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Russian paper to air WikiLeaks corruption material

Posted by arnon_k On December - 23 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

(Reuters) – Russia’s leading opposition newspaper said on Wednesday it would publish new WikiLeaks disclosures unmasking corruption among Russia’s “highest political echelons.”

Novaya Gazeta, a weekly known for its critical, anti-Kremlin investigative reporting, said by joining forces with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, it had gained unlimited access to new material linking Russia’s political elite to organized crime.

“Assange said that in the near future, Russian citizens will learn a lot of new things about their country. He wasn’t bluffing,” the paper said on its website. “Our partnership is aimed at exposing corruption in the highest political echelons.”

The new WikiLeaks material is a trove of “intriguing material” including documents on the trial of jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and on the paper’s own slain reporter Anna Politkovskaya, spokeswoman Nadezhda Prusenkova told Reuters.

“But what’s most interesting to us,” she added, “are cables showing corruption linked to the political establishment … The authorities must be transparent.”

President Dmitry Medvedev angrily dismissed as irrelevant U.S. diplomatic cables published so far which cast Russia as corrupt.

“We don’t give a damn about what diplomatic circles say, judging one or another public process in our country. It’s only a matter of opinion,” Medvedev told journalists on the sidelines of an official visit to Mumbai, India.

“What has been published to date, does not weigh at all on Russian interests.”

The cables describing Medvedev as a side-kick “Robin” to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s “Batman,” portrayed Putin as a ruler who allowed unscrupulous officials and crooked spies to siphon off cash from the world’s biggest energy producer.

But the few disclosures on Russia so far seemed anti-climactic compared with the promise by WikiLeaks, which has unloaded thousands of diplomatic cables onto its website, to publish eye-opening secrets about Moscow’s political underbelly.

“The American diplomatic cables were just a small part of the whole WikiLeaks dossier,” Novaya Gazeta said on its website. “Now none of them is safe from the truth.”

Novaya Gazeta has been fearless in its investigative reporting on corruption and abuses of power. Several of its journalists have died in contract-style killings in recent years, including Politkovskaya, its star reporter.

Politkovskaya, sharply critical of Putin’s policies in Chechnya and abuses by Russia’s military there, was gunned down in the stairwell of her central Moscow apartment on October7, 2006.

No one has been found guilty of killing her or ordering the killing. Russia is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.

(CNN) — Russia and Qatar will host soccer’s biggest tournament, the FIFA World Cup, for the first time in 2018 and 2022 respectively.

Russia headed off 1966 host England and joint presentations from Spain-Portugal and Holland-Belgium in Thursday’s vote at FIFA headquarters in Switzerland.

Qatar won the right to host the 2022 tournament ahead of bids from the United States, South Korea, Japan and Australia.

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin decided against attending the ceremony in Zurich, but his deputy Igor Shuvalov was present to accept the first successful bid from Eastern Europe.
Has FIFA gambled with World Cup decisions?
“You have entrusted us with the FIFA World Cup for 2018 and I can promise that you will never regret it. Let us make history together,” Shuvalov told the assembled delegates.

Putin later flew to Zurich to address the world’s assembled media.

“This sport makes a positive difference — 2018 will be fantastic,” the former Russian president said.

“We will build new stadiums and do our best to make the World Cup safe and enjoyable for everyone. We will allow all football fans to enter the country without a visa in order to enjoy the tournament and to get to know Russia and its history and culture.”

Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani, the son of Qatar’s emir and head of the emirate’s bid team, said he was looking forward to the first time a Middle Eastern nation hosts the event.

“Thank you for believing in change, for expanding the game and for giving Qatar a chance. You will be proud of us — and you will be proud of the Middle East. I promise you this,” he said.

Qatar’s World Cup vision

FIFA president Sepp Blatter confirmed that the ruling body’s desire to grow the sport around the world played a big part in the committee’s thinking.

“I have to say thanks to the executive committee because for 2018 and 2022 we go to new lands, because the FIFA World Cup has never been in eastern Europe or the Middle East. So, I’m a happy president when we speak of the development of football,” he said.

“But I have to give big compliments to all the bidders for the big job they have done and the messages they have delivered. All have delivered the message that football is more than just a game. Football is not only about winning — it is also a school of life where you must learn to lose, and that is not easy.”

We are not corrupt, insists FIFA official
CNN’s Moscow-based correspondent Matthew Chance said the decision had been received with great jubilation in Russia, where the government has pledged billions of dollars to build new stadiums and infrastructure.

It has already begun preparing to host the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014.

“This is a huge boom for the Russian economy — it is going to mean tens of billions of dollars put into infrastructure and will give the country the incentive they need to meet their modernization plans,” he reported.

“There is also a huge emotional pull for the people of this country. It is very intriguing the tactics used from the Russians to secure the bid. England’s bid had prime minister David Cameron and David Beckham to give it the celebrity X-factor, but Putin just stayed in Russia to wait for the result of the vote.”

Qatar’s victory came despite several obstacles being flagged up in FIFA technical report before the vote, including the region’s intense heat at the time the tournament will be held in June-July and a lack of existing infrastructure.

CNN Arabic

“Logistics were talked about, but Qatar said we can do that, we will build enough hotels, enough stadiums,” CNN’s Sara Sidner reported from Doha after the announcement.
“The feeling here is a sense of achievement, the sense that Qatar is an important country. People here are very proud. There was a little bit of surprise — they could just not believe that Qatar was called, but there were some very big cheers.

“When you look at Qatar as a country, it has a small population and most are ex-pats, but there a lot of fans here. They believe people will come here, they will have plenty of facilities and they will have the climate conditioned — and they will put on a fantastic show.

“They are saying that people do not need to be afraid — we are going to open up to the world and the world should open up to us.”

Why the world ‘turns around a spinning ball’

This year’s World Cup was held on the African continent for the first time, while the next one in 2014 will be in Brazil, which was last host in 1950.

CNN World Sport anchor Pedro Pinto said he was surprised that FIFA again chose to seek new territories after South Africa 2010 and Japan and South Korea in 2002.

“To risk it again for two consecutive years is quite amazing. Most of the world’s media here is surprised,” he said from Zurich.

Russia won nine of the 22 votes in the first round of voting, with Spain-Portugal earning seven, Holland-Belgium four and England two.

The lowdown on the World Cup bid ballot

In the second round, Russia earned a majority of 13 ahead of the Iberian bid (7) and that of the Low Countries (2).

The 2022 vote went to four rounds, with Australia eliminated in the first, Japan the second and then South Korea.

Qatar triumphed with 14 votes to the Americans’ eight in the decider.

The build-up to the vote was overshadowed by allegations of corruption against FIFA delegates.

Two executive committee members and four other officials were suspended after being accused of offering their votes for sale following an undercover investigation by a British newspaper.

A program by the BBC on Monday alleged that three current executive committee members accepted bribes more than a decade ago.

Wikileaks alleged Russia bribed Bout witnesses

Posted by arnon_k On December - 2 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

US diplomats alleged that Russia bribed witnesses to block the extradition of suspected international arms traffickers Viktor Bout to the US, according to WikiLeaks cables as reported by Guardian online.
Diplomats in Bangkok alleged in cables released by WikiLeaks that Bout’s “Russian supporters” had paid witnesses to give false testimony during his extradition hearing.

Dubbed the “merchant of death,” Bout was seized by the Thai authorities in March 2008 but only extradited to the US on November 16 this year. The US accused him of conspiring to sell millions of dollars of weapons to Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) rebels to kill Americans. The Kremlin strongly opposed his extradition.

In a cable written on February 13, 2009, US diplomats said that in the year after Bout’s arrest, extradition proceedings in Thailand were “going in the way we want” – albeit at a “painfully slow” pace.

More recently, however, the case had taken a worryingly wrong turn: “There have been disturbing indications that Bout’s … and Russian supporters have been using money and influence in an attempt to block extradition,” the diplomats reported.

Bout’s claim was that he had flown to Thailand on official government business. American agents posing as Farc rebels arrested him in a sting operation in a Bangkok hotel after he allegedly agreed to sell them millions of dollars of weapons.

Guardian online reported that On February 12, 2009, the US ambassador in Bangkok, Eric John, raised his concerns about the case in a meeting with Thailand’s prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva.

He warned that the extraditions proceedings had become “tainted as a result of the efforts by Bout’s associates to bribe Thai officials”.

John said the Americans had uncovered several examples of influence and corruption. These included the false testimony by a witness, an attempt to procure the personal secretary of the crown prince of Thailand to testify on Bout’s behalf, and “evidence of bribery schemes gathered throughout the world”.

The online reported Abhisit gave a noncommittal response, promising to examine any irregularities. In August 2009, the judge ruled Bout could not be extradited in a stunning setback to the US embassy and its “Bout team”.

The ruling – appealed against by the US – prompted John to write a cable urging US President Barack Obama to telephone Abhisit and initiate “a serious discussion of our concerns over the implications of the Bout verdict”.

“We believe Potus [president of the US] involvement on Bout would have a significant effect here,” he pleaded.

The ambassador suggested a gambit to shame Moscow if Bout was freed to go back to Russia. “We should consider asking the Russians to prosecute Bout if, in the end, he walks here in Thailand. At the very least perhaps we could force the Russians to publicly refuse to do so.”

Other cables reveal that Bout’s fleet of aircraft – allegedly used to deliver arms to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Congo – are currently rusting at an airstrip in the United Arab Emirates. On 7 January 2010, the US consulate reported several of his Soviet cargo planes were stuck at the “sleepy” Ras al-Khaimah (RAK) airport

Washington (CNN) — The United States believes that North Korea is supplying Iran with long-range missiles, suggesting Iran has strike capabilities are stronger than discussed in public, according to one of the leaked U.S. diplomatic cables released Sunday.

The issue was raised by American diplomats in a high level-meeting with their Russian counterparts in late 2009, but the Russians expressed doubt on the U.S. concern, according to the cable. The revelation is in one of the documents published by WikiLeaks, the online whistleblower website that began releasing a cache of more than 250,000 cables Sunday.

The document, dated February 24 and labeled “secret,” details a meeting between the United States and Russia in which U.S. representatives expressed belief that North Korea supplied Iran with missiles.

The cable cites the U.S. belief that 19 BM-25 missiles were shipped to Iran in 2005. According to Jane’s, a weapons research company, the missiles are reported to have a range somewhere between 2,500 and 4,000 km (1,560 to 2,500 miles).
The Russians expressed doubts about the claim, citing lack of evidence, the cable states. But the Americans countered that some countries have offered direct evidence, and said they would try to bring further evidence to future meetings.

The United States believes that Iran wanted the missiles for the propulsion technology. But in an exchange described in the cable, U.S. and Russian officials debated whether North Korea even had the BM-25 missile at all, and the Russians asked whether the United States had any images of the missile.

“The U.S. did not, but noted that North Korea had paraded the missile through the streets of Pyongyang. Russia disagreed,” the cable noted. The Russians countered that a review of the video of that parade showed a different video and “the missile appears to be a myth.”

In what the cable describes as a “vigorous session of questions and answers” discussing ballistic missile threats, Russia detailed its assessment of Iran’s missile program, and the degree to which Russia believes these programs constitute threats that would require missile defense responses. The cable said Russia believes Iran’s “success” is that it has created Shahab-3 missiles that can reach targets in the Middle East and southeastern Europe, but they cannot do substantial damage with conventional warheads.

According to the cable, the Russian Defense Ministry’s Evgeny Zudin said that although Iran can build prototypes of long-range systems, it lacks structural materials such as high-quality aluminum to do so, and it also does not have the materials necessary for the kind of mass production that would make it a security threat at the moment or in the near future.

Russia believes although Iran might be able to begin a ballistic missile program with a 2,000- to 3000-mile (3,200-to 4,800-km) range after 2015, it does not see Iran moving in this direction. Russia has instead concluded that Iran’s ballistic missile program is directed toward developing combat-ready missiles to address regional concerns, the cable states.

“In their analysis, the missile programs of Iran and the [North Koreans] are not sufficiently developed, and their intentions to use missiles against the U.S. or Russia are nonexistent, thus not constituting a “threat” requiring the deployment of missile defenses,” the cable’s author noted.