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Dirty Money, Criminal Cash: Bank Leaks Reveal Vast Scale of Global Fraud

Leaked documents allege that some of the world’s biggest banks have allowed $2 trillion  worth of suspicious or fraudulent activity to take place – including money laundering for criminal gangs and terrorists. The so-called “FinCEN files” consist of more than two thousand Suspicious Activity Reports or SARs sent by banks to the U.S. Treasury, alerting the authorities to possible criminal activity, from 1999 and 2017. The files were leaked to Buzzfeed and shared with a network of journalists. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

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75th UNGA Move Online Creating Cybersecurity Challenges

The 75th U.N. General Assembly is breaking new ground by going virtual this year due to the coronavirus. Along with that comes a whole new set of challenges and security risks. Aaron Fedor reports for VOA from New York City.

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Italy’s Coalition Government Fends off Salvini

Italy’s fragile coalition government breathed a collective sigh of relief Tuesday after voters denied the country’s populist leader Matteo Salvini the major electoral breakthrough he was seeking in hotly contested regional elections.  The center-left Democratic Party, PD, managed a comfortable victory in Tuscany, a region the left has ruled without interruption since regional governments were first elected in 1970, frustrating Salvini in taking the biggest prize in the elections for the governments of seven regions and a thousand towns and cities the length and breadth of Italy.Tuscany is the buckle of the left’s so-called “red belt” and was targeted by Salvini’s populist Lega party. Salvini himself campaigned tirelessly in Tuscany in the run-up to the polls, predicting his party could win the wealthy region behind his handpicked candidate for the governorship, the telegenic 33-year-old Susanna Ceccardi, a former mayor.With the regional counts still to be finalized Tuesday, the Democrats looked sure to hold three regions it ruled before. Along with Tuscany, incumbent PD governors were on course to win re-election in the southern regions of Campania and Apulia.  The leaders of the key government parties of Prime Minister’s Giuseppe Conte’s coalition government, which is made up of the Democratic Party and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, M5S, along with some other smaller groups, were quick to celebrate Tuesday.Democratic Party leader Nicola Zingaretti talks to the media during a press conference, in Rome, Sept. 21, 2020.PD leader Nicola Zingaretti said, “We are very satisfied.” He said the result would facilitate further reforms and cooperation within the government.And Luigi Di Maio, Italy’s foreign minister and a prominent member of M5S, said at a press conference: “Those that tried to transform this referendum into a vote against the government received a boomerang.” Eugenio Giani, the PD’s gubernatorial candidates in Tuscany, hailed his win an “extraordinary victory.”But for all of the center-left’s jubilation, the PD lost a fourth region, Marche, where the far-right Brothers of Italy, part of a Lega-led center-right alliance, won the vote. And the contest in Apulia in the heel of Italy was close. The Lega-led center-right alliance held easily the three regions it was defending, including Veneto in the northeast, where incumbent Luca Zaia secured election as governor for the third time with an emphatically large majority. The size of his victory — he won 75% of the vote, largely due commentators say to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic — has prompted speculation that he might seek to challenge Salvini in the future for the leadership of the Lega. Zaia denies he has any plans to do so.Jacopo Morrone, a Lega lawmaker, claimed the results overall are a victory for the populists, saying it was always going to be difficult to win Tuscany or Apulia “but to put them [the PD] in difficulty is a good result.”The fact, though, that the Lega-led center-right opposition failed to land a knockout blow in the regional elections by winning the prize of Tuscany is being widely seen by analysts as strengthening Prime Minister Conte’s shaky coalition government — at least in the short term.Longer term, this week’s regional elections have confirmed that the Lega has managed to maintain a shift in the regional power balance further to the right nationally. Fourteen of the country’s 20  regions now are ruled by the Lega or its allies. A 15th could be added to the Lega tally. The votes of elections this week in the French-speaking Val d’Aosta, a tiny region in the north-east, remain to be counted, but exit polls suggest Lega-allies are likely to win there.Pollster Lorenzo Pregliasco told reporters that this week’s regional elections should be considered a tie. “The PD had done a lot of expectation management, so that [the results] seem almost a victory, even if it is more of a draw,” he said. Other analysts say Salvini made a PR mistake with his pre-election forecasts that Lega would manage a victory in Tuscany.

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EU Summit Postponed After Council President Quarantined

A spokesman for European Council President Charles Michel says a summit of European Union leaders scheduled for Thursday and Friday has been postponed, after Michel was forced to go into COVID-19 quarantine following contact with an infected security guard.  EU council spokesman Barend Leyts tweeted that Michel learned on Tuesday that a security officer, with whom he was in close contact early last week, tested positive for COVID-19. The @eucopresident has decided to postpone the special European Council meeting that was planned for 24 and 25 September to 1 and 2 October #EUCO— Barend Leyts (@BarendLeyts) September 22, 2020Leyts said the EU council president is tested regularly, and as recently as Monday tested negative for COVID-19. But Michel plans to follow Belgium’s COVID-19 regulations and is going into isolation. The EU is headquartered in Brussels. The summit, now scheduled for Oct. 1-2, will focus on a variety of issues ranging from Brexit negotiations, to climate change, to the tensions between Greece and Turkey over energy rights on the eastern Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus. Final approval for sanctions against Belarus regarding the crackdown following the country’s contested election last month is also set to be a focus. Michel, a former Belgian prime minister, spent much of the past week in shuttle diplomacy over the Turkey issue, including trips to Cyprus, the Greek island of Lesbos and Athens. 
 

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 Turkey Embarks on Naval Buildup, Stoking Tensions

Turkey is in the midst of a major naval construction program, seeking to restore regional maritime influence lost since the collapse of the Ottoman empire, and the project is already generating regional tensions.”Turkey will get back its fair share in the Mediterranean, Aegean and the Black Sea,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared last month. “If we say we will do something, we will do it, and we will pay the price.”Turkey’s imperial legacy looms large in the fabric of Turkish society. An imposing statue of the 16th century Ottoman Admiral, Hayreddin – or Barbarossa – dominates a square adjacent to Istanbul’s Bosphorus waterway.A statue of the 16th century Ottoman Admiral, Hayreddin – or Barbarossa – dominates a square adjacent to Istanbul’s Bosphorus waterway. (Dorian Jones/VOA)Many European historians portray Barbarossa as a pirate and slave trader. However, in modern Turkey, he is still revered for his naval victories that asserted Ottoman control of the Mediterranean Sea.Since 1923, when the Turkish Republic was founded on the Ottoman Empire’s ashes, Turkey’s military power was primarily land-based, with its naval forces limited to coastal patrols.Under the mantra of “Blue Homeland,” Erdogan is vowing to restore Turkey’s naval prowess and he seeks to extend its power beyond the horizon.Government videos depict images of past Ottoman Empire glories, promising to extend Turkish influence across the Mediterranean and beyond. (Courtesy: Presidency of the Republic of Turkey Communication Directorate)”Turkey is becoming a maritime state, like England, like France, like the United States,” said Retired Admiral Cem Gurdeniz, author of the “Blue Homeland” doctrine.”In order to protect Turkey’s rights and interests, in overseas areas like in [the], Persian Gulf, like in [the] Red Sea, the Arabian sea and whatever need arise, the Turkish navy, Turkey’s maritime signature should be there,” Gurdeniz told VOA.Turkey’s efforts to restore its navy to blue water power include plans for an assault aircraft carrier.GreeceThe country has given a glimpse of its longer-term goals already by challenging Greece, its neighbor, with claims on waters that Greece considers its own and that are believed to have vast energy reserves.Athens, citing international law, claims much of the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean between the two countries, confining Turkey to its coastal waters.Retired admiral Cem Gurdeniz is the architect of the “Blue Homeland” doctrine, which calls for Turkey to reassert itself as a maritime power. (Dorian Jones/VOA)”The main implication [of the Blue Homeland doctrine], first of all Greece should understand they’re not the owners of the Eastern Mediterranean or the Aegean Sea,” said Gurdeniz.”Yes, they might think in their fantasy world that all the seas surrounding them are belonging to Greece, but that dream is over.”An arms race could be looming.”The time has come to strengthen the armed forces as a legacy for the security of the country,” said Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in announcing  Athens’ own naval construction program this month.Also this month, French President Emmanuel Macron met with six Mediterranean leaders to counter Ankara’s assertiveness.”We must be tough with the Turkish government,” said Macron ahead of the summit.Erdogan pushed back, warning Macron “not to mess” with Turkey.Faceoff with EuropeOn Thursday, European Union leaders are due to discuss sanctions against Turkey to support Greece, an EU member.”We are at a watershed moment in Turkish-EU relations,” warned EU foreign affairs chief Jospeh Borrell last week.Under the threat of sanctions, Turkey stepped back, withdrawing a research ship that had been operating in waters claimed by Greece.FILE – Turkey’s exploratory vessel, the Oruc Reis, is seen anchored in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Antalya, Turkey, July 24, 2020.”Let’s give diplomacy a chance, let’s put forth a positive approach for diplomacy,” Erdogan said Friday. “Greece should also positively meet this approach of ours, and let’s take a step accordingly,” he said.Greek and Turkish officials are already holding technical talks under NATO’s auspices to introduce measures to avoid an accidental confrontation. The two NATO members are regularly holding live-fire naval exercises in close proximity.But tensions over Turkey’s naval aspirations are not limited to Greece.In July, France accused a Turkish frigate of threatening one of its naval ships seeking to enforce an arms embargo on Libya. The two countries back rival sides in the Libyan civil war.NATO is refusing to publish a report on the incident, citing the “sensitivity” of the issue.”It would be a disaster if two NATO countries started shooting at one another it would be the end of the alliance,” said Turkish presidential advisor Mesut Casin, who is also a professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Yeditepe University.The true purpose?But domestic political considerations rather than broader strategic goals may be the real driving force behind Turkey’s naval expansion.Recent opinion polls reveal Erdogan’s popularity on the wane, with the already weak Turkish economy hit hard hit by the COVID-19 epidemic. Analysts say restoring past maritime power could the door to untapped electoral support.Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks in a televised address in Ankara, Sept. 21, 2020.”Domestically owning or embracing this very nationalistic idea, very sovereignty- orientated idea you know, has improved or has expanded his support base,” said International Relations Professor Serhat Guvenc of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.”He is getting support from circles which would normally would not want to do anything with Tayyip Erdogan,” Guvenc told VOA.Government videos depict images of past Ottoman Empire glories, and promises to extend Turkish influence across the Mediterranean and beyond.With the price tag of the ambitious naval program running into the billions of dollars, economic realities could yet stymie Erdogan’s aspirations. 

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United Nations General Assembly Opens Historic Session Tuesday

For the first time in its 75-year history, leaders of the United Nations’ 193 member states will deliver their annual speeches on the opening day of the world body’s General Assembly on videotape instead of in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Tuesday’s session will commence with a pre-taped message from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, in keeping with a decades-long tradition first established in the 1940s,   followed by U.S. President Donald Trump, as leader of the U.N. host country.  Other prominent world leaders whose pre-recorded messages will be shown Tuesday will be Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, China’s Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin of Russia and France’s Emmanuel Macron.   The only attendees in the cavernous General Assembly Hall to watch the videotaped speeches will be a single masked envoy representing each member nation, plus the European Union, the Holy See and the non-member Observer State of Palestine, in order to maintain social distancing.  Hand sanitizer stations have been placed in the side aisles of the Hall and delegates will be obliged to wear face coverings, but not to undergo temperature checks.   The U.N. marked its 75th anniversary Monday amid the grip of the global coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 960,000 people and sickened more than 31.2 million globally, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center.      “The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the world’s fragilities. We can only address them together,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, referencing the disease caused by the coronavirus. “Today, we have a surplus of multilateral challenges and a deficit of multilateral solutions.”WATCH: UN 75th AnniversarySorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
A member of the Irish delegation works on his computer in the main lobby of the United Nations headquarters, Sept. 21, 2020. In 2020, which marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations.But the Trump administration has been critical of the world body, withdrawing funding and cooperation from several of its agencies, including the World Health Organization and the Human Rights Council.  Chalet said the organization has for too long been resistant to real reform and lacks transparency.    “The 75th anniversary of the U.N. is the right time to ask questions about the institution’s strengths and weaknesses, review and learn from its failures, and celebrate its accomplishments,” she said.   The United Nations is using its anniversary year as a moment for reflection. More than one million people in 80 countries have provided feedback to a global survey about the organization and its work.   Nearly 90% said global cooperation is crucial to deal with today’s challenges, and that the pandemic has made international cooperation more urgent. Nearly three-quarters said the U.N. is “essential” for tackling global challenges, but they also want the organization to change and innovate.   The General Assembly adopted a declaration for the anniversary, which in part, says, “There is no other global organization with the legitimacy, convening power and normative impact of the United Nations. No other global organization gives hope to so many people.” 

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UN Marks 75th Anniversary in Atmosphere of New Challenges 

The United Nations marked the 75th anniversary of its founding on Monday, amid a global pandemic and other serious challenges that the U.N. secretary-general said highlight the urgency for stronger international cooperation. VOA U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer has more.Produced by: Jesusemen Oni   

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US Challenges Injunction Against WeChat App Store Bans

The U.S. Commerce Department said Monday it is challenging a federal judge’s injunction against its order that Apple and Google remove WeChat from their U.S. app stores due to data privacy and national security concerns.The department’s original order, issued Friday, also included another Chinese-owned app, TikTok, and expressed the Trump administration’s concerns about the way the apps collect user data and the potential for that information to be shared with Chinese government agencies.China has rejected the U.S. allegations of a security threat, and on Saturday condemned what it called “bullying” that violated international trade standards.U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler responded Sunday to a request for an injunction from WeChat users by putting the Commerce Department’s order on hold, ruling that the Trump administration’s actions would restrict users’ free speech rights under the First Amendment.WeChat has about 19 million active daily users in the United States. The service, owned by Chinese tech company Tencent, is popular with Americans who use it to communicate with family and friends in China.Video-sharing service TikTok earned a short reprieve from its part of the Commerce Department order after announcing an agreement to form a new company with U.S. tech giant Oracle and retailer WalMart together holding up to a 20% share.The U.S. head office of TikTok is seen in Culver City, California, Sept. 15, 2020.Speaking to Fox News on Monday, Trump said his administration would not approve the agreement if ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese owner, has any control.“If we find that they don’t have total control, then we’re not going to approve the deal,” Trump said of Oracle and WalMart.  “We will be watching it very closely.”Those comments are in contrast to those Trump gave Saturday when he said he approved of the agreement “in concept” and had “given the deal my blessing.” The Commerce Department has delayed the app store ban for TikTok until September 27, and given the company until November 12 to resolve national security concerns before facing a wider range of restrictions. 

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What Fight Over TikTok Portends for Tech

The battle between China and the U.S. over the fate of video sharing app TikTok raises questions for the tech industry worldwide. What might the struggle over TikTok portend for global companies? Michelle Quinn reports.Producer: Matt Dibble 

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British Health Minister Lays Out COVID-19 Response as Cases Surge

Britain’s health minister went before parliament Monday to discuss the government’s response to a surge in positive COVID-19 cases in the nation.Matt Hancock acknowledged what the government’s top medical and science advisers had said earlier in the day – that COVID-19 has been surging across age groups throughout much of Britain.Among the steps the government plans to take, Hancock said, is encouraging self-isolation by those who have been infected or exposed to the virus. The government will also offer a single support payment of about $640 for low-income people for whom self-isolation would be an economic hardship.A woman wears a face mask as she stands in front of a statue of The Beatles following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease in Liverpool, Britain, Sept. 21, 2020.Hancock said those asked to self-isolate who refuse to do so could face fines of nearly $13,000 for serious breaches or repeat offenders.The health minister told British lawmakers that demand for testing has dropped slightly since last week, taking a little pressure off the system. Nonetheless, the demand for tests remains high enough that the government must prioritize who receives them.Hancock said acute care cases are the top priority for testing, followed by people in care homes, National Health Service targeted testing for outbreak management and surveillance studies, teaching staff with symptoms, and the general public.He said the government continues working on further measures to address the COVID-19 surge, and the prime minister will update parliament Tuesday on further measures.Earlier Monday, the government’s chief medical adviser reported the latest figures show new cases in Britain totaled more than 6,000 per day. Chris Witty said if nothing changes, at the current rate of infection, new cases could reach 50,000 a day by this time next month. 

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