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In #Ukraine, new government demonstrates fighting against shadow economy and corruption

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President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi and parliament have begun to actively introduce changes to tax legislation aimed at unshadowing of the economy, combating corruption schemes and reducing pressure on business. At the same time, the law on the creation of a new agency – the “Bureau of Financial Investigations” caused some concerns from experts and the public, writes Graham Paul.

According to IMF estimates, the level of shadow economy in Ukraine is 44.8%, and according to Ukrainian tax experts, at least 50% of GDP. The studies by PWC, World Economic Crime and Fraud Research 2018: Survey of Ukrainian Organizations, showed that two of the first five types of economic crimes in Ukraine are corruption and embezzlement, and according to the statistics of the respondents’ answers in Ukraine, cases of corruption increased in 2018 up to 73% compared to 56% in 2016.

The head of the parliamentary committee on finance, tax and customs policy, Daniil Getmantsev, has already announced the simplification of the administration of VAT and introduction of tax on withdrawn capital.

However, the bill on creation of a new tax department to replace the tax police arose criticism from the people’s deputies, experts and the public. In particular, tax expert Andrei Gmyrin noted that the new bill has a number of risks that could lead to the fact that the promised tax department may not become truly independent.

“The adoption of the Bill “On the Bureau of Financial Investigations” registered on the website of the Verkhovna Rada will negatively affect businesses and citizens, because the new fiscal body will have an exclusively punitive function and will depend on the government or the Minister of Finance. In addition, the bill does not provide for a competition for the post of head of legislative restrictions to other law enforcement agencies to deal with crimes in the field of public finance, control and the like,” he said.

As an alternative, the expert suggested that the deputies create a new tax agency with a special status that will ensure the country’s national security in the economic sphere.

“The National Security and Defense Council, which is headed by the President of Ukraine, should coordinate and regulate the new independent State Revenue Service (the name is not important). The activities of the new fiscal department should be as independent as possible from state authorities, prosecutors, political parties, public associations. Control over the activities of the Service should be carried out by the parliament and supervisory public council specially created within the Service. Already existing anti-corruption bodies of the NABU and the State Bureau of Investigations are enough to investigate possible violations of the Service’s employees – they can effectively cope with such tasks as abuse of authority, corruption, negligence of employees,” explained Gmyrin.

Also, political expert Taras Semenyuk noted that the law does have some flaws that should be eliminated. Separately, he highlighted the proposal of the tax expert Gmyrin.

“The reorganization and integration of the existing tax authorities, their functions and information bases into a single information system, where the entire chain of movement of funds will be immediately visible, will make it possible to promptly prevent and qualitatively investigate economic crimes. That is, the coordination of the actions of tax department employees should be carried out from a “single center”. Similar mergers and optimization of tax authorities were used in other countries and proved to be effective. It is time to carry out a qualitative tax reform, but not, as always, create one body in exchange for another,” said Semenyuk.

According to TNS sociological research held by the Design Bureau of the National Reform Council, only 17% of Ukrainian citizens trust workers of the tax authority operating in Ukraine. The history of the tax reforms in the developed countries shows that without creation of an independent tax agency it is impossible to transparently and efficiently investigate economic crimes, especially of TOP officials. Perhaps the authorities in Ukraine should consider the opinions of the expert community so as not to repeat the mistakes of the previous parliament.

coronavirus

Russia has launched a propaganda campaign to smear the coronavirus vaccine being developed by Oxford University scientists

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The Kremlin is accused of spreading fear about the serum, claiming it will turn people into monkeys. The Russians base the suggestion on the fact the vaccine is using a chimpanzee virus. The Russians have disseminated pictures and memes of Prime Minister Boris Johnson looking like “a yeti”. It’s captioned: “I like my bigfoot vaccine”.

And other shows a “monkey” scientist holding a syringe and working on the treatment.

The monkey is wearing an AstraZeneca lab coat.

The pharmaceutical giant is at the forefront of developing a vaccine.

Last month the London Globe and the EU Reporter carried stories about the Russian campaign.

Both publications have since removed two articles from their online sites.

Publisher Colin Stevens said:

“We were given the story by a freelance journalist in Brussels.

“However, after an investigation by The Times we now know the story has no basis.

“When I heard the stories were false, they were taken down straightaway.

“Sadly, we have been the unwilling victims of a Russian campaign to discredit the excellent work being done by Oxford University scientists.

“Even the very best get caught out now and again. Indeed even the Times was fooled into publishing the fake "Hitler Diaries" some years ago.”

AstraZeneca's chief executive Pascal Soriot condemned attempts to undermine their work.

He said: “Scientists at AstraZeneca and at many other companies and institutions around the world are working tirelessly to develop a vaccine and therapeutic treatments to defeat this virus.

“But it is independent experts and regulatory agencies across the world that ultimately decide if a vaccine is safe and effective before it is approved for use.

“Misinformation is a clear risk to public health.

“This is especially true during the current pandemic which continues to claim tens of thousands of lives, significantly disrupt the way we live and damage the economy.”

Professor Pollard, who is professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity at the University of Oxford, told BBC Radio Four's Today programme:

“The type vaccine we have is very very similar to a number of other vaccines, including the Russian vaccine, all of which use the common cold virus from humans or from chimpanzees.

“To our bodies, the viruses look the same.

“We don't actually have any chimpanzees involved at all in the process of making the vaccine, because it is all about the virus, rather than animals it might more commonly

Meanwhile, Doctor Hilary Jones told Good Morning Britain the attempts at disinformation were “utterly ridiculous and shameful”.

He added:

“Oxford have a fantastic reputation; they are doing this thoroughly and are looking at thousands of people from all different groups and ages.

“They are doing this safely and effectively and for the Russians to try to besmirch what they are trying to do because parts of the vaccine comes from chimpanzee material is utterly ridiculous and shameful.

“I would put my money on Oxford every time.”

A Russian Embassy spokesman in London said: “The suggestion that the Russian state may conduct any kind of propaganda against the AstraZeneca vaccine is itself an example of disinformation.

“It is obviously aimed at discrediting Russia's efforts in combating the pandemic, including the good co-operation we have established with the UK in this field.”

 

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Could the digital Renminbi address China’s vulnerability to the global financial system?

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The international financial system is dominated by the US. Washington has often used its clout in the international financial system to further its economic and geopolitical interests through financial sanctions. As antagonism between the US and China moves beyond trade and technology, how the US-China rivalry will play out in the new stage of international finance is a matter of great concern to the world.

China has been working on a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) since 2014, and is intensifying its efforts to internationalise the Renminbi.

On the surface it appears the CBDC will be for domestic use, but a CBDC will simplify cross border transactions. For a long time, the country has been dissatisfied with the U.S. Dollar’s (USD) ongoing role as the global reserve currency and is committed to extending its currency’s reach.

It even has an initiative to denominate international trade credit in Renminbi (RMB) rather than dollars. And the Belt and Road Initiative has seen China extend more than $1 trillion in foreign loans.

At a recent online global seminar organised by the Pangoal Institution China and the Centre for New Inclusive Asia Malaysia, experts from China, Russia, Europe and the US deliberated and disussed the issue.

One of the key speakers was Mr Ali Amirliravi, CEO and Founder of LGR Crypto Bank of Switzerland. and creator of the Silk Road Coin digital currency.

Mr Ali Amirliravi, CEO and Founder of LGR Crypto Bank

Mr Ali Amirliravi, CEO and Founder of LGR Crypto Bank

He addressed China’s vulnerability to the global financial system, and said:

“This is a very interesting question as there are a lot of factors to consider. To begin, I think it might be helpful to define China’s vulnerabilities specifically. We are speaking about international finance here (it’s a very complex and politically charged system) and since the second world war, the space has been more or less dominated by the interests of the US. We see this in the global dominance that the US dollar has held for the last 70 years. We see that in the steps that Washington has taken to ensure that the dollar acts as the global reserve currency - particularly in industries like the global oil trade. Up until quite recently, it was probably difficult to even imagine a global financial system that was not directly supported by the US dollar.

By virtue of this global reliance, the American political machine was given significant power to wield in international finance. The best evidence of this can probably be found in the history of crippling economic sanctions that the US has enacted against specific states - the impacts of which can be devastating. In a nutshell, it’s an asymmetrical power dynamic wherein the US has carved out a significant negotiating  advantage over other countries.

LGR Crypto Bank of Switzerland

LGR Crypto Bank of Switzerland

Put it this way: when the global economic system is built to fit the domestic currency of a specific state, it is easy to see how that state would be able to tailor certain policies and promote behaviours that would further their own geopolitical interests - this has been the American reality for the last few decades.

But things change. Technology advances, political relationships evolve, and international trade and money flows continue to expand and grow - now incorporating more people, countries and businesses than ever before. All of these factors (economic, political, technological, societal) work to shape the reality of the international order, and we are now at a place where a serious discussion about a replacement for the US dollar is warranted - that’s why I am excited to be here speaking about this issue today, it’s really time to have the conversation.

So, now that we have set the scene, let’s tackle the question: could the creation of a digital Renminbi address the vulnerability and asymmetry that China is dealing with in international finance? I really don’t think this is a simple yes or no answer here, in fact I think it is valuable to consider the question with a broad outlook on development over the next few years.

 

SHORT-TERM

Starting with the short term, let’s put the question like this: will the digital renminbi have significant impact internationally immediately following launch. The answer here I think is no, and there are a few reasons for that. First of all, let’s consider the intention of the issuer, the Chinese central bank. Reports show that the initial focus of the DRMB project is domestic, the Chinese government is looking to challenge private sector digital payment methods like AliPay etc., and getting the broader population used to the idea of Central Bank-issued digital currencies powering the majority of economic transactions in the country. To put it simply, the scope of the first stage of the DRMB launch is too small and domestically focused to directly impact the international system - there just won’t be enough DRMB in circulation globally.

There is another point to consider in the short-term: voluntary acceptance. Even if stage one of the DRMB project did have an international focus and was committed to minting huge amounts of digital currency, international impact requires international use - meaning that other countries would have to voluntarily accept and support the project in the early stages. How likely is this to happen? Well it’s a bit of a mixed bag, we’ve seen a few agreements start to pop-up between China and some countries in Central Asia as well as South Korea and Russia, which outline future frameworks for DRMB acceptance and trade, however there isn’t too much in place yet. And that’s just it: before the DRMB can have international impact, there needs to be widespread international access and acceptance, and I don’t see that happening in the short-term.

 

MID-TERM

Let’s move to a mid-term analysis. So imagine that phase 1 of the DRMB is complete and we have individuals and corporations in China accepting, transacting and trading it. What will phase 2 look like? I think we will start to see China expanding the scope of the DRMB project and incorporating it into their international development and infrastructure projects. If we consider the scope of the Belt and Road Initiative and China’s commitments and focus on development and investment across central Asia, Europe and parts of Africa, it is clear that there are many opportunities to promote and incentivize use of the DRMB internationally.

A great example to consider is the group of countries that make up the Silk Road area (about 70 countries). China is participating in infrastructure projects here, but it is also promoting increased trade in the area - and that means a lot of money moving cross-border. This is actually an area that my company LGR Crypto Bank is focused on - our goal is to make cross-border payments and trade finance transparent, fast and secure - and in an area with over 70 different currencies and incredibly disparate compliance requirements, this is not always an easy task.

Here is precisely where I think the DRMB could add a lot of value - in clearing up the confusion and opacity that comes with cross-border money movement and complex trade finance transactions. I believe that one way the DRMB will be marketed to China’s trade and development partners is a way to bring transparency and speed in complicated transactions and international transfers. These are real problems, especially in the multi-commodity trade business, and they can cause serious delays and business interruptions- If the Chinese government can prove that adoption of the DRMB will address these issues, then I think we will see real eagerness in the market.

At LGR Crypto Bank, we are already researching, modelling and designing our own money movement and trade finance platforms to work in harmony with digital currencies, particularly our own Silk Road Coin and the Digital Renminbi - we are ready to offer customers the best in class finance options as soon as they are made available.

When it comes to the international stage, I think that China will use its BRI as a proving ground for the DRMB in real-world commerce. By doing this, they will start to develop a network of DRMB acceptance across the Silk Road Countries and will be able to point to successful infrastructure projects as proof of the success of the Digital Renminbi. If this phase is carried out properly, I think it will create a very good foundation of DRMB acceptance that can be built on and expanded globally. The next step would likely be Europe - this is something of a natural extension of the Silk Road Area, and also ties in to the reality of increased trade between the EU and China. It’s important to note that if we consider all of the domestic economies that make up the Euro block together, it is the largest importer/exporter in the world- it would be an incredible opportunity for China to bring international attention to the DRMB and prove its capabilities in the West.

 

Long-term

In the long-term, I do think that it is possible for the DRMB to gain high levels of international traction and achieve some level of global acceptance. Again, it will all depend on the success of the Chinese government in making the case for adoption throughout the earlier phases. The value propositions of central bank digital currencies are very clear (increased transaction speed, improved transparency, fewer middlemen, less delays, etc.), and China is certainly not the only one developing such an asset. Currently, however, China is a leader and if they can execute an expansion plan without too many issues along the way, this head-start could make it difficult for other state offerings to catch-up. Maybe not, though.

It could be that in the long-term, all states will have a sovereign digital currency - and this begs the question: in the age of digital currencies, is there still a need for a global reserve currency? I’m not sure. What would the value add be of a reserve currency when central bank digital currencies could be traded effortlessly with immediate settlement times? Maybe reserve currencies will simply become a relic of an outdated financial system.

Looking forward to the long-term, I can imagine 2 scenarios where the DRMB could alleviate China’s vulnerabilities in the international financial system:

  • The DRMB becomes the new world reserve currency
  • The notion of a world reserve currency becomes obsolete and the new economic order runs on state-backed digital currencies operating without a hierarchy.

Whatever happens, I do believe we are on the cusp of a major change in global finance. There is no doubt that digital currencies, specifically central bank digital currencies, will play a massive role in defining the new economic paradigm. I believe that China is making great moves in leading the pack on this, and I know that at LGR Crypto Bank we look forward to adopting the DRMB where we can to further optimize and expedite the money movement and trade finance solutions that we offer to our customers.

 

 

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CAS ruling casts doubt on Rodchenkov testimony

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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.

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