Report States Chicago Police Detain American Citizens Illegally

By Lyndsey Kelly
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

 

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States of America – A recent report has found that the Chicago police department has been operating an off-the-books interrogation compound. The facility was described as a warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square. The facility has been described as the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.

The Homon Square Warehouse is allegedly used by the Chicago Police to illegally detain American Citizens. (Photo Courtesy of NY Daily News)

The warehouse is said to contain interrogation cells, and a cage. Police at the site reportedly carry heavy military gear and according to the Guardian, police practices at Homan Square include: keeping detainees out of the official booking databases, beatings by police, shackling for prolonged periods, and denying attorney’s access. Additionally, it has been reported that armored tanks are parked outside the facility.

Individuals taken to Homan Square are not booked, and thus do not have a searchable record indicating where they are located. Therefore, lawyers and relatives are unable to gain access to the detainee. Additionally, lawyers who have attempted to gain access to the warehouse have been turned away. Many local attorneys have states that the operations taking place at the Homon Square location deny the detainees basic constitutional rights. Two attorneys who were admitted access inside Homon Square told the Guardian that the police working at the Homon Square location purposefully withheld information to the individuals housed there regarding there whereabouts.

Brian Jacob Church, who was arrested at a protest in 2012, was detained at the Homan Square location for 17 hours in handcuffs and ankle restrains. He told the Guardian that he was not sure if he would ever be released, stating “Essentially, I wasn’t allowed to make any contact with anybody.” Church also states that while he was being interrogated, he was not read his Miranda rights and was not permitted to call his lawyer for hours after his original arrest.

Homon Square is concerned with more than just terrorism. It is said to focus on poor black American citizens. There is also alleged to be several special units, which operate exclusively to investigate drugs and gangs.

 

For more information, please see the following:

ALJAZEERA – Chicago Police Slammed For Hidden Interrogations – 25 Feb. 2015.

BUSINESS INSIDER – Chicago Police Are Detaining Americans At An Abuse-Laden ‘Black Site’ – 24 Fe. 2015.

THE GUARDIAN – The Disappeared: Chicago Police Detain Americans At Abuse-Laden ‘Black Site’ – 24 Fe. 2015.

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS – Chicago Police Detain Americans in ‘Black Site’ – 25 Feb. 2015.

Boris Nemtsov: Winter Olympics in the Sub-Tropics: Corruption and Abuse in Sochi | UPDATE


By Boris Nemtsov and Leonid Martynyuk (Бориса Немцова и Леонида Мартынюка)

Originally published by Nemtsov.ru on May 30, 2013Translated by Catherine A. FitzpatrickDecember 6, 2013

The following is a translation a report written by opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and Solidarity activist Leonid Martynyuk, detailing allegations of rampant corruption in the preparations for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics The original excerpted report was published on July 7, 2013.

A significant update, with many new findings and some eyeopening headlines, has been published on December 6, 2013. This is now the complete report. — Ed..

Boris Nemtsov Was murdered on the streets of Moscow on February 27 2015

Introduction

Russia is a winter country. It’s hard to find a place on the map of Russia where there hasn’t been snow and where winter sports are not developed. But Putin found such a spot and decided to hold the winter Olympics there. It’s the city of Sochi.

Before the announcement of the Russian application for the Olympics, many citizens, including the authors of this report, were certain that the Olympics would be held in the mountainous regions of Sochi, in the gorges and on the slopes of Krasnaya Polyana. Many people thought then that the Olympics would result in increased prestige for Russia in the world, the development of winter sports and the creation of a world-class ski resort, the only one in our country.

That is why, immediately after the decision of the International Olympics Committee in July 2007 in Guatemala, millions of Russian citizens—ourselves included— rejoiced at the decision. However, the joy was short-lived. It turned out that the main competitions, both the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games, would take place at the Imeret Lowlands, a sub-tropical swamp located on the shore of the Black Sea in the basin of the Mzymta River— the warmest place not only in Sochi, but in Russia. The authorities explained that this is due to the fact that there was little space for the stadiums and main Olympic Village in the mountains.

Putin’s personal trip to Guatemala and his assurances that the Olympic facilities would be completed on time, and that enormous sums – $12 billion – would be spent on preparation, played a large role in the success of the Russian application.

As it has become known now, the Olympics budget for Russia beat all the world records and now consists of more than $50 billion.

The Winter Olympics in Sochi is Putin’s personal project. He believed (and likely still believes to this day) that the Olympic Games will be his triumph, and that the participation of athletes from all over the world will be a recognition of his indisputable leadership, both in Russia and in the world.

Subsequent events have demonstrated that the preparation for the Olympics has become a disgrace rather than a triumph. It has become increasingly clear that the Sochi Olympics are an unprecedented thieves’ caper in which representatives of Putin’s government are mixed up along with the oligarchs close to the government. This caper is not even comparable to Nikita Khrushchev’s reckless scheme to plant corn in the Russian Arctic, or the Communist plans to turn the course of the northern rivers.

Essentially, the Olympics have exposed, in concentrated form, the main flaws of the system: abuse, corruption, petty tyranny, cronyism, non-professionalism, and irresponsibility.

This is what we will address in this report.

Abuse and Corruption: 2014 Olympics

The Sochi Olympics has gone down in history before it has opened: it is the most expensive Olympics in the history of humankind. With over $50 billion already spent, it is more expensive than the sports buildings of all the other winter Olympics combined, and there have already been 21 of them. Furthermore, the lion’s share of the funds are government expenditures (from the state budget, loans from state banks and state guarantees).

Even the most costly Olympics, in Beijing in 2008 (we will note that these were the Summer Games), was cheaper than the Sochi Olympics and cost the Chinese $43 billion, according to official figures.

It is no secret that the preparation for the Olympics in Russia has been accompanied by unprecedented corruption. Below, we provide calculations for the scale of the embezzlement made through two different methods:

Method 1: A comparative analysis of the growing expense of the 2014 Olympics relative to the increase in cost of the previous Olympics.

In the summer of 2007 in Guatemala, Putin announced during a meeting of the International Olympics Committee that the overall expenses for the Sochi Olympics would be $12 billion. At the time, this astronomical figure shocked the imagination of many of those present, as well as specialists. Essentially, Putin was openly announcing that he was prepared to spend twice as much on the Olympics than his competitors, the Austrians and South Koreans, had proposed.

As we now know, the final figure for the expenditures – $50 billion – is four times the sum originally cited by Putin.

Let us remember that.

And now let us compare the rise in prices of Olympic buildings compared to construction at previous Games.

Olympic facilities have generally doubled in price as they have been built. Winter Olympics have increased less in expense than Summer Olympics.

The total expenditures on the last Winter Olympics in Vancouver approximately doubled: from $2.88 billion to $6 billion. From this we can take away an important conclusion: the more than doubling in costs for the Winter Olympics which we see in Sochi is an anomaly, and can be explained by banal thievery, corruption, embezzlement and complete lack of professionalism of the contractors.

The cost of the Olympics in Sochi, given the average world parameters for the increase in costs, should have been $24 billion (the $12 billion announced by Putin, multiplied by two). The remainder — $26 billion – consists of embezzlement and kickbacks.

Method 2: A comparative analysis of the cost of the Olympic facilities in Sochi relative to their analogues in previous Olympics.

Fisht, the chief Olympic stadium, is located in the Imeret Lowlands. The opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympic Games will take place there in February 2014. The stadium holds 40,000 fans. Originally, the cost of construction of the stadium was estimated at 7.5 billion rubles ($230 million). The cost is now claimed to be 23.5 billion ($780 million), that is, it has tripled. Thus, the cost per fan at the central stadium in Sochi is $19,500.

Let us compare this figure with the expenditures per fan at other Olympic stadiums: the average cost per fan for the Central Stadium of Olympics is about $6,000, and the average cost per fan at Putin’s stadium is $19,500— that is, triple the amount.

The Bolshoi Ice Palace (for hockey) holds 12,000 people and is also being built on the Imeret Lowlands. The original cost was estimated at $200 million. By 2012, it had risen to $300 million. The average cost per fan was $25,000. The average cost of an analogous ice rink per fan in previous Olympics was $11,000. Thus, Putin’s hockey stadium is more than twice as expensive as the average stadium anywhere else in the world.

Putin’s Iceberg figure-skating palace is also 2.3 times the world average at $23,000 per fan; the Russian Hills ski jumps were $36,000 per fan, although the world average was $3,400, i.e. nearly 10 times more. The Olympic Village built by Deripaska costs $363,000 per person; the average for other countries was $150,000, making Putin’s Olympics more than twice the world standard. On the whole, for all the buildings, Putin’s cost has been double or triple the world average; thus, by dividing the total cost of $50 billion by 2.5, the figure of $20 billion for the actual cost is yielded, with approximately $30 billion estimated for the amount of stolen funds.

Thus the total scale of the embezzlement is about $25-30 billion, or about 50-60 per cent of the stated final cost of the Russian Olympics. This is the minimum amount of inflation one can expect from a system blighted by kickbacks. We have not taken into account, after all, that the slave labor of migrant workers was exploited in the Olympics. We haven’t factored in that the quality of the work has not been comparable at all with construction in Vancouver, Turin or Salt Lake City.

The scale of graft in the Olympic budgets defies the imagination. But here is what is interesting: not a single criminal case of fraud, embezzlement, bribe-taking or kickbacks has reached the courts. The main reason for the epic thievery in Putin’s Olympics is the closed nature of the government and the impunity of the criminals close to Putin. That is an indictment of the system.

The Kings of Olympic Contracts

The astronomical sum of 1.5 trillion rubles spent on the Olympics has been controlled largely by business people and companies close to Putin.

The government has tried to promote the myth that the construction of the Olympic facilities is being done through private investment. This is absolutely not the case. The lion’s share of the construction is being done either at the expense of the state budget, through state corporations, or through shareholder associations which are either state property or under state control. There are only two large private investors: businessmen Oleg Deripaska and Vladimir Potanin. The rule operating with regard to private investments has been that 70% of the investments are covered by loans from the Vneshekonombank (a state corporation!) and 30% by private contributions. However, by the end of 2012, the government admitted that practically all the Olympic buildings, without exception, were running at a loss and would never pay for themselves. As Vneshekonombank cautiously put it, “The investors began to view more critically the market risks for realization of the projects. The question of return on investment arose.” And they increased the bank loans to 90%.

In November 2013, Gazprom, Sberbank, Potanin and Deripaska demanded 100% guarantees from the government on loans for Olympic construction. The reason:  all the buildings were constructed at a loss and would never pay for themselves.

Thus, if you make the necessary calculations, it turns out that the overall amount of the state capital investment in the program for preparation of the Games is 96%! The Olympics are being built at the taxpayers’ expense.

Troika of Champions

The largest investor in the construction of the Olympic facilities is the state corporation Olimpstroy, which controls 303.9 billion rubles ($9.4 billion) of state budget funds. Originally, the talk was of 143 billion ($4.4 billion), but in 2011 the government unexpectedly more than doubled the amount of the contribution to Olimpstroy to prepare for the Olympics. In an explanatory note, the Ministry of Regions then did not even consider it necessary to account for why it was demanding an increase in expenses, but indicated that these expenditures had already been provided for through the federal budget.

Thus, 20% of the budget for the Olympics goes to Olimpstroy. The company is responsible for the building of the stadiums in the Imeret Lowlands, the main Olympic Village, and the infrastructure of other buildings, and also for coordinating the general preparations for the Olympics. Four managers have followed in succession since Olimpstroy was created in 2007: Semyon Vaynshtok, Viktor Kolodyazhny, Taymuraz Bolloyev and now Serge Gaplikov. This personnel shuffle indicates the chaos and disruption in the state corporation responsible for the Olympics. Each change in the leadership of Olimpstroy was accompanied by the opening of criminal cases on evidence of embezzlement, corruption and exceeding of official authority (after Bolloyev resigned in 2010, 27 criminal cases were filed against him). Yet not a single one of these cases has reached trial.

Although in 2007 it was announced that parliamentary oversight would be established over the Olympics construction, Olimpstroy was never put on the list of companies that had to report on their activity to the State Duma. The attempt by the Communist deputies to change that in 2011 failed, despite the fact that their initiative was supported by three other factions. The deputies from United Russia all voted against it. Now we can understand why.

In second place in commanding budget funds are the companies affiliated with the businesses of the Rotenberg brothers, Arkady and Boris, childhood friends of Vladimir Putin.

The Rotenberg brothers built the gas pipeline, roads, airport, Adler Thermal Electrical Station (TES), the cargo and sea ports, and other infrastructure. The total amount of the budget funds and Gazprom funds which their companies received was of the order of 229 billion rubles ($6.9 billion) – 15% of the entire Olympics budget. That is, every seventh Olympic ruble has been taken by the Rotenbergs.

Finally, the last company in the troika of leaders is the Russian Railroads (RR), which is a 100% state-owned company.

The head of RR is Vladimir Yakunin, Putin’s friend from the Ozero Cooperative. RR is responsible for building automobile and railroads, including the most expensive item of the Olympics – the Adler-Krasnaya Polyana Highway, which cost over 260 billion rubles ($8 billion). Yakunin is also responsible for the reconstruction of part of the Tuaps-Adler rail line; the construction and modernization of train stations (at Adler, Dagomy, Matsest, Khost, and Sochi); and the creation of freight yards. In total, according to the companies’ annual reports, the amount commissioned is approximately 300 billion rubles ($9.2 billion) — approximately 20 per cent of the Olympic funds from the state budget and from the raising of rail tariffs. That means it is at the taxpayers’ expense. In 2008 alone, the Olympics tariff hike was 1 per cent on all forms of shipping throughout the country.

At approximately the same time, Yakunin began building his own property in the village of Akulinino. On a parcel of 7 hectares, he put up apartments of a total of 7000 square meters which included the owner’s 3000-square-meter home; a guest house of 1500 sq. m.; a servants’ quarters (for 30 people); a sauna of 1400 sq. m.; a garage that could hold 15 cars; a 50-meter swimming pool and a prayer room. According to the realtors’ appraisals, the value of the property is $75 million. Yakunin’s confirmed income for 2007, according to the newspaper Vedomosti, was $1.5 million. Thus, Yakunin’s legal income was clearly insufficient in order to build such a costly property and maintain it.

Other Interested Parties

The other major participants in the Olympics construction have received between 4-to-10 per cent of the allocated budget funds.

Gazprom— headed by Putin’s friend and subordinate, Alexei Miller— has been involved in four construction projects costing 160 billion rubles ($4.9 billion); the administration of Governor Alexander Tkachev, famous for Kushchyovka [a mass murder case] and Krymsk [a flood in 2011 in which 153 people died], has a budget of 109 billion rubles ($3.3 billion), of which 77.7 billion ($2.4 billion) are spent. Local and federal electric companies are also expected to spend 50 billion rubles ($1.5 billion). German Gref, chairman of the board of Sberbank and a friend of Putin’s since his St. Petersburg days, is building the ski jumps, Mountain Carousel resort and the Hills City with the Olympics media village at a cost of between 75-to-80 billion rubles ($2.3 billion), which has grown from the 16 billion rubles ($500 million) originally projected in 2012.

Vladimir Potanin’s Interros and its affiliate, Oleg Deripaska’s Bazel, are the private investors. Potanin has put in 68.6 billion rubles ($2.1 billion) for the Roza Khutor resort, of which 55.7 billion ($1.7 billion) is a Vneshekonombank loan.

In 2007, Oleg Deripaska planned to spend about 45 billion rubles ($1.3 billion). Today, his investment is about 40 billion ($1.2 billion) in the Olympic Village in the Imeret Lowlands, comprising the freight port and the Sochi airport. Deripaska’s companies also took part in the Kurortny Avenue bypass and received a loan from Vneshekonombank for 22 billion rubles ($680 million). Since virtually all of these Olympics projects are not profitable, private investors have essentially become victims of the Olympics deal.

In addition, InterRAO has been involved (via the modernization of the Sochi TES), as well as Alros, the presidential administration, and other state companies and agencies, taking approximately 13-15 per cent of the Olympics budget.

The Favorites

The status of various participants in the construction of the Olympics differs radically. Potanin and Deripaska have been forced to invest their funds and take loans, running the risk that they will never see a return on their investments. Sberbank and Gazprom perceive participation in the Olympics construction as a burden imposed on them by Putin. RR is building at the expense of the budget and raising tariffs on rail freight, and Olimpstroy is taking billions from the state, and remaining a state corporation. Only the Rotenbergs have earned fantastic profits on building the Olympics infrastructure; in fact, their private companies have gained this profit while having their risk reduced to zero by contrast with the state corporations and other private investors, because the facilities they are building will be turned over to the government.

The astronomical earnings of the Rotenberg family, Putin’s childhood friends, is explained either by the handing over of no-bid contracts or the lack of proper competition during the tenders. They have received 21 contracts for Olympics constructions at a cost of 229 billion rubles ($7 billion). This is more than the entire expenditure on the Olympics in Vancouver ($6 billion).

Analyzing Individual Projects by the Rotenbergs

In 2009, the Rotenbergs’ company Stroygazmontazh got a no-bid contract from Gazprom to build the Dzhubga-Sochi pipeline at a cost of 32.6 billion rubles. However, a year earlier, the state corporation had announced the building of this same pipeline for 8-10 billion rubles. For the Rotenbergs, the price was nearly quadrupled; that is, exactly the number of times as the whole budget for the Olympics has been increased.

Now the parameters of the gas pipeline are 530 mm in diameter, 177 kilometers in length, and the cost per kilometer is 4.6 million euros. A large part of the pipeline passes along the bottom of the Black Sea. Therefore, it is natural to take for comparison the Nord Stream gas pipeline which was laid along the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Stroygazmontazh also took part in that pipeline’s construction. Two branches, each 1,224 km in length, cost 8.8 billion euro, that is, the expenditure per kilometer of a single branch was 3.6 million euros. Furthermore, the capacity of the “Olympic” pipeline is seven times less than one branch of Nord Stream.

The cost overrun of Nord Stream compared to the average European pipeline provoked a wave of outrage in the Russian and Western press. And for good reason, as the average cost of construction turned out to be three times as high as the European cost. Now the Olympic pipeline was turning out to be even more expensive. Its cost was nearly five times greater than the average European price. This was the first, but not the only Olympic cost record set by the Rotenbergs.

The scandalous bids to get contracts to construct the bypass for Kurortny Avenue ended in a victory for several investors. Deripaska won the right to build the first line of the bypass, and a contract for the second and third was won in October 2010 by Mostotrest OJSC. And this happened literally just a few days after it became known that control over Mostotrest had passed to Arkady Rotenberg and his son, Igor. The total length of the second and third lines of the Kurortny Avenue bypass is 10.8 kilometers, and the cost of the contract was 59.36 billion rubles. Thus, one kilometer of the bypass costs more than 5 billion rubles! Or $170 million.

The bypass is a combination of a road, tunnels and bridges. Even if we proceed from the fact that the bypass is a total tunnel (and that is the most expensive part of the construction project), and also from the average cost of a kilometer of tunnel in Europe ($126 million), we will see an inflation of the cost in comparison to analogous European projects by practically one and a half times.

Then there was the sensational news in March of this year during the construction of the Kurortny Avenue bypass when the tunnel on the third line collapsed in a cave-in of the ground along with a house.

Finally, there was the Adler Thermo-Electric Station (TES). The contract for its construction in 2009 was given by Gazprom to Mosenergo Fuel and Energy Complex OSJC, a company controlled by the Rotenbergs. Once again, it was no-bid.

In 2010, Putin announced that the cost of the construction of the Adler TES was 28 billion rubles, with a capacity of 360 MWe. Thus, the cost of the station is $2600 per kilowatt, which is two or three times higher than the average world price for gas-fuel electrical stations.

Investigation Without Results

The many billions spent on the Olympics have already become a subject of wide public discussion. The Accounts Chamber which by law is obligated to oversee government, including budget expenditures prepares such reports quarterly. However they are all classified as “For Internal Use Only.” In February 2013, the Accounts Chamber published just the information that Olimpstroi had allowed the increase in Olympic construction by 15.5 billion rubles. The figure, of course, was enormous but it made up only 1% of the budget of the Olympics. It was impossible to believe that the scales of abuse in divvying up the Olympic budgets was 1%.

But even these facts and also the concrete violations tolerated during construction were carefully hidden by the government. The Accounts Chamber refuses to publish the figures from the report on the expenditures of funds for the Olympics, and responded to a deputies’ request from Dmitry Gudkov with a form letter.

There is no information at all regarding criminal cases No. 326956 and No. 326493 which were opened in June 2012 by the investigative unit of the Investigative Department of the Interior Ministry for the city of Sochi on evidence of a crime under Art. 169, part. 3, section 30, par. 4 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code (fraud): Olimpstroi and its sub-contractor Mostovik NPO Ltd. deliberately raised the cost of the construction of the Olympic buildings by a sum of 2.520 billion rubles and 22.973.830 billion rubles respectively. According to media reports citing law-enforcement officers, these cases were prepared to be sent to court. But they never reached trial.

The closed nature of the companies and the failure by law-enforcement agencies and the Accounts Chamber to fulfill their obligations are among the serious reasons for the unprecedented theft of Olympic funds. It can be stated that one record at the Olympics in Sochi has already been set – the record for the number of cuts and kickbacks, the amounts of which the Olympic movement apparently has not realized.

http://www.sc-os.ru/common/upload/form_14.pdf
http://www.gazprom.ru/f/posts/18/146500/book_d-l-s_print.pdf
http://expert.ru/south/2008/06/olimpiyskaya_truba/
http://eegas.com/pipeline_cost_-2010-11e.htm
http://www.rbcdaily.ru/market/562949979108880
http://sochi-24.ru/ekonomika/sochinskij-dubler-zapoluchil-mostotrest.20101029.24729.html
http://igpr.ru/articles/zatraty_na_olimpiadu_v_sochi
http://www.newsru.com/russia/04mar2013/sochi.html

For a complete list of the Rotenberg Brothers’ Olympic contracts, see our previous article, Kings of the Olympic Contracts

The Most Expensive Project in the Most Expensive Olympics

The most expensive construction project in the Sochi Olympics, the overall costs of which exceed the world record and constitute more than $50 billion is not at all the Central Stadium or the ski jumps and the bobsled race tracks. Those are all just kopecks by contrast with the 48-kilometer Adler-Krasnaya Polyana Highway.

According to the requirements of the International Olympic Committee for Olympic facilities, a bypass highway was supposed to be built in Krasnaya Polyana next to the existing highway. The organizers of the Games decided to build a combined automobile and railroad consisting of a four-lane automobile strip and a rail line. It was decided to extend this road along the left bank of the Mzymta, a mountain river. The laying of this road turned out to be environmentally destructive and involved extremely complicated engineering. Essentially, the road is an aggregate of tunnels and bridges built along the river.

Putin assigned Russian Railways OJSC, headed by his friend from the Ozero Cooperative Vladimir Yakunin to be responsible for building the combined automobile and railroad. (“Program of Construction of Olympic Facilities and Development of the City of Sochi as a Mountain Climate Resort”) approved by a resolution of the Russian Federation Government on 29 December 2007 no. 991 (in the version of the resolution of the Russian Federation Government of 31 December 2008, no. 1086).

The SK Most group of companies and Transyuzhstroi Management Co. became the general contractors. It is incredible, but true: the initial jobs, just like the following jobs in laying the highway were given to these companies without any competition, tenders or other “stupidities.” The finished jobs nevertheless cost an astronomical sum — $2 billion. That’s almost as much as the Americans spent on the entire winter Olympics in 2002 in Salt Lake City.

http://www.skmost2014.ru/opisanie
http://www.garant.ru/products/ipo/prime/doc/94708/
http://www.vedomosti.ru/newspaper/article/2010/03/16/228190

The law obligating shareholders’ associations with state controlling shares to hold public tenders went into force only on 1 January 2012.

Before 2012, the SK Most group of companies, founded in 2001, belonged to two businessmen – Yevgeny Sur (45.2%) and Vladimir Kostylev (45.2%).

Both entrepreneurs continue to hold only the modest 131st and 135th places in Forbes’ list, with capital of only $750 million each. In 2012, Putin’s friend Gennady Timchenko bought 25% of SK Most’s shares.

The company became famous in 2008 when without any tender, which is an egregious violation of Russian law, by a decree of President Medvedev of 31 August 2008, SK Most got the contract to build a three-kilometer bridge to the island Russky for the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. The cost of this contract was more than a million dollars. We will note that the text of the decree was not officially published.

That same year, the successful businessmen Sur and Kostylev grew close to Vladimir Yakunin, buying the Millennium Bank where Vladimir’s wife Natalya was on the board of directors. The acquisition enabled SK Most to get profitable contracts from Russian Railways.

The participation in tenders by companies exclusively affiliated with each other in called “fraud” in world practice, and when one of the parties is a state company, then it is corruption. However, there was no investigation.

As for the second general contractor Transyuzhstroi, less is known about it. Apparently the owners and the leadership of the company are closely connected with the directors of Russian Railways. In particular, Oleg Toni, vice president of Russian Railways for capital construction, was named among the founders of Transyuzhstroi. It remains to be seen whether Yakunin, head of Russian Railways, has a relationship to this company. For now it is only known that the Transyuzhstroi company, within the framework of Yakunin’s activity supporting the Russian Orthodox Church, built the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in the city of Rotterdam.

http://www.forbes.ru/sobytiya/lyudi/162503-drug-putina-milliarder-gennadii-timchenko-sozdaet-stroitelnyi-megaholding
http://www.garant.ru/products/ipo/prime/doc/6291878/
http://www.forbes.ru/sobytiya/lyudi/rating/81519-milliard-v-kontse-tonnelya
http://www.sobesednik.ru/scandals/korruptsiya-v-sochi-bet-mirovye-rekordy
http://www.forbes.ru/profile/transyuzhstroi

Thus, the largest construction contract in the history of Russia was landed without a tender by the SK Most group and Transyuzhstroi. We do not doubt that sooner or later, the story of this contract for the most expensive construction project in the country will become the subject of a criminal investigation.

The first expenditures on the construction of the Adler-Krasnaya Polyana automobile highway/railroad in the calculations of 2006 was 91 billion rubles (Decree of the RF Government of 08.06.2006 No. 357). But already by 2009, the cost of the construction had risen to 266.4 billion rubles ($9.404 billion in 2012 dollars). Thus the budget increased 2.5 times.

That is, one kilometer costs almost $200 million in 2012 dollars. The price of one linear meter is $200,000 and one square meter is about $10,000. This is the price of luxury housing in Moscow! At these prices, proceeding from the average Russian cost of housing of $1600 per square meter (figures from Rossstat for 2012), you could build 5.5 million square meters of housing and provide living space for 275,000 people (the average housing per person in Russia is 20 square meters) – that’s more than the population of such large cities as Kostroma, Petrozavodsk, and Komsomolsk-on-Amur.

Another comparison: the American program to reach Mars and run the Mars rover of the new Curiosity generation cost about three and a half times less than the cost of building the Adler-Krasnaya Polyana Highway.

For 266 billion rubles, you could build 940 kilometers (and they only built 48 kilometers!) of high-quality four-lane highway in Russia, which significantly exceeds the annual introduction of roads in the country.

Let us compare the average cost of the Sochi road with the average world cost. The length of the highway is 48.2 kilometers, which includes 12 tunnels and 45 bridges. This entire complex project consists of the following structure:

– the automobile road: 23 automobile bridges of 9 km in length plus three automobile tunnels of 6.9 km in length plus 35 km of regular road;

– the railroad: 22 railroad bridges of a total length of 11.4 km plus six railroad tunnels of a total length of 11.1 km plus approximately 25.7 kilometers of regular railroad plus three new stations and reconstruction of the stations Sochi, Adler, and Vesyoloye.

To estimate the cost of the 35-kilometer portion of the four-lane highway, we will use the average European cost — $10 million per kilometer. Thus, the price of the automobile road without the bridges and tunnels would be $350 million.

One kilometer of high-speed railroad track, according to average European standards, is $45 million. Thus, the 25.7 km of regular rail track should cost $1.156 billion.

To estimate the cost of one kilometer of tunnel, let us take the average world cost of $126.2 million per kilometer. It turns out that the cost of all the tunnels then would be $2.271 billion.

The average world cost of building beam-type bridges (and these are exactly what are being built in Sochi, with the exception of one bridge) would be $115.5 million per kilometer. Thus, the bridges should cost about $2.356 billion.

Accordingly, the cost of the Adler-Krasnaya Polyana Highway, calculated on the basis of average world indicators, should be in the area of $6.133 billion. However, the cost announced in 2009, we will recall, was 2.5 times higher than the initial indicated in 2006 – 266.4 billion ruble, or $9.404 billion. Why was $3 billion added to the budget immediately? Was permafrost discovered in Sochi? Or was this the corrupt rent, as it is customary to call it in the literature of political science, or kickbacks, in ordinary Russian?

http://www.prosro.ru/news/51-minregion_zatrati_na_olimpiyskuyu_stroyku_v_sochi_
http://www.skmost2014.ru/opisanie

The question of whether the construction of such an expensive and environmentally-damaging highway was even advisable is another conversation.

The cost of the road could have been radically reduced by rejecting the construction of the railroads. Then the total cost of the bypass from Adler to Krasnaya Polyana without including the corrupt rent would have been $2.272 billion, which was four times cheaper than the current cost. Then, to be sure, Russian Railways and its affiliated companies which received the multi-billion ruble contract would not have had to be included in the project.

At the discussion stage on the construction of the bypass road, an environmental option was proposed to connect Adler with Krasnaya Polyana with canal ways with gondolas with a capacity of 180 people in order to obtain passenger and some freight transport using the experience of the alpine countries of Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. The cost of such a road is hundreds of times less. During the campaign for elections to mayor of Sochi in 2009, we proposed exactly this option. However, all less costly and more environmentally-sound alternatives were categorically rejected by the authorities.

Now we understand the reason.

During the construction of the road, environmental standards and rules were grossly violated. In the opinion of a number of environmental and civic organizations, during the construction, the river was subject to serious pollution, and vegetation on the surrounding hillsides was massively destroyed. It was noted that the construction did not take into account the rapid nature of the river, and such phenomena as landslides and karsts, which are widespread in the Mzymta Valley. Ecologists drew attention to work without permission documentation and also unlawful use of pebbles from the riverbed by construction workers.

On 29 December 2009, after heavy storms in the foothills of Krasnaya Polyana, the level of water in the Mzymta rose, which then brought about the destruction of construction sites at the mouth of the river, and construction machinery was washed away.

In the summer of 2011, a toxic sludge ended up in the river. The river, which spans a national park, was polluted for 30 kilometers.

The situation was repeated on 18 November 2011. The source of the pollution was the north portal of the No. 3 complex of tunnels on the combined Adler-Krasnaya Polyana Highway. Despite the obvious reasons for the past pollution, no one was punished for this. The repeated pollution of the river proves that in constructing the combined Adler-Krasnaya Polyana Highway, Russian Railways continued to ignore the requirements of Russian environmental legislation and international environmental standards.

Yury Trutnev, head of the Ministry of Nature, was forced to admit that the Mzymta had suffered significant damage as a result of the construction. Not only the river is damaged but the national park which it runs through.

The Mzymta River is the longest river in Russia and flows from the Black Sea.

We regard the construction of the Adler-Krasnaya Polyana Highway as an unprecedentedly larcenous and environmentally-damaging shady deal, for which Putin and Yakunin bear responsibility. And the owners of SK Most and Transyuzhstroi and their patrons in the management of the railroads profited from this, whose names we will soon have the pleasure of seeing in the lists of dollar millionaires.

http://www.privetsochi.ru/blog/eco-sochi/16332.html
http://www.novayagazeta.ru/society/43851.html
http://bednenkiy.livejournal.com/752.html#cutid1
http://gazaryan-suren.livejournal.com/25919.html

Winter Olympics in the Sub-Tropics – What Next?

The 2014 Olympics will take place in the mountainous region of Sochi (Krasnaya Polyana), but a large part of the competitions, like the opening and closing of the Olympics, will take place in the sub-tropic region of the Imeret Lowlands – the warmest place in Russia and Greater Sochi. With great reluctance, the authorities have discussed what will happen to the Olympic buildings after February 2014. After all, no one plays hockey in Sochi, or does ice-racing or figure-skating. You cannot name a single biathloner, skier or figure skater native to Sochi.

Moreover, Greater Sochi is a city with a population of up to half a million people. The umber of seats in the Olympic buildings is about 200,000. Obviously, the stadiums, except for the days of the Olympics, are going to go empty. Zhemchuzhina, the only previously-existing large soccer stadium in Sochi, was filled to capacity of 10,000 fans only once, during its opening.

It is not hard to guess that athletic buildings will go empty and will fall apart. The authorities try to mislead citizens, promising to transport the sports constructions to other cities. In reality, everything is quite different. All the Krasnaya Polyana buildings and stadiums will remain in Sochi. Look at the table above.

Olympic Stadiums on the Imeret Lowlands

The capacity of all these stadiums is 82,000 people. If a stadium that seats 10,000 has never been filled again, then it should not be expected that the rest of the stadiums will be any more popular. Most likely they will remain as memorials to petty tyranny, mismanagement and voluntarism. The stadiums were known to run at a loss, which is why the investors who build these facilities have relinquished them. All the buildings will be transferred to government ownership.

A separate question is the power supply to all these billion-dollar facilities during and after the Olympics and the expenditures on their maintenance. Proceeding from the declared requirement of 650 MWe, the cost of the electricity alone (without the heating) required during the Olympics will be $1 million a day. To support all the buildings after the Olympics in working condition will also require supplying electricity. Even if we suppose that the electricity requirements will reduce by a factor of 2, it will still cost 15 million rubles a day. And taking into account the heating costs to maintain the Olympic buildings will reach 10 billion rubles a year, that will be half of the budget of the city of Sochi! Who will pay for all this? The Sochi city budget? The federal budget? It is entirely unknown. Most likely, the Olympic stadiums will slowly but surely become unfit for use.

And this is despite an enormous shortage of winter sports facilities all throughout Russia.

Risks

The closer the Olympics come, the louder grow the voices of those doubting that it will be held successfully. The World Biathlon Cup Stage, which took place in early March 2013, exposed only a portion of the serious problems which athletes, fans and residents of the city will encounter. We have found seven risks in the forthcoming Olympics.

  1. Energy Risks

Sochi is a city of energy shortages. The usage of electrical energy by the city amounts to 450-550 megawatts. The Olympics buildings have extremely high energy consumption. In order to secure the normal functioning of the Games, a capacity of more than 650 MWe is required; that is, the Olympics will require more energy than a city of half a million people. By March 2013, two powerful thermal stations were operating within the city – Sochi with a capacity of 160 MWe and Adler with 360 MWe. Thus, the city’s own capacity (550 MWe) covers only part of the needs of the city.

With the Olympics, the overall demand for power will be more than 12000 MWe.

The original plan included the construction of the Kudepsta Thermoelectric Power Station (TPS—367 MWe) and the transfer of electrical energy across the Tuaps district from the Tuaps TPS and the Dzhubga TPS with a combined capacity of 380 MWe. It was also proposed to buy energy from Kubanenergo.

However, in May 2013, the government passed a decision to reject the construction of the Kudepsta TPS, a move fostered to some extent by protests from environmentalists and local residents. The issue of power shortages during the days the Games will be held has become critical, and covering this deficit entirely depends on transfering energy across the Dzhubga-Sochi sector. Moreover, after rejecting the construction of the Kudepsta TPS, without explanation for the reasons, the government reduced the projected consumption of electricity during the Olympics to 850 MWe. Perhaps this was done in order to calm the IOC.

By March 2013, the construction of the Kudepsta TPS could not begin because of protests by local residents who were categorically against the installation of an environmentally-dangerous facility next to residential homes and in a resort zone in general. And it is also impossible to believe that the station will be finished by the opening of the Olympics, since the standard time for building a thermoelectric station is more than two years. The Adler TPS, for example, took 2.5 years to build.

Thus, a key issue is the transfer of power across the Dzhubga-Sochi sector.

Throughout 2012, more than a thousand power outages were recorded due to breaks in the power lines and the deplorable condition of network management in the city. That is, on average the electricity will shut off three times a day in various districts of Sochi.

At the present time, active work is underway in the city to modernize the network and build high-voltage power transfer lines.

Many years of observation have indicated, however, that in February the more favorable weather conditions lead to icing and breakages of even the most modern power lines. So we cannot rely on an uninterrupted transfer of power from Kuban. The most realistic situation is that the power supply will be realized by the city’s own internal resources. Obviously, with the energy shortage, priority will be given to the Olympic buildings. So the risk that the city will live in the dark during the Olympics is very high.

There is a proposal to deploy nine mobile power stations in the Imeret Lowlands with a combined capacity of 200 MWe in order to resolve the problem of supplying power to the Olympics, but that won’t help the city.

  1. Climate Risks

In the mountain cluster of Sochi-Krasnaya Polyana, competitions are planned for ski races, biathlon, ski jumping, downhill skiing and other open-air winter sports. The weather in February 2013 in Krasnaya Polyana was characterized by high temperatures in comparison to previous years. Thus, on February 7 (the proposed opening day for 2014), the daytime temperature was +13 C, and on 11 February is rose to +15 C. The average daytime air temperature in Krasnaya Polyana from 7- 23 February (the days of the Games) was +8 C of warmth. This was two to four times greater than in the previous five years.

There is a hypothesis that the sharp warming of Krasnaya Polyana was caused by the predatory actions of chopping down forests and building tunnels and bridges during the course of construction the Adler-Krasnaya Polyana Highway. Essentially, the road has become a pipe through which warm air from the Black Sea is pumped through the gorge of Krasnaya Polyana. Undoubtedly, this hypothesis needs confirmation through weather observations for a number of years. The situation is made more complex by the fact that there is not a single full-fledged study of the influence of the Olympic construction on the environmental and climate situation in Krasnaya Polyana and Imeret Lowlands.

If our hypothesis is confirmed, that will mean that Krasnaya Polyana will cease to be a winter resort and all the investments in the Games will have been thrown to the wind.

We have no doubt that in the course of conducting the Olympic Games, the authorities will make every effort to hold them whatever the weather may be, including by delivering snow, using snow canons and so on. But turning Krasnaya Polyana into a winter resort at a European level is hardly likely to take place. So then why did billions have to be spent to hold the Winter Olympics in the sub-tropics?!

  1. Logistical Risks

Foreign athletes who have taken part in competitions at the Olympic facilities note the extremely low level of organization of the athletic events. Here is what Marie Doren Aber, the French Olympic prize winner and world champion in the biathlon, wrote after coming to Sochi for the pre-Olympic phase of the World Cup in the biathlon:

“Sochi is a ghost town. Wealthy homes built like mushrooms in the mud, excavating everywhere, tired workers all around. Everything is empty, everything makes me feel uncomfortable. After the difficult journey here, we waited several hours in the airport. We showed our passports many times, photographed ourselves and photographed the rifle, and waited until it was put in the registry. Patience – help us! Now we are living in little wooden homes not far from the stadium. I don’t know what will change here in a year, but for now I think that Sochi is a waste of money, and it doesn’t feel like the Olympic spirit.”

The lack of world-class resort business specialists and mass event organizers leaves no doubt that the organizational messes and chaos will be the hallmark of the Sochi Olympics.

  1. Technical Risks

During the preparation for the Olympics, several accidents occurred. In December 2009, a grade seven storm washed away the cargo port under construction.

During the construction of the Adler-Krasnaya Polyana Highway, as a result of flooding on the Mzymta River, a large quantity of road construction vehicles were washed away and drowned.

During the construction of the Kurortny Avenue bypass, the tunnel collapsed on one of the third-line parcels, and a residential home sunk.

Twice, Olympics infrastructure — highways and train stations – has been flooded.

The shore reinforcements built by the Rotenbergs’ company Inzhtransstroy began to fall soon after they were put into use.

In 2012, there were 40 accidents at Olympics construction sites and 25 people were killed.

The poor quality of the construction, the violation of technical standards and rules are connected with the use of cheap and poorly-qualified labor. A paradoxical development has taken place – despite the astronomical budget of 1.5 trillion rubles ($46 billion), wages earned often do not reach the workers. Instead, they end up in the pockets of general contractors, sub-contractors, and sub-sub contractors.

The workers who tried to stand up for their rights to wages became victims of violence. Thus, in June 2013, a resident of Sochi, Mardiros Demerchyan, who demanded his full wages for work at one of the Olympic construction sites was subjected to abuse and torture by police officers.

In October 2013, a resident of Orenburg, Roman Kuznetsov, who had taken part in the building of the main media center at the Imeret Lowlands, sewed his mouth shut as a sign of protest against the non-payment of wages and demonstrated at the entrance of the media center with several posters.

As a result, thousands of migrants were brought to the Olympics construction sites are paid miserable wages—and even these are delayed. According to the human rights organization Human Rights Watch, which published a 67-page report, “Olympic Anti-Records: Exploitation of Labor Migrants During Preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics Games in Sochi,” more than 16,000 migrants from the former Soviet republics have worked in Sochi. According to officials of the Federal Migration Service, nearly 14,500 people came from Uzbekistan alone.

We can only guess at the quality of the facilities built.

Moreover, many buildings have not been completed on schedule. In early 2013, about 200 developers disrupted the schedule for the opening of the facilities, including the Kudepsta TPS and the Fisht Central Olympics Stadium. That means that in the last stage of the preparation for the Olympics, work is underway in an emergency regimen when no one is thinking about quality and techniques. It must be noted that the construction of the stadiums in the Imeret Lowlands is being done in a swamp, with hard foundations absent to a depth of 170 meters. The lack of high-quality finished projects, the high seismicity and irreversible changes to the course of the Mzymta River connected to changes in its bed leave no doubt that the main Olympic buildings are still to bring us quite a few surprises.

  1. Terrorist Risks

The Olympics will take place in the North Caucasus, in a region with a traditionally high terrorist threat level. It cannot be ruled out that some of the terrorist groups may try to carry out an attack on participants and guests of the Olympics. We hope that Putin, by virtue of his professional affiliation [with the KGB], understands these risks sufficiently and will try to minimize them.

The lack of information on the real state of affairs in the North Caucasus does not enable us to realistically evaluate the level of the terrorist threat.

  1. Boycott Risks

Political boycotts of the Olympics have taken place twice –first, in 1980 when 65 countries boycotted Moscow Olympics to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; and a second boycott in 1984, when the USSR and countries of the Soviet bloc boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics in retaliation. The attempts to boycott the Olympics in Nazi Germany in 1936 were not successful – only a number of individual athletes from the US and UK refused to take part in the games.

The latest statements from US officials and even Georgia indicate that these countries intend to take part in the Olympic Games of 2014.

After the boycotts of 1980 and 1984, the International Olympics Committee announced that the refusal of National Olympic Committees to take part in the Olympics for political reasons threatens the expulsion of the national teams from the Olympic movement. This is one of the reasons why the Beijing Olympics of 2008 proceeded without any boycotts, despite mass protests by human rights organizations.

The Olympics application for Sochi submitted in Guatemala in 2007 stated:

“The government of the Russian Federation will provide stable political and economic conditions for the improvement of the quality of life of the population in the country. The governing of the country is based on free elections, free expression and the balance of power guaranteed by the Russian Federation Constitution. The Russian political system is wonderfully suited for the successful conduct of the Winter Olympics and the Para-Olympic Games of 2014.”

These statements were lies then, and all the more so now. However, the governments of the overwhelming majority of countries of the world do not pay attention to this, much less the International Olympics Committee. (The absolute support of the IOC for the Olympics activities of Putin and his friends can be explained by the fact that Jacques Rogge was elected before October 2013, and he has every opportunity to remove responsibility for the Sochi Olympics from himself by refraining from running for the next term.)

Thus, a political boycott of the Sochi Olympics is extremely unlikely. But a civic boycott is possible. People are outraged by the unprecedented expenditures and thievery at the construction of the Olympic Games, as well as the destruction of the environment which took place during construction, and the political persecution in Russia, and are actively calling for a citizens’ boycott. This would entail a refusal to visit the Olympic events, a refusal to buy goods with the Olympic logos, and a refusal to watch the Olympic competitions. Many residents of Sochi, representatives of the opposition and environmental and human rights groups support the civic boycott.

The problem is that under the conditions of political censorship, few people, few people know about the citizens’ boycott.

  1. Risk of “Hospitality”

If you think that if you have bought a ticket to the Olympic competitions you will see them, you are mistaken. Due to the efforts of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), you must still obtain a “fan passport.” The FSB is not telling us what waiting lines might be involved in this, and what sort of scandals and mess-ups are likely to occur. We can only guess.

There is a high risk that the Olympics will take place with half-empty stadiums, which does not add to the athletes’ optimism.

The conditions of the Sochi roads, even before the Olympics, has been characterized by incredible traffic jams, by comparison with which Moscow crawls seem completely tolerable. With the influx of high-ranking Putin bureaucrats and official delegations, used to regular halting of traffic to let them speed by, the situation on the roads will be a real nightmare. The comments of athletes who have visited Sochi before the start of the Olympic Games are illustrative:  “We went to a restaurant and landed in a terrible traffic jam. The road was closed before the arrival of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev,” Noah Hoffman, an American skier said in surprise.

Sochi was never distinguished by its European level of service. Here is what Belarusian biathlonist Nadezhda Skardino had to say (and it is hard to suspect her of being capricious or spoiled):

“For two days, in three out of three stores, clerks tried to deceive us. When we complained they replied, ‘And what do you think, you have landed in a fairy-tale?’ The prices on goods are not real, and the receipt mechanism suddenly broke down and then it turned out that the total on the receipt was ten times higher than the price of the item purchased. Alright, we know how to get to the bottom of this, but poor foreigners likely will not notice that they are being deceived.”

The same conditions are likely to await fans and athletes in the hotels and cafes in the city of Sochi.

But for the residents of the city, the Olympics will hardly be a holiday. Due to the transportation problems, the flood of official delegations and the Chekists [KGB], the majority of potential spectators may prefer to stay home.

Conclusion

The Winter Olympics in Sochi has become one of the most monstrous scandals in the history of modern Russia.

  1. The site of the Winter Olympics is extremely unfortunate and was selected capriciously. Sochi is a sub-tropical resort area, and winter sports were never developed here.
  2. The scale of expenses is unprecedented – more than $50 billion, out of which $25-30 billion (50-60 per cent) have been embezzled. The money stolen could have paid for 3,000 high-quality roads, housing for 800,000 people or thousands of ice palaces and soccer fields all over Russia. None of that has happened. Only those oligarchs and companies close to Putin have enriched themselves.
  3. The construction of the Olympic stadiums on a sub-tropical swamp without a thorough development of the project is extremely dangerous. The high seismicity of the region of the Imeret Lowlands, the change in the bed of the Mzymta River as a result of the barbaric interference in the course of the construction of the Olympics infrastructure threatens the destruction of multi-billion dollar complexes.
  4. The damage to the environment of the only sub-tropical zone in Russia must be evaluated. It is already clear, however, that the unique flora and fauna of the Imeret Lowlands are lost, the Mzymta River is disfigured, the forest preserves have been chopped down, and the predatory construction of roads, bridges and tunnels has led to irreversible consequences for the gorges of this region.
  5. The construction of the Olympic facilities was assigned to those close to Putin. The lack of honest competition, cronyism, and harsh censorship with everything connected to the Olympics has led to a sharp increase in the cost and low quality of work in preparing for the Games.
  6. Despite the monstrous fact of the growing cost of the Olympic buildings, not a single investigation of the evidence of theft, corruption and violation of building standards and rules has reached trial. This has led to irresponsibility and impunity.
  7. After the Games, a large number of the Olympics facilities will not be used. And this is at a time when there is a huge shortage of stadiums for winter sports in Russia. Due to the extremely high cost of maintaining Olympics infrastructure, many sports buildings will gradually deteriorate. Billions of government funds invested in the Olympics have essentially been thrown to the wind.

The Sochi Olympics have exposed all the flaws of the socio-economic model created by Putin:

  • Cronyism (the Olympics have been built by companies and persons close to Putin)
  • Secrecy (the lack of proper information about budgets, problems in the course of construction, and harsh censorship of the media regarding all issues of preparation)
  • Unnatural monopolization of the economy (which has become the reason for the multiple increases in prices for construction material and building)
  • Voluntarism (the decision on the selection of the place to hold the Olympics was made in secret without public discussion)
  • Lack of public oversight (even the agencies under Putin such as the Accounts Chamber and the Duma have not have the opportunity to properly oversee the preparation of the Olympics).

Our Actions

The above-mentioned flaws can be fixed only by changing the political system, and that means changing the crony bandit capitalism of Putin and moving to a full-fledged democracy and competitive economy.

For this to happen, we consider it necessary to create a Public Committee to Investigate Olympics Crimes. Lawyers, economics, public figures, ecologists and human rights advocates should join the Committee. The work of the Committee should be as public as possible.

Tasks

  • Force the Accounts Chamber to remove all classified designations, including “for internal use only” on the results of the inspections of the expenditures of state funds on Olympics construction sites.
  • Bring the dozens of already opened criminal cases to trial on evidence of fraud, abuse of official position and theft.
  • Seek the opening of investigations of the facts cited in this report, notably: the receiving of no-bid contracts worth billions by the Rotenberg companies, and the multiple increases in the cost of constructing virtually all the Olympics buildings.

We believe that the result of the work of the Public Committee should be the punishment of criminals and confiscation of their property stolen during the preparation of the Olympics Games. The Accounts Chamber, the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service, the Investigative Committee, the Prosecutor’s Office, and the Interior Ministry are obliged to become involved in all this. That is their job. However, without public pressure, Putin’s subordinates will not do anything. On the contrary, they will hide their tracks.

Ahead is the World Soccer Championship in 2018. The start-up amount of financing is astronomical – 1.39 trillion rubles ($43 billion). If we want to see that budget increase to 5.5 trillion at the expense of robbing Russia and all of us (that is, to quadruple as happened with the Olympics), then the investigation of the crimes at the Olympics must be brought to completion.

 

Lesotho Elections Held Two Years Ahead Of Schedule to Combat Political Tension

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

MASERU, Lesotho – Polls opened in Lesotho’s elections on Saturday. The vote was called two years ahead of schedule under a political deal aimed at calming tensions between the country’s warring political factions. The deal was brokered by South Africa, which surrounds the small, mountainous landlocked country. Feuding parties in Lesotho’s ruling coalition faced off in Saturday’s elections in an attempt to restore stability six months after an attempted coup. Lesotho’s Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, briefly fled the country to South Africa last August after soldiers occupied the police headquarters and surrounded his palace. Thabane accused his deputy Mothetjoa Metsing of working with the military in the attempted coup, an accusation which both Metsing and the military dismiss. The country of two million people has seen several coup attempts since the small landlocked country gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1966. Fears are growing that post-election unrest could further erode the country’s $2.3 billion economy, which was expected to expand by nearly 5 percent this year.

Voters queue to cast their votes in Maseru, Lesotho, Saturday, Feb 28, 2015. The small mountain kingdom has taken to the polls in early elections in the hope of restoring order after a coup attempt last year. (Photo courtesy of U.S. News and World Reports)

Despite high political tensions the Campaigning ahead of the elections has been largely peaceful but analysts say tensions were high before the parliamentary vote between Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) against Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), as well as other smaller political parties. “The idea of these elections is to try solve a crisis but I think they might perpetuate one,” said Gary Staden, a political analyst. “My concern is any mess up like failure to deliver ballot papers is going to be interpreted as someone trying to rig the election and that could set off an unrest,” he added.

Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s Deputy President helped broker the political deal to bring elections forward by two years in an effort to restore stability in the country. There are now 23 politicians vying for the premiership and political analysis believe another collation formed by disparate political parties is likely. Deputy President Ramaphosa arrived in Maseru early this morning to help oversee the elections. A government spokesmen said “he is expected to witness democracy in action in Lesotho,” spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said. “During his visit today, deputy president Ramaphosa will be visiting four voting stations around Maseru.”

Many of the people of Lesotho hope the elections will bring peace and help ease political tensions in the small landlocked country. “I am expecting peace after this election. We are used to hunger and poverty,” a 77-year-old pensioner Mmamakgobe Makgobe said. However, there was little sign of optimism on the streets of the capital. “Why bother voting? I am not going to waste my time to vote because this election is all about Thabane and Metsing. It has nothing to do with what we want as voters,” said Dineo Motlou, a 22-year sales assistant at supermarket chain. Due to the remoteness of some of the country’s voting stations and communities a complete election result may not be realized for several days.  Commentators have been reluctant to project a winner in the absence of reliable opinion polls, instead choosing to wait for final results.

For more information please see:

BBC News – Lesotho Elections Under Way Aimed At Resolving Tensions – 28 February 2015

The Citizen – Ramaphosa in Lesotho for Elections – 28 February 2015

U.S. News and World Reports – Mountain Kingdom Of Lesotho Holds Early Election after Collapse of Coalition Government – 28 February 2015

Reuters – Lesotho Prepares For Early Vote in Bid to Ease Political Crisis – 26 February 2015

Bill Browder Statement on the Murder of Boris Nemtsov

Putin Critic Gunned Down a Stone’s Throw from Kremlin

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

MOSCOW, Russia – Outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin, Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition politician and former Deputy Prime Minister was shot dead just meters from the Kremlin in central Moscow late on Friday. Nemtsov, who was 55 years old, was shot four times in the back, the Interior Ministry said. A police spokeswoman on the scene said he had been walking on a bridge over the Moskva River with a Ukrainian woman. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced through a spokesperson he would be taking the investigation of the murder into presidential command, claiming it could have been a contract killing and a “provocation” on the ahead of a large demonstration that Nemtsov had was to lead in Moscow on Sunday.

PHOTO: Russian opposition Boris Nemtsov speaks during a rally against the intervention in Ukraine and a possible war in Crimea in Moscow, March 15, 2014 Nemtsov was reportedly preparing a report on Russian troops in eastern Ukraine before he was murdered in the streets of Moscow. (Photo courtesy of ABC News)

The gunmen, who remains unknown, fired at least eight shots, killing Nemtsov. Russian Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said an investigation is ongoing and witnesses will be questioned. “Witnesses to the killing are being questioned, and the crime scene is being carefully examined,” Markin said. A Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Putin was aware of the killing and called it a provocation. “Putin noted that this cruel murder has every sign of being a contract one which has solely provocative nature,” Peskov said. “The president has ordered the leadership of the Investigative Committee, the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service to form an investigative group and keep the investigation of this crime under personal control,” Peskov added, describing the presidential committee that is to be established to investigate the murder, a committee that will likely face criticism due to the potential biased involvement of the Putin regime.

Nemtsov was one of the organizers of large street demonstration in opposition of the Russian President in recent years. Nemtsov always marching at the front of the crowd and addressed the large crowds on stage. While he served as deputy prime minister under President Boris Yeltsin during the 1990s, Nemtsov fell out of Putin’s close circle and founded Russia’s People’s Freedom Party in opposition to the Putin leadership that dominates Russian politics and civil society. He was also the author of several reports on corruption in the Russian Federation, including attempts to estimate President Putin’s actual wealth as well as attempts to estimate the amount of money stolen during preparations for last year’s Winter Olympics in the resort town of Sochi.

Nemtsov had expressed concern that Vladimir Putin might want him dead because of his strong opposition to Russia’s actions in the Ukraine. The upcoming opposition march on Sunday was intended to protest against Russia’s war and occupation in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian rebels have seized Ukrainian territory. According to Ksenia Sobchak, another prominent opposition figure in Russia, Nemtsov had been preparing a report on the illegal presence of Russian troops in Ukraine. The Kremlin strongly denies allegations by Kiev and the west that his regime has sent troops into the country.

For more information please see:

ABC News – Boris Nemtsov, Vocal Critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Shot Dead in Moscow – 27 February 2015

BBC News – Russia Opposition Politician Boris Nemtsov Shot Dead – 27 February 2015

The New York Times – Boris Nemtsov, Putin Foe, Is Shot Dead In Shadow of Kremlin – 27 February 2015

Reuters – Russian Opposition Leader Nemtsov Shot Dead In Moscow – 27 February 2015

Paris and London Condemn French Politicians’ Meeting With Assad

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

DAMASCUS, Syria – Despite a recent diplomatic trip to Syria taken by four members of the French Parlmement, which included a meeting with Syrian Presidents Bashar Al-Assad, a trip that was not authorized by the Office of the French President, both France and the United Kingdom have definitively stated that renewed diplomatic ties with the Assad regime are not wise or likely, both Paris and London see the recent visit to Syria by French Parliamentarian as country to the official polices of each respective country. With the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in both Syria and Iraq some European Union Leaders have stated that it may be time to re-establish lines of communication with Damascus because so far the four year civil war has failed to lead to the overthrow of Bashar Al-Assad’s brutal regime in Syria.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad meets with a French politicians led by Senate member, leader of the Senate’s French-Syrian Friendship Committee Jean-Pierre Vial on February 25, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Reuters).

In a column published in Arabic daily Al-Hayat as well as in France’s Le Monde, the French and British foreign criticized leaders who have sought a rapprochement with Assad by saying the regime leaders is using western fears about the advancement of ISIS, which has seized areas of northern and eastern Syria, to win back international support and some degree of legitimacy for his deadly regime. “Some seem sensitive to this argument,” Laurent Fabius and Philip Hammond wrote. “In reality, Bashar represents injustice, chaos and terror. We, France and Britain, say no to all three.” “For our own security, we must defeat Islamic State in Syria. We need a partner that can act against extremists. We need a negotiated political settlement,” Hammond and Fabius said.

“After 220,000 deaths and millions displaced, it is illusory to imagine that a majority of Syrians would accept to be ruled by the one who torments them,” Fabius and Hammond wrote. “To end their hopes of a better future in a Syria without Assad would be to radicalize even more Syrians, push moderates toward extremism and consolidate a jihadi bastion in Syria.”

In a rare show of political unity both current French president Francois Hollande and former President Nicolas Sarkozy condemned the trip, Sarkozy going as far as to refer to the MPs who made the trip as “clowns.” On Thursday President Francois Hollande condemned the French lawmakers for meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom he calls a “dictator.” “I condemn this initiative. I condemn it because French lawmakers have taken it upon themselves to meet with a dictator who is the cause of one of the worst civil wars of recent years,” Hollande said while in the Philippines. Hollande argued that France cannot have a dialogue with a “dictator who has bombed his own people and who has used chemical weapons to destroy human lives, Syrian lives — the lives of children, women”.

Earlier French Prime Minister Manuel Valls also “condemned with the greatest strength” the decision by the French lawmakers to meet with Assad, whom he referred to as “a butcher”. “I want to condemn this initiative with the greatest strength,” Valls told French channel BFMTV. “For parliamentarians to go without warning to meet a butcher…. I think it was a moral failing.”

Like many western countries France cut ties with Syria after the regime began its brutal assault on members of the opposition which led to the country’s now four year old conflict. France cut diplomatic ties with Syria in 2012 and supports the moderate Syrian opposition, seeking the removal of Bashar Assad from power.

For more information please see:

The Daily Star: Lebanon – France, U.K. Dismiss Calls to Renew Relations with Assad – 28 February 2015

Reuters – France, Britain Dismiss Calls to Renew Relations with Syria’s Assad – 27 February 2015

The Independent: United Kingdom – Hollande and Sarkozy Round on ‘Clown’ MPs for Visiting Assad – 26 February 2015

The Local: France – Hollande Slams MPs over Talks with Syria’s Assad – 26 February 2015

ISIS Destroys Priceless pieces of History at Mosul Antiquities Museum

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

BAGHDAD, Iraq – New video released Thursday appears to show militants loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) destroying Assyrian and Akkadian artifacts, smashing and scraping though artifacts dating back to at least the 7th century B.C.E. The ISIS supporters who took sledgehammers to ancient artifacts, from some of humanities earliest civilization, claimed they were ordered by the Profit to destroy all symbols of Idolatry. Instead these men are committing unjustifiable mass atrocities taking lives and attempting to destroy the histories of all people in the region who do not share their radical views. I’m totally shocked,” a professor at the University of Mosul’s college of archaeology said of the video, “It’s a catastrophe. With the destruction of these artifacts, we can no longer be proud of Mosul’s civilization.”

ISIS supports destroy cultural and historic artifacts dating back to at least the seventh century B.C.E.. (Photo courtesy of The International Business Times UK)

The video shows only the latest episode of cultural destruction in a spree of iconoclasm, the destruction of religious artifacts, and outright ethnocide committed by ISIS militants in Syria and Iraq. In May 2014, there were several reports of separate Assyrian artifacts, which have stood for a millennia or more, being excavated and destroyed by ISIS supporters. In July 2014, ISIS supporters destroyed the Tomb of the Prophet Jonah in Nineveh. Earlier this week, reports claimed ISIS burned 100,000 books and manuscripts from the Mosul library. This week ISIS militants in Syria overran Assyrian Christian villages, taking more than 250 Christians hostage and destroying homes and churches in their wake.

Lamia al-Gailani, an Iraqi archaeologist and associate fellow at the London-based Institute of Archaeology, said the militants had wreaked untold damage. “It’s not only Iraq’s heritage: it’s the whole world’s,” she said. “They are priceless, unique. It’s unbelievable. I don’t want to be Iraqi anymore,” she said, comparing the atrocity to the dynamiting of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Afghan Taliban in 2001.

In the video published by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on Thursday which showed men destroying artifacts with sledgehammers and drills, saying they were symbols of idolatry. The men claimed they were ordered by the Profit to commit these acts of Iconoclasm saying, “the Prophet ordered us to get rid of statues and relics, and his companions did the same when they conquered countries after him.” While the militants claim their actions were motivated by a desire to destroy idolatry it seems the real motive for releasing this video was mere propaganda. ISIS itself does not destroy all artifacts its encounters, instead the illegal looting and selling of antiquities is a primary source of ISIS funding.

Acts of iconoclasm are not uncommon throughout history.  According to legend Abraham, the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, destroyed idols and there was a long history of icon-destruction in early Christianity. However, iconoclasm is now considered a crime against humanity in modern civilization, an act that destroys not only the culture and history of a single people but the collective history of humanity itself.

For more information please see:

The Atlantic – Erased: ISIS and the Destruction of Ancient Artifacts – 26 February 2015

The Guardian – Isis Destroys Thousands of Books and Manuscripts in Mosul Libraries – 26 February 2015

International Business Times UK – Iraq: Isis Take Sledgehammers to Priceless Assyrian Artefacts at Mosul Museum [VIDEO] – 26 February 2015

Reuters – With Sledgehammer, Islamic State Smashes Iraqi History – 26 February 2015

Hundreds of Assyrian Christians Abducted in Syria

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

DAMASCUS, Syria – Militants fighting for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) have reportedly abducted as many as 250 people from Syria’s Assyrian Christian communities including women and children. The victims were seized from nearly a dozen villages in northeastern Syria as the area was raided by ISIS fighters, Christian Syrian activists reported. On Tuesday, a Syrian Christian group representing several NGO both inside and outside of Syria claims it had verified at least 150 people were missing, including women and elderly, who had been kidnapped by the militants. “We have verified at least 150 people who have been abducted from sources on the ground,” Bassam Ishak, President of the Syriac National Council of Syria, whose family is from Hasaka.

Assyrian Christian children from Iraq, Syria and Lebanon light candles before Christmas mass at Saint Georges church near Beirut in December. Assyrian Christians have lived in the region for centuries. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera America)

Earlier the United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 90 members of the Assyrian Christian population were abducted when the militants carried out early morning raids on rural villages of the Assyrian Christians who have ancient roots in the community, dating back thousands of years. The villages were located west of Hasaka, a city mainly held by the Kurds.

Wednesday, the United States condemned the recent attacks by ISIS on the Assyrian Christian community, which it said included not only the abduction of hundreds of civilians but the burning of homes and Christian churches in the community. “This is but the latest round of atrocities perpetrated by ISIL [ISIS] against the innocent people of the region,” the White House said of the reported atrocities in a statement.

ISIS has not confirmed the abductions. However, ISIS has posted photos of its militants in camouflage, carrying weapons, on its website. The website said the photos were taken in Tel Tamr, a nearby town where the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the abductions occurred. National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said, “The international community stands united and undeterred in its resolve to bring an end to ISIL’s depravity. The United States will continue to lead the fight to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL.”

Many Assyrian Christians have fled Syria since the Syrian Civil War has threatened the stability of their homeland. The Syrian Civil War has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people over the past four years. Last year, ISIS fighters abducted several Assyrians Christians in retaliation for some members of the Assyrian community taking up arms and fighting alongside the Kurdish fighting forces known as the YPG. Most of the abducted were released after long negotiations.

Before the arrival of Kurds and Arab nomadic tribes at the end of the 19th Century, Assyrian Christians were the majority in Syria’s Jazeera area, which includes the city of Hasaka. However, the now minority Christians have faced historic marginalization and now horrific attacks from extremist groups like ISIS. In recent weeks, ISIS has carried out horrific attacks on Christians, including the brutal murder of Coptic Christians in Libya, as well as other religious minorities and fellow Muslims who do not share their distorted and medieval interpretation of Islam.

For more information, please see:

Haaretz – Middle East Updates / Lebanese Army Captures 2 Border Outposts from Islamists – 26 February 2015

Al Arabiya – U.S. Condemns Abduction of Christians in Syria – 25 February 2015

Al Jazeera America – ISIL Kidnapping Underlines ‘Grave Peril’ Of Assyrian Christians – 25 February

Reuters – Islamic State in Syria Abducts At Least 150 Christians – 24 February 2015

Judge Dismisses Cover-up Case Against President

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — An Argentinian judge has dismissed the case against Argentina President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who allegedly shielded Iranian officials from prosecution over the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish centre.

President Fernandez / image courtesy of Fox News Latino

Prosecutors had sought to relaunch the case against Fernández that was being brought by their late colleague Alberto Nisman, who died mysteriously last month after accusing Fernández of protecting Iranians suspected of ordering the deadly bombing at the Argentinian Jewish Mutual Association.

However, Judge Daniel Rafecas said on Thursday that documents originally filed by Nisman failed to meet standards needed to open a formal court investigation.  The Judge noted that Nisman failed to meet “the minimal conditions needed to launch a formal court investigation.”

“I dismiss the case because no crime was committed,” Rafecas said.

The late prosecutor was found with a fatal gunshot wound to the head in his bathroom on 18 January 2015, four days after he filed a report that accused Iran of ordering the attack via the Lebanese militant group Hezebollah, and alleging that Fernández was trying to shield Iranian officials from prosecution in exchange for oil.

Nisman’s death was initially ruled a suicide, but soon afterwards suspicion fell on Fernández’s government for orchestrating Nisman’s murder.

Even Fernández herself suggested the prosecutor was manipulated by upset former intelligence agents who then killed him to further smear her reputation.

Before the decision on Thursday, Argentinian MPs passed a bill to reform the country’s intelligence service, which Fernández recently suggested had strayed from civilian control.

Fernández says the new state security body established under the legislation will be held more accountable.  But opponents say the legislation does little more than change the name of the spy agency and has been rushed through Congress.  The opposition boycotted some of the debate.

The chamber of deputies approved the bill by a majority of 131 to 71 after an overnight debate.  Fernández now has to sign the bill, which she is expected to do in the coming days.

The long-unsolved bombing at the Argentinian Jewish Mutual Association killed 85 people and wounded 300.

For more information, please see: 

the guardian – Argentina judge dismisses bombing cover-up case against president – 26 Feb. 2015

Fox News Latino – Judge throws out case alleging Argentina’s president was behind Iran cover up – 26 Feb. 2015

CBS News – Judge announces decision on Argentina cover-up case – 26 Feb. 2015

The Tribune – Victory for Argentine leader: Judge rejects cover-up case – 26 Feb. 2015

Bashar Al Assad Meets with French Lawmakers

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

DAMASCUS, Syria – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met on Wednesday with four members of the French Parliament in the first such meeting since France closed its embassy in Syria in 2012 saying that the Assad regime had lost its legitimacy. The visit was not approved by the French Parlmement and the Foreign Ministry of France said it did not support the trip. The delegation was led by Gerard Bapt of the ruling Socialist Party and included members of the lower and upper houses of parliament. While the west has essentially cut off ties with the meeting seems to counter Paris’ official opinion on the Assad regime, having cut off ties in 2012 the regime has been a supporter of the opposition in Syria. Damascus Many European diplomats are saying privately it is time for direct communication with the Assad regime after four years of the regimes violent assault on the opposition and an ongoing civil war.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad with a French delegation headed by Jean-Pierre Vial, in Damascus on February 25. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

Syria’s state run news agency confirmed the meeting took place on Monday saying it focused on “challenges facing Arab and European regions, particularly with regard to terrorism.” State Media paraphrased President Assad as saying Syria “always encourages cooperation between states as the most effective way to stop the expansion of terrorism and eliminate it.” Sate media again quoted Assad saying “Coming here does not mean we back what’s happened,” he told BFM TV. “The objective is to understand Assad’s regime better, because we don’t believe we can fight Islamic State without Syria.” Since the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011 more than 200,000 people have been killed.

The Syrian state news agency reported that the meeting focused on the “developments and challenges facing the Arab and European areas, especially those pertaining to terrorism.” Also Wednesday, Syrian judicial officials reportedly agreed to release Louay Hussein, a leading opposition figure on bail. Hussein’s political movement claimed in a statement posted on its Facebook page. Hussein still faces charges of “weakening national sentiment and weakening the morale of the nation.” Hussein is a prominent Damascus-based writer and dissident. He spent years in jail in the 1980s. He was detained in November at the Syria-Lebanon border as he was attempting to leave the county to visit his family in Europe. It was the second time he was arrested since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011.

Human rights groups say the regime has detained tens of thousands of Syrians, even children, many of whom are likely killed in custody and are never to be seen again. Last year a United Nations Panel accused the Assad Regime of committing a crime against humanity though the systematic disappearing of Syrian civilians.

For more information please see:

Al Arabiya – Our French Lawmakers Meet Assad In Syria – 25 February 2015

ABC News – Syria’s Assad Meets With 4 French Lawmakers In Damascus – 25 February 2015

The Daily Star: Lebanon – French Lawmakers Hold Talks With Assad In Syria – 25 February 2015

Reuters – Syria’s Assad Meets French Lawmakers – 25 February 2015

Syrians Struggle to Access Vital Humanitarian Aid

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

DAMASCUS, Syria – The United Nations Security Council passed a number of resolutions last year intended to broaden the reach of aid access to millions of Syrians in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. The most recent Security Council resolution was unanimously approved in December and extended cross-border aid deliveries to Syrians in rebel-held areas without approval from the Assad Regime in Damascus. However, on Wednesday, Norwegian Refugee Council secretary general Jan Egeland said the resolutions “have had no impact” and the international community is “not able to do what we should be able to do” to ensure Syrians in need receive vital assistance. “We’re failing the Syrians — that’s the honest truth here,” Egeland, who served as U.N. humanitarian chief from 2003 to 2006, said adding that the “Security Council has failed in enforcing their own resolution.” According to the United Nations, The U.N. approximately 4.5 million people in Syria are in need of assistance and are in hard-to-reach areas, including approximately 200,000 who live in besieged communities where reaching aid has become nearly impossible.

Norwegian Refugee Council secretary general Jan Egeland criticized the Assad regime for preventing aid from reaching the Syrian people and called on the International Community to improve access to aid. (Photo courtesy of the Daily Star Lebanon)

After almost four years of civil war inside Syria an estimated 12.2 million Syrians inside the country are in need of assistance while another 3.8 million have fled the country and are now living as refugees in neighboring countries Aid is desperately needed by displaced Syrians living both inside the conflict zone in Syria and as refugees in neighboring countries, especially during the winter months when families are most at risk of become victims of natural disasters and bitter cold weather. Recent assessments conducted by The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have found that more than half of all Syrian refugees live in sub-standard housing which become particularly challenging for refugee families during the winter months when poor shelters cannot adequately protect them from freezing rain, flooding, snow and bitter cold. This winter is the fourth year that UNHCR and its partners have provided winter assistance to Syrian refugees,

UNHCR launched massive operation in Lebanon to provide assistance to refugees during the winter months. According to the UNHCR, the planning and budgeting for the winter months, which begin in November, began months in advance to ensure that the needs of refugees could be met as best as possible despite funding and logistical changes. Providing assistance to refugees is not only a problem for aid organizations like UNHCR. Receiving states who have allowed refugees to cross their border from Syria since the conflict began in 2011 have seen increasing restrains as the refugee population grows and the protracted civil war continues seemingly indifferently. According to the UNHCR representative in Lebanon Ninette Kelley, “Lebanon today faces an unprecedented challenge to manage both its own population and Syrian refugees. It has the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world and more global support, including for long-term development, is urgently needed.”

For more information please see:

ABC News – Aid Group Chief: UN Efforts Haven’t Boosted Syria Aid Access – 25 February 2015

The Daily Star, Lebanon – Aid Group Chief: UN Efforts Haven’t Boosted Syria Aid Access – 25 February 2015

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – Humanity, Hope and Thoughts of Home: Syrian Refugees in Southern Lebanon – 25 February 2015

United Nations News Centre – Security Council Renews Cross-Border Aid Delivery to Syria – 17 December 2014

US Jury Finds Palestinian Authority Liable for Terror Attacks in Israel that Killed U.S Citizens

By Max Bartels 

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America 

 

New York, United States of America

10 American families were awarded $218.5 million by a jury in federal court in Manhattan. The 10 American families brought suit against the Palestinian Authority who, with the cooperation of the Palestinian Liberation Front, was alleged to have backed a series of terror attacks in Israel in the early 2000s that killed 33 U.S citizens and injured others.

Israeli police search the scene of a Jerusalem suicide bombing in 2002. (Photo curtesy of Reuters)

The verdict is a severe blow to the cause of the Palestinian Authority, which is seeking legitimacy for their cause as well as international support. The lawyer for the American families believes that the damages will be tripled under the U.S Anti-Terrorism Act totaling at $655.5 million. The act allows for victims of U.S – designated foreign terror groups to seek compensation for pain and suffering, loss of earnings and other hardships.

The trial involved the testimony of relatives of victims who were killed as well as survivors of the attacks. In addition to graphic testimony the plaintiffs relied on records showing that the Palestinian Authority continued to pay the salaries of employees who were arrested and jailed in terror cases as well as paid benefits to suicide bombers and gunman who died while committing the attacks in question.

The defense argued that there was no proof that the Palestinian Authority sanctioned the attacks, saying that what the attacks did, they did for their own reasons and not on the behalf of the Palestinian Authority. In defense of the records showing benefit payments, the defense argued that it is illogical for payments after the attacks to be looked at as motivating the attacks in the first place.

Last year a jury in a federal court in Brooklyn found Arab Bank liable for Hamas suicide bombings that killed American citizens, based solely on the claim that the bank knowingly did business with the terror organization. The damages portions of the Brooklyn case are set to begin in May.

The Palestinian Authority claims it will appeal the verdict, calling it a disservice to Palestine and the international community who are working toward a solution to the conflict with Israel. Questions have also been raised about whether the judgment will be paid, in at least two previous cases for more then $100 the parties settled out of court confidentially. The plaintiffs lawyers claim that if they refuse to pay then their assets can be seized in both the U.S and abroad.

For more information, please see:

Associated Press News — US Jury Finds Palestinian Groups Liable for Terror Attacks — 23 February 2015

The New York Times — Palestinian Groups Are Found Liable at Manhattan Terror Trial — 24 February 2015

Newsweek — U.S. Jury Finds Palestinian Organizations Liable in Terrorism Case — 23 February 2015

Reuters — U.S Jury Orders Palestinian Groups to Pay Attack Victims $218.5 Million — 23 February 2015

São Paulo Runs Dry as Country’s Worst Drought Continues

By Delisa Morris

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BRASILIA, Brazil — How does the world’s biggest water supply in the seventh biggest economy run out of water?  When that country has its worst dry stretch since the 1930s.

The Atibainha reservoir / Photo courtesy of The Seattle Times

Brazil is sometimes called the “Saudi Arabia of water,” water is so abundant in the area that it’s likened to living above a sea of oil.  However, the taps are starting to run dry.  The problem has been worsened by polluted rivers, deforestation and population growth, the largest reservoir system serving São Paulo is near depletion.

Currently, many residents are enduring sporadic water cutoffs, some going days without it.  Officials have said that water service provided two days a week, drastic rationing, may be needed.

Though the views are grimmer behind closed doors.  In a meeting recorded secretly and leaked to the local news media, Paulo Massato, a senior official at São Paulo’s water utility, said that residents might have to be warned to flee because “there’s not enough water, there won’t be water to bathe, to clean the home.”

Marússia Whately, a water specialist at Instituto Socioambiental, a Brazilian environmental group, said, “We’re witnessing an unprecedented water crisis in one of the world’s great industrial cities.”  She added, “Because of environmental degradation and political cowardice, millions of people in São Paulo are now wondering when the water will run out.”

Some have already had no running water for days.

“Imagine going three days without any water and trying to run a business in a basic sanitary way,” said Maria da Fátima Ribeiro, 51, who owns a bar in Parque Alexandra, a gritty neighborhood on the edge of São Paulo’s metropolitan area. “This is Brazil, where human beings are treated worse than dogs by our own politicians.”

Residents are taking matters into their own hands by drilling wells around homes and apartment buildings.  Others have implemented water conservation methods of hoarding water in buckets to wash clothes or flush toilets.  Public schools are prohibiting students from using water to brush their teeth, and serving sandwiches instead of meals on plates that need to be washed.

The worse forecasts say that São Paulo’s main reservoir system could run dry in 2015.

For more information, please see:

The Telegraph – Taps run dry in Brazil’s biggest city as drought bites – 23 Feb. 2015

The Seattle Times – Severe drought pushes Brazil’s largest city toward water crisis – 21 Feb. 2015

The Independent – Brazil water shortage: Sao Paulo devastated by its worst drought on record – 23 Feb. 2015

Independent.IE – Has Brazil’s largest city just run out of water? – 23 Feb. 2015