Thursday, October 31, 2013

Italy: Tax Changes Impact on Expats with Assets in Excess of €10,000

According to The Telegraph, under the previous taxation system in Italy, only expat assets over the value of €10,000 (£8,400) had to be declared to Italian authorities. This would typically include overseas property, shares and savings accounts. 

This minimum threshold has now been scrapped, meaning an individual with a UK bank account with only a small balance will have to report it to the Italian tax authorities. 

While expats won't be taxed any extra on these smaller assets, they face hefty fines if they fail to declare them – and tax returns could prove to be more of a headache. 

All assets held outside Italy must be declared on the foreign asset monitoring return form, which is filed along with the Italian tax return by September 30 each year. 

Italy’s fiscal monitoring regime also requires Italian tax residents to report cash or investment transfers coming in and out of Italy. This too had a €10,000 reporting limit, which has now been scrapped. As a result, it appears individuals will have to report all foreign assets transactions, regardless of the size.  

The one piece of good news is the scrapping of the controversial municipal real estate tax (IMU) for the 2013 fiscal year for home owners. IMU is an annual levy paid by the property owner.  

Yet, second homes or holiday homes will continue to be subject to IMU for 2013. IMU will be replaced by a service tax, which comes into force next year. 

The service tax is expected to combine all present local taxes, such as waste collections, in one bill. While calculated on a national basis, it should allow more autonomy for municipal authorities to set the tax rates. 

COMMENT: Italy's Deputy Economy Minister Pier Paolo Baretta confirmed that IMU will be superseded before the end of this year by the service tax.

This could spell bad news for expats who rent property in Italy or are provided with accommodation by their employer. Under the IMU regime, the tax was payable by the property owner, not the tenant. With the service bill, however, the burden shifts to the occupant. 

Currently, tenants are only liable to pay rent, condominium charges, and a refuse tax. Alex Gómez, a British student living in Rome, said: “Italian taxes are really confusing and this year even more so. But it looks like tenants will have to pay this service tax on top of the other expenses or be fined.” 

It is incumbent upon expats living in Italy who possess assets of means to seek out an Italian tax adviser well in advance of tax time in Italy.

See http://www.expatsinitaly.com/node/180

Global Impact: Sea Shepherds' Paul Watson in US After Months on the Run

According to AFP, Sea Shepherds Conservation Society (SSCS) founder and president Paul Watson, 62, a Canadian, has turned over to federal law enforcement in US after 15 months at sea on the run from an international Interpol request for his arrest.

Watson vowed to continue campaigning "undaunted" and said he was heading for Seattle after arriving in Los Angeles earlier this week, to defend himself from legal action there.

Watson said he would challenge a Red Notice requested by Japan in the United States, adding that he was "heading to Seattle to defend Sea Shepherd and myself from the ... civil suit launched by the Japanese whalers.

Watson was arrested in May 2012 in Frankfurt on a warrant from Costa Rica, where he is wanted on charges stemming from a high-seas confrontation over shark finning in 2002. He was released on bail after paying a fine, and was ordered to appear before police twice a day. But skipped bail on July 22, 2012 and fled Germany.

The following month, France-based Interpol issued an international request for his arrest.

COMMENT: Watson, known to his supporters as "The Captain," had been on the run at sea since July 2012, and even participated in a new campaign against Japanese whalers in Antarctica last winter.

Paul Watson was born in Toronto, Canada, on December 2, 1950. In 1968, Watson joined the Canadian Coast Guard. Watson later joined Greenpeace, but was later deemed too extreme for the group and left to found SSCS which has engaged in illegal boarding of ships on the high seas engaged in legalized whaling. 

Watson left Greenpeace because he felt the original goals of the organization were being compromised, and because he saw a global need to continue direct action conservation activities on the high seas by an organization that would enforce laws protecting marine wildlife. 


In December 1978, with the assistance of Cleveland Amory and the Fund for Animals, Watson purchased a North Atlantic trawler in Britain and converted her into the conservation enforcement vessel SEA SHEPHERD.

Watson majored in communications and linguistics at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. 


For the better part of 35 years, despite legalized whaling, Paul Watson has engaged in the illegal disruption of commercial fishing and whaling on the high seas, often resulting in the commission of statutory crimes.



 


Australia: US Tourist, 48, Dies in Tasmania After Getting Separated from Her Diving Buddies

According to http://www..abc.net.au, a US tourist, 48, died earlier this week after becoming separated from her diving group in southern Tasmania. The woman was diving off Piersons Point at Tinderbox, south of Hobart. 

Members of her diving group noticed she was missing and raised the alarm at 1300 hours on October 30 local time.

COMMENT: Police search and rescue officers brought the woman to shore at the Kingston Yacht Club. 

Paramedics performed CPR on the woman once ashore. Nevertheless, the victim was dead upon arrival at the Royal Hobart Hospital. 

Police are now attempting to contact the woman's husband and other family members in the US.

All divers, particularly when considering a diving destination abroad, should ensure they have thoroughly vetted and screened an open-water provider to ensure that they have redundant protocols in place to ensure no diver is ever alone and that the ratio of instructor-participant is easily manageable from a safety standpoint.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tunisia: Suicide Bombers Neuralized at Resort Towns, Not from Capital

According to The Independent, two suicide bombers struck at the heart of the Tunisian tourist industry, Sousse, on Wednesday (October 30), targeting resorts popular with British and other European tourists. 

One suicide attack struck a hotel in the Mediterranean tourist resort of Sousse, south of the capital Tunis, yet the bomber was turned away from the hotel and alternatively detonated his explosive belt on a nearby beach. 

The second attack was foiled in advance. The bomber was apprehended as he approached the tomb of Tunisia’s first post-independence leader, Habib Bourguiba, in the resort town of Monastir. 

The first bomber, who was killed, was the only casualty, but the incidents underlined the vulnerability of Tunisia, once seen as the Arab world’s most stable and westernized country, has changed dramatically in recent years. 

Unfortunately, Tunisia borders only Algeria and Libya, both of which have seen major civil wars in recent years. The deserts of the two neighbouring countries have become havens for al-Qaeda-linked terror groups, while Tunisia itself has seen a number of its young men join jihadist organisations, some leaving to fight in the Syrian conflict.    

COMMENT: The first attack happened on Wednesday morning at the Riadh Palms, a four-star hotel in the center of Sousse. 

It was the first suicide attack in Tunisia since the bombing of the celebrated synagogue on the tourist island of Djerba which killed 21 people, mostly German tourists, in 2002. 

The second incident took place half an hour later in the town of Monastir, twelve miles to the south. The interior ministry described both men responsible as “Salafi Jihadists” and said an accomplice was still being sought. 

Security has become a major political issue in the country, with Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party which leads a coalition government, on the point of resigning over accusations that it had not taken the Jihadist threat seriously enough until two leftist politicians were assassinated in February and July this year. 

The US Embassy was also attacked by militants in September 2012.

UK: Italian Waiter, 20, Beaten to Death, Best Friend Recovering from Injuries, Motive Elusive

According to Kent Online, A young Italian waiter, Joele Leotta, 20, who was beaten to death after an alleged attack at a Maidstone flat on October 20, suffered fatal head injuries, according to a coroner's inquest earlier today. 

Coroner Patricia Harding advised those present that Leotta and his best friend, Alex Galbiati, who had traveled to the UK together to improve their English and seek employment,  were in their pajamas and getting ready for bed when they were allegedly assaulted by four Lithuanian men who resided in a flat in the same building above the Vesuvius Italian restaurant, located on Lower Stone Street.

Four Lithuanian nationals charged with the attack that led to the murder of Leotta and injuries sustained by Galbiati  include: Aleksandras Zuravliovas, 26, of Beaumont Road; Tomas Gelezinis, 30, of Lower Stone Street; Saulius Tamoliunas, 23, of Union Street; and 21-year-old Linas Zidonis, of no fixed address.

The assailants, all from Maidstone, are also accused of causing grievous bodily harm to Galbiati, who was taken to hospital and is now recovering from his injuries.

COMMENT: Leotta and  Galbiati only arrived in Kent to learn English only ten days before they were attacked by the Lithuanians.

Subsequent to the attack on the two Italians, Leotta was taken to King's College Hospital in London, but later died of head injuries.

According to police, ten assailants have been arrested in connection with Leotta's death.

Fortunately, Galbiati will be instrumental in testifying in court against the Italians' assailants, once he is released from the hospital. 

The motive for the attack on the two Italian men is still under investigation. Consequently, updated information will be provided as it becomes available.

Even in developed nations, as many of our postings reveal, no matter where we live, temporarily or permanently, there are personal risks that may confront us, which is why it is important for those living in a common dwelling to be well aware of other occupants so that we may be cognizant of threats against us. If we are not made aware of such risks, we should take steps to resolve questions we may have.

Many details in this case are not adequately reported in the public media, although I'll be the first one to acknowledge that all print and online media do have space limits.

A final note. It is unknown as to how the Lithuanian assailants gained access to the Italians' flat, which suggests that all temporary and permanent residents either seek advice on how to adequately protect access to their residence and/or request approval from the landlord so as to make the necessary improvements to safeguard your well-being. 


Global Impact: Perú Emerging as a Center for Counterfeiting Foreign Currency

According to The Latin American Tribune, Peruvian police on Tuesday (October 29) arrested a suspect who planned to travel to the United States with more than US$4 million in counterfeit dollars and euros.

The head of the Peruvian National Police Bribery Division, Col. Segundo Portocarrero, said the US$3.7 million in phony $100 bills and a smaller quantity of counterfeit 20-, 50- and 100-euro notes were seized at an inn located in the northern Lima district of Comas after a four-month-long investigation.
 
COMMENT: Authorities identified the arrested suspect as Pablo Sierra Gómez and said they were looking for other confederates who might be implicated in the counterfeiting scheme.

In September 2013, a US Treasury Department official reported that Perú has become the world's largest foreign country for producing counterfeit currency.

In recent years, Peruvian police in recent years have seized more than US$100 million in counterfeit US dollars. 

Consequently, foreign travelers to Perú should obtain US dollars only through reputable Peruvian and international banking institutions.

For links to counterfeit dollars and euros, see:

US dollars: http://www.secretservice.gov/money_detect

Euros: 
http://ec.europa.eu/economy_finance/euro/cash/banknotes/index_en

Chile: Former President Michelle Bachelet Expected to Become President Again on November 17

Verónica Michelle Bachelet Jería, 62, a former head of state representing the center-left New Majority, is expected to defeat the governing rightist coalition outright in Chile’s November 17 presidential election, a poll released Tuesday (October 29) predicts.

Bachelet, who served as Chile's President during  2006-2010, enjoys support from 47% of potential voters, compared with 14% for Evelyn Matthei, according to the survey by respected polling group, CEP.

Independent right-wing candidate Franco Parisi will receive 10% and the nominee of the Progressive Party, Marco Enriquez-Ominami, will garner only 7% of the electorate, the survey predicts.   

Excluding null votes and blank ballots, Bachelet would trounce Matthei by 60% to 17%, CEP reported.

Thus, if the polling results hold true in the actual election, it would not be necessary to hold a runoff provisionally set for December 15.

In addition, considering the results of surveys of voters who said they will certainly vote, those who will probably vote, those who voted in past municipal elections and those who expressed an interest in voting, Bachelet would obtain 52-54% compared with 16-19% for Matthei.

The CEP survey, which were made public 19 days before the election and a few hours before the candidates’ second debate, also indicates that President Sebastian Piñera has an approval rating of only 35%.

Matthei and Bachelet, both the offspring of air force generals, were childhood friends, but their paths diverged sharply after the September 11, 1973, military coup that overthrew President Salvador Allende.

Bachelet’s father, who opposed the coup, died as a result of torture by Matthei’s father who became a member of the junta.

COMMENT: Verónica Michelle Bachelet Jeria was born September 29, 1951, is a Chilean Socialist politician who served as President of Chile from 2006 to 2010. 

She resigned from UN Women in March 2013 to run for a second term as President of Chile, now with the support of the Communist Party in addition to the parties that supported her previous presidential term.

The former president won the 2006 presidential election in a runoff, beating center-right and former senator Sebastián Piñera with 53.5% of the vote. She campaigned on a platform of continuing Chile's free-market policies.

Bachelet, a physician with studies in military strategy, served as Health Minister and Defense Minister under her predecessor, President Ricardo Lagos. She is a separated mother of three and describes herself as an agnostic.


As well as her native Spanish, she speaks English, German, Portuguese and French with varying levels of fluency.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Perú: President Humala Touts Credit Rating Upgrade by Fitch to BBB-Plus from BBB

According to The Peruvian Times, President Ollanta Humala said Perú's credit rating upgrade by Fitch to BBB-Plus from BBB demonstrates Perú's robust economic environment, despite declining global economic uncertainty.

Last week Fitch raised Perú’s credit rating to BBB-plus, from BBB. It said that the upgrade was due to Perú’s fiscal balance sheets, macroeconomic stability and strong outlook for future growth, thanks in large part to mining investments.

COMMENT: Perú’s gross domestic product has slowed in 2013, yet it remains to post robust growth. In the first eight months of 2012, the economy expanded by 5%.  It is expected to grow by about 5.5% thanks to increased growth during the fourth-quarter of 2012.

Global Impact: THE TELEGRAPH Offers Health Guidelines When Traveling by Cruise-Ship

COMMENT: I have included for the benefit of our readers an excellent travel piece issued by THE TELEGRAPH concerning unforeseen medical costs that cruisers can face if they don't prepare well for medical emergencies.

As I recommend to all travelers who visit developing nations, whether they are aboard a cruise-ship or not, it is essential that you subscribe to international medical treatment and medical evacuation insurance before leaving home.

If you fail to protect yourself with such insurance, which runs on an average of US$8-10 per day, you could have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to be medically evacuated from a cruise-ship or substantial out-of-pocket medical expenses for forgetting your hypertension medication once ship-board.

Please review the below link and potentially save yourself lots of money.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/cruises/cruise-news/10411873/Cruise-passengers-warned-over-medical-bills

Cambodia: Californian, 55, Traveling Solo, Found Murdered on Koh Rong Island

According to The Phnom Penh Post, Preah Sihanouk provincial police have concluded that a US tourist, Californian Katherine Ann Grgich, 55, found dead on the island of Koh Rong in early October, was actually murdered.

Kol Phally, the provincial deputy police chief, told the Post that an investigation has determined the the American was murdered and a suspect identified.

Ms. Grgich disappeared on September 28, 2013.
 
COMMENT: On September 30, Grgich's body was found in a forest three kilometers (1.8 miles) away from the guesthouse where she was staying with injuries to the back and front of her head, Sarath Vichea, provincial technical police head, stated. 

I strongly discourage inexperienced foreign travelers from traveling solo and in particular urge against staying  in poorly secured "guesthouses" on out-of-the-way islands.

Although the term "guesthouse" is a nebulous term that offers little in the way of a clarification of how secure the "guesthouse" is. Yet, most "guesthouses" are ill-defined in terms of the formidable construction and security of exterior door and window deterrents. 

Consequently, particularly for women traveling alone, it is essential that they ask for exterior photos of "guesthouses" that focus on exterior door and window security. Any indicators of open windows or flimsy doors or doors and windows that cannot be locked or secured from the interior would suggest a lack of effective personal security awareness.

Clearly, in light of Ms. Grgich's body being found only three kilometers ( from her "guesthouse," it is impossible to know whether

Koh Rong is the second largest island in Cambodia. Contrary to widespread Western belief, its name does not translate to "Monkey Island." The Khmer word "rong or rung" actually means "cave." Located in Koh Kong Province about 25 kilometers off the Sihanoukville's coast in the Gulf of Thailand, the island has an area of approximately 78 kilometers and 43 kilometers of beaches. The island is also home to more than a dozen guesthouses and bungalows, many of them foreign-owned. The island is part of the Koh Rong archipelago. Like most of its neighboring islands, Koh Rong has had a land concession granted by the Cambodian government. The Royal Group has been granted a 99-year lease and has plans to build "Asia’s first environmentally planned resort island." The island’s interior is almost completely forested.




Colombia: Marine Veteran, 27, Kidnapped by FARC, Held for Four Months, Released to Red Cross

According to The Latin American Tribune, Marine veteran Kevin Scott Sutay, 27, who was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on June 20 while hiking solo in Colombia's southeastern sector of the country.

The Colombian Red Cross, made up of a delegation of Cuban and Norwegian officials, released the veteran of the Afghanistan War on Sunday (October 27), despite the fact that the American was kidnapped in El Retiro, a city in Guaviare province, where he had traveled despite warnings from police and residents to avoid the area.

When released on Sunday, Sutay was subsequently released into the hands of the US Embassy in Bogotá.

COMMENT: Sutay was intending to hike across the Colombian jungle into Brazil to test his endurance, but seemingly had not done sufficient research on Colombian jungle areas in which FARC rebels are very active. 

No doubt, Sutay's combat experience in Afghanistan contributed to his being released in good health after four months in captivity.

Although many countries are relatively safe for solo travel, Honduras, México and Panamá are NOT.
 
Sutay entered Colombia on June 8 after traveling through México, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panamá.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Qatar: British Expat, 24, Foreign Teacher, Disappears for 40 Hours, Feared Dead, Police Not Helpful

According to The Telegraph, Briton Lauren Patterson, 24, was last seen in the early hours of Saturday (October 26) after she had returned to Doha where she was working as a teacher. She had been in the UK for her grandmother’s funeral. 

The 24-year-old was feared dead after a body was found on Monday (October 28) and her family and boyfriend posted messages in tribute to her. 

Miss Patterson’s family and her boyfriend, James Grima, from Malta, posted an appeal on Facebook after she had been missing for more than 40 hours. 

Doha police said they could not confirm whether Ms. Patterson had died, what had happened to her or the progress of their investigation.  

COMMENT: Many Gulf state police agencies have rarely been sympathetic, cooperative, empathetic or particularly transparent when a foreigner disappears. 

Patterson was reportedly last seen at the five-star La Cigale Hotel in Doha at approximately 0120 hours on Saturday.

Although most foreigners to Gulf states never anticipate that they will become a crime victim while abroad, the reality is that many foreigners have disappeared or become crime victims in Gulf states in recent years.

Interestingly, British Navy seaman Timmy MacColl, 28, was last seen on May 27, 2o12, last seen outside the Rock Bottom Cafe at Dubai's Regent Palace Hotel at 0200 hours, the young sailor seemingly disappeared without a trace. MacColl was last seen after his shipmates paid for a Dubai taxi to take him back to his ship, "HMS Westminster," which was moored at Port Rashid. The search for Seaman MacColl has ended.

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.

France: Francois Hollande Most Unpopular French President on Record

According to Reuters, President Francois Hollande has become the most unpopular French president on record, an opinion poll showed on Monday (October 28) with the Socialist leader hit by anger over tax hikes, unemployment and rows over the government's immigration policy.

Hollande's popularity has sunk to 26% of those surveyed, the first time the BVA poll has seen a French president's approval ratings fall below 30%.

Hollande's approval rating had started sinking relatively soon after he was elected in May 2012, but this survey shows his popularity lower than that of any other president at any time in their term in the 32 years the BVA survey has been carried out.

This underlines the task facing Hollande and his government in reviving their popularity at a time when record high jobless numbers and wrangling over tax levels have clouded efforts to revitalize a sluggish economy.

COMMENT: The poll shows a near-unanimous unpopularity among right-wing voters: 97% have a bad opinion of Hollande, a level never reached by any president among supporters of other parties, even former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy, although he deeply antagonized many left-wing voters.

While Hollande is dragging his Socialist party's approval ratings down, the far-right National Front keeps progressing, with the two parties now with the same approval ratings.

Some 84% of those surveyed on October 24-25 believed government policy was not efficient and 74% said it was not fair.

In a Harris Interactive poll on Thursday, four fifths of French voters said they believed Hollande would not win the next presidential election in 2017.

The outgoing president traditionally represents his party in the next election and in past decades most, with the exception of Sarkozy, won a second mandate.

Thailand: Two Omani Tourists Drugged, Robbed by Thai Woman in Pattaya

According to The Pattaya Daily News, two Omani tourists allegedly had their drinks spiked before being robbed in Thailand’s tourist hot spot of South Pattaya in the early hours of Friday morning (October 25).

The two Omani nationals were returning to their hotel in Soi Kor-Phai, Chonburi Province when a woman, described by police officers as between 30 and 35 years of age, took them to the Seat House Motel where they were given spiked drinks.

COMMENT: After having their drinks spiked by either sedatives or date-rape drugs, the two men fell unconscious and woke up hours later to find the woman gone as well as their belongings which included US$400 and a smart-phone. 

What happened to the two victims is a common occurrence in Thailand where foreigners invariably are drugged with drinks, largely for being too trusting of strangers.

Invariably, the expectation of inexpensive sexual encounters is just that, a scam. 

As a result, visitors, both men and women alike, should never accept drinks in a motel room unless the bona fides of the person preparing the drinks has been vetted and corroborated.

It is far better for visitors to use their hotel bars as meeting places or reputable bars and nightclubs that have been recommended by hotel concierge staff.

Additionally, if visitors intend to pursue sexual opportunities in Thailand, their hotels should be used which often includes purveyors of such services being compelled to submit a copy of their national identity card to the reception desk before being authorized to visit a designated guest room. 

Given the high frequency of HIV/AIDS in Thailand, foreigners should always use safe sex while in the country as a defense against STDs and life-threatening infections.



Sunday, October 27, 2013

Latin America: Venezuela Drops Out of Petrobras Refinery JV When PDVSA Fails to Deliver

According to The Latin American Tribune, Brazil's Petrobras incorporated a new refinery into its corporate structure after Venezuela failed to come up with its share of the $17 billion joint-venture payment.

Brazilian state-controlled oil company Petrobras has confirmed that long-running negotiations to bring Venezuela on board as a joint-venture partner in the Abreu e Lima refinery have failed and that it will complete the project on its own.

Petrobras said Friday (October 25) in a regulatory filing that it had incorporated the company created to manage the refinery into its corporate structure after the talks with Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA broke down.

Nearly $17 billion has already been invested in the refinery, which is being built in the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco and has a projected processing capacity of 230,000 barrels per day.

COMMENT: The bi-lateral project was planned in 2005 by the then-presidents of Brazil and Venezuela, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and the late Hugo Chávez, but the proposed joint venture ran into trouble after Petrobras deemed the guarantees presented by PDVSA to be insufficient.

Petrobras began building the refinery on its own in 2007 and says it is now 80% complete.

The refinery is projected to begin operating in 2014 with an initial capacity to process 115,000 barrels per day.

Under the original agreement, Petrobras was to have had a 60% stake in the refinery and PDVSA the remaining 40% interest, although now the Brazil-based project will be financed 100% by Brasilia.

The Brazilian press had reported in recent weeks that the talks were headed for eventual failure, but Petrobras had not formally confirmed the breakdown of the joint venture until Friday.


Venezuela's backing out of the refinery project is yet another example as to why Venezuela's Socialist experiment germinated  by Chávez has failed miserably, leaving one of Latin America's former economic giants cash-strapped and crime-ridden.

Western Europe: France, Germany Unite Over NSA Economic Espionage, NSA on EU Summit Schedule

According to Reuters, the German government has obtained information that the United States may have monitored the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, resulting in her calling President Barack Obama on Wednesday (October 23) to demand an immediate response.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama had assured Merkel that the United States was not monitoring the communications of the Chancellor.

COMMENT: Either credible German news publications have engaged in disinformation or inaccuracies or President Obama's subordinates have concealed truthful information from him.

Yet, the strongly worded statement by Merkel's spokesman suggest that Germany is not fully satisfied with the US response. As a result, Germany demanded an "immediate and comprehensive" clarification of US surveillance practices. 

Merkel made "very clear that she views such practices, if proven to be true, as completely unacceptable and condemns them unequivocally." 

"Between close friends and partners, as Germany and the US have been for decades, there should not be such monitoring of the communications of a government leader. This would be a grave breach of trust. Such practices should be immediately stopped."

The news broke as Secretary of State John Kerry, on a visit to Rome, faced fresh questions about large-scale spying on European allies, based on revelations from Edward Snowden, the fugitive ex-US intelligence operative granted asylum in Russia.

To make matters worse, French President Francois Hollande is pressing for the US spying issue to be put on the agenda of a summit of European leaders starting on Thursday (October 24). French newspaper LE MONDE reported earlier this week that the National Security Agency (NSA) had collected tens of thousands of French phone records.

Just four months ago, Obama defended US anti-terrorism tactics on a visit to Berlin, telling Germans at a news conference with Merkel that Washington was not spying on German citizens, which has proved to be an incorrect statement.

The White House, rattled by the latest exposure based on leaks from Edward Snowden, said it is not now listening in on Merkel, but did not deny the possibility her communications may have been intercepted in the past.

Although President Obama perceives himself to be one of the smartest people on the planet, and claimed upon entering office that his Administration would be the most transparent in US history, that too, seemingly, is not an established fact.

In the wake of Snowden's ongoing revelations, several numerous friendly nations have already complained about American electronic surveillance, and the White House is struggling to stem increasing diplomatic damage.

A spokesman for Merkel, who has registered strong disapproval at US National Security Agency activities in the past, said his boss had called Obama after Germany received information that US intelligence may be spying on her mobile phone.

She had demanded "an immediate and comprehensive explanation" from Washington, the statement said.

"Among close friends and partners, as the Federal Republic of Germany and the US have been for decades, there should be no such monitoring of the communications of a head of government," the statement added, indirectly citing Merkel's comments to Obama.

The White House, embarrassed by the latest allegations of NSA spying on foreign leaders, came up with a hurried response to the telephone call. "The President assured the Chancellor that the US is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of Chancellor Merkel," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. Carney was then asked whether US spies could have inadvertently picked up Merkel's communications during a wider sweep of global telephone calls linked to a vast anti-terror program. Carney repeated the linguistic formulation of his earlier answer, in a way that did not deny the possibility that the NSA had indeed accessed Merkel's conversations in the past.

Carney stressed that Obama was reviewing the way Washington gathers intelligence "so that we properly balance the security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share."

Washington has said many of LE MONDE's claims were false, but Obama had another embarrassing call with a foreign leader when he spoke to French President Francois Hollande on Monday (October 21).

US officials have privately said that all nations, including its allies, conduct intelligence sweeps against foreign leaders -- and assume that Obama is a target of such activity.

But the Merkel revelations were the latest extreme embarrassment for Obama over the NSA affair, which has seen claims of US snooping on foreign leaders in México and Brazil and reports US spy agencies have monitoring millions of telephone calls worldwide.

Worse, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff last month cancelled a state visit to Washington over the scandal.

The latest revelations also threatened the personal trust and close cooperation between Obama and Merkel, which saw the US leader pay a long-awaited visit to Berlin earlier this year.

Obama considers the newly reelected German leader as one of his closest allies and friends on the world stage and has frequently spoken of his respect for her, although the US has acknowledged spying on Merkel's mobile phone in the past.

News of the eavesdropping suspicion and the stern German protest came first from Spiegel Online, whose parent magazine reported many of the US surveillance claims made by Snowden.

Spiegel Online said research by the news weekly had tipped the German government off to the potential surveillance, which authorities had considered "sufficiently plausible" for Berlin to confront Washington on the question.

Former Mexican leader Vincente Fox said Wednesday (October 23) that he was spied on by the US following reports that US intelligence agencies snooped on President Enrique Peña Nieto and his predecessor Felipe Calderon.

Peña Nieto, who took power in December 2012, has ordered an investigation into reports that NSA hacked into his emails while he was a candidate last year and Calderon's messages while in office.

Secretary of State John Kerry promised on Wednesday (October 23) that US authorities would look into whether their intelligence services may have illegally intercepted Italian telecoms data. Kerry met Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta during a visit to Rome, where he faced fresh questions about mass spying on European allies based on revelations by Edward Snowden, the fugitive ex-US intelligence contractor granted asylum in Russia.

The French government has called for the issue to be put on the agenda of the next European Union summit this week in Brussels. The French daily LE MONDE reported this week that NSA had conducted mass surveillance of French citizens.

Sadly, the Obama Administration has done far more than ruffled the feathers of EU leaders. In fact, numerous European governments have rightfully challenged the US government's presumptuous infringement on the privacy laws of a number of friendly nations in the EU that may simply distrust the US in the future to the detriment of multilateral relations in future US administrations. EU furor is unlikely to end.





DRC: US Department of State Issues Updated Travel Warning, Travel Discouraged in Many Areas

The Department of State warns US citizens of the risks of traveling to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) (DRC) and urges citizens to avoid all travel to the city of Goma and the province of North Kivu, and all but essential travel to the province of South Kivu and the Ituri region in the province of Orientale. 

With ongoing instability and violence in North and South Kivu, northeastern Orientale, and northern and central Katanga province, the Department's ability to provide consular services to US citizens in these regions of the DRC is extremely limited.

Armed groups, bandits, and elements of the Congolese military remain security concerns in eastern DRC. These armed groups, primarily located in the North Kivu, South Kivu, and Orientale provinces, as well as the northern and central parts of Katanga province, and the eastern part of Maniema province, are known to pillage, steal vehicles, kidnap, rape, kill, and carry out military or paramilitary operations in which civilians are indiscriminately targeted. The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is present near the border with Uganda, Central African Republic, and the Republic of South Sudan.

Violent clashes in North and South Kivu have resulted in significant displacements of civilians since September 2010. In April 2012, members of a rebel group that previously had been integrated into the Congolese military mutinied and heavy fighting occurred in Masisi and Rutshuru territories as well as in Virunga National Park. In November 2012, members of this group captured several towns north of Goma and Goma itself, the provincial capital of North Kivu province. Although the rebels withdrew from Goma in December 2012, the security and political situation in Goma and North Kivu remains tense and fragile. In March, June, and August 2013, fighting between government forces and the rebel group pushed the rebels away from Goma, and an additional short firefight took place in mid-September north of Goma. Hundreds of people have been killed or injured as a result of the clashes, and tens of thousands more have been internally displaced. Moreover, violence among foreign and Congolese rebel groups present in the northern part of North Kivu, and former Rwandan militants in the southern part of the province and throughout South Kivu, pose a serious and significant risk to travelers in the region. This fighting underscores the persistent insecurity arising from activities of rebel and other armed groups operating in the Kivu region, which contribute to the overall high risks and dangers associated with travel to eastern Congo. Travel to North and South Kivu and the Ituri region of Orientale province by Embassy personnel is currently restricted to essential business only. 

Travelers are frequently detained and questioned by poorly disciplined security forces at numerous official and unofficial roadblocks and border crossings throughout the country. Requests for bribes in such instances are extremely common, and security forces have occasionally injured or killed people who refused to pay. In the past year, several US citizens were illegally detained by government forces, or were robbed of their valuables while being searched. Very poor infrastructure (road and air) makes the provision of consular services difficult outside of Kinshasa. 

The Embassy has received many reports of robberies and banditry in Goma after dark. In most such cases, the robbers have stopped cars and stolen money and other valuables. The poor condition of the roads, along with widespread new road construction around the city, contribute to the banditry problem, as traffic is either bottlenecked on the main road, or forced to travel on secondary roads with even worse conditions. The Department strongly urges travelers who must go to Goma not to travel after dark. 

Kinshasa has a critical crime threat level, and US citizens continue to be the victims of serious crimes, including armed robbery by groups posing as law enforcement officials in both urban and rural areas, especially after nightfall. Avoid walking alone and displaying cash and other personal property of value. 

Avoid taking photos in public, especially of government buildings and the airport (which are viewed as places of national security), police stations, the presidential palace, border crossings, and along the river, since doing so may lead to arrest. 

Lock vehicle doors and keep windows closed when driving. You should not stop at the scene of an accident or at intersections where people have gathered, as mobs can develop quickly. In areas where the roads are in poor condition and the speed limit is minimal, be wary of gangs of street children who may approach your car, open your door, and steal your belongings. Roadblocks are often found throughout the country, especially near government buildings and installations in Kinshasa, and should be avoided when possible. If stopped at a roadblock, keep doors locked and crack the window in order to communicate. 

Official Congolese motorcades pose hazards to motorists and pedestrians. Drivers should pull over to the far side of the road when sirens or security forces announce their presence. You should not take photographs of motorcades. Proceed only when security forces permit you to do so. 

There is no reliable public transportation system in the DRC. Overcrowded vans and taxis, which often do not meet western safety standards, serve as public transportation in Kinshasa. Few independent taxis are available, operating largely out of the big hotels, and most do not meet safety standards. You should avoid all travel by public transportation, and hire private transport from a reliable source. 

The DRC has few viable roads or railways, but does have several major waterways. Boat transport is widely used; however, the vessels are often overloaded and/or poorly maintained, and accidents are commonplace and often fatal. 

Public health concerns pose a hazard to US citizen travelers due to outbreaks of deadly viruses and other diseases, which can occur without warning and often without swift reporting by local health authorities. Information on personal protection for international travelers, including children, can be found at. Travelers are required to carry evidence of yellow fever vaccination in order to enter the DRC. Health officials at entry points, such as the airport in Kinshasa, will check for proof of vaccination. If you do not have evidence of a yellow fever vaccination, you may be denied entry or required to pay a fine. Malaria is common throughout the DRC and prophylaxis is recommended. Please consult with your healthcare provider for more information and advice on prophylaxis. 

Due to the recent outbreak of measles in the DRC, you should update your measles vaccination, if necessary, and refer to the CDC for additional guidance. Due to the high levels of air borne irritants (i.e., dust, burning trash, debris, etc.) individuals with respiratory illnesses should carry all their necessary medications and equipment with adapters. 

There is a high risk of traveler's diarrhea and cholera throughout the country. You can reduce this risk by using good judgment when choosing what food to eat and water to drink. When in restaurants, you should ask for bottled water and avoid ice. 

Due to the immense size of the country, the density of the Congo River rainforest, the terrible state of the roads, and the poor security situation, the only way to get around the country quickly is by plane. However, domestic air travel on Congolese or other local airlines in the DRC is not recommended. There have been several recent incidents causing deaths and injuries, including one on August 25, 2010, that killed all but one passenger. In April 2011, a United Nations operated flight crashed while landing in Kinshasa, killing 32 passengers and crew. In July 2011, a Boeing 737 crashed in Kisangani, killing more than 70 passengers. In March 2013, a domestic airline flight crashed in Goma, killing five crewmembers and passengers. Crashes of private aircraft are even more common. The US Embassy has prohibited official travel by US government employees and certain contractors on most airlines flying domestic routes in the DRC due to safety and maintenance concerns. International flights on foreign-owned-and-operated carriers are not affected by this prohibition. As there is no direct commercial air service to the US by carriers registered in the DRC, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of the DRC’s Civil Aviation Authority.

You should avoid all public demonstrations and areas where crowds have gathered because even peaceful events can become violent, and even deadly. You should exercise caution at all times, and closely monitor local and international news from reliable sources. Radio Okapi broadcasts in French on 103.5 FM at 0700, 0800, 1200, and 1800 hours, and provides updates throughout the day. English-language news can be found on BBC at 92.6 FM. In emergencies, the Belgian Embassy operates a French-language radio broadcast system at FM 98.8. Changes in security conditions may occasionally restrict the travel of US Embassy  personnel. 

COMMENT: Considering that the DRC threat level has been classified as "Critical" threat for crime by the US Department of State's four-tier threat level system of "Critical, High, Medium and Low," discretionary travel to this country is strongly discouraged.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Kenya: Swiss Tourist Shot, Killed in Ukunda Near Mombasa, Motive: Armed Robbery

According to Citizens News, unidentified assailants shot and killed a Swiss tourist this week, stole his smart-phone and fled on a motorbike in Kenya's Ukunda sector, which is located in Kwale County. It is on the coast of the Indian Ocean next to Diani Beach some 30 kilometers south of Mombasa near the border with Tanzania. 

The victim's body was subsequently taken to a private hospital in Mombasa.

COMMENT: Armed robbery is a frequent occurrence in Ukunda, Msambweni, and Lunga Lunga.

As I have said so often in the past, Kenya has been designated as "Critical" threat by the US Department of State on four levels of threat: Critical, High, Medium and Low. Consequently, foreign travelers are frequently preyed on, particularly when traveling solo.

Only travelers who have a well-honed sense of personal security awareness, are familiar with criminal tactics in Kenya and have an internal support system should travel to Kenya.

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.

Brazil: Health Ministry Orders Removal of Popcorn from Retail Shelves Due to Aflotoxin

According to The Latin American Tribune, Brazil’s Anvisa health agency ordered the removal from store shelves of a batch of popcorn found to contain elevated levels of a cancer-causing substance.

The order applies to Lot 123 of Brasileira brand Pipoca Nacional popcorn, which was produced in April.

COMMENT: Laboratory analysis revealed that packages from the described lot detected levels of aflotoxin beyond what is permitted under Brazilian law.

Produced by fungi, aflotoxin can be carcinogenic in high concentrations, according to Brazil’s Health Ministry. 

Needless to say, both residents and foreigners alike living in Brazil should not purchase Pipoca Nacional popcorn from Lot 123, given the potential risk of cancer in humans.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Nigeria: Captain, Engineer Abducted Off US-Registered Commercial Vessel

According to The Associated  Press, a US Department of Defense official reports that armed pirates kidnapped the captain and engineer, both US citizens, off of a US-registered commercial vessel yesterday (October 23) off the coast of Nigeria.

The abduction occurred in international waters in the Gulf of  Guinea close to the Nigerian coast.

The official says the two US mariners were kidnapped from the vessel, C-Retriever and reportedly taken ashore to Nigeria.

In another development, Reuters reports that the C-Retriever, an oil supply vessel owned by US-owned Edison Chouest Offshore was seized on Wednesday with only the two Americans being abducted, after which the vessel was released. C-Retriever is 222-foot in length (67 meters).

COMMENT: Pirate attacks off Nigeria's coast have jumped by a third this year as ships passing through West Africa's Gulf of Guinea, a major commodities route, have come under threat from pirates wanting to seize both cargoes and crews.

"The piracy threat is spreading even further through the waters of West Africa, and the attacks have been mounting, even as global rates of reported piracy are at their lowest since 2006," said Michael Frodl of U.S.-based consultancy C-Level Maritime Risks.

Kidnapped mariners and oil workers taken in Nigerian coastal waters are usually released after a ransom demand is paid.

Increasingly, as commercial vessels continue to carry armed guards, many of those who do not, are particularly vulnerable to abductions of crew members that can bring in seven-figure ransom payments (e.g., Americans, Canadians and Europeans).


Brazil: Upscale Condos/Apartments of High-Value Targets a Frequence Occurrence in Large Cities

According to The Latin American Tribune, Two Colombian nationals were detained Monday (October 14) and five others are wanted for questioning in a probe of a series of robberies at luxury apartment complexes in three different Brazilian cities, authorities said.

All seven Colombians are suspected members of a well-organized criminal enterprise behind heists in affluent neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Belo Horizonte, police inspector Alexandre Magalhaes announced at a press conference.

The gang apparently used some of the proceeds from the robberies to finance loan sharking operation, Magalhaes emphasized. The robbery victims included professional athletes, judges and business executives.

Over the last 12 months, police data-based eleven separate robberies in Rio displaying the same modus operandi, Magalhaes noted during the press conference.

COMMENT: Police identified and arrested Eyber Muriel Cardona and Alessander Muñoz Botero, after reviewing footage from security cameras at targeted apartment and condo complexes.


Our readers should keep in mind that the hostage-taking of employees of luxury condos and apartments who have subsequently been used to facilitate their entry into such dwellings occupied by wealthy Brazilians, expats and diplomats in Rio, São Paulo and Belo Horizonte have periodically been targeted over the last 20 years. 

Consequently, targets of means should be very cautious in selecting a residence in major Brazilian cities and consider the following criteria:

1. Rule out single-family residences that are not surrounded by a 360-degree opaque wall that is at least nine feet in height;

2. Do not select a residence that does not have underground or 24/7 locked vehicular parking;

3. Do not consider a condo or apartment below the third or above the eighth floor, given the risk of access through an adjacent structure or the fact that many conventional fire ladders in Brazil often reach only the eighth floor;

4. Rule out apartments and condos that do not have a well-trained, licensed, vetted and competent armed security force protecting the premises, as most criminal enterprises are heavily armed; and

5. Don't consider apartments or condos that do not have 24/7 access control monitored by well-trained security personnel.

As a matter of interest, my parent company, Sleeping Bear Risk Solutions LLC offers office and residential security consulting services worldwide. For information, please email me @: ed@sbrisksolutions.com.


Perú: EU Vote May Exempt Peruvians, Colombians from Visa Requirement

According to The Peruvian Times, both Peruvians and Colombians may soon be able to visit EU nations without a visa, if a European Union parliamentary commission’s motion is ratified by member states.
 
The commission approved the motion to exempt the visa requirement for Peruvians and Colombians in a vote of 51 in favor, two against and two absentees.

The exemption of a visa would be for individuals from the two South American nations that visit one of the 26 European nations for a maximum time of 90 days.

COMMENT: The motion came to a vote at the urging of Spain, which is facing a 25% unemployment rate at home, whose nationals have considerable employment opportunities in both Perú and Colombia.

Additionally, Spain has potential business interests and opportunities in Latin America given the fact that they share a common language with the exception of Brazil.

The exemption of visas for Peruvians and Colombians requires further approval in the European Union’s parliament which hopefully will be ratified by member nations.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

South Sudan: US Department of State Updates Travel Warning, Travel by US Citizens Discouraged

The US Department of State continues to warn US citizens of the risks of travel to the Republic of South Sudan and strongly recommends US citizens pay careful attention to existing in-country conditions when planning to visit. This replaces the Travel Warning dated March 29, 2013, and updates information on services to US citizens in the Republic of South Sudan. 

The Department of State strongly recommends that you avoid all travel to the states in the border region between Sudan and South Sudan (Upper Nile, Unity, and Western Bahr el Ghazal states in South Sudan; Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states in Sudan; and the Abyei Special Administrative District). 

Although fighting between Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) has declined since spring 2012, the potential for troop build-ups along the border and renewed fighting remains. 

You should exercise caution in all areas of South Sudan. In addition to sporadic clashes in the border region, there are armed militia forces that engage in violent clashes with SPLA forces in various areas of South Sudan, particularly in Jonglei State; these clashes can flare up with little warning and may exacerbate ethnic tensions throughout the country, leading to further violence. 

The Government of South Sudan has limited capacity to deter crime or provide security to travelers throughout the country, including in the capital city of Juba. 

The risk of violent crime is high in Juba. In addition to the risk of criminality, US citizens have been subject to arrest and detention without cause and there have been allegations of physical abuse by South Sudanese security services. 

The US Embassy in Juba has imposed a curfew from 0100 hours to 0600 hours to better ensure the safety of its personnel. In addition to the curfew, the embassy has implemented other measures to protect US government personnel living and working in South Sudan. These include requiring personnel to travel in armored government vehicles at all times at night and to obtain advance permission for any travel outside of Juba. At this time, spouses and family members of US government personnel are not permitted to reside in South Sudan. 

If you are currently working on humanitarian relief or development efforts in Juba, or anywhere in South Sudan, you should take measures to reduce your exposure to violent crime, and should closely follow the security policies and procedures of your organization. 

There are likely to be disruptions or long delays in services provided by the Government of South Sudan, including health care and sanitation. 

The US Embassy currently provides limited consular services to US citizens. The ability to provide emergency consular services outside the capital may be constrained. Routine consular services are available through the US embassies in Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya. 

US citizens can obtain global updates from the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website, where you can find current alerts and advisories. Current information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States, or for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 0800 hours to 2000 hours Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except US federal holidays). 

See the below link for the entirety of the travel warning:
http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_6186

Madagascar: Taos (NM) Resident and Another European Killed by Mob Over Death of a Child

According to The Taos News in New Mexico, local residents are planning to commemorate the life of French and Italian citizen Roberto Gianfalla, 50, the former proprietor of a Taos pizza restaurant, after his murder in Madagascar on October 3.

A native of Palermo, Italy who saw much of the US and the world, Gianfalla founded Pizza Piazza on Siler Road in 2007. Mr. Gianfalla sold his restaurant in 2009, but left positive impressions of his life during his brief years in Taos.

Gianfalla and another European tourist, Frenchman Sebastien Judalet, 38, were burned alive at the hands of a mob in the town of Nosy Be on Madagascar’s northern coast, according to Agenzia Giornalistica Italia.

It was an unthinkably grisly, almost medieval end for two French tourists visiting a seaside hot spot in Madagascar. A seething mob tortured, castrated and burned the men alive, using cell phones to film their dying agonies.

COMMENT:  Since the bizarre attack that ended of the lives of the two men, family and friends of the two Frenchmen who were both accused of pedophilia and the trafficking in human organs, yet police have emphasized that the two men were  never suspects from their standpoint.

Gianfalla, 50, was a pizza chef, father and traveler who had lived in New Mexico, Florida, North Carolina, France and Sicily. Judalet, 38, was a single father of an 11-year-old girl and worked as a bus driver in Paris. 

Both victims were on the trendy island of Nosy Be on tourist visas, and both were thrown alive into a bonfire after being accused of killing and castrating an 8-year-old local boy for the purpose of organ trafficking.

Reports from Madagascar police say there is absolutely no connection between the men and the boy’s death. Vincent Lanza, a community leader on the island, told AFP that the boy, age eight, drowned before someone cut off his genitals.

Gianfalla had both Italian and French passports but had lived and worked in many cities in the United States. 

Our readers are cautiously reminded that situations may well develop abroad that stem from local laws, unchecked vigilantism, social mores and rumors that fuel mobs engaging in unspeakable events.

Interestingly, the French Foreign Ministry has made no comments regarding the wrongful deaths of either Gianfalla or Judalet, who strangely were not traveling together and had no connection to each other.   

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.