Holding accountable those that fuel war and conflict

ICIJ: Swiss Leaks: Bank’s Services for Arms Dealers in Conflict with Its Own Policy


Soldiers patrolling Monrovia, Liberia during the civil war in 2003. Photo: AP
By Will Fitzgibbon and Martha M. Hamilton

February 10, 2015, 6:00 am

“HSBC Private Bank, operating out of famously neutral Switzerland, was a financial conduit for business operators and criminals who fueled and financed some of Africa’s bloodiest wars and most corrupt arms deals.

For HSBC, the men and women behind these conflicts were lucrative clients; collectively, the accounts of people linked to arms trafficking and corrupt weapons contracting in at least seven African countries held balances in 2006 or 2007 that totaled more than $56 million.”

“‘Arms traffickers rely on anonymous bank accounts like those offered by Swiss financial institutions to disguise their identities and hide the proceeds of their black market weapons deliveries,’ Kathi Austin, an expert on arms trafficking and Executive Director of the Conflict Awareness Project, said in an interview with ICIJ.

Too many civilian lives are at stake for Swiss banks to turn a blind eye to those illicitly supplying terrorists and armed groups in conflicts zones around the world.”

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Indian Express: Bank’s services for arms dealers in conflict with its own policy

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Posted: February 9, 2015 2:00 am | Updated: February 9, 2015 12:40 pm

By: Will Fitzgibbon & Martha M Hamilton

“HSBC Private Bank (Swiss) has long been a “financial conduit for business operators and criminals who fuelled and financed some of Africa’s bloodiest wars and most corrupt arms deals.” “‘These kinds of dealers or brokers use the cover of legitimate business to violate UN sanctions and other countries’ laws,’ Kathi Austin, Kathi Austin, an expert on arms trafficking and Executive Director of the Conflict Awareness Project, said in an interview with ICIJ.”

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“When Giants Fall” Doc Film Details the Blood Ivory Trade

Caught between bloody civil wars and a lust for money, Africa’s elephants struggle to survive a seemingly insatiable worldwide demand for their ivory, now the third biggest source of conflict dollars behind small arms and drugs.

Who will fight Al-Shabaab, Janjaweed, Al-Qaeda, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and the international cartels?

Meet the outgunned, inexhaustible heroes trying to save them in the feature film When Giants Fall, due for release Spring 2015.

Watch the Trailer

Al Jazeera: Where Are the Guns in France Coming From?

Military-class arms are illegal in France, but experts see influx from conflict zones, countries with looser regulations

January 9, 2015 3:10PM ET

by Colette Davidson

PARIS — The AK-47s and rocket launcher apparently used in this week’s attacks in France have raised the question of how such weapons are getting into a country with strict gun laws — and where they are coming from.

The Wednesday massacre at Paris’ Charlie Hebdo office, which left 12 dead, and Friday’s Montrouge shooting of a police officer and hostage situation at Porte de Vincennes were all carried out with weapons that are illegal in France.

In France individuals, except for certified collectors, are prohibited from owning military-class arms. Those hoping to possess a handgun or hunting rifle in France must pass a stringent background check and a mental health evaluation and must obtain a license.

While semi- and fully automatic firearms are illegal in France, they have become increasingly common in recent years. The Paris-based National Observatory for Delinquency, a government body created in 2003, reports that the number of illegal weapons in France has been steadily increasing by double-digit percentages for the last several years.

In October 2014, raids of several homes in four corners of France revealed stashes of hundreds of weapons, including assault rifles, machine guns and automatic pistols. Forty-eight people were arrested in what was discovered to be a major Internet weapon-trafficking ring, with its headquarters thought to be in Paris.

Most of the arms found on the black market in France and other Western European countries hail from countries with a proliferation of guns and loose or poorly enforced regulations or are trafficked from conflict zones, according to experts.

“One of the reasons we see a lot of Kalashnikovs and AK-47s on the black market is because Russia has just upgraded the Kalashnikov, and that has created massive stockpiles of the older models,” said Kathie Lynn Austin, an expert on arms trafficking and the director of the Conflict Awareness Project, an international nongovernmental organization dedicated to investigating major arms traffickers.

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Cointelgraph: Cash Buys Charlie Hebdo Massacre, Bitcoin says Adieu aux Armes (Op-Ed)

by William Suberg @ 2015-01-12 08:10 PM

The Charlie Hebdo terror and other Paris attacks renew concerns about the ease with which terrorist cells in Europe can get illegal arms. Media outlets have even started to speculate that some of the arms could have been bought with Bitcoin – but reality renders such speculation groundless.

The weapons wielded by gunmen in last week’s Paris terror attacks were AK-47 rifles, the M82 grenade launcher, hand grenades, explosive materials and Tokarev handguns. How did these deadly arms get onto the streets of Paris?

Al Jazeera states as much: “Many final purchases of illegal arms take place over the Internet… with payment methods in place like bitcoin that make it almost impossible to trace buyers.”

Even the experts quoted by Al Jazeera, however, say that the real issue is a glut of Kalashnikovs in Eastern Europe. “One of the reasons we see a lot of Kalashnikovs on the black market is because Russia has just upgraded the Kalashnikov, and that has created massive stockpiles of the older models,” comments Kathie Lynn Austin, director of the Conflict Awareness Project.

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Austrian Embassy Washington: Minister for Foreign Affairs Kurz Congratulates Ambassador Alexander Kmentt on Being Elected ’2014 Arms Control Person of the Year’

Federal Minister Sebastian Kurz complimented Ambassador Alexander Kmentt, the director of the department for disarmament issues in the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs, to having made the poll as ’2014 Arms Control Person of the Year ‘. “During the Vienna International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, we were able to change the international discussion on the issue of nuclear weapons and their terrible consequences. Without the great personal commitment of ambassador Kmentt this would not have been achieved – he has truly earned this commendation through his great efforts, his expertise and his commitment”.

This commendation is being issued by one of the leading disarmament-Think-Tanks, the Arms Control Association, since 2007. Among the past winners are former Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, journalist Kathi Lynn Austin and US-Senator Richard Lugar.

Ambassador Alexander Kmennt was able to prevail in the globally conducted online-poll against further prominent contenders, who were nominated by the members of the Arms Control Association, among them Pope Francis; the organisation Human Rights Watch and the team of the Secretary General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

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2014 Arms Control Person of the Year Announced

(Washington, D.C.) Austria’s Director for Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Alexander Kmentt received the highest number of votes in an online poll to determine the “2014 Arms Control Person of the Year.” Nine other worthy candidates were nominated by the staff of the Arms Control Association for their significant achievements and contributions to reducing the threats posed by the world’s most dangerous weapons in the past year.

Ambassador Kmentt, who started his career at the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs in 1994 and has been a leading disarmament diplomat for many years, was recognized for organizing the third International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, Dec. 8-9, 2014 in Vienna, which drew delegations representing 158 states, the United Nations, and civil society.

Past winners of the “Arms Control Person of the Year” are: Lassina Zerbo  (2013); Gen. James Cartwright (2012); reporter and activist Kathi Lynn Austin (2011),Kazakhstan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Kairat Umarov and Thomas D’Agostino, U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator (2010); Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) (2009), Norway’s Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and his ministry’s Director-General for Security Policy and the High North Steffen Kongstad (2008), and U.S. Congressmen Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) and David Hobson (R-Ohio) (2007).

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Pace U Model UN: Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams Gives Address on Gender and Disarmament at Pace University

Posted on October 29, 2014

Disarmament and Arms Control Campaigners Challenged to Take Gender Seriously

Activists working on disarmament and arms control need to challenge the belief that violence is inevitable – especially violence by men –and resist the subtle attempts by powerful organizations and people to infer that those who work for peace are somehow weak and “woman-like”, said Jody Williams of the Nobel Women’s Initiative October 17-19, 2014, at Pace University in New York City.

Williams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 along with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines for her successful coordination of the global coalition that served as the “engine of change” on landmines and, in the space of five years, resulted in the Ottawa Treaty, banning Antipersonnel Landmines. Since January 2006, Williams has chaired the Nobel Women’s Initiative that spearheaded the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict. She has also been a powerful advocate for the prohibition of fully autonomous robotic weapons.

The weekend featured many other notable speakers from the media, diplomacy, academia and non-profit sector who are working on the intersections between gender and arms, outlining initiatives, such as boycotting all-male panels on disarmament issues and an upcoming UN General Assembly Resolution on Women, Disarmament, Non-proliferation and Arms Control.

Kathi Lynn Austin, a former UN arms investigator and executive director of Conflict Awareness Project spoke about how her gender meant arms traffickers took her less seriously, which enabled her to gather damning evidence against the notorious gun-runner Viktor Bout. Shorna Kay Richards, Deputy Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the UN, spoke about how she refused to be intimidated by the male-dominated diplomatic establishment in multilateral disarmament negotiations.

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Lafeyette: Arms Expert Says Leland Yee Could Have Obtained Shoulder-Fired Missiles

Published Jul 26, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO — One of the original charges against state senator Leland Yee is gun-running. The Feds say he talked about obtaining shoulder-fired missiles.  But is that even possible? An expert told KPIX that all it would take would be a few phone calls.

Kathi Lynn Austin is the executive director of the Conflict Awareness Project and she has been tracking major arms dealers across the globe for 2 decades.  Austin says Lee may need to hand over this “big fish” if he wants to get out of gun-running charges he faces.

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CBS Bay Area: Arms Expert Says Leland Yee Could Have Obtained Shoulder-Fired Missiles

July 26, 2014 12:08 AM

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — One of the original charges against state senator Leland Yee is gun-running. The Feds say he talked about obtaining shoulder-fired missiles.

But is that even possible? An expert told KPIX that all it would take would be a few phone calls.

Kathi Lynn Austin is the executive director of the Conflict Awareness Project and she has been tracking major arms dealers across the globe for two decades.

Austin says an arms deal allegedly brokered by Senator Yee between a Daly City dentist named Wilson Lim and an undercover FBI agent might eventually lead investigators to a “major player” — a man with connections to huge quantities of weapons in Ukraine and Russia.

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SJ Mercury: Why Did State Sen. Leland Yee Escape Terrorism Charges?

By Matthias Gafni  Contra Costa Times Posted: 04/04/2014 04:16:50 PM PDT

Shocking enough are the allegations that a long-perceived unassuming state senator tried brokering an international arms deal with military-style rifles and rocket launchers, but Leland Yee may have narrowly escaped an even more ominous label: supporter of terrorism.

Yee, whose arrest after an FBI undercover sting shook the California political world last week, would likely have been charged with aiding terrorists if not for a bureaucratic label missing from the militant Filipino group that he is accused of sourcing for an international arms deal, counterterrorism experts told this newspaper.

His ties to the group, whose leader has said he personally met with Osama Bin Laden, are spelled out in a 137-page affidavit. It accuses Yee and two associates of conspiring with an undercover FBI agent posing as a Mafia gangster to purchase up to $2.5 million in weapons from a source with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines.

Kathi Austin, executive director of the Conflict Awareness Project and an internationally recognized arms trafficking expert, said it’s clear to her the feds were chasing possible terrorism charges, continually asking Yee to talk about the Filipino group. And Yee, according to the affidavit, did not disappoint.

At a March 5 meeting with the undercover agent, Yee explained how Mindanao, a southern island of the Philippines, was largely populated by Muslim rebel groups, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which had many factions. The state senator told the agent Muslims in Mindanao had access to a lot of money and were financed by Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi before his death, according to the complaint.

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Media Release

UK Authorities Called to Act on “Blood Gold” Case Following Swiss Ruling on Argor-Heraeus Appeal

February 5, 2014 – A key ruling by the Swiss Federal Criminal Court has given momentum to a war crimes case against the Swiss gold refining giant, Argor-Heraeus SA, alleged to have laundered millions of dollars of looted gold from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The three NGOs behind the Stop Pillage Campaign, the Conflict Awareness Project, Open Society Justice Initiative, and TRIAL, call on the UK and Jersey Channel Island authorities to follow suit and swiftly investigate the two British firms which were the primary traders of the gold at issue in the case…

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Financial Times

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Swiss investigate Congo gold bought by biggest refiner

By Katrina Manson (Nairobi), James Shotter (Zurich), Jack Farchy (London)
November 4, 2013

Swiss authorities have opened a criminal investigation into one of the country’s biggest gold refiners to determine whether it committed war crimes by knowingly buying gold from a militia group in eastern Congo.

The legal proceeding is the strongest yet by Switzerland against one of the companies key to the country’s multibillion-dollar gold industry. It is the first time that anyone has attempted to deploy against a business the charge of “pillage” – to describe stealing and illegally removing natural resources in the context of war – since the aftermath of the second world war.

“The most important deterrent would be a war crime of pillage – that is what is going to make corporate actors stop doing what they’re doing,” said Kathi Austin, an investigator whose work has been taken up by Trial and who was a member of the UN team that produced the 2005 report.

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Jersey Evening Post

War gold linked to Jersey:  Island companies helped rebel ‘pillagers’ to buy arms, pressure group alleges

JerseyEveningPost_WarGold_07Nov2013Thursday 7 November 2013 –   Allegations of international ‘war crimes’ have been made against two Jersey registered companies amid claims that they helped fund the illegal purchase of African gold.

It is alleged that the companies, based in St. Helier, facilitated the purchase of illegally obtained gold during a conflict in eastern Congo around 10 years ago.

Following a nine-year investigation by international pressure groups the Conflict Awareness Project, the allegations were put before the Swiss Attorney General in Zurch this week which implicat3 a number of trust companies and finance houses around the world, two of which are based or have offices in Jersey. Their paperwork names the directors of those companies. The companies are not being named by the JEP for legal reasons.

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Washington Post

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Swiss Open Criminal Probe Against Metals Refiner Over Congo Gold From War Crimes

By Associated Press, Updated: Wednesday, November 6, 7:51 AM

GENEVA — Swiss prosecutors confirmed Wednesday that a criminal investigation has been opened against one of the world’s largest processors of precious metals over allegations that it laundered gold obtained through war crimes.

Earlier this week, the Geneva-based campaign group TRIAL announced at a news conference it had filed a criminal complaint against Swiss refiner Argor-Heraeus, claiming the company processed three tons of gold ore between 2004 and 2005 that was obtained by an unlawful armed group through pillaging in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Sunday Times (South Africa)

SundayTimes-logoSouth African Company Refined DRC ‘Conflict Gold’

By BOBBY JORDAN
17 November 2013

THE South African gold refinery that produces the world-famous Krugerrand, processed “conflict gold” from the Democratic Republic of Congo in contravention of a UN embargo. It did this for at least a year, according to an international report published last week.

But the head of Rand Refinery, based in Germiston, Gauteng, and the biggest gold refinery in the world, this week denied knowledge of any dodgy dealings.

The report, authored by the Conflict Awareness Project, was based on a nine-year investigation into “corporate war crimes” in the eastern Congo. It links several companies to “conflict gold” and has triggered criminal charges against a large Swiss refinery, Argor-Heraeus…

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Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS)

Enquête contre une entreprise suisse accusée d’avoir raffiné de l’or pillé
(Investigation of a Swiss company accused of refining pillaged gold)

04.11.2013 20:28

by Yves Steiner, Laurent Burkhalter

In this French language news segment, featuring CAP Executive Director Kathi Lynn Austin, Swiss journalists Yves Steiners and Laurent Burkhalter investigate the criminal probe into Swiss gold refiner Argor-Heraeus SA, accused of refining gold pillaged during armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Ed.

KLA_on_RTS

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Radio France Internationale

Interview with Kathi Lynn Austin

Interview: Radio France International  04 November 20134 November 2013  -  A coalition of NGOs are calling on European governments to take legal action against companies that are suspected of having looted gold in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The NGOs, including TRIAL, the Open Society Justice Initiative, and the Conflict Awareness Project, argue that looting gold during times of conflict is a war crime. They say a Swiss and British companies mined gold illegally during the conflict in Ituri region a decade ago.

At the time, ethnic clashes between the Hema and the Lendu degenerated into large-scale massacres. Tens of thousands died, and hundreds of thousands were forced from their homes.

Kathi Lynn Austin, a Conflict Awareness researcher, says prosecutors in Switzerland and the UK should take legal action action the alleged culprits.

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Le Matin (Mauritius)

Argor-Heraeus visé par une enquête pour trafic d’or
(Argor-Heraus under investigation for gold trafficking)

04.11.2013

This French language article details the Swiss NGO TRIAL’s 1 November 2013 request for an investigation of gold refining giant Argor-Heraeus, for knowingly processing ore pillaged from a conflict zone within the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The request is based on CAP Executive Director Kathi Lynn Austin’s 9-year investigation into this blood gold pipeline. TRIAL is also investigating other companies suspected of complicity in pillage, and is launching a campaign to raise public awareness about the issue. Ed.

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Reuters

Switzerland opens probe into gold refiner Argor for Congo dealings

* Attorney General opens money laundering probe
* Argor-Heraeus denies allegations
* NGO says gold went to Switzerland via Uganda

By Tom Miles and Emma Farge
Nov 4, 2013

GENEVA/DAKAR, Nov 4 (Reuters) – Switzerland said it had opened an investigation into Argor-Heraeus, one of the world’s largest gold refiners, for suspected money laundering and complicity in war crimes.

The probe follows a criminal complaint filed by Swiss NGO TRIAL on Nov. 1 which accused the refiner of processing close to three tonnes of gold sourced from an armed group in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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