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Cyprus cashes in as haven for elites fearful of home countries | Investigation News

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Rich Chinese and Arab officials and businesspeople have in large numbers bought Cypriot passports in an attempt to escape the restrictive regimes of their home countries, Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit has found.

The Cyprus Papers, a huge leak of Cypriot passport application data obtained by Al Jazeera, reveal more than 500 Chinese nationals and 350 Arabs who were approved for Cypriot citizenship after investing at least $2.5m in the European Union member state.

For people from China and the Middle East, having an EU passport is attractive because it allows them visa-free travel, work and banking options throughout Europe, an advantage they would not usually have considering their countries are often flagged as “high risk” for corruption and financial crime.

Chinese corruption crackdown

The Cyprus Papers reveal the Chinese are the second largest group, after the Russians, to have bought passports in a two-year period from late 2017 until late 2019.

Wealthy Chinese began looking outside their own country after President Xi Jinping’s 2012 crackdown on “tigers and flies”, which started out as an anti-corruption campaign but eventually led to tougher scrutiny of how China’s business elite make their money and where they keep it.

Among the Chinese names in The Cyprus Papers are Yang Huiyan and her husband. She is often described as Asia’s richest woman, worth an estimated $27bn made through her property company, Country Garden Holdings, which builds luxury estates.

Another Chinese national that now also holds Cypriot citizenship is the relative of a wealthy businessman, whose identity will not be made public by Al Jazeera for the safety of those involved.

The businessman has not been seen since he was abducted in Hong Kong by Chinese security agents earlier this year.

“I think nearly all your very rich in China would probably have a second passport in order to give them some kind of security,” Professor Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, told Al Jazeera.

Until recently, the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom were favoured options but the ease of gaining Cypriot citizenship, and with it access to the EU, has made the island a prime destination.

Paying the $2.5m for a passport is a small price to pay for increased safety, visa-free travel and the opportunity to move money around with ease.

“Strictly speaking, it’s all illegal,” Tsang said. “The law in China controls the out-road of capital beyond $50,000 and so if you try to get any money out of that, without going through the formal process and permission, then you are breaking the law.

“Very often they use Hong Kong as a way for getting their money out of China, and there are many creative ways for doing so. And they sometimes also use the casinos in Macau as another way of getting money out of China.”

Yang Huiyan, Asia’s richest woman, bought a Cypriot passport [Reuters]

In recent years, China has put pressure on other countries to extradite high-level officials and political opponents but so far the country has not targeted the super-rich.  

Tsang warns, if that changes, a Cypriot passport might not provide protection.

“I think Cyprus will never stand up against China if push comes to shove,” he said.

“Xi Jinping sticks to views that if you have Chinese blood running through your veins, you are Chinese, and therefore they will come for you anyway.”

Arab applications

Another group that has found its way to the Mediterranean island, are people from the Middle East.

More than 350 passports have been bought by Arabs living amid political instability, mainly in Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Some of the applications come from those still holding positions of influence, making them Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs), meaning they are considered to be at higher risk of corruption.

Among those are Apurv Bagri, an Indian citizen and board member of Dubai’s Financial Services Authority, and Hussain Al Nowais, board member of the state-owned Emirates Steel and National Petroleum Construction Co.

There are also several Saudi PEPs on the list, including Khaled Juffali, board member of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, and Mohammed Jameel, a member of the Saudi General Investment Authority.

Saudi Arabia, like China, has seen a crackdown on corruption in recent years following the rise to power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), making many Saudis fearful for their futures and wealth.

During that anti-corruption crackdown, several of the crown prince’s opponents ended up being imprisoned in the Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh in 2017.

The detainees allegedly paid a total of $100bn for their release.

That crackdown, which critics have said was mainly aimed at Prince Mohammed’s political opponents, has led several wealthy Saudis to consider the EU a possible safe haven.

The Cyprus Papers reveal that family members of one of those rounded up in the Riyadh Ritz Carlton, a wealthy industrialist who was imprisoned for more than a year without charge, are among those who bought Cypriot passports.

Another person in the leaked documents is a member of the once-wealthy Bin Laden family, which has seen much of their business empire confiscated by MBS.

The individual holding a Cypriot passport is a businessman cleared of any links to the infamous former leader of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Ladan.

Finally, there is a broker who has facilitated multimillion-dollar contracts for Saudi infrastructure projects awarded to foreign companies.

The broker still has close links to the Saudi royal family but has voiced fears for their safety, and is linked to an international corruption investigation involving a Saudi project.

‘No violation of regulations’

On Wednesday, Cyprus’s Minister of the Interior Nicos Nouris responded to Al Jazeera’s revelations during a news conference, calling Al Jazeera’s reporting “propaganda”, local media reported.

“For the last 24 hours we have been witnessing an orchestrated effort by the Al Jazeera network, which, after succeeding in securing secret documents of the Republic of Cyprus, is attacking our country through distortion, deception and impressions,” Nouris was quoted as saying.

In response to questions asked by Al Jazeera regarding its citizenship-by-investment programme before publication, Nouris said his country “is functioning in absolute transparency”.

“No citizenship was granted in violation of the regulations in force, at the given time,” Nouris told Al Jazeera.

In total, The Cyprus Papers consist of almost 1,500 applications containing almost 2,500 names and spanning two years of Cyprus’s citizenship-by-investment programme.

Among those who obtained Cypriot citizenship, Al Jazeera identified convicted criminals, fugitives from the law and those considered to be at high risk of corruption.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Another blow as Judge throws out Kiggundu’s lawyer Muwema

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When court sat on Friday to hear the Kiggundu’s application to stop independent audit, he did not have a written application, and Justice Henry Adonyo instead ordered the plaintiff’s lawyer Fred Muwema to go make a written application seeking court to dismiss the audit and return to court on September 30 for a hearing of the application. But this adds more pressure on Kiggundu who is choking with the loans.

On 31 August, the judge ordered the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Uganda (ICPAU) to carry out and independent audit into the accounts of the businessman and financial statements exchanged between the two parties, and present a report to court.

When asked by journalists why he has filed for an application seeking dismissal of the audit, Fred Muwema had this to say. “We are saying that let the validity and legality of those credit facilities (loans) be decided first before you can audit” He said.

The ruling on the application of the main suit to determine whether the businessman owes loan arrears to the bank is set for 5th October 2020, after which a date for hearing of the case will be set.

Background

Hamis Kiggundu through his companies Ham enterprises and Kiggs International (U) ltd sued DTB branches in Kenya and Uganda for deducting money from his accounts something which the bank contends and said they only acted as per the loan agreement of deducting 30% from Kiggundu’s accounts to recover the credit facilities rendered to him between February 2011 and September 2016

But Court documents filed by the bank in their defense shows that Kiggundu, between February 2011 and September 2016, was granted various credit facilities by the said DTB Banks.

First, via Ham Enterprises Limited, Kiggundu obtained a loan of $6,663,453 and another Sh2.5bn from the DTB (U) to finance his projects in the real estate business.

Later, according to New Vision, he got a facility worth $4.5m through Kiggs International (U) Limited from DTB (K) and mortgaged his properties, which include Plot 328 located at Kawuku on Block 248 Kyadondo, three plots that include 36, 37 and 38 on Folio 1533 Victoria Crescent II situated in Kyadondo and land on Makerere Hill Road on LRV 3716 Folio 10 Plot 923 Block 9.

Documents show that as of January 21, 2020, Kiggundu was in default on payment obligations of $6.298m on the loan facility of $6.663m, as well as sh2.885b on the demand overdraft facility of sh1.5b and the temporary demand overdraft facility of sh1b.

The banks say that Kiggundu was in default on the payment of another $3.662m out of a total loan facility of $4m and another $458,604 on a loan facility of $500,000, as of January 21, 2020.

The DTB consequently served him with a demand notice to either pay up or lose the assets that he submitted as collateral security. The bank threatened to attach a plot on Makerere Hill Road and other prime commercial properties.

Analysts says that Kiggundu’s lawyer is playing delaying tactics aimed at stopping the independent audit as ordered by the court earlier. Kiggundu had wanted court to believe his own audit of loan transactions, but that would amount to injustice to the banks that gave him money-DTB Uganda and DTB Kenya.

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Minister Rukutana charged with attempted murder, remanded

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The state minister for Labour, Gender and Economic Development Mwesigwa Rukutana has been remanded to Kyamugorani prison in Mbarara district.

Rukutana appeared before Ntungamo Grade One magistrate Nazifah Namayanja this afternoon from where he was charged with seven offences related to attempted murder, assault, malicious damage, and threatening violence.

Rukutana was captured in a video that went viral on social media showing him grabbing a gun from one of his bodyguards and started shooting at a vehicle belonging to supporters of his political rival Naome Kabasharira. At the time of the incident, Rukutana had just lost the Rushenyi country NRM flag to Kabasharira.

The prosecution alleges that on September 5, 2020, at Kagugu village in Ntungamo district, Rukutana and others still at large assaulted Julius Niwamanya and threatened to kill or injure him together with three others. The others are Stuart Kamukama, Dan Rwibirungi, and Moses Kamukama. 

It is also alleged that Rukutana also willfully and unlawfully damaged a motor vehicle registration number UAR 840X Toyota Rav 4 type which belongs to Moses Muhumuza.

According to the Judiciary public relations officer, Jameson Karemani, Rukutana has not taken a plea of these charges against him since they can only be tried by the chief magistrate who was not in court today.

As a result, the magistrate decided to send him to Kyamugorani, awaiting his return to court on Tuesday.      





Source – observer.ug

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Lira district headquarters closed over COVID-19

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Lira district headquarters have been closed after one staff tested positive for COVID-19 last week. 

On Monday morning, district staff were blocked at the gate with only the deputy chief administrative officer, his secretary and the receptionist allowed access to their offices. 

Paul Samuel Mbiiwa, the deputy chief administrative officer says that only heads of department will be allowed at the headquarters while the rest will work from home. He adds that the restriction will help to curb the spread of the virus.

“You see corona is not a joke. We have taken a step at fighting it and that is why you are seeing the staff outside. Even in my office here I do not want people to come if there is anything we can discuss on the phone.”

Francis Okello Olwa, a senior community development officer who doubles as the district spokesperson says that the entire district offices will be fumigated and closed for two days.

Health authorities in the district are planning to take samples from all the staff because they could have interacted with the one who tested positive. Currently, there are 19 COVID-19 patients under treatment at Lira regional referral hospital.     

On Sunday four health workers at the hospital tested positive for COVID-19. Dr Patrick Odongo, a senior medical officer at the hospital also succumbed to the virus.  





Source – observer.ug

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