The latest news from our regional teams about financial crime, corruption, sanctions and integrity issues worldwide.
New cybersecurity laws in Singapore
On 5 February, the Singaporean parliament passed the Cybersecurity Act in response to warnings of a growing number of attacks on critical information infrastructure (CII) in the country, such as systems used by power plants, and hospitals. A commission has been established and tasked with designating which organisations are CII owners. Organisations in the energy, telecommunications, water, health, banking, transport and media sectors are among those that could be impacted. CII owners will be required to report cybersecurity incidents to the commissioner of cybersecurity, undertake periodic cybersecurity audits and risk assessments, and could be subject to investigation by Singapore authorities regarding cyber threats or incidents. A new licensing framework for providers of cybersecurity services will also be established under the new laws. The laws will not have extra-territorial effect and will only apply to systems located in Singapore.
Landmark right to be forgotten case in UK
A businessman who was denied a request for his criminal conviction to be removed from Google’s search results has taken the tech company to the High Court in London in a landmark ‘right to be forgotten’ case. The anonymous claimant had contacted Google to have certain search results, which referenced a 1990s business malpractice conviction against him, removed. He maintained that such information was no longer relevant. Google rejected the request on the grounds that the businessman’s conviction had been serious, and had led to regulatory interventions and condemnation in parliament. Google’s representative, Anthony White QC, argued that the material in question was accurate, and that there was a strong public interest for maintaining access to it. The case is the first of its kind in the UK. A second case, filed against Google by another businessman, will be heard later in March.
Battle of the billionaires in Italy
On 27 February, a Milanese court postponed the hearing of a multi-billion euro lawsuit launched by Silvio Berlusconi’s media company, Mediaset, against Vivendi, the Paris-headquartered media conglomerate headed by Vincent Bolloré. A new hearing has been scheduled for October. Mediaset is seeking up to EUR 3 billion in damages, after Vivendi pulled out of a deal in 2016 which would have seen the companies swap 3.5 percent of their shares and would have allowed Vivendi to acquire Mediaset’s pay TV business. Vivendi has increased its stake in Mediaset since the deal collapsed, worrying Italian regulators and infuriating Berlusconi. The leader of Forza Italia, a centre-right political party, Berlusconi has waged a media campaign against Bolloré, blaming him for an 18 percent fall in Mediaset’s share price and accusing him of a hostile takeover.
Illicit electoral campaign funding by Odebrecht
On 27 February 2018, a former contractor from Odebrecht, Latin America’s largest construction company, testified to the Brazilian Public Prosecutor’s office that the company had made cash transfers to the 2011 electoral campaigns of Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, as well as to three former presidents and the current opposition leader, Keiko Fujimori. Kuczynski narrowly escaped impeachment in December over accusations that he lied about earlier consulting work for Odebrecht.
Middle East & North Africa
New US sanctions on Libya’s oil smugglers
On 26 February, the US issued a new round of sanctions aimed at blocking the exploitation of natural resources, which it says has been driving instability in Libya. The US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has designated six individuals, 24 companies and seven ships in Libya allegedly involved in oil smuggling. The US Treasury claimed that the six individuals were part of a Malta-based network which earned more than USD 36 million over 2016 illicitly transporting oil from the port of Zuwara to Europe through Libyan oil trader Fahmi bin Khalifa.
Saudi corruption crackdown winds down
The Saudi corruption purge, launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) in November 2017, is drawing to a close. On 27 January, Prince Al Waleed bin Talal Al Saud, a Saudi billionaire considered the most prominent of those detained, was released from custody. On 11 February 2018, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh, which has served as a gilded prison for detainees since November 2017, formally reopened. The Saudi government purports to have recovered more than USD 100 billion during MBS’s anti-corruption dragnet, principally through securing considerable financial settlements from those detained in return for their release. However, up to 56 Saudis reportedly remain in custody; among them, according to some mainstream media coverage, is Bakr Binladin, chairperson of the Saudi Binladin Group and patriarch of the Saudi Binladin family.
Former Kazakh Economy Minister on trial
State prosecutors have asked a court in Astana to sentence Kuandyk Bishimbayev, Kazakhstan’s former economy minister, to 12 years in prison on bribery and embezzlement charges. Bishimbayev is suspected of having accepted bribes in his previous job as the head of Baiterek, a state-owned holding conglomerate that controls key sectors of Kazakhstan’s industry and is responsible for state contract tenders. Bishimbayev’s arrest and trial are widely viewed as significant due to his relative youth, as well as his status as a product of the Bolashak School, an elite educational programme that was intended to groom Kazakhstan’s next generation of leaders and civil servants. Bishimbayev has maintained his innocence, despite several of his co-defendants submitting guilty pleas.
Latvian Central Bank head released on bail after corruption arrest
Ilmars Rimsevics, the governor of the Latvian Central Bank, has been released on bail after being detained on suspicion of bribery. Latvia’s anticorruption agency had accused Rimsevics of accepting payments totalling more than EUR 100,000, after Norvik, one of the country’s largest banks, accused him of attempting to solicit bribes over a number of years. Rimsevics later resumed work at the Central Bank in his capacity as a member of the European Central Bank’s governing council, despite calls from senior Latvian politicians for him to step down due to the ongoing probe. The allegations against Rimsevics come amid a wider clean-up of the Latvian banking sector which has seen the winding-up of ABLV, its third largest bank, after it was accused by US authorities of large-scale money laundering.
Ramaphosa places anti-corruption at the centre of his presidency
With the appointment of Cyril Ramaphosa as South Africa’s president in early February, the crackdown on Jacob Zuma-era corruption has begun. Placing anti-corruption squarely at the centre of plans, Ramaphosa has been working closely with state prosecuting bodies previously fettered by political interference during Zuma’s presidency. Already, several high-profile arrest warrants have been issued by the state’s National Prosecuting Authority, including for members of the controversial Gupta family. It remains unclear whether Ramaphosa’s anti-corruption drive will extend to the upper echelons of government, where some ANC officials allegedly implicated in past corruption remain.
Lawsuit filed against French government following conviction of Obiang
In February, the government of Equatorial Guinea filed a lawsuit against the French government in the International Court of Justice following the French authorities’ October 2017 conviction of Teodorin Obiang, son of Equatoguinean president Teodoro Obiang, for embezzlement, money laundering, and corruption. In January 2016, Teodorin was put on trial in absentia in France, on charges of corruption relating to his alleged theft of public funds in Equatorial Guinea to purchase personal assets in France. The government of Equatorial Guinea claims French authorities are in violation of diplomatic immunity laws, but France has stated the case falls outside the jurisdiction of the ICJ. The proceedings are ongoing.