Lacking the hard edge – academics alone will always fail in asset recovery efforts

Using academics to locate missing or looted monies from current or post conflict zones makes sense – for part of the problem – namely forensic accounting, unravelling complex financial structures and corporate cloaking mechanisms like trusts and offshore havens. However giving the same academics the responsibility for actioning the recovery strategy informed by this analysis is flawed. They do not possess the dealmaking, “street smarts”, mediation, negotiation, fixer, logistical, operational or in-country savvy to succeed on the ground.

Abdalla Kablan is a case in point. He was chosen to head Libya’s billion-dollar hunt for sovereign wealth hidden around the world by Gaddafi. Kablan is a 30 year old computational finance expert with a PhD degree in Computational Finance from University of Essex, an MSc in Financial Engineering and Knowledge Management from the University of Bradford, UK, and a BSc in Computer Systems Engineering from the University of Malta, based in Malta. He was asked by Ali Zeidan (Libyan PM 2012-2014) to lead an official, government campaign to track down and recover billions in cash stashed away through vehicles like the Libyan Investment Authority.


He decided that a central, government-mandated authority had to deal with government authorities and financial institutions. Kablan gave a presentation of how a central authority could employ computer science and quantitative mathematics to track down financial investments and the life cycle of capital. In Kablan, the Libyans had a desk based expert who could handle the computational forensics, data mining, and asset identification. 

He became part of the newly formed Tracing & Asset-Recovery Support Bureau (TARSB). His plan was to establish links with international organisations, Interpol, and the UN-World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR). StAR’s most important role is fostering ties between countries seeking looted money and those sitting on it. There were similar models that could be examined, Great Britain had formed task forces to work with Egypt and the United States’ Department of Justice had the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section already provided legal and policy assistance to foreign governments. 

Kablan also proposed to link up with Libya’s own institutions, Private Banks, the Central Bank, and the Libyan investment entities, to be able to check data, transfers and investments. TARSB started data mining online resources, using artificial intelligence and heuristics to profile unstructured data for clues.


Progress was glacial. Kablan says he was frustrated by the inability to actually turn the TARSB into a central authority. Malta was ready to transfer €100 million in Libyan funds but they had concerns about the source of the request to re-patriate the monies. According to Kablan, Malta was keeping the Libyan people’s interests at heart by not just “dishing it out to anyone.” Bloomberg then alleged that Malta was being reticent in giving the money back in an “exposé” on Libya’s asset recovery efforts that made serious allegations about Kablan and Malta.

In ‘How Libya Blew Billions and Its Best Chance at Democracy’, Bloomberg claimed Gaddafi’s son Mutassim had €100 million in Maltese accounts, and suggested that the country was being difficult in letting the cash go. It then alleged that Kablan was only picked by Zeidan for being the son-in-law of foreign minister Mohammed Abdelaziz – but Kablan is not even married, nor is he dating Abdelaziz’s daughter. The article also alleged that he had worked for Exante, a finance firm in Malta that also acts as a broker for Bitcoin, “the virtual currency favored by drug dealers and money launderers.” 


Zeidan wanted to appoint an independent person of integrity with proven technical competence to help Libya recover its money. When Zeidan set up the TARSB in August 2013 to hunt down the assets held by Libya’s sovereign funds, such as the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) and LAFICO, cooperation was already underway with Interpol, the World Bank, France and Britain, and the United States’ attorney general. Eventually the TARSB was besieged by internal politics: the LIA was intent on recovering the hidden assets itself, while another unit called the Asset Recovery Committee (ARC) appointed by former prime minister Abdul Rahim Al Keeb, sought the sole mandate to recover assets.


Eventually, Kablan was the victim of an abduction attempt in Tripoli. He received threats, was unable to move freely, was poorly equipped to deal with the hostile realities of the “street” as he took the desk based research out into the world to initiate the recovery plan informed by the academic research. He resigned his post, left Libya and will not return. 


Kablan was unable to take the academic theory and put it into practice. He and his team lacked the core skills to action their plan and manage personal and organizational risk while doing so. He was a soft target and those that did not want his work to continue did not need to exert much pressure, relatively speaking, to prompt him to abandon his mission. 

In Kablan and the TARSB, Libya possessed one part of a two part solution – the toothless part. Firms like TMG Corporate Services who can probe the clues and implement the strategy developed by academics like Kablan and his team are the hard edge that Libya did not possess in this spectacularly unsuccessful effort to identify and repatriate stolen assets. 

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Why does the world not react to Israeli attacks on Palestine / Gaza?

The Short Answer

The polarized and well publicized views of each side and their supporters are so jaded, “old hat” and reactionary that few international commentators or governments wish to become embroiled in a conflict whose roots are so deep that few believe a resolution will ever be possible until one side is utterly defeated by the other. This outcome is completely unacceptable of course so as bad as the status quo would appear to be it is better than the alternative. 

The Long Answer

To elaborate – the current crisis in Israel / Gaza is a two sided affair. Each side and even their moderate supporters comment and pass judgment in an increasingly partisan fashion. 

Palestinian supporters post images of bombed out domestic dwellings, civilian deaths, mass panic after receiving 60 second “dud rocket warnings” / “knock on the roof” bombing techniques and in particular the deadly consequences of the Israeli bombardment for the children of Gaza. Israeli supporters post images of rocket intercepts, burned out cars hit by Hamas rockets, allegations that Hamas are targeting a nuclear reactor and images of firefighters battling gas station blazes caused by short range rocket attacks which were not intercepted by the Israeli “Iron Dome” missile defense system.

The Iron Dome is Israel’s anti-missile defenSe system that, it is claimed, has had a nearly 90 per cent success rate in intercepting potentially deadly rockets from Gaza. The Iron Dome was designed and built by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems in 2011. It’s aim is to intercept potentially deadly rockets aimed at the Israeli territories. There are seven missile batteries placed around Israel firing 10ft long projectiles to intercept rockets fired on Israeli territories. The missiles have a range of between 2.5 and 43 miles. Each missile fired costs $50,000. Israel has invested in excess of $1 billion into the Iron Dome. The US has also pumped $235 million towards the project this year alone. If the Iron Dome was not in place then atrocities in Israel would match or exceed those in Gaza. 

In the worst violence since 2012 Hamas continues to fire hundreds of rockets into Israel. Operation Protective Edge – the Israeli response – continues to bombard targets throughout Gaza including, highly controversially, the private dwellings of suspected Hamas leaders with the inevitable consequences for those living close by.

It is clear to all impartial observers that the response of a first world military organization will be far more deadly than the acts of terrorism which have provoked it. The Hamas arsenal is made up of short range rockets albeit with lethal consequences when targets are hit. The Israeli arsenal is a complex mix of highly effective and brutally destructive state of the art guided munitions capable of being deployed from land, sea and air platforms. 

The fact is that the provocative acts, whether based on genuine grievances or not, have produced a far deadlier effect for the civilians of Gaza – a sacrifice that Hamas appears to be willing to let their fellow countrymen absorb. 

So why does Hamas do it & why does Israel not experience more international pressure to cease reacting? Here are three points to keep in mind.

Quoting Ishaan Tharoor writing in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Hamas does not want a return to the status quo

A cessation of hostilities may end the current Israeli bombing campaign in Gaza, but it would reinstate a state of affairs many Gazans find intolerable. Since 2007, when Hamas won a battle for control of the Gaza Strip, Israel has clamped down on the densely populated, impoverished territory, imposing blockades and launching various military incursions. “The problem is not the cease-fire, the problem is the situation in Gaza,” said Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, in a televised address this week.

Hamas, as well as many ordinary Gazans, want restrictions on border crossings into the enclave to be loosened – in particular, the Rafah crossing with Egypt, which is the main gateway into the territory for goods and aid. But that has been closed since the ascension of Egypt’s Sisi, who ousted president Mohamed Morsi and banned Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, an institution that is Hamas’ ideological progenitor.

After the disappearance of three Israeli teenagers in the Israeli-occupied West Bank last month (who were eventually found murdered), Israel conducted mass arrests of hundreds of suspected Hamas operatives living there, even though the group denies any role in the teenagers’ abduction. Critics accused Israel of carrying out “collective punishment” on the Palestinians. Hamas wants some 54 of those detained to be released. Other demands include the extension of fishing zones in compliance with a 2012 agreement that critics say Israel has not followed. Gazan fishermen, struggling in the dwindling shoals, face routine harassment from Israeli gunboats.

For Hamas, rockets are politics by other means

Israel’s sophisticated Iron Dome system has neutralised most of the dangerous rockets launched from the Gaza Strip; many of the rockets fired carry no payload or land harmlessly in the desert or sea. Yet militants in Gaza continue to launch them at Israel amid the current crisis.

Rocket fire is Hamas’ main tool for achieving, or at least asserting, its demands. The Islamist organisation styles itself as a resistance movement against Israeli occupation and has long been at odds with the government of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the main Palestinian interlocutor in the stalled peace process with Israel. Abbas has little influence over Gaza and the current escalation sidelines him even more, as Griff Witte and William Booth write in The Washington Post:

Bitter Abbas aides acknowledge that the president is fast losing relevance, but they say this is what Israel intended all along: hopeless negotiations followed by a fight that would elevate militant Palestinian elements at the expense of relative moderates. The timing, they say, is aimed at derailing a fragile Palestinian reconciliation deal that brought together the various factions, including Hamas, under Abbas’ leadership. “The objective of this war for Israel is political revenge against Mahmoud Abbas,” said Husam Zomlot, a top foreign policy official in Abbas’ secular Fatah party. “Israel wants to pull all of us into the military arena, because that’s where they have the advantage.”

Hamas thrives in this polarised context. Earlier Israeli operations against Hamas in Gaza in 2008 and 2012 led to tremendous loss of life, but did little long-term damage to the militants. Hardline politicians in Israel are now calling for a ground offensive into Gaza, a move that could lead to a calamitous escalation of the conflict.

Hamas also tragically gains from the rising death toll of Palestinian civilians. A cease-fire on Israel’s terms, writes Mya Guarneri of the +972 blog, “would also mean an end to the immediate damage to Israel’s image caused by the horrific photos and footage coming out of Gaza, and global protests against what Israel calls Operation Protective Edge”.

Hamas has fewer options and less leverage than in the past

Away from the battle, Hamas in Gaza faces crippling financial headaches and mounting anger over its record of governance in the territory. Some 40,000 public employees employed by the Hamas-run government in Gaza have gone without salaries for months, eking by on small stipends. The group is demanding the payment of these salaries as a condition for a cease-fire.
The shortfall in funds is in part a consequence of the upheavals of the Arab Spring. The civil war in Syria caused it to lose a key backer in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who’s now the target of Sunni antipathy – and Palestinian Muslims are Sunnis – across the region. Iran, the Middle East’s chief Shiite power, has also reduced its assistance to Hamas in recent years.

The closure of many smuggling tunnels into Gaza from Egypt has taken a toll as well. Sisi seems to have returned his country’s foreign policy to the earlier era of Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak, where a US-authored pact with Israel guaranteed a degree of stability in the region and military aid to Egypt, but did little to improve the lot of ordinary Palestinians. Sisi accuses Hamas of abetting an insurgency in Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula.

Without Egypt on its side, it’s unclear where Hamas can turn abroad for greater leverage. It retains varying levels of support from governments in Qatar and Turkey, but not enough that it can place much stock in a positive diplomatic solution. And so it clings to its bellicose rhetoric and rocket fire, no matter the bodies piling up around it.

Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a Senior Editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.

Read more: Three reasons Hamas keeps fighting a losing battle

Multiple crises blending into regional "end of days"

Libya, Syria, Iraq and Gaza are all edging ever further toward the abyss as the cycles of violence, retribution and retaliation worsen, drawing in – as these matters inevitably do – previously unconnected third parties. Egypt, Israel, Turkey, the EU, the USA and Iran are all getting pulled in by forces outside of their control. 

The USA and Iran make an unlikely couple in Iraq as they consider how best to co-operate in the fight against the Islamic State (formerly ISIL – Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (al-Sham)) and the newly declared leader of the caliphate Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

In Syria, Bashar al-Assad was recently sworn in for his third presidential term amidst allegations of barrel bombing of residential neighbourhoods and the use of WMD in the three year old civil war. IS carve out large swathes of territory from the Iraq border deep into Syria and even the UN states that in the unlikely event of an outcome between the warring sides that the nature of the conflict and “the devastating toll will have sown the seeds of future conflict”.

In Gaza, Hamas are feeling threatened by the emergence and presence of IS and similarly Fatah in the West Bank are feeling the influence of the group on their control of “cells” within their organisation. With the commencement of the Israeli ground offensive in Gaza (07.17.2014) the prospect is raised of the first “official” face-off between Israel and IS. 

Libya has seen an escalation in fighting over recent months – between the victorious groups / militia’s post-Gaddafi (who significantly outnumber government forces) – to the point where the EU this week declared the evacuation of all its citizens and a potential call for the deployment of international troops. Tripoli airport is damaged to the extent that the Libyan government has declared it unfit for purpose and the fleet will require hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs to make it operational. 

Egypt has only recently emerged from a period of serious instability after the Hamas friendly Muslim Brotherhood regime was ousted in favor of Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein el-Sisi, former Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces. Egypt’s attempts to broker a Palestinian / Israeli ceasefire in Gaza failed recently and the Egyptian administration is wary of being perceived within Egypt to be negotiating too closely with Hamas due to the latters association with the Muslim Brotherhood. MB has been accused of being Hamas spies while Hamas is a proscribed organisation in Egypt and is constantly attacked in pro-regime Egyptian media for allegedly meddling in Egyptian affairs. 

Turkey is threatened by events to the south and across the Black Sea matters in Ukraine crisis grow more grave as it plays surrogate to a Russia-EU-US power play over regional influence and after Russian arms in the hands of East Ukraine rebels allegedly downed a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet in Russia / Ukraine airspace (07.17.2014). 

Meanwhile IS have allegedly shown up in Nigeria in talks with Boko Haram, in Afghanistan and release training videos from locations in Uzbekistan and Chechnya. The IS social media campaign has led to a flurry of border activity in the EU and the US as governments there seek to prevent Mujahid recruits from joining the fight and potentially becoming an internal security threat upon their return. 

The effects and consequences of this series of conflicts / crises and the emergence of IS are global. Regardless of the attitude to the declaration of the caliphate – it acts as a new departure in how radical Islam organizes and dispels with national and regional politics in favor of an over-arching unifying call to all Muslims in the context of the Mahdi and “end of days” concept.

The ripples are being felt in the EU and the US as disaffected Western men influenced by the increasingly sophisticated recruitment techniques of IS seek to make the trip to join and fight under the IS banner.   

(VIDEOS/PHOTOS) Is Operation Protective Edge the tipping point in Israel? – Gaza pounding continues …

The civilians of the Gaza Strip cannot afford to pay the price of Hamas aggression which exposes them to death and destruction on a terrifying scale. The civilians of Israel cannot also be expected to run to bomb shelters on a daily basis and live in constant fear of unannounced aerial bombardment. The innocent civilians, moderates and children of Israel and Gaza are the victims of unacceptable extremism on both sides. Scant coverage is given to the fact that Abbas and Netanyahu exhausted all efforts to avoid this catastrophic escalation of violence but both have been cornered by the activities of extreme nationalists in their camps. The current crisis in Israel / Gaza is a two sided affair. Opinions are generally polarized with each side and even their moderate supporters commenting in an increasingly partisan fashion. 

Partisan Commentary by Both Sides: Palestinian supporters post images of bombed out domestic dwellings, civilian deaths, mass panic after receiving 60 second “dud rocket warnings” / “knock on the roof” bombing techniques (see Israeli ‘knock on the roof’ bombing technique caught on film (VIDEO) below) and in particular the deadly consequences of the Israeli bombardment for the children of Gaza. Israeli supporters post images of rocket intercepts, burned out cars hit by Hamas rockets, allegations that Hamas are targeting a nuclear reactor and images of firefighters battling gas station blazes caused by short range rocket attacks which were not intercepted by the Israeli “Iron Dome” missile defence system.

(VIDEO) IDF “knock on the roof” bombing technique: The IDF practice of firing a missile at a civilian home to warn the occupants to leave the building before a larger attack, has been caught on film. Amnesty International has decried “roof knocking” saying it in no way constitutes an “effective warning”. A YouTube video uploaded on Saturday shows how a Palestinian house in Samir Nofal is struck by a warning hit before being destroyed about a minute later by a full missile attack. Prior to the strike the occupants of the building reportedly received a call from the IDF, warning of an imminent attack. Amnesty International has condemned the “knock on the roof” technique in an appeal to the UN to investigate possible violations by Hamas and the IDF during Operation Protective Edge. 

 Israeli 'knock on the roof' bombing technique caught on film (VIDEO)


Comparison with the Crisis of 2012: In the worst violence since 2012 Hamas continues to fire hundreds of rockets into Israel. Operation Protective Edge – the Israeli response – continues to bombard targets throughout Gaza including, highly controversially, the private dwellings of suspected Hamas leaders with the inevitable consequences for those living close by. The map below is a Haaretz analysis of the 2012 crisis – the current crisis has already far exceeded the statistics in this info-graphic in a matter of days.



Weaponry & Response Comparison: It is clear to all impartial observers that the response of a first world military organization will be far more deadly than the acts of terrorism which have provoked it. The Hamas arsenal is made up of short range rockets albeit with lethal consequences when targets are hit. The Israeli arsenal is a complex mix of highly effective and brutally destructive state of the art guided munitions capable of being deployed from land, sea and air platforms. 




While the info-graphic below draws conclusions from the death toll attributed to each sides arsenal in 2012 the fact is that the provocative acts, whether based on genuine grievances or not, have produced a far deadlier effect for the civilians of Gaza – a sacrifice that Hamas appears to be willing to let their fellow countrymen absorb. 


(VIDEO) Israeli Moderate Ari Shavit Speaks of Extreme Consequences: Ari Shavit, senior correspondent for Ha’aretz, says serious and potentially apocalyptic escalation between Israel and Hamas may be imminent and blames “extreme Jewish nationalists” who have been acting in a “very violent way for a long time” for forcing “moderates” on both sides into an unwanted escalation. More from CNN at http://www.cnn.com/


(VIDEO) The Iron Dome: The Iron Dome is Israel’s anti-missile defence system that, it is claimed, has had a nearly 90 per cent success rate in intercepting potentially deadly rockets from Gaza. The Iron Dome was designed and built by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems in 2011. It’s aim is to intercept potentially deadly rockets aimed at the Israeli territories. There are seven missile batteries placed around Israel firing 10ft long projectiles to intercept rockets fired on Israeli territories. The missiles have a range of between 2.5 and 43 miles. Each missile fired costs $50,000. Israel has invested in excess of $1 billion into the Iron Dome. The US has also pumped $235 million towards the project this year alone.



(VIDEO) Reuters report on Operation Protective Edge: Israel says it won’t tolerate rocket fire on its cities as it intensifies aerial offensive against Hamas in Gaza, bombing 50 sites, including homes. 



The consequences for the civilians of Israel – Static Images from the last 72 Hours


The consequences for the civilians of the Gaza Strip – Static Images from the last 72 Hours 


(PHOTOS) July 2014 Alleged Demolition of Shrines & Mosques by IS (ISIS)

This series of images allegedly shows IS (ISIS) jihadists demolish mosques, shrines in northern Iraq. Photographs from the area posted online under the banner: “Demolishing shrines and idols in the state of Nineveh” depicted mosques being turned into piles of rubble – explosives deployed against Shiite buildings – and bulldozers flattening the shrines. 

According to sources who spoke to RT: (http://rt.com/news/170652-jihadists-destroy-mosques-iraq/)
EXCERPT BEGINS:
Islamic militant sect, ISIS, which has been rampaging across the north and west of Iraq since last month, has been demolishing sacred sites such as shrines and mosques around the historic northern city of Mosul in Nineveh province.

At least four shrines to Sunni Arab or Sufi figures have been destroyed by the bulldozers, according to AFP. The structures had been built around graves of Muslim saints. Six Shiite mosques have also been destroyed using explosives.

“We feel very sad for the demolition of these shrines, which we inherited from our fathers and grandfathers,” 51-year-old Mosul resident Ahmed told AFP. 

“They are landmarks in the city,” he said.

Local residents verified that buildings had been destroyed and two cathedrals occupied to the agency. Crosses at the front of Mosul’s Chaldean cathedral and Syrian Orthodox cathedral were removed and replaced with the black flag of the Islamic State.

The city of Tal Afar, approximately 70km west of Mosul, was also targeted, with a Shiite Huseiniya temple being blown up. 

One of the shrines destroyed had survived a prior targeting by the group on June 24.

“Dozens of men, women and children formed a human wall and surrounded the sacred shrine of Sheikh Fathi in al-Mushahada neighbourhood of western Mosul and prevented the terrorists from storming it,”Ninawa tribal council deputy head Ibrahim al-Hassan told Al-Shorfa shortly after the incident.

Sheikh Fathi’s shrine – one of Mosul’s most important, dating back to 1760, was among those destroyed.

Mosul was captured on June 10 when Sunni militants drove Iraq’s army out of the city. Thousands of civilians fled as jihadists took control of the city against the Shi’ite majority Baghdad government led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Maliki has sworn to defeat the jihadists; on Friday he stated publicly that: “Pulling out of the battlefield while facing terrorist organizations that are against Islam and humanity would show weakness instead of carrying out my legitimate, national and moral responsibility.” 

“I have vowed to God that I will continue to fight by the side of our armed forces and volunteers until we defeat the enemies of Iraq and its people,” he said.
EXCERPT ENDS: