The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the group responsible for the recent, enormous data dump exposing offshore banking practices, is making its articles available in one online location.
The articles, many of which first appeared in news sources throughout the world, pay special attention to intermediary companies located in tax havens such as Singapore and the Virgin Islands, that set up accounts using fake - sometimes dead - straw man directors and shareholders. Companies, documents show, fail to do due diligence to find out the source of the money, and, often, encourage account holders to withhold real identities.
An update on the story we brought you earlier regarding a possible bicycle ban in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Authorities, it turns out, are introducing an array of new traffic rules in the city – and not just for bicyclists.
The new regulations extend to cart drivers and those riding livestock.
Lenta.ru reports only those older than 14 will now be allowed to “control bicycles, carrier carts, or drive equine animals and livestock.” In addition, those vehicles must stagger themselves in a way that allows faster transport to pass them; and they may use the sidewalk, so long as pedestrian traffic is not impeded.
Finally, bicyclists may not ride with only one hand on the steering or carry passengers.
(Rest assured: we'll keep you posted on any developing news on bike and livestock-driving rules as they arise.)
A band of crooks in Kazakhstan seems to think that a mine is a terrible thing to waste - but authorities see things differently.
Officials in Kazakhstan have announced they charged “several” people involved in a case of illegal gold mining in the western village of Bestyube in Akmol Province, Russia’s Lenta.ru, is reporting. Another suspect, who appears to have been a co-organizer of the illegal operation, remains on the lam and faces an Interpol warrant. The illegal mining operation is believed to have started in 2012, Lenta.ru reported.
In the course of the investigation, police discovered “at least seven” units of drilling and sifting equipment at several addresses, as well as more than six kilos of ore containing gold materials worth about $265,000, according to Lenta.ru. A separate report distributed by the newskaz.ru website stated that several units of processing equipment were discovered at seven addresses. Neither outlet named the suspects. The ore came from mines belonging to the Kazakh nationalized mining agency, Kazakhaltyn.
Several news outlets also reported a sinister-sounding development: one of the suspects is said to be one of the leaders of Bestobe Jaamat, a Salafi Islamist group. While not illegal in Kazakhstan, the movement, which advocates adherence to a pure form of Islam, is considered radical and “non-traditional.” The newskaz.ru report throws in a mention of unregistered weapons being discovered alongside the ore.
In crowd scenes in plays and movies, background actors in Russia are known to repeat the following tongue-twister when trying to feign conversation: “what do you talk about when there's nothing to talk about?” That phrase comes to mind when examining the latest effort by Kazakhstan and Russia to resolve a dispute over rocket launches at the Baikonur space center.
On February 8, a number of Russian-language outlets carried the news that Presidents Vladimir Putin and his Kazakhstani counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev had basically solved the dispute, which appears to center on the price tag for a new launch pad at Baikonur - and who pays for it - during a meeting in Moscow. After the meeting, the Yandex newsfeed was full of headlines like “Putin and Nazarbaev Announce that Acceptable Solutions to Baikonur Have Been Found.”
The funny thing is that it is not clear whether Putin and Nazarbayev came to any agreement at all. The only substantive development to come out of the Moscow meeting was that Kazakhstan and Russia will set aside their Baikonur differences until the fall, when the Belarus-Russia-Kazakhstan Customs Union holds its scheduled meeting in Yekaterinburg.
“We gave the order regarding the preparation of a new Agreement on friendship and cooperation. I hope we will sign it in Yekaterinburg this fall,” said Nazarbayev during the February 8 meeting, as quoted by multiple Russian-language sources, all of which were ambiguous as to whether a new agreement would concern exclusively Baikonur, or whether Baikonur would be just one topic under a broader cooperation agreement.
Issues of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) rights have been much in the news in the former Soviet Union over the past year. In Russia and Ukraine, proposed legislation criminalizing "homosexual propaganda," or just about any discussion of homosexuality in front of minors, threatens to roll back the boundaries of tolerance for the LGBT community.
Russia and Kazakhstan seem headed for a showdown over rocket launches at the Baikonur cosmodrome. Although Moscow and Astana are trying to downplay their differences, both sides seem ready to play hardball in what could be complicated and protracted negotiations.
It’s no secret that former Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a fugitive in his own country, has been hiding Belarus. He’s held news conferences there and has even, sources in Minsk tells us, been spotted eating ice cream in the street. Now, if local media are to be believed, he’s a Belorussian citizen, too.
Citing Belorussian portal Tut.by, Russian media report that Bakiyev, in fact, received citizenship back in August 2010, only months after fleeing a bloody mess in the streets of Bishkek.
Belorussian authorities neither confirm nor deny the story, which was based on an anonymous tip. But Lenta.ru reports that a police source said Bakiyev’s name exists in the Belorussian registry of internal passports. According to local protocol, Lenta.ru adds, the decision to confer citizenship would have had to come from President Alexander Lukashenko.
Kyrgyz authorities have nothing to add, but local media outlets are also reporting that Bakiyev has purchased a house outside of Minsk for $2 million. Kyrgyzstan’s yellow, and often vindictive press has made outrageous claims about the former president and his family in the past, however, without much concern for veracity.
Nobody seems to know where he came from, but over the last day or so, a man calling himself Tolibjon Kurbankhanov has become an online sensation in Russia.
Kurbankhanov, supposedly a Tajik migrant worker living in Moscow, is the star of a music video called “VVP” -- short for Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin -- which extols the virtues of Russia’s former, and, likely, future president, as no other before it. The song suggests Prime Minister Putin was sent to Russia by God, and at just the right time.
“Let’s sit and remember together those years / When he wasn’t here, we had just fear / A nation in peril, a suffering people / And at this time, God sent him to us,” the song begins. It eventually breaks into a jubilant refrain:
VVP – he saved the country
VVP – he protects us
VVP – raised up Russia
And development just keeps on going.
One YouTube commentator called the apparent propaganda “so thick, it’s refined.” But Russian bloggers were quick to point out the song is so ridiculous, it could, in fact, be a play to discredit Putin, whose initials happen to be the Russian abbreviation for Gross Domestic Product. (The video was posted by YouTube user SergeiRaevskii, who appears to have no other YouTube activity, and went viral when opposition presidential candidate Aleksei Navalny called attention to it on his blog.)
The steady stream of comments reflects – at best – Russians’ ambivalence toward migrant workers. Some, however, suggest the singer is either a drug dealer or is somehow in Moscow illegally.
When people talk about cozy relationships among the powerful in Central Asia, they often go on to enumerate the earthly pleasures that come with them -- luxury homes, exotic vacations, Swiss bank accounts.
But a recent story posted on the Russian-language Lenta.ru news site suggests a whole new realm of riches on offer for some of Kazakhstan’s leaders.
As Lenta reports, Sergey Kulagin, until recently the governor of the country’s northern Kostanay Province, now appears in a fresco on the walls of the St. John the Theologian Cathedral, which opened its doors in the city of Rudniy earlier this month. Kulagin, who served as governor for seven years until being appointed a senator last week, is depicted in Roman robes, but sans his usual spectacles, as one of the greeters of Christ in Jerusalem.
A secretary of the Kostanaysko-Rudnenskaya Diocese, part of the powerful Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church, has confirmed Kulagin’s appearance in the new fresco. One can only guess what good deeds, performed toward the Church or the cathedral’s sponsor, Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation PLC (ENRC) Komek Fund, have earned the now-senator the gift of pictorial life with its hint at eternal grace.