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07 Nov

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

English Online International Newspapers

Nearly all of these are English-edition daily newspapers. These sites have interesting editorials and essays, and many have links to other good news sources. We try to limit this list to those sites which are regularly updated, reliable, with a high percentage of “up” time.

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World Politics

Italy

Silvio Berlusconi set to return to Italian politics after Sicilian election victory>>

United States

Bernie Sanders warns of ‘international oligarchy’ after Paradise Papers leak

US senator warned that leak of documents exposing offshore tax havens show ‘rapid movement’ toward a group of billionaires controlling the global economy

Live updates: billionaires and firms exposed by Paradise Papers>>

by in New York and in Washington

Bernie Sanders has warned that the world is rapidly becoming an “international oligarchy” controlled by a tiny number of billionaires, highlighted by the revelations in the Paradise Papers.

In a statement to the Guardian in the wake of the massive leak of documents exposing the secrets of offshore investors, Sanders said that the enrichment of wealthy individuals and companies in tax havens was “the major issue of our time”.

He said the Paradise Papers opened the door on a “major problem not just for the US but for governments throughout the world”.

“The major issue of our time is the rapid movement toward international oligarchy in which a handful of billionaires own and control a significant part of the global economy. The Paradise Papers shows how these billionaires and multinational corporations get richer by hiding their wealth and profits and avoid paying their fair share of taxes,” the US senator from Vermont said.

Sanders, who came in a close second to Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, pointed the finger of blame for the flourishing of offshore holdings on both Congress and the Trump administration. He told the Guardian that Republicans in Congress were responsible for providing “even more tax breaks to profitable corporations like Apple and Nike”.

The same tax breaks, he said, were being seized upon by super-wealthy members of Trump’s cabinet “who avoid billions in US taxes by shifting American jobs and profits to offshore tax havens. We need to close these loopholes and demand a fair and progressive tax system.”

Sanders’ intervention in the debate sparked by the Paradise Papers marks the most prominent political response to the leak in their opening 24 hours. The investigation stems from the leak of some 13m files obtained by Süddeutsche Zeitung in Germany and shared with almost 100 news organisations around the world including the Guardian by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

One of the most pointed disclosures in the Paradise Papers was that Wilbur Ross, Trump’s commerce secretary, has continued to do business with the son-in-law of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, as well as a member of Putin’s inner circle who is under US sanctions. Ross, himself a billionaire, has retained since joining the Trump administration his investment in a shipping company, Navigator, that has a partnership with the Russian gas giant Sibur.

In turn Sibur is part-owned by Kirill Shamalov, the husband of Putin’s daughter.

The emergence of Ross’s ongoing ties to business interests so close to the Russian president at a time of intense scrutiny of the relationship between the Trump administration and the Kremlin has incensed prominent Democrats involved in Ross’s confirmation to office. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat who sits on the US Senate commerce committee, accused Ross of deceiving the public as well as lawmakers who had allowed the confirmation to go through having heard Ross promise to divest himself of any interests that carried potential conflict.

“If he fails to present a clear and compelling explanation, he ought to resign,” Blumenthal told MSNBC in an interview.

Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, said: “In February, I opposed Mr. Ross’ nomination because there were a number of unanswered questions about his ownership stake in the Bank of Cyprus and his connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as his refusal to divest from a $1 billion co-investment made with the state-owned Chinese Investment Corporation.

“Despite assurances from the Commerce Department and the White House on the eve of his nomination, these questions remain unanswered over eight months later. These unanswered questions and recent revelations certainly warrant a Commerce Committee hearing and I think an Inspector General investigation is in order. We should get to the bottom of this.”

On Monday, Ross denied that he had done anything wrong in his handling of his investment in Navigator. In the course of a visit to London, he told UK media that “there is nothing wrong with it. The fact that it happens to be called a Russian company doesn’t mean there is any evil in it.”

Further responses to the Paradise Papers came from the Democratic leader in the US Senate Chuck Schumer, and the ranking Democratic member of the Senate finance committee, Ron Wyden. In a joint statement they accused Republicans in Congress leading the push towards a reform of the tax code of failing to close egregious loopholes revealed by the leaks.

Read Full Article>>

Trump administration Wilbur Ross denies wrongdoing after Paradise Papers leak>>

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Robert Mercer, whose spending assisted Donald Trump’s election win, used tax haven of Bermuda to avoid US taxes

Steve Bannon produced the scathing 2015 book Clinton Cash.

Steve Bannon produced the scathing 2015 book Clinton Cash. Photograph: AP/Guardian Design Team

Eighteen months before guiding Donald Trump to election victory, Steve Bannon delivered the opening shot in the ruthless Republican campaign to paint their Democratic opponent as corrupt.

The future White House chief strategist produced a book in May 2015 accusing Hillary Clinton of trading favours for donations to her charitable foundation. Its questionable central charge, on the sale of a uranium company to Russia, recently became the subject of a House inquiry and feverish talk on conservative media.

But the financial arrangements of another foundation, which bankrolled Bannon’s creation of the book, Clinton Cash, have received less scrutiny.

Leaked documents and newly obtained public filings show how the billionaire Mercer family built a $60m war chest for conservative causes inside their family foundation by using an offshore investment vehicle to avoid US tax.

The offshore vehicle was part of a network of companies in the Atlantic tax haven of Bermuda led by Robert Mercer, the wealthy hedge-fund executive and Bannon patron whose spending helped put Trump in the White House and aided a resurgence of the Republican right.

Mercer, 71, appears as a director of eight Bermuda companies in the Paradise Papers, a trove of millions of leaked documents on offshore finance reviewed by the Guardian, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and other partners. The files include a copy of Mercer’s US passport and other private data.

Some of the Bermuda companies appear to have been used to legally avoid a little-known US tax of up to 39% on tens of millions of dollars in investment profits amassed by the Mercer family’s foundation, which funded Bannon’s book and a who’s who of conservative groups, along with a $475m retirement fund for the staff of Mercer’s hedge fund, Renaissance Technologies.

Bill Parish, an Oregon-based investment adviser who has been consulted on the tax by US government investigators, said: “This is simple but ingenious. You take retirement plans or foundations, you invest them in a hedge fund, and even if the value rises 100%, you can sell off the investments with no tax consequences.”

Milo Yiannopoulos

Milo Yiannopoulos is one of the conservative figures financed by Mercer. Photograph: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Extraordinary returns

Mercer, who declined to comment for this article, has risen from relative obscurity to become one of the most influential figures in US conservatism. He financed ventures including the presidential campaigns of Trump and Senator Ted Cruz, the website Breitbart News and the online agitator Milo Yiannopoulos, whom he publicly disowned last week. Mercer has personally donated $41m to federal election campaigns over the past decade, according to public filings.

A PhD computer scientist who rarely speaks publicly, Mercer is president and co-chief executive of Renaissance, a New York-based company that manages more than $50bn in assets. He announced last week that he would step down from his leadership roles at the end of the year. Renaissance frequently makes extraordinary returns, which it chalks up to closely guarded trading formulas created at its Long Island offices by mathematicians and scientists.

The company has also faced sharp criticism for trying to sidestep obligations to the public purse. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has been pursuing Renaissance for $6.8bn in federal taxes that it was accused of improperly avoiding through practices described as “abuses” in a 2014 investigation by a Senate committee. The two sides are preparing to meet for negotiations this week.

Mercer also helps fund the Mercer Family Foundation, a nonprofit led by his daughter and political guru, Rebekah. It has no website, staff or offices and is registered to a mailbox at a UPS store on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It was previously listed at Rebekah’s $28m home in a Trump building nearby. The foundation’s accountant is treasurer of Make America Number 1, a Super Pac part-funded by Mercer, which supported the 2016 campaign against Clinton.

Mercer’s foundation is barred from intervening in election campaigns. But over the past decade, it has given out $62m to conservative research groups and thinktanks whose work generally bolsters Republicans. Among them are prominent names including the Heritage Foundation, the Federalist Society, and the Media Research Center.

Read Full Article>>

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Files from offshore law firm show financial dealings of the Queen, big multinationals and members of Donald Trump’s cabinet

The world’s biggest businesses, heads of state and global figures in politics, entertainment and sport who have sheltered their wealth in secretive tax havens are being revealed this week in a major new investigation into Britain’s offshore empires.

The details come from a leak of 13.4m files that expose the global environments in which tax abuses can thrive – and the complex and seemingly artificial ways the wealthiest corporations can legally protect their wealth.

The material, which has come from two offshore service providers and the company registries of 19 tax havens, was obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists with partners including the Guardian, the BBC and the New York Times.

The project has been called the Paradise Papers. It reveals:

Lord Ashcroft hides in toilets to avoid questions on tax – video

The disclosures will put pressure on world leaders, including Trump and the British prime minister, Theresa May, who have both pledged to curb aggressive tax avoidance schemes.

The publication of this investigation, for which more than 380 journalists have spent a year combing through data that stretches back 70 years, comes at a time of growing global income inequality.\

Read Full Article>>

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Opinion

Spain has imposed a political agenda that goes against the will of the majority of Catalans. We will defend our rights to the end

Protesters Madrid, Catalan

Protesters outside the high court in Madrid, after eight Catalan ministers were remanded in custody, 2 November 2017. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Catalonia is right now the only territory in the European Union that has been denied the supreme law its citizens voted for; the parliament that its citizens elected; the president that this parliament elected; and the government that this president appointed in the exercise of his powers. Acting in an arbitrary, undemocratic, and in my view, unlawful manner, the Spanish state decided to dissolve the Catalan parliament in the middle of the legislative term, to dismiss the president and the Catalan government, to intervene in our self-government and the institutions that the Catalans have been building in our nation for centuries. It committed a brutal judicial offensive to bring about the mass imprisonment and criminalisation of candidates promoting political ideas that, just two years ago, obtained historically high levels of public support.

Today, the leaders of this democratic project stand accused of rebellion and face the severest punishment possible under the Spanish penal code – the same as for cases of terrorism or murder: 30 years in prison. The vice-president and seven Catalan government ministers have been in prison since last Thursday, as well as two Catalan civic leaders, while orders for the rest of the Catalan government to be detained have been issued. This is a colossal outrage that will have serious consequences.

Let us remember one key fact: in the elections of 27 September 2015, Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes), the undisputed winner, stood on a manifesto where it explicitly pledged to declare independence and to convene constituent elections. The voters who supported us knew at all times what our purpose was. Yet two years after those elections we are accused of sedition, conspiracy and rebellion for delivering on an electoral programme that we never concealed.

It’s an odd conspiracy, one that receives the popular vote. The 2015 elections delivered a clear majority in favour of Catalan independence: 72 seats out of 135. Only 52 of the 135 seats went to candidates who explicitly rejected the idea of ??an independence referendum. Yet the legitimate Catalan government has now been outlawed, the Catalan parliament dissolved and a political agenda that has nothing to do with the will of the majority has been imposed.

This is why we will continue denouncing to the entire world the serious democratic shortcomings that are now evident in Spain.

Surely, what must prevail is the will of the majority of the citizens and the respect for fundamental rights included in international treaties signed by the kingdom of Spain, and also incorporated into its constitution. What we have instead are two levels of democracy in Spain: you can be a pro-independence party, but only if you do not rule. You will be charged with rebellion if you comply with your electoral commitment. And if you are against independence but you lack a parliamentary force to govern, the almighty state will come to your defence.

The Spanish judicial system has its own, particularly serious, shortcomings. There is a clear lack of independence and neutrality, with the links between the judiciary and the government visible for all to see. Even at the procedural level, the legal cases against Catalan leaders contain so many irregularities that it is difficult to believe that the accused can rely on any formal guarantees.

The state has demonstrated its determination to strip public officials of their rights, and Spanish justice has been placed at the service of the government’s political agenda. No crime committed in the name of the unity of the country will ever be prosecuted: not the violations of the secrecy of postal correspondence, nor the repeated restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, the blocking of websites without judicial authorisation, arrests made without judicial order, nor the certification of a police brigade outside the law to illegally pursue pro-independence political leaders and the Spanish left.

In demonstrations convened by the governing party of Spain, ultra-right radical groups (direct heirs of the Franco regime, such as the Spanish Falange) have marched, some brandishing fascist banners and making Nazi salutes, while songs demanding my imprisonment and execution have been widely sung. The climate of hostility is summed up by the scream, “Go for them!” from many Spanish citizens as they cheered the police patrols from around the state deployed to prevent the 1 October referendum, an effort by land, sea and air that resembled a military campaign to occupy rebel territory.

Does anyone think that the sacked Catalan government can expect a fair and independent hearing, uninfluenced by political and media pressure? I do not. We will continue to seek the independence of Catalonia, and defend a model of society in which no one is afraid of the power of the state.

I have a duty to demand justice for all of us. Real justice. To bring light to all the dark areas in which the state is allowed to commit unacceptable abuses. And to do this we need to allow in scrutiny from abroad. This attention must above all serve to demand a political rather than judicial solution to the problem.

The Spanish state must honour what was said so many times in the years of terrorism: end violence and we can talk about everything. We, the supporters of Catalan independence, have never opted for violence – on the contrary. But now we find it was all a lie when we were told that everything was up for discussion.

 

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