Connect with us

General

How Faked Documents Ensnared A Billionaire In Kazakhgate Scandal

Published

on

 

When the billionaire Patokh Chodiev was named as part of a Belgian political scandal it created a media frenzy but a new investigation has revealed that the affair may have been based on fake documents.

The Kazakhgate scandal rocked the political elites of Belgium and France and triggered enormous media coverage but a report published by the French investigative magazine Mediapart has found that on at least three occasions documents relating to the case were faked.

Without these fakes it is unlikely that the affair would have erupted in the same way, or that it would have damaged Chodiev’s reputation.

The scandal dates back to the early 1990s when Chodiev and his partners, who created a successful mining company in Kazakhstan, settled in Belgium and took citizenship. The Belgian authorities launched an investigation into some real estate transactions and Chodiev and his partners were charged for breaching financial laws.

The case dragged on for 16 years but was eventually settled in 2011 after Belgium had introduced a new plea bargain law. Chodiev and his partners paid a fee and the case was settled with no admittance of guilt.

It was subsequently claimed that Belgium politicians had introduced the new plea bargain law, and applied it to the Chodiev case, after coming under pressure from the French, who wanted the businessman’s help in securing a big aerospace contract with Kazakhstan. Belgium’s media were outraged that their country’s laws may have been influenced by French officials who wanted to land a big manufacturing deal.

The evidence for this alleged quid-pro-quo deal came from email exchanges between Jean-Francois Etienne des Rosaies, an adviser to the French President, and Claude Guéant, chief of staff to the President.

In the emails, Des Rosaies writes that the legal team arranged for Chodiev by the French had successfully concluded the case with the help of a Belgian senator, Armand de Decker.

These allegations were sufficiently serious that the Belgian parliament launched an inquiry into the affair. In testimony to the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee (PIC), Guéant disputed the authenticity of the Des Rosaies emails and said he had no recollection of receiving them. He stated that French assistance to Chodiev went only so far as introducing him to a new lawyer, Catherine Degoul. Degoul then hired Senator De Decker without Chodiev’s knowledge.

Des Rosaies has also filed a complaint stating that the email was a forgery and the PIC found there had been no improper influence over the introduction of the plea bargain law.

Another fake appeared soon after in 2013 when Le Vif reported that a French diplomat called Damien Loras had received a gold Jacquet Droz watch worth €44,000 as a gift from Chodiev. Loras had been part of the Élysée team tasked with helping Chodiev in Belgium.

The newspaper published a copy of the receipt for the watch allegedly bought by Chodiev at Kronometry 1999 in Paris. The implication appears to have been that Chodiev was attempting to bribe a French official to help him in the Belgian case.

However, the receipt is a fake and uses a different letterhead and format to those issued by Kronometry. According to Mediapart: “Somebody went to significant effort to create a fake receipt in order to implicate Chodiev and Loras in a supposedly corrupt relationship.”

Yet another fake appears to have triggered a separate part of the Kazakhgate scandal. It was reported that Chodiev had inappropriately obtained Belgian citizenship in the 1990s and this claim was also investigated by the Belgian Parliamentary Inquiry Committee (PIC).

The PIC found that two police reports had been filed in relation to Chodiev’s citizenship application. The first report was by a police sergeant who recommended a delay based on information provided by the State Security Service on Chodiev’s unproven links to the Russian mafia.
The other report was supposedly written by Michel Vanderwalle, commissioner of the Waterloo Police, and gave a positive report on Chodiev. It was claimed that Chodiev had persuaded a Belgian politician to put pressure on Vanderwalle to write the positive report.

Both of these reports appear designed to cause Chodiev problems and, in testimony to the Parliamentary inquiry, Vanderwalle confirmed that both were forgeries.

The Belgian intelligence committee has also expressed doubts about the authenticity of the two police reports and the PIC concluded that Chodiev had been granted citizenship properly.

These documents triggered a political scandal that appears to have been built on lies and fakes. As Mediapart noted, if the underlying documents in this affair are fakes this raises questions over who created them and why they went to so much effort?

It appears that shadowy players in Europe and Kazakhstan have taken advantage of the media’s willingness to publish faked documents in order to damage the reputations of leading politicians and businessmen.

 

General

New online Indonesia visa for travellers from travel corridor nations

Published

on

Indonesian visas will soon be available online. The government of Indonesia is launching a new eVisa system to make the application process simpler, safer, and more efficient.

 

Travellers from a select number of countries will be able to apply for an Indonesia eVisa, as reported from October 15th 2020, it is expected that the online visa will be made available to citizens of more countries next year, as reported on indonesiaevisas.com.

 

The launch of the Indonesia eVisa is timely, applying online is the safest way to obtain an Indonesia visa during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as face-to-face contact can be avoided. This will be very important in the coming weeks and months as some foreign travel to the southeast Asian nation resumes.

 

Travel corridor / reciprocal green lane arrangements have now been created to allow for essential trips to Indonesia. To enter the country, eligible foreigners must apply for a visa exclusively using the online system.

 

When it is launched, the Indonesia eVisa will initially be limited to travellers from countries that have established a travel corridor agreement with Indonesia. Currently, China, the United Arab Emirates, and South Korea have reached such an agreement with the Indonesian government, with Singapore likely to join the list shortly.

 

Business travellers, skilled workers, investors, and civil servants who meet all the Indonesia eVisa requirements can apply for the permit for essential trips.

 

To obtain the Indonesia eVisa, eligible travellers are required to submit an online application form. Passport information and a few personal details are needed to successfully complete the request. Supporting documents can simply be uploaded digitally, with no need to present paperwork in person at an embassy or visa application centre. Applicants pay the visa fees securely online using a credit or debit card. The entire process can be completed from home and all notification and correspondence will be sent to the applicant by email. In addition, once approved the visa is sent directly to the applicant by email.

 

Tourists are not currently able to travel to Indonesia as the government attempts to strike a balance between economic recovery and public health and safety. Once general international travel does return, tourists will likely be able to take advantage of the new online visa application system.

 

Foreigners familiar with similar online visa systems such as those already in place in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, will be aware of the benefits. Not only is the eVisa application quick to complete, but processing times are also faster than traditional visa applications.

 

Tourists looking forward to a post-Covid getaway will be pleased to hear about the eVisa for Bali, as Indonesia’s most visited island the online system will benefit millions of foreign visitors. Holidaymakers will also be able to apply electronically once the system is extended to travellers visiting the country for leisure and not just on business.

 

More details about the new Indonesia eVisa are expected in the coming days and weeks including the full list of eligible countries and processing fee. Anyone hoping to go to Indonesia in the near future should check their eligibility and all the latest updates and information provided by the Indonesian government before making travel arrangements.

 

 

 

 

 

Continue Reading

EU

CBD oil legality in the EU: A changing landscape

Published

on

You’ve probably heard the hype already about the trendy benefits of CBD Oil. It is a natural substance derived from the hemp plant popping up in all kinds of forms in Europe’s food and beauty industry thanks to its medicinal properties.

Today, Europe has the 2nd largest CBD market in the world –only behind North America. From CBD gummies and potato chips to CBD facial masks, every entrepreneur wants in on this booming industry.

As of writing, CBD is legal in most European countries, explaining the meteoric rise in CBD use in the continent. However, it hasn’t been all plain sailing for this budding market –the pun intended.

Enter the EU’s restrictive CBD oil regulations. While the European CBD market is expanding exponentially, the ever-changing rules on CBD legality have proved a major handicap.

Let’s look at what CBD oil is, its legality in Europe, and what the future holds for CBD legality in Europe

What is CBD oil?

Not to be confused with hemp oil, CBD oil is the most popular form of Cannabidiol (CBD) –an active naturally occurring cannabinoid found in cannabis plants. CBD is mainly extracted from the hemp tree and then dissolved into plant-based oils such as olive oil or castor oil to form CBD oil.

Most people use the terms CBD oil and hemp oil interchangeably since both are hemp extracts. However, these two oils couldn’t be more different. For instance, while CBD oil is extracted from the leaves, stem and flowers of the hemp, hemp oil is explicitly obtained from the hemp seeds. What’s more, hemp seeds don’t contain any CBD; hence, hemp oil doesn’t have CBD oil's health benefits.

What about THC, the ingredient that made the cannabis plant famous, you ask. Well, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is another active cannabinoid mainly found in the marijuana plant –a cousin of the hemp plant. THC is known for its psychoactive effects, which give you the “high.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that CBD oil doesn’t have any of these psychoactive effects, unlike THC. Besides, since the hemp plant only contains very low THC levels (less than 0.2%), most European countries’ CBD regulations stipulate that products use hemp-extracted CBD only. More on this later.

Is CBD oil legal in the EU?

While it has been legal to cultivate and supply hemp plants for hemp fibre (with less than 0.2% THC) in the EU for some time now, CBD oil legality around Europe is quite complex.

That said, Europe stands out as one of the most liberal regions in terms of cannabis legalisation. Today, CBD oil is legal in almost all countries in Europe. However, there is still a lack of consensus on CBD products' legality –the only consensus seems to be on the use of CBD extracted from the hemp plant.

For instance, in the UK, farmers are allowed to grow hemp as long as you have a licence from the UK Home Office. However, you can only use this hemp for its fibre and seed oil. And as we noted earlier, the seeds do not contain any CBD.

Therefore, while the use of CBD products — derived from hemp containing less than 0.2% THC — and growing hemp is perfectly legal in the UK, you cannot harvest and process hemp flowers and leaves for CBD oil, among other products.

In other countries such as Belgium, Greece and Switzerland, the regulations allow for the cultivation and processing of hemp flower.

Switzerland was among the first countries to allow the sale of hemp flower. Besides, their regulations allow for a higher THC limit (1%), which means they have high-quality CBD buds.

Other countries with notably high THC limits include Italy (0.6%) and Austria (0.3%).

Here is a list of countries in Europe where hemp flower and CBD products are legal:

  • Switzerland
  • Belgium
  • Luxembourg
  • Austria
  • Spain
  • Czech Republic
  • Greece
  • Poland

It’s worth noting that while the sale and use of CBD flowers is illegal in countries such as Italy, France, Germany, the UK, Netherlands, Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, CBD products are entirely legal – subject to local laws.

CBD is completely illegal in Andorra, Albania, Armenia, Belarus, Lithuania and Slovakia.

CBD regulation as a novel food

In January 2019, the EU, through the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), directed all cannabinoid-infused food products to be approved as novel foods. Well, although this new regulation is not mandatory, most countries are applying it and tightening their laws around the CBD market.

A substance is considered a novel food if it was not consumed significantly before 1997. This means companies manufacturing CBD products such as oils, cookies and drinks must have a novel food license before selling them within the EU.

The idea behind this regulation is to make sure CBD products are:

  • Safer for human consumption, and;
  • properly labelled to prevent misleading consumers.

The call for CBD's inclusion in the EU’s Novel Food Catalogue has led to an uproar across the cannabis industry. While some people believe it will make CBD products safer, CBD manufacturers see it as an extra financial and regulatory burden.

Classification of CBD as a narcotic by EU

Before the dust had settled on EU’s regulation of CBD as a novel food, the European Commission (EC) decided to pause all Novel Food applications for CBD products. They intend to classify CBD as a narcotic since it is extracted from the hemp plant's flowers.

This is based on the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs from 1961. The treaty states that “extracts and tinctures” of hemp’s flowering tops are classed as narcotics.

If classified as a narcotic, this will stifle current Europe’s CBD market. For instance, you’ll be unable to retail CBD products on the European market legally. Besides, this is likely to hinder cannabinoid research and innovation in Europe while also stifling opportunities for a legal and regulated CBD industry.

However, as expected, the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) has come out and rejected the decision. The trade group decries this controversial policy is against both the EU’s green ambition and the growing CBD demand in Europe.

There are valid fears that enforcing this policy might create a large unregulated grey CBD market leading to low-quality products and improper labeling.

A changing landscape: What the future holds for CBD oil in Europe

Enforcing prohibitions on the current ever-growing CBD market will be costly. What’s more, with the economic contraction facing the EU countries in the post-COVID-19 era, member states are unlikely to invest heavily in CBD-focused polices.

Besides, we already have countries such as the UK deviating from the EU’s novel food rule. TheUK’s Food Safety Association (FSA)already has plans to operate its own independent novel food approval program in 2021.

Therefore, CBD manufacturers will not have to worry about EC’s decision to pause the novel food applications. The program will allow UK operators to submit applications for CBD extracted from hemp flowers opening clear pathways to legal CBD sales.

On the other hand, the European Commission is yet to issue a final decision on their recommendation as they await on the UN’s Committee on Narcotic Drugs (CND) vote regarding the amendment of the 1961 cannabis treaty. The main proposals involve deleting the extracts and tinctures of the cannabis category and clarifying the control of CBD products with less than 0.2% THC.

It is difficult to tell when this vote will happen. However, one thing is certain; the decision will be quite disruptive – not only in Europe but also throughout the world’s CBD market.

That said, Europe’s CBD demand is on an unstoppable upward growth. As we wait on the regulatory bodies’ verdict, it is always advisable to use CBD products from registered and trusted companies. Also, remember to check for third-party lab reports to confirm the product's safety and legality before purchase.

Continue Reading

featured

CAS ruling casts doubt on Rodchenkov testimony

Published

on

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) made headlines in the sporting world after overturning the lifetime bans imposed on three Russian biathletes for alleged wrongdoing at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. While two of the athletes – Yana Romanova and Olga Vilukhina – were cleared of all charges on the grounds of insufficient evidence, Olga Zaitseva lost her individual appeal against doping, but still had her lifetime ban revoked.

The judgement is significant not just for the three named athletes and those affected by the medals which now will be reinstated, but also for the prominent whistleblower upon whose testimony they were first accused. Grigory Rodchenkov was once the head of Russia’s anti-doping agency and the purported mastermind behind their gaming of the system but has since turned whistleblower to expose the country’s doping program. Vilified in Russia and revered in the USA, it’s now unclear where the real Rodchenkov stands between these polar opposite perceptions.

Vindication at last

Alongside teammate Yekaterina Shumilova, the trio of athletes claimed the silver medal in a relay skiing event at the Sochi Games, only for their achievements to be called into question by Rodchenkov. After defecting from Russia and emigrating to the United States, Rodchenkov revealed that he had been the protagonist behind a nationwide doping agenda through which Moscow hoped to reinstate pride in the country after a disappointing showing in Vancouver four years previously.

In his written testimony, Rodchenkov alleged that Sochi officials had colluded with agents from the FSB to remove incriminating urine samples from the testing lab and replace them with clean alternatives. Romanov, Vilukhina and Zaitseva were all implicated by name, having supposedly taken the blood-booster EPO and a specially crafted mixture of performance-enhancing drugs known as the “Duchess Cocktail”, something which Rodchenkov himself claims to have invented.

In all, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) sanctioned 43 athletes on the strength of Rodchenkov’s testimony, 28 of which were later repealed. With the most recent CAS ruling – and the final pending one from those Games – that figure has swelled to 31, or 72% of those originally accused of wrongdoing. Clearly, CAS does not believe that Rodchenkov should now be taken at his word, or that the evidence put forth is strong enough to produce a guilty verdict.

Unsubstantiated and inconsistent

In reaching their decision, a panel of CAS arbitrators concluded that none of the accusations levelled against the biathletes could be confirmed to “comfortable satisfaction” and thus rescinded the bans. In particular, they found that Rodchenkov’s assertion that the high concentration of salt in the athletes’ urine samples was indicative of tampering was unsubstantiated conjecture.

While Zaitseva was found guilty of the breach, she continues to maintain her innocence, pointing to the prevalence of high-sodium foods like red caviar and smoked salmon (both of which were on sale in the Sochi canteen) in her diet as a natural cause of the excess salt levels in her sample. Meanwhile, the single blood sample taken from Zaitseva – over which there has been no suggestion of chicanery – returned negative results for EPO and any of the so-called Duchess cocktail ingredients, further supporting her position.

There are even suspicions over the extent of Rodchenkov’s involvement in his own testimony. Handwriting specialists found that his signature was digitally duplicated on two of the eight affidavits submitted by his team, while the six others are thought to have probably been penned by someone else. When questioned on that discovery, his lawyer Jim Walden immediately produced a brand new document affirming all of the previous ones and bearing a fresh version of Rodchenkov’s signature – but this signature, too, was called into question by a leading handwriting experts from the UK and Germany.

More than meets the eye?

Amidst all this confusion, there do appear to be a few certainties: that Russia conducted a far-reaching campaign of athlete doping, that Rodchenkov was instrumental in implementing and obscuring it and that once his value to the Russian Federation ran out, he found fame as the anti-doping poster boy for the USA. But does that mean his word should now be trusted unconditionally in every circumstance?

In a case so characterized by controversy and inconsistency, it makes sense to take a step back and reassess the situation, as CAS have done here – especially when the careers and reputations for which professional athletes have fought so hard are at stake. For her part, Zaitseva has signaled her intent to never stop fighting to clear her name, while she and her two vindicated teammates have also filed a $30 million lawsuit against Rodchenkov for what they view as little more than uncorroborated slander. Whether that case bears a positive conclusion for the athletes remains to be seen, but the aspersions being heaped upon the star of Netflix documentary Icarus suggest that the whistleblower himself may also have had his wings singed by the very controversy that has made him (in)famous.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Facebook

Twitter

Trending