Dirty Money, Criminal Cash: Bank Leaks Reveal Vast Scale of Global Fraud

Leaked documents allege that some of the world’s biggest banks have allowed $2 trillion  worth of suspicious or fraudulent activity to take place – including money laundering for criminal gangs and terrorists. The so-called “FinCEN files” consist of more than two thousand Suspicious Activity Reports or SARs sent by banks to the U.S. Treasury, alerting the authorities to possible criminal activity, from 1999 and 2017. The files were leaked to Buzzfeed and shared with a network of journalists. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

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Italy’s Coalition Government Fends off Salvini

Italy’s fragile coalition government breathed a collective sigh of relief Tuesday after voters denied the country’s populist leader Matteo Salvini the major electoral breakthrough he was seeking in hotly contested regional elections.  The center-left Democratic Party, PD, managed a comfortable victory in Tuscany, a region the left has ruled without interruption since regional governments were first elected in 1970, frustrating Salvini in taking the biggest prize in the elections for the governments of seven regions and a thousand towns and cities the length and breadth of Italy.Tuscany is the buckle of the left’s so-called “red belt” and was targeted by Salvini’s populist Lega party. Salvini himself campaigned tirelessly in Tuscany in the run-up to the polls, predicting his party could win the wealthy region behind his handpicked candidate for the governorship, the telegenic 33-year-old Susanna Ceccardi, a former mayor.With the regional counts still to be finalized Tuesday, the Democrats looked sure to hold three regions it ruled before. Along with Tuscany, incumbent PD governors were on course to win re-election in the southern regions of Campania and Apulia.  The leaders of the key government parties of Prime Minister’s Giuseppe Conte’s coalition government, which is made up of the Democratic Party and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, M5S, along with some other smaller groups, were quick to celebrate Tuesday.Democratic Party leader Nicola Zingaretti talks to the media during a press conference, in Rome, Sept. 21, 2020.PD leader Nicola Zingaretti said, “We are very satisfied.” He said the result would facilitate further reforms and cooperation within the government.And Luigi Di Maio, Italy’s foreign minister and a prominent member of M5S, said at a press conference: “Those that tried to transform this referendum into a vote against the government received a boomerang.” Eugenio Giani, the PD’s gubernatorial candidates in Tuscany, hailed his win an “extraordinary victory.”But for all of the center-left’s jubilation, the PD lost a fourth region, Marche, where the far-right Brothers of Italy, part of a Lega-led center-right alliance, won the vote. And the contest in Apulia in the heel of Italy was close. The Lega-led center-right alliance held easily the three regions it was defending, including Veneto in the northeast, where incumbent Luca Zaia secured election as governor for the third time with an emphatically large majority. The size of his victory — he won 75% of the vote, largely due commentators say to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic — has prompted speculation that he might seek to challenge Salvini in the future for the leadership of the Lega. Zaia denies he has any plans to do so.Jacopo Morrone, a Lega lawmaker, claimed the results overall are a victory for the populists, saying it was always going to be difficult to win Tuscany or Apulia “but to put them [the PD] in difficulty is a good result.”The fact, though, that the Lega-led center-right opposition failed to land a knockout blow in the regional elections by winning the prize of Tuscany is being widely seen by analysts as strengthening Prime Minister Conte’s shaky coalition government — at least in the short term.Longer term, this week’s regional elections have confirmed that the Lega has managed to maintain a shift in the regional power balance further to the right nationally. Fourteen of the country’s 20  regions now are ruled by the Lega or its allies. A 15th could be added to the Lega tally. The votes of elections this week in the French-speaking Val d’Aosta, a tiny region in the north-east, remain to be counted, but exit polls suggest Lega-allies are likely to win there.Pollster Lorenzo Pregliasco told reporters that this week’s regional elections should be considered a tie. “The PD had done a lot of expectation management, so that [the results] seem almost a victory, even if it is more of a draw,” he said. Other analysts say Salvini made a PR mistake with his pre-election forecasts that Lega would manage a victory in Tuscany.

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EU Summit Postponed After Council President Quarantined

A spokesman for European Council President Charles Michel says a summit of European Union leaders scheduled for Thursday and Friday has been postponed, after Michel was forced to go into COVID-19 quarantine following contact with an infected security guard.  EU council spokesman Barend Leyts tweeted that Michel learned on Tuesday that a security officer, with whom he was in close contact early last week, tested positive for COVID-19. The @eucopresident has decided to postpone the special European Council meeting that was planned for 24 and 25 September to 1 and 2 October #EUCO— Barend Leyts (@BarendLeyts) September 22, 2020Leyts said the EU council president is tested regularly, and as recently as Monday tested negative for COVID-19. But Michel plans to follow Belgium’s COVID-19 regulations and is going into isolation. The EU is headquartered in Brussels. The summit, now scheduled for Oct. 1-2, will focus on a variety of issues ranging from Brexit negotiations, to climate change, to the tensions between Greece and Turkey over energy rights on the eastern Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus. Final approval for sanctions against Belarus regarding the crackdown following the country’s contested election last month is also set to be a focus. Michel, a former Belgian prime minister, spent much of the past week in shuttle diplomacy over the Turkey issue, including trips to Cyprus, the Greek island of Lesbos and Athens. 
 

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Dirty Money, Criminal Cash: Bank Leaks Allege Vast Scale of Global Fraud

Leaked documents allege that some of the world’s largest banks have allowed $2 trillion worth of suspicious or fraudulent activity to take place, including money laundering for criminal gangs and terrorists.  
 
The so-called “FinCEN Files” consist of more than 2,000 Suspicious Activity Reports, or SARs, sent by banks to the U.S. Treasury, alerting the authorities to possible criminal activity, from 1999 and 2017. The files were leaked to Buzzfeed and shared with a global network of investigative journalists.   
 
The documents allege that British giant HSBC transferred $80 million of fraudulent money via the United States to Hong Kong as part of an illegal Ponzi scheme, despite earlier warnings from U.S. authorities.  
 
The documents also say U.S. bank JP Morgan Chase moved $1 billion through a London account that it later discovered may have belonged to Semion Mogilevich, a Russian mafia boss still on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.  
 
German firm Deutsche Bank is accused of transferring dirty cash from money launderers with links to organized criminal gangs and terrorists. A bank spokesperson, Joerg Eigendorf, said Monday that the transactions were all historic.  
 
“What’s being reported now is not new, not to us and not to our supervisory authority. Everything has been processed and we had a very close look at everything. But most importantly, we have made huge investments in this [compliance] sector since 2015,” Eigendorf told reporters.
 
Standard Chartered and Bank of New York Mellon also appear several times in the leaks. All the banks involved say they fully comply with laws and regulations and that the cases are historic.
 Reports: ‘FinCEN’ Documents Show Banks Moved Suspect FundsThe media reports were based on leaked suspicious activity reports (SARs), filed by banks and other financial firms with the US Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN)HSBC said in a statement: “Starting in 2012, HSBC embarked on a multiyear journey to overhaul its ability to combat financial crime across more than 60 jurisdictions. HSBC is a much safer institution than it was in 2012.” HSBC share prices fell more than 5% around the world Monday following the publication of the story, with other bank stocks also recording losses.
 
Standard Chartered said it ‘took its responsibility to fight financial crime extremely seriously.’
 
JP Morgan said, “Today, thousands of employees and hundreds of millions of dollars are devoted to helping support law enforcement and national security efforts.”
 
Bank of New York Mellon said the following: “As a trusted member of the international banking community, we fully comply with all applicable laws and regulations, and assist authorities in the important work they do.”
 
British politics also is under the spotlight. Lubov Chernukhin, a British citizen of Russian origin, has donated $2.2 million to the Conservative Party since 2012. The FinCEN leaks reveal her husband was secretly funded by Suleyman Kerimov, a Russian oligarch currently under U.S. sanctions, with close ties to President Vladimir Putin. Chernukhin’s donations were legal, according to her lawyers, who say the money has no links to the Kremlin.
 
So, why weren’t the transactions stopped? Tom Keatinge, who heads the Center for Financial Crime and Security Studies at Britain’s Royal United Services Institute, told VOA that it’s very difficult for banks to spot criminal activity.  
 
“The way I like to visualize this is imagine you’re standing on a street corner on Oxford Street in London, a major shopping thoroughfare. And someone says, ‘Right, you need to identify who either has just been shoplifting or who is about to go shoplifting.’ How easy would you find that?”
 
Keatinge says the global system for reporting suspicious financial activity is not fit for its purpose.  
 
“Half a million in the U.K., several million every year in the United States of Suspicious Activity Reports are filed by banks and other like accountants and so on. And what do those authorities do with all that data? They obviously can’t look at every single one of those filings.”
 
“I think the one thing the United States can be congratulated for is its willingness to go after bad actors, particularly bad actors outside the United States, it must be said. That’s rare around the world,” Keatinge added.  
 
Britain stands accused of failing to do enough to tackle financial crime. The anti-corruption group Transparency International estimates $100 billion of dirty money passes through London every year.  
 
“If you want to launder dirty money, then the U.K. has all the tools you need,” says Keatinge. “It has the law firms, it has the global banks, it has the offshore financial centers, it’s got the real estate to invest your money in, it’s got the private schools to spend your money on. And so, the sooner the U.K. staffs its response to financial crime as if it is playing an international role, the better. We have to move faster on fixing the system. Because right now, the criminals have the upper hand.”  
 
Keatinge says despite the banks’ claims, criminal financial activity is still happening on a vast scale – and governments and financial institutions must do far more to crack down. 

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 Turkey Embarks on Naval Buildup, Stoking Tensions

Turkey is in the midst of a major naval construction program, seeking to restore regional maritime influence lost since the collapse of the Ottoman empire, and the project is already generating regional tensions.”Turkey will get back its fair share in the Mediterranean, Aegean and the Black Sea,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared last month. “If we say we will do something, we will do it, and we will pay the price.”Turkey’s imperial legacy looms large in the fabric of Turkish society. An imposing statue of the 16th century Ottoman Admiral, Hayreddin – or Barbarossa – dominates a square adjacent to Istanbul’s Bosphorus waterway.A statue of the 16th century Ottoman Admiral, Hayreddin – or Barbarossa – dominates a square adjacent to Istanbul’s Bosphorus waterway. (Dorian Jones/VOA)Many European historians portray Barbarossa as a pirate and slave trader. However, in modern Turkey, he is still revered for his naval victories that asserted Ottoman control of the Mediterranean Sea.Since 1923, when the Turkish Republic was founded on the Ottoman Empire’s ashes, Turkey’s military power was primarily land-based, with its naval forces limited to coastal patrols.Under the mantra of “Blue Homeland,” Erdogan is vowing to restore Turkey’s naval prowess and he seeks to extend its power beyond the horizon.Government videos depict images of past Ottoman Empire glories, promising to extend Turkish influence across the Mediterranean and beyond. (Courtesy: Presidency of the Republic of Turkey Communication Directorate)”Turkey is becoming a maritime state, like England, like France, like the United States,” said Retired Admiral Cem Gurdeniz, author of the “Blue Homeland” doctrine.”In order to protect Turkey’s rights and interests, in overseas areas like in [the], Persian Gulf, like in [the] Red Sea, the Arabian sea and whatever need arise, the Turkish navy, Turkey’s maritime signature should be there,” Gurdeniz told VOA.Turkey’s efforts to restore its navy to blue water power include plans for an assault aircraft carrier.GreeceThe country has given a glimpse of its longer-term goals already by challenging Greece, its neighbor, with claims on waters that Greece considers its own and that are believed to have vast energy reserves.Athens, citing international law, claims much of the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean between the two countries, confining Turkey to its coastal waters.Retired admiral Cem Gurdeniz is the architect of the “Blue Homeland” doctrine, which calls for Turkey to reassert itself as a maritime power. (Dorian Jones/VOA)”The main implication [of the Blue Homeland doctrine], first of all Greece should understand they’re not the owners of the Eastern Mediterranean or the Aegean Sea,” said Gurdeniz.”Yes, they might think in their fantasy world that all the seas surrounding them are belonging to Greece, but that dream is over.”An arms race could be looming.”The time has come to strengthen the armed forces as a legacy for the security of the country,” said Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in announcing  Athens’ own naval construction program this month.Also this month, French President Emmanuel Macron met with six Mediterranean leaders to counter Ankara’s assertiveness.”We must be tough with the Turkish government,” said Macron ahead of the summit.Erdogan pushed back, warning Macron “not to mess” with Turkey.Faceoff with EuropeOn Thursday, European Union leaders are due to discuss sanctions against Turkey to support Greece, an EU member.”We are at a watershed moment in Turkish-EU relations,” warned EU foreign affairs chief Jospeh Borrell last week.Under the threat of sanctions, Turkey stepped back, withdrawing a research ship that had been operating in waters claimed by Greece.FILE – Turkey’s exploratory vessel, the Oruc Reis, is seen anchored in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Antalya, Turkey, July 24, 2020.”Let’s give diplomacy a chance, let’s put forth a positive approach for diplomacy,” Erdogan said Friday. “Greece should also positively meet this approach of ours, and let’s take a step accordingly,” he said.Greek and Turkish officials are already holding technical talks under NATO’s auspices to introduce measures to avoid an accidental confrontation. The two NATO members are regularly holding live-fire naval exercises in close proximity.But tensions over Turkey’s naval aspirations are not limited to Greece.In July, France accused a Turkish frigate of threatening one of its naval ships seeking to enforce an arms embargo on Libya. The two countries back rival sides in the Libyan civil war.NATO is refusing to publish a report on the incident, citing the “sensitivity” of the issue.”It would be a disaster if two NATO countries started shooting at one another it would be the end of the alliance,” said Turkish presidential advisor Mesut Casin, who is also a professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Yeditepe University.The true purpose?But domestic political considerations rather than broader strategic goals may be the real driving force behind Turkey’s naval expansion.Recent opinion polls reveal Erdogan’s popularity on the wane, with the already weak Turkish economy hit hard hit by the COVID-19 epidemic. Analysts say restoring past maritime power could the door to untapped electoral support.Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks in a televised address in Ankara, Sept. 21, 2020.”Domestically owning or embracing this very nationalistic idea, very sovereignty- orientated idea you know, has improved or has expanded his support base,” said International Relations Professor Serhat Guvenc of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.”He is getting support from circles which would normally would not want to do anything with Tayyip Erdogan,” Guvenc told VOA.Government videos depict images of past Ottoman Empire glories, and promises to extend Turkish influence across the Mediterranean and beyond.With the price tag of the ambitious naval program running into the billions of dollars, economic realities could yet stymie Erdogan’s aspirations. 

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United Nations General Assembly Opens Historic Session Tuesday

For the first time in its 75-year history, leaders of the United Nations’ 193 member states will deliver their annual speeches on the opening day of the world body’s General Assembly on videotape instead of in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Tuesday’s session will commence with a pre-taped message from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, in keeping with a decades-long tradition first established in the 1940s,   followed by U.S. President Donald Trump, as leader of the U.N. host country.  Other prominent world leaders whose pre-recorded messages will be shown Tuesday will be Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, China’s Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin of Russia and France’s Emmanuel Macron.   The only attendees in the cavernous General Assembly Hall to watch the videotaped speeches will be a single masked envoy representing each member nation, plus the European Union, the Holy See and the non-member Observer State of Palestine, in order to maintain social distancing.  Hand sanitizer stations have been placed in the side aisles of the Hall and delegates will be obliged to wear face coverings, but not to undergo temperature checks.   The U.N. marked its 75th anniversary Monday amid the grip of the global coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 960,000 people and sickened more than 31.2 million globally, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center.      “The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the world’s fragilities. We can only address them together,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, referencing the disease caused by the coronavirus. “Today, we have a surplus of multilateral challenges and a deficit of multilateral solutions.”WATCH: UN 75th AnniversarySorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
A member of the Irish delegation works on his computer in the main lobby of the United Nations headquarters, Sept. 21, 2020. In 2020, which marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations.But the Trump administration has been critical of the world body, withdrawing funding and cooperation from several of its agencies, including the World Health Organization and the Human Rights Council.  Chalet said the organization has for too long been resistant to real reform and lacks transparency.    “The 75th anniversary of the U.N. is the right time to ask questions about the institution’s strengths and weaknesses, review and learn from its failures, and celebrate its accomplishments,” she said.   The United Nations is using its anniversary year as a moment for reflection. More than one million people in 80 countries have provided feedback to a global survey about the organization and its work.   Nearly 90% said global cooperation is crucial to deal with today’s challenges, and that the pandemic has made international cooperation more urgent. Nearly three-quarters said the U.N. is “essential” for tackling global challenges, but they also want the organization to change and innovate.   The General Assembly adopted a declaration for the anniversary, which in part, says, “There is no other global organization with the legitimacy, convening power and normative impact of the United Nations. No other global organization gives hope to so many people.” 

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UN Marks 75th Anniversary in Atmosphere of New Challenges 

The United Nations marked the 75th anniversary of its founding on Monday, amid a global pandemic and other serious challenges that the U.N. secretary-general said highlight the urgency for stronger international cooperation. VOA U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer has more.Produced by: Jesusemen Oni   

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British Health Minister Lays Out COVID-19 Response as Cases Surge

Britain’s health minister went before parliament Monday to discuss the government’s response to a surge in positive COVID-19 cases in the nation.Matt Hancock acknowledged what the government’s top medical and science advisers had said earlier in the day – that COVID-19 has been surging across age groups throughout much of Britain.Among the steps the government plans to take, Hancock said, is encouraging self-isolation by those who have been infected or exposed to the virus. The government will also offer a single support payment of about $640 for low-income people for whom self-isolation would be an economic hardship.A woman wears a face mask as she stands in front of a statue of The Beatles following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease in Liverpool, Britain, Sept. 21, 2020.Hancock said those asked to self-isolate who refuse to do so could face fines of nearly $13,000 for serious breaches or repeat offenders.The health minister told British lawmakers that demand for testing has dropped slightly since last week, taking a little pressure off the system. Nonetheless, the demand for tests remains high enough that the government must prioritize who receives them.Hancock said acute care cases are the top priority for testing, followed by people in care homes, National Health Service targeted testing for outbreak management and surveillance studies, teaching staff with symptoms, and the general public.He said the government continues working on further measures to address the COVID-19 surge, and the prime minister will update parliament Tuesday on further measures.Earlier Monday, the government’s chief medical adviser reported the latest figures show new cases in Britain totaled more than 6,000 per day. Chris Witty said if nothing changes, at the current rate of infection, new cases could reach 50,000 a day by this time next month. 

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Turkey’s Plan to Regain Ottoman Empire Maritime Influence Irks Greece

Turkey is embarking on a major naval construction program to restore the regional maritime influence it lost after the Ottoman empire’s collapse. But the policy is already generating regional tensions – in particular – with its neighbor, Greece. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.
Camera: Berke Bas    Producer: Jon Spier

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Western Europe Scrambling to Avoid National Lockdowns

Western European states are scrambling to curb a second coronavirus wave of infections by re-imposing pandemic restrictions lifted just weeks or months ago. But their governments say they are determined to avoid further stressing their stricken economics by re-introducing national lockdowns.  The big question is whether this will be possible. From Britain, which has banned social gatherings of more than six and is threatening punitive fines for transgressors, to Spain, where Madrid is now under lockdown, authorities are struggling to contain alarming second-wave surges while keeping schools open and encouraging people still to head to work.  A woman holds a sign reading ‘Public school: sustainable, free, active, in defense of children” as teachers and students take part in a protest calling for a ‘safe education’ in Malaga, Spain, Sept. 18, 2020.Officials in European capitals say it will ultimately be in the hands of public, if lockdowns are necessary. They hope better adherence to social distancing rules and more conscientious mask-wearing will help reverse infection surges — or at least slow them.  “If we want to avoid national measures and more action we can, but we can only do that if everybody follows the rules,” Britain’s health minister Matt Hancock said.  A national lockdown could be prevented if the “significant minority” of rule-breakers changed behavior. He urged people to report anyone breaching isolation orders or the rule of six, warning police would “come down hard on people who do the wrong thing.”  The snitching appeal has prompted an outcry from some quarters with critics saying it would turn Britain into a nation of score-settling busybodies. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of the devolved government, said last week, “No-one wants to see another full-scale lockdown. And above all we want to keep schools and childcare open because we know how important that is to the education and to the broader wellbeing of children and young people.”  But she added: “The bottom line here is this virus is on the rise again. Cases are rising quite rapidly.” The government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, said at a Downing Street news conference Monday that Britain was fast approaching a tipping point, warning that without tough measures the country could be seeing 50,000 new cases a day.  Customers eat sunday lunches at tables outside restaurants in Soho, in London. Sept. 20, 2020.England’s chief medical officer, Christopher Whitty outlined the dilemma the British government is facing, much as European neighbors. “If we do too little this virus will get out of control. If we go too far it will impact and damage the economy.” He urged everyone to observe the regulations just a day after thousands ignored the rules and crowded the seaside resort town of Blackpool. “You cannot in an epidemic just take your own risk, unfortunately you are taking a risk on behalf of everybody else, it’s important we see this as something we do collectively,” Whitty said. New infection highs  Britain is seeing daily infections rise to four-month highs, and cases might be doubling every day, according to health officials. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to make a nationwide television address Tuesday to announce a further tightening of restrictions on ordinary life. The British government is set to introduce fines of up to $13,000 for people who breach self-isolation rules.  Commuters walk across the London Bridge during the morning rush hour, in London, Britain, Sept. 21, 2020.The government’s scientific advisers have been advising Johnson to act more quickly than he did in March and have been urging an immediate two-week “circuit breaker” of a national lockdown just to help interrupt the pandemic and reduce hospital admissions.  But Johnson has come under pressure from finance ministers and business to ignore the circuit-breaker idea. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, reportedly has warned Johnson that a further national shutdown of the hospitality and leisure industry would be devastating to the economy.FILE – A sign promoting social distancing is hung on a post near the Crown and Anchor pub following a spike in cases of COVID-19 to visitors of the pub in Stone, Britain, July 30, 2020.Pub and restaurant owners say the hospitality industry is now in existential crisis, with almost a million jobs at risk. A nighttime curfew aimed at discouraging partying is among the options Johnson is considering, a Downing Street official confirmed to VOA.  Opponents of stringent new measures include much of the British press. Most newspapers say the country cannot afford a second national lockdown.“The one thing that we cannot afford to do is to shut up shop again,” according to the influential newspaper The Times. It says targeted measures have an important role to play. “When the government introduced national restrictions in March, it did not have a system in place for dealing with smaller flare-ups. Now that it does, it should do as much as it can locally and regionally,” the paper concluded. But a simultaneous series of regional lockdowns could soon mean the country is itself locked down in all but name, say some commentators. More than ten million people are under lockdowns in parts of northern England already — and London might have to be put under a lockdown within days or weeks, according to the city’s mayor Sadiq Khan. France French officials, too, are struggling with how to balance public health needs without further crippling the country’s damaged economy.People eat lunch at a deserted Le Petit Chatelet restaurant in the Quartier Latin as the country battles to contain the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while ensuring that economic and social activities can continue, in Paris, Sept. 18, 2020.A regional and local approach is also being adopted. In Nice, officials have banned gatherings of more than 10 people in public spaces and reduced opening hours for bars. New restrictions have also been imposed in the cities of Bordeaux and Marseilles.  A woman wearing a protective face mask walks past a sign showing the area where wearing a protective mask is mandatory, in Bordeaux, southwestern France, Sept. 16, 2020.France reported 13,498 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Saturday, setting another record in daily additional infections since the start of the epidemic in March. The new cases pushed the cumulative total to 442,194 as the seven-day moving average of daily new infections rose to more than 9,700, compared with a low of 272 at the end of May, two weeks after the lockdown was lifted. As with most of their western European counterparts, French officials say a sharp increase in the number of tests being conducted is partly behind the surge in numbers, but they add the virus is circulating much faster, too.  FILE – Municipal police officers wearing face masks talk to a woman, at the Promenade des Anglais, as they check that safety restrictions are being practiced, after France reopened its beaches to the public in Nice, May 22, 2020.Most of the recent surge was seen among younger people but the spikes are now being seen among the middle-aged and elderly — a pattern France’s neighbors are seeing. Hope  Some officials are hopeful the second wave of the coronavirus is likely to be less deadly as the first. Treatments have been refined and there is more understanding of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. People are more wary, despite rule-breakers, and the elderly are aware they need to shield at home. Governments in most western European states are also now more vigilant about nursing homes and have been increasing testing in them. Some infectious disease experts argue mutant strains are more contagious, but causing less serious illnesses. The chief of a French research hospital, microbiologist Didier Raoult, the director of IHU Méditerranée Infection in Marseilles, told French senators last week: “They are less severe, so something is happening with this virus, which makes it different. The mutations we have a rather degraded version of the initial form. At least that is our impression.” FILE – French medicine professor Didier Raoult wears a disposable face mask as he stands before a Senate commission on the management of the COVID19 pandemic by French State institutions on Sept. 5, 2020 in Paris.Other infectious disease experts disagree with Raoult, who was immersed in controversy earlier this year when he claimed hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, could be used to cure COVID-19.  He was widely criticized for insisting that a small trial he conducted of the drug proved its effectiveness.  Raoult is not alone in arguing the coronavirus has changed and is less deadly. The Italian doctor who oversaw the treatment of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi during his recent hospitalization in Milan for COVID-19 has also expressed a similar view about the changing nature and less aggressive of the virus. But Italy’s public health officials say there’s little supporting evidence to show that is the case. German officials are watching nervously the pandemic developments unfolding in neighboring countries. Germany has seen a rise in cases, recording 2,297 new infections of coronavirus on Saturday, according to the Robert Koch Institute, the country’s disease control and prevention agency. That’s the highest number of new daily infections since the end of April. FILE – A protestor with a social distancing barrier, takes part in a demonstration against COVID-19 measures, in Berlin, Sept. 1, 20202. Sign reads ‘Corona Hygiene Concept for everyday life.’But the surge is not on the same scale as other Western European countries. German Health Minister Jens Spahn said Monday that Germany will sooner or later see imported cases from Spain, Austria and the Netherlands. Countries like Spain have infection dynamics that are out of control, Spahn told public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.  

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Navalny Demands Russia Return Clothes for Poisoning Investigation

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny demanded Monday that Russia return the clothes he was wearing when he fell ill last month, saying the items are important evidence in the investigation of his poisoning.Navalny became sick while flying to Moscow on Aug. 20 and was taken to a hospital in Omsk. He wrote in his blog Monday that before being sent to Germany for treatment two days later, his clothes were taken from him.”Considering Novichok was found on my body, and that infection through contact is very likely, my clothes are a very important piece of evidence,” he said.A German military lab determined Navalny was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok, a substance Western governments have accused Russia of using in the past, including against a former spy in Britain in 2018.Russia has not opened an investigation into the incident involving Navalny, saying its labs have found no indications he was poisoned. The Kremlin has also denied any involvement.Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, not seen in photo, on a stretcher is transferred into an ambulance before being driven to an airport, at the Omsk Ambulance Hospital, in Omsk, Russia, Aug. 22, 2020.Germany has threatened economic sanctions against Russia in response to what Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called a “serious crime,” while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the use of a chemical agent “outrageous.”The Trump administration has said it is working with allies “to hold those in Russia accountable.”Doctors in Germany put Navalny under an induced coma for more than a week as part of his treatment. After waking up, Navalny has reported his condition improving, including regaining more of his mental and physical abilities.Navalny has been a frequent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and worked on anti-corruption efforts in Russia. He has been jailed numerous times on charges that he and his supporters said were politically motivated. 

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Reports: ‘FinCEN’ Documents Show Banks Moved Suspect Funds

Several global banks moved large sums of allegedly illicit funds over a period of nearly two decades, despite red flags about the origins of the money, BuzzFeed and other media reported Sunday, citing confidential documents submitted by banks to the U.S. government.The media reports were based on leaked suspicious activity reports (SARs), filed by banks and other financial firms with the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).  The SARs, which the reports said numbered more than 2,100, were obtained by BuzzFeed News and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and other media organizations.In all, the ICIJ reported that the files contained information about more than $2 trillion worth of transactions between 1999 and 2017, which were flagged by internal compliance departments of financial institutions as suspicious. The SARs are in themselves not necessarily proof of wrongdoing, and the ICIJ reported the leaked documents were a tiny fraction of the reports filed with FinCEN.Five global banks appeared most often in the documents — HSBC Holdings Plc, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Deutsche Bank AG, Standard Chartered Plc and Bank of New York Mellon Corp, the ICIJ reported.The SARs provide key intelligence in global efforts to stop money laundering and other crimes. The media reports on Sunday painted a picture of a system that is both under-resourced and overwhelmed, allowing vast amounts of illicit funds to move through the banking system.A bank has a maximum of 60 days to file SARs after the date of initial detection of a reportable transaction, according to the Treasury Department’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The ICIJ report said in some cases the banks failed to report suspect transactions until years after they had processed them.The SARs also showed that banks often moved funds for companies that were registered in offshore havens, such as the British Virgin Islands, and did not know the ultimate owner of the account, the report said.Among the types of transactions highlighted by the report: funds processed by JPMorgan for potentially corrupt individuals and companies in Venezuela, Ukraine and Malaysia; money from a Ponzi scheme moving through HSBC; and money linked to a Ukrainian billionaire processed by Deutsche Bank.”I hope these findings spur urgent action from policymakers to enact needed reforms,” said Tim Adams, chief executive of the trade group Institute of International Finance, in a statement. “As noted in today’s reports, the impacts of financial crime are felt beyond just the financial sector – it poses grave threats to society as a whole.”In a statement to Reuters, HSBC said “all of the information provided by the ICIJ is historical.” The bank said as of 2012, “HSBC embarked on a multi-year journey to overhaul its ability to combat financial crime across more than 60 jurisdictions.”Standard Chartered said in a statement to Reuters, “We take our responsibility to fight financial crime extremely seriously and have invested substantially in our compliance programs.”BNY Mellon told Reuters it could not comment on specific SARs. “We fully comply with all applicable laws and regulations, and assist authorities in the important work they do,” the bank said.JPM did not immediately respond to a request for comment but said in a statement to BuzzFeed that “thousands of employees and hundreds of millions of dollars are devoted to helping support law enforcement and national security efforts.”In a statement on Sunday, Deutsche Bank said the ICIJ had “reported on a number of historic issues.” “We have devoted significant resources to strengthening our controls and we are very focused on meeting our responsibilities and obligations,” the bank said.FinCEN said in a statement on its website on Sept. 1 that it was aware that various media outlets intended to publish a series of articles based on unlawfully disclosed SARs, as well as other documents, and said that the “unauthorized disclosure of SARs is a crime that can impact the national security of the United States.”Representatives for the U.S. Treasury did not immediately respond to an email for comment on Sunday. 

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