Wednesday, February 17, 2010

At UN, CPJ on Pariah States N. Korea and on Sri Lanka, Buying Tickets, Iran's Eye

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 16 -- The Committee to Protect Journalists on February 16 called on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to be more forceful about the importance of press freedom. Inner City Press asked CPJ's Asia expert Bob Deitz about what Mr. Ban and CPJ have done as the Sri Lankan government of Mahinda Rajapaksa has closed down opposition newspapers, reporters have been killed and websites blocked. Video here, from Minute 40:08.

Deitz said that "no one knows how to handle the direction in which the [Sri Lankan] government is going, which is not friendly to the media." He said it might join the "pariah states" of Myanmar, "Burma, North Korea and Zimbabwe," but for feisty journalists who put themselves at risk.

But as to what CPJ does, Weitz said "right now we are hanging back with a lot of people," trying to figure out whether to "come down hard or engage in quiet advocacy."

Afterwards, Inner City Press asked Deitz for more specifics about this "quiet" approach, which the UN seems to share, in the most benign interpretation of Ban's visit in May 2009 after what even the UN called the "bloodbath on the beach" and since.

Even the UN's Children and Armed Conflict mandate, which belatedly sent Patrick Cammaert to Sri Lanka in December, never had him brief the Press afterwards. Radhika Coomaraswamy, when Inner City Press asked her about this silence last week, said that Cammaert went to Europe to get married after his trip, then it was "too late" to brief the press about his visit.

Deitz said that the opposition press in Sri Lanka asks that particular journalists' cases "not be publicized," as it would only make things worse. "Just get us out of here," Deitz said such journalists ask, adding the CPJ helps with plane tickets.

Another correspondent remarked afterwards is that "quiet advocacy is what diplomats do, not journalists or their organizations."

Masked rally for press freedom in Sri Lanka, Jan 2009, UN and CPJ's tickets out not shown

Inner City Press asked CPJ's deputy director Robert Mahoney about the UN's own envoy to Somalia Ahmedou Ould Abdallah having called on a "moratorium" on Somali journalists reporting on the killing of civilians by the African Union peacekeepers of AMISOM.

Mahoney said it is up to journalists to make their own editorial decisions. Ironically, Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky has, at least in his first month on the job, said such things as "that's not a story."

Also on the podium was Newsweek journalist and filmmaker Maziar Bahari, about whom CNN's Fareed Zakaria devoted the foreword to CPJ's study. As Bahari spoke, a representative from Iran's Mission to the UN sat in the UN press hall's front row, taking notes.

The Iranian mission has invited UN correspondents -- including this one -- to a celebration of Iran's national day on February 18. Inner City Press told Bahari about the event, encouraging him to come and cover it. Watch this space.

Footnote: three hours after the CPJ press conference on its report, "Attacks on the Press in 2009," which names North Korea as the world's most censored country, Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban's senior advisor Kim Won-soo and political advisor Lynn Pascoe if they had even raised press freedom during their recent trip to Pyongyang. Video here.

No, Mr. Pascoe said. Inner City Press asked Mr. Kim to respond for Mr. Ban on CPJ's wider call to be more forceful on press freedom. While he answered about UNDP in North Korea, he did not answer on press freedom. Inner City Press has at UN noon briefings asked for Mr. Kim to come and answer questions more often. We'll see.

In another UN footnote, CPJ's genial Mr. Deitz granted an interview to a student reporter, Melissa Best, whose piece should air as part of WNYC's Radio Rookies program. Ms. Best, who aspired to be a US diplomat, told Inner City Press that North Korea's nuclear ambitions might call for more stick and less carrots. The show should air -- and Internet -- in June...

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Denying Corruption of Citigroup and BofA, Obiangs Cite Obama, ExxonMobil's Investment

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 15 -- Ten days after the release by the U.S. Senate of a reporting on evasion by the son of Equatorial Guinea's President for Life Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue of anti-money laundering controls by and at Citigroup, Bank of America, Wachovia / Wells Fargo and others, the Obiang regime fired back, calling the report racist and citing in its defense the election of Barack Obama.

Inner City Press is putting the Obiangs' memo online, here.

The Senate report exhaustively shows how Teodorin and his lawyers moved tens of millions of dollars through Citibank and Wachovia (owned by Wells Fargo since the financial meltdown), and used accounts at Bank of America, City National and other banks. The report described how Teodorin

"brought over $100 million into the United States using wire transfer systems at just two U.S. financial institutions, Wachovia Bank and Citibank. Neither system had been programmed to detect or block wire transfers bearing his name. In 2009... Citibank declined to take the same action due to projections that identifying, freezing, and investigating these wire transfers would generate too much work for its anti-money laundering staff...From 2004 to 2007, Mr. Obiang used accounts at three U.S. banks, Union Bank of California, Bank of America, and Citibank, often with Mr. Berger’s assistance, to deposit, transfer and spend nearly $10 million. Most of these funds were wire transferred from accounts in Equatorial Guinea held in the name of Mr. Obiang or two EG companies he controlled, Somagui Forestal and Socage."

To this, the Government of Equatorial Guinea in a communique sent to the Press on February 15, the President's Day holiday in the U.S., argues that

"According to Equatoguinean legislation, as occurs exactly in the most of the world, the natural and legal persons, as occurs in this case with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, are perfectly authorized to do business and maintain other types of jobs at the margin of their Ministerial obligations."

Teodorin's "marginal" business includes a $30 million mansion in Malibu, a jet and recording studio, among other things. Previously he and his president for life father Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo moved their money, like Pinochet, into the U.S. through Riggs Bank.

Inner City Press and its Fair Finance Watch dug into these connections, including to Spain's Santander Bank and HSBC, when the Obiang disgraced Riggs was being sold to PNC Bank. Click here for coverage in Le Monde, in French.

The U.S. Federal Reserve did little at that time. With the major banks it regulates now implicated again in corrupt money laundering, what will the supposedly chastened Federal Reserve do?

President for life Obiang, speaking at the UN, Citi and BofA not shown

The "Equatoguinean" response complains at the Senate report deals only with African corruption -- Angola with HSBC, Gabon's Omar Bongo with Citigroup, Nigeria's Abubakar with Suntrust and the ubiquitous Citibank -- and not any other continent. In this, it echoes the defenders of Sudan's Omar al Bashir, that the International Criminal Court and its prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo have so far indicted only African defendants.

But Equatorial Guinea goes further. Its cover email to Inner City Press argues that "it can be considered as an authentic insult to Africa, and more so after the people of the United States have voted in the majority for a President of African origin."

Then, in capital letters, Equatorial Guinea screams that

"In Africa and in Equatorial Guinea we are tired of BEING TREATED FOR CENTURIES LIKE INHUMAN BEASTS, ON WHICH ALL THE BRUTAL AND EVIL BEHAVIOURS POSSIBLE ARE BLAMED. This is again so verifiable in this case that even different media of the United States have written these days, in regards to this case, THAT THE FAMILY OBIANG PRACTICES CANNIBALISM."

Another of the ICC's and Ocampo's indictees, Jean Pierre Bemba the previous Vice President of the Congo, argued during his campaign against Joseph Kabila that, "I am not a cannibal!"

The Equatoguinean defense that's closest to the mark is that

"We also wish to put on the record that the United States is the country from which comes the highest foreign investment in Equatorial Guinea, which exceeds 12 billion USA dollars, and that no American corporation has complained of fraudulent behaviour of the Government. We also expect the Senate Subcommittee to be consistent with the criteria of the North American companies."

Or should it be the other way around? Major U.S. investors with the Obiangs include ExxonMobil, Marathon Oil, Hess Corporation, and Noble Energy. We will have more on all this.

Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

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