Nov 8, 2009 – The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall has called forth a plethora of memories and celebrations. Here are mine.
I visited West Germany in 1983 as it held massive demonstrations against the U.S. plan to station medium range missiles on German territory. The peace movement – objecting to the Ronald Reagan hard line against the East — had another view of how to bring down communism from within. The German government Ostpolitik – East politics – though denounced by the Reagan politicians, was ultimately successful.
In January 1986, I went to the Philippines to chronicle the growing movement against the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. I was there for the people power revolution, a non-violent massive street protest that in February finally drove Marcos from power. I remember being outside the presidential palace that night and racing through the streets when gunfire erupted. The U.S., which had supported him for decades, flew him and his wife Imelda to Honolulu. Along with documents that detailed how they had looted the country and where the money was.
Congress has deftly avoided the real story of AIG’s collapse, which will make a few million in bonuses seem like peanuts.
Most legislators at a House Finance subcommittee hearing last week deftly avoided the real story of AIG’s collapse. Instead, they homed in on the public relations disaster of hundreds of top AIG officials and staff getting $165 million (later revealed as over $218 million) in bonuses.
The key issue ignored by the congressmen and women was the potential catastrophe represented by as much as $2.7 trillion in AIG derivative contracts and how AIG and the U.S. government are dealing with them. To put that number in context, we’ve so far provided the company only about $170 billion.
How food-service providers like Sodexo bilk millions from taxpayers and customers
In These Times, March 2009 –
The Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute provided generous support for this article.
At the end of the 2006 school year, children‘s nutrition advocate Dorothy Brayley had a disturbing conversation with a local dairy representative. He had come to her office to discuss participation in the summer trade show of food providers she runs as director of Kids First Rhode Island.
At the time, the state‘s schools were buying 100,000 containers of milk each week. The salesman for Garelick Farms, New England‘s largest dairy, told Brayley that Sodexo”a food and facility management corporation that managed most of the state‘s school lunch programs”was paying Garelick more than competitors in order to get a bigger rebate.
That‘s just a taste of the hundreds of millions of dollars of “rebates””or kickbacks from suppliers”that Sodexo, a $20 billion-a-year global leader in the food and facility management industry, has taken while operating cafeterias and other facilities for schools, hospitals, universities, government agencies, the military and private companies across the country, according to evidence provided by whistleblowers and internal company documents.
I never thought I‘d hear those words, certainly not at the Council on Foreign Relations. Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico spoke at a Council lunch today. The subject was immigration. Before the talk, several people, including this reporter, stopped at the speaker’s table to chat. I was standing there when Maurice Tempelsman approached Richardson. The Governor greeted him and said, “Where‘s Mobutu!”
Well, that was a conversation stopper! Tempelsman, a very very rich man, and a generous donor, frequently gets a place of honor at the Council head table, though not today. Nobody raises the question of how he got his money.
Twenty years ago, on a campaign trip in rural Pakistan in October 1987, Benazir Bhutto told me of her concern about the long-term effect of Afghan refugees who had set up safe houses, stored munitions and created networks in her country.
We talked for an hour in an interview I videotaped. It was the day after I traveled with her on a political procession in Sailkot, in the Punjab, northern Pakistan, where she was mobbed by supporters.
She was prescient about the impact of the Islamic Afghanis who had arrived in Pakistan during the war with the Soviet-supported government.
She said a long-term domestic fallout would be that even if Afghanistan today is solved and guaranteed by both superpowers, what about the future? Because the network has been created.
I chatted for a few minutes with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano after he spoke this morning at a Council on Foreign Relations breakfast. He agreed that there is a problem posed by offshore financial centers and pointed to concern in Europe reflected in a recent joint letter on the subject by the UK, France and Germany.
Napolitano is an extraordinary man who served nearly 40 years in the Italian parliament and was a leader of the Italian Communist Party, the PCI, helping to move it out of the Stalinist camp to social democracy.
Richard Gardner, US ambassador to Italy 1977 to 81, who presided over the meeting, told me that he had tried to persuade Henry Kissinger that Napolitano was a social democrat. Gardner said that Kissinger never could grasp that.
There is irony in the recent announcement by Peru’s President Alan GarcÃa that he would publish the names of 1,800 freed terrorists, so that people might recognise and report them if they were participating in anti-state conspiracies. His list includes people imprisoned on false charges or never convicted or sentenced.
One name that is not on the list is that of Alan GarcÃa. However, according to a declassified U.S. government document, GarcÃa, during his first administration from 1985-1990, gave instructions to terror squads organised by his political party to assassinate suspected leftists. Victims included trade unionists and other civil society leaders.
This writer discovered the document, and it was declassified at her request. It is posted following the full article.
Learning of General Pervez Musharraf‘s declaration of emergency rule (martial law) in Pakistan, I can‘t help but recall the gushing introduction of the general made by Citigroup honcho and Democratic financial eminence grise Robert Rubin when the dictator, who came to power in a military coup, spoke at the Sept 25, 2006 meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Rubin urged the audience to “understand a great deal more than those in our country tend to know about Pakistan, the Muslim world, the meaning of democracy in the context of countries very different from our own.”
Oct 23, 2007 – In the continuing saga of the Frigates of Taiwan, involving about $1 billion in bribes and kickbacks paid by the French company Thomson to win a bid on the sale of six war frigates to Taiwan in the early 90s, I asked French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, at the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday, if she would continue the cover-up on a corruption case that could be the largest (known) in French history.
Madame Lagarde wasn’t sufficiently aware of the case that has been exhaustively reported by French print and broadcast media for more than a decade.
It‘s that time of the year when the UN General Assembly opens and heads of state and foreign ministers meet up at parties and quiet gatherings and even give a few public speeches around town. A popular stop is the Council on Foreign Relations, where anyone representing an establishment view is assured of a warm welcome.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, famous as the founder of Médecins Sans Frontieres (actually he was one of 12 doctor and journalist founders), spoke at the Council on Tuesday. In his introduction Felix Rohatyn, the prominent investment banker, US ambassador to France in 1997-2000 and now an advisor to the chairman of Lehman Brothers, said, “There are very few people who act according to their principles. Bernard Kouchner acts on his principles, and that‘s a very rare virtue, especially in a politician.”
I was hopeful that Minister Kouchner, a Socialist who has joined a conservative government, would display these principles in his answer to my question about a corruption scandal that could be the French Watergate. However, the minister displayed the not-so-rare political attribute of solidarity with high-level officials who want to suppress evidence of corruption.
U.S. officials from the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation met with Munich prosecutors this week regarding the 1.3-billion-dollar bribe fund run by Siemens, the German multinational technology company.
After talking to the Germans about tracking the financial flows of the largest illicit slush-fund ever discovered, the U.S. investigators would do well to visit Luxembourg on Germany’s western border.
There they could seek information from Clearstream, the international financial clearing house, that might tell them how Siemens moved so much money and where it went. That is because Siemens has the unusual status of being one of only four non-financial companies among 2,500 Clearstream members. It gained membership on the insistence of a former CEO who was fired after a scandal.
Siemens, the German-based multinational technology company that made massive payoffs to get international contracts, has, according to the German press, a bribery slush fund of more than $1.3 billion. It moved money through a network of front companies, mostly in offshore Liechtenstein and the United Arab Emirates. Siemens is being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission as well as by public prosecutors in Germany and Italy.
How did Siemens officials move so much money about? Investigators ought to take a look at Siemens‘ transactions through Clearstream, the international financial clearing house in Luxembourg, whose clients do not undergo the same due diligence scrutiny that regular banks apply.
Siemens is one of only four non-financial companies (out of 2500) with Clearstream accounts. Here — published for the first time — are listings of Siemens’ Clearstream accounts for 1995, 2000 and 2001.
President Bush‘s attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, has come under fire for politicizing the U.S. Justice Department for his dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys, apparently because they didn‘t target Democrats. But using the Justice Department for political ends isn‘t simply an invention of Gonzales or of the President; it‘s an old Bush family tradition.
In politicizing the Justice Department, Bush takes a page from his father. The George H.W. Bush Justice Department 25 years ago balked at investigating and prosecuting the key players in the scandal of the criminal, terrorist-friendly bank, BCCI, and moved only, and in limited fashion, after New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau forced its hand.
Bush had a strong reason to want Justice to block pursuit of the case: the CIA used BCCI for its black ops, including funneling some of the $2 billion Washington sent to client Osama bin Laden and running money for the illegal Iran-Contra operation.
Is Citibank Spain a tax cheat?
New Internationalist, Aug 2006
With help from a whistleblower, I followed the money trail through the offshore operations of Citigroup, the world‘s biggest bank, and discovered that Spanish bankers handling their client’s offshore accounts were getting commissions via an internal accounting system instead of on the regular books.
It is the same internal system that Citigroup used in the 1970s to compensate currency traders in Paris, London, Frankfurt and elsewhere who booked trades in the tax haven Nassau, the Bahamas. They were exposed by an insider, were investigated by the SEC and Congress, and had to pay millions in back taxes. Is this happening again?
This report describes and details a history of tax evasion by the world‘s largest
financial conglomerate, Citigroup. Going back decades, it is a story of
repeated, aggressive tax evasion for itself and clients, depriving governments
and therefore citizens of huge amounts of funds and carried out with relative
Who might have killed former Russian spy Litvinenko? Julia Svetlichnaya, a Russian living in London, told the press there that she had met Litvinenko and learned that he was collecting information about mega-rich Russian entrepreneurs to use for blackmail.
It has not been reported before that Litvinenko’s collaborator, Yevgeny Limarev, had visited Elena Collongues-Popova (shown here), a Russian woman in Paris, to seek information connecting ex-Yukos official Alexei Golubovich to bribery of the former president of Lithuania. And Svetlichnaya hasn’t told the press that she worked for the very same Golubovich.
In mid-May a Moscow court will issue a verdict in the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the figure behind Yukos Oil, who was once known as Russia’s richest man. Khodorkovsky, who a few years ago was worth more than $15 billion, is on trial for fraud and tax evasion, much of it made possible through the use of offshore shell companies.
Khodorkovsky has been in prison since 2003, when he was charged with embezzlement and for rigging a privatization auction of the petrochemical company, Apatit. Some critics argue that Khodorkovsky is being held up as a symbol of Russia’s ruling class of exorbitantly wealthy businessmen, and that his trial is politically motivated.
But Western corporations and, by extension, the Western media may in fact be equally motivated to obscure the facts and make Khodorkovsky into a capitalist martyr.
In December of 2004, there was a horrific fire in a Buenos Aires disco called the Cromagnon Republic. Three rock fans shot off flares that set fire to the ceiling and engulfed the overcrowded discotheque in flames and smoke. In the rush to get out, 200 people were killed and 700 injured, most from trampling and smoke inhalation. The main entrance had been wired shut, and some of the emergency exits were locked, blocking escape.
In the days that followed, thousands of the victims’ parents and friends marched in the streets and demanded justice. A judge started proceedings for manslaughter and froze $20 million belonging to the owner, Omar Chaban. However, investigators soon discovered that Chaban appeared in no official disco documents; he was just the administrator. The legal owners of the property and the disco company were offshore shell corporations registered in the tax haven of Uruguay, the neighboring country. The listed owner of the enterprise was a Uruguayan straw man in his 70s who had no money.
Three U.S professors, analyzing import and export transactions between Russia and the U.S., have found that phony prices led to as much as $8.92 billion in capital flight from Russia to the U.S. in 1995-1999.
Even with calculations providing the most conservative estimate, at least $1.86 billion illegally left Russia during that period. Assuming a 25 percent average tax rate, the lower figure would mean nearly half a billion dollars in illegal tax evasion, and the higher one more than $2 billion in taxes lost, just in trade involving the U.S.