The Titan of Tbilisi

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Is Georgia’s elfin billionaire and new political phenomenon big enough to take down President Mikheil Saakashvili?

I am standing in the foyer of my hotel in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. An unshaven young man with an enquiring expression comes up to me and asks, “Thomas?” I nod and he says the one word, “Bidzina.”

My assignation with the most talked-about man in Georgia is about to begin.

We climb into a Toyota Landcruiser, ascend to the top of a hill in Tbilisi, and then enter a small private drive. Electronic gates slide open and we are soon outside a soaring glass-and-steel construction, a futurist castle constructed by the Japanese architect Shin Takamatsu, surrounded by a small forest of modern sculpture.

I am ushered into the presence of the man himself. Bidzina Ivanishvili is quite small, a little elfin, immaculately dressed, and smiling. I have never interviewed a billionaire before but his manner is easy. He starts by showing me the pictures on the wall: Egon Schiele, Claude Monet, Lucian Freud. He admits that they are, in fact, high-quality copies; the originals are in London. There is a chatty simplicity about him but also huge self-confidence and self-control.

We sit down, he under a Lucien Freud portrait, and I ask a variation on the same question he has been asked 100 times in the last month: “What motivated you to go into Georgian politics?”

In one month, it is no exaggeration to say, Ivanishvili has turned the politics of his country upside down. Georgia has had a turbulent decade. First, the peaceful Rose Revolution of 2003 swept aside Eduard Shevardnadze‘s tired old regime. Then, Mikheil Saakashvili became Europe’s youngest head of state at the age of 36 and embarked on a series of hair-raising modernizing reforms. The volatile Saakashvili also went head-to-head with Russia over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a confrontation that burst out into full conflict in 2008. After defeat in the war, Saakashvili’s popularity plummeted, but he clung to power. He and his governing party slowly recovered the initiative and, as the next elections approached in 2012-13, they found themselves again in a commanding position, with a virtual monopoly over the executive, parliament, local government, and the media. Read the rest of this entry »

Afghan Parliament Approves Central Bank Governor, Spy Chief

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Chief Justice Shinwani from the Supreme Court ...

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Saturday, 26 November 2011 16:48 Last Updated on Saturday, 26 November 2011 18:44 Written by

Afghanistan‘s House of Representatives on Saturday approved President Hamid Karzai‘s candidates for the posts of the head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the governor of the Central Bank and a member of the High Office of Oversight.

At total of 228 MPs attended the session and each of the candidates needed 115 “yes” votes to secure his position.
The new NDS director, Rahmatullah Nabil, got 208 votes in his favour; the new head of the Central Bank, Noorullah Delawari, got 173 vote of approval; and Mohammad Munir got 155 votes endorsing his membership of the High Office of Oversight.
At the session, the three officials outlined their future plans and strategies, and responded to the questions of the representatives.
Mr Nabil has serviced as the acting director of the NDS for the past year and President Hamid Karzai put him forward to continue in the role after MPs praised the security measures put in place during the four-day Loya Jirga earlier this month.
Mr Delawari worked as head of the Central Bank from 2004 to 2007.

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Anti-money laundering experts inspect Vatican

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emblem of the Papacy: Triple tiara and keys
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Sunday, November 27, 2011

VATICAN CITY (AP) — European inspectors fighting money laundering on Saturday wrapped up a week of meetings with church officials as part of ensuring that the Holy See’s law conforms with international efforts to combat financing of terrorism, the Vatican said.

The officials will issue a report that will that will be discussed by experts at the Council of Europe, likely in mid-2012, the Vatican said in a statement.

Earlier this year, Italian prosecutors ordered the release of (euro) 23 million ($33 million) seized from a Vatican Bank account as part of a money-laundering probe. Italian financial police had seized the money in September 2010, and placed the bank’s two top officials under investigation, over allegations that the bank broke the law by trying to transfer funds without identifying the sender and recipient. Read the rest of this entry »

Venezuela begins gold shipments

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THE KREMLIN, MOSCOW. At a joint press-conferen...
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Published: Nov. 26, 2011 at 1:05 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela, Nov. 26 (UPI) — The head of the Central Bank of Venezuela said shipments of gold to the bank from Europe gave the country a larger degree of financial independence.

“It has historic value. It has symbolic value. And it has financial value,” bank chief Nelson Merentes said about the first shipment of gold to arrive from Europe under orders from President Hugo Chavez, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported Saturday.

Chavez has ordered 85 percent of the country’s gold — about $11 billion worth — to be physically returned to Venezuela.

“The gold is returning to where it was always meant to be: the vaults of the Central Bank of Venezuela,” Chavez said.

Merentes supported the move, saying, “The country’s finances will be backed by autonomous wealth, so we are not subject to pressure from anyone.”

But some have complained that moving the gold has no purpose and is an expensive project. Read the rest of this entry »

Euro crisis claims another leader as Berlusconi agrees to step down

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Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi offered to resign if the parliament passed an austerity package. His move comes on the heels of the exit of Greece’s prime minister, George Papandreou.

By Robert MarquandStaff writer / November 8, 2011

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusoni waves to journalists as he leaves the Quirinale, Presidential palace, after meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, in Rome, Tuesday. Berlusconi says his decision to resign after parliament passed economic reforms is for the good of the country, and to settle financial markets that have lost confidence in Italy’s ability to rein in debt and spur growth.

Roberto Monaldo/LaPresse/AP



Europe continued to move into uncharted waters today as Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s rule appeared over and Greece has reportedly decided on a new prime minister.

Greece, and more significantly Italy, are in the throes of a eurozone debt crisis whose dynamics appear to be accelerating, with what two years ago was an economic and banking crisis now proving to have profound political consequences.

“The eurozone now faces political, economic, financial, and institutional crises all at the same time,” argues Sony Kapoor of the Brussels think tank Re-Define.

Prime Minister Berlusconi today failed to achieve a majority in the Italian parliament in a vote considered a symbolic referendum on his ability to handle the nation at a time of greater urgency than Italy has faced in decades. He agreed to resign if parliament passed austerity measures that the European Union wants.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano made a statement later in the evening that Berlusconi – who has been a major force in Italian politics over the past 18 years, both in office and out – would leave his job after a budget law is passed this month.

Moments after the today’s parliamentary vote on a budget deal, opposition leader Pier Luigi Bersani stood to say, “I ask you, Mr. Prime Minister, with all my strength, to finally take account of the situation … and resign,” and said a lack of confidence by markets in Italy would soon block the nation’s access to loans and capital.

Italy is Europe’s third-largest economy, and its current 1.9-trillion euro debt (about $2.6 trillion) surpasses that of Greece, Spain, Ireland, and Portugal combined.

Calls for Berlusconi’s departure came from all sides of the Italian political spectrum, including today from key coalition partner Umberto Bossi, head of the Northern League party. Italy’s borrowing costs are above a perilous 6 percent, and there’s a restless spirit among the Italian public. Yesterday, amid rumors that Berlusconi was resigning, markets shot up, then fell as the prime minister said the rumors were untrue.

A crisis that keeps sweeping up victims

In the past year, the euro debt crisis has claimed governments in Ireland and Portugal. Last week Greece and this week Italy have been swept into the fray.

A few hours after the Italian vote, prominent Greek media outlets said Lucas Papademos would take over as prime minister of a caretaker government, following the resignation this week of former Prime Minister George Papandreou. Greece is under pressure by the EU to pass a 130 billion euro bailout deal before it can receive some 8 billion euros to remain solvent in December. Mr. Papandreou’s call for a public referendum on the deeply unpopular bailout terms threw world markets into a tailspin last week, and brought political and European turmoil that the former prime minister could not surmount.

Mr. Papademos, a former deputy chief of the European Central Bank and now a Harvard professor, was the leading candidate for a job that would test the outer limits of any leader. He must bring the two main parties together to agree on next year’s national budget; pass through parliament the 130 billion euro bailout agreed to in Brussels on Oct. 26; negotiate with the troika of the EU, the ECB, and the IMF on the terms of that deal; and set the way for new elections next year.

Delays on the appointment followed reports that Papademos wanted to choose his own ministers and extend what has been considered a 100-day limit for the interim body. As Papademos, a former chief economic adviser at the Bank of Greece, let it be known to reporters, “I was the one to sign Greek entry in the [eurozone], and I won’t be the one to sign its exit.” Read the rest of this entry »

Fact Sheet: Combating the Financing of Terrorism, Disrupting Terrorism at its Core

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Monday, September 26, 2011 at 19:40

Terrorist organizations rely on financing and support networks to sustain operations and launch attacks. The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI) has developed a sophisticated and comprehensive approach – including intelligence analysis, sanctions administration and enforcement, financial regulatory action, policy expertise, and outreach to the international community and financial sector – to aggressively identify, disrupt and deter the funding networks of terrorist organizations.  The U.S. Treasury Department is the only finance ministry in the world to develop such an office, and TFI continues to play a leading role within the United States Government and the international community in combating terrorist Read the rest of this entry »