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How rich Russians turned Cyprus into ‘Moscow on the Med’ | Investigation News

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More than 1,000 Russians obtained a Cypriot passport through Cyprus’s citizenship-by-investment scheme, Al Jazeera can reveal after an investigation of more than 1,400 leaked documents.

The Cyprus Papers consist of 1,471 applications, containing the names of 2,544 people who received a Cypriot passport between late 2017 and late 2019.

The documents obtained by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit showed that almost half of the applications came from Russia, showing how the country’s political and business elite, billionaires and criminals have been buying their place in the EU, granting them the ability to travel, work and bank in the whole of the EU.

Most of what the $2.5m applicants need to invest to qualify for citizenship is put into real estate.

Upon arrival at Larnaca International Airport, signs in Russian offering investment opportunities, luxury properties and adverts for the many agents wanting to handle the citizenship application, show just how important Russia has become to the scheme.

‘They do not trust their own Russian state’

Many Russians who applied for Cypriot citizenship made their money through political and economic relationships with their own government, with several having held official state positions making them PEPs – politically exposed people.

Under new rules introduced last year, PEPs are now banned from buying passports but those who already bought them may keep them.


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Among those that acquired passports are former Deputy Minister Igor Reva and former member of the Russian parliament Vadim Moshkovich. The list also includes the former boss of a subsidiary of the state-owned railways, Vitaly Evdokimenko, and Vladimir Khristenko, who comes from a highly politically connected family, with his stepmother serving as the current deputy prime minister of Russia.

The reason these politically connected people look towards Cyprus, and by extension, the EU, is because they fear their possessions might be at risk in their home country, Nigel Gould-Davies, a Russia expert at the United Kingdom’s International Institute for Strategic Affairs, told Al Jazeera.

In Cyprus’s second-largest city, Limassol, there is a sign in Russian that reads Limassolgrad.[Al Jazeera]

“They do not trust their own Russian state to leave them or their assets alone,” Gould-Davies said.

“They are looking for a place with the rule of law absent in their own country and that also will not scrutinise their applications too closely, make it easy for them to send their money and grant them citizenship.”

Circumventing sanctions

However, it is not just their own government they worry about.

Since 2014, the United States and the EU have imposed sanctions on Russia, in response to the Russian annexation of Crimea, cyber-attacks, corruption and human rights abuses.

“Particular spikes take place when political tensions become more severe in Russia, when people trust the state even less to keep them safe or leave them alone, they look for alternatives,” according to Gould-Davies.

“A good example of that would be the Salisbury nerve agent attack in the UK in March 2018. The UK and US began to impose new sanctions and immediately we’ve got a big spike of capital flight out of Russia, looking for safe places,” he added.

In 2014, VTB – often called “the Kremlin’s bank” – and its subsidiaries were among several big Russian banks sanctioned by the US and the EU after the Crimea invasion.

Yet Cyprus did not appear to consider any conflict in selling EU citizenship to three of VTB’s senior people – Victoria Vanurina, Vitaly Buzorevya and Alexsey Yakovitsky – who were all approved for passports on the same day in May 2018.

Among the 1,000 Russian names are some of the country’s richest men, with Al Jazeera identifying at least nine oligarchs, each worth more than $1bn.

More than a dozen of their relatives are now Cypriot citizens, able to move money around the world with less chance of being flagged as “high risk” because they are now able to use their EU citizenship.

Following Al Jazeera’s revelations, there have been calls for a change in the citizenship-by-investment programme employed by Cyprus and other European Union member states.

In a letter to the European Justice Commissioner, Member of the European Parliament Sophie in ‘t Veld said it is “high time that the Commission gears up towards more decisive action on this front”.

“Clearly, the situation is becoming untenable and inexplicable to EU citizens who fight for equality and against corruption,” in ‘t Veld’s letter said. 

“A more ambitious EU policy and regulatory framework is thus urgently needed.”

Flailing Cypriot economy

Cyprus ramped up its citizenship-by-investment scheme to rescue their economy after the crisis it faced in 2013. Since then, $8bn, much of it from Russians, has kept the economy afloat.

In response to so much money moving outside its borders, Russia has tried to reverse the financial flow, demanding a new treaty to increase the tax paid on money moved into Cypriot banks.

“Putin has increasingly put pressure on some of the most senior business figures to stop sending their money abroad and invest in Russia instead,” Gould-Davies told Al Jazeera.

“Although he is very powerful, they have been able to quietly ignore him. He’s not pleased with this, he hasn’t yet found a way to stop it, but he’s looking for ways to make it more difficult.”

One group of once-well connected and still wealthy businessmen have already fallen foul of Putin. Most are accused of financial crimes but their Cypriot passports have helped them stay out of Russia’s reach.

Former Gazprom executive Nikolay Gornovskiy is one of them. Gornovskiy is wanted by Russia for abuse of power, but the UK has so far refused to extradite him.

Yuri Obodovsky, a Russian banker, is wanted for bribery and corruption over state railway contracts. He is thought to be in hiding in the US.

Finally, brothers Alexey and Dmitry Ananiev were charged with embezzlement from the bank they founded.

Dmitry lives in Cyprus, his brother in London.

‘Trojan horses’

Since its inception in 2013, the EU has regularly criticised the citizenship-by-investment scheme, claiming Cyprus could possibly serve as a back door into the rest of the EU.

“Criminals are endangering Europe’s security or want to engage in money-laundering here,” said Vera Jourova, a vice president of the European Commission in 2018. “We do not want Trojan horses in the Union.”

As a result, Cyprus changed its rules in 2019 and most recently in July 2020, enabling the country to strip citizenship sold to anyone who was now considered damaging to Cyprus’s national interest.

In a written response to Al Jazeera, the Cypriot minister of the interior, Nicos Nouris, claimed: “No citizenship was granted in violation of the Regulations in force at the given time.” He added: “The Republic of Cyprus, as an EU member state, is functioning in absolute transparency.”





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Charles Mbire gains $1.2 million as stake in MTN Uganda rises above $51 million

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Ugandan businessman and MTN Uganda Chairman Charles Mbire has seen the market value of his stake in MTN Uganda surge above $51 million in just two days, as the share price in the leading teleco company increased by a single digit.

The single-digit bump in the share price caused the market value of Mbire’s stake to gain UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million) in less than two days.

The million-dollar increase in the value of his stake came after Uganda’s largest telecom company delivered the country’s largest-ever IPO through the listing of 22.4 billion ordinary shares on the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE).

Upon completing the largest IPO in Uganda’s history, MTN Uganda raised a record UGX535 billion ($150.4 million) from the applications that it received for a total of 2.9 billion shares, including incentive shares.

As of press time, Dec. 7, shares in the company were trading at UGX204.95 ($0.0574), down six basis points from their opening price this morning.

Data gathered by Billionaires.Africa revealed that since the telecom company registered its shares on the Ugandan bourse on Mon., Dec. 6, its share price has increased by 2.5 percent from UGX200 ($0.056) to UGX204.95 ($0.0574) as of the time of writing, as retail investors sustained buying interest long after the public offering.

The increase in the company’s share price caused the market value of Mbire’s 3.98-percent stake to rise from UGX178.45 billion ($49.96 million) to UGX182.86 billion ($51.2 million).

In less than two days, his stake gained more than UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million).

In a statement after the successful listing of MTN Uganda’s shares, Mbire said the IPO shows the confidence that Ugandans and other investors have in the company, its brand and strategic intent.

“We commend all the regulators for their support in our work to become a USE-listed company and to comply in a timely manner with the listing provisions of the national telecommunications operators’ license,” he said.

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350 million (debt free).

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350. ( debt free).

He is into communications-revenue assurance-cement-distribution-oil services-real estate-oil exploration and logistics.

Source: Billionaires Africa

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2-year-old dies at Arua hospital as nurse demands Shs 210,000 bribe

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A two-year-old child died at Arua Regional Referral hospital after a nurse, Paul Wamala demanded a bribe amounting to Shs 210,000 before carrying out an operation. 

The incident happened on Saturday, after Aron Nabil, a two-year-old child was referred to the hospital for an operation after he was diagnosed with intestinal obstruction, a medical emergency caused by a blockage that keeps food or liquid from passing through the small intestine or large intestine.

According to the relatives of the child, Wamala allegedly asked them to initially give him Shs 30,000 to buy medicines to commence the procedure. He however returned shortly asking for an additional Shs 180,000 from the relatives.

Emily Adiru, a resident of Osu cell, in Bazar Ward, Central Division, and a relative of the child says although they paid money to Wamala, he abandoned the child without carrying out the operation. According to Adiru, Wamala later refunded Shs 200,000 through mobile money, after she threatened to report him to the police.

“They told us this boy needs an operation which was supposed to be done in the morning on Sunday at around 7 am. They took him inside there, some doctor came from the theatre, he called one of us and said, we should pay Shs 70,000 for buying medicine to start the operation. We paid the Shs 30,000 [but] after paying the Shs 30,000, after some minutes, the same man came and opened the door and called us again, and told us we should pay another Shs 100,000. We also paid the Shs 100,000 and we thought it is finished. We were outside there waiting for our patient to come out [but] then this man came back again and said we should pay another Shs 80,000,” said Adiru.

Although the operation was later carried out after a 7-hour delay, the child didn’t make it, and relatives attribute the death to negligence. Miria Ahmed, a concerned resident wonders why such incidents have persisted at the facility which is supposed to service the citizens.

“Is the problem the hospital, is it the management or it is the human resource that is the problem in the hospital? A small child like this you demand Shs 210,000 for the operation? Well, if the money was taken and the operation is done, I would say anything bad but this money was taken and the small boy was abandoned in the theatre,” she said. 

When contacted Wamala refused to comment on the allegations. Dr Gilbert Aniku, the acting hospital director says that the hospital will issue an official statement later since consultations about the matter are ongoing.

Arua City resident district commissioner, Alice Akello has condemned the actions of the nurse saying she has ordered his arrest so as to set an example to the rest. The case has been reported to Arua regional referral hospital police post under SD reference No:05/30/05/2022.



Source – observer.ug

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Mexican president’s Mayan Train dealt new legal setback | Tourism News

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Activists say the planned tourist train will harm the wildlife and natural features of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been dealt the latest setback to an ambitious plan to create a tourist train to connect the country’s southern Yucatan Peninsula.

On Monday, a judge indefinitely suspended construction on a portion of the project, known as the Mayan Train, saying the plans currently do not comply “with the proceedings of the environmental impact evaluation”.

The ruling follows a legal challenge by activists who said they were concerned the 60km (37 mile) portion of the train that would connect the resorts of Playa del Carmen and Tulum would adversely affect the area’s wildlife, as well as its caves and water-filled sinkholes known as cenotes.

The original plan for the disputed section was for an overpass over a highway, but the route was modified early this year to go through jungle at ground level.

The federal judge cited the “imminent danger” of causing “irreversible damage” to ecosystems, according to one of the plaintiffs, the non-governmental group Defending the Right to a Healthy Environment. In a statement, the group said that authorities had failed to carry out the necessary environmental impact studies before starting construction of the section.

Lopez Obrador had announced the ambitious project in 2018, with construction beginning in 2020. The roughly 1,500km (930 mile) cargo and passenger rail loop was presented as a cornerstone of a wider plan to develop the poorer states and remote towns throughout the about 181,000sq km (70,000sq mile) Yucatan Peninsula.

The railway is set to connect Caribbean beach resorts with Mayan archaeological ruins, with authorities aiming to complete the project by the end of 2023. The plan is estimated to cost about $16bn.

The project has split communities across the region, with some welcoming the economic development and connectivity it would bring. Others, including some local Indigenous communities, have challenged the project, saying it could not only disrupt the migratory routes of endangered species, including jaguars, tapirs and ocelots, but could also potentially damage centuries-old Mayan archaeological sites.

The National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism, the government agency overseeing the project, has said that it expects to “overcome” the latest challenge and that work should continue after an environmental impact statement is finalised. It said the Environment Ministry was currently reviewing its environmental application for the project.

For his part, Lopez Obrador has insisted the railway will not have a significant environmental effect and has accused activists of being infiltrated by “impostors”.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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