The Pope fires his bankers…again

Bush and Mammon
The folks Pope Francis fired can find jobs the next day in the GOUSA

When he took over as head of the Roman Catholic Church last year, Pope Francis made it clear that he meant to be the leader of a “poor church” – meaning that the Vatican would focus less on its own splendor and more on finding ways to use its vast financial resources to benefit the world’s poor.

It’s turning out to be more of a struggle than Francis may have expected; last week he found it necessary to fire all five directors of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority – essentially the primary financial watchdog over the Papal State’s considerable financial operations.

The announcement on Thursday was only the most recent in a series of firings, replacements, and arrests that have rocked the Vatican’s financial hierarchy. It turns out that for Francis, casting the moneychangers out of the Temple has proven to be a time-consuming task.

Last summer, a number of senior officials with the Vatican Bank resigned around the time that one of its senior accountants, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, was arrested and charged with conspiring to smuggle more than $20 million from Italy to Switzerland. Scarano, reportedly known in Rome as “Monsignor 500” for his habit of displaying a wallet full of €500 notes, has since been charged with multiple other offenses, including money laundering.

In January, Francis fired four out of the five cardinals on the commission overseeing the bank, known as the Institute for Works of Religion, or IOR in its Italian acronym. Supposed to serve only priests, nuns, and religious orders, the Vatican Bank has been implicated in money laundering schemes and other illegal activity. Francis made it clear that he was open to closing down the bank completely.

In February, by Papal edict, he laid out multiple new transparency requirements for the Vatican’s financial arm, and created a new Secretariat for the Economy, meant to act as an auditor general for the Vatican. The following month, he indicated that the Vatican Bank would survive, though in a vastly different form, as a large number of accounts not related to its central mission were shut down…

Last week’s announcement came after Swiss money laundering expert René Brülhart, who was named to head the Financial Information Authority, complained that he was being obstructed by the board – made up of five Italians with connections to the Vatican’s old guard.

To Francis’s credit, there is a new board on its way in oversee the Vatican’s financial watchdog Its makeup is remarkable only because of its international nature: it’s made up of four international experts, including former financial regulators – one from the U.S., one from Switzerland, one from Singapore and a fourth from Italy. It is also notable that the Italian member is a woman, insurance executive Maria Bianca Farina, making her one of the few women with significant authority in the Vatican.

Bravo! Maybe the little fish will start eating the big fish?

Reynolds Tobacco sued over claims of laundering drug money

Reynolds American, maker of Camel cigarettes, can be sued by the European Union on claims the tobacco company orchestrated a worldwide scheme to launder drug money, a federal appeals court ruled in reviving a suit filed more than a decade ago.

The EU can use U.S. racketeering law to sue Reynolds American, a three-judge panel of the court in Manhattan ruled today, reversing a lower-court judge’s decision to dismiss the suit. The lawsuit was originally filed by the European Community, which was legally replaced by the EU in 2009…

The EC claims Reynolds American directed a scheme in which Colombian and Russian criminal organizations laundered drug profits through European money brokers. The brokers sold discounted euros obtained from the drug sales to cigarette importers, who then purchased Reynolds American cigarettes from wholesalers, according to the complaint.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis…dismissed the claims because the alleged money laundering took place outside the U.S. He also ruled that the EC’s presence in the suit deprived the court of jurisdiction.

Golly, are we to believe an industry so respected and concerned with the well-being of folks around the world would participate in criminal activity that benefited drug cartels as well as lining their own pockets?

Wait. Let me get my rubber boots on before we hear from corporate tobacco lovers.

Oh, the photo? John Wayne died from lung cancer.

Criminal hacker who coded Mariposa botnet jailed in Slovenia

A hacker accused of masterminding one of the biggest ever botnets has been sentenced to just under 5 years in jail.

Matjaz Skorjanc was arrested in 2010 after a two-year investigation into malware that had hijacked about 12.7 million computers around the world.

The 27-year-old was found guilty of creating the Mariposa botnet software, assisting others in “wrongdoings” and money laundering…

In addition to the 58-month jail term, Skorjanc was also ordered to pay a €4,000 fine and give up a flat and car he was alleged to have bought with money he had received from a Spanish criminal syndicate.

The prosecutors in the case have said they also intended to challenge the Slovenian court’s ruling because they had wanted a tougher jail sentence of seven-and-a-half-years.

The former medical student’s ex-girlfriend Nusa Coh was also sentenced to eight months probation for money laundering…

The botnet got its name because it was created with software called ButterFly Flooder that was alleged to have been written by Skorjanc and advertised on the net as a way to “stress test” computer networks and remotely control Windows and Linux PCs.

Computers in more than 190 countries were infected by Mariposa, which spread by a variety of methods including via instant messages, peer-to-peer file-sharing systems and removable storage devices…

The scale of the problem led the FBI to team up with European law enforcement agencies, the Georgia Tech Information Security Center and other security experts to track down the perpetrators…

“I think the sentence is significant and will be remembered as a milestone in the prosecution of cybercrimes,” Keith Murphy, chief executive of Defence Intelligence told the BBC.

It’s a milestone among adults. Too many hackers still have an understanding of life and society barely beyond sophomoric. Little understanding of commerce and freedom of communication makes clowns like Skorjanc an ideal candidate for the NSA and the criminal clones aping their ideology around the world. He just happened to choose the overt variety of corruption and evil.

Nice to see something more than the slap-on-the-wrist style usually reserved for petit bourgeois anarchists and profiteers.

Gran gets prison time along with her sons – for drug trafficking

A grandmother in Liverpool was sent to prison Friday…for helping her sons launder the proceeds from their heroin trafficking business.

Christine Fitzgibbon, 60, was given a two-year sentence at a hearing in Crown Court in Manchester, The Liverpool Echo reported. Her son, Jason, 40, got 16 years and his younger brother, Ian, 39, 14 years and six months.

The brothers were arrested in 2011 when police foiled a plan to import a large quantity of heroin from Turkey. Investigators said the drugs had a street value of 7 million pounds.

“The drug dealing involved huge quantities of both heroin and ecstasy,” Paul Mitchell, the prosecuting lawyer said. “It involved the importation of multi-kilogram quantities of the drugs into this country and then the onward supply of those drugs. The scope of the enterprise was truly breathtaking.”

Mitchell said investigators seized large amounts of cash, some of it found in Christine Fitzgibbon’s home, and described her as the family “banker.” The Department of Work and Pensions said she was collecting benefits while enjoying a large income from her sons’ business.

As the slogan so aptly states, “A family that preys together stays together”.

Priest in drug case may plead guilty – wasn’t telling the truth part of his job description all along?

C’mon, give me bail. I can be trusted. I’m a priest.

A lawyer for a suspended Catholic priest charged in Connecticut with laundering drug money has filed a notice that his client intends to change his plea.

A hearing has been set for Monsignor Kevin Wallin next Tuesday in federal court in Hartford…

Wallin is currently being held without bail.

He was charged in January with selling methamphetamine and laundering drug proceeds through the Land of Oz, an adult entertainment store in Waterbury…

Investigators say Wallin bought methamphetamine from two Californians, Chad McCluskey, 43, of San Clemente, and Kristen Laschober, 47, of Laguna Niguel. Two Connecticut men, Kenneth DeVries, 52, of Waterbury, and Michael Nelson, 40, of Manchester, are also charged.

They have all pleaded not guilty.

Hey – he can catch up on ethics courses inside the slammer.

Oldest Swiss bank closing down after tax evasion fine

Switzerland’s oldest bank is to close permanently after pleading guilty in a New York court to helping Americans evade their taxes. Wegelin, which was established in 1741, has also agreed to pay $57.8 million in fines to US authorities. It said that once this was completed, it “will cease to operate as a bank”.

The bank had admitted to allowing more than 100 American citizens to hide $1.2 billion from the Internal Revenue Service for almost 10 years.

Wegelin, based in the small Swiss town of St Gallen, started in business 35 years before the US declaration of independence. It becomes the first foreign bank to plead guilty to tax evasion charges in the US…

US Attorney Preet Bharara said: “The bank wilfully and aggressively jumped in to fill a void that was left when other Swiss banks abandoned the practice due to pressure from US law enforcement.”

He added that it was a “watershed moment in our efforts to hold to account both the individuals and the banks – wherever they may be in the world – who are engaging in unlawful conduct that deprives the US Treasury of billions of dollars of tax revenue”…

Mr Burderer’s further admission that assisting tax evasion was common practice in Switzerland has caused huge concern among the Swiss banking community, according to the BBC’s Switzerland correspondent, Imogen Foulkes.

“Some Swiss financial analysts are already speculating that Wegelin’s $58m fine, which many had expected to be higher, was kept low by the US authorities in return for Wegelin clearly implicating the rest of the Swiss banking community in tax evasion,” she said.

No one’s publishing anything more than speculation about which banks – and which bank officers – are next in line to be prosecuted. The obvious reason for the comparatively light fine and delay of indictments of Wegelin’s officers leads easily to the conclusion that cooperation and leads are being offered. It’s called turning state’s evidence to save your buns!

Governor benefited from untraceable $1.5 million donation

At a campaign stop near Philadelphia early in his 2010 bid for governor, Republican Tom Corbett announced “we’ve got to raise money,” that it was the “number-one” priority. In an answer to his prayers, that same July day, a $1.5 million contribution arrived from — Wisconsin?

Officially, the donation was from the Wisconsin affiliate of a D.C.-based political organization called the Republican Governors Association.

The $1.5 million could not travel directly from the RGA to Corbett. Pennsylvania law bans candidates from accepting corporate money and the RGA accepts millions of dollars from some of the nation’s largest businesses.

Also, state law requires all non-individuals to establish PACs in Pennsylvania.

In a single day, the $1.5 million gift traveled from the D.C.-based parent organization to the RGA Wisconsin PAC, to the RGA Pennsylvania PAC and finally to Corbett’s campaign account.

By the time the donation reached Corbett, it was impossible to identify the original source of the cash or whether the donation was permissible under state law…

The RGA’s funding played a central role in Corbett’s victory. By Election Day he had received a total of $6 million from the RGA — 21 percent of his total fundraising, easily the top donor to the campaign, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics…

The RGA spending spree did not stop in Pennsylvania.

Our Supreme Court – and especially money-pimps like Scalia – think this is a perfectly legitimate exercise of free speech. I think they would have had a tough time convincing most folks interested in a constitutional democracy – even in the 18th Century.

Not that it matters to them or the people who supply money by the pallet-load.

RTFA for details on case after case of the scum managing the framework of our elections.

Will this Congressman be running his re-election campaign from jail?

Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan, a self-made Florida millionaire, is only in his third term in Congress, but he already is in charge of fundraising for the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, and he sits on the powerful House Ways and Means committee…

CNN has confirmed there are no fewer than four congressional and federal investigations into Buchanan’s business practices, his campaign finances and his alleged attempt to try to stop a witness from talking…

Now that witness is stepping forward in an exclusive interview with CNN. Buchanan’s former business partner says the congressman schemed to launder money from his car dealerships into his campaign coffers, and then tried to get others to cover it up…

Sam Kazran took his detailed allegations to the Federal Elections Commission, which was already looking into Buchanan’s campaign finances. Investigators there wanted to know not only about how the cash-swap scheme was set up, but if the congressman knew about it…Kazran says there is no question the congressman knew all about it…

During the FEC probe, Buchanan pushed to settle a lawsuit Kazran had brought against him. At the last minute, with a $2.9 million settlement offer from Buchanan dangling in front of him, Kazran says he was given an affidavit to sign…

Kazran says Buchanan and his team were trying to force him to lie about Buchanan’s role in the campaign cash scheme in exchange for the nearly $3 million cash settlement, money which Kazran says he desperately needed, as his finances were in trouble and his wife was suffering from cancer and was undergoing expensive medical treatments…

Now a full House ethics committee is looking into it. CNN has also learned that the FBI is conducting its own investigation.

In addition, the Office of Congressional Ethics also found “substantial reason to believe” that Buchanan failed to disclose unearned income on his financial disclosure forms from 2007 to 2010…

On Friday, lawyers for Buchanan filed a legal motion in Sarasota, Florida, to seal all documents in the Kazran case and to stop Kazran and his lawyers from speaking publicly about it.

So – Will this Congressman be running his re-election campaign from jail? We can only hope.

While I think today’s Republicans have a definite edge in the hypocrisy competition – by virtue of their holiest of Christian crusades and loyalty to the epoch of ignorance extending backwards from the 19th Century to the 14th Century – they haven’t a market corner on corruption.

This story could have been written about a Congress-thug from either wing of the TweedleDeeDum Party. And given our bought-and-paid-for Supreme Court, the questions may become irrelevant as they continue their dedication to the open purchase of elections.

Toy company busted for laundering drug cartel money

They were sellers of pastel-toned huggable plush toys with names like “Baby Frenz Forever” and “Jungle Pals.” At the same time, authorities say, they were receiving bricks of U.S. dollars wrapped in cellophane that were drug proceeds to be laundered into clean pesos for drug lords in Mexico and Colombia.

On Monday, authorities announced charges against the City of Industry-based Woody Toys and seven owners, employees and customers in what marks the second case in two years involving toy exporters allegedly acting as conduits for the drug trade.

Woody Toys was a key player in a sophisticated international financial scheme that converted more than $1 million into pesos each year, according to officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations…

In all, the company is accused of laundering about $6 million in suspected drug profits since 2005, according to the indictment…

According to investigators, the company received suspected drug proceeds either through in-person deliveries — a hand-off at a McDonald’s parking lot and drop-offs at warehouses — or through anonymous bank deposits. Employees “structured” deposits into the company’s bank accounts, keeping sums under $10,000 to avoid reporting requirements…

The sums were then credited to accounts of toy dealers in Mexico or Colombia, who in turn made payments through the black market peso exchange to drug trafficking groups. The foreign toy dealers got a discounted exchange rate, the company received a boost in its business and drug traffickers got laundered proceeds that appear to be generated from a legitimate trade…

The money laundering charge carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, according to ICE.

Such a kind, thoughtful business culture. Toys for the kiddies. Millions for the owners. Clean pesos for the drug cartel.

Cross-border commerce at its inventive best.

Swiss bankers classified as fugitives after skipping federal court

Wegelin & Co, corporate headquarters, St. Gallen, Switzerland
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Wegelin & Co., the 270-year-old Swiss bank facing criminal charges in a U.S. crackdown on firms suspected of aiding tax evasion, failed to appear at a court hearing as prosecutors called the bank a “fugitive.”

Prosecutors said after the hearing…in Manhattan federal court that three Wegelin client managers charged in the case also failed to appear and were considered fugitives.

When no defendants or defense attorneys showed up in court, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff asked prosecutors for a proposal on how to proceed. Prosecutors said they will confer with the Justice Department and advise Rakoff on their proposals. “Unlike an individual, arresting a company is somewhat difficult,” Rakoff said…

Wegelin is the first overseas bank to be indicted by the U.S. for aiding tax fraud, federal prosecutors in New York said this month. The three Wegelin client managers at the Zurich branch, Michael Berlinka, Urs Frei and Roger Keller, were also indicted.

The managers serviced “undeclared accounts” for U.S. taxpayers, meaning the income derived from them wasn’t reported to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, according to the superseding indictment filed this month.

Nothing new about international bankers considering themselves above the law. Especially when an historic function of their services is aiding their clients in defrauding the tax departments of one or another government.

For the first time in modern history we have a Department of Justice that actively seeks to repatriate the funds hidden abroad – instead of just relying on the crooks for fundraising.