Wednesday, 1 May 2013
REYKJAVIK, Iceland -- Iceland, a nation of seafarers, has been stormed by pirates.
They won't be forming the government, but online freedom advocates the Pirate Party were still big winners in the country's election.
The party, just a few months old, took 5.1 percent of the vote in Saturday's poll, gaining three of the 63 seats in Iceland's parliament, the Althingi.
It is the biggest electoral trophy yet for a movement founded seven years ago in Sweden by a group of rebellious file-sharing geeks and hackers who scoffed at copyright laws.
Now, its Icelandic leader says, the party is "the political arm of the information revolution," dedicated to freedom of expression and political transparency, online and off.
Birgitta Jonsdottir, the most senior of Iceland's three victorious Pirate lawmakers, argues that political and legal structures around the world have not kept pace with the technological change that has transformed the way we live. She compares it to new software that can't run on an old computer.
"We feel that most people, not only in Iceland but all over the world, feel that the institutions that are set up no longer function for us," she said.
"We need to create a new mainframe, a new hardware for this stuff."
The Pirate Party was founded in Sweden in 2006, its name a taunt to the anti-piracy activities of copyright-holders, its logo a buccaneering black flag.
It has spread to countries including the United States, but has had its greatest electoral success in northern Europe.
Sweden has elected two Pirate members to the European Parliament, and last year a Pirate candidate was elected to the Czech Republic's upper house, the Senate. There are several dozen Pirate deputies at state level in Germany, and the party could gain national seats there in September's election.
The Icelandic party was founded late last year, but the volcanic North Atlantic nation - population 320,000 - has a long history as a bastion of technological and political experimentation. Physically isolated near the Arctic Circle, it is one of the world's most wired countries and has been a hub for the online secret-spilling group WikiLeaks. Jonsdottir has worked with WikiLeaks in the past.
In 2011 the country announced it would crowd-source a new constitution, allowing Icelanders through Facebook and other online platforms to submit ideas directly to, and debate with, an elected committee set up to draft the new document.
For some Icelanders, the Pirates made an appealing party of protest. Five years after its debt-swollen banks collapsed during the global credit crisis, the country still faces high inflation, capital controls and a deflated currency, while many Icelanders are still struggling to pay off mortgage debts made bigger by the crisis.
The main contenders in Saturday's election were the center-right parties that led Iceland into the crash and the left-wing coalition that has been implementing painful austerity measures ever since.
"The Pirates have a cool factor," said travel agent Hilmar Einarsson. "They are not typical politicians, but represent ordinary Icelanders. We want our country back, and they understand that more than any other party here in Iceland."
Others found the party's success mystifying.
"It was primarily a shock because their extreme view is considered by most (as) only appealing to punks still stuck in the '80s," said entertainment consultant Daddi Gudbergsson.
Tuesday, 30 April 2013
Welcome to the DIRHA EU project! The DIRHA project addresses the development of voice-enabled automated home environments based on distant-speech interaction in different languages. A distributed microphone network is installed in the rooms of a house in order to monitor selectively acoustic and speech activities observable inside any space, and to eventually run a spoken dialogue session with a given user in order to implement a service or to have access to appliances and other devices. The multi-microphone front-end is based on the use of arrays consisting of analog microphones or Micro Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) digital microphones. The targeted system analyses the given multi-space acoustic scene in a coherent way, by processing in a parallelized fashion simultaneous activities which occur in different rooms, and in case by supporting at the same time the interaction with users who may speak in different areas of the house. These very challenging objectives require advances in different scientific and technical fields. In fact, based on the given network of microphone arrays, multi-microphone front-end processing includes, among the others, tasks as speaker localizati
John Pilger on Margaret Thatcher – “he reminds us there has been a coup in Britain” by The Stringer April 28th, 2013
John Pilger is one of the world’s most prominent journalists, an author, a filmmaker with a litany of documentaries and someone whose fortitude has made a difference to the public record and the public interest.
“It is not enough for journalists to see themselves as mere messengers without understanding the hidden agendas of the message and myths that surround it,” said John Pilger.
In 1979, John Pilger, filmmaker David Munro and photographer Eric Piper entered Cambodia in the wake of the push of the Pol Pot regime out of the capital and into the western border jungles. They brought out a number of world exclusives. The first exclusive took up most of the UK’s Daily Mirror, which sold out. Pilger, Munro and Piper produced an ITV documentary, Year Zero: the Silent Death of Cambodia, which took the genocide in Cambodia to the living rooms of Britain, then Western Europe and then the rest of the world.
The witness of the suffering of the Cambodian (Khmer) people led many within the British public to donate some $45 million. This was unsolicited - Year Zero: the Silent Death of Cambodia had touched the hearts and souls and the consciousness of the people.
These financial donations funded the first substantial relief to Cambodia, including life saving antibiotics such as penicillin.
Pilger and Munro would make a further four films about Cambodia. During the filming of Cambodia Year One the Khmer Rouge had put John Pilger on a ‘death list.’
John Pilger himself described the British reaction to Year Zero: the Silent Death of Cambodia (New Statesman, September 11, 2006):
“Year Zero not only revealed the horror of the Pol Pot years, it showed how Richard Nixon’s and Henry Kissinger’s secret bombing of that country had provided a critical catalyst for the rise of the Khmer Rouge. It also exposed how the West, led by the United States and Britain, was imposing an embargo, like a medieval siege, on the most stricken country on earth. This was a reaction to the fact that Cambodia’s liberator was Vietnam – a country that had come from the side of the Cold War and that had recently defeated the US. Cambodia’s suffering was a wilful revenge. Britain and the US even backed Pol Pot’s demand that his man continue to occupy Cambodia’s seat at the UN, while Margaret Thatcher stopped children’s milk going to the survivors of his nightmare regime. Little of this was reported. Had Year Zero simply described the monster that Pol Pot was, it would have been quickly forgotten. By reporting the collusion of ‘our’ governments, it told a wider truth about how the world was run… Within two days of Year Zero going to air, 40 sacks of post arrived at ATV… in Birmingham – 26,000 first-class letters in the first post alone. The station quickly amassed one million (British) pounds, almost all of it in small amounts. ‘This is for Cambodia,’ wrote a Bristol bus driver, enclosing his week’s wage. Entire pensions were sent, along with entire savings. Petitions arrived at Downing Street, one after the other, for weeks MPs received hundreds of thousands of letters, demanding that British policy change (which did, eventually). And none of it was asked for… I learned that a documentary could reclaim shared historical and political memories, and present their hidden truths. The reward then was a compassionate and informed public, and it still is.”
By John Pilger - In the wake of Thatcher’s departure, I remember her victims. Patrick Warby’s daughter, Marie, was one of them. Marie, aged five, suffered from a bowel deformity and needed a special diet. Without it, the pain was excruciating. Her father was a Durham miner and had used all his savings. It was winter 1985, the Great Strike was almost a year old and the family was destitute. Although her eligibility was not disputed, Marie was denied help by the Department of Social Security. Later, I obtained records of the case that showed Marie had been turned down because her father was “affected by a Trade dispute”.
The corruption and inhumanity under Thatcher knew no borders. When she came to power in 1979, Thatcher demanded a total ban on exports of milk to Vietnam. The American invasion had left a third of Vietnamese children malnourished. I witnessed many distressing sights, including infants going blind from a lack of vitamins. “I cannot tolerate this,” said an anguished doctor in a Saigon paediatric hospital, as we looked at a dying boy. Oxfam and Save the Children had made clear to the British government the gravity of the emergency. An embargo led by the US had forced up the local price of a kilo of milk up to ten times that of a kilo of meat. Many children could have been restored with milk. Thatcher’s ban held.
In neighbouring Cambodia, Thatcher left a trail of blood, secretly. In 1980, she demanded that the defunct Pol Pot regime – the killers of 1.7 million people – retain its “right” to represent their victims at the UN. Her policy was vengeance on Cambodia’s liberator, Vietnam. The British representative was instructed to vote with Pol Pot at the World Health Organisation, thereby preventing it from providing help to where it was needed more than anywhere on earth.
To conceal this outrage, the US, Britain and China, Pol Pot’s main backer, invented a “resistance coalition” dominated by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge forces and supplied by the CIA at bases along the Thai border. There was a hitch. In the wake of the Irangate arms-for-hostages debacle, the US Congress had banned clandestine foreign adventures. “In one of those deals the two of them liked to make,” a senior Whitehall official told the Sunday Telegraph, “President Reagan put it to Thatcher that the SAS should take over the Cambodia show. She readily agreed.”
In 1983, Thatcher sent the SAS to train the “coalition” in its own distinctive brand of terrorism. Seven-man SAS teams arrived from Hong Kong, and British soldiers set about training “resistance fighters” in laying minefields in a country devastated by genocide and the world’s highest rate of death and injury as a result of landmines.
I reported this at the time, and more than 16,000 people wrote to Thatcher in protest. “I confirm,” she replied to opposition leader Neil Kinnock, “that there is no British government involvement of any kind in training, equipping or co-operating with the Khmer Rouge or those allied to them.” The lie was breathtaking. In 1991, the government of John Major admitted to parliament that the SAS had indeed trained the “coalition”. “We liked the British,” a Khmer Rouge fighter later told me. “They were very good at teaching us to set booby traps. Unsuspecting people, like children in paddy fields, were the main victims.”
When the journalists and producers of ITV’s landmark documentary, Death on the Rock, exposed how the SAS had run Thatcher’s other death squads in Ireland and Gibraltar, they were hounded by Rupert Murdoch’s “journalists”, then cowering behind the razor wire at Wapping. Although exonerated, Thames TV lost its ITV franchise.
In 1982, the Argentine cruiser, General Belgrano, was steaming outside the Falklands exclusion zone. The ship offered no threat, yet Thatcher gave orders for it to be sunk. Her victims were 323 sailors, including conscripted teenagers. The crime had a certain logic. Among Thatcher’s closest allies were mass murderers – Pinochet in Chile, Suharto in Indonesia, responsible for “many more than one million deaths” (Amnesty International). Although the British state had long armed the world’s leading tyrannies, it was Thatcher who brought a crusading zeal to the deals, talking up the finer points of fighter aircraft engines, hard-bargaining with bribe-demanding Saudi princes. I filmed her at an arms fair, stroking a gleaming missile. “I’ll have one of those!” she said.
In his arms-to-Iraq enquiry, Lord Richard Scott heard evidence that an entire tier of the Thatcher government, from senior civil servants to ministers, had lied and broken the law in selling weapons to Saddam Hussein. These were her “boys”. Thumb through old copies of the Baghdad Observer, and there are pictures of her boys, mostly cabinet ministers, on the front page sitting with Saddam on his famous white couch. There is Douglas Hurd and there is a grinning David Mellor, also of the Foreign Office, around the time his host was ordering the gassing of 5,000 Kurds. Following this atrocity, the Thatcher government doubled trade credits to Saddam.
Perhaps it is too easy to dance on her grave. Her funeral was a propaganda stunt, fit for a dictator: an absurd show of militarism, as if a coup had taken place. And it has. “Her real triumph”, said another of her boys, Geoffrey Howe, a Thatcher minister, “was to have transformed not just one party but two, so that when Labour did eventually return, the great bulk of Thatcherism was accepted as irreversible.”
In 1997, Thatcher was the first former prime minister to visit Tony Blair after he entered Downing Street. There is a photo of them, joined in rictus: the budding war criminal with his mentor. When Ed Milliband, in his unctuous “tribute”, caricatured Thatcher as a “brave” feminist hero whose achievements he personally “honoured”, you knew the old killer had not died at all.
An edited version of this article originally appeared in the New Statesman
India’s population is now 1.21 billion
New Delhi, Apr 30: India’s total population stands at 1.21 billion, which is 17.7 per cent more than the last decade, and growth of females was higher than that of males.
According to the final census released by Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde today, India’s total population as on March 1, 2011 is 1,210,726,932 or 1.21 billion — an increase of 181.96 million persons in absolute number of population during 2001-11.
There was an increase of 90.97 million males and increase of 90.99 million females.
The growth rate of females was 18.3 per cent which is higher than males — 17.1 per cent.
India’s population grew by 17.7 per cent during 2001-11, against 21.5 per cent in the previous decade. Among the major states, highest decadal growth in population has been recorded in Bihar (25.4 per cent) while 14 states and Union Territories have recorded population growth above 20 per cent.
Altogether, 833.5 million persons live in rural areas as per Census 2011, which was more than two-third of the total population, while 377.1 million persons live in urban areas.
1-May-2013 / 01:38 AM / Agencies / 0 Comments
2 months time set for biometrics enrolment
Source: The Sangai Express
Imphal, April 30 2013: A high level official meeting presided by Chief Minister O Ibobi today decided to complete the work of biometrics enrolment within two months which would be taken up under the National Population Register.
The meeting was convened following strong instructions from the Centre regarding the biometrics enrolment programme.
The meeting was attended by Deputy Chief Minister, Ministers, Chief Secretary, Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Census Director, Deputy Commissioners and officials of MANITRON and In-Media, an agency.
Speaking to media persons after the meeting, Government spokesman M Okendro stated that the meeting decided to complete the biometrics enrolment work by June 30 .
To ensure that biometrics enrolment work is completed within the said deadline, Ministers, MLAs and public representatives would cooperate fully with the officials concerned.
After collecting biometrics data such as iris image, fingerprints and photographs, each and every citizen would be given an unique identification (Aadhar) number.
This Aadhar number would be made a compulsory requirement while opening accounts in banks or post offices.
The same number would be put into use while selecting beneficiaries of schemes sponsored by the Centre or State Government, Okendro stated.
After collecting all the data by June 30, the data compilation portion would be completed by July 31.From August 1, only those who have been allotted Aadhar numbers would be made eligible for such schemes like MGNREGS, IAY, old age pension etc.
In-Media would do the biometrics enrolment work in Ukhrul, Bishnupur, Senpati and Thoubal while MANITRON would be assigned to Imphal West, Imphal East, Chandel, Tamenglong and Churachandpur.
Okendro appealed to all the people to come out and participate in the biometrics enrolment work in accordance to the schedule which would be worked out by Deputy Commissioners.
To a query, the Minister claimed that biometrics data collection has been completed up to 35 per cent so far.
He also admitted that the project is going slow in Ukhrul and Senapati.
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RELATED NEWS :: Naga Peace Process : Indo-Naga Talk 2012/2013Muivah in Hebron, NSCN refutes reports- 27 Apr '13 Truce with 'K' to be extended; with 'IM' still unknown- 25 Apr '13 IM leaders hopeful of early settlement- 21 Apr '13 We are hopeful of settlement, but hard to say when: Muivah- 21 Apr '13 UNC visits Ukhrul in second leg of Naga areas tour- 20 Apr '13 AA demand - 17 Apr '13 UNC submits memo to President - 17 Apr '13 Swu, Muivah still stuck at Hebron- 09 Apr '13 Naga reconciliation movement on right track, says FNR- 09 Apr '13 UNC kicks off political tour in Naga areas- 08 Apr '13 Swu explains changing approaches of NSCN-IM- 22 Mar '13 Read the whole Timeline on Naga Peace Process 2012/2013
E-PAO! IMPORTANT TIMELINESMomoko humiliating treatment 2012 Naga Peace Process : Indo-Naga Talk 2012/2013 Demand for implementation of ILP The Killing Fields 2008/2009/2010/2011/2012/2013 Timeline for Irom Sharmila agitation to repeal AFSPA - 2006-2013 Naga's 'Alternative Arrangement' :: 2011/2012 Murder of Richard Loitam 10th Manipur Legislative Assembly Election 2012 Bomb Blast at Sangakpham, Manipur :: 01 August 2011 Sadar Hills' Demand for a full-fledged revenue district :: 2011 Naga Peoples' Front(NPF) Formation in Manipur :: 2011 Arrest of UNLF chairman RK Meghen alias Sanayaima :: 2010 Autonomous District Councils (ADC) Election in Hill Districts :: 2010 NSCN-IM Leader Thuingaleng Muivah's visit to Manipur :: 2010 BT Road Shoot-Out - July 23 2009 Killing of Dr Thingnam Kishan - 2009 Siroy Stand off between AR and NSCN(IM) - 2009 Manipur University's Reservation issue - 2008 Doping Charge against Laishram Monika - 2008 Missing / Kidnapping of Kids in Manipur - 2008 Migrant Workers Killing - 2008 October bloody October (Killing Fields) - 2007 Timeline for Bird Flu - 2007 Timeline for Moreh Killings - 2007 Timeline for Murder of Hriini Hubert and Muheni Martin - 2007 Timeline for 9th Assembly Election - 2007 Timeline for Affiliation to NBSE - 2006 - 2007 Timeline for Bomb Blast at ISKCON Complex - 2006 Timeline for Arrest of Maibam Naobi Chanu - 2006 Timeline for Manipur's Integrity Issue - 2005 Timeline Of Thangjam Manorama's killing Timeline Of 14th Lok Sabha elections Timeline Of Lungnila Elizabeth Kipnapping Timeline Of Latest Manipur Integrity Issue - 2003 Timeline Of Manipur Assembly Monsoon Session 2003 Timeline Of Abduction Of German National - Wolfgang Timeline Of Fifth Session Of The 8th Manipur State Assembly Timeline Of The NSCN(ImM) Talks With The Indian Govt. Timeline Of Highway 39 Security Timeline Of Flood In Manipur 2002 8th Assembly Manipur Election 2002 - Timeline Upendra Commission :: 2001/2002 - Timeline June 18 Uprising :: 2001 - Timeline
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Sunday, 28 April 2013
Dozens of journalists sifted through millions of leaked records and thousands of names to produce ICIJ’s investigation into offshore secrecy
A cache of 2.5 million files has cracked open the secrets of more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts, exposing hidden dealings of politicians, con men and the mega-rich the world over.
The secret records obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists lay bare the names behind covert companies and private trusts in the British Virgin Islands, the Cook Islands and other offshore hideaways.
They include American doctors and dentists and middle-class Greek villagers as well as families and associates of long-time despots, Wall Street swindlers, Eastern European and Indonesian billionaires, Russian corporate executives, international arms dealers and a sham-director-fronted company that the European Union has labeled as a cog in Iran’s nuclear-development program.
The leaked files provide facts and figures — cash transfers, incorporation dates, links between companies and individuals — that illustrate how offshore financial secrecy has spread aggressively around the globe, allowing the wealthy and the well-connected to dodge taxes and fueling corruption and economic woes in rich and poor nations alike.
The records detail the offshore holdings of people and companies in more than 170 countries and territories.
The hoard of documents represents the biggest stockpile of inside information about the offshore system ever obtained by a media organization. The total size of the files, measured in gigabytes, is more than 160 times larger than the leak of U.S. State Department documents by Wikileaks in 2010.
To analyze the documents, ICIJ collaborated with reporters from The Guardian and the BBC in the U.K., Le Monde in France, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Norddeutscher Rundfunk in Germany, The Washington Post, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and 31 other media partners around the world.
Eighty-six journalists from 46 countries used high-tech data crunching and shoe-leather reporting to sift through emails, account ledgers and other files covering nearly 30 years.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. This secret world has finally been revealed,” said Arthur Cockfield, a law professor and tax expert at Queen’s University in Canada, who reviewed some of the documents during an interview with the CBC. He said the documents remind him of the scene in the movie classic The Wizard of Oz in which “they pull back the curtain and you see the wizard operating this secret machine.”
Mobsters and Oligarchs
The vast flow of offshore money — legal and illegal, personal and corporate — can roil economies and pit nations against each other. Europe’s continuing financial crisis has been fueled by a Greek fiscal disaster exacerbated by offshore tax cheating and by a banking meltdown in the tiny tax haven of Cyprus, where local banks’ assets have been inflated by waves of cash from Russia.
Anti-corruption campaigners argue that offshore secrecy undermines law and order and forces average citizens to pay higher taxes to make up for revenues that vanish offshore. Studies have estimated that cross-border flows of global proceeds of financial crimes total between $1 trillion and $1.6 trillion a year.
ICIJ’s 15-month investigation found that, alongside perfectly legal transactions, the secrecy and lax oversight offered by the offshore world allows fraud, tax dodging and political corruption to thrive.
Offshore patrons identified in the documents include:
- Individuals and companies linked to Russia’s Magnitsky Affair, a tax fraud scandal that has strained U.S.-Russia relations and led to a ban on Americans adopting Russian orphans.
- A Venezuelan deal maker accused of using offshore entities to bankroll a U.S.-based Ponzi scheme and funneling millions of dollars in bribes to a Venezuelan government official.
- A corporate mogul who won billions of dollars in contracts amid Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s massive construction boom even as he served as a director of secrecy-shrouded offshore companies owned by the president’s daughters.
- Indonesian billionaires with ties to the late dictator Suharto, who enriched a circle of elites during his decades in power.
The documents also provide possible new clues to crimes and money trails that have gone cold.
After learning ICIJ had identified the eldest daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Maria Imelda Marcos Manotoc, as a beneficiary of a British Virgin Islands (BVI) trust, Philippine officials said they were eager to find out whether any assets in the trust are part of the estimated $5 billion her father amassed through corruption.
Manotoc, a provincial governor in the Philippines, declined to answer a series of questions about the trust.
Politically connected wealth
The files obtained by ICIJ shine a light on the day-to-day tactics that offshore services firms and their clients use to keep offshore companies, trusts and their owners under cover.
Tony Merchant, one of Canada’s top class-action lawyers, took extra steps to maintain the privacy of a Cook Islands trust that he’d stocked with more than $1 million in 1998, the documents show.
In a filing to Canadian tax authorities, Merchant checked “no” when asked if he had foreign assets of more than $100,000 in 1999, court records show.
Between 2002 and 2009, he often paid his fees to maintain the trust by sending thousands of dollars in cash and traveler’s checks stuffed into envelopes rather than using easier-to-trace bank checks or wire transfers, according to documents from the offshore services firm that oversaw the trust for him.
One file note warned the firm’s staffers that Merchant would “have a st[r]oke” if they tried to communicate with him by fax.
It is unclear whether his wife, Pana Merchant, a Canadian senator, declared her personal interest in the trust on annual financial disclosure forms.
Under legislative rules, she had to disclose every year to the Senate’s ethics commissioner that she was a beneficiary of the trust, but the information was confidential.
The Merchants declined requests for comment.
Other high profile names identified in the offshore data include the wife of Russia’s deputy prime minister, Igor Shuvalov, and two top executives with Gazprom, the Russian government-owned corporate behemoth that is the world’s largest extractor of natural gas.
Shuvalov’s wife and the Gazprom officials had stakes in BVI companies, documents show. All three declined comment.
In a neighboring land, the deputy speaker of Mongolia’s Parliament said he was considering resigning from office after ICIJ questioned him about records showing he has an offshore company and a secret Swiss bank account.
“I shouldn’t have opened that account,” Bayartsogt Sangajav, who has also served as his country’s finance minister, said. “I probably should consider resigning from my position.”
Bayartsogt said his Swiss account at one point contained more than $1 million, but most of the money belonged to what he described as “business friends” he had joined in investing in international stocks.
He acknowledged that he hasn’t officially declared his BVI company or the Swiss account in Mongolia, but he said he didn’t avoid taxes because the investments didn’t produce income.
“I should have included the company in my declarations,” he said.
The documents also show how the mega-rich use complex offshore structures to own mansions, art and other assets, gaining tax advantages and anonymity not available to average people.
Spanish names include a baroness and famed art patron, Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, who is identified in the documents using a company in the Cook Islands to buy artwork through auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s, including Van Gogh’s Water Mill at Gennep.
Her attorney acknowledged that she gains tax benefits by holding ownership of her art offshore, but stressed that she uses tax havens primarily because they give her “maximum flexibility” when she moves art from country to country.
Among nearly 4,000 American names is Denise Rich, a Grammy-nominated songwriter whose ex-husband was at the center of an American pardon scandal that erupted as President Bill Clinton left office.
A Congressional investigation found that Rich, who raised millions of dollars for Democratic politicians, played a key role in the campaign that persuaded Clinton to pardon her ex-spouse, Marc Rich, an oil trader who had been wanted in the U.S. on tax evasion and racketeering charges.
Records obtained by ICIJ show she had $144 million in April 2006 in a trust in the Cook Islands, a chain of coral atolls and volcanic outcroppings nearly 7,000 miles from her home at the time in Manhattan.
The trust’s holdings included a yacht called the Lady Joy, where Rich often entertained celebrities and raised money for charity.
Rich, who gave up her U.S. citizenship in 2011 and now maintains citizenship in Austria, did not reply to questions about her offshore trust.
Another prominent American in the files who gave up his citizenship is a member of the Mellon dynasty, which started landmark companies such as Gulf Oil and Mellon Bank. James R. Mellon – an author of books about Abraham Lincoln and his family’s founding patriarch, Thomas Mellon – used four companies in the BVI and Lichtenstein to trade securities and transfer tens of millions of dollars among offshore bank accounts he controlled.
Like many offshore players, Mellon appears to have taken steps to distance himself from his offshore interests, the documents show. He often used third parties’ names as directors and shareholders of his companies rather than his own, a legal tool that owners of offshore entities often use to preserve anonymity.
Reached in Italy where lives part of the year, Mellon told ICIJ that, in fact, he used to own “a whole bunch” of offshore companies but has disposed of all of them. He said he set up the firms for “tax advantage” and liability reasons, as advised by his lawyer. “But I have never broken the tax law.”
Of the use of nominees, Mellon said that “that’s the way these firms are set up,” and added that it’s useful for people like him who travel a lot to have somebody else in charge of his businesses. “I just heard of a presidential candidate who had a lot of money in the Cayman Islands,” Mellon, now a British national, said, alluding to former U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
“Not everyone who owns offshores is a crook.”
The anonymity of the offshore world makes it difficult to track the flow of money. A study by James S. Henry, former chief economist at McKinsey & Company, estimates that wealthy individuals have $21 trillion to $32 trillion in private financial wealth tucked away in offshore havens — roughly equivalent to the size of the U.S. and Japanese economies combined.
Even as the world economy has stumbled, the offshore world has continued to grow, said Henry, who is a board member of the Tax Justice Network, an international research and advocacy group that is critical of offshore havens. His research shows, for example, that assets managed by the world’s 50 largest “private banks” — which often use offshore havens to serve their “high net worth” customers — grew from $5.4 trillion in 2005 to more than $12 trillion in 2010.
Henry and other critics argue that offshore secrecy has a corrosive effect on governments and legal systems, allowing crooked officials to loot national treasuries and providing cover to human smugglers, mobsters, animal poachers and other exploiters.
Offshore’s defenders counter that most offshore patrons are engaged in legitimate transactions. Offshore centers, they say, allow companies and individuals to diversify their investments, forge commercial alliances across national borders and do business in entrepreneur-friendly zones that eschew the heavy rules and red tape of the onshore world.
“Everything is much more geared toward business,” David Marchant, publisher of OffshoreAlert, an online news journal, said. “If you’re dishonest you can take advantage of that in a bad way. But if you’re honest you can take advantage of that in a good way.”
Much of ICIJ’s reporting focused on the work of two offshore firms, Singapore-based Portcullis TrustNet and BVI-based Commonwealth Trust Limited (CTL), which have helped tens of thousands of people set up offshore companies and trusts and hard-to-trace bank accounts.
Regulators in the BVI found that CTL repeatedly violated the islands’ anti-money-laundering laws between 2003 and 2008 by failing to verify and record its clients’ identities and backgrounds. “This particular firm had systemic money laundering issues within their organization,” an official with the BVI’s Financial Services Commission said last year.
The documents show, for example, that CTL set up 31 companies in 2006 and 2007 for an individual later identified in U.K. court claims as a front man for Mukhtar Ablyazov, a Kazakh banking tycoon who has been accused of stealing $5 billion from one of the former Russian republic’s largest banks. Ablyazov denies wrongdoing.
Thomas Ward, a Canadian who co-founded CTL in 1994 and continues to work as a consultant to the firm, said CTL’s client-vetting procedures have been consistent with industry standards in the BVI, but that no amount of screening can ensure that firms such as CTL won’t be “duped by dishonest clients” or sign on “someone who appears, to all historical examination, to be honest” but “later turns to something dishonest.”
“It is wrong, though perhaps convenient, to demonize CTL as by far the major problem area,” Ward said in a written response to questions. “Rather I believe that CTL’s problems were, by and large, directly proportional to its market share.”
ICIJ’s review of TrustNet documents identified 30 American clients accused in lawsuits or criminal cases of fraud, money laundering or other serious financial misconduct. They include ex-Wall Street titans Paul Bilzerian, a corporate raider who was convicted of tax fraud and securities violations in 1989, and Raj Rajaratnam, a billionaire hedge fund manager who was sent to prison in 2011 in one of the biggest insider trading scandals in U.S. history.
TrustNet declined to answer a series of questions for this article.
The records obtained by ICIJ expose how offshore operatives help their customers weave elaborate financial structures that span countries, continents and hemispheres.
A Thai government official with links to an infamous African dictator used Singapore-based TrustNet to set up a secret company for herself in the BVI, the records show.
The Thai official, Nalinee “Joy” Taveesin, is currently Thailand’s international trade representative. She served as a cabinet minister for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra before stepping down last year.
Taveesin acquired her BVI company in August 2008. That was seven months after she’d been appointed an advisor to Thailand’s commerce minister — and three months before the U.S. Department of Treasury blacklisted her as a “crony” of Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe.
The Treasury Department froze her U.S. assets, accusing her of “secretly supporting the kleptocratic practices of one of Africa’s most corrupt regimes” through gem trafficking and other deals made on behalf of Mugabe’s wife, Grace, and other powerful Zimbabweans.
Taveesin has said her relationship with the Mugabes is “strictly social” and that the U.S. blacklisting is a case of guilt by association. Through her secretary, Taveesin flatly denied that she owns the BVI company. ICIJ verified her ownership using TrustNet records that listed her and her brother as shareholders of the company and included the main address in Bangkok for her onshore business ventures.
Records obtained by ICIJ also reveal a secret company belonging to Muller Conrad “Billy” Rautenbach, a Zimbabwean businessman who was blacklisted by the U.S. for his ties to the Mugabe regime at the same time as Taveesin. The Treasury Department said Rautenbach has helped organize huge mining projects in Zimbabwe that “benefit a small number of corrupt senior officials.”
When CTL set Rautenbach up with a BVI company in 2006 he was a fugitive, fleeing fraud allegations in South Africa. The charges lodged personally against him were dismissed, but a South African company he controlled pleaded guilty to criminal charges and paid a fine of roughly $4 million.
Rautenbach denies U.S. authorities’ allegations, contending that they made “significant factual and legal errors” in their blacklisting decision, his attorney, Ian Small Smith, said. Smith said Rautenbach’s BVI company was set up as “special purpose vehicle for investment in Moscow” and that it complied with all disclosure regulations. The company is no longer active.
‘One Stop Shop’
Offshore’s customers are served by a well-paid industry of middlemen, accountants, lawyers and banks that provide cover, set up financial structures and shuffle assets on their clients’ behalf.
Documents obtained by ICIJ show how two top Swiss banks, UBS and Clariden, worked with TrustNet to provide their customers with secrecy-shielded companies in the BVI and other offshore centers.
Clariden, owned by Credit Suisse, sought such high levels of confidentiality for some clients, the records show, that a TrustNet official described the bank’s request as “the Holy Grail” of offshore entities — a company so anonymous that police and regulators would be “met with a blank wall” if they tried to discover the owners’ identities.
Clariden declined to answer questions about its relationship with TrustNet.
“Because of Swiss banking secrecy laws, we are not allowed to provide any information about existing or supposed accountholders,” the bank said. “As a general rule, Credit Suisse and its related companies respect all the laws and regulations in the countries in which they are involved.”
A spokesperson for UBS said the bank applies “the highest international standards” to fight money laundering, and that TrustNet “is one of over 800 service providers globally which UBS clients choose to work with to provide for their wealth and succession planning needs. These service providers are also used by clients of other banks.”
TrustNet describes itself as a “one-stop shop” — its staff includes lawyers, accountants and other experts who can shape secrecy packages to fit the needs and net worths of its clients. These packages can be simple and cheap, such as a company chartered in the BVI. Or they can be sophisticated structures that weave together multiple layers of trusts, companies, foundations, insurance products and so-called “nominee” directors and shareholders.
When they create companies for their clients, offshore services firms often appoint faux directors and shareholders — proxies who serve as stand-ins when the real owners of companies don’t want their identities known. Thanks to the proliferation of proxy directors and shareholders, investigators tracking money laundering and other crimes often hit dead ends when they try to uncover who is really behind offshore companies.
An analysis by ICIJ, the BBC and The Guardian identified a cluster of 28 “sham directors” who served as the on-paper representatives of more than 21,000 companies between them, with individual directors representing as many 4,000 companies each.
Among the front men identified in the documents obtained by ICIJ is a U.K.-based operative who served as a director for a BVI company, Tamalaris Consolidated Limited, which the European Union has labeled as a front company for the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line. The E.U., the U.N. and the U.S. have accused IRISL of aiding Iran’s nuclear-development program.
‘Zone of Impunity’
International groups have been working for decades to limit tax cheating and corruption in the offshore world.
In the 1990s, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development began pushing offshore centers to reduce secrecy and get tougher on money laundering, but the effort ebbed in the 2000s. Another push against tax havens began when U.S. authorities took on UBS, forcing the Swiss bank to pay $780 million in 2009 to settle allegations that it had helped Americans dodge taxes. U.S. and German authorities have pressured banks and governments to share information about offshore clients and accounts and UK Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to use his leadership of the G8, a forum of the world’s richest nations, to help crack down on tax evasion and money laundering.
Promises like those have been met with skepticism, given the role played by key G8 members — the U.S., the U.K. and Russia — as sources and destinations of dirty money. Despite the new efforts, offshore remains a “zone of impunity” for anyone determined to commit financial crimes, said Jack Blum, a former U.S. Senate investigator who is now a lawyer specializing in money laundering and tax fraud cases.
“Periodically, the stench gets so bad somebody has to get out there and clap the lid on the garbage can and sit on it for a while,” Blum said. “There’s been some progress, but there’s a bloody long way to go.”