Latest Developments, May 29

In the latest news and analysis…

Off the radar
The BBC reports that the British military has been accused of “unlawful detention and internment” at a base in Afghanistan:

“UK lawyers acting for eight of the men said their clients had been held for up to 14 months without charge.

Phil Shiner, lawyer for eight of the men, said: ‘This is a secret facility that’s been used to unlawfully detain or intern up to 85 Afghans that they’ve kept secret, that Parliament doesn’t know about, that courts previously when they have interrogated issues like detention and internment in Afghanistan have never been told about – completely off the radar.’ ”

Total corruption
The Wall Street Journal reports that a French prosecutor has recommended that the CEO of oil giant Total and the company itself both stand trial on corruption charges:

“Under French law, magistrates can prosecute corporations, not just individuals.

In the mid-2000s, French prosecutors began looking into a series of possibly illegal payments Total made to Iranian officials allegedly to secure contracts. In 2007, a few months after he was appointed chief executive of Total, [CEO Christophe] de Margerie was questioned for 48 hours by French police investigating whether the company paid bribes to win contracts.”

Dear Dave
The Citizen reports that Tanzania’s shadow finance minister, Zitto Kabwe, has written a letter asking British Prime Minister David Cameron to do more to prevent the flow of wealth from poor countries to tax havens:

“ ‘I call on you to demonstrate your leadership at the (G8) Summit by putting in place aggressive sanctions against British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies which continue to provide cover for the siphoning of billions of dollars of our tax revenue,’ says Mr Kabwe in the letter he handed to the UK High Commissioner in Dar es Salaam on Monday.

He said aid by UK and other development partners is dwarfed when the amount that Tanzania loses every year to tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance is taken into account.
‘To a large extent, these tax evasions and avoidance are done by multinational corporations, most of them registered in the United Kingdom. This is a constant challenge for our country – a challenge that undermines the same foundations of accountability that we are striving to strengthen and uphold,’ he says.”

Bribery climbdown
The Financial Times reports that the UK is considering watering down its anti-bribery legislation, a move that would “undermine the government’s promises to clamp down on corruption”:

“The review will focus on so-called ‘facilitation payments’, according to a summary of a meeting held in March by the ‘Star Chamber’, a top-level group charged with cutting red tape across Whitehall.
Such payments involve officials being paid bribes to allow or speed up a service, such as a customs check or border crossing. They are illegal under the Bribery Act, and are the main difference between UK legislation and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

While the act gave the Serious Fraud Office sweeping powers to prosecute bribery anywhere in the world, as long as a company or its employees had a link to the UK, the only prosecutions so far have been of low-level civil servants.”

Involuntary migration
Columbia University’s Saskia Sassen argues that we should not call it migration when land grabs push people “off their land and into poverty”:

“When a foreign government acquires 2.8m hectares of land in Congo and another such tract in Zambia to grow palm for biofuels, it expels faunas and floras, and all other uses of that land. It creates a tabula rasa, where once there were smallholder economies generating livelihoods for local people. No matter how modest those livelihoods may have been, they made the local people productive and enabled them to govern their lives and lands.

In effect, expulsions are being rebranded as migrations, a phenomenon that will not cease anytime soon, given the ongoing search for land for crops, mining and water by governments and firms from a growing number of countries.
The generic term ‘migration’ tends to obscure the fact that our firms and government agencies, and those of our allies, may have contributed to expulsions.”

Financial secrets
Global Witness’s Gavin Hayman reminds readers that money laundering and financial secrecy are not strictly “offshore” activities:

“On the contrary, the United States, the United Kingdom, and other mainstream financial centers are at the heart of the action. Indeed, most of the shell companies implicated in the World Bank study were registered in the US. And British, American, and European banks are routinely reprimanded (but rarely prosecuted) for handling the proceeds of crime. Just last year, it was revealed that HSBC enabled Mexican drug cartels to launder hundreds of millions of dollars through the US financial system.

At this year’s meeting, G-8 leaders should develop an effective action plan that focuses on the causes, rather than the symptoms, of poverty, and that lays the groundwork for a system that protects citizens from the depredations of corruption and bad governance. A genuine commitment to increasing financial transparency would carry huge potential benefits for the world’s poorest people, while fostering more equitable economic growth worldwide.”

Sound and fury
The New York Times asks if the hour-long national security speech US President Barack Obama delivered last week will actually put an end to his administration’s human rights violations:

“For now, officials said, ‘signature strikes’ targeting groups of unidentified armed men presumed to be extremists will continue in the Pakistani tribal areas.
Even as he talked about transparency, he never uttered the word ‘C.I.A.’ or acknowledged he was redefining its role. He made no mention that a drone strike had killed an American teenager in error. While he pledged again to close the Guantánamo prison, he offered little reason to think he might be more successful this time.”

Elder’s warning
In an interview with Le Reporter, former Malian cabinet minister and author of Mali’s national anthem Seydou Badian Kouyaté warns against uncritically welcoming France’s military intervention against the West African country’s Islamist rebels:

“What’s behind all this? And we, naively, our usual trust caused us to raise the French flag in front of our houses, our shops and in the street. We sang the praises of [French President François] Holland. We named our babies the name Hollande, etc.

It’s about gold and oil and other things, with maybe a view to Algeria. That’s what the West wants.” [Translated from the French.]

Advertisements

Latest Developments, March 7

In the latest news and analysis…

Drone filibuster
The Washington Post reports that US Senator Rand Paul has ended a nearly 13-hour speech aimed at raising questions about American policy on extrajudicial killings:

“Paul said he was ‘alarmed’ by a lack of definition for who can be targeted by drone strikes. He suggested that many colleges in the 1960s were full of people who may have been considered enemies of the state.
‘Are you going to drop . . . a Hellfire missile on Jane Fonda?’ he asked at one point.
Repeatedly, Paul suggested that his cause was not partisan and not meant as a personal attack on the president — only on his drone policy.

‘I would be here if it were a Republican president doing this,’ Paul added. ‘Really, the great irony of this is that President Obama’s opinion on this is an extension of George Bush’s opinion.’ ”

New timetable
The BBC reports that France’s president, François Hollande, has said some of the 4,000 French troops currently in Mali will pull out next month:

“France had initially said that troop numbers would decrease from March if all went according to plan.
On Wednesday, Mr Hollande said that the ‘final phase’ of the French intervention ‘will last through March and from April there will be a decrease in the number of French soldiers in Mali as African forces will take over, supported by the Europeans’.”

See no evil
The Guardian reports on new evidence suggesting ex-CIA boss David Petraeus had extensive knowledge of torture being committed during his time as top commander in Iraq:

“[Special police commando] detention centres bought video cameras, funded by the US military, which they used to film detainees for the show [called ‘Terrorism In The Hands of Justice’]. When the show began to outrage the Iraqi public, [General Muntadher al-Samari] remembers being in the home of General Adnan Thabit – head of the special commandos – when a call came from Petraeus’s office demanding that they stop showing tortured men on TV.

Thabit is dismissive of the idea that the Americans he dealt with were unaware of what the commandos were doing. ‘Until I left, the Americans knew about everything I did; they knew what was going on in the interrogations and they knew the detainees. Even some of the intelligence about the detainees came to us from them – they are lying.’”

The grapes of graft
Reuters reports that an Italian vineyard may be key for an investigation into bribes allegedly paid by energy firm Eni to obtain oil and gas contracts in Algeria:

“[Farid Noureddine] Bedjaoui is suspected of channeling nearly 198 million euros in bribes to officials in Algeria via a company called Pearl Partners Limited for eight contracts totaling $11 billion awarded to [Eni subsidiary] Saipem, Europe’s biggest oil services company, between 2007-9, the warrant says.

The Feb 6 warrant alleges [Pietro Varone, former chief operating officer of Saipem’s engineering arm] recommended Pearl Partners to the Saipem board to advise on Saipem’s business activities in Algeria and the Middle East.
Varone was one of several senior managers at Saipem and Eni to resign in December as a result of the investigation. Eni and Saipem have denied wrongdoing.
Eni, Italy’s largest company in terms of market value, is the biggest foreign energy operator in Africa. It has operated in Algeria since 1981 and has extensive gas interests there.”

Fighting words
The Council of Canadians provides a transcript of comments made by a Greek mayor to the Canadian ambassador over a mining project planned by Vancouver-based Eldorado Gold:

“ ‘We have studies that establish the utter devastation and we don’t want to discuss it any further. We are tired. What we want from you is to leave us alone so that we can develop here our agriculture, our stock farming, our fishery, our tourism, our forests, so that we can manage, through what we know, to keep the purity of our country, to advance,’ [said Alexandroupolis mayor Evangelos Labakis].

“You will get the gold, the 450 tons and we will keep the cyanide? Why should we do that when we have the opportunity to develop and we will do it?’ ”

Mining’s shadow
An Ottawa Citizen editorial calls on Ottawa to hold to account Canadian mining companies that behave badly abroad:

“Canada has many reasons to take a lead role in addressing unethical and illegal behaviour of mining companies around the world. A compelling one is that Canada is a major player on the world stage and companies that get into trouble are, therefore, frequently Canadian.
And, although the mining industry and the federal government have both been behind a major push to encourage corporate social responsibility, the federal government must do more, especially now that the giant mining industry is also at the centre of a shift in Canadian foreign aid toward more partnerships with private companies operating overseas.
With so much riding on our mining industry, Canada must move to remove the shadow that bad corporate citizens cast on it.”

Dirty City
TrustLaw reports that Transparency International’s new UK head has said London is “a clearing house for international corruption”:

“[TI-UK’s Robert] Barrington was one of a group of experts who drafted the official guidance to the UK Bribery Act, Britain’s strict new anti-bribery law. Since the Act came into force in July 2011, it has generated just two prosecutions, both for relatively minor bribery offences.

One reason for the small number of prosecutions under the Bribery Act is that Britain’s main anti-corruption prosecutor, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), has had its funding slashed in the last five years, Barrington said.”

Sharing benefits
Intellectual Property Watch reports that one expert has described the Nagoya Protocol, a proposed UN text on cultural diversity and traditional knowledge, as a “masterpiece of erratic treaty drafting”:

“In correspondence with Intellectual Property Watch, [the University of Sienna’s Riccardo] Pavoni said: ‘The Nagoya Protocol is absolutely neutral in relation to the issue of patentability of genetic material. The principle of sovereign rights over genetic resources may only allow states to ban the exploration and/or exportation of genetic resources found in their territories, but may not prevent a company from seeking patent protection in its home state or in other countries where such patents are granted.’
The core issue, he said, ‘is that of securing that genetic material has been accessed pursuant to the prior informed consent of the source country and that some form of benefit-sharing has been agreed upon with the same country.’ ”