leader said that prime minister Theresa May was struggling to prove Britain could strike good trade deals with non-EU economic powers. “We’ve just seen in the last few weeks how absurd this is,” he said.

“The PM has gone off to Japan to negotiate some special trade deal and they have said they would much rather deal with the EU. Mr Cable said that the government had asked India for a special deal on whisky and financial services, and that India had asked for more visas. “To which [Mrs May] said, ‘sorry we can’t, we are trying to keep people out,’ and the Indians said, ‘get on your bike’,” Mr Cable said.


Mr Hannan countered that it was normal for people to feel pessimistic about the future and that Britain had a chance of keeping the advantages of staying in the EU single market in the way Switzerland has. “We are a country of 65m people, an existing [EU] member state, a G7 country.

I can’t believe that we can’t get a similar deal,” he said. In an earlier session at the festival on fake news and social media,

Ms Gibson argued that Donald Trump’s presidential election victory was enabled by the US news audience having split into distinct information consumption spheres. “During an election campaign when the New York Times publishes a piece with maybe 162 examples of Donald Trump being mendacious,” she said, a large part of the non-NYT reading US audience would not have noticed.

“So Breitbart News jumps up and goes ‘Hillary Clinton! Emails!’ and that grabs the attention. That is polarisation.” Mr Barber said that polarisation of information and opinion had begun with the advent of Fox News and other cable news channels in the US, which “has been exacerbated by technology because it can amplify that phenomenon and it is incredibly good at picking out select groups.”

Mr Davis argued that the Facebook audience often knew to be selective about what they believed on the social platform, which has been used by some sites to spread fake news.

Ms Gibson countered: “I don’t believe people are always genuinely as sophisticated as that,” adding that some younger readers “do not know brands” enough to differentiate between trusted news brands and newer sites that may not be publishing truthful reports. An FT reader asked whether think tanks whose funding was not transparent were exacerbating the fake news phenomenon.

Ms Gibson said that when she was deputy editor of the Guardian, she had been taken in by a think-tank with an unknown agenda after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowdon provided the Guardian with top secret documents leading to revelations about surveillance of internet and phone communications. “On the Snowdon story, one [think-tank] said: ‘We want to do a day’s debate on the issues of privacy and national security.’

We took part and we worked with them for a really great seminar, and at the end I realised that the think-tank was funded entirely by [rightwing US billiona0ires] the Koch brothers,” Ms Gibson said. The Kochs “were probably the Guardian’s ideological worst enemies . . . We spent an entire day doing a think-tank with them,” she added.

Vince Cable on Brexit, ballroom dancing and keeping his balance

Financial Times


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David Tang in 2004. Photo by SAMANTHA SIN – AFP – Getty Images

Sir David Tang, who died this week, had been scheduled to speak at the festival. In his place Algy Cluff, a close friend and mentor, shared stories of the vivacious businessman and FT agony uncle.

Mr Cluff, a natural resources entrepreneur and former Grenadier Guardsman who Tang said he had modelled himself on, said he had only discovered by accident how well-connected Tang was.

Mr Cluff said that he hired Tang as an unpaid intern to help with a Chinese project after receiving a series of letters from him in the early 1980s. “I put him on probation for six months working with me, so he joined as my most lowly junior unpaid employee,” Mr Cluff said, adding that “my secretary kept coming in saying: ‘David wants you to have dinner with him’.”

Mr Cluff finally relented and went to a Chinese restaurant where he asked for Mr Tang. “The waiter bowed from the waist and took me down into a private room,” Mr Cluff said.

“And there David was presiding over a huge table where the guests included the Lord Chancellor and the chairman of ICI.”

Mr Cluff recalled how the Lord Chancellor’s wife commented: “How fortunate you are to be working for David.” Mr Cluff added: “I realised I’d met my match and began paying David a salary from then on.” FT House & Home editor Jane Owen also recalled dealing with Tang when his copy was late.

His excuses included “the Queen said you are working me too hard” and “Kate Moss says I need a day off,” she said. Mr Cluff added that during a banquet at China’s Great Hall of the People where the Chinese president and oil minister of the time were present, he told Tang: “You know, David, you’ve found a country that respects and welcomes foreign investment.”

Tang replied: “I wouldn’t be so sure” and Mr Cluff said that, sure enough, six months later he got a $50,000 bill for the banquet. Mr Cluff also remembered how, at a rehearsal for Mr Cluff’s wedding in Hong Kong, “we smelt burning and it turned out David had left his cigar on the alter”. Ms Owen added that Tang had still insisted on his sickbed that he was going to make a planned “goodbye” party on September 6 at the Dorchester, and that it would “only be 500 of my closest friends. I want it to be intimate”. Naomi Rovnick

See also:

Sir David Tang (1954–2017)


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UK Looking to Replicate EU’s External Trade Deals After Brexit — But businesses have doubts

August 30, 2017

OSAKA, Japan — Britain is looking at ways to replicate the trade deals that the European Union has with countries outside the bloc when it exits the EU in March 2019, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday.

The freedom to strike new trade deals independently of the EU has been highlighted by the government as a major benefit of Brexit, but businesses have repeatedly voiced concerns about how existing trade relationships will work after leaving the bloc.

Speaking on a business trip to Japan designed to reassure investors that the British economy will flourish after Brexit, May indicated that the first step in recasting Britain as a world leader in free trade would be to copy EU trade agreements.

“There’s obviously a number of trade deals that the EU has with other countries, and we are looking at the possibility of those being able to be brought over into, certainly initially, trade deals with the United Kingdom,” May told reporters on her way to Japan for meetings with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Image result for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Theresa May, august 2017, photos

“I think we will give businesses certainty, which is what business wants at the point at which we leave.”

The EU has trade deals with external countries like Switzerland and South Korea, and is currently finalising its own deal with Japan.

Until Britain’s EU membership ends it is unable to agree trade deals with external countries, and it is unclear how easily or quickly an already-stretched British civil service could transpose EU deals into bilateral trade agreements.

The position on trade is consistent with May’s negotiating stance on several central issues of Brexit talks with Brussels: to closely replicate many of the existing arrangements Britain has as an EU state and then gradually introduce change.

That has drawn criticism from eurosceptics who want to make a clean break with the EU, and EU officials who say Britain is looking to keep the benefits of membership without incurring the associated costs. 

May said she was pushing for the completion of an EU-Japan trade deal, which could then be used as a model for a future British-Japan trading agreement.

“We have been one of the member states sitting around the EU table that have been pressing the EU to move forward on this deal with Japan. We think this is an important deal for the EU,” she said.

(Reporting by William James; Editing by Eric Meijer & Shri Navaratnam)

Switzerland Stops Funding Palestinian NGO Due To Terrorism Ties

August 23, 2017
 AUGUST 22, 2017 14:11

The Human Rights International Humanitarian Law Secretariat failed to cut its ties to terrorist organizations.

A Palestinian flag is waved at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City

A Palestinian flag is waved at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City. (photo credit:MUAMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)

The Swiss Foreign Ministry announced that it  suspended funds and support for the Ramallah-based Palestinian NGO Human Rights International Humanitarian Law Secretariat because the organization failed to cut ties to terrorism, according to a Sunday report in the Swiss newspaper Sonntags Zeitung.

“This is an important first step in NGO funding accountability by the Swiss Foreign Ministry, and reflects the recent legislation on this issue,” Prof.

Gerald Steinberg, the president of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

“In halting payment to WATC [Women Affairs Technical Committee], the Swiss follow similar moves by Denmark and Holland. The radical Palestinian NGO is one of many funded by these countries through the Ramallah-based Human Rights Secretariat, with an annual budget of $4 million,” he added.

He asserted that “a number of the recipients are affiliated with the PFLP terror organization.

Having now frozen WATC funding, the question is whether the Swiss federal government will seriously reexamine participation in the very problematic secretariat mechanism, and in other frameworks that misuse tax money under the facade of human rights and peace.”

The Human Rights International Humanitarian Law Secretariat provides funds to the WATC, which named a youth center after a Palestinian terrorist.

Critics of the secretariat say it glorifies Palestinian terrorism.

The Palestinian NGO also receives funds from Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry said its internal investigation showed that it did not directly funnel money to the WATC project. The payment of $36,000 for the Palestinian NGO was suspended and a definitive decision about a continued payment will be issued.

A date for the decision was not cited in the Swiss media reports. Switzerland, which has hosted Hamas officials over the years, is not a member of the EU and has declined to outlaw Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist entities.


Ireland’s prime minister tells Theresa May to strike Norway-style Brexit deal with the EU

August 6, 2017

Leo Varadkar has suggested Britain could rejoin the European Free Trade Association

By Jon Stone Europe Correspondent

The Independent

Image result for Leo Varadkar, photos

Leo Varadkar

Ireland’s prime minister tells Theresa May to strike Norway-style Brexit deal with the EU

Ireland’s prime minister has suggested that Britain could strike a Norway-style deal with the EU – forging a bespoke customs union with Europe and joining the European Free Trade Association (Efta).

In his first visit as Taoiseach to Belfast, Leo Varadkar hit out at the advocates of a hard Brexit and said their plans for border controls would throw up a trade border “across Ireland”.

He also said promoters of such a way forward had failed to come up with detailed proposals in the 14 months since the EU referendum last year – and that he believed they would never be able to do so.

The Efta includes Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein – and previously included Britain, before it joined the EU’s predecessor, the EEC, in 1973.

Efta’s members adopt nearly all EU legislation and standards so they can trade with the bloc, but with exceptions in certain areas, such as agriculture and fisheries. Downing Street has not yet ruled out Efta membership.

“There are people who do want a border, a trade border between the United Kingdom and the European Union and therefore between Ireland and Britain and therefore across Ireland,” Mr Varadkar said in a speech at Belfast’s Queen’s University on the future relations of northern and southern Ireland.

“These are the advocates of the so-called hard Brexit. I believe the onus is on them to come up with proposals for such a border and to convince us and convince you: citizens, students, academics, farmers, business people, civil society, that such a border is in your interest and that such a border would not be a barrier to trade and commerce.

“They have already had 14 months to do so, which should have been ample time to come up with detailed proposals. If they cannot, and I believe they cannot, then we can start to talk meaningfully about solutions that might work for all of us.”

Theresa May has said Britain will leave the single market and EU customs union (AP)

Turning to the subject of trade, he continued: “If the United Kingdom doesn’t want to stay in the Customs Union, perhaps there can be an EU-UK customs union instead. After all the EU has a customs union with Turkey, surely therefore it’s possible to have one with the United Kingdom?

“If the United Kingdom doesn’t want to stay in the single market perhaps it could enter into a deep free trade agreement with the European Union and rejoin Efta, of which it was a member prior to accession, or the European Economic Area.”

The Irish PM, who took office in June, also suggested a “long” transition period where Britain remained in the single market so that future long-term arrangements could be worked out.

He said: “If these things cannot be agreed now, then perhaps we can have a long transition period during which the United Kingdom stays in the single market and the customs union while we work all of these things out.”Theresa May ruled out staying in the single market and EU customs union in her Lancaster House speech at the start of 2017.

Efta members, except Switzerland, are also all separately members of the European Economic Area, except Switzerland, which effectively participates in the area through a series of bespoke treaties.

All the Efta member states are members of the Schengen borderless area, except for four remote self-governing areas of Norway, including the arctic archipelago Svalbard.

Ireland’s ambassador to the EU revealed on Friday that a record 500,000 British people had applied for Irish passports in the first half of 2017 to “safeguard their positions” as EU citizens.


Stolen Emails Show Ties Between U.A.E. Envoy and 1MDB Fund’s Central Figure — Misappropriation of $4.5 billion from a Malaysian state development fund

August 5, 2017

Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba had longstanding ties to a financier the U.S. says is at the center of a scandal surrounding a Malaysian state development fund

The relationship between Yousef Al Otaiba and a Malaysian financier is drawing new scrutiny.
The relationship between Yousef Al Otaiba and a Malaysian financier is drawing new scrutiny. PHOTO: PATRICK T. FALLON/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the U.S., is a high-profile power player in Washington, trying to shape American policy toward the Middle East and lobbying over a regional dispute with Qatar.

He is also being drawn deeper into a major global corruption scandal.

Newly released stolen emails show a long-running relationship between Mr. Otaiba and Jho Low, a Malaysian financier who U.S. law-enforcement officials say is at the center of the misappropriation of $4.5 billion from a Malaysian state development fund.

That relationship is drawing new scrutiny from U.S., Swiss and Singaporean authorities, according to people familiar with the probes. The stolen emails show Mr. Otaiba and Shaher Awartani, his Jordanian partner, discussing inquiries from those countries about transactions they received from entities investigators say are connected to Mr. Low.

In one email, Mr. Awartani suggested buying a Ferrari after what Mr. Otaiba described as a “transfer from Jho.”

“I think we each deserve to buy a nice toy in celebration, what do you think ?? The 458 ITALIA maybe?,” Mr. Awartani wrote to Mr. Otaiba in 2009.

Mr. Otaiba responded that buying such “toys” in Abu Dhabi “will just attract unnecessary attention.” Messrs. Awartani and Otaiba both declined to comment. The probes are continuing.

The group that says it obtained the stolen emails and showed them to The Wall Street Journal, Global Leaks, declined to identify its members or say how they got the communications. In a statement to the Journal, Global Leaks said it wanted to “expose corruption, financial frauds which are done by rich governments.”

The Journal reported in June that companies connected to Mr. Otaiba received $66 million from entities investigators say acted as conduits for money allegedly stolen from the state investment fund, 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB. The Journal cited court and investigative documents and emails Mr. Otaiba wrote.

A 1MDB spokesman declined to comment. The fund has denied any funds were misappropriated or any wrongdoing on its part. It pledged to cooperate with any “lawful” investigation. Malaysian authorities cleared the fund of wrongdoing, but it remains under investigation in the U.S. and several other countries.

Jho Low, a Malaysian financier, seen in 2014 during an event in New York.
Jho Low, a Malaysian financier, seen in 2014 during an event in New York. PHOTO: DEBBY WONG/CORBIS

Mr. Low hasn’t been accused of a crime and has denied wrongdoing. A Low spokeswoman said the leaked emails created a “biased and inaccurate picture.”

Mr. Otaiba has been a key figure in U.S.-U.A.E. relations for years. Diplomats and officials in Washington know him for power lunches at Cafe Milano and lavish gatherings at his residence.

The emails detail Mr. Otaiba’s sizable personal wealth, including millions of dollars of shares in Palantir Technologies, a data-analysis company that has numerous contracts with the U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement community, and the Carlyle Group investment firm.

Lately, Mr. Otaiba has become a frequent source of advice to President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, on Middle East policy, people familiar with the matter said. He has also urged the Trump administration to back efforts by the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries to isolate Qatar, which they accuse of supporting Islamist terror groups like al Qaeda. Qatar says it doesn’t fund terror.

Mr. Otaiba in July issued a statement denying media reports that the U.A.E. had participated in an alleged scheme to hack Qatar government websites and post fake quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir.

The U.A.E. Embassy in Washington declined to comment about the emails stolen from Mr. Otaiba except to say they were part of a campaign by political opponents to smear him.

They also acknowledged that Mr. Otaiba has private business interests outside his diplomatic role.

The people familiar with the 1MDB investigations in Switzerland, Singapore and the U.S. said officials are looking into the circumstances of the transfers to companies controlled by Messrs. Otaiba and Awartani, and whether they bought assets with funds originating from 1MDB.

The stolen emails appear to show Mr. Otaiba using his diplomatic influence to persuade banks to give loans, saying it was important for U.A.E.-Malaysian relations.

In one, from September 2014, Mr. Otaiba encouraged Abu Dhabi banks to participate in a short-term refinancing loan being arranged by Deutsche Bank for 1MDB. The emailed request was identical to a draft sent to Mr. Otaiba from Eric Tan, an associate of Mr. Low, that was seen by the Journal.

“We appreciate your attention and commitment to successfully executing this facility,” Mr. Otaiba wrote to the banks, according to the stolen emails.

In a recent civil-asset forfeiture filing, the Justice Department said about $700 million of a $975 million Deutsche Bank loan to 1MDB was embezzled, with some of that money allegedly used by Mr. Low to buy jewelry for his then-girlfriend, Australian model Miranda Kerr. Several Abu Dhabi banks provided funds for the Deutsche Bank loan to 1MDB, people familiar with the deal said.

Singapore investigative documents reviewed by the Journal show a $3 million payment to a British Virgin Islands company controlled by Messrs. Otaiba and Awartani a few days before the email from Mr. Tan, and another $13 million payment to the same company two months later. The sender of both payments was a British Virgin Islands company owned by Mr. Tan that the Justice Department says distributed money embezzled from 1MDB, including the Deutsche Bank loan, according to the civil asset-forfeiture filing.

Efforts to reach Mr. Tan were unsuccessful. His whereabouts are unknown. He hasn’t commented before on the matter.

Another email, from December 2009, shows Mr. Otaiba urging Thomas Barrack Jr. , the billionaire founder of Colony Capital in California, to accept a bid from a hotel operator partly owned by Mr. Low’s family trust to buy L’Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills. Colony Capital owned the hotel.

“I’m contacting you today to endorse this bid as the U.A.E. ambassador but also as someone who understands that the full weight of a major investment entity is behind this project,” he wrote.

Mr. Barrack Jr. responded in an email that he would get back to him.

Mr. Low’s private investment company eventually bought the hotel in 2010 for more than $45 million. The Justice Department has filed civil-asset-forfeiture suits seeking to seize the hotel, alleging it was bought with stolen 1MDB funds.

Mr. Barrack said Mr. Otaiba was a friend and that the winning bid for the hotel was the highest offered.

Scrutiny of Mr. Otaiba’s U.S., Swiss and Singaporean accounts appeared to kick off in 2015, when several countries were starting 1MDB-related probes. Swiss private bank Lombard Odier began demanding more information about transfers to accounts controlled by Messrs. Otaiba and Awartani, according to the newly released emails reviewed by the Journal.

“We need to work with them to make this go away,” wrote Tobias Pfister, a former Credit Suisse banker based in Dubai who the emails show handled finances for Mr. Otaiba and Mr. Awartani, his Jordanian partner. He specified he was referring to Lombard Odier’s queries. Mr. Pfister told Mr. Otaiba in the email that Mr. Low had instructed Msrss. Otaiba and Mr. Awartani to close bank accounts and answer queries about the accounts and payments in person—“no emails.”

A few weeks later, Messrs. Otaiba and Awartani closed their accounts and moved funds elsewhere, according to the stolen emails that showed this request and confirmation.

The bank said it was cooperating with “any and all inquiries from regulatory and law enforcement authorities” related to 1MDB. Mr. Pfister declined to comment.

Writing from an e-mail address affiliated with the island of St. Helena in May, Mr. Low wrote Mr. Awartani asking how to get in touch quickly. “Need to speak as questions being asked. Want to ensure coordinated,” according to the stolen emails, which were forwarded to Mr. Otaiba.

It is unclear if they ever spoke.

Write to Bradley Hope at and Tom Wright at

Appeared in the August 2, 2017, print edition as ‘Stolen Emails Tie Envoy to 1MDB.’


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Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that state fund 1MDB has cleared over 3 billion ringgit (S$947.1 million) in debt over the past two years. He had chaired 1MDB’s advisory board until it was dissolved in May 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

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Victoria’s Secret Angel Miranda Kerr walks the runway in 2012.


UK considers potential shortcut on trade deals post-Brexit

July 2, 2017

The Guardian

Associate membership of European Free Trade Association could give UK access to trade deals while it negotiates its own

EU and UK flags.Efta, set up in 1960, consists of Switzerland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

The UK is examining a potential shortcut to securing a raft of critical free trade deals, giving it potential breathing space to negotiate its own agreements after it leaves the EU.

The proposal, involving an associate membership of the European Free Trade Association, could allow ministers to sign up to Efta’s existing free trade deals outside the EU, rather than negotiate them from scratch or fall back on bare WTO terms.

Efta, set up in 1960, consists of Switzerland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland.

A report by the Swiss thinktank Foraus published this week argues that by joining Efta as an associate member in the manner of Finland, the UK would have access to its valuable free trade deals but would be able to avoid the EU’s rules on free movement. “It would allow the UK to preserve a status quo in non-EU trade, instead of starting from scratch” said Cenni Najy, a Foraus research fellow. “The natural house of Britain is Efta.”

Some employers’ groups, such as the Institute of Directors in a report in February, have also suggested the UK look at the merits of applying to join Efta, so as to gain swift access to its 27 free trade deals covering 37 countries and 900 million consumers.

Foraus argues that post-Brexit, the UK will lose access to the EU’s 45 preferential trade agreements with countries and regional groupings all around the world. Another five agreements, including with Canada, are due to be signed shortly by the EU.

The EU has made it clear the UK must not prepare or negotiate third-party trade agreements in any meaningful detail until after it has left the EU and the customs union. Foraus argues UK membership of Efta would at least give the UK swift access to the free trade deals that Efta has signed. Efta has, for instance, signed deals with countries and groups that the EU has not, such as the Gulf Cooperation Council and Hong Kong.

Other advantages of Efta include its relatively small trade-focused bureaucracy that has no political pretensions. Efta membership also guarantee free trade between its members. Its four member states are free to negotiate bespoke trade deals with countries that Efta also has agreements with, something that would attract the UK. Efta as a block, for instance, has a trade deal with Hong Kong, but Switzerland, an Efta member, has an additional deal with China.

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Syria: indirect financing of armed groups in Syria tangles up European cement maker LafargeHolcim — chief executive Eric Olsen is stepping down

April 24, 2017


© AFP/File | French-Swiss cement maker LafargeHolcim has admitted that it had resorted to “unacceptable practices” to continue operations at one of its now-closed factories in Syria

PARIS (AFP) – French-Swiss cement maker LafargeHolcim said Monday its chief executive Eric Olsen is stepping down following an internal investigation into the company’s activities in Syria.

His resignation, which has been accepted by the group’s board, will be effective on July 15, LafargeHolcim said in a statement.

Olsen’s departure follows an inquiry into the indirect financing by Lafarge of armed groups in Syria, a country torn by civil war, to keep one of its cement plants operational.

“My decision is driven by my conviction that it will contribute to addressing strong tensions that have recently arisen around the Syria case,” said Olsen.

“While I was absolutely not involved in, nor even aware of, any wrongdoing I believe my departure will contribute to bringing back serenity to a company that has been exposed for months on this case,” he said.

In March, LafargeHolcim admitted that it had resorted to “unacceptable practices” to continue operations at one of its now-closed factories in Syria.

The admission comes after sources close to the case told AFP in January that the French government had filed a legal complaint against Lafarge for buying oil in Syria to power the Jalabiya factory, in violation of sanctions.

The factory closed down before French cement maker Lafarge merged with Switzerland’s Holcim in 2015.

The plant, located in northern Syria some 150 kilometres (95 miles) northeast of Aleppo, was finally evacuated in 2014.

Lafarge is suspected of sourcing oil locally to operate the factory in defiance of a 2012 EU ban on purchases of Syrian oil as part of a sanctions package targeting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

LafargeHolcim said Monday that the search for Olsen’s successor would begin “immediately.”

In the meantime, supervisory board chief Beat Hess would take over in the interim.