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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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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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