Rogue current and former dictators and global bribe-paying giant corporations are enjoying levels of impunity, placing them seemingly above the law, which only encourage international corruption and money laundering. The Group of 20 -- the forum of the leaders of the world's most powerful economies -- meets at summit level in November and needs to use this event to forcefully declare "NO IMPUNITY."
It is encouraging that the G20 is gradually moving in this direction. In this context, actions were determined in advance of the meeting of finance ministers of the Group of 20 in Australia on September 19 and 20 to end the tax practices of companies like Apple, Amazon and Starbucks that evaded high rates in countries where they have huge markets by registering their businesses in low business tax countries like Ireland and the Netherlands. These tax approaches have been legal, but they prompted public outrage. The politicians felt the heat and have started to take measures.
But, the G20 needs to go much further. It should build on its anti-tax avoidance initiative to take on the crooks by strengthening the G20's existing "Anti-Corruption Action Plan." President Obama and the other world leaders, when they hold their summit on November 15 in Brisbane, Australia, should focus on the grand corruption that involves vast sums being stolen, ultimately, from citizens across the world.
Let us just look at a few of the major cases that need to be addressed, from the plunder by the current ruler of Sudan, to the vast theft by the former president of Ukraine, to the activities of one of the world's biggest banks, as well as possibly vast international bribe-paying by the world's biggest retail corporation. These cases are just the tip of the iceberg of political and corporate corruption that demands G20 action.
Example: BNP Paribas, France's largest bank. In early July it pleaded guilty to U.S. Justice Department charges and paid a $8.9 billion fine (the largest ever for money laundering) for violating U.S. sanctions on Sudan, Cuba and Iran. The Justice Department stated that the bank had taken deposits over many years from these countries into its Geneva office and then changed the identities of the account holders so that they could illegally acquire U.S. dollar investments.
The charges indicated that billions of dollars were laundered for Sudan and that means the accounts of Sudan's dictator Omar al-Bashir and his cronies. Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for massive human rights crimes directly related to the slaughter of thousands of people in Dafur.
Several years ago, Wikileaks, according to The Guardian newspaper, revealed that the Sudanese leader had "siphoned as much as $9 billion out of his impoverished country, and much of it may be stashed in London banks."
There is no evidence that U.K. authorities have investigated these allegations. There is no evidence that BNP Paribas is no longer serving as Sudan's banker or that the French authorities care. No top banker at BNP, or, for that matter, any of the major banks caught by the U.S. Justice Department for money laundering and sanctions violations, have been hauled into court and prosecuted.
Example: former Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych. Ukrainians where aghast when Yanukovych was forced out of office in February to see the incredible riches of his gold-plated mansion in Kiev. Politicians claimed he had stolen at least $20 billion and perhaps double or triple that sum. Immediately, Swiss and Austrian authorities announced they were blocking bank accounts in their countries belonging to the dictator. In June, the Ukraine authorities announced they were investigating the links of two domestic banks to the former leader.
However, the Austrian and Swiss authorities have not revealed which banks held the stolen cash or how large the assets are that are frozen and whether they will be returning the money to the people of Ukraine. Meanwhile, the dictator or his cronies who have the foreign assets, which were almost certainly laundered through holding companies in countries like Cyprus, Liechtenstein and the Cayman Islands to hide the real owners of the accounts, have been pressured to reveal where the stolen money is.
The vast funds stolen by corrupt leaders, like Yanukovych, or the former dictators of Egypt (President Mubarek) and Tunisia (President Ben-Ami) have not been seized by Western authorities and returned to their rightful owners -- the citizens of their countries. The G20 needs to act to close the money laundering havens and ensure asset repatriation.
Example: Walmart, the world's largest retailer. In March, the company announced that over the previous two years it had spent $439 million conducting internal investigations of bribing foreign government officials in Mexico, China, India and Brazil. It was not the U.S. Justice Department that prompted Walmart to become alarmed. It was an investigation the New York Times in 2012.
There are many other cases of international corruption where the justice departments of G20 governments have either turned a blind eye or done very little. Challenging this complacency is a brand new global campaign launched by the anti-corruption organization, Transparency International, which is called: "Unmask the Corrupt." It seeks to expose the corrupt villains -- individuals and corporations -- as well as the schemes they use to launder their cash and, as a result, buy yachts harbored in the South of France, mansions in London, Manhattan and Beverly Hills and the world's most valuable works of art.
It is now time for the G20 to do some unmasking. It needs to use its summit meeting and put an end to the impunity that is so widespread.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Spurred chiefly by China, the United States and India, the world spewed far more carbon pollution into the air last year than ever before, scientists announced Sunday as world leaders gather to discuss how to reduce heat-trapping gases.
The world pumped an estimated 39.8 billion tons (36.1 billion metric tons) of carbon dioxide into the air last year by burning coal, oil and gas. That is 778 million tons (706 metric tons) or 2.3 percent more than the previous year.
"It's in the wrong direction," said Glen Peters, a Norwegian scientist who was part of the Global Carbon Project international team that tracks and calculates global emissions every year.
Their results were published Sunday in three articles in the peer-reviewed journals Nature Geoscience and Nature Climate Change.
The team projects that emissions of carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas from human activity, are increasing by 2.5 percent this year.
The scientists forecast that emissions will continue to increase, adding that the world in about 30 years will warm by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) from now. In 2009, world leaders called that level dangerous and pledged not to reach it.
"Time is running short," said Pierre Friedlingstein of the University of Exeter in England, one of the studies' lead authors. "The more we do nothing, the more likely we are to be hitting this wall in 2040-something."
Chris Field, a Carnegie Institution ecologist who heads a U.N. panel on global warming, called the studies "a stark and sobering picture of the steps we need to take to address the challenge of climate change."
More than 100 world leaders will meet Tuesday at the U.N. Climate Summit to discuss how to reverse the emissions trend.
The world's three biggest carbon polluting nations — China, the U.S. and India — all saw their emissions jump. No other country came close in additional emissions.
Indian emissions grew by 5.1 percent, Chinese emissions by 4.2 percent and the U.S. emissions by 2.9 percent, when the extra leap day in 2012 is accounted for.
China, the No. 1 carbon polluter, also had more than half the world's increases over 2012. China's increases are slowing because the Chinese economy isn't growing as fast as it had been, Peters said.
The U.S. had reduced its carbon emissions in four of the five previous years. Peters said it rose last year because of a recovering economy and more coal power.
Only two dozen of the about 200 countries cut their carbon emissions last year, led by mostly European countries. Spain had the biggest decrease.
The world emissions averaged to 6.3 million pounds (2.9 million kilograms) of carbon dioxide put in the air every second.
Nature Geoscience: http://www.nature.com/ngeo
Global Carbon Project: http://www.globalcarbonproject.org/carbonbudget/
Seth Borenstein can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — As the Islamic State group battles across Syria and Iraq, pushing back larger armies and ruling over entire cities, it is also waging an increasingly sophisticated media campaign that has rallied disenfranchised youth and outpaced the sluggish efforts of Arab governments to stem its appeal.
Long gone are the days when militant leaders like Osama bin Laden smuggled grainy videos to Al-Jazeera. Nowadays Islamic State backers use Twitter, Facebook and other online platforms to entice recruits with professionally made videos showing fighters waging holy war and building an Islamic utopia.
The extremist group's opponents say it is dragging the region back into the Middle Ages with its grisly beheadings and massacres, but its tech-savvy media strategy has exposed the ways in which Arab governments and mainstream religious authorities seem to be living in the past.
Most Arab governments see social media as a threat to their stability and have largely failed to harness its power, experts say. Instead, they have tried to monitor and censor the Internet while churning out stale public statements and state-approved sermons on stuffy government-run media.
Last week, Saudi Arabia's top council of religious scholars issued a lengthy Arabic statement via the state-run news agency denouncing terrorism and calling on citizens to back efforts to fight extremist groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaida. Leading Sunni Muslim authorities in Egypt have issued similar government-backed statements.
Compare that to the Islamic State group. Its Furqan media arm produces slick videos complete with interviews, graphics and jihadist hymns echoing in the background, with Arabic and English subtitles. It promotes the videos and its glossy monthly magazines on an array of social media, reaching out to people in the Arab world and beyond. Islamic State fighters even tweet live from the battlefield, giving real-time updates and waging theological debates with online detractors.
"They definitely have an electronic army behind them," said Ray Kafity, vice president of FireEye for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa. The company manufactures IT solutions for defending against cyber threats.
The Islamic State boasts thousands of foreign fighters, some of whom were first drawn to it in the privacy and security of cyberspace. It also uses social media for fundraising.
Fadi Salem, a Dubai-based researcher on Internet governance in the Arab World, said the immediate response of Middle Eastern governments to the power of social media has been to "control, block and censor as much as possible."
"Very few governments viewed this as an opportunity rather than a risk," Salem said.
Egypt shut down access to the Internet during the bloodiest day of the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, and Syria cut off access in rebellious provinces shortly after the start of the revolt against Bashar Assad later that spring.
Iraq's government followed suit in June of this year, when the Islamic State group swept across much of the country's north and west. The government cut off Internet access to several areas overrun by militants, including Mosul, Iraq's second largest city.
A study by The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto showed that despite blocking mobile messaging apps and social media platforms, Iraq's authorities failed to block seven websites affiliated with or supportive of the Islamic State group. New accounts appear almost as quickly as old accounts are reported and taken down.
"It's hard to wage a war with ideas online," said Abdulaziz Al-Mulhem, the spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of Information and Culture. "When we talk about monitoring or controlling social media it is like trying to control air, and this of course is hard."
Facebook says it has 71 million active monthly users in the Middle East, and youth between the ages of 15 and 29 make up around 70 percent of Facebook users in the Arab region, according to a report by the Dubai School of Government.
Facebook's Elizabeth Linder says Middle Eastern governments are still in the early stages of realizing the full potential of social media. She advises governments on how they can better use Facebook for diplomacy.
"The most important thing is to be there," she told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a social media conference in Dubai. "And that's something that I really do encourage governments to do, not to leave the space but to enter the space."
The United States, which has long struggled to craft an effective public diplomacy in the region, has taken note. The U.S. State Department launched a "Think Again Turn Away" campaign on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, with Arabic and English videos similar in style to those of al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. One video is titled "Airing al-Qaida's dirty laundry" and another shows images of children allegedly killed by these groups.
But none have gained the traction of the Islamic State's videos, which pair brutal images of mass shootings and beheadings — aimed at striking fear in the hearts of its enemies — with heroic portrayals of its fighters as models of bravery and piety.
A slick 55-minute video entitled "Flames of War" came with its own trailer, and features images of exploding tanks and wounded U.S. soldiers. The video, which came out this month, was allegedly released by the Islamic State group's Al-Hayat media center. It idealizes militants as "warriors" and "truthful men."
The message to alienated young men in the region and abroad is that they too can wage holy war, exact revenge on those seen as oppressing Muslims and help build a just society based on divine law.
The videos that have gained the most attention in the West are those that show a masked man beheading two American journalists and a British aid worker in the desert. But others document life in militant-held Raqqa in eastern Syria, and cheerfully invite potential recruits to move there.
"We want to be your brothers and for you to be our brothers," an Islamic State fighter tells Syrian men and children in a video entitled "The best ummah" — or Muslim society.
The Arabic video with English subtitles depicts a community where pious men police the streets, eliminating drugs and alcohol and making sure everyone prays together at the mosque. The militants distribute food to those in need and ensure fair prices in the local markets.
For many it's a compelling vision of a better world, one that stands in stark contrast with most states in the region, in which aging autocrats preside over governments seen as irredeemably corrupt and stagnant. Combatting that vision will require more than simply silencing its advocates, experts say.
"Pure censorship and blocking is not really working. It will continue to be a cat-and-mouse game," Salem said. "Another way is to use these tools to attract people away from these ideas. A combination of both is required."