Posts Tagged ‘Switzerland’

Iran’s foreign minister: U.S. plan to stop Iran oil exports will fail

August 8, 2018

A U.S. plan to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero will not succeed, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was cited as saying by an Iranian newspaper on Wednesday.

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FILE PHOTO: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks to the media in Tbilisi, Georgia, April 18, 2017. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

U.S. officials have said in recent weeks that they aim to pressure countries to stop buying oil from Iran in a bid to force Tehran to halt its nuclear and missile programs and involvement in regional conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

“If the Americans want to keep this simplistic and impossible idea in their minds they should also know its consequences,” Zarif told the Iran newspaper.

“They can’t think that Iran won’t export oil and others will export.”

President Hassan Rouhani hinted last month that Iran could block the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route, if the U.S. attempted to stop the Islamic Republic’s oil exports.

U.S. President Donald Trump responded by noting that Iran could face serious consequences if it threatened the United States.

“The Americans have assembled a war room against Iran,” Zarif said. “We can’t get drawn into a confrontation with America by falling into this war room trap and playing on a battlefield.”

Last month, Trump offered to meet with Iran’s leaders. Zarif said that Oman and Switzerland have acted as mediators in talks with America in the past but that there are currently no direct or indirect talks being held with the United States.

Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky



Germany considers tough response to Spain migration ‘surge’

August 6, 2018

A German official has warned that Berlin may impose fresh controls on the borders with France and Switzerland. With a surge in migrant arrivals to Spain, Germany is hoping to avoid a repeat of the 2015 migration crisis.

Migrants walking to a Red Cross tent in Spain

German authorities are considering stronger controls along the French and Swiss borders, Helmut Teichmann, junior minister for migration at the Interior Ministry, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Teichmann said authorities are alarmed by the increased number of migrants arriving to Spain after Rome prevented boats carrying migrants to dock at Italian ports. Italy had become the main entry point to the EU for irregular migrants after the so-called Balkan route was closed in 2016.

“We fear that many migrants could make their way to France, the Benelux countries and Germany,” Teichmann said. He added that German authorities are ready to provide assistance to Spain to better handle a new wave of migration.


Spain has witnessed nearly 21,000 migrants arrive to its shores across the Mediterranean between January and July, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). On Saturday, the Spanish coast guard rescued 395 people from nine boats.

“As remarkable as Spain’s rise in irregular migration activity has been through 2018, even more important is its recent surge,” the IOM stated last week.

Read more: Is Spain facing a new wave of xenophobia?

“Over the year’s first five months, a total of 8,150 men, women and children were rescued in Spanish waters after leaving Africa — an average of 54 per day,” the IOM reported. “In the 55 days since May 31, a total of 12,842 have arrived — or just over 230 migrants per day.”

The increase coincides with warmer weather on the Mediterranean and the Italian government’s new policy targeting irregular migration.

In 2015, Germany allowed nearly 900,000 migrants to enter the country under Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy. Many of them were fleeing war and extreme poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

But Berlin is hoping to avoid a repeat. Over the past month, the Interior Ministry has established transfer centers at the Austrian border and “Anker” centers to hold and process asylum-seekers.

ls/jlw (AFP, Reuters)

Switzerland: WWII plane crash kills 20 during Swiss Alps tour

August 5, 2018

A vintage Ju-52 aircraft with 20 people aboard went down during a sightseeing flight in the Alps, Swiss officials said. Hours before the incident, a family of four was killed when their small plane crashed near Lucerne.

JU 52 flying over Oberschleissheim in Switzerland The Ju-52 was manufactured in Germany between 1931 and 1952

All 20 people abroad a German-made Ju-52 plane were killed when the WWII-era aircraft crashed in the Alps, Swiss authorities said on Sunday.

“The police have the sad certainty that the 20 people aboard perished,” police spokeswoman Anita Senti told a news conference.

The plane was built in 1939 and can carry up to 17 passengers and three crew members. It was flying a group of 17 Swiss nationals and a three-member family from Austria on a sightseeing tour for the company JU-AIR.

Police have confirmed the crash, saying in a tweet that it occurred on the western side of the mountain Piz Segna (top picture) at about 2,540 meters (8,333 feet) above sea level on Saturday. No reason for the crash has so far been given.

Five helicopters have been deployed for the rescue.

Read more: Crashed Swiss army jet found in Alps, pilot missing

On Sunday, Swiss officials said they were unaware that any distress call had been sent out from the plane, and said they expected the investigation into the cause to be “relatively complex.”

The plane appears to have hit the ground near-vertically and at “relatively high speed,” according to Daniel Knecht of the Swiss Transportation Safety Investigation Board. Knecht also said the 79-year-old plane was most likely not equipped with crash-resistant data recorders that more modern aircraft have.

The company JU-AIR has three of the vintage Juncker propeller aircraft, which are known affectionately in German as “Auntie Ju” planes. They were produced in Germany between 1932 and 1952, serving both as passenger and military planes.

A JU-AIR representative stated that the destroyed plane was maintained regularly and had no technical issues.

Each of the pilots flying it had over 30 years of experience in both the military and civilian sector. The company “still cannot explain” the incident, they said, pledging to support the official investigation. JU-AIR also suspended flights with the remaining two Ju-52s until further notice.


Ju-Air lost one of its historical planes. A Junkers JU-52 (HB-HOT) crashed when it impacted terrain near Flims, Piz Segnas, Switzerland. It is believed the 19 seater was fully booked on a sightseeing flight. Rescue operations are ongoing at present.

R. Brabi@RBrabi

Last Flight over Locarno, Friday 3. August, 08.16

View image on Twitter

Family killed

Earlier on Saturday, a small plane carrying a family of four, including two young children, crashed near the town of Hergiswil, some 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) south of Lucerne in central Switzerland.

Police said all onboard were killed in the crash. The plane had been headed to France.

Swiss media have been citing plane experts’ speculations that the current heat wave may have contributed to the crashes. The heat makes air thinner, increasing the burden on the aircraft.

tj,dj/jlw (dpa, AFP)

Switzerland investigates six for suspected bribery of foreign officials in 1MDB probe

July 10, 2018

Switzerland is investigating six people on suspicion of bribing foreign officials and other offences, as part of a money laundering investigation into Malaysian state fund 1MDB, the Swiss attorney general’s office said on Tuesday.

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FILE PHOTO – Men walk past a 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) billboard at the fund’s flagship Tun Razak Exchange development in Kuala Lumpur March 1, 2015. REUTERS/Olivia Harris/File Photo

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is not one of the “public officials under accusation”, the statement said.

The six under investigation are two former officials from 1MDB, two former officials from Abu Dhabi sovereign funds and two officials of Saudi energy group Petrosaudi.

The statement was issued after Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber met with his Malaysian counterpart Tommy Thomas in Kuala Lumpur.

Reporting by Rozanna Latiff, A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Neil Fullick

Israel court gives brief reprieve to threatened Bedouin village: lawyer

July 6, 2018

Israel’s Supreme Court has temporarily blocked the demolition of a Palestinian Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank, a lawyer for residents said Friday, following growing international concerns over the move.

The temporary injunction issued on Thursday night stops the Israeli authorities razing Khan al-Ahmar until at least July 11 to give the state time to respond, attorney Shlomo Lecker told AFP.

It follows a new petition by residents who submitted a planning application to rebuild the village at its present location.

Israeli police grapple with Palestinians resisting the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar on Wednesday (Reuters)

There has been strong international pressure on Israel to reverse its plans to raze Khan al-Ahmar, which the Israeli authorities say was built illegally. In May the Supreme Court rejected a final appeal against its demolition.

Activists say the villagers had little alternative but to build without Israeli construction permits that are almost never issued to Palestinians in the parts of the West Bank where Israel has full control over civilian affairs.

Israeli rights activist Angela Godfrey-Goldstein said she believed that diplomatic pressure played a role in the stay of execution.

Image result for Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, Israel, photos

Angela Godfrey-Goldstein

Diplomats from Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the European Union tried Thursday to visit the school at Khan al-Ahmar, which is funded by several European countries, but they were turned back at the village entrance.

The Consul General of France in Jerusalem, Pierre Cochard, told journalists at the scene that demolishing the village of 173 residents would be a violation of the Geneva convention which lays out the obligations of an occupying power toward those under its control.

It would also significantly complicate the search for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he added.

Police said the area had been declared a closed military zone.

The army had said on Thursday that the process of enforcing eviction and demolition orders was under way, but did give a date when the buildings would be razed.

The UN’s humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, Jamie McGoldrick, has condemned the move.

“These demolitions are particularly outrageous because they target communities who already live in extremely difficult conditions, with high levels of humanitarian needs,” he said in a statement on Thursday.

Khan al-Ahmar is located near several major Israeli settlements and close to a highway leading to the Dead Sea.

It is made up mainly of makeshift structures of tin and wood, as is generally the case with Bedouin villages in the region.

Activists are concerned that continued Israeli settlement construction in the area could effectively divide the West Bank in two.


See also:

Khan al-Ahmar: Protests and condemnation as Israel moves to demolish Bedouin village

Israel blocks EU envoys’ visit to school in threatened Bedouin village

July 5, 2018

European diplomats on Thursday tried to pay a solidarity visit to a West Bank village under threat of demolition by Israel but police barred them from reaching a school there.

Diplomats from Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the European Union sought to visit the school in the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar which is funded by several European countries, but they were turned back at the village entrance.

Police at the scene said the area had been declared a closed military zone.

© AFP | European diplomats are blocked by Israeli police as they try to visit the West Bank village of Khan al-Ahmar on July 5, 2018

“We were briefed by local leaders but refused access by security forces to the school,” the Irish representative office to the West Bank wrote on its official Twitter feed.

“We wanted to show our solidarity with this village which is threatened with destruction, for humanitarian reasons and because it is a major issue of international law,” the Consul General of France in Jerusalem, Pierre Cochard, told journalists at the scene.

He said that demolishing the village of 173 residents, east of Jerusalem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, would be a violation of the Geneva convention laying out the obligations of an occupier toward those under its control.

It would also significantly complicate the search for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he added.

Israeli authorities say the village and its school were built illegally, and in May the Supreme Court rejected a final appeal against its demolition.

But activists say the villagers had little alternative but to build without Israeli construction permits, as the documents are almost never issued to Palestinians for building in parts of the West Bank, such as Khan al-Ahmar, where Israel has full control over civilian affairs.

On Tuesday, activists said, Israel issued orders authorising the seizure of access roads to the village.

Heavy equipment has since been seen there, feeding speculation a road was being prepared to facilitate its evacuation and demolition and sparking scuffles between Israeli police and protesters.

Israel authorities say they have offered villagers an alternative site.

The village is made up mainly of makeshift structures of tin and wood, as is traditionally the case with Bedouin villages.

It is not known when the demolition will take place, but on Thursday bulldozers could be seen widening the access road to the village.

Activists expect the demolition to happen within the next few days.

Dozens of journalists and activists stood at the edge of the village on Thursday.

“What the Israeli authorities are doing is a population transfer contrary to the Rome and Geneva conventions,” Palestinian lawyer Munji Abdallah, 50, told AFP.

Khan al-Ahmar is located near several major Israeli settlements and close to a highway leading to the Dead Sea.

Activists are concerned that continued Israeli settlement construction in the area could effectively divide the West Bank in two.



Switzerland looks to liberalise cryptocurrency banking access

July 2, 2018

Traditional banks have refused to operate accounts for the country’s ‘crypto valley’ start-ups

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By Ralph Atkins in Zurich

Switzerland’s fast-growing cryptocurrency industry could have full access to conventional banking services by the end of the year, removing one of the restrictions to future growth, a top Swiss policymaker has said.

Traditional banks have so far largely refused to operate accounts for the country’s “crypto valley” start-ups, citing tough anti-money laundering and other rules on managing clients. The new companies, largely clustered around Zug, a small lakeside town near Zurich, have instead turned to banks in Liechtenstein and elsewhere for banking services.

Heinz Tännler, finance director of Zug canton, said he expected Swiss politicians and regulators to remove obstacles in coming months, allowing crypto companies to operate with banks in the same way as other companies.

“We hope to clarify relationships by the end of the year at the latest,” he told the Financial Times. “Time is pressing — other jurisdictions such as Malta and Singapore are very active and making a lot of effort to attract these companies. The lack of access to bank services is a significant competitive disadvantage.”

Switzerland’s central bank, financial supervisor and federal government “are willing to help”, Mr Tännler added. “We have to push certain national institutions to resolve this problem quickly and effectively, but that now seems to be going well.”

Despite scepticism among regulators globally about cryptocurrencies, Switzerland has sought to steal a lead in the emerging financial products. Earlier this year, Johann Schneider-Ammann, economics minister, said Switzerland wanted to become the “crypto nation”.

The affluent Alpine country last year ranked second after the US in funds generated from “initial coin offerings” — when start-ups sell tokens or coins — to investors. Zug is home to about 200 blockchain-based companies.

However, the lack of access to normal banking services has become a worry. “You can do a lot with crypto — but you can’t pay rents and salaries,” said Alain Kunz, chief executive of Coinlab Capital, a Swiss start-up offering blockchain asset management services.

“On one hand, the government declares Switzerland a crypto nation and wants to become a business hub for blockchain technology. On the other hand, the banks make life difficult for the blockchain and crypto start-ups to obtain banking relationships — essentially killing the emerging businesses.”

Crypto Valley companies have started to take their own measures to resolve the problem by moving into financial services themselves, Mr Kunz said. Coinlab Capital had agreed a partnership with TokenPay, a blockchain-based payment platform registered in the British Virgin Islands which has banking operations. Under the deal, Coinlab Capital will become TokenPay’s asset management arm.

Mr Tännler described Zug as an “exceptionally economically-liberal” canton. “Of course, rules on money laundering and other rules must be adhered to by blockchain companies. I can understand that banks are careful with respect to ‘know your client’ and anti-money laundering. But experts reckon the danger of money laundering is lower than in other sectors of the finance industry.”

“Companies active in the blockchain area should receive banking services just like any other company. That way they will be stopped from choosing other domiciles — in countries where access is easier, such as Liechtenstein.”

India joins fightback against US steel tariffs

June 21, 2018
New Delhi to raise duties on chickpeas and lentils, but backs down on big motorbikes
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India exports about $1.5bn of steel and aluminium to the US a year © Bloomberg

By Kiran Stacey in New Delhi 

India became the latest country to raise tariffs on imports from the US, targeting $240m worth of American goods in retaliation to President Donald Trump’s decision to raise duties on steel and aluminium imports.

New Delhi issued a notice on Thursday saying it would increase duties on a range of items, including chickpeas, walnuts, almonds and lentils. But ministers backed down from an earlier plan to raise the levy on larger motorcycles, which would have hit Harley-Davidson — a company Mr Trump says has been “ripped off” by Indian trade rules.

The new tariffs will take effect from August 4.

Mr Trump announced in March he would impose a 25 per cent tariff on steel imports and a 10 per cent tariff on aluminium.

The metals tariffs have already invited promises of retaliation from a wide range of US trading partners from Canada and China to the EU, which said it would slap 25 per cent tariffs on dozens of US products from orange juice to pleasure boats.

The conflict over steel and aluminium also comes alongside threats of a broader trade war. The US will on July 6 begin imposing tariffs on up to $50bn in Chinese imports in what the White House says is retaliation for years of state-backed intellectual property theft by Chinese companies.

After China said it would retaliate against the IP tariffs, Mr Trump ordered his administration to draft a list of tariffs on a further $200bn of Chinese imports to take effect unless Beijing abandoned its plans to fight back.

India exports only about $1.5bn of steel and aluminium to the US each year. But officials in New Delhi are worried that Washington might also increase tariffs on items such as pharmaceuticals, which are a bigger source of revenue for India.

The Indian government has joined other governments in filing a complaint against the US at the World Trade Organization, but Washington responded by filing its own complaint about Indian export subsidies.

The issue has caused the biggest rift in the otherwise warm relationship between Mr Trump and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. India had hoped to be granted an exemption from the higher US steel and aluminium tariffs on the basis of the “strategic partnership” between the two, but was refused.

US-China in a ‘rapidly escalating trade war’

Last week Mr Trump specifically named India in his complaints about trade terms, accusing the country of charging 100 per cent tariffs on some US goods. “We’re like the piggy bank that everybody is robbing,” he said.

Washington also wants New Delhi to remove price caps on medical equipment and allow dairy items to be imported from the US. It has also added India to a “watch list” of countries with potentially questionable foreign exchange policies, alongside China, Japan, Germany, South Korea and Switzerland.

Both sides, however, are hoping that these issues can be resolved through negotiation before the new Indian duties take effect. Mark Linscott, an assistant US trade representative, is due to visit India next week to begin what officials say will be a series of talks.

Declassified Report on Malaysia’s 1MDB Shows Funding Anomalies

May 16, 2018
Report does not mention former premier Najib Razak by name — New premier Mahathir says enough evidence to reopen 1MDB probe
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A newly-declassified report on scandal-plagued Malaysia state fund 1MDB shows investigators expressed widespread concern about anomalies in its accounts, as Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad accelerates efforts to reopen probes into the company and the actions of his predecessor.

While there were no massive surprises in the summary of the Auditor General’s report, and it did not mention former premier Najib Razak by name, the audit said 1MDB officers took investment actions against or without full knowledge of the board of directors on several occasions, while giving inaccurate or conflicting information to stakeholders.

1MDB, set up in 2009 to fund domestic infrastructure projects and whose advisory board Najib once chaired, didn’t submit management accounts for the year ended March 2015 and bank statements from foreign financial institutions. The audit team said it couldn’t access computers, notebooks and servers at 1MDB for the purpose of crosschecking and analyzing its findings.

“Overall, corporate governance and internal controls in 1MDB were less than satisfactory,” the summary said. “Some actions by 1MDB’s management and decisions by the board of directors were carried out in a manner that wasn’t proper.”

Singapore Crime Busters Tackle 1MDB to Penny Stocks: QuickTake

The audit report on 1MDB had been protected since 2016 by the Official Secrets Act. Mahathir’s move to release it comes as he seeks to tighten the net around Najib, whom he defeated in an election last week, and other officials over the multi-billion dollar scandal surrounding the fund’s actions dating back some years. Mahathir has barred Najib from leaving Malaysia in the meantime.

“By declassifying the file, Dr Mahathir is showing Malaysia and the world that he means business and is very serious in getting to the bottom of 1MDB,” says Ahmad Martadha Mohamed, an associate professor at Universiti Utara Malaysia. “The timing is a little surprising, rather fast as it’s done before even the nominations for a new cabinet is complete. The executive summary shows what transpired and confirms certain suspicions there were some shady investments made.”

Mahathir, who was once Najib’s mentor and ally and who is back in power after a prior stint as premier from 1981 to 2003, accused him repeatedly on the campaign trail of being a “thief” over alleged graft at 1MDB. Najib has denied any wrongdoing and was cleared by the attorney general at the time, while the fund has consistently denied any misconduct.

The 1MDB sandal spawned global probes as investigators tracked a money trail stretching from Switzerland to Singapore and the U.S. The Department of Justice alleges that $3.5 billion from the fund went missing.

Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho has been ordered by a U.S. court to turn over his $250 million yacht “Equanimity” to the U.S. authorities who plan to sail it from Indonesia and sell it in the U.S. The yacht is among more than $1.5 billion in assets that the U.S. claims Low and his accomplices acquired with money they siphoned from 1MDB.

Image result for yacht Equanimity, photos

yacht “Equanimity”

Debt Payments

The declassified report found, among others things, that 1MDB used 288 million ringgit ($73 million) of government funds to pay interest on its debt, which went against the monies’ original purpose. 1MDB raised 3.98 billion ringgit from domestic debt and sukuk issuance, of which only 246 million ringgit was invested in two property projects, while 2.16 billion ringgit was advanced to the company. 1MDB said in March all its funds are fully accounted for.

Swiss prosecutors said Tuesday they wanted to start talks with investigators in Malaysia as soon as possible to better coordinate various criminal probes into the sprawling case.

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland “is very much interested in renewing dialogue with the competent authorities in Malaysia” and “favors an exchange between partnering authorities at their earliest convenience,” it said in an email.

Singapore authorities also weighed in. The city-state has cooperated extensively with their Malaysian counterparts on past requests on the matter and is ready to extend further assistance, the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Commercial Affairs Department said in an email early Wednesday.

Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber has been publicly critical of the lack of cooperation his team of prosecutors got from Najib’s government. Singapore has punished banks over lapses related to 1MDB, seized assets and jailed bankers over the scandal.

— With assistance by Yudith Ho, and Hugo Miller


Former Catalan MP to spurn Spain court summons in Switzerland

February 20, 2018


MADRID (Reuters) – A former member of Catalonia’s parliament who fled to Switzerland after Madrid blocked the region’s bid to separate from Spain says she will not attend a Spanish court summons over her alleged role in a declaration of independence last year.

Anna Gabriel, a member of the far-left Catalan party CUP, told the Swiss newspaper Le Temps that she planned to stay in Switzerland and would not travel to Madrid to face Supreme Court charges which include rebellion and sedition.

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Anna Gabriel

“Since I will not have a fair trial at home, I have looked for a country that can protect my rights,” Gabriel told the newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday. CUP confirmed her comments.

She is due to appear before the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

No one at the court was available for comment on what the consequences might be if she failed to show up.

Several prominent members of the former Catalan government have been arrested and released on bail or are awaiting trial on remand after organizing an independence referendum Oct. 1 and later making a unilateral declaration of independence.

A court ruled that the attempt by the wealthy northeastern region to split from Spain was unconstitutional, prompting Madrid to dismiss the Catalan government and take control before calling a new regional election.

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont fled the country shortly after the independence declaration and remains in self-imposed exile in Brussels with four members of his previous cabinet. All face similar charges as Gabriel for their part in the independence push.

Three Catalan independence leaders — currently on remand after bail applications were denied — have lodged a complaint with the United Nations against their detention.

The Catalan independence drive has taken Spain to the brink of its worst political crisis since the transition to democracy in the mid-1970s and has prompted thousands of companies based in region to relocate to avoid potential fallout.

Following the regional election in December, pro-independence parties continued to hold a narrow majority in the Catalan parliament, though attempts to reinstate Puigdemont as head while residing abroad have failed.

The central government plans to remain in control of the region until parties can decide on a government.

Reporting by Paul Day and Raquel Castillo, additional reporting by Tom Miles in Switzerland, Editing by Angus MacSwan