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Angola-Portugal Corrupt Connections Must End

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A corruption trial against jailed former prosecutor Orlando Figueira that started on January 22 in Lisbon, Portugal, has deep international ramifications. The man accused of bribing Figueira to quash a 2013 investigation into the source of funds for acquiring private luxury residences in Portugal is Manuel Vicente, a former vice president of Angola and long-time head of Sonangol, Angola’s national oil company.

Despite previous vows by Portuguese top judiciary officials not to yield to political pressure, the Portuguese courts allowed the accusations against Vicente to be separated from those against Figueira. This decision came after Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa met at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, with Angola’s new president João Lourenço. The court case was likely on the agenda for their private talks.

Angola has long argued that Vicente should face justice at home instead of in Portugal because of a judiciary agreement among the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries. But former Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos made sure an amnesty law against legal proceedings was in place to shelter himself, his family and his close associates before he stepped down last August after 38 years of iron-fisted rule. That law also applies to Vicente.

President Lourenço and other Angolan politicians have called corruption cases in Portugal against Angolan elites a form of “neo-colonialism” and have threatened economic sanctions against Portugal. Angola is a former colony of Portugal. Many of its oil-rich citizens have invested billions of dollars in Portuguese energy, media, banking and real estate companies. Portugal risked a diplomatic row and a notable economic impact, so it bowed to impunity once again.

Vicente has been a central figure in Angolan power circles for decades. Born in 1956, he was practically raised by Isabel Eduardo dos Santos, the eldest sister of former president dos Santos. The two Angolan statesmen grew up together and, in private, treat each other as cousins. Vicente for a long time was in fact expected to succeed dos Santos to the presidency.

Before being appointed Vice President in 2012, Vicente led Sonangol for 13 years. He was the architect of the company’s international expansion and many of its most lucrative deals. Under his guidance, Sonangol acted as the de facto Angola’s sovereign wealth fund and helped fuel Angolan politics and its economy for most of its post-civil war years. He currently serves as a deputy in the National Assembly, the Angolan unicameral legislative body.

According to the charges brought against Vicente by Portuguese prosecutors, he used $245,000 of Sonangol funds to buy a private luxury apartment in a leafy Lisbon beachfront district. When the purchase came under scrutiny by Portuguese investigators, he allegedly bribed Figueira with $810,000 to have the case closed.

Vicente’s business dealings have long been scrutinized and criticized. A 2012 International Monetary Fund report found unexplained discrepancies between the fees paid by foreign oil firms to Sonangol and the amounts that were transferred to Angola’s Petroleum and Finance Ministries.

That same year, the Financial Times revealed that Vicente and other senior Angolan officials held concealed stakes in an Angolan oil company that had partnered with a U.S. firm to drill in a lucrative oil field in Angola. Those stakes were eventually transferred to Sonangol, which was paid $1.8 billion when the U.S. partner exited. Vicente was not charged with wrongdoing, but he never revealed any more about his stake or how much it earned him other than acknowledging he held it.

Portugal, which has a reputation for laxity in enforcing financial crime, became known as “the laundromat” for its money-laundering history. The OECD singled out Portugal on just those grounds in 2013. In turn, Angola was ranked 164 out of 176 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index produced annually by Transparency International.

Vicente’s ties to murky dealings also include Chinese companies and Russian oligarchs. For instance, The Economist linked him to the Queensway syndicate, an opaque consortium of companies that include China Sonangol. Vicente is a partner in these businesses founded by Sam Pa, a tycoon with alleged ties to Chinese intelligence services. Born Xu Jinghua, Sam Pa met dos Santos, the former Angolan president, when the latter was a student at a Soviet academy in Baku, Azerbaijan. As a result of these connections, Sonangol became the second largest source of oil imports to China after Saudi Aramco, netting billions of dollars for intermediaries like China Sonangol.

Vicente helped broker a long standing relationship between Sonangol and the Brazilian construction and petrochemicals conglomerate Oberbrecht Group. The Brazilians have been deeply involved in Angolan business and politics since the 1980s and Vicente was a significant shareholder in their joint business ventures, according to Portugal’s business newspaper Jornal de Negócios. The Oberbrecht Group has been at the center of the largest Brazilian corruption probe, dubbed Operation Car Wash, that engulfed major political and business figures in Latin America and elsewhere.

A detailed investigation by The Guardian showed: “Odebrecht had a department dedicated to bribes, known as the Division of Structured Operations, which laid out close to $800m in illicit pay-offs for more than 100 contracts in a dozen countries over 15 years.”

Oil and other mineral resources have flown out of Angola under the watchful eye of Vicente and a few others like him for decades. In a country struggling to overcome centuries of colonial plundering and decades of civil war, where 70 percent of the population survives on less then $2 per day, a small number of ruling elites have conducted business with little transparency, disclosure or accountability. Many billions of dollars have changed hands with no oversight or simply went missing into private bank accounts.

Given the serious charges and the pattern of actions shown by Vicente, the only way to obtain justice would be for him to stand trial in a neutral nation that has a reputation for rule-of-law. That way, those who have been harmed by Vicente can be assured he will be dealt with fairly and Angola can no longer claim that his trial was politically or racially motivated.

If Vicente, who denies any wrongdoing, is innocent of these charges, he should face them in a courtroom where justice is respected. The chances of that coming to fruition are slim, but that would be the best way for Angola, Portugal and for Vicente to find an honest resolution.

Eugen Iladi is a freelance reporter based in Virginia who covers politics, conflict, business and development in emerging markets. He has contributed to numerous publications, including The National Interest, The Foreign Policy Journal, Real Clear Politics, Global Politics, the Gulf News, AlArab Online, Iraqi Business News, Taipei Times, Prime-Tass, Business New Europe, iAfrica, Cape Times, and many more.

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US-EU possible soft tactic to contain Iran

Payman Yazdani

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The US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has created a new rounds of speculations about the three European major players’ (the UK, France and Germany) capabilities and abilities to keep the deal alive without the US.

Following the US President’s unilateral move to withdraw from the Iran’s Nuclear Deal, lots of diplomatic and political efforts have been made both by the European and Iranian officials to keep the internationally achieved deal alive.

Islamic Republic of Iran has announced that it will remain in the JCPOA just if the EU can guarantee Iran’s benefits and interests under the JCPOA in the absence of the US, otherwise Teharn will leave the deal, too.

Despite all measures taken and political promises made by the European sides to keep the JCPOA alive, over the past ten days many big EU firms and international companies have announced their decisions to stop their activities and operations in Iran including Total, Eni, Siemens, Airbus and Maersk.

Just couple of days after the US withdraw from the JCPOA, French gas and oil giant Total has announced that due to return of the US sanctions against Iran it has to pull out of Iranian Southern Pars oil field.

Italian oil giant Eni has also decided to abrogate its agreement with Iran to study oil and gas in Iran.

Maersk as the biggest shipping company in the world has announced that due to its vast activities in the US and to avoid possible US punishments, it will stop its activities in Iran.

Considering the limited capabilities and potentialities of the EU to challenge the US hegemony and also the fact that EU governments cannot force private sectors to work with Iran, it is not realistic to expect the EU to save the JCPOA.

As I mentioned in my previous writing, the possibility of job division between the US and EU to contain Iran should not be ignored.

All facts on the ground imply that all EU measures and promises to keep the JCPOA alive will only result in remaining of some small European companies in Iran. Big companies that can invest and transfer technology to Iran will leave Iran to avoid the US possible punishments. This possible soft and indirect US-EU tactic can help the joint goal of the US and EU to contain Iran.

By this tactic, firstly the EU can buy time and contain Iran so that not to leave the JCPOA. Secondly, the EU will pave the way for selling of its products and services in Iran’s market without investment and transferring technology. Thirdly, Iran’s incomes and revenues will be limited which Americans and the Europeans consider it as a good soft and indirect way to increase pressure on Iran to limit Iran’s regional influence and missile capability.

First published in our partner Mehr News Agency

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Internally weak EU cannot be strong international player

Payman Yazdani

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Commenting on the EU capabilities to protect its interests against the US unilateralism, Italian political science professor, Dr. Pastori Gianluca believes that an internally weak EU cannot be a strong international player.

The US president’s decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) despite the US key European allies’ opposition has raised so many questions about the global weight of the EU.

Despite many promises from EU key states to keep the JCPOA alive without the US, many believe even if the EU decides to do so the block won’t be able to challenge the US President’s decision due to its internal disunity and limitations. The issue was discussed with political science associated professor of Milan Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Dr. Pastori Gianluca.

How can the EU protect the right of its companies working and investing in Iran? Is it feasible?

European companies have always had good economic relations with Iran and these relations have grown even stronger in the last few years. I do not think that this attitude will really change in the coming months. In the past, the US already adopted secondary sanctions against countries investing in Iran (e.g. with the ‘Iran and Libya Sanctions Act’ in 1996), but their impact on the behaviour of foreign investors was quite limited. At that time, even some US companies managed to bypass the sanctions operating through foreign branches. Moreover, US-EU relations are currently quite tense, also due to the US will to introduce tariffs on European export. For this reasons, I think that, while the European governments will take a low profile in face of new US sanctions, on the political level they will keep on supporting their national presence in Iran.

Despite being an economic superpower, the EU is not able to protect its interest against the US unilateralism in recent year. Why?

The main problem is that the EU still faces difficulties in transforming its economic power into political power. Traditionally, the EU has been quite effective in promoting and protecting the economic interests of its members but has been far less effective in the political filed. There are many reasons to explain this state of things. As an economic community, the EU exists since 1957, when the European Economic Community was established, while the political union is far more recent. Moreover, the different member states have different visions of the international system and different interests to pursue. Finally, many of them are very jealous of their own sovereignty in international matters and are not ready to submit this kind of matters to a meaningful coordination or – even more — to subordinate them to a common foreign and defence policy.

The EU officials have talked about independent EU over the recent years. Considering the existing facts and EU potentialities, how feasible is it? What are the obstacles to this end?

The EU is currently facing one of the most difficult phases in its history. Anti-European parties are gaining strength in several member states, while the results of the referendum held in 2016 on the exit of the UK from the Union (‘Brexit’) have shown that integration is a reversible process. In the long term, this is the main problem that the EU has to face to affirm its international role. An internally weak EU cannot be a strong international player. At the same time, the development of a strong international profile can help to re-launch the European project, showing to the member states that the EU can be helpful even in the political field. Worth noting, since 2017, several countries are striving to implement a more effective common security and defence policy, largely due to Donald Trump’s proclaimed will to reduce the US engagement in Europe.

First published in our partner Mehr News Agency

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Europe: National Sovereignty versus International Conquest, at Stake over Iran

Eric Zuesse

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Europe now faces its ultimate ideological fork-in-the-road, which it has thus far ignored but can no longer ignore: They need to decide whether they seek a world of nations that each is sovereign over its own territory but over no other (and this would not be a world at war); or whether they seek instead a world in which they are part of the American empire, a world based on conquests — NATO, IMF, World Bank, and the other U.S.-controlled international institutions — and in which their own nation’s citizens are subject to the dictatorship by America’s aristocracy: the same super-rich individuals who effectively control the U.S. Government itself (see this and this — and that’s dictatorship by the richest, in the United States).

Iran has become this fateful fork-in-the-road, and the immediate issue here is America’s cancellation of the Iran nuclear deal that America had signed along with 6 other countries, and America’s consequent restoration of economic sanctions against Iran — sanctions against companies anywhere that continue trading with Iran. First, however, some essential historical background on that entire issue:

The U.S. aristocracy overthrew Iran’s democratically elected Government in 1953 and imposed there a barbaric dictatorship which did the bidding of the U.S. and allied aristocracies, by installing the Pahlavi Shah there, just as they had earlier, in 1932, installed the Saud King in Saudi Arabia — which land never ever had known democracy. As Wikipedia says of Ibn Saud, who became King in 1932, “After World War I, he received further support from the British, including a glut of surplus munitions. He launched his campaign against the Al Rashidi in 1920; by 1922 they had been all but destroyed,” with Britain’s help. Similarly, the U.S. and its British Imperial partner installed Pahlavi as Iran’s Shah in 1953. This was done by U.S. President Dwight David Eisenhower. After the death of the anti-imperialistic U.S. President FDR, in 1945, the U.S. Government quickly became pro-imperialistic under President Harry S. Truman (whom imperial England’s Winston Churchill wrapped around his little finger), and then even more so under Eisenhower, so that during the brief presidency of Ike’s successor President JFK, the anti-imperialistic ghost of FDR was coming to haunt the White House and thus again threaten the conjoined U.S.-UK’s aristocracies’ surging global control. Kennedy was quickly souring on, and coming to oppose, imperialism (just as FDR had done) — he was opposing conquest and dominion for its own sake. So, he became assassinated and the evidence was covered-up, so that the CIA, which Truman had installed and which Eisenhower placed firmly under the control of America’s aristocratically controlled military-industrial complex, became increasingly America’s own Deep State, designed for global conquest (though using an ‘anti-communist’ excuse and cover for their real and ruling motive of global conquest and dominion).

When the U.S.-imposed Shah was overthrown by an authentic revolution in 1979, America’s continued alliance with the UK-U.S.-installed Saud family turned into a U.S.-UK alliance against Iran, which nation has ever since been demonized by the U.S. and UK aristocracies as being a ‘terrorist regime’, even though Saudi Arabia actually dominates global Islamic terrorism, and Iran is opposed to terrorism (except to terrorism that’s aimed against Israel). And everybody who knows anything on sound basis is aware of these established historical facts. But, actually, the U.S.-Saudi alliance is even worse than that: global Islamic terrorism was invented and organized by the U.S. aristocracy in conjunction with the Saud family starting in 1979 when Iran freed itself from the U.S.-UK dictatorship and restored Iranian sovereignty (even though in a highly compromised Shiite theocratic way, nothing at all like the secular Iranian democracy that had been overthrown by the U.S. and UK aristocracies in 1953). The U.S. and Sauds created Islamic terrorism in 1979 in order to draw the Soviet Union into Afghanistan and ultimately used these terrorist proxy “boots on the ground” so as to force the Soviets out of Afghanistan — thereby draining the Soviet economy in the hope of ultimately conquering the U.S.S.R. and then conquering Russia itself, which the U.S. President GHW Bush on the night of 24 February 1990 made clear that the U.S. and its allies must do — he gave the European vassal-nations their marching-order on that date, and they have reliably followed that order, until now.

Russia, which the U.S. aristocracy craves to conquer, is an ally of Iran (which they hope to re-conquer). The basic principle of America’s aristocracy is repudiation of national sovereignty. That’s what the U.S. Government globally stands for today. Russian Television headlined on May 11th, “‘Are we America’s vassals?’ France vows to trade with Iran in defiance of US ‘economic policeman’” and reported that U.S. President Donald Trump’s re-imposition of U.S. economic sanctions against any companies that do business with Iran, is being resisted by all the other nations that had signed the Obama-Kerry nuclear accord with Iran, the “JCPOA” treaty: UK, France, China, Russia, U.S., and EU (which is led by Germany). The U.S. regime knows that if even America’s allies — UK, France, and Germany — hold together with Iran, to defy the Imperial actions punishing them for continuing with Iran even after the U.S. pull-out from the treaty, then the Western Alliance will be jeopardized, if not terminated altogether, and finally the Cold War, which GHW Bush had ordered the allies to continue even after the end of the U.S.S.R., and of its communism, and of its Warsaw Pact military alliance mirroring America’s NATO alliance, will finally end also on America’s side, just as it had ended in 1991 on the Soviet Union’s side. Such an end to the Cold War would possibly cause America’s military-industrial complex — and the stock values of mega-corporations such as Lockheed Martin — to collapse.

Thus, the U.S. aristocracy is afraid of peace replacing their existing permanent-war economy. All those trillions of dollars that have been invested in machines of mass-murder abroad, could plunge in value, if UK, France, and Germany, terminate the Western Alliance, and become individual sovereign nations who join with Iran — another individual sovereign nation — to say no to the Imperial power (the U.S.), and yes to national sovereignty, which sovereignty constitutes the sole foundation-stone upon which any and all democracies are constructed. No democracy can exist in any nation that is a vassal to some other (the imperial power). In a world where national sovereignty is honored, democracy would not necessarily exist everywhere, but it would no longer be internationally prohibited by an imperial power, which inevitably is itself a dictatorship, no real democracy at all.

On March 3rd, the 175-year-old imperial magazine, The Economist, headlined against China as an enemy in this continuing Cold War, “How the West got China wrong” and explained “the Chinese threat”:

“China is not a market economy and, on its present course, never will be. Instead, it increasingly controls business as an arm of state power. … Foreign businesses are profitable but miserable, because commerce always seems to be on China’s terms.”

The imperialistic view is that the international dictator and its corporations should rule — there should be no real sovereign other than this dictatorship, by the U.S. regime now, since America is today’s imperialist nation.

Perhaps Europe now will make the fateful decision, between international dictatorship on the one side, or else the supreme sovereignty of each and every nation on the other, to determine its own laws — and to require any corporation that does business there to adhere to its legal system and to none other: the supremacy of each nation within its own territory, not of any international corporations, not even of ones that are based in some international-bully country that says it’s “the one indispensable nation” — meaning that every other nation is “dispensable.” Russia won’t accept that. Iran won’t accept that. China won’t accept that. Will Germany accept it — the land of the original: “Deutschland über alles”? Will France? Will UK?

Americans accept it. The U.S. public are very effectively controlled by America’s aristocracy. A Yougov poll at the start of 2017 (the start of Trump’s Presidency) asked over 7,000 Americans to rate countries as “enemy”, “unfriendly”, “friendly”, “ally”, or “not sure”; and, among the 144 rated countries, Americans placed at the most hostile end, in order from the very worst, to the 13th-from-worst: North Korea, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Sudan. Other than Saudi Arabia, which the U.S. Government treats as being its master if not as being its very top ally, and which is, in any case, by far the U.S. military’s biggest customer (other than the U.S. Government, of course), that list from Yougov looks very much like, or else close to, what America’s aristocracy would want to see targeted, as being America’s ‘enemies’. So, other than Americans’ including the top ally both of America’s aristocracy and of Israel‘s aristocracy, Saudi Arabia, on that list of enemies, the list was very much what the U.S. aristocracy’s ’news’media had been promoting as being America’s ‘enemies’. In fact, even though those ‘news’media haven’t informed Americans that 92% of Saudi Arabians approve of ISIS, or that the Saudi royal family financed and organized the 9/11 attacks (in conjunction with others of George W. Bush’s friends), Americans view Saudi Arabia hostilely. That’s acceptable to America’s aristocracy, because the Saud family’s hatred is focused against Iran, the main Shiite nation, and the U.S. public (have been deceive to) prefer Saudi Arabia over Iran. In fact, a 17 February 2016 Gallup poll showed that Iran was seen by Americans as being even more hostile toward Americans than is Saudi Arabia. So, America’s aristocracy have no reason to be concerned that their chief ally and second-from-top governmental customer, the Saud family, are unfavorably viewed by the U.S. public. Both in America and in Saudi Arabia, the aristocracy effectively controls its public. Thus, the American people think in the way that the American aristocracy want them to — supporting any conquest (e.g., Iraq 2003, Libya 2011, Syria 2012-) that the aristocracy want to perpetrate. Of course, the way to achieve this control is by means of the windows through which the public get to see the world around them, which windows on the world are the nation’s ‘news’media.

On May 12th, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) reported that the American people are very effectively controlled to believe Iran to be America’s enemy and very dangerous to us. The headline was “Media Debate Best Way to Dominate Iran” and the article documented that the American people are being very intensively propagandized by the aristocratically controlled media, to favor aggression against Iran, and are being heavily lied-to, in order to achieve this.

So, though the American public will continue to support the American Government (despite distrusting both their government and their ‘news’media), foreign publics aren’t so rigidly under the control of America’s aristocracy; and therefore Europe’s aristocracies could abandon their alliance with the U.S. aristocracy, if they strongly enough want to. Their ‘news’media would obediently do whatever they’re told, and could begin immediately portraying the reality of the U.S. Government, to their people — including, for example, the reality that the U.S. stole Ukraine

, and some of the participants have even confessed their roles; Russia did not steal Crimea (and the Crimea-Ukraine issue was the alleged spark for the ‘restoration’ of the Cold War — which The West never actually ended on its side, only Russia did on its side).

An end of The Western Alliance (America’s empire) could happen. But it would require — from the EU’s leaders (and/or from Turkey’s Erdogan) — courage, conviction, and a commitment to national sovereignty’s being the foundation-stone to any democracy anywhere, and this change-of-political-theory would be something drastically new in Europe (and-or in Turkey), which is a region that has historically been staunchly supportive of empires, and thus supportive of dictatorships (ones that are compliant — foreign stooge-regimes). That would require a historic sea-change. Iran’s peace, if not Iran’s very existence (and maybe even world peace), might be depending upon this slender hope.

first posted at strategic-culture.org

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