sexta-feira, 18 de agosto de 2017
Uma história que nos empobreceu e nos envergonha
16 de agosto de 2017, 6:30
A crónica da morte anunciada da PT é muito mais do que o relato de uma falência ou a história de uma companhia que correu mal. É principalmente uma crónica de costumes. Uma novela, onde a patifaria, a falta de escrúpulos e o perfume da corrupção atravessa diferentes elites do poder económico e do poder político para se abater sobre um país afundado numa grave crise financeira e moral. Tanto como os danos resultantes da destruição de uma empresa inovadora que poderia servir de baluarte à modernização e à internacionalização da economia nacional, a história sórdida da agonia da PT e as movimentações crápulas da maioria dos seus principais dirigentes deixa em Portugal e nos portugueses uma sensação de vulnerabilidade que só o sistema judicial poderá um dia resgatar.
Há muito se sabia que o capitalismo português não passava de um libreto de uma ópera cómica. Há muito que se suspeitava que as teias relacionais entre as elites financeiras da capital e o poder político tinham criado um sistema que se defendia e se perpetuava em relações conspícuas. Durante a tenebrosa era de José Sócrates, essas redes viveram no ambiente ideal para prosperar e perder qualquer laivo de vergonha. O alto patrocínio de São Bento foi para Ricardo Salgado e os seus sequazes mais do que uma autorização: foi um incentivo para que a PT fosse transformada num cadáver onde os abutres pudessem saciar as suas necessidades financeiras.
Tudo aconteceu sem que os reguladores vissem, sem que altos quadros da PT denunciassem, sem que a imprensa se empenhasse em perceber, sem que as instâncias judiciais fossem capazes de antecipar o que estava em jogo. O falhanço da PT, sendo consequência de uma cultura irresponsável, é também o falhanço do país que fomos nesses anos perdidos da primeira década do século.
Perdida a glória da PT, encaixada a destruição de valor, resta exigir que a Justiça faça o seu caminho. Resta também desenvolver mecanismos de vigilância que evitem a repetição de uma vergonha assim. Se houve um mérito no período de ajustamento foi o de trazer para a luz do dia a venalidade e velhacaria que se cultivavam entre os donos disto tudo. Hoje já não há empresas como a PT para extorquir. Esperemos que a denúncia de investigações jornalísticas como a da Cristina Ferreira ou a punição judicial sejam capazes de travar por muitos anos a germinação de redes como as que arrasaram a PT.
The long read
Neoliberalism: the idea that changed the world
The word has become a rhetorical weapon, but it properly names the reigning ideology of our era – one that venerates the logic of the market and strips away the things that make us human. By Stephen Metcalf
Friday 18 August 2017 06.00 BST
Last summer, researchers at the International Monetary Fund settled a long and bitter debate over “neoliberalism”: they admitted it exists. Three senior economists at the IMF, an organisation not known for its incaution, published a paper questioning the benefits of neoliberalism. In so doing, they helped put to rest the idea that the word is nothing more than a political slur, or a term without any analytic power. The paper gently called out a “neoliberal agenda” for pushing deregulation on economies around the world, for forcing open national markets to trade and capital, and for demanding that governments shrink themselves via austerity or privatisation. The authors cited statistical evidence for the spread of neoliberal policies since 1980, and their correlation with anaemic growth, boom-and-bust cycles and inequality.
Neoliberalism is an old term, dating back to the 1930s, but it has been revived as a way of describing our current politics – or more precisely, the range of thought allowed by our politics. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, it was a way of assigning responsibility for the debacle, not to a political party per se, but to an establishment that had conceded its authority to the market. For the Democrats in the US and Labour in the UK, this concession was depicted as a grotesque betrayal of principle. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, it was said, had abandoned the left’s traditional commitments, especially to workers, in favour of a global financial elite and the self-serving policies that enriched them; and in doing so, had enabled a sickening rise in inequality.
Over the past few years, as debates have turned uglier, the word has become a rhetorical weapon, a way for anyone left of centre to incriminate those even an inch to their right. (No wonder centrists say it’s a meaningless insult: they’re the ones most meaningfully insulted by it.) But “neoliberalism” is more than a gratifyingly righteous jibe. It is also, in its way, a pair of eyeglasses.
Peer through the lens of neoliberalism and you see more clearly how the political thinkers most admired by Thatcher and Reagan helped shape the ideal of society as a kind of universal market (and not, for example, a polis, a civil sphere or a kind of family) and of human beings as profit-and-loss calculators (and not bearers of grace, or of inalienable rights and duties). Of course the goal was to weaken the welfare state and any commitment to full employment, and – always – to cut taxes and deregulate. But “neoliberalism” indicates something more than a standard rightwing wish list. It was a way of reordering social reality, and of rethinking our status as individuals.
Still peering through the lens, you see how, no less than the welfare state, the free market is a human invention. You see how pervasively we are now urged to think of ourselves as proprietors of our own talents and initiative, how glibly we are told to compete and adapt. You see the extent to which a language formerly confined to chalkboard simplifications describing commodity markets (competition, perfect information, rational behaviour) has been applied to all of society, until it has invaded the grit of our personal lives, and how the attitude of the salesman has become enmeshed in all modes of self-expression.
In short, “neoliberalism” is not simply a name for pro-market policies, or for the compromises with finance capitalism made by failing social democratic parties. It is a name for a premise that, quietly, has come to regulate all we practise and believe: that competition is the only legitimate organising principle for human activity.
No sooner had neoliberalism been certified as real, and no sooner had it made clear the universal hypocrisy of the market, than the populists and authoritarians came to power. In the US, Hillary Clinton, the neoliberal arch-villain, lost – and to a man who knew just enough to pretend he hated free trade. So are the eyeglasses now useless? Can they do anything to help us understand what is broken about British and American politics? Against the forces of global integration, national identity is being reasserted, and in the crudest possible terms. What could the militant parochialism of Brexit Britain and Trumpist America have to do with neoliberal rationality? What possible connection is there between the president – a freewheeling boob – and the bloodless paragon of efficiency known as the free market?
It isn’t only that the free market produces a tiny cadre of winners and an enormous army of losers – and the losers, looking for revenge, have turned to Brexit and Trump. There was, from the beginning, an inevitable relationship between the utopian ideal of the free market and the dystopian present in which we find ourselves; between the market as unique discloser of value and guardian of liberty, and our current descent into post-truth and illiberalism.
Moving the stale debate about neoliberalism forward begins, I think, with taking seriously the measure of its cumulative effect on all of us, regardless of affiliation. And this requires returning to its origins, which have nothing to do with Bill or Hillary Clinton. There once was a group of people who did call themselves neoliberals, and did so proudly, and their ambition was a total revolution in thought. The most prominent among them, Friedrich Hayek, did not think he was staking out a position on the political spectrum, or making excuses for the fatuous rich, or tinkering along the edges of microeconomics.
He thought he was solving the problem of modernity: the problem of objective knowledge. For Hayek, the market didn’t just facilitate trade in goods and services; it revealed truth. How did his ambition collapse into its opposite – the mind-bending possibility that, thanks to our thoughtless veneration of the free market, truth might be driven from public life altogether?
When the idea occurred to Friedrich Hayek in 1936, he knew, with the conviction of a “sudden illumination”, that he had struck upon something new. “How can the combination of fragments of knowledge existing in different minds,” he wrote, “bring about results which, if they were to be brought about deliberately, would require a knowledge on the part of the directing mind which no single person can possess?”
This was not a technical point about interest rates or deflationary slumps. This was not a reactionary polemic against collectivism or the welfare state. This was a way of birthing a new world. To his mounting excitement, Hayek understood that the market could be thought of as a kind of mind.
Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” had already given us the modern conception of the market: as an autonomous sphere of human activity and therefore, potentially, a valid object of scientific knowledge. But Smith was, until the end of his life, an 18th-century moralist. He thought the market could be justified only in light of individual virtue, and he was anxious that a society governed by nothing but transactional self-interest was no society at all. Neoliberalism is Adam Smith without the anxiety.
That Hayek is considered the grandfather of neoliberalism – a style of thought that reduces everything to economics – is a little ironic given that he was such a mediocre economist. He was just a young, obscure Viennese technocrat when he was recruited to the London School of Economics to compete with, or possibly even dim, the rising star of John Maynard Keynes at Cambridge.
The plan backfired, and Hayek lost out to Keynes in a rout. Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, published in 1936, was greeted as a masterpiece. It dominated the public discussion, especially among young English economists in training, for whom the brilliant, dashing, socially connected Keynes was a beau idéal. By the end of the second world war, many prominent free-marketers had come around to Keynes’s way of thinking, conceding that government might play a role in managing a modern economy. The initial excitement over Hayek had dissipated. His peculiar notion that doing nothing could cure an economic depression had been discredited in theory and practice. He later admitted that he wished his work criticising Keynes would simply be forgotten.
Hayek cut a silly figure: a tall, erect, thickly accented professor in high-cut tweed, insisting on the formal “Von Hayek” but cruelly nicknamed “Mr Fluctooations” behind his back. In 1936, he was an academic without a portfolio and with no obvious future. Yet we now live in Hayek’s world, as we once lived in Keynes’s. Lawrence Summers, the Clinton adviser and former president of Harvard University, has said that Hayek’s conception of the price system as a mind is “as penetrating and original an idea as microeconomics produced in the 20th century” and “the single most important thing to learn from an economics course today”. This undersells it. Keynes did not make or predict the cold war, but his thinking wended its way into every aspect of the cold-war world; so too has Hayek’s thinking woven itself into every aspect of the post-1989 world.
Hayek’s was a total worldview: a way of structuring all reality on the model of economic competition. He begins by assuming that nearly all (if not all) human activity is a form of economic calculation, and so can be assimilated to the master concepts of wealth, value, exchange, cost – and especially price. Prices are a means of allocating scarce resources efficiently, according to need and utility, as governed by supply and demand. For the price system to function efficiently, markets must be free and competitive. Ever since Smith imagined the economy as an autonomous sphere, the possibility existed that the market might not just be one piece of society, but society as a whole. Within such a society, men and women need only follow their own self-interest and compete for scarce rewards. Through competition, “it becomes possible”, as the sociologist Will Davies has written, “to discern who and what is valuable”.
What any person acquainted with history sees as the necessary bulwarks against tyranny and exploitation – a thriving middle class and civil sphere; free institutions; universal suffrage; freedom of conscience, congregation, religion and press; a basic recognition that the individual is a bearer of dignity – held no special place in Hayek’s thought. Hayek built into neoliberalism the assumption that the market provides all necessary protection against the one real political danger: totalitarianism. To prevent this, the state need only keep the market free.
This last is what makes neoliberalism “neo”. It is a crucial modification of the older belief in a free market and a minimal state, known as “classical liberalism”. In classical liberalism, merchants simply asked the state to “leave us alone” – to laissez-nous faire. Neoliberalism recognised that the state must be active in the organisation of a market economy. The conditions allowing for a free market must be won politically, and the state must be re-engineered to support the free market on an ongoing basis.
That isn’t all: every aspect of democratic politics, from the choices of voters to the decisions of politicians, must be submitted to a purely economic analysis. The lawmaker is obliged to leave well enough alone – to not distort the natural actions of the marketplace – and so, ideally, the state provides a fixed, neutral, universal legal framework within which market forces operate spontaneously. The conscious direction of government is never preferable to the “automatic mechanism of adjustment” – ie the price system, which is not only efficient but maximises liberty, or the opportunity for men and women to make free choices about their own lives.
As Keynes jetted between London and Washington, creating the postwar order, Hayek sat pouting in Cambridge. He had been sent there during the wartime evacuations; and he complained that he was surrounded by “foreigners” and “no lack of orientals of all kinds” and “Europeans of practically all nationalities, but very few of real intelligence”.
Stuck in England, without influence or respect, Hayek had only his idea to console him; an idea so grand it would one day dissolve the ground beneath the feet of Keynes and every other intellectual. Left to its own devices, the price system functions as a kind of mind. And not just any mind, but an omniscient one: the market computes what individuals cannot grasp. Reaching out to him as an intellectual comrade-in-arms, the American journalist Walter Lippmann wrote to Hayek, saying: “No human mind has ever understood the whole scheme of a society … At best a mind can understand its own version of the scheme, something much thinner, which bears to reality some such relation as a silhouette to a man.”
It is a grand epistemological claim – that the market is a way of knowing, one that radically exceeds the capacity of any individual mind. Such a market is less a human contrivance, to be manipulated like any other, than a force to be studied and placated. Economics ceases to be a technique – as Keynes believed it to be – for achieving desirable social ends, such as growth or stable money. The only social end is the maintenance of the market itself. In its omniscience, the market constitutes the only legitimate form of knowledge, next to which all other modes of reflection are partial, in both senses of the word: they comprehend only a fragment of a whole and they plead on behalf of a special interest. Individually, our values are personal ones, or mere opinions; collectively, the market converts them into prices, or objective facts.
After washing out at LSE, Hayek never held a permanent appointment that was not paid for by corporate sponsors. Even his conservative colleagues at the University of Chicago – the global epicentre of libertarian dissent in the 1950s – regarded Hayek as a reactionary mouthpiece, a “stock rightwing man” with a “stock rightwing sponsor”, as one put it. As late as 1972, a friend could visit Hayek, now in Salzburg, only to find an elderly man prostrate with self-pity, believing his life’s work was in vain. No one cared what he had written!
There had, however, been hopeful signs: Hayek was Barry Goldwater’s favourite political philosopher and was said to be Ronald Reagan’s, too. Then there was Margaret Thatcher. To anyone who would listen, Thatcher lionised Hayek, promising to bring together his free-market philosophy with a revival of Victorian values: family, community, hard work.
Hayek met privately with Thatcher in 1975, at the very moment that she, having been named leader of the opposition in the UK, was preparing to bring his Big Idea off the shelf and into history. They huddled for 30 minutes on Lord North Street in London, at the Institute for Economic Affairs. Afterwards, Thatcher’s staff anxiously asked Hayek what he had thought. What could he say? For the first time in 40 years, power was mirroring back to Friedrich von Hayek his own cherished self-image, a man who might vanquish Keynes and remake the world.
He replied: “She’s so beautiful.”
Hayek’s Big Idea isn’t much of an idea – until you supersize it. Organic, spontaneous, elegant processes that, like a million fingers on a Ouija board, coordinate to create outcomes that are otherwise unplanned. Applied to an actual market – one for pork bellies or corn futures – this description is little more than a truism. It can be expanded to describe how various markets, in commodities and labour and even money itself, form that part of a society known as “the economy”. This is less banal, but still inconsequential; a Keynesian accepts this description happily. But what if we bump it up one more step? What if we reconceive all of society as a kind of market?
The more Hayek’s idea expands, the more reactionary it gets, the more it hides behind its pretence of scientific neutrality – and the more it allows economics to link up with the major intellectual trend of the west since the 17th century. The rise of modern science generated a problem: if the world is universally obedient to natural laws, what does it mean to be human? Is a human being simply an object in the world, like any other? There appears to be no way to assimilate the subjective, interior human experience into nature as science conceives it – as something objective whose rules we discover by observation.
Everything about the postwar political culture lay in favour of John Maynard Keynes, and an expanded role for the state in managing the economy. But everything about the postwar academic culture lay in favour of Hayek’s Big Idea. Before the war, even the most rightwing economist thought of the market as a means to a limited end, to the efficient allocation of scarce resources. From the time of Adam Smith in the mid-1700s, and up to that of the founding members of the Chicago school in the postwar years, it was commonplace to believe that the ultimate ends of society and of life, were established in the non-economic sphere.
On this view, questions of value are resolved politically and democratically, not economically – through moral reflection and public deliberation. The classic modern expression of this belief is found in a 1922 essay called Ethics and the Economic Interpretation by Frank Knight, who arrived at Chicago two decades before Hayek. “The rational economic criticism of values gives results repugnant to common sense,” Knight wrote. “Economic man is the selfish, ruthless object of moral condemnation.”
Economists had struggled for 200 years with the question of how to place the values on which an otherwise commercial society is organised beyond mere self-interest and calculation. Knight, along with his colleagues Henry Simons and Jacob Viner, were holdouts against Franklin D Roosevelt and the market interventions of the New Deal, and they established the University of Chicago as the intellectually rigorous home of free-market economics that it remains to this day. However, Simons, Viner and Knight all started their careers before the unrivalled prestige of atomic physicists drew enormous sums of money into the university system and kicked off a postwar vogue for “hard” science. They did not worship equations or models, and they worried about non-scientific questions. Most explicitly, they worried about questions of value, where value was absolutely distinct from price.
It is not just that Simons, Viner and Knight were less dogmatic than Hayek, or more willing to pardon the state for taxing and spending. It is not the case that Hayek was their intellectual superior. But they acknowledged as a first principle that society was not the same thing as the market, and that price was not the same thing as value. This set them up to be swallowed whole by history.
It was Hayek who showed us how to get from the hopeless condition of human partiality to the majestic objectivity of science. Hayek’s Big Idea acts as the missing link between our subjective human nature, and nature itself. In so doing, it puts any value that cannot be expressed as a price – as the verdict of a market – on an equally unsure footing, as nothing more than opinion, preference, folklore or superstition.
More than anyone, even Hayek himself, it was the great postwar Chicago economist Milton Friedman who helped convert governments and politicians to the power of Hayek’s Big Idea. But first he broke with two centuries of precedent and declared that economics is “in principle independent of any particular ethical position or normative judgments” and is “an ‘objective’ science, in precisely the same sense as any of the physical sciences”. Values of the old, mental, normative kind were defective, they were “differences about which men can ultimately only fight”. There is the market, in other words, and there is relativism.
Markets may be human facsimiles of natural systems, and like the universe itself, they may be authorless and valueless. But the application of Hayek’s Big Idea to every aspect of our lives negates what is most distinctive about us. That is, it assigns what is most human about human beings – our minds and our volition – to algorithms and markets, leaving us to mimic, zombie-like, the shrunken idealisations of economic models. Supersizing Hayek’s idea and radically upgrading the price system into a kind of social omniscience means radically downgrading the importance of our individual capacity to reason – our ability to provide and evaluate justifications for our actions and beliefs.
As a result, the public sphere – the space where we offer up reasons, and contest the reasons of others – ceases to be a space for deliberation, and becomes a market in clicks, likes and retweets. The internet is personal preference magnified by algorithm; a pseudo-public space that echoes the voice already inside our head. Rather than a space of debate in which we make our way, as a society, toward consensus, now there is a mutual-affirmation apparatus banally referred to as a “marketplace of ideas”. What looks like something public and lucid is only an extension of our own pre-existing opinions, prejudices and beliefs, while the authority of institutions and experts has been displaced by the aggregative logic of big data. When we access the world through a search engine, its results are ranked, as the founder of Google puts it, “recursively” – by an infinity of individual users functioning as a market, continuously and in real time.
The awesome utilities of digital technology aside, an earlier and more humanist tradition, which was dominant for centuries, had always distinguished between our tastes and preferences – the desires that find expression in the market – and our capacity for reflection on those preferences, which allows us to form and express values.
“A taste is almost defined as a preference about which you do not argue,” the philosopher and economist Albert O Hirschman once wrote. “A taste about which you argue, with others or yourself, ceases ipso facto being a taste – it turns into a value.”
Hirschman drew a distinction between that part of one’s self that is a consumer, and that part of one’s self that is a supplier of reasons. The market reflects what Hirschman called the preferences that are “revealed by agents as they buy goods and services”. But, as he puts it, men and women also “have the ability to step back from their ‘revealed’ wants, volition and preferences, to ask themselves whether they really want these wants and prefer these preferences”. We fashion our selves and identities on the basis of this capacity for reflection. The use of one’s individual reflective powers is reason; the collective use of these reflective powers is public reason; the use of public reason to make law and policy is democracy. When we provide reasons for our actions and beliefs, we bring ourselves into being: individually and collectively, we decide who and what we are.
According to the logic of Hayek’s Big Idea, these expressions of human subjectivity are meaningless without ratification by the market – as Friedman said, they are nothing but relativism, each as good as any other. When the only objective truth is determined by the market, all other values have the status of mere opinions; everything else is relativist hot air. But Friedman’s “relativism” is a charge that can be thrown at any claim based on human reason. It is a nonsense insult, as all humanistic pursuits are “relative” in a way the sciences are not. They are relative to the (private) condition of having a mind, and the (public) need to reason and understand even when we can’t expect scientific proof. When our debates are no longer resolved by deliberation over reasons, then the whimsies of power will determine the outcome.
This is where the triumph of neoliberalism meets the political nightmare we are living through now. “You had one job,” the old joke goes, and Hayek’s grand project, as originally conceived in 30s and 40s, was explicitly designed to prevent a backslide into political chaos and fascism. But the Big Idea was always this abomination waiting to happen. It was, from the beginning, pregnant with the thing it was said to protect against. Society reconceived as a giant market leads to a public life lost to bickering over mere opinions; until the public turns, finally, in frustration to a strongman as a last resort for solving its otherwise intractable problems.
In 1989, an American reporter knocked on the 90-year-old Hayek’s door. He was living in Freiburg, West Germany, in a third-floor apartment in a stucco house on Urachstrasse. The two men sat in a sunroom whose windows looked out on the mountains, and Hayek, who was recovering from pneumonia, pulled a blanket over his legs as they spoke.
This was no longer the man who had once wallowed in his own defeat at the hands of Keynes. Thatcher had just written to Hayek in a tone of millennial triumph. None of what she and Reagan had accomplished “would have been possible without the values and beliefs to set us on the right road and provide the right sense of direction”. Hayek was now cheerful on his own account, and optimistic about the future of capitalism. As the journalist wrote, “In particular, Hayek sees a greater appreciation for the market among the younger generation. Today unemployed youth in Algiers and Rangoon riot not for centrally planned welfare state but for opportunity: the freedom to buy and sell – jeans, cars, whatever – at whatever prices the market will bear.”
Thirty years on, and it can fairly be said that Hayek’s victory is unrivalled. We live in a paradise built by his Big Idea. The more closely the world can be made to resemble an ideal market governed only by perfect competition, the more law-like and “scientific” human behaviour, in the aggregate, becomes. Every day we ourselves – no one has to tell us to anymore! – strive to become more perfectly like scattered, discrete, anonymous buyers and sellers; and every day we treat the residual desire to be something more than a consumer as nostalgia, or elitism.
What began as a new form of intellectual authority, rooted in a devoutly apolitical worldview, nudged easily into an ultra-reactionary politics. What can’t be quantified must not be real, says the economist, and how do you measure the benefits of the core faiths of the enlightenment – namely, critical reasoning, personal autonomy and democratic self-government? When we abandoned, for its embarrassing residue of subjectivity, reason as a form of truth, and made science the sole arbiter of both the real and the true, we created a void that pseudo-science was happy to fill.
The authority of the professor, the reformer, the legislator or the jurist does not derive from the market, but from humanistic values such as public spiritedness, conscience or the longing for justice. Long before the Trump administration started demeaning them, such figures had been drained of salience by an explanatory scheme that can’t explain them. Surely there is a connection between their growing irrelevance and the election of Trump, a creature of pure whim, a man without the principles or conviction to make for a coherent self. A man without a mind, who represents the total absence of reason, is running the world; or at least ruining it. As a Manhattan real estate wiseguy, though, Trump, hey – he knows what he knows: that his sins have yet to be punished in the marketplace.
Main illustration by Bratislav Milenkovic
quinta-feira, 17 de agosto de 2017
(…) “Durante anos, Portugal viveu debaixo de um impiedoso diktat do pensamento da direita neoliberal produzido em centros universitários como o Instituto de Ciências Sociais e disseminado por uma rede eficaz de jornalistas e colunistas. Hoje Portugal começa a viver debaixo de uma impiedosa rede de vigilância montada pelos intelectuais do Bloco, pelos apparatchiks do PCP e pela intelligentsia socialista que se investiu da missão de purgar as mentalidades dos perigos desviantes. Só se pode falar do Governo e das suas políticas com perfume de incenso e mãos juntas em jeito de oração. Pouco a pouco, foram sendo criados os códigos, as palavras e as frases que podemos dizer e citadas as questões da actualidade que podemos criticar. Quem não o fizer quebra consensos ou faz fretes a obscuras forças nacionais ou estrangeiras. Ou se é a favor do Governo, ou se é “pafiano” ou “troikiano” ou, como agora, entra no “aproveitamento político de tragédias” que estrafega os “consensos nacionais”(…)
Sua Santidade, o Governo
16 de agosto de 2017, 7:10
Antes de produzir declarações majestáticas sobre os supostos consensos nacionais em torno de “tragédias como as dos incêndios” para criticar a oposição, o primeiro-ministro devia fazer uma busca no Google. Se o tivesse feito teria evitado esse campo minado pela demagogia que se abre sempre que um líder político se quer fazer passar por santinho. Porque a verdade é que o PS da oposição (e ainda mais o fervoroso Bloco) fez sempre exactamente a mesma coisa que o PSD e o CDS fazem agora em torno dos incêndios: exploram as feridas abertas pela tragédia para desgastar quem manda. Foi precisamente o que fez o actual secretário de Estado das Florestas e então deputado do PS, Miguel Freitas, em Novembro de 2013, quando acusou Governo de Passos Coelho de se “tentar desresponsabilizar” pela falta de uma “estratégia integrada” no combate aos fogos desse Verão que provocaram a morte de nove pessoas e a maior destruição da floresta nacional desde 2005. Foi também o que fizeram o Bloco e o PCP sempre que os relatos dos incêndios subiam de tom e colocavam, como agora, o país em estado de alarme.
Nós percebemos que haja em todo este clima de denúncias da oposição um certo ar de necrotério e na sua estratégia um certo voo de abutre. Nós conseguimos entender as razões que levam tantos militantes do Governo a criticar as televisões pelos direitos dos fogos ou pelo tempo de antena que lhes concedem. Mas era o que faltava que num país democrático que vive um dos seus momentos mais dramáticos em anos se limitasse a cantar em coro a partitura do Governo. António Costa tenta santificar a sua missão e demonizar a da oposição precisamente porque a revelação de sucessivas falhas no combate aos incêndios o incomodam, estragam o seu sucesso na frente económica e obrigam-no a medir a popularidade em “focus group”. Exigir que essas falhas sejam reveladas (como o fez exemplarmente esta semana a ministra da Administração Interna) e discutidas é essencial para escrutinar o Governo e, principalmente, para se exigir a reparação de erros no futuro.
Pedir silêncio quando o Estado falha e o país arde é um absurdo a menos que tenha uma finalidade sub-reptícia: dar argumentos às hostes que defendem com unhas e dentes o Governo. Ou seja, de criar uma narrativa. Já sabemos como isso funciona. É munir os sapadores políticos dos partidos da coligação com uma cartilha: não se pode falar dos erros no combate aos incêndios; não se deve pedir a demissão da ministra; o Governo virou mesmo a “página da austeridade” porque é uma estrela que veio do firmamento para nos salvar da troika; a união de facto entre os partidos da esquerda é uma maravilha da política contemporânea celebrada pelo mundo fora e só rejeitada entre portas por causa da proverbial estupidez e inveja dos indígenas.
Durante anos, Portugal viveu debaixo de um impiedoso diktat do pensamento da direita neoliberal produzido em centros universitários como o Instituto de Ciências Sociais e disseminado por uma rede eficaz de jornalistas e colunistas. Hoje Portugal começa a viver debaixo de uma impiedosa rede de vigilância montada pelos intelectuais do Bloco, pelos apparatchiks do PCP e pela intelligentsia socialista que se investiu da missão de purgar as mentalidades dos perigos desviantes. Só se pode falar do Governo e das suas políticas com perfume de incenso e mãos juntas em jeito de oração. Pouco a pouco, foram sendo criados os códigos, as palavras e as frases que podemos dizer e citadas as questões da actualidade que podemos criticar. Quem não o fizer quebra consensos ou faz fretes a obscuras forças nacionais ou estrangeiras. Ou se é a favor do Governo, ou se é “pafiano” ou “troikiano” ou, como agora, entra no “aproveitamento político de tragédias” que estrafega os “consensos nacionais”.
Desta vez, não é preciso haver um Armando Vara e um José Sócrates a pensarem em planos sórdidos de controlo dos jornais e dos jornalistas para que a luta por um novo pensamento único ganhe fulgor. Com a direita ultraliberal resignada e ressentida com um mundo que tolera a existência de um Governo socialista capaz de cumprir o défice, basta uma dúzia de colunistas de varapau, e, principalmente, uma rede de detectores de falhas da imprensa para que os desvios sejam rapidamente identificados e denunciados. É aí que um erro ou uma omissão dos jornalistas se transformam numa conspiração planeada nos segredos dos bastidores por forças poderosas que ameaçam a “sua” democracia. O que os move não é a saudável exigência por uma imprensa escrutinada, forçada a ser mais exigente, mais crítica e mais servidora do interesse público: é antes a criação de uma suspeita genérica sobre a sua legitimidade. Se há críticas ao Governo ou elogios ao CDS não é por causa do pluralismo: só pode ser por causa de um plano subversivo das forças do mal. Um jornal sarcástico e comprometido como “O Independente” seria, nestes dias, um crime.
Neste campo minado, a direita enterra-se todos os dias. Porque a sua doutrina, as suas fragilidades e os seus erros são presas fáceis para os lobbies da esquerda indiscutível que vai de Pedro Nuno Santos a Francisco Louçã. Porque é incompetente. E porque caiu na tentação de ser do contra por sistema. Quando numa crise tão grave como a actual o CDS e o PSD se limitam a criticar sem serem capazes de produzir uma única ideia, uma só proposta, está quase tudo dito sobre a sua moral para pedir contas. O caso extremo desta política “partisan” aconteceu com a reforma da Floresta, da qual os dois partidos do centro-direita se retiraram para entregar o PS às exigências disparatadas do Bloco de Esquerda. Por culpas próprias e eficiências alheias, o que começa a ser evidente não é apenas a demolição da liderança de Passos ou de Assunção Cristas; é também a própria leitura do passado recente que está a ser reescrita. Não se pode dizer que em 2010 Portugal estava no limiar da bancarrota ou que a austeridade nos foi imposta porque para os novos donos das palavras isso é ou mentira ou submissão ao jogo da direita, do FMI, de Bruxelas ou do capital.
Esta onda que tende a seguir os velhos trilhos dos populismos e das ditaduras, quase sempre iniciados com a apropriação das palavras e a generalização da maldade das “forças de bloqueio”, seja a oposição ou os jornalistas, vem de longe. Mas a militância apaixonada da extrema-esquerda e o poder das redes sociais tornam-na mais forte. Portugal é felizmente uma democracia consistente onde ainda se respira bem. Mas para percebermos onde estamos, é bom apontar o dedo aos que o apontam a cada passo a todos os que falam ou pensam de forma diferente.
terça-feira, 15 de agosto de 2017
Tagus river at risk of drying up completely
Climate change, dams and diversion bring Iberian peninsula’s longest river, on which millions depend, to brink of collapse
Monday 14 August 2017 15.39 BST
The Tagus river, the longest in the Iberian peninsula, is in danger of drying up completely as Spain once again finds itself in the grip of drought.
Miguel Ángel Sánchez, spokesman of the Platform in Defence of the Tagus, says “the river has collapsed through a combination of climate change, water transfer and the waste Madrid produces.”
The Tagus, known in Spanish as the Tajo and Portuguese as the Tejo, rises in Aragón in northern Spain, passes close to Madrid and forms part of the border with Portugal before flowing into the sea at Lisbon. En route, it is dammed no fewer than 51 times in Spain alone.
But its troubles begin at the headwaters in Aragón. In 1902 a plan was conceived to siphon off water from here and divert it to the Segura river to irrigate farms in the arid southeast in what is known as the Tajo-Segura transfer. Construction began in 1966 and water started flowing out of the dammed Tagus headwaters to the Segura in 1979.
However, the amount of available water was miscalculated and Spain’s cyclical droughts were not factored in. Today only 47% of the predicted water resources exist and levels in the two headwater dams are down to 11% capacity, too low to allow any transfers.
“All of these problems derive from designing a water transfer from the headwaters of a river, overestimating the available resources and joining two areas with similar climate cycles,” says Nuria Hernández-Mora, a founding member of the Foundation for a New Water Culture. “The transfer has served to create social and political conflict and turn the Tagus into one of the rivers in the worst ecological state in the peninsula.”
Siphoning off the headwaters is only permitted when the dams have sufficient water – previously this was just an option, not a guarantee of supply. However, the government recently passed a law that says that as soon as there is a surplus there is an obligation to transfer it, making it impossible to store water to cope with droughts.
The law flies in the face of the European water directive and when an EU delegation visited the Tagus and Ebro rivers last year it issued a highly critical report of Spain’s failure to conform with the directive.
The Tagus’s troubles don’t end with the transfer. Even after about 65% is siphoned to the Segura, it still has to supply Madrid’s 6 million inhabitants, whose inadequately treated waste water is dumped back into the river further downstream. The water from the Tagus is also used to cool nuclear reactors.
The Portuguese complain that Spain is siphoning off water and polluting the river, arguments Spain rejects. In January Lisbon filed a formal complaint with Brussels over Spain’s plans to build a nuclear waste treatment plant close to the river and the Portuguese border.
Spain’s water management has been driven by economics, not environmental considerations, says environmental lawyer María Soledad Gallego. “A river isn’t just a water resource, it has a cultural, social, historic and aesthetic value.”
In terms of water, Spain is living beyond its means. Agricultural demand in the Segura basin has been rising for decades, says Hernández-Mora, resulting in the over-exploitation of both ground and surface water. Water will always be a scarce resource in Spain, she says, and what needs to be controlled is demand.
While much is made of the transferred water being used to irrigate golf courses in arid Murcia, 85% of it is used to grow fruit and vegetables under plastic in that province and neighbouring Almería.
“We need to face reality and deal with the environmental implications,” says Gallego. “In the south-east agriculture is subsidised in the form of water transfers. They depend on there being a water surplus in other parts of the country and so they are always going to have problems. They need to live with the reality of what the Segura and Tajo basins can provide.”
Trump’s Business of Corruption
What secrets will Mueller find when he investigates the President’s foreign deals?
By Adam Davidson
Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Trump, is looking at his past deals.Illustration by Oliver Munday; photograph by Skynesher / Getty (hands)
President Donald Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow recently told me that the investigation being led by Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed by the Justice Department, should focus on one question: whether there was “coördination between the Russian government and people on the Trump campaign.” Sekulow went on, “I want to be really specific. A real-estate deal would be outside the scope of legitimate inquiry.” If he senses “drift” in Mueller’s investigation, he said, he will warn the special counsel’s office that it is exceeding its mandate. The issue will first be raised “informally,” he noted. But if Mueller and his team persist, Sekulow said, he might lodge a formal objection with the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, who has the power to dismiss Mueller and end the inquiry. President Trump has been more blunt, hinting to the Times that he might fire Mueller if the investigation looks too closely at his business dealings.
Several news accounts have confirmed that Mueller has indeed begun to examine Trump’s real-estate deals and other business dealings, including some that have no obvious link to Russia. But this is hardly wayward. It would be impossible to gain a full understanding of the various points of contact between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign without scrutinizing many of the deals that Trump has made in the past decade. Trump-branded buildings in Toronto and the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan were developed in association with people who have connections to the Kremlin. Other real-estate partners of the Trump Organization—in Brazil, India, Indonesia, and elsewhere—are now caught up in corruption probes, and, collectively, they suggest that the company had a pattern of working with partners who exploited their proximity to political power.
One foreign deal, a stalled 2011 plan to build a Trump Tower in Batumi, a city on the Black Sea in the Republic of Georgia, has not received much journalistic attention. But the deal, for which Trump was reportedly paid a million dollars, involved unorthodox financial practices that several experts described to me as “red flags” for bank fraud and money laundering; moreover, it intertwined his company with a Kazakh oligarch who has direct links to Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin. As a result, Putin and his security services have access to information that could put them in a position to blackmail Trump. (Sekulow said that “the Georgia real-estate deal is something we would consider out of scope,” adding, “Georgia is not Russia.”)
The waterfront lot where the Trump Tower Batumi was supposed to be built remains empty. A groundbreaking ceremony was held five years ago, but no foundation has been dug. Trump removed his name from the project shortly before assuming the Presidency; the Trump Organization called this “normal housekeeping.” When the tower was announced, in March, 2011, it was the centerpiece of a bold plan to transform Batumi from a seedy port into a glamorous city. But the planned high-rise—forty-seven stories containing lavish residences, a casino, and expensive shops—was oddly ambitious for a town that had almost no luxury housing.
Trump did very little to develop the Batumi property. The project was a licensing deal from which he made a quick profit. In exchange for the million-dollar payment, he granted the right to use his name, and he agreed to visit Georgia for an elaborate publicity campaign, which was designed to promote Georgia’s President at the time, Mikheil Saakashvili, as a business-oriented reformer who could attract Western financiers. The campaign was misleading: the Trump Tower Batumi was going to be funded not by Trump but by businesses with ties to Kazakh oligarchs, including Timur Kulibayev, the son-in-law of Kazakhstan’s autocratic ruler, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and a close ally of Putin. Kazakhstan has the largest economy in Central Asia, based on its vast reserves of oil and metals, among other natural resources. Kazakhstan is notoriously corrupt, and much of its wealth is in the hands of Nazarbayev’s extended family and his favored associates.
Trump visited Georgia in April, 2012, at a politically vulnerable time for Saakashvili. Nine years earlier, Saakashvili had led the Rose Revolution, which overturned the country’s autocratic post-Soviet leadership. After assuming power, he initially cracked down on widespread petty corruption and cleaned up the civil service, which had functioned largely on bribes. Then, in 2008, he led a disastrous war against Russia over control of the breakaway region of South Ossetia. By then, his fight against corruption had largely ceased, and Transparency International and other N.G.O.s were reporting that élite corruption—in which wealthy, politically connected people receive better treatment from courts, prosecutors, and government administrators—was rampant in Georgia. Under these conditions, few Western investors or brands were willing to put money into the country. Saakashvili himself was increasingly unpopular, and the Trump deal was meant to help salvage his reputation.
Saakashvili showed Trump around Tbilisi, the capital, and Batumi. Georgian television covered the events fawningly, promising viewers that Trump would soon build a second tower, in Tbilisi. One broadcaster proclaimed that Trump was the world’s top developer. At the groundbreaking ceremony in Batumi, Saakashvili said that the tower was “a big deal . . . that changes everything around here.” At another event, beneath a banner that proclaimed “trump invests in georgia,” he thanked Trump for being part of the project—which, he said, had a budget of two hundred and fifty million dollars. He also awarded Trump the Georgian Order of Brilliance. Trump, in turn, praised Saakashvili. “Everybody in the world, they speak of Georgia and the great miracle that’s taking place,” he said.
Upon returning home, Trump appeared on “Fox and Friends.” Gretchen Carlson, the host at the time, asked him, “What are you going to be investing in?” He responded, “I’m doing a big development there—and it’s been amazing.” He said of Saakashvili, “He’s one of the great leaders of the world.”
Virtually none of the things that Saakashvili and Trump said about the deal were true. The budget of the Trump Tower Batumi was not two hundred and fifty million dollars but a hundred and ten. Trump, meanwhile, could hardly have invested such a sum himself. He professed to be a billionaire, but a few months earlier an appeals court in New Jersey had shut down Trump’s legal campaign against Timothy O’Brien, the author of “TrumpNation,” which argued that Trump had wildly inflated his fortune, and was actually worth less than a quarter of a billion dollars. Julie George, a political scientist at Queens College who studies Georgia, told me that, by 2012, Saakashvili’s tenure could in no way be considered a “great miracle.” The country’s economy was floundering, and shortly after Trump’s visit it was revealed that the government had been torturing political opponents. (Saakashvili did not respond to requests for comment.)
The announcement of the Batumi tower was handled with cynical opportunism by both Trump and Saakashvili, but that was not the deal’s biggest problem. The developer that had paid Trump and invited him to Georgia—a holding company known as the Silk Road Group—had been funded by a bank that was enmeshed in a giant money-laundering scandal. And Trump, it seemed, had not asked many questions before taking the money.
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991, Batumi had been a popular resort town, but by the early aughts it had fallen into disrepair. Its beachfront hotels housed refugees from the nearby Abkhazia region, which had broken away from Georgia in 1992. Batumi was the capital of the semiautonomous Adjara region, which was itself on the verge of declaring independence. Saakashvili saw the redevelopment of Batumi as critical for maintaining Georgian sovereignty there. Batumi residents promised to turn the city into the Monaco of the Black Sea.
But nobody seemed willing to put money into Batumi. Levan Varshalomidze, the governor of Adjara at the time, told me that Saakashvili and other Georgian officials sought financial backers, but they could not get anyone to invest in a run-down Georgian port.
Then, in 2005, something remarkable happened. Saakashvili and President Nazarbayev, of neighboring Kazakhstan, announced that B.T.A. Bank—the largest bank in Kazakhstan—was giving several hundred million dollars in loans to help develop Georgia. The loans would pay for the construction of hotels in Batumi, the expansion of the Georgian telecommunications industry, and the growth of a Georgian bank. Curiously, all the loans went to subsidiaries of one company: the Silk Road Group, which specialized not in real-estate development but in shipping crude- and refined-oil products, by rail, from Kazakhstan to other countries. Its senior executives had very little experience in telecommunications, banking, or hospitality. The Silk Road Group, which had annual revenues of roughly two hundred million dollars, was planning, in an instant, to venture into several new industries. Compounding the risk, this expansion involved taking on a debt one and a half times its annual revenue.
That wasn’t the only puzzling thing about the loans. At the time that B.T.A. was lending all this money to the Silk Road Group, the bank’s deputy chairman, Yerkin Tatishev, was apparently crossing an ethical line—positioning himself to exert improper influence over some of the very Silk Road Group subsidiaries that were benefitting from the loans. B.T.A. Bank had representatives on the boards of those subsidiaries, but one representative serving on two boards, Talgat Turumbayev, was simultaneously working for Tatishev’s company, the Kusto Group, supervising mergers and acquisitions. (Turumbayev told me that serving on the boards wasn’t a conflict of interest, because it didn’t take “a lot of time.”)
I spoke with people who had knowledge about the subsidiaries. They told me that the subsidiaries were co-owned by the Silk Road Group and secret partners. The source at one subsidiary told me he suspected that Tatishev—who repeatedly participated in company meetings—was a hidden owner.
Tatishev, who is estimated by Forbes to be worth half a billion dollars, left B.T.A. Bank in 2009. He insisted to me that, while he was there, he had no personal financial involvement in the Silk Road Group. But he acknowledged that he “developed a strong friendship” with George Ramishvili, the company’s C.E.O., and “offered to advise him.” He added, “It was the right thing to do, and this is my definition of friendship.” But is it true that Tatishev merely advised the Silk Road Group? The Web site of Tatishev’s company, the Kusto Group, declares that it has been “an outstanding partner for the Silk Road Group” since 2006, noting, “Together we have successfully invested in various sectors of the Georgian economy.” Whenever I pointed out such contradictions to Tatishev, he came up with new answers. In an e-mail, he said that the joint investments were simply “charity/heritage projects.” After he told me that he never served on the committee of B.T.A. Bank that oversees lending, I checked, and confirmed that this was false. He then insisted that he “did not recall” participating.
If, as the Web site suggests, Tatishev financially involved himself in businesses funded by the B.T.A. Bank loans, then he and the Silk Road Group may well have committed bank fraud. When bank executives have a personal financial stake in projects that their own bank is financing, it is known as “self-dealing,” and it is a crime in nearly every country, including Kazakhstan. I recently spoke with Sergei Gretsky, a professor at the Catholic University of America, who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the Kazakh banking sector. When I asked him if it would be illegal for the deputy chairman of a Kazakh bank to have personal investments in a project that his bank was funding and withhold that information from investors, he laughed and said, “Yes, of course.”
Richard Gordon, the director of the financial-integrity unit at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, explained that self-dealing represented a central cause of the 1997 global financial crisis. Banks in Indonesia, South Korea, Brazil, Russia, Pakistan, and Taiwan failed, in part, because bank executives and board members kept lending money to themselves and to their cronies. “This leads to defaults, bank bankruptcies, or government bailouts,” he said. Since then, nearly every nation has made efforts to prevent self-dealing. Gordon said that, at most banks today, the board members and senior staff don’t even have a credit card associated with the bank, in order to eliminate any appearance of a conflict of interest.
Lending to companies in which a senior bank executive has a personal stake is a crime because it violates the central trust that makes banking possible. The fundamental business of banking is to borrow money from one group and lend it to another. B.T.A., which had been heralded internationally as a fast-growing bank in a troubled part of the world, had raised money by selling bonds through J. P. Morgan, Credit Suisse, and many other top Western banks. If these Western banks had known that a senior B.T.A. official was heavily involved in the operations of a company that was receiving huge loans from B.T.A., they might have balked.
“It’s a very hip disease, so it’s good that we caught it early, before everyone’s talking about it.”
In the years before the Trump Tower Batumi deal, B.T.A. Bank became entangled in a spectacular crime. Mukhtar Ablyazov, the bank’s chairman, was a prominent figure in Kazakhstan, and not just because he was a billionaire. He was one of the leading sponsors of a political party opposed to President Nazarbayev. In 2009, when Nazarbayev signalled a desire to seize control of B.T.A. Bank, Ablyazov fled the country for London—taking billions of dollars in bank funds with him. He accomplished this with a diffuse scheme: dozens of offshore companies under his control received loans from B.T.A., and none of the loans were paid back.
In 2010, when a Trump Organization executive, Michael Cohen, began negotiating with the Silk Road Group about licensing Trump’s name for the Batumi tower, Ablyazov was facing eleven lawsuits in the U.K. The Kazakh government, which had indeed seized control of B.T.A. Bank, had sued him to reclaim ten billion dollars that he had allegedly siphoned out of the country. The Financial Times covered the case extensively, as did the Times, which described “a scheme by B.T.A.’s former chairman, Mukhtar Ablyazov, to direct between $8 billion and $12 billion worth of B.T.A. loans—about half of the bank’s loan book—to companies that he secretly controlled.” The article noted that Ablyazov was renting “a 15,000-square-foot mansion” in London.
It would have taken only a Google search for the Trump Organization to discover that the Silk Road Group had received much of its funding from B.T.A. Bank, which, at the time of the Batumi deal, was mired in one of the largest fraud cases in recent history. The Silk Road Group had even been business partners with the central figure in the scandal: Ablyazov and the Silk Road Group were two of the owners of a bank in Georgia. I asked Cohen, who visited Georgia with Trump, if he had been concerned about the Silk Road Group’s connection to B.T.A. Bank. “I didn’t even know that B.T.A. was involved in this entire scenario up until the moment you told me,” he said. He added that he was not aware of any information about how the tower would be funded—or even “if there was going to be any funding at all.” He went on, “We had not gotten to that stage of the process. Remember, this was a licensing deal. The financing of the project was the responsibility of the licensee”—the Silk Road Group.
I recently spoke with John Madinger, a retired U.S. Treasury official and I.R.S. special agent, who used to investigate financial crimes. He is the author of “Money Laundering: A Guide for Criminal Investigators.” When I told him what Cohen had said to me, he responded, “No, no, no! You’ve got to do your due diligence. You shouldn’t do a financial transaction with funds that appear to stem from unlawful activity. That’s like saying, ‘I don’t care if Pablo Escobar is my secret business partner.’ You have to care—otherwise, you’re at risk of violating laws against money laundering.”
A judge in the U.K. ruled repeatedly against Ablyazov, starting in 2009, and ordered him to hand over more than four billion dollars to B.T.A. (The Kazakh government insisted that six billion dollars more remained missing.) The judge, Sir Nigel John Martin Teare, said that Ablyazov’s use of offshore holding companies had facilitated “fraud on an epic scale.” Teare ruled that “there can be only one explanation for the fact that the very large sums of money which were advanced were immediately transferred to companies owned or controlled by Mr. Ablyazov, namely, that the original loans were part of a dishonest scheme whereby Mr. Ablyazov sought to misappropriate monies which belonged to the bank.” Ablyazov was eventually sentenced to twenty-two months in a U.K. prison, for contempt of court, because he had refused to reveal disputed assets. In February, 2012, when Trump was planning his trip to Georgia, Ablyazov fled to France. He is currently fighting extradition.
The Silk Road Group, which was established in Georgia shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, does not have a conventional corporate structure. It is a holding company that controls dozens of corporate entities registered around the world. In total, B.T.A. loaned the Silk Road Group three hundred million dollars, and these funds were dispersed among its many subsidiaries, making the money trail hard to follow. For example, an eight-million-dollar loan was granted to Batumi Riviera Holding, B.V., which was registered in Holland. Batumi Riviera Holding has reported having a sole asset: a company called Vento, L.L.C., which is registered in Georgia. That registration indicates that its creditor is B.T.A., which made loans valued at seventy-five per cent of the initial investment in the company. Batumi Riviera Holding, in turn, is owned by Tbilisi Central Plaza, a company registered in Malta. Tbilisi Central Plaza is owned by Susalike Holding GmbH, which is registered, in Germany, to a Silk Road Group subsidiary.
Giorgi Rtskhiladze co-owns the Silk Road Transatlantic Alliance, a subsidiary that focusses on business deals involving the U.S. He brokered the Trump relationship. The Silk Road Group’s leadership in Georgia asked him to represent the company in interviews for this article. I recently met him at the St. Regis hotel in New York. When I asked why the Silk Road Group had such a bewildering structure, Rtskhiladze said, “There are tax reasons, and there are other reasons. To reduce liabilities, if we were sued or have to sue, certain courts are more efficient.” He pointed out that many companies legitimately use offshore jurisdictions to register their firms.
“That’s true,” Richard Gordon, the financial-integrity expert at Case Western, said. However, he added, “it is difficult to conceive of legitimate reasons for one shell company in an offshore jurisdiction to own a chain of companies established in a series of other offshore jurisdictions.” Such byzantine arrangements add expense, complexity, and uncertainty—the opposite of what businesses normally want—without providing any clear benefit, other than obfuscation. Moreover, by registering in so many different jurisdictions, the Silk Road Group has actually increased its legal risk, because a potential claimant can sue the company in all those jurisdictions. Gordon, who helped write the Republic of Georgia’s tax law, told me that he could think of no reason that this structure would help a Georgian company lawfully pay fewer taxes.
When I described to John Madinger, the retired Treasury official, the various entities and transactions involved in the funding of the Trump Tower Batumi, he said, “That is what you would expect to see in a money-laundering operation: multiple shell companies in multiple countries. It’s designed to make life hard for people trying to follow the transaction.”
It was difficult to pierce the veil of ownership, but I made some headway by collaborating on a reporting project with an investigations team at the Columbia University School of Journalism. Manuela Andreoni and Inti Pacheco, two recent graduates who are now investigative fellows, have spent months researching the Silk Road Group, Mukhtar Ablyazov, Yerkin Tatishev, and B.T.A. Bank. They have looked closely at relevant lawsuits, and they have obtained and translated property records and corporate registries from around the world.
Although Tatishev had repeatedly assured me that he was not involved in making decisions about Silk Road Group projects that had been funded by B.T.A. loans, I continued to accrue contradictory evidence. I recently received a cache of internal Silk Road Group e-mails, dating back to 2014, and they make clear that Tatishev has exerted detailed operational control over the company’s activities, including real-estate businesses that were funded by the B.T.A. loans. The e-mail cache shows that David Borger, a German financier who is a top executive at the company, regularly informed Tatishev about delicate internal financial matters and asked him for approval on a wide variety of decisions pertaining to Silk Road Group hotels, casinos, telecommunications infrastructure, and hydroelectric plants. Many of these projects had been initially funded by loans made while Tatishev was a senior official at B.T.A. Bank.
In one e-mail exchange, from earlier this year, Tatishev weighed in on a decision about which investment bank the Silk Road Group should use for a transaction. “We are cool guys,” Tatishev wrote. “And should always work with cool guys.” Borger responded, “Dear Yerkin, in this case can you please help us to get a cool deal with them?” He then asked Tatishev to describe how he wanted the deal to be structured.
In another recent e-mail discussion, which touched on crucial questions about the ownership and the financing of a major Silk Road Group project, Borger told Tatishev, “I need your ok.” In a subsequent e-mail, George Ramishvili, the C.E.O. of the Silk Road Group, added that Tatishev needed to give his approval. Tatishev did so. In a 2014 e-mail, a Silk Road Group consultant sent Tatishev and Ramishvili a summary of a plan they had devised to settle the outstanding debt owed to B.T.A. Bank.
Video from Trump’s visit to Georgia provides further evidence that Tatishev was a key part of the Silk Road Group—and suggests that Trump recognized his importance. During a speech that Trump gave in Tbilisi, Tatishev can be seen sitting in the audience next to Ramishvili. Trump says, “We have two great partners.” He points toward the seats where Tatishev and Ramishvili are sitting. “And they’re going to do a fantastic job.” (Giorgi Rtskhiladze, the Silk Road Transatlantic Alliance executive who met me in Manhattan, told me that Trump must have thought it was him, not Tatishev, sitting next to Ramishvili. But Rtskhiladze and Tatishev look nothing alike: Rtskhiladze is clean-shaven, with light-colored hair; Tatishev is nearly bald, with dark facial hair.) Tatishev accompanied Trump to meet Saakashvili at the Presidential Palace, in Tbilisi. When Michael Cohen, the Trump Organization executive, went to Georgia in 2010 to discuss building a tower with the Silk Road Group, he also met with Tatishev. A representative of the Silk Road Group said that Tatishev is a friend of Ramishvili and simply wanted to say hello to a big American tycoon. Inviting friends to important business meetings, the representative said, is common practice in the Caucasus region.
With minimal due diligence, Trump Organization executives would have noticed that the Silk Road Group exhibited many warning signs of financial fraud: its layered and often hidden ownership, its ornate use of shell companies, its close relationship with a bank that was embroiled in a financial scandal. Trump’s visit to Georgia occurred while his company was making a series of similar foreign deals. Until then, the Trump Organization had ventured abroad only occasionally: in 1999, a set of Korean buildings licensed the Trump name; in 2006, Trump bought a golf course in Scotland; the following year, construction began on a Trump-branded tower in Turkey. But by 2012 Trump was struggling in the U.S. market. His biggest investment, in American casinos, had proved ruinous, and he was now a minority owner of a near-bankrupt business. Trump had defaulted on loans multiple times, and nearly every bank in the U.S. refused to finance deals bearing his name. And so Trump turned to people in other countries who did not share this reluctance to give him money. In 2012 alone, the Trump Organization negotiated or finalized deals in Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, Georgia, India, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates, and Uruguay.
At the time, the Trump Organization had only a handful of staff members involved in dealmaking. His children Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr., assumed a management role in many of these foreign projects. According to Rtskhiladze, Trump, Jr., helped oversee the Batumi deal. At one point, Rtskhiladze and Cohen held two days of meetings in New York to discuss the project. Trump, Jr., dropped by several times. According to former executives at the Trump Organization, the company lacked rigorous procedures for assessing foreign partners.
A month after Trump visited Georgia, he agreed to license his name to, and provide oversight of, a luxury hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, a deal that I examined in an article in The New Yorker earlier this year. Trump received several million dollars from the brother and the son of an Azerbaijani billionaire who was then the Minister of Transportation—a man who, U.S. officials believe, may have been simultaneously laundering money for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. In 2013, Trump met with the Azerbaijani-Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov and his son, Emin; that November, they partnered with Trump on the Miss Universe contest, in Moscow, and discussed building a Trump Tower in the Russian capital. In June, 2016, at Emin Agalarov’s request, Trump, Jr., met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer who has represented Russian intelligence. Trump, Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Veselnitskaya came to the meeting accompanied by business associates who have extensive ties to Georgia and Azerbaijan.
In December, 2012, not long after Trump signed the Batumi licensing deal, a company called Riviera, L.L.C., bought the fifteen-acre parcel of land on which the Trump Tower Batumi would supposedly be built. The price was twelve million dollars, and the seller was Vento, L.L.C., which was owned by a company that was owned by a company that was owned by a company that was owned by the Silk Road Group. Riviera, L.L.C., was also partly owned by the Silk Road Group. In other words, the Silk Road Group was selling property to itself.
“He’s wearing oven mitts, so I threw him an oven.”
The Financial Action Task Force, headquartered in Paris, is led by representatives from thirty-seven nations. In 2007, the task force issued a report about the use of real-estate projects for money laundering. The report makes note of several red flags. It warns of “complex loans” in which businesses “lend themselves money, creating the appearance that the funds are legitimate.” It also warns of the use of offshore shell companies and tangled corporate legal structures, especially those in which third parties are hired to administer a company and conceal its true ownership. These intertwined companies can then trade property among themselves, in order to create inflated valuations: “An often-used structure is, for example, the setting up of shell companies to buy real estate. Shortly after acquiring the properties, the companies are voluntarily wound up, and the criminals then repurchase the property at a price considerably above the original purchase price. This enables them to insert a sum of money into the financial system equal to the original purchase price plus the capital gain, thereby allowing them to conceal the origin of their funds.”
The report states that money launderers often find that “buying a hotel, a restaurant or other similar investment offers further advantages, as it brings with it a business activity in which there is extensive use of cash.” Casinos—like the one planned for the Trump Tower Batumi—are especially useful in this regard. The casino was to be owned by the Silk Road Group and its partners.
Alan Garten, the chief legal officer for the Trump Organization, declined to describe the due diligence behind the Batumi tower. When the deal was signed, the general counsel for the Trump Organization was Jason Greenblatt, who is now President Trump’s envoy to negotiate Middle East peace. (The White House declined to comment for this story, referring me instead to Sekulow, Trump’s lawyer, who also declined to discuss the specifics of the Batumi deal.)
A representative of the Silk Road Group told me that the company had been eager to assuage any ethical concerns the Trump Organization or other potential partners may have had, and so it had conducted due diligence—on itself. In May, 2012, the Silk Road Group commissioned K2 Intelligence, a firm founded by the investigator Jules Kroll, to produce a report. (This was fourteen months after the Trump Organization signed the Batumi deal.) I recently obtained a summary of the report, which explained that K2 was “asked to probe the background and integrity of S.R.G.’s principal shareholder, George Ramishvili, more deeply than a standard investigative or compliance report might.” However, the report seems to have addressed only one issue: a rumor, circulating in the Georgian media, that Ramishvili had once been a member of the Mkhedrioni, a right-wing militia. K2 concluded that the rumor was false. The summary did not address the Silk Road Group’s funding sources, its complex legal structure, or its relationship to the B.T.A. Bank scandal, which was unfolding in London courts at the time. Other due diligence may have been performed, but the Silk Road Group, K2, and the Trump Organization declined to share specific information.
Ross Delston, a prominent anti-money-laundering attorney in Washington, D.C., told me that, if one of his clients approached him with the possibility of entering a licensing relationship with the people involved in the Batumi deal, he “would tell him not to walk away but to run away—to run like hell.” He explained, “There are too many aspects of the deal that don’t make sense, and there’s no way, as an outsider, that you could conduct sufficient due diligence to figure out if it is criminal.”
So many partners of the Trump Organization have been fined, sued, or criminally investigated for financial crimes that it is hard to ascribe the pattern to coincidence, or even to shoddy due diligence. In criminal law, there is a crucial concept called “willful blindness”: a person can be convicted of a crime even if he was unaware of certain aspects of the crime in which he was engaged. In U.S. courts, judges routinely explain to juries that “no one can avoid responsibility for a crime by deliberately ignoring what is obvious.” (When the Trump Organization cancelled the Batumi deal, it noted that it held the Silk Road Group “in the highest regard.”)
John Madinger, the former Treasury official, said that, in any deal that might involve money laundering, there is one critical question: “Does the financial transaction make economic or business sense?” In recent years, a lot of residential housing has been built in Batumi, but most of it has consisted of what Colliers, the market-analysis firm, calls “low-segment”—down-market—apartments. The Trump Organization, with its extensive experience in the luxury real-estate market, could surely sense that it would not be easy to enlist hundreds of wealthy people to buy multimillion-dollar condominiums in Batumi. I asked several New York real-estate developers to assess the proposed tower. One laughed and said that the Batumi deal reminded him of “The Producers,” the Mel Brooks movie about two charlatans who create a horrible musical designed to fail. Another New York developer, who spent years making deals in the former Soviet Union, told me, “A forty-seven-story tower of luxury condominiums in Batumi is an insane idea. I wouldn’t have gone near a project like this.”
Giorgi Rtskhiladze, the Silk Road Transatlantic Alliance executive, confirmed that the luxury-housing market in Batumi was nonexistent in 2012, when he invited Donald Trump to visit Georgia, but said that the tower’s investors were nonetheless confident that a Trump-branded skyscraper would attract buyers. He insisted that the Silk Road Group had not taken part in anything illicit, and said that B.T.A. Bank’s 2005 decision to lend the Silk Road Group several hundred million dollars was hardly suspicious. The company had been working in Kazakhstan for years, transporting oil products, and had become close with the Tatishev family. When the bank that Tatishev helped run, B.T.A., decided to invest in redeveloping Batumi, the obvious partner was the Silk Road Group. “We were the partner they knew,” Rtskhiladze said. “We’re active in the region.”
Rtskhiladze acknowledged that it was quite a big loan for such a poor country. “Unbelievable,” he called it. And it was true that the Silk Road Group had little experience in hotels or construction or telecommunications when it suddenly entered those industries. But, he pointed out, Georgia was still emerging from the torpid days of the Soviet Union. “You’re talking about a country that had no experience,” he said. “Nobody else had experience.” In any case, he suggested, “real-estate development wasn’t that complicated. You hire third parties, who do feasibility studies. You look at the numbers. It wasn’t that difficult.” He added, “We like to do clean, transparent business.”
I asked Rtskhiladze why he had invited Trump, who has generally avoided travelling abroad, to Georgia. He told me a story from 1989, when he was a young soldier in the Soviet Army. “They told me, for target practice, to shoot Ronald Reagan’s face,” he recalled. “I refused.” The Army jailed him for several days. Soon after he was released, he said, he saw a magazine with Trump on the cover. He told himself, “One day, I will go to New York and meet this man.”
He argued that the fact that “there was no luxury in Batumi” was precisely why the idea of a Trump Tower was so smart. The skyscraper, with its “pool and gyms and conference rooms,” would single-handedly create “an entire universe of very New York-style luxury in a seaside town.” The luxury condominiums, he added, were “for international buyers—Saudis, Turks, Russians.” In his “strong opinion,” the Trump brand was “the only brand for them.” (David Borger, the Silk Road Group executive, told me that a study by a well-regarded Turkish firm had concluded that the tower was a good business idea, but he declined to share the name of the firm or the study.)
Melanie A. Bonvicino, who handles communications for the Silk Road Group, told me that the Trump Tower Batumi deal demonstrated an openhearted vision. “With the Batumi project, Trump was once again able to demonstrate his keen business sense,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Donald Trump in his role as futurist and visionary ordained the region as the next big thing. Mr. Trump had an immediate grasp over the geopolitical significance of the Republic of Georgia and its Black Sea region, acknowledging its vast potential by jointly transforming this hidden gem into the next Riviera. In the élite realm of global residential and commercial real-estate developers, the Trump moniker was and remains synonymous with Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Michael Jackson.”
In 2009, when Ablyazov fled to London, the Kazakh government seized control of B.T.A. Bank. (Tatishev moved to Singapore in 2013.) A lawyer representing the bank, Roman Marchenko, informed the Silk Road Group that he had reason to believe that it had participated in Ablyazov’s loan scheme. The Silk Road Group denied any wrongdoing. A settlement was reached, for fifty million dollars—a bargain price, considering that the loans had totalled three hundred million. Marchenko believes that the Silk Road Group was deeply entwined with Ablyazov, but Kazakh government officials decided to stop investigating. They were pursuing Ablyazov’s stolen assets all over the world, and there was more money in other countries.
The Kazakh government placed B.T.A. Bank’s assets under the authority of its sovereign-wealth fund. Soon after, Timur Kulibayev—the powerful son-in-law of the country’s dictator, Nursultan Nazarbayev—became the director of the fund. Kulibayev and his staff had access to all the bank’s internal documents. Recently, Kulibayev became the majority owner of the bank, giving him total control over B.T.A.’s archives, as well as ownership of its assets. Kulibayev was surely familiar with the players involved in the Trump Tower Batumi project. In 2011, Giorgi Rtskhiladze and Michael Cohen, the Trump Organization executive, began promoting the idea of a Trump Tower in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. They visited Astana and met with Karim Masimov, the Prime Minister. Masimov is now the head of Kazakhstan’s national-security apparatus.
Keith Darden is a political scientist at American University who has written extensively on the use of compromising information—kompromat—by former Soviet regimes against people they want to control. He told me that Kazakh intelligence is believed to collect dossiers on every significant business transaction involving the country. This would be especially true if a famous American developer was part of the deal, even if it would not have occurred to them that he might one day become the U.S. President. “There is no question—they know everything about this deal,” Darden said.
Darden explained that Kazakh intelligence agents work closely with their Russian counterparts. Kulibayev himself has direct ties to Russia’s leadership. In 2011, he was named to the board of Gazprom, the Russian gas behemoth, which is widely considered to be a pillar of Putin’s fortune. In “The Return: Russia’s Journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev,” Daniel Treisman, a political scientist at U.C.L.A. who specializes in Russia, wrote, “For Putin, Gazprom was a personal obsession. He memorized the details of the company’s accounts, its pricing rules and pipeline routes. He personally approved all appointments down to the deputy level, sometimes forgetting to tell the company’s actual C.E.O., Aleksey Miller.” Kulibayev could not possibly be serving on Gazprom’s board without Putin’s assent.
Robert Mueller has assembled a team of sixteen lawyers. One of them is fluent in Russian, and five have extensive experience investigating and prosecuting cases of money laundering, foreign corruption, and complex financial conspiracies. The path from Trump to Putin, if one exists, might be found in one of his foreign real-estate deals.
When Mueller was appointed special counsel, his official writ was to investigate not just “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” but also “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” Much hinges on the word “directly.” Sekulow, Trump’s lawyer, insists that Mueller’s mandate essentially stops at the Russian border. Pawneet Abramowski, a former F.B.I. intelligence analyst, told me that Sekulow’s assertion is nonsensical. “You must follow the clues,” she said. When investigating a businessperson like Trump, “you have to follow the money and go wherever it leads—you must follow the clues all the way to the end.” ♦
Manuela Andreoni, Inti Pacheco, and Giannina Segnini, of Columbia University, contributed reporting for this piece.
This article appears in other versions of the August 21, 2017, issue, with the headline “No Questions Asked.”
Adam Davidson is a staff writer at The New Yorker.Read more »
Prédio afectado por explosão em Alfama vai ter obras urgentes
O perigo de derrocada é tão grande que a Câmara de Lisboa decidiu avançar já com os trabalhos. Ainda não há uma explicação concreta para o sucedido e a autarquia quer esclarecimentos das "autoridades competentes".
João Pedro Pincha
JOÃO PEDRO PINCHA 14 de agosto de 2017, 19:10
Não é certo que a fachada do prédio que explodiu no domingo à tarde em Alfama se mantenha firme, pelo que a Câmara Municipal de Lisboa decidiu promover obras imediatas nesse edifício e num outro, contíguo, que também foi afectado pelo rebentamento. Os prédios têm vários proprietários privados, mas a urgência dos trabalhos não se coaduna com a morosidade de accionar todos os seguros e chegar a um acordo.
Foi isso que disse Carlos Castro, vereador da Protecção Civil, que passou grande parte da manhã de segunda-feira no local a acompanhar o trabalho dos bombeiros e dos técnicos da autarquia. O número 59A da Rua dos Remédios “carece de uma intervenção célere”, afirmou, uma vez que a estabilidade da fachada é periclitante. Já o número 65, separado daquele em que se deu a explosão apenas por um beco estreito, ficou danificado no telhado. “Há uma parte da parede que está em cima do edifício”, o que constitui “uma carga significativa” que põe em causa a habitabilidade do prédio.
Carlos Castrou manifestou a intenção de “começar tão breve quanto possível a intervenção neste edificado”, para que se possa “devolver a normalidade à Rua dos Remédios”. O trânsito automóvel está cortado naquela artéria de Alfama e assim continuará “o tempo que for necessário”, pelo enquanto decorrerem os trabalhos. "Não iremos abrir a rua sem estar garantida a segurança das pessoas", disse o vereador. No fim do processo, a câmara tenciona falar com os proprietários das casas para lhes “apresentar a factura” das obras.
Continua a não ser totalmente claro o que aconteceu. Os moradores dos prédios afectados dizem que se sentiu um forte cheiro a gás durante todo o dia de domingo. Um piquete da EDP encontrava-se no local a reparar uma avaria na rede eléctrica da rua. Os residentes acreditam que foi a conjugação entre electricidade e uma possível fuga de gás que originou a situação.
O último andar do 59A, onde se encontrava uma unidade de alojamento local para turistas, explodiu pouco antes das 19 horas. Quase de seguida deu-se uma outra explosão, também forte, no primeiro andar. Houve ainda um terceiro rebentamento, mas de menor intensidade. As explosões deram imediatamente origem a um incêndio aparatoso, de grandes labaredas, visíveis mesmo a partir da zona ribeirinha da cidade. Chamados logo nos primeiros momentos depois do sucedido, os bombeiros conseguiram dominar as chamas antes que elas se propagassem aos edifícios vizinhos, evitando assim consequências mais graves. Durante a noite de domingo e a manhã de segunda-feira ainda se registaram vários reacendimentos.
Para já, a câmara não avança com explicações. “Tem que ser apurado o que aconteceu aqui, porque não podem acontecer situações destas”, disse o vereador Carlos Castro. "Temos de facto essas constatações por parte dos moradores de que havia cheiros de gás", acrescentou, "mas temos que apurar o que efectivamente se passou". O vereador afirmou ainda que é às “autoridades competentes” que competem essas averiguações.
As explosões provocaram ferimentos em cinco pessoas, três das quais tiveram alta ainda na noite de domingo depois de terem sido assistidas no Hospital de São José. Uma pessoa permanece internada nesta unidade hospitalar lisboeta, enquanto a outra vítima foi transferida para Coimbra.
O prédio do 59A ficou totalmente destruído do primeiro andar para cima, o que obrigou os moradores e turistas ali instalados em fracções de alojamento local a procurarem outros sítios para dormir. Segundo Carlos Castro, ninguém pediu realojamento à câmara, mas a autarquia tem condições para o fazer, caso seja necessário. Também os moradores do número 65 tiveram de abandonar as suas casas no domingo à noite. Esta segunda-feira, foram recolher alguns pertences, ainda sem saberem quando poderão voltar.