Tag Archives: Spain

World’s Most Wanted Bank Whistleblower Was Just Arrested, for the Worst Possible Reason, by Don Quijones

Will Spain turn over a whistleblower to Switzerland in exchange for two Catalonian separatists held by the Swiss? It would be a sordid deal. From Don Quijones at wolfstreet.com:

For a prisoner exchange between Switzerland and Spain? 

Hervé Falciani, the French-Italian former HSBC employee who blew the whistle on HSBC and 130,000 global tax evaders in 2008, has been arrested in Madrid on Tuesday in response to an arrest warrant issued by Switzerland for breaking the country’s bank secrecy laws.

He lives in France, which rarely extradites its own citizens. But when Spanish authorities learned that he was in town to speak at a conference ominously titled, “When Telling the Truth is Heroic,” they made their move. If he is extradited to Switzerland he could face up to five years in prison.

Falciani worked as a computer technician for HSBC’s Swiss subsidiary. One day in 2008, he left the office with five computer disks containing what would eventually become one of the largest leaks of banking data in history.

According to Swiss authorities, Falciani stole and then attempted to sell a trove of confidential data. Falciani says he was a whistleblower who wanted to expose a “broken” banking system, “which encouraged tax evasion.”

When much of the stolen data was leaked to the press in 2015, it revealed, among other sordid things, that HSBC’s Swiss subsidiary routinely allowed clients to withdraw “bricks of cash,” often in foreign currencies of little use in Switzerland. It also colluded with clients to conceal undeclared “black” accounts from their domestic tax authorities and provided services to international criminals, corrupt businessmen, shady dictators and murky arms dealers.

As Falciani would soon find out, snitching on one of the world’s biggest banks and 130,000 of its richest clients does not make you a popular person in a country famed for its banking secrecy. In 2014 he was indicted in absentia by the Swiss federal government for violating the country’s bank secrecy laws and for industrial espionage. A year later he was sentenced by Switzerland’s federal court to five years in prison – the “longest sentence ever demanded by the confederation’s public ministry in a case of banking data theft.”

To continue reading: World’s Most Wanted Bank Whistleblower Was Just Arrested, for the Worst Possible Reason

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Playing With Fire in Catalonia, by Don Quijones

Here’s a good update on the Catalonia situation, which has for  the most part dropped out of the news. From Don Quijones at wolfstreet.com:

A relentless state, angry demonstrations, and profoundly worried businesses.

The ever-worsening political standoff between Spain and Catalonia is beginning to take a toll on credit markets, as banks refuse to renegotiate the terms of loans granted to companies with operations in the separatist region. One of the first victims is the British fund John Laing Infrastructure which, in its 2017 annual report, divulged some of the problems it faced trying to refinance a €700 million loan for work on section two of Barcelona Metro’s Line Nine.

The fund owns 53.5% of the concessionaire operating the fifteen stations on the line’s southern section. The other partners include Iridium, a subsidiary of the Spanish infrastructure giant ACS, and Queenspoint, a fund part owned by German insurance giant Allianz and the Danish pension fund ATP.

One of the main reasons why the banks involved don’t want to soften the credit conditions of the loan is that Barcelona’s metro depends on Catalonia’s regional government for funds. Building on Line 9 began in 2005 but was temporarily halted at the height of Spain’s financial crisis due to a funding shortage. Thirteen years later, the project is still far from complete and further progress is unlikely to be helped by the political chaos engulfing the region.

In the last fortnight alone Pablo Llarena, the Supreme Court’s judge in charge of the main investigation against Catalan secessionists, has indicted 25 Catalan leaders, put five who had previously been released on bail back in pretrial detention (for up to four years), and issued European Arrest Warrants against six pro-independence figures who have fled Spain. They include former regional President Carles Puigdemont who is presently occupying a jail cell in northern Germany awaiting a decision on his extradition.

To continue reading: Playing With Fire in Catalonia

Spanish Government Uses Hate Speech Law To Arrest Critic Of The Spanish Government, by Tim Cushing

Hate speech laws are being directed in Spain against those who hate the government. How else are honest people supposed to feel about their government? There is certainly nothing loveable about Spain’s government. From Tim Cushing at techdirt.com:

from the shocked-SHOCKED-to-find-such-a-predictable-use-of-a-bad-law dept

Spain’s government has gotten into the business of regulating speech with predictably awful results. An early adopter of Blues Lives Matter-esque policies, Spain went full police state, passing a law making it a crime to show “disrespect” to law enforcement officers. The predictable result? The arrest of someone for calling cops “slackers” in a Facebook post.

Spain’s government is either woefully unaware of the negative consequences of laws like this or, worse, likes the negative consequences. After all, it doesn’t hurt Spain’s government beyond a little reputational damage. It only hurts residents of Spain. When you’re already unpopular, thanks to laws like these and suppression of a Catalan independence vote, what difference does it make if you’re known better for shutting down dissent than actually protecting citizens from hateful speech?

One Catalan resident is getting the full “hate speech” rap-and-ride.

A Catalan high school teacher, Manel Riu, appeared in court on Thursday accused of hate speech for his tweets and Facebook posts criticizing Spain, government members and the Guardia Civil police. Over a hundred people escorted him to court in Tremp, west of Catalonia, where he denied any wrongdoing and asked for the case’s dismissal.

As a Catalan, Riu certainly has reason to criticize the Spanish government. During the last attempted referendum, the Spanish government sent police to seize ballots, voters’ cellphones, and ordered Google to remove a voting location app from the Play store. The evidence against Riu is composed of 119 tweets gathered by the Guardia Civil, Spain’s oldest law enforcement agency — one that blurs the line between playing soldier and playing cop far more often than its US counterparts.

To continue reading: Spanish Government Uses Hate Speech Law To Arrest Critic Of The Spanish Government

Spain’s Pension System Hits Crisis Point (and Everyone Ignores it), by Don Quijones

The global pension pile-up continues. From Don Quijones at wolfstreet.com:

But how did things get this bad?

By most measures, sun-blessed Spain is an idyllic place to grow old in. Life expectancy is among the highest in the world, and the national pension fund’s payout ratio (pension as percent of final salary) is the second highest in Europe after Greece. But if current trends are any indication, that may soon be about to change.

The country’s Social Security Reserve Fund, which was meant to serve as a nationwide nest egg to guarantee future pension payouts — given Spain’s burgeoning ranks of pensioners — has been bled virtually dry by the government. This started ever so quietly in 2012 when the government began withdrawing cash from the fund. Some of it was used to fill part of the government’s own fiscal gaps while billions more were tapped to cover the Social Security system’s growing deficits. As a result the pension pot has shrunk from over €66 billion in 2011 to just €15 billion in 2016.

To avoid wiping out the fund altogether this year, the Spanish government extended a €10.1 billion interest-free loan to Spain’s social security system, which enabled it to pay out the two extra pension payments due in June and December. That way, only €7-7.5 billion will be tapped from Spain’s public pension nest egg. Emptying the pot altogether this year would have been politically unpalatable, says El País. Instead, it will be emptied next year as the social security system racks up yet another massive annual shortfall.

Last year it registered its biggest deficit in its history (€18.1 billion), which was covered by the pension pot. In 2017, the deficit is forecast to be €16.6 billion, according to the government’s own projections. That’s roughly 1.5% of Spanish GDP. Another €18-20 billion will be needed next year. Successive deficits are expected until at least 2020, when there will still be an annual deficit of around 0.5% of GDP — and that’s according to the government’s own rosy figures!

To continue reading: Spain’s Pension System Hits Crisis Point (and Everyone Ignores it)

The Price of Chaos Rises in Spain, by Don Quijones

The economic costs are rising in Catalonia and Spain as neither side wil budge. From Don Quijones at wolfstreet.com:

The longer the toxic process between Catalonia and Spain drags on, the wider the gulf grows.

During a visit yesterday to Barcelona, the organizers of the Mobile World Congress, the world’s biggest mobile event, warned the City Council that unless the political situation stabilizes in Catalonia, they will be looking for an alternative venue after 2018. Barcelona has hosted the annual event every year since 2006 and it brings in billions of euros to the city each year, much of which ends up in the pockets of local taxi drivers, hoteliers, owners of bars, restaurants and brothels, Airbnb hosts and, last but not least, the thousands of professional pickpockets that flock to the city for the four day event.

John Hoffman, the chief executive of GSMA, the association that organizes the Mobile World Congress (MWC), could not have chosen a worst day to visit Barcelona. As part of a general strike to protest the incarceration of pro-independence ministers and leaders and the imposition of direct rule from Madrid, thousands of picketers had blocked dozens of roads across the region including the main freeway connecting Spain with France, causing massive traffic jams.

High-speed train links between Barcelona and France and Barcelona and Madrid were also put out of action after hundreds of protesters moved onto platforms and railway lines in Barcelona and Girona chanting ‘Freedom, Freedom.”

At midday thousands of protesters occupied Barcelona’s Sant Jaume square in front of the city’s town hall, a traditional assembly point for Catalonia’s separatist movement. The chant “Squatters, get out” rang out in allusion to the take-over by central government authorities of Catalonia’s regional government.

Madrid is unlikely to be budged, at least not until regional elections are held on December 21, which it hopes will deliver an anti-independence majority. It’s a tall order, especially given the lack of public support for the Rajoy government in Catalonia. In a recent poll by Pew Research, 91% of the Catalans surveyed said they do not trust the government in Madrid.

If the gamble doesn’t pay off and in December pro-independence parties are handed another majority, direct rule will be reinstated, Spanish government representatives have warned. In other words, the beatings will continue until morale improves. And if morale doesn’t improve, well, the beatings will continue.

To continue reading: The Price of Chaos Rises in Spain

Why the Catalan independence movement is failing, by GEFIRA

It’s going to take more than flag waving, demonstrations, and social media feeds for Catalonians to win their independence. From Global Analysis from the European Perspective at GEFIRA.org:

The Catalan fight for independence is not how conflicts are fought throughout history, let alone how they are won. Some movements for national independence have succeeded in history, others have not. Presently, it seems that the Catalan bid is destined to fail. Maybe in the future Catalans will change their strategy and achieve their goal, but at the moment of writing the Catalan independence movement can be described as a storm in a teacup.

We therefore looked at what worked in the past and is missing right now, or what clearly is not working.

  1. A bad plan to begin with.

    Catalan independence is about claiming sovereignty from Madrid, just to immediately relinquish it to Brussels. If this had been decades ago, before the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. Now, especially after the Brexit vote, the EU leadership has decided to push forward with the European Federalist project, starting possibly with a Eurozone financial minister as proposed by French President Macron.The latter’s plan also includes a Eurozone budget and that’s where the Catalan plan makes even less sense: part of the resentment towards Madrid is because Catalans do not like regional fiscal transfers towards the rest of Spain. Would they like it if fiscal transfers were towards other European regions via Macron’s proposed Eurozone budget? Many Catalans also resent the “austerity” imposed by Madrid. Yet it’s not Madrid imposing it, it’s Brussels. Yet Catalans want to dump Madrid because of austerity and then join Brussels?

    Why leave a political system because of its unnerving centralism just to join one that is shifting towards centralization, even further from the will of the people?

    The EU also does not like referenda.Mainly because it tends to be on the losing side. It lost the ones on the “European Constitution” in 2004 in the Netherlands and France. The Constitution was then pragmatically swapped into “Lisbon’s Treaty” with a number of formal changes, but even that one was rejected in a referendum by the Irish. This time, the EU leadership forced a remake, finally succeeding.

     

To continue reading: Why the Catalan independence movement is failing

Preparing For EU Collapse, by Raúl Ilargi Meijer

The EU is once again demonstrating its incompetence, in the Catalonia-Spain stand off. From Raúl Ilargi Meijer at theautomaticearth.com:

If there is one thing the Spain vs Catalonia conflict reminds us of, it has got to be Turkey. And that is a much bigger problem for the EU than it realizes. First of all, Brussels can no longer insist that this is an internal, domestic, Spanish issue, since Catalan president Puidgemont is in…Brussels. So are 4 members of his government.

That moves decisions to be made about his situation from the Spanish legal system to its Belgian counterpart. And the two are not identical twins. Even if both countries are EU members. This may expose a very large European problem: the lack of equality among justice systems. Citizens of EU member countries are free to move and work across the Union, but they are subject to different laws and constitutions.

The way the Spanish government tries to go after Puidgemont is exactly the same as the way Turkish president Erdogan tries to get to his perceived archenemy, Fethullah Gülen, a longtime resident of Pennsylvania. But the US doesn’t want to extradite Gülen, not even now Turkey arrests US embassy personnel. The Americans have had enough of Erdogan.

Erdogan accuses Gülen of organizing a coup. Spanish PM Rajoy accuses the Catalan government of the same. But they are not the same kind of coup. The Turkish one saw violence and death. The Spanish one did not, at least not from the side of those who allegedly perpetrated the coup.

Brussels should have intervened in the Catalonia mess a long time ago, called a meeting, instead of claiming this had nothing to do with the EU, a claim as cowardly as it is cheap. You’re either a union or you’re not. And if you are, the well-being of all your citizens is your responsibility. You don’t get to cherry pick. You got to walk your talk.

Belgian news paper De Standaard today makes an interesting distinction. It says the Belgian judicial system is not asked to “extradite” Puidgemont to Spain (uitlevering), but to “surrender” him (overlevering). Legal gibberish.

To continue reading: Preparing For EU Collapse