Navy bribery scandal widens as more sordid details emerge

Officers in a burgeoning Navy bribery scandal called themselves the Lion King’s Harem, the Wolfpack, the Cool Kids and the Brotherhood. They scouted for others who might also accept sex, trips and other lavish perks from a Malaysian defense contractor known as “Fat Leonard” in exchange for classified information.

Allegations outlined in an indictment unsealed in San Diego on Tuesday give more details in the 3-year-old scandal that had appeared to be fading before re-emerging even bigger and more sordid than before.

Nine current and former military officers were charged in the latest indictment, including a recently retired rear admiral who collected foreign intelligence for the Navy’s Seventh Fleet.

It gives an extensive list of bribes to the officers from 2006 to 2012 from Leonard Francis in exchange for classified shipping schedules and other information to help his company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia. In one example, a party with prostitutes at the Manila Hotel’s MacArthur Suite during a 2007 port call to the Philippines included sex acts using historic MacArthur memorabilia.

One meal during a 2006 port visit to Hong Kong cost $20,435. A dinner during a port call to Singapore that year featured foie gras, oxtail soup, cognac that cost about $2,000 a bottle and cigars at $2,000 a box.

Prosecutors say Francis, who is nicknamed Fat Leonard for his wide girth, bilked the Navy out of nearly $35 million, largely by overcharging for his company’s services supplying Navy ships in the Pacific with food, water, fuel and other necessities.

Navy officers provided classified information to Francis that helped him beat competitors and, in some instances, commanders steered ships to ports in the Pacific where his company could charge fake tariffs and fees, prosecutors said.

The latest indictment raises the number of current and former officials charged to 20 in one of the Navy’s worst corruption scandals. Bruce Loveless, who recently retired, became the second admiral charged in the investigation.

Adm. John Richardson, the Navy’s top officer, vowed Tuesday to repair damage caused by the scandal.

“This behavior is inconsistent with our standards and the expectations the nation has for us as military professionals,” he said. “It damages the trust that the nation places in us, and is an embarrassment to the Navy.”

Photo: Associated Press

Hong Kong’s money laundering fight is a fig leaf

Hong Kong is under pressure to step up the fight against money laundering. The city is considering forcing private firms to disclose their true owners. That would shed light on a lucrative web of shell companies. The proposed reforms may be just enough to avoid international censure – and steer clear of embarrassing Beijing.

The Panama Papers leaked last year exposed Hong Kong as a major manufacturer of offshore structures that companies can abuse to hide assets and evade taxes. Finding ways to track the beneficial owners of opaque corporate vehicles is also a G20 priority. In reaction, Hong Kong is looking to demand its 1.3 million unlisted companies to keep a register of their effective owners and make it available upon request. This might ensure Hong Kong ticks all the boxes in time for a review expected next year by the Financial Action Task Force, a global anti-money laundering body with the power to blacklist jurisdictions. Hong Kong appears to be aiming to meet the letter not the spirit of the global crackdown. For example, it would not grant free and easy access to the new set of data, as Britain does. This will maintain a high barrier for investors or journalists seeking information or trying to hunt down malfeasance.

Local players, concerned about rising costs and privacy, argue only law enforcers need to access this information. Also, at up to HK$25,000($3,220), sanctions for failing to record the beneficial owners or responding to a request for information seem mild. Hong Kong’s proposed rules for more disclosure may also be just enough to help Beijing in its own war against corruption and its attempt to stem the illicit transfer of money abroad without upsetting the country’s leaders.

A record $725 billion flew out of China last year. The Panama Papers, which covered an earlier period, showed relatives of powerful mainland officials linked to some shell companies. That suggests there are big vested interests in maintaining the status quo – and allowing Hong Kong to take baby steps on the road to financial transparency.

Photot: Reuters

Criminals expand avenues for money laundering in Kenya, US report says.

A US report has named Kenya among countries classified as money laundering hotspots. The report by the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs on International Narcotics Control Strategy names Kenya among countries whose financial institutions engage in currency transactions involving significant amounts from international narcotics trafficking.

The report covering 2016 says laundering occurs in the formal and informal sectors and derives from both domestic and foreign criminal operations including transnational organized crime, cyber-crime, corruption, smuggling, trade invoice manipulation, illicit trade in drugs and counterfeit goods, trade in illegal timber and charcoal, and wildlife trafficking.

It adds although banks, wire services, mobile payment and banking systems are increasingly available, there are also thriving unregulated networks of ‘hawala’ and other unlicensed remittance systems that lack transparency and facilitate cash-based, unreported transfers that the Government cannot track.

According to Interpol, ‘hawala’ is where money is transferred without actually being moved.

UK to open money laundering trial of ex-Nigerian oil minister in June

The trial of a former Petroleum Minister of Nigeria, Diezani Alison-Madueke, has been scheduled for June this year, local media portals are reporting. The Minister is expected to be tried along with four other accomplices for alleged corrupt practices.

Mrs Alison-Madueke was arrested in October 2015, in London, as part of a UK investigation into suspicions of corruption and large-scale laundering. At the time, she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

Two weeks ago, a Federal High Court in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, issued an order allowing the country’s anti-graft body to confiscate over $150m belonging to her. According to Judge Muslim Hassan, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had proven beyond reasonable doubt that the monies were proceeds from illegal activity.

Ms Alison-Madueke, 56, has already been implicated on several occasions in corruption cases. Under her watch, the former Central Bank governor, Lamido Sanusi – now the emir of Kano, had revealed that there was a shortage of $20 billion in oil revenues in the state coffers.

A reporter with the Nation quoted an anonymous source at the EFCC as saying, they were ready with overwhelming evidence to support the trial, he also dismissed reports that they were negotiating a settlement with the ex-Minister.

Hong Kong human trafficking case leads to landmark court ruling

He needed help.

It was 2012 and he had just returned to Hong Kong, smuggled in illegally by boat.
The man — who goes by the court-assigned pseudonym ZN — says he had spent four years, working seven days a week in a Hong Kong cell phone store, sleeping on the floor and suffering beatings at the hands of his employer. Then his boss sent him back to his native Pakistan without a cent in pay. When he demanded his money, he says, his boss’ associates back in Pakistan threatened to kill him and his family.
So he came back, determined to get his money.
“Even after I came back to Hong Kong all I was asking for was my wages,” he says. “I went to several government departments but no one would listen.”
ZN’s case was the basis for a landmark judicial review that has the potential to change the way Hong Kong deals with cases of human trafficking.
In his 150-page ruling, high court judge Kevin Zervos found that Hong Kong’s immigration, labor and police departments failed to identify ZN as a possible victim of human trafficking and provide him with support or protection.

Three, including girl, 16, charged with planning ‘imminent terror attack’ in France

A TEENAGE girl, 16, is among three people charged over plans to carry out an “imminent terror attack” in France after police reportedly found explosives in a flat.

According to reports, the group was arrested in Montpelier, on Friday on suspicion of planning an “explosive belt” attack in an area popular with tourists.

Judicial sources have told local media that three of the four arrested have been charged. The three were identified as Thomas Sauret, 20; his partner, a 16-year-old minor named only as Sarah; and Malik Hammami, 33. They were indicted on Tuesday for “criminal association in connection with a criminal terrorist enterprise”, sources said.