brad brace contemporary culture scrapbook

October 30, 2007

Filed under: Film,General — admin @ 11:06 am

Ploy to smuggle cocaine in shoes trips up drug ringleaders

Filed under: belize,General,global islands,wealth — admin @ 11:05 am

Unwitting couriers lured with cash, agents say.

The Mexican vacation was supposed to be free for dozens of Columbus-area residents. But they paid the price when they went to prison for smuggling drugs home in their sneakers.

Most were in their early 20s, recruited by members of an international drug ring that shipped cocaine from the Central American country of Belize to Columbus by way of Houston.

The lure was an all-expenses-paid vacation to Chetumal, Mexico, and $1,000 in cash when they returned.

The trip sold itself, said Internal Revenue Service agent Bernard Clark. “All the kids started jumping on board.”

Some of the couriers didn’t know until they got to Mexico what they were being asked to do, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Robyn Jones Hahnert. Others were told before they left home.

When they returned to Port Columbus, they wore the shoes with cocaine hidden in the soles.

Investigators got a break when the ringleaders became bolder and greedier.

The trips became more frequent. Shipments that started with a pound or so of cocaine in each shoe doubled to more than 2 pounds apiece. And the shoes eventually caught the eye of U.S. customs agents.

“They had women wearing men’s size 12 shoes,” Jones Hahnert said. She likened them to “Bozo the clown shoes.”

More than 30 couriers ended up serving a few months to a few years in federal prison. Others charged in the case included people who recruited the couriers and kept an eye on them once they had the cocaine, and people who sold the drugs in the Columbus area.

But for 10 years, the three brothers thought to be the ringleaders of the operation remained at large.

Now, thanks to a U.S. marshal who never gave up on the case, two of the three are in custody, accused of smuggling 74 kilos — nearly 163 pounds — of cocaine into Columbus, Jones Hahnert said.

All are natives of Belize and took refuge there when they learned they were being sought, Jones Hahnert said.

Filed under: Film,General — admin @ 5:18 am

Leptospirosis Leaves 9 Dead in Nicaragua

Filed under: General,global islands,nicaragua — admin @ 5:17 am

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — A waterborne disease spread through animal urine has killed nine people and sickened more than 1,600 in storm-stricken Nicaragua, health officials said Monday.

The disease, leptospirosis, was spread by flooding caused by a month of intense rains and category-5 Hurricane Felix, which hit northeastern Nicaragua last month, President Daniel Ortega said Sunday.

As of midday Monday, nine people had died of the disease and 1,606 people had fallen ill, Lt. Col. Guillermo Lopez, deputy chief of the country’s Civil Defense Department, told reporters.

The highest number of cases, 745, appeared in the northwestern city of Somotillo, Lopez said.

The infectious disease is usually contracted through cuts in the skin. It is spread because the urine of rats, cows and pigs ends up in pools of standing water during stormy weather.

Symptoms include high fevers, vomiting, nosebleeds and intense muscle aches, especially in the knees and calves.

Filed under: Film,General — admin @ 5:11 am

Bird’s nest industry conduit for money laundering

Filed under: General,global islands,thailand,wealth — admin @ 5:10 am

The bird’s nest industry in Thailand is a conduit for money laundering and could be funnelling more than Bt100 million a year, according a study by the Thailand Research Fund.

Kasem Jandam, who conducted a research project on the bird’s nest business in southern Thailand, found illegal collecting of bird’s nests at sites on 66 islands located off the Gulf of Thailand and in the Andaman Sea.

He said these areas were is outside the 104 islands that were deemed as legal concession areas for the collecting of bird’s nests in Thailand under the 1942 Swiftlet Bird’s Nest Tax Act.

The government could be losing tax revenue of more than Bt100 million baht per year per site in eight provinces in southern Thailand including Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chumphon, Surat Thani, Phatthalung, Phangnga, Krabi, Trang and Satun.

October 29, 2007

Filed under: Film,General — admin @ 5:54 am

Kenya: Country Should Stamp Out Sex Tourism And Child Prostitution

Filed under: General,kenya,usa,wealth — admin @ 5:53 am

IT IS UNFORTUNATE THAT Labour minister Newton Kulundu’s faux pas at the launch of a report hosted by the US embassy last week got more media attention than the contents of the report being launched.

The minister accused the United States and the United Kingdom of being “the greatest violators of human rights, democracy and transparency” while the visibly perturbed US ambassador, Micheal Ranneberger, looked on.

Mr Kulundu forgot one basic principal of diplomacy – do not spit in the face of your host, even if you do not agree with him.

But this lapse in judgment on the part of the minister is not a good enough reason for the media to deflect attention from the contents of the shocking report.

The report, Trafficking in Persons from a Labour Perspective: The Kenyan experience, published by the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity, highlights a problem that seems to have escalated in the last few years – the buying and selling of human beings for the purpose of exploitation.

The International Labour Organisation estimates that at any given time, 12 million women, men and children worldwide are coerced into bonded labour, involuntary servitude, or sexual slavery. This modern form of slavery is the second-most lucrative business for international crime syndicates, after trafficking in weapons.

A study by the Kenyan Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR) has found that Kenya is a major source, transit and destination country for trafficked women, men and children who are forced into unpaid work or forced prostitution.

Kenyan victims are trafficked to other countries mostly through bogus employment agencies that deceive victims into going abroad for work. Unsuspecting victims are then sent to Europe, Australia, North America or the Middle East/Gulf region, where they end up as bonded labour or prostitutes. Some African countries, such as South Africa and Bostswana, are also recipients of these modern-day slaves.

But while the international aspect of the trade receives the most attention, it is worth noting that internal trafficking of women and children in particular is a growing problem in Eastern Africa.

Counter-trafficking activists believe that many children from Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda are trafficked to Kenya’s coastal areas for sexual exploitation in the growing sex tourism industry.

It is estimated that in the coastal town of Mtwapa alone, between 10,000 and 20,000 children are trafficked for the purpose of sex tourism.

A recent Unicef report shows that while Italian, German and Swiss men form the bulk of the foreign tourists who sexually exploit children at the coast, a large proportion – 39 per cent – of the perpetrators are local Kenyan men.

Many of the children being exploited are not from the coast region but are imported from rural areas from around the country.

You don’t have to spend a lot of time at the Kenyan coast to know that child prostitution and sex tourism are rampant there. In Mombasa and Malindi, it is common to see aging white men well into their 70s and 80s with girls young enough to be their granddaughters.

Locals tolerate this type of sexual exploitation because, as one put it to me recently, “nothing gets a family out of poverty faster than a daughter who has a white boyfriend.”

In many cases, girls are encouraged by none other than their parents and relatives to look for older white men who will not only pay the girl for her services, but her family as well.

The Unicef report also found that witchdoctors are commonly engaged by sex workers to ensure a steady supply of foreign tourists who can support them. (The allure of the foreign tourist is greater than that of a local tourist as he is often able to pay more, and is likely to be a seasonal client, thereby allowing the women and girls to have more than one “boyfriend” in a given year.)

Many of the girls (and some boys) are the source of income to impoverished parents living in deprived rural areas. Others make a lot of money for middlemen and traffickers who supply children and women to tourists looking for sex while on holiday.

The sad thing is that despite the passing of the Sexual Offences Bill and the publication of damning reports that confirm that Kenya is fast becoming a preferred destination for sex tourists, no one has either been arrested or deported for engaging in sex tourism or paedophilia.

Tourism may be a leading revenue earner for Kenya, but it is about time we vetted the tourists who come into this country.

Known paedophiles and sex tourists must not be given a visa to enter the country. Their records must be entered into every immigration and security database in the world, including Interpol. Parents, relatives and middlemen forcing children into servitude or prostitution must be arrested and prosecuted.

More importantly, we must create the economic and social conditions that prevent parents, relatives, middlemen and traffickers from condemning our children to lives of sexual slavery.

October 28, 2007

Filed under: Film,General — admin @ 5:28 am

Size and Scope of Dirty Money Laundering by Big US Banks

Filed under: General,government,usa,wealth — admin @ 5:27 am

James Petras,
La Jornada (May 19 2001)

There is a consensus among US Congressional Investigators, former bankers and international banking experts that US and European banks launder between $500 billion and $1 trillion of dirty money annually, half of which is laundered by US banks alone.

As Senator Levin summarizes the record: “Estimates are that $500 billion to $1 trillion of international criminal proceeds are moved internationally and deposited into bank accounts annually. It is estimated half of that money comes to the United States.”

Over the decade between $2.5 and $5 trillion criminal proceeds are laundered by US banks and circulate in the US financial circuits. Senator Levin’s statement however, only covers criminal proceeds, according to US laws. It does not include illegal transfers and capital flows from corrupt political leaders, and tax evasion by overseas businesses. A leading US scholar who is an expert on international finance associated with the prestigious Brookings Institute estimates that “the flow of corrupt money out of developing (Third World) and transitional (ex-Communist) economies into Western coffers at $20 to $40 billion a year and the flow stemming from mis-priced trade at $80 billion a year or more. My lowest estimate is a $100 billion per year by these two means which we facilitated a trillion dollars in the decade, at least half to the United States. Including other elements of illegal flight capital would produce much higher figures.” The Brookings expert did not include illegal shifts of real estate and securities titles, wire fraud, et cetera.

In other words an incomplete figure of dirty money (laundered criminal and corrupt money) flowing into US coffers during the 1990s amounted to $3 – $5.5 trillion. This is not the complete picture but it gives us a basis to estimate the significance of the “dirty money factor” in evaluating the US economy. In the first place, it is clear the combined laundered and dirty money flows cover part of the US deficit in its balance of merchandise trade which ranges in the hundreds of billions annually. As it stands, the US trade deficit is close to $300 billion. Without the “dirty money” the US economy external accounts would be totally unsustainable, living standards would plummet, the dollar would weaken, the available investment and loan capital would shrink and Washington would not be able to sustain its global empire. The importance of laundered money is forecast to increase. Former private banker Antonio Geraldi, in testimony before the Senate Subcommittee projects significant growth in US bank laundering. “The forecasters also predict the amounts laundered in the trillions of dollars and growing disproportionately to legitimate funds”. The $500 billion of criminal and dirty money flowing into and through the major US banks far exceeds the net revenues of all the IT companies in the US, not to speak of their profits. These yearly inflows surpass all the net transfers by the major US oil producers, military industries and airplane manufacturers. The biggest US banks, Bank of America, J P Morgan, Chase Manhattan and particularly Citibank derive a high percentage of their banking profits from serving these criminal and dirty money accounts. The big US banks and key institutions sustain US global power via their money laundering and managing ofillegally obtained overseas funds.

US Banks and The Dirty Money Empire

Washington and the mass media have portrayed the US in the forefront of the struggle against narco trafficking, drug laundering and political corruption: the image is of clean white hands fighting dirty money from the Third world (or the ex-Communist countries). The truth is exactly the opposite. US banks have developed a highly elaborate set of policies for transferring illicit funds to the US, investing those funds in legitimate businesses or US government bonds and legitimating them. The US Congress has held numerous hearings, provided detailed exposés of the illicit practices of the banks, passed several laws and called for stiffer enforcement by any number of public regulators and private bankers. Yet the biggest banks continue their practices, the sums of dirty money grows exponentially, because both the State and the banks have neither the will nor the interest to put an end to the practices that provide high profits and buttress an otherwise fragile empire.

First thing to note about the money laundering business, whether criminal or corrupt, is that it is carried out by the most important banks in the USA. Secondly, the practices of bank officials involved in money laundering have the backing and encouragement of the highest levels of the banking institutions – these are not isolated cases by loose cannons. This is clear in the case of Citibank’s laundering of Raul Salinas (brother of Mexico’s ex-President) $200 million account. When Salinas was arrested and his large scale theft of government funds was exposed, his private bank manager at Citibank, Amy Elliott told her colleagues that “this goes in the very, very top of the corporation, this was known … on the very top. We are little pawns in this whole thing” (page 35).

Citibank, the biggest money launderer, is the biggest bank in the US, with 180,000 employees world-wide operating in 100 countries, with $700 billion in known assets and over $100 billion in client assets in private bank (secret accounts) operating private banking offices in thirty countries, which is the largest global presence of any US private bank. It is important to clarify what is meant by “private bank”.

Private Banking is a sector of a bank which caters to extremely wealthy clients ($1 million deposits and up). The big banks charge customers a fee for managing their assets and for providing the specialized services of the private banks. Private Bank services go beyond the routine banking services and include investment guidance, estate planning, tax assistance, off-shore accounts, and complicated schemes designed to secure the confidentiality of financial transactions. The attractiveness of the “Private Banks” (PB) for money laundering is that they sell secrecy to the dirty money clients. There are two methods that big Banks use to launder money: via private banks and via corresponding banking. PB routinely use code names for accounts, concentration accounts (concentration accounts co-mingles bank funds with client funds which cut off paper trails for billions of dollars of wire transfers) that disguise the movement of client funds, and offshore private investment corporations (PIC) located in countries with strict secrecy laws (Cayman Island, Bahamas, et cetera).

For example in the case of Raul Salinas, PB personnel at Citibank helped Salinas transfer $90 to $100 million out of Mexico in a manner that effectively disguised the funds’ sources and destination thus breaking the funds’ paper trail. In routine fashion, Citibank set up a dummy offshore corporation, provided Salinas with a secret code name, provided an alias for a third party intermediary who deposited the money in a Citibank account in Mexico and transferred the money in a concentration account to New York where it was then moved to Switzerland and London.

The PICs are designed by the big banks for the purpose of holding and hiding a person’s assets. The nominal officers, trustees and shareholder of these shell corporations are themselves shell corporations controlled by the PB. The PIC then becomes the holder of the various bank and investment accounts and the ownership of the private bank clients is buried in the records of so-called jurisdiction such as the Cayman Islands. Private bankers of the big banks like Citibank keep pre-packaged PICs on the shelf awaiting activation when a private bank client wants one.The system works like Russian Matryoshka dolls, shells within shells within shells, which in the end can be impenetrable to a legal process.

The complicity of the state in big bank money laundering is evident when one reviews the historic record. Big bank money laundering has been investigated, audited, criticized and subject to legislation; the banks have written procedures to comply. Yet banks like Citibank and the other big ten banks ignore the procedures and laws and the government ignores the non-compliance. Over the last twenty years, big bank laundering of criminal funds and looted funds has increased geometrically, dwarfing in size and rates of profit the activities in the formal economy. Estimates by experts place the rate of return in the PB market between 20% and 25% annually. Congressional investigations revealed that Citibank provided “services” for four political swindlers moving $380 million: Raul Salinas – $80 to $100 million, Asif Ali Zardari (husband of former Prime Minister of Pakistan) in excess of $40 million, El Hadj Omar Bongo (dictator of Gabon since 1967) in excess of $130 million, Abacha sons of General Abacha ex-dictator of Nigeria – in excess of $110 million. In all cases Citibank violated all of its own procedures and government guidelines: there was no client profile (review of client background), determination of the source of the funds, nor of any violations of country laws from which the money accrued. On the contrary, the bank facilitated the outflow in its prepackaged format: shell corporations were established, code names were provided, funds were moved through concentration accounts, the funds were invested in legitimate businesses or in US bonds, et cetera. In none of these cases – or thousands of others – was due diligence practiced by the banks (under due diligence a private bank is obligated by law to take steps to ensure that it does not facilitate money laundering). In none of these cases were the top banking officials brought to court and tried. Even after arrest of their clients, Citibank continued to provide services, including the movement of funds to secret accounts and the provision of loans.

Correspondent Banks: The Second Track

The second and related route which the big banks use to launder hundreds of billions of dirty money is through “correspondent banking” (CB). CB is the provision of banking services by one bank to another bank. It is a highly profitable and significant sector of big banking. It enables overseas banks to conduct business and provide services for their customers – including drug dealers and others engaged in criminal activity – in jurisdictions like the US where the banks have no physical presence. A bank that is licensed in a foreign country and has no office in the United States for its customers attracts and retains wealthy criminal clients interested in laundering money in the US. Instead of exposing itself to US controls and incurring the high costs of locating in the US, the bank will open a correspondent account with an existing US bank. By establishing such a relationship, the foreign bank (called a respondent) and through it, its criminal customers, receive many or all of the services offered by the US big banks called the correspondent. Today, all the big US banks have established multiple correspondent relationships throughout the world so they may engage in international financial transactions for themselves and their clients in places where they do have a physical presence. Many of the largest US and European banks located in the financial centers of the world serve as correspondents for thousands of other banks. Most of the offshore banks laundering billions for criminal clients have accounts in the US. All the big banks specializing in international fund transfer are called money center banks, some of the biggest process up to $1 trillion in wire transfers a day. Through June 1999, the top five correspondent bank holding companies in the United States held correspondent account balances exceeding $17 billion; the total correspondent balances of the 75 largest US correspondent banks was $34.9 billion. For the billionaire criminals an important feature of correspondent relationships is that they provide access to international transfer systems – that facilitate the rapid transfer of funds across international boundaries and within countries. The most recent estimates (1998) are that sixty offshore jurisdictions around the world licensed about 4,000 offshore banks which control approximately $5 trillion in assets.

One of the major sources of impoverishment and crises in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Russia and the other countries of the ex-USSR and Eastern Europe, is the pillage of the economy and the hundreds of billions of dollars which are transferred out of the country via the corresponding banking system and the Private Banking system linked to the biggest banks in the US and Europe. Russia alone has seen over $200 billion illegally transferred in the course of the 1990s. The massive shifts of capital from these countries to the US and European banks has generated mass impoverishment and economic instability and crises. This in turn has created increased vulnerability to pressure from the IMF and World Bank to liberalize their banking and financial systems leading to further flight and deregulation which spawns greater corruption and overseas transfers via private banks as the Senate reports demonstrate.

The increasing polarization of the world is embedded in this organized system of criminal and corrupt financial transactions. While speculation and foreign debt payments play a role in undermining living standards in the crises regions, the multi-trillion dollar money laundering and bank servicing of corrupt officials is a much more significant factor, sustaining Western prosperity, US empire building and financial stability. The scale, scope and time frame of transfers and money laundering, the centrality of the biggest banking enterprises and the complicity of the governments, strongly suggests that the dynamics of growth and stagnation, empire and re-colonization are intimately related to a new form of capitalism built around pillage, criminality, corruption and complicity.

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