Mar 312018
 

There is a dead rat somewhere. The question is: Where?

For one thing, there is this business of the expulsion of Russian diplomats from western countries. Journalists everywhere keep clamouring for evidence of the Russian government’s involvement in the Salisbury incident, and Boris Johnson is quoted as replying that Russia’s complicity is “rather like the beginning of ‘Crime and Punishment’ in the sense that we are all confident of the culprit, and the only question is whether he will confess or be caught.” To which a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson is said to have asked Mr Johnson whether he managed to make it past the beginning of the novel, quoting another line from the book: “From a hundred rabbits you can’t make a horse, a hundred suspicions don’t make a proof.

Now they are saying that it’s “not just Salisbury”, it’s a “reckless pattern of behaviour”, and they mention Crimea. So let’s take a look at Crimea.

The 2014 referendum (which overwhelmingly supported reunification with Russia) was undoubtedly flawed and certainly very disputed. Nevertheless, there seems no doubt that only about 10% of the Crimean population spoke Ukrainian as their native language at the time and that the majority of Crimea’s inhabitants have considered themselves ethnically Russian for a very long time (67% in the 1989 census, 60% in 2001 and 65% in 2014). In addition, after the fall of the Soviet Union, exiled Crimean Tartars started returning and made up more than 10% of the population. (Source: Wikipedia 31.03.2018)

Much as the Crimea affair was irregular, the Russian side was very understandable given the country’s long-standing friction with Ukraine. Have we forgotten the sources of that friction? Have we for instance forgotten the pipeline through Ukraine from which Russian gas was “diverted” by Ukraine for years?

Do not misunderstand me: If the Russian government did indeed carry out a public liquidation in Salisbury, I’m all for the expulsion of Russian diplomats. It’s just that the Western hand in this matter does not seem clean. So whose hands are dirtiest?

Why is so little mention made, on the British side, of the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a case that seemed pretty cut and dried at the time. Even the Russian media thought FSB was responsible. This puzzles me, so I have been reading about it.

Both the murder itself and the British investigation into it appear to have been fairly clumsy affairs, for one thing, and if the Russian secret service was responsible, clumsiness would not have been expected. As for the British, they vociferously requested the extradition of a Russian suspect, failing to remind the media that no civilised country ever extradites its own citizens.

Russia, on the other hand, requested the extradition of Boris Berezhovsky, whom they claimed they suspected. Now there is every reason to suspect this was a front on their part, but there appears to be no doubt that Mr Berezhovsky was a crook who had helped himself most liberally to taxpayers assets when the Soviet Union was dissolved. True, he was not the only one to do so, but people who go to court claiming three billion pounds in damages, as he did in London in 2012, are not your ordinary paper thief.

The British refused to extradite him. Moreover, they have been protecting a number of other personages that are lining UK banks with their assets. I quote the Telegraph:

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has ordered a retrospective investigation into past cases of “investor visas”, which are open to people who stake £2m or more in the UK.

The visas are a way for the super-rich to fast-track their residency and citizenship in Britain.

About 700 Russians were granted the gold-plated visas between 2008 and 2015, the Home Affairs Committee was told.

So Mr Berezhovsky was not the only Russian crook in the UK. Needless to say, the British do not extradite their citizens either, but granting rich Russians fast-track citizenship takes care of the issue. (I refer to Mr Berezhovsky in the past tense. The findings of his death coincided with suicide. Of course many people assume he was killed, but there was no evidence. The Russian state or the Mafia?)

The Telegraph politely refers to these “about 700” people as “super-rich”. Permit me to use a different word: “Mafia”. State-sponsored public liquidations have rather gone out of fashion, whereas Mafia liquidations are still bread and butter in many countries.

Finally, I wish to make it very clear that I’m not saying the Russians “didn’t do it”. I’m just saying that some pieces of the puzzle just don’t fit. There is a dead rat somewhere.

Mar 162018
 

I can’t get Gabriel out of my head.

He disappeared on 27 February. I saw it on the news and since then, for some reason, the little boy has haunted me. The whole business has seemed so utterly improbable in every way.

He left his grandparents’ house to go and visit his cousins, just a hundred metres, or so, down the road, but apparently he never got there. The reporters have taken us back and forth that short stretch of dirt road time and time again, telling us, the viewers – and repeating time and time again – that nothing, absolutely nothing dangerous lay along the road. No pond, no bog, no cliff….

Above all, no crime could possibly have befallen him in such a godforsaken place with only 73 inhabitants (according to Wikipedia). Everybody knows everybody, and you simply cannot hide.

We were shown pictures of him, an eight-year-old with a beautiful smile on his cheerful face. His mother spoke to the TV-cameras, begging for help – she too was beautiful, I thought – explaining that he was a very good little boy who liked drawing fishes and who wanted to be a marine biologist. “If anyone out there is keeping him, please, I beg you, bring him back safe and sound,” she said. I was obviously not the only one who was moved by her appeal, because around 5000 people came to that desolate little village to comb the surrounding countryside.

Day after day, Gabriel with the sunny smile was the centrepiece of the evening news. Nor was there any escape from the agonised faces of the boy’s father and his girlfriend. There were endless search parties crossing drab, treeless hills that were almost the same grey-green colour as the Guardia Civil. Grim looks in every face. All of Spain held its breath.

On 3 March, a shirt belonging to the boy was found.

Then I left Spain and thought I had heard the last of the matter. But no. One day I stumbled across El Pais, and there he was on the front page. On 11 March, they had found him. Dead. In the boot of a car. “We wept when we saw the body,” said one of the officers in charge of the investigation.

Apparently Guardia Civil had suspected the murderer ever since the shirt was found. For various reasons, they believed it had been placed there by the person who found it. They kept the suspect under close surveillance, and in the end, they intercepted her car as she was moving the corpse.

Yes, her. The murderer was the father’s girlfriend. She had played the prominent part of grieving, close relative before the press, weeping and giving several interviews.

I just can’t get Gabriel out of my head!  That is why I have to write about him. I keep seeing the countryside, plain and dispassionate, the very antithesis of violent crime. And I keep wondering: What motive could possibly be strong enough to warrant the killing of a bright and sunny-tempered eight-year-old?

And I keep thinking: If a woman is capable of doing that and, having done so, of feigning the intense commiseration and grief of a deeply caring, kind, attentive and loving partner, while in constant limelight day after day – 12 days in all – what are other women capable of doing?

Already, all the details of the matter are on Wkikpedia.

Apr 042016
 

I knew, of course, that this is done, and I knew, roughly, how; how some of the rich and powerful, as opposed to most of us, manage to pay little or no taxes. (Hear for instance BBC’s “file on 4”, “Dirty Money UK” of 11 October 2015).

The problem is that more often than not, these people (some of the rich and powerful) are able to avoid paying taxes without breaking the law. Hence the fine verbal distinction between tax evasion, which is a criminal act, and tax avoidance, which is not.

They find loopholes. And the loopholes don’t get closed because the greedy bastards (excuse my French) have contacts in important places (or bribed flunkies in various countries’ civil services, including  – I have no doubt –  our own) and because the tax avoidance schemes are so complex that even the most adamant prosecutors can’t crack them (cf. my post “Speaking of Crime” a while back).

If an honest prosecutor can’t unravel these cases, how is the general public supposed to? So, to my grief, the general public in each country has until now, at least, been mute about the monumental siphoning off of what should have been tax money. While the lower and middle classes pay for the upkeep of their countries – and the penal sanctions for not doing so are very harsh, indeed – some (I really must insist on this some) of the filthy rich do not. No penal sanctions, no public outcry, no nothing.

Mind you, not only tax money! Once you have obtained a secret little series of PO Box companies in distant lands (or more probably, on islands) to which you can divert the proceeds of your business – and why on earth should you bother to do that, unless the purpose is to cheat your compatriots – you can very easily embark on a criminal career in a big way, all the while apearing devout and well-meaning back home.

But now… Oooo, what an exquisite moment I have just enjoyed! In the wake of the monumental release of the “Panama Papers“, I have been watching an Icelandic Prime Minister trying to explain that he was absolutely innocent of cheating the taxman – and besides, he did not know anything about it – and making such a blessed fool of himself that finally his long-suffering countrymen have been vindicated a little bit:

First Iceland was raped by the country’s bankers, bankers’ friends, and bankers’ government flunkies, and the country more or less collapsed in 2008. (The crooked bankers had victims abroad as well, as many Britons will bitterly remember.)  Iceland had to accept gigantic loans to pay for the running of the country, a debt that its citizens are paying dearly, to this day. Most of the funds that had been siphoned off by the crooked bankers and their friends have not been recovered. They had been sucked into a great black hole. They had been vamoosed.

Next, Iceland was bamboozled by a political party which had in effect nurtured the crooked coterie that brought the country to its knees. In the run-up to the last election, that party (the so-called Progressive Party) lied so outrageously and effectively to the voters that it actually regained the power it had lost after the collapse. (Democracy definitely has its weaknesses!)

The Progressive Party’s leader has now been undressed and humiliated. For the record I express the futile hope that he and his like stay away from Icelandic politics for ever.

More importantly, in a global perspective, the Panama papers are documentation of what we knew but couldn’t prove:  A very considerable part of the planet’s wealth is unaccounted for, stashed away in secret places, vamoosed into black holes.

The Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca  is merely one of many that provide similar services to greedy people.

There is no end to easily accessible statistical material illustating how an infinitessimal proportion of the world’s rich owns and earns far more than the vast majority of the rest of all of us humans added together. I will not bore you with such figures, though they are truly quite stark.

Consider, though, that an unknown but undoubtedly enormous proportion of the world’s wealth is not visible to economists, social scientists, financial researchers, etc, and is not subject to tax. An unknown but undoubtedly enormous proportion of the world’s wealth has vanished down a black hole, has been vamoosed.

Can the planet feed all its inhabitants? If not, why?