The Patrimony

In politics, everything is relatives

Tag: corruption

This is (not?) Russia today

by fpman

Alexei Navalny is a strong and stubborn critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has also been working to expose corruption in state-owned enterprises such as Transneft. To no significant effect. Not much happened in follow-up to his revealing of documents concerning possible corruption related to Transneft except he eventually came under accusations of embezzling money from two companies himself. He was accused of having done so together with his brother, Oleg Navalny, who was sentenced by a Russian court related to this on December 30, just a couple of days ago (Alexei was handed a suspended sentence). Oleg will now be sent for three and a half years to a penal labor camp. There was a protest against this in freezing conditions by some people in Moscow yesterday. Never the most frightening thing from any regime’s prespective, given the unfriendly weather. Yet Russian police intervened to arrest about a hundred of the protesters.

Not a nice story.

The amount of coverage it received under the “Russian politics” section on “RT”, i.e. formerly “Russia Today,” the international news television channel sponsored by the Russian state? You can check that yourself. Don’t try too hard. I’ll include here a selection of RT’s headlines I found there myself:

1) Attempts to isolate Russia have been thwarted – senator. The head of Russia’s Upper House Foreign Relations Committee has said that coordinated efforts of all branches of power prevented attempts to isolate the country and exercise “political and economic blackmail” over Moscow.

2) ‘US military hardware will cause more bloodshed in Ukraine’ – Russian official. The possible relocation of US hardware from Afghanistan to Ukraine suggested by President Obama will only lead to more casualties, a senior Russian lawmaker has stated.

3) State Duma chief suggests trying US for WWII nuke attacks. The Russian Lower House speaker wants to instigate an international investigation into the 1945 nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US military – a possible crime against humanity with no statute of limitation.

4) ‘Stop blaming everything on Russia’: Heirs to 1917 revolutionary-era emigrants appeal to EU. Over 100 descendants of the Russian nobility residing outside the country have addressed European nations with a call to stop irrationally alienating Russia and give an unbiased appraisal to the current Ukrainian crisis.

5) France shows its weakness by scrapping Mistral deal – Rogozin. France’s refusal to deliver the Mistral amphibious ships to Russia, can’t be considered force-majeure, but confirms its geopolitical weakness, says he Russian Deputy PM in charge of the defense industry.

The above are 5 out of 12 of the regular news stories RT was running today in its Russian Politics section. Representatives of the Russian state are the chief source for four of those stories (with the exception of the pro-Russia lobby group) and for all seven of the rest. For 11 out of 12 in total. The chief messages transmitted from those chief (state) sources behind the 4 selected reports highlighted are: “don’t give weapons to Ukraine” (message to the US), “give weapons to Russia” (message to France), “the US killed people” (in Hiroshima and Nagasaki), “stop blaming/start liking Russia” (message to everyone). These are not really reports about domestic Russian politics – this is Russian foreign policy rather, including public diplomacy.

Besides this, RT also has a sub-section under “Russian politics” called “Official word.” Apparently this focuses even more on what Russian state leaders say, with headlines such as “Putin: ‘Supporting Russophobia in Ukraine will result in catastrophe’”; “Russia overestimated EU’s independence from US – Lavrov to French media”; and “‘Landmark in Russian history’: President Vladimir Putin’s New Year address.”

No news story on the Navalny case. No mention of it even as, say, a triumph of the Russian state over corruption.

From the site that uses the following two words as its main slogan: “QUESTION MORE.”

RTcover(They decided to question less on this occasion.)

Thai “democrarchy”

by fpman

Thai Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn is about to have his third wife’s, that is, Princess Srirasmi Akrapongpreecha’s family stripped of royal entitlements, according to reports, and most likely a divorce is brewing along with this.

This comes related to allegations of corruption against an uncle of the princess, a police general, who may have been party to some serious smuggling and gambling crime, and may have been involved in soliciting bribes regularly. The uncle in question is Pongpat Chayaphan, formerly the head of Thailand’s Central Investigation Bureau. He has been arrested together with seven colleagues of his.

This source allows a peek into some royal intrigue these days, within the ranks of the royal cabinet, known as the Privy Council:

“The prince has been described in secret cables liberated by Wikileaks from the US Embassy as unstable. Members of the Privy Council have confided that they fear his elevation to the thrown and would prefer his sister, Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.  However, the laws of succession specify that the heir to the throne must be a male.”

So the case is an interesting combination of corruption and positioning for power. To me an even more interesting aspect of the story is this tidbit, however, from the previously linked BBC article:

“Until now the severity of the lese majeste law criminalising any critical comment about the monarchy meant that no Thai media had pointed out the family connection.”

“Lèse-majesté laws” (laws on injury to majesty) are supposedly an historical feature of absolute monarchies. That you cannot insult the honour of a royal family is not really compatible with post-monarchic, let alone democratic, political arrangements. Mixing the two results in “democrarchy” which may be as awkward as it sounds. Yet Thailand has a lèse-majesté law and it apparently is a major obstacle in the way of free discourse, according to this study for example. As past application of the law reveals to us, Thai authorities are even ready to incarcerate a US citizen for two years for posting excerpts of a book about the king that has been banned in Thailand related to the law.

ThaiRoyalStandardThe Thai royal standard (from here). What standards apply to the royal family?

But in fact Thailand is not entirely unique in this respect. Most European remnant monarchies have lèse-majesté laws themselves. There the application of the law is different of course and based on recent practice mostly obscene and pointless statements about the royals would get you into trouble. That is less of an anomaly perhaps as it is not entirely out of line with anti-defamation practice. (Although I’m open to the argument that even such a restriction may be viewed as problematic from a democratic standpoint.)

Quote of the day, from Hungary

by fpman

So the head of the Hungarian national tax authority, Ms Ildikó Vida is facing some serious allegations of corruption these days. Given that she is the head of the state authority collecting a good part of Hungary’s citizens’ earnings and that this is legitimized through the state’s supposed capacity to create public good, it is slightly concerning that she might be involved in creating some private good, and consequently some public bad instead. Such allegations have emerged earlier on from domestic Hungarian sources, and now the U.S. government considers her corrupt, too, and has recently banned her from travelling to the United States.

When it first surfaced that this may be the case, Vida disappeared went on a holiday for a while. In the meantime, the Hungarian government threw in the “Russian defence” to protect her, framing their response as defending Hungary’s sovereignty from foreign intrigue. They claimed that those accusing Vida and ruling circles in general of corruption are working to undermine the sovereignty of Hungary, and that the sovereign Hungarian people will proudly defend their right to pick their leaders who can then sovereignly pick the people to serve as head of the country’s sovereign tax authority.

When news came of the definitive confirmation of Vida’s banning from the U.S., she came back from holiday and felt it was time to talk to some sovereign government-friendly press. Which is the point where she gave us our quote of the day. Promising to fight hard, she said:

“I am a tigress type, and I have two families: one my closest family and the other, NAV [Hungary’s national tax authority] itself.”

We think this is pretty amazing. When one regards one’s office as a family affair that is perhaps slightly incompatible with a desire to refute allegations of corruption. At the very least in terms of one’s communication. But who are we to tell that to a sovereign family’s sovereign mother… and as this article reveals she doesn’t speak English so writing this is of no use, anyway.

VidaThe eye of the tigress: Ildikó Vida at work

Royalties

by fpman

Spain’s internal politics these days are characterised by deep turmoil. Here’s an enumeration of the top ten corruption cases that have recently shaken public life in the country. At the risk of stating the obvious: When you have a top ten of corruption cases you have a problem.

The Monarchy is not spared of the implications of this. The sister of Spanish King Felipe VI, Princess Cristina de Bourbon (of the House of Bourbon; her name is Cristina de Borbón in Spanish) and her husband, Iñaki Urdangarín, the Duke of Palma de Mallorca both stood accused until recently of tax fraud, influence-peddling, the embezzlement of public money, and money laundering (through a family-owned non-profit linked up with a family-owned company). After a court decision today, the difference is that only tax fraud remains as a charge in Cristina’s case while in her husband’s case that and all the other accusations continue to stand.

In Cristina’s case even the tax fraud charges may be dropped eventually. As the Daily Mail writes:

“It is not guaranteed that she will face trial over the tax fraud claims, as Spanish law says the alleged victim – in this case Spain’s government – must support the charges.”

To other matters now, seemingly unconnected to this…

Given the backdrop of economic difficulties and what seems by now rampant, even systematic corruption in Spain, it was interesting to come across this article about Francísco Nicolás Gómez Iglesias, a business school student turned “conman” who, mingling with pretty much the VIPs of Spanish society, successfully “fooled” everyone into thinking he knows everyone…

Pause.

Ponder the meaning of this. Our friends in the media do not always appreciate the meaning of words, and run into problems of interpretation as a result. It is our scholarly duty to indicate when we encounter an example of that.

So… if somebody communicates with everyone, then by definition that person cannot fool everyone into believing that he/she communicates with everyone. The guy did actually get to know a lot of people in high society. He may have started out as a nobody but he got beyond that stage quite successfully. Photo illustration: young Gómez (on the right) sitting at a table with José María Aznar, a former Prime Minister of Spain (on the left).

GómezWithAznar

In spite of his young age (he is just 20!) Gómez seems to have become Mr. Fix It for some in the Spanish elite. Quoting from this article:

“Cruising around night-time Madrid complete with a bodyguard and a fleet of Audi A-8 cars, he promised businessmen favours, arranging paperwork issues for club owners and the like through his contacts. He also claimed to have access to Spain’s CNI secret service and traded alleged information from this source. He charged up to 50,000 for each deal and moved into a mansion in Madrid’s exclusive El Viso district.”

That’s no longer a colourful and hilarious little story, right? It’s a colourful and at the same time quite significant, and consequently big story…

And here comes a part where apparently it even has a connection to the case of Cristina de Bourbon:

“Claiming to be representing Spain’s deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, Gómez met with Miguel Bernad, who is part of the prosecution against Princess Cristina, and asked him to withdraw his accusations. He even promised Bernad’s companion at the lunch, a Catalan businessman, a nine-million-euro loan from BNP Paribas bank “on fabulous terms”.”

Wowoweewow. Were nine million euros really offered to a businessman with reference to Princess Cristina’s case, in the presence of someone from the prosecution’s side working on her case?

Well, if that’s any indication, that is what the words written there mean, actually.

The “familiar” aspect of the Hong Kong protests

by AiteVer

Today is Monday, which – as we know – is horrible for so many reasons. One of those reasons is that today is the deadline for retreat the authorities have given for the protesters of the movement ‘Occupy Central’ in Hong Kong.

The protests started on September 28, 2014 when the Chinese government failed to accept the agreed changes to the electoral rules for the upcoming elections in 2017. There is a great summary of the background and causes here. If you need more, and even more, information, check out this video, and also this video, and for some truly geeky delicacies: this article. And then come back and see why we are writing about this.

Since the cause for the civil unrest was the electoral reform, much of the discourse has focused on Chief Executive CY Leung (Leung Chun-ying), who yesterday did not answer to questions… that he could not be asked. “689”, as he is called after the number of votes he got from the electoral committee back in China, is generally pictured as a corrupt leader who is way too close to Beijing in mindset to effectively run Hong Kong. No wonder it broke the news when his eccentric daughter, Chai Yan Leung, thanked the taxpayers for paying for her shoes, bags and jewelry. Yes, you heard that right. In response to her critics on Facebook she said:

“This is actually a beautiful necklace bought at Lane Crawford (yes- funded by all you HK taxpayers!! So are all my beautiful shoes and dresses and clutches!! Thank you so much!!!!)”

Talkin’ about the difficulties of effective political communication once relatives become involved!

Or… not mere relatives but “princesses,” anyway… (according to her Facebook profile pic as shown here).

ChaiYanLeung

A Non-Definitive Introduction to the Life of Gulnara Karimova

by AiteVer

I’m so excited I don’t even know where to begin. Why? Because the following story has long raised our attention here at the blog. It came up at that allegorical first editorial meeting at that allegorical pub where we discussed how fascinated we were by how one can get so far having a bulletproof last name – as we discussed the rise to fame of Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbekistan’s only leader since 1989, Islam Karimov. Our guess is that the story will not end here so this piece will probably serve only as a brief introduction to the fabulous life of Googoosha or Guli. Why is now the time? It is because this Monday, the Uzbek Prosecutor-General’s Office named ‘Karimova G.’ amongst others as a suspect in the investigation of an organized criminal group.

As a prime introduction to Gulnara, I suggest you watch this:

This report from the 2013 Uzbek Fashion Week has everything that’s glamourous in it: fashion, music, famous people, Central-Asia-specific falconry motives and love messages both for FashionTv and well… Guli. It was posted on December 28, 2013 in the middle of the tumult that followed her return to Tashkent in September 2013 from Geneva.

As the linked RFE story goes about listing the conflicts of interest between her public persona and her business career (based on what we seem to know about the latter), it may become obvious to the reader that she kept a very high profile internationally for the past few years. She was involved in the fashion industry having her own fragrance and Guli fashion line but was also a popular singer and a poet in Uzbekistan (who even inspired the likes of Gerard Depardieu [sic]). Not an artist only in a-r-t, she accumulated a large fortune through her business ventures in media and telecommunications (apparently she was interested in restaurants, too) even as she had to master the art of diplomacy as Uzbekistan’s representative to the UN in Geneva. And, by the way, she also headed a charity organization called Fund Forum. Yet, regardless of said charitable niceties, she hails from a country where students are allegedly forced to pick cotton on the fields year after year. Accordingly, she had been strongly criticized for years for not doing enough, as a UN representative, to improve Uzbekistan’s poor human rights record, and was even implicated in it personally when her fashion show at the New York fashion week was cancelled in 2011, due to human rights organisations’ protest. On the other hand, she could enjoy a lavish lifestyle in Europe and largely undisturbed business back home up until 2012. That is when her opponents began to capitalize on her business scandals in Europe.

Her fall from grace was just as public as her life had been as a ‘princess’. Although she was named ‘the single most hated person in Uzbekistan’ by a WikiLeaks cable, she had 50,000 followers on Twitter including many of her younger fans who regarded her as the smallest evil when compared to other potential successors to her 75-year-old father.

The biggest blow to her public profile came in 2012 when news broke of Karimova’s close associates who allegedly accepted bribes worth of 320 million USD from TeliaSonera in exchange for governmental protection in Uzbekistan. The scandal has since provoked investigation in Sweden, France and Switzerland. This piece of Gulnara’s life would be worthy of its own post on the blog but now we will focus on the aftermath that has become a battle ground between Gulnara and her business associates, pitting them against Karimov’s closest circles, represented especially by Rustam Inoyatov, the president’s right hand, head of the Uzbek SNB state security service, and Gulnara’s younger sister Lola and her mother Tatyana.

Events sped up last year when Gulnara had to step down from her UN post in July (mostly because of the TeliaSonera scandal) and returned to Tashkent in September. In October and November her TV and radio stations were closed down, as well as her charity, the Fund Forum. In the beginning of 2014, she and her daughter were put under house arrest in Tashkent. And finally, after some of his associates were sentenced, including her boyfriend Rustam Madumarov on May 24, she was officially charged this week.

The mesmerizing characteristic of the affair probably isn’t even that a Central Asian high profile businessperson, let alone a presidential sibling, is brought under investigation but on how public this all turned out to be. As noted by FP, unusually for such circles, Gulnara’s fallout with her family was ‘uncharacteristically public’. She had always been known to be very open about her life on Twitter, which she had used to inform her growing fan base of her latest plans, whether it was her yoga class or her next musical collaboration. When her family turned against her, she decided to use the same platform to inform the public about the details of her struggles and began to accuse Inoyatov, as well as her mother and sister of trying to control the president and turn him against her. In the process, her account was disabled, deleted and reinstated multiple times only to finally disappear for good in February, which only strengthened her resistance against the pressure she claimed she was put under.

As a response, there was a BBC interview with her sister last September where Lola attempted to distance herself from Gulnara, saying they hadn’t kept in touch for the past 12 years. Then, after a handwritten letter obtained by the BBC in which she claimed she was held by her family, Gulnara’s son sat down with The Guardian selling the family out once again while voicing his concern for her mother’s well-being. The latest news came in August, when BBC received a voice recording from Gulnara herself repeating her cries for help from the international community to free her from her captivity where she was (and, if true, may still be) treated ‘worse than a dog’. We are speculating (and speculating only) that charging her officially was the response of her adversaries – and so we are eagerly waiting how the story continues to unfold.

GulnaraKarimovaGulnara, freely roaming a field, once upon a time…

Manmohan Singh: A bookworm in the crossfire of a book war

by fpman

“Strictly Personal: Manmohan and Gursharan” is a freshly published book by the former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s daughter, Daman Singh. Its promise is avowedly modest — you can read an interview with the author here, and another brief introduction here, to learn a few details about what you can expect from it.

DamanSingh_StrictlyPersonalCover of the new book by Daman Singh

Focused on the human side of Manmohan Singh’s political career it builds on the strengths of the former PM at a time when he might just need this, to shape perceptions of his legacy to his advantage. Being a nice, smart and humble person is what is generally regarded to have been his strength, and the book may as well be a reminder of that.

ManmohanSinghManmohan Singh’s Wikipedia profile pic

The father of major liberal economic reforms during his time as Minister of Finance (1991-1996), and later premier (2004-2014), no matter how much he was attacked for his policies, Manmohan Singh has always been respected for his personal qualities which even opponents did not usually deny.

A case in point is Sanjaya Baru, media advisor to the former PM from 2004 to 2008, who, while otherwise criticizing rampant corruption during Manmohan Singh’s time, goes only so far as to argue:

“Dr Singh’s general attitude towards corruption in public life, which he adopted through his career in government, seemed to me to be that he would himself maintain the highest standards of probity in public life, but would not impose this on others … In practice, this meant that he turned a blind eye to the misdeeds of his ministers.”

Baru is nevertheless one of those former team members from Singh’s cabinet who have published books dealing with his tenure that have done some damage to his reputation. Baru’s book has the telling title of The Accidental Prime Minister (referring to Singh himself there).

Meanwhile, the memoirs of a former Minister of External Affairs, Natwar Singh (in office: 2004-2005; no relation to Manmohan Singh) are also out since the beginning of this month, and copies of both that book (‘One Life Is Not Enough’) and Baru’s are selling fast — in record numbers in Indian terms.

Based on what we know from the press accounts so far, both books paint a picture of Manmohan Singh’s government (2004-2014) as one where Sonia Gandhi and the Indian National Congress party were really pulling the strings. See samples of what Natwar Singh had to say here and here. He even says Manmohan Singh considered himself “a very lonely man” in the “dyarchy” that left the most power in Sonia Gandhi’s hands.

This will once again reinforce allegations that as the frontman in said arrangement, the former PM may have been complicit — in a half-knowing sort of way, and in spite of his personal merits — in some corrupt wheeling and dealing going on behind his back. Such allegations include the undervalued sale of coal mining rights to investors under his government. “Undervaluing,” resulting in this case in lost revenues in the order of $210 billion dollars according to an estimate mentioned here, would imply informal kickbacks paid by the investors to certain beneficiaries in return, in what is a fairly typical form of corruption. That, if true, is certainly a bit too much to overlook without getting at least a part of the blame, even if Manmohan Singh’s approach to this may have reflected his understanding of pragmatism at the time and he may have seen no workable way to stop this from happening.

Coming several months after the publication of The Accidental Prime Minister, and a week or two after the launch of One Life Is Not Enough, Daman Singh’s book now is not the kind of book that would spend much time discussing such issues, however. Of Baru’s and Natwar Singh’s memoirs the author has this to say:

“I haven’t read either of the two books. They’re not the sort of books I normally read. As far as I can tell Natwar’s book is about politics which is not the kind of book am normally interested in reading … I wrote this book because I wanted to discover my parents as individuals.”

In her story, Indians can, for instance, sympathize with the young Manmohan, the former Cambridge guest student who, during his time in Britain, did not have much money and had to skip meals and get by on sixpence chocolate bars. They may get useful reaffirmation of Manmohan Singh’s generally positive image as a bookworm — as a man of constant contemplation. In Daman’s words:

“He worked in bed where he sat cross-legged with a pillow on his lap, a stack of files beside him. As he hunched over his papers, inscribing neat squiggles, he would tug his beard and mutter to himself. When he was not working, he was usually preoccupied with a book or else with his thoughts.”

Even the pratfall effect (i.e. that our respect for someone we already hold in high regard may increase after we witness the person in question commit a small, non-consequential mistake, or display weakness in some irrelevant area) may come — in consonance with the image above — to Manmohan Singh’s advantage. Quoting Daman again, on her father:

“He was completely helpless about the house and could neither boil an egg, nor switch on the television.”

Boiling eggs may be tough, but politics can be even tougher.  And politics at the helm of a country of 1.2 billion people can be… even tougherer. To say the least, under such circumstances, one may benefit from books written by empathizing family members. This is even more so in the wake of a wave of semi-accusing accounts by frenemies — people on your side who were always part team members and friends, part fellow travelers and opportunistic exploiters, as is the norm in politics.

Having said all this, these are of course only initial impressions from my part, in lieu of having read the book itself — to which I am looking forward.