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US moves to ban imports tied to forced Uighur labor in China’s Xinjiang region

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U.S. lawmakers stepped up their efforts to stop China’s human rights violations against Uighurs after reports emerged documenting forced labor, an increasing number of detention camps and the destruction of mosques as Beijing continues its repressive policy against the ethnic minority.

On Sept. 22, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to ban imports from Xinjiang in an effort to stop forced labor from workers belonging to the Muslim minority. In a 406-3 vote, the House overwhelmingly passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which would prohibit “certain imports from Xinjiang.”

The proposed bill follows the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which was signed into law in June, authorizing sanctions against Chinese officials who are responsible for human rights violations against Uighurs.

“Tragically, the products of the forced labor often end up here in American stores and homes,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “We must shine a light on the inhumane practice of forced labor, hold the perpetrators accountable and stop this exploitation. And we must send a clear message to Beijing: these abuses must end now.”

We haven’t heard about human hair since the Nazis in the concentration camps of … World War II. It’s brazen and sickening.”

— U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul

China’s Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters that the forced labor “problem” is a “lie” and that the bill “maliciously slandered the human rights situation in Xinjiang,” according to the Associated Press.

An investigation last year by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and 17 media partners exposed China’s operations manual for running the mass detention camps in Xinjiang and the region’s mass surveillance operation.

Leaked classified documents at the heart of the China Cables investigation showed how the Chinese government instructed officials to send detainees from camps to job sites under constant police watch.

The United Nations estimated that more than 1 million people were detained in detention camps in the region.

China dismissed ICIJ’s findings as “fake news” and has defended the detention camps, calling them vocational training centers. In a recent report, the government said it has provided training to nearly 1.3 million workers, confirming, according to some researchers, the number of detainees estimated to be held in the camps.

“We must refuse to be complicit”

Journalists and international organizations have been documenting forced labor in Xinjiang since at least 2014, when a U.S. Labor Department report on products produced by forced or indentured child labor said that between 40,000 and 1 million students are forced to pick cotton in Xinjiang and Gansu, both in northwest China.

Since then, the situation has become worse on the ground according to a June 2020 report on human trafficking by the U.S. State Department that found a government policy or pattern of widespread forced labor.

Early this year, a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute estimated that more than 80,000 Uighurs from Xinjiang were transferred to work in 27 factories throughout China between 2017 and 2019.

The report said that they would end up working in factories that manufacture products for multinational companies such as Nike and that some facilities were “equipped with watchtowers, barbed-wire fences and police guard boxes.” ASPI also found that Uighur workers would end up in Chinese factories that make components for Apple.

Nike said it would review its suppliers’ hiring practices, according to the Seattle Times. Apple told BBC they didn’t find evidence of forced labor but would continue monitoring.

In July, the U.S. customs agency seized a 13 ton shipment of human hair which, it said, indicated “potential human right abuses of forced child labor and imprisonment.” The finding led to a restriction on imports of cotton, computer parts and apparel products from Xinjiang in September.

“We haven’t heard about human hair since the Nazis in the concentration camps of the war that my father fought in, World War II. It’s brazen and sickening,” U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul said last week when the bill was passed. “We must refuse to be complicit, financially or otherwise.”

In light of these reports, major auditing firms such as TÜV SÜD AG and others recently stopped supply chains for apparel companies in Xinjiang to avoid any possible links with brands that may source their products in the region, the Wall Street Journal reported. TÜV SÜD didn’t respond to ICIJ’s request for comment.

A more recent report by ASPI also revealed that China has built about 400 detention camps in Xinjiang since 2017 and that thousands of mosques in Xinjiang have been damaged or destroyed in just three years.

In July, China officials told reporters that most of the detainees had “successfully achieved employment” and “returned to society”, according to Reuters.

However, ASPI researchers have created a database that maps detention sites across the region and found that there are 14 new camps under construction.

“The evidence in this database shows that despite Chinese officials’ claims about detainees graduating from the camps, significant investment in the construction of new detention facilities has continued throughout 2019 and 2020,” ASPI’s Nathan Ruser told the Guardian.

Satellite images also indicated that 16,000 mosques have been destroyed or damaged over the last three years as a result of government policies. More than 50% of protected cultural and religious sites were demolished or damaged, according to ASPI.

The researchers also accused organizations such as UNESCO of “turning a blind eye” and of remaining “silent in the face of mounting evidence of cultural destruction in Xinjiang.”

UNESCO didn’t immediately respond to ICIJ’s request for comment.

The use of Xinjiang as a film set has also caused a backlash against Disney, which shot parts of the film Mulan in the region and, in the closing credits, thanked a number of Chinese government agencies, including one that was blacklisted by the U.S. last year for “human rights violations” in the region.

In a letter to Disney CEO Bob Chapek, a bipartisan group of American lawmakers condemned the company’s partnership. “The decision to film parts of Mulan in [Xinjiang], in cooperation with local security and propaganda elements, offers tacit legitimacy to these perpetrators of crimes that may warrant the designation of genocide,” the letter said.

Reports released last week also documented China’s alleged human rights violations against other minorities, in Tibet and on Hainan Island.

In Tibet, about 500,000 workers were trained and moved within the region in the first half of 2020 as herders and farmers were subjected to “centralized ‘military-style’ vocational training,” a study by the Jamestown Foundation said. The Utsuls, a Muslim minority of 10,000 people on Hainan island off China’s Southeastern coast, were also reported by the South China Morning Post to be the target of Beijing’s repressive policies, including surveillance and a ban on traditional dresses and hijab, similar to those already enforced in Xinjiang.

 

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Election Integrity

Analyzing the Case for Election Fraud

Despite the overwhelming pressure, if you can’t help but feel that tingling sense of knowing that is telling you there’s more to the story, you are not alone. In fact, according to a new Rassmussen poll, nearly 50% of voters believe the election had issues. A quick look at the data blatantly shows that indeed, shenanigans abound (how can a state have 1+ million more mail-in ballots tallied than they sent out?). But was it fraud or masterful gamesmanship?

Adryenn Ashley

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The world, or at least the global media, has spoken: Biden won the 2020 Election.

UPDATED FREQUENTLY WITH NEW INFORMATION – Last update 12/21/2020

A quick Google search reveals pages upon pages of reports of why the Trump team’s assertions of vote fraud and election fraud and vote flipping are flat out fallacies. YouTube has announced a ban on any videos questioning the election results. And now on Monday all 538 electors have voted, formalizing Biden’s 306-232 win. And while there is still Congress to get through, and the inauguration, based on social media and television news and practically every other point of information bombarding society today, Biden is now the President-elect.

But why now, after Government officials confirmed during Senate testimony that a foreign adversary, Russia, attempted to interfere in the 2016 United States Presidential Election via “a multi-faceted approach intended to undermine confidence in our democratic process.” According to U.S. intelligence official reports, Russia targeted voter registration databases in at least 21 states and sought to infiltrate the networks of voting equipment vendors, political parties, and at least one local election board. And if their purpose was not so much to “hack” the election but create chaos and sow seeds of uncertainty around our election process, I would say they have won. But what if this cycle, it was Russia who somehow manipulated extra ballots and placed the blame on the Democrats? What if…?

Russian Experience With Voter Fraud

The 2004 presidential election in Ukraine saw suspiciously high turnout rates that “even Stalinist North Korea would envy,” the State Department declared!

Back then, the U.S. government decried as corrupt an earlier election where special voting boxes were created to help citizens vote from home, election observers were expelled from vote counts, pre-election polls were wildly off, and voter turnout in certain communities exceeded 90%.

But the story of that Ukrainian election as recounted by then-Ambassador John Tefft to a Senate committee in December 2004 raises a tantalizing question for voters distrustful of the Nov. 3 elections results in our own 2020 Presidential Election: If tactics and outcomes in the Ukrainian election back then were enough to cry foul, why can’t Americans debate similar concerns here?

Tefft’s testimony raises an important question: Should America, the greatest democracy in the world, share any of the fraudulent attributes of a Ukrainian election? The answer for most Americans is hopefully resounding “No.”

And despite continued and repeated headlines that there was no fraud, according to the Harvard Kenney School report on Election Integrity this cycle, expert assessments indicate that compared with 2016, the performance of this contest displays several warning flags, namely worsening confidence in the integrity of American elections and falling public trust, challenges to legitimacy arising from threats of campaign violence,legal disputes about the process and results, and public protests about the outcome, as well as growing attempts at voter suppression. 

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Investigations

Advocates celebrate major US anti-money laundering victory

Landmark laws to thwart the use of U.S. shell companies by terrorists, human traffickers, arms dealers and kleptocrats are set to be enacted after more than a decade of lobbying and politicking with rare bipartisan support.

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Advocates celebrate major US anti-money laundering victory

The sweeping anti-money laundering reforms hitched a lift in the annual defense spending bill that passed the Senate 84-13 today, and was approved by the House 355-78 earlier this week.

The Corporate Transparency Act requires U.S. companies to report their true owners to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, known as FinCEN — largely ending anonymous shell companies in the country.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has repeatedly documented how the rich, the powerful and the criminal have used anonymous entities to hide their wealth, including in the 2016 Panama Papers and the 2020 FinCEN Files investigations.

Welcoming the clampdown, Transparency International’s U.S. director Gary Kalman said, “It is rare for such a simple measure to promise such an enormous impact.” Kalman added that the long sought anti-corruption reforms would “move us into a new era of enforcement.”

The new legislation will allow law enforcement agencies and financial institutions to request company ownership information from FinCEN. The data will not be publicly available.

FinCEN Files was based on a trove of suspicious activity reports filed by banks and other financial institutions to FinCEN. BuzzFeed News obtained the secret documents and shared them with ICIJ and more than 100 other media organizations.

The global investigation exposed how a broken U.S.-led enforcement system allows banks to continue to profit from moving dirty money tied to drug cartels, trafficking rings fueling the opioid crisis, fraud, organized crime, sanctions evasion, ruinous real estate schemes, and terrorism.

“Too many times, people … think money laundering is a federal, victimless crime. It is certainly not that,” Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the top Democrat on the Senate banking committee, told reporters on a call organized by the advocacy group the FACT Coalition. “Sinaloa cartel actors, fentanyl traffickers have been destroying thousands of families in my state and across the country.”

Earlier this year, Brown credited FinCEN Files for revealing the lack of forceful enforcement against banks that repeatedly violate the law. Advocates said a number of proposed bipartisan bills, including one co-sponsored by Brown, were instrumental in generating the support needed to attach the reforms to the spending bill.

“This is a really big deal to get this passed,” Brown said Thursday. “No more hiding these abuses in anonymous shell companies. It also cracks down on bank officials who look the other way or actively aid money laundering.”

A long time coming

ICIJ has shown how offshore shell companies have been used for dubious financial dealings and tax avoidance through a series of global exposés, including the Secrecy for Sale investigation, Panama Papers and Paradise Papers. U.S. lawmakers have repeatedly cited the investigations in proposing reforms over the years.

Countries like the United Kingdom, Indonesia and members of the European Union also took steps toward ending anonymous shell companies in response to ICIJ reporting.

“When the Panama Papers leaked, there was a huge flurry of interest because there’s all of a sudden this recognition that it was kleptocrats, money launderers, corrupt officials the world over, as well as criminals, were all using a very common structure to help evade law enforcement, which was setting up an anonymous company,” Lakshmi Kumar, policy director of Global Financial Integrity, said.

The phenomenon is not limited to the exotic offshore tax havens of popular imagination. U.S. jurisdictions like Delaware, Wyoming and Nevada are among the world’s top locations to set up anonymous companies. Legislation to require corporations to disclose their true owners was first proposed in the U.S. over a decade ago, co-sponsored by then-senator Barack Obama, and similar bills have been introduced over the years.

Advocates credit years of lobbying a broad coalition of stakeholders, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which had previously been a leading opponent, in getting the reforms across the finish line this year.

“What’s changed now is a growing understanding among various constituencies about the harms that anonymous companies pose, and the threats that they pose for our financial system, to our businesses,” Clark Gascoigne, senior policy advisor at FACT Coalition, said.

But it’s not a done deal quite yet.

Although the anti-money laundering proposals have had the support of the administration, President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to veto the National Defense Authorization Act over provisions unrelated to financial secrecy.

Both the House and the Senate votes surpassed the two-thirds margin that would be needed to override a veto, although some Republicans have indicated that they would not support what would be the first veto override of the Trump presidency.

But the NDAA has been reliably passed by Congress every year for six decades and advocates are confident that the time has come for the landmark financial transparency measure that’s included in the omnibus bill.

“It’s one of the few areas where the outgoing Trump administration agrees with the incoming Biden administration,” Gascoigne said. “It may be the first bill in the history of Congress that has the support of both Dow Chemical and Friends of the Earth. Heck, the state of Delaware even supports reform.”

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Investigations

Muslim Brotherhood suspect and Saudi billionaire linked to same offshore companies, Austrian report says

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One of 30 people in Austria suspected to be members of the Islamic fundamentalist group Muslim Brotherhood was the director of offshore companies linked to a Saudi billionaire, according to an investigation by Austrian media outlets profil and Ö1.

The man, described as a 37-year-old Viennese entrepreneur with Iraqi roots, is suspected of “participating in a terrorist, subversive and criminal organization” and was a target of the police investigation into the group and the Palestinian extremist organization Hamas, the report said

The inquiry, which led 930 officers to raid 60 apartments, shops and clubs in four federal states last month, had no connection to the Vienna terror attack that killed four and injured 23 on November 2, according to officials cited by Deutsche Welle.

The Austrian report ー based on police records ー does not name the suspect, nor the Saudi businessman, for fear of hampering the ongoing probe into possible terror financing.

The pair’s link to shell companies in the British Virgin Islands and other offshore financial centers was revealed for the first time after the reporters’ examination of Paradise Papers, a trove of leaked documents obtained by Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in 2017.

The 13.4 million files include incorporation documents, emails, contracts and other records from two offshore service providers and the company registries of some of the world’s most secretive countries.

The Austrian man was listed as the director of several companies in the BVI, Malta and the Bahamas, the media report said. His address on the documents referred to an apartment in Vienna that belongs to the wife of one of the main suspects in the police investigation, according to a review of Austria’s land registry records.

By cross-checking the confidential files with property records, the reporters also found that the shell companies owned properties in the U.K., including two office buildings, a commercial property and a retail park, worth about $73 million in total.

The documents show that a Liechtenstein trust owned by the Saudi businessman was behind those companies. The man is also known as a philanthropist who has financed Islamic studies at various European universities in recent years, including in Austria, the report added.

The complex offshore structure identified by the journalists is legal, the report said, but “can be used to disguise the flow of money and the identity of the true economic beneficiaries.”

Profil and Ö1, two ICIJ media partners in Austria, asked the Viennese suspect about the purpose of the offshore company network and his link with the Saudi billionaire. A lawyer representing him declined to comment.

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