Greece ‘unlikes’ freedom of the press

Journalist arrested for disclosing a list of tax evaders

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | OCTOBER 29, 2012

Investigative journalist Kostas Vaxevanis will go on trial for publishing the so-called ‘Lagarde list’, which contains the names of 2,059 Greek people with bank accounts in Switzerland. The document, whose authenticity the government in Athens refuses to confirm, includes at least three politicians, two of them from the New Democracy, the party of Prime Minister Andonis Samaras. These people have accounts at the HSBC bank. The journalist appears Monday in court accused of publishing confidential data.

Vaxevanis was arrested Sunday morning at a friend’s house in Athens, amid a security deployment that he called a “fascist militia” in one of his Twitter messages. This Saturday, Hot Doc, who runs the fortnightly magazine where Vaxevanis made the documents public, ran the headline “All the names of the Lagarde list”.

The story is not new. In autumn 2010, six months after the first bailout of Greece, the then French Finance Minister, Christine Lagarde, gave his Greek counterpart, George Papaconstantinou, a list of 2059 names of Greek citizens with accounts in Switzerland as documentary evidence of the inveterate habit of evading taxes by professionals and entrepreneurs in Greece.

The fight against tax fraud was one of the flags of the socialist government of George Papandreou, along with a clamorous demand from international lenders, the troika form by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (the latter currently headed by Lagarde).

But the ‘Lagarde list’ apparently fell into oblivion and did not surface until earlier this month when Papaconstantinou’s successor as head of the Ministry of Economy and now leader of a party adrift, the socialist Evánguelos Venizelos, surrendered the list to authorities. Both declared that they had no information on the whereabouts of the list, but gave conflicting testimonies, said journalist Michalis Samozraki a Hot Doc hournalist during a phone conversation.

“In recent months there has been much controversy over the matter. Papaconstantinou and Venizelos were summoned by a special parliamentary committee, but told a different story from their previous one, that they had no knowledge about the existence of the ‘Lagarde list’; while later, they said they could not publish it because it was confidential … They used this as an excuse. But the Greeks began to feel cheated. That is why the fact that his colleague was arrested for publishing the list, is seen by Samozraki as an “act of total censorship. ”

Sources say the magazine received a copy of the ‘Lagarde list’ anonymously and Vaxevanis himself vindicated his obligation to disclose it, despite the threat of legal action: “I have done nothing but what a journalist is obliged to do: reveal some hidden truth “, says in a video sent to Reuters. “If anyone should be prosecuted, those are ministers who hid the list, the ‘lost’ list that they said it didn’t exist. I just did my job. I am a journalist and that’s my job. ”

In the list published by Hot Doc there are the names of at least three politicians, including two former ministers of New Democracy, one of them is dead, and a current is a director for Samaras. The former Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis denied having money in Switzerland, despite being on the list.

The potential arrest of Vaxevanis was known since Saturday after it was issued by a Greek prosecutor. Vaxevanis has under his belt investigations that include the scandal known as  the Vatopedi case — one of the largest corruption scandals in the last five years and also collaborates as a journalist on the website Koutipandoras.gr (Pandora’s Box). “They entered the house with a prosecutor,” said Vaxevanis on his Twitter account. “They are detaining me. Please spread the word.” Pictures of the outside of the building where he was showed a large police operation which included a strong checkpoint.

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Microsoft Evades Paying $4.5 billion in Taxes

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | SEPTEMBER 21, 2012

In the United States, the non-payment of taxes is seen by the authorities as one of the infuriating offenses against the government. Individuals who evade taxes are labeled as criminals, even before being tried in a court of law. Those who speak against taxation without representation are equaled to crazy people or conspiracy theorists.

But when it comes to corporate taxation, the tables always turn in favor of the non payers. Corporations such as Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft are some of the best known offenders. These corporations are successful in evading the payment of taxes thanks to loopholes left open in tax legislation that allows them to — with a sea of legal tricks — move their profits overseas in order to avoid payment. This is the conclusion of a new U.S. Senate subcommittee report.

One of the latest cases is that of Bill Gates’ Microsoft. The technology giant avoided paying $4.5 billion in taxes between 2009 and 2011. Microsoft managed to send some $21 billion in profits abroad, which allowed the company to evade the payment of taxes that otherwise would have been collected by the American Internal Revenue Service. The billions of dollars not paid by Microsoft corresponded to taxes on the sales the company had during two complete years according to report by the Senate investigations subcommittee of the U.S. Congress.

Similar methods to avoid paying sales taxes have been used by other large corporations, reports the Huffington Post. Apple, for example, earned around $45 billion in 2011, but paid only $3 billion in taxes. That is because the company creates subsidiaries in cities known as ‘tax heavens’ where corporate taxes are 0%. Apple also manages to complete sales of digital products from foreign countries, so when the company sells a song or software, the payment is made to subsidiaries in Luxemburg, and not in the U.S..

Other companies like Google and HP also succeeded in avoiding corporate taxes in the last few years. While Apple avoided taxes on $34.5 billion between 2009 and 2011, Google dodged taxes on $24 billion. Hewlett-Packard, used what the congressional report calls a number of  revolving short-term loans with its subsidiaries to avoid paying billions of dollars in taxes since 2008. Congressman Carl Levin said HP  kept billions of dollars in cash outside of the United States — $17 billion in 2010 — that it lent to its U.S. headquarters to avoid paying taxes on that money.

As shown above, the case of Microsoft is not unique. That is what those who prepared the report believe and that is what their conclusions seem to suggest. They also examine how multinationals transferred their operations to countries where taxation is more favorable. By the way, they do it legally, which shows how weak the tax code is in the United States when it comes to holding corporations accountable for their share of the tax burden.

The opposite is true for individuals, who do not enjoy the tax loopholes that corporations like Microsoft have to send money outside of the U.S.. In fact, the U.S. government announced changes in the tax code to prevent individuals from moving their savings or investment gains abroad. Nothing was prepared to do the same on the corporate side.

The non payment of corporate tax goes around every year in the U.S. Congress, but it has been even more relevant this year due to the American need to find cash to finance its out of control government spending, which in turn ran up the deficit. In the case of these technology firms, they’ve used intellectual property rights, royalties and licensing as ways to avoid accountability.

Microsoft has said it does do anything irregular and highlighted the complex structure of the American tax system. The company also says it has been very accommodating with the congressional investigation. Senator Carl Levin, however, believes that the practices used by Microsoft are at least “questionable”.

According to the newspaper El País, the amount shuffled in the Microsoft case corresponds to about half of its sales in the U.S.. That money, says the Spanish newspaper, is often sent to other countries such as Ireland. In the United States congressional investigations and initiatives that seek to curb the non payment of corporate taxes usually end in nothing. Although both Republicans and Democrats agree that something needs to be done, they cannot agree on the way Congress should approach the closing of loopholes to avoid that companies like HP and Cisco Systems manage to get away without paying taxes in the U.S..

“At a time when difficult budget decisions are being made, while families face tax increases and spending cuts in critical public programs in  education and health, these situation is unacceptable” said Levin.

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Was Brazilian ‘Lula’ Behind the ‘Mensalão’ Corruption Scheme?

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | SEPTEMBER 18, 2012

Brazilian businessman Marcos Valerio de Souza, one of the people being accused of corruption during the trial for the ‘Mensalão’ scheme, has accused the former president of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of orchestrating a vote-buying plot as part of the scandal that has rocked Brazilian politics in 2011 and 2012. During the depositions and hearings, several members of Lula’s cabinet were cited as involved in the Mensalão scheme together with bankers and businessmen.

“Lula was the head. He ran it all”, said Souza, who has been identified as a “luxury messenger” of the plot laid out by the president, as reported by the Brazilian magazine ‘Veja’. “Everything I did was well known by Lula,” noted the owner of two major advertising companies in Brazil. Souza has argued, according to ‘Veja’, that the Workers Party headed government assured him his sentence would be soft if he kept quite about the Mensalão scandal, in which the defendants received monthly payments in exchange for votes.

Meanwhile, Souza’s lawyer has denied such statements saying that his client has not spoken to the press since 2005. The Brazilian Supreme Court is accusing eight people, including Souza, of money laundering and embezzlement with monies that belonged to the Brazilian Workers Party (PT), which is the political party that launched Lula to the presidency. The Mensalão scandal involving members of the PT was originally made public back in 2005.

Despite the accusations directed at the former president, the Supreme Court refused to investigate Lula’s involvement, much less to charge  him with any wrong doing. Luiz Inacio da Silva ruled over Brazil between 2003 and 2010. The Court did accuse Lula’s right hand man and  chief of staff, Jose Dirceu, who is now one of the eight people accused in the case.

The process has been dubbed as the “trial of the century” in Brazil, a country plagued with corruption from top to bottom and left to right, where politicians and military often get away with their crimes. The Mensalão scandal spreads its tentacles through the politics and business worlds. There are 38 former Lula ministers, legislators, bankers and businessmen involved in one of the biggest corruption scandals in the South American nation.

Thus far, from the 38 defendants — all free — face charges of money laundering, tax evasion, corruption, embezzlement and formation of a criminal organization, among others. The sentences could be of over 30 years in prison. According to ‘Veja’ magazine, the PT had bought political favors to gain support in Congress. The scandal diverted some 101 million reais (40.5 million euros).

The PT had allegedly pledged to pay a large sum of money to legislators of the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB) to give their unconditional support to the government. This illegal agreement was announced following the breakdown of the alliance in 2005. Lula, who is not among the accused, has always denied having knowledge that members of his party and people close to the government had been paid to commit such offenses. In spite of the scandal, the leftist leader was reelected in 2006. Its popularity was always at high levels despite the conflict.

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Spain Limits Cash Transactions to its Citizens

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | JUNE 27, 2012

The country of Spain, now completely under the control of Brussels central bankers, has decided to limit the amounts of money people can take out of cash machines and other transactions. The measure comes just after the government led by Mariano Rajoy decided to officially request a financial rescue of its banking system, a plan under which the country surrenders complete control of its sovereignty to the European central bankers who will funnel the money to Spain’s banks in an orderly fashion. This decision, said Rajoy, comes as the nation of Spain seeks to make the right decisions to ‘grow and progress’ in the middle of Europe’s financial collapse.

The government of Spain has already implemented several other measures to secure monies from the taxpayers such as the limits imposed on the amount people can withdraw from their bank accounts, reductions in the salaries paid to those who work for the government, cuts in the payments of pension funds, an increase in the retirement age, and other obligations imposed on Spain as conditions to receive the money with which its banks will be ‘rescued’. The main limitation to people who work with banks in Spain is the prohibition to carry out commercial activities that go over 2500 euros. This new limitation applies to both businesses and individuals.

According to FOREX News, the new rules imposed by the government in Brussels, also contemplate fines for people or businesses who do not report the existence of bank accounts outside Spain. The fine will have a minimum of 10,000 euros and people will be accused of trying to evade the payment of taxes over those funds. This is seen as another attempt from the bankers and the government of Spain to track down every single penny that individuals and businesses possess so that it can be easily taken away should they not comply with upcoming rules dictated by the European bankers. Spanish people had already begun moving their money to accounts outside the country in anticipation to their government’s intent to confiscate it in the future. Countries like the United States have also admitted publicly that the federal government will go after people who have moved their assets to other countries to avoid paying taxes on those earnings.

“Keeping an eye on foreign accounts is common in other countries, but comes at a time when many expats living in Spain are moving money out of the country,” explains FOREX News. It remains to see of this new rule will be applied equally to all Spanish people and foreigners who live in Spain, or if it will be selectively enforced as it has happened in the past. Under that selective application, only people in the middle and upper middle classes are actually persecuted and penalized for trying to maintain their hard earned money away from the hands of the governments, while the rich class, those who create this type of rules, are allowed to keep 100 percent of their cash.

An interesting aspect to point out is how did the government of Spain, or in this case the government of Brussels, come up with the 2500 euros figure? The intention of the limitation is clear right now, although that is not the case for the figure itself. Why not 1000 euro or 10,000 euro? A wild guess could be that the richest businesses and individuals perform transactions that would most likely violate the limit of 2500 euros, but those individuals or business will most likely get a pass from the government, an exception, such the grip would be tightened on those people or small businesses that exchange money for services or products on a daily basis, not the very rich.

Past decisions taken in various countries, rules such as the limitation in cash transactions, commerce with certain companies or industries and deals with certain nations have been selectively enforced to favor the very reach over those business or individuals who actually need to move amounts of money that are larger than 2500 euros in order to keep their businesses functioning. The official explanation is that governments have limited cash transactions in the past and in the present, in order to avoid the fast flow of capital. However, this would not seem to make sense in an economy where the governments are able to print or electronically create money out of thin air.

As history shows, limitations to cash transactions are usually followed by bans on money withdrawals from bank accounts, which again are only applied to the average citizen who needs his or her money to purchase food or pay for basic services. This scenario was seen in Argentina in 2000, when the measures imposed on that country by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), just as it’s happening today with Spain and Greece, cause the country to collapse into a generalized state of social chaos. Whenever Greece and Spain exit the euro zone along with other nations such as Italy and Portugal — which are waiting in line for their turn — limitations such as the ones announced by Spain and Greek governments will increasingly limit the people’s choice to access their money as well as what to do with it.

It is likely that the ban on all access to bank accounts will not be announced until the banks have closed their doors, just as it happened in Argentina, leaving no room for account holders to withdraw any cash for day to day survival. When will this action take place? It is hard to set a date, but it’s not difficult to see the path that leads towards the moment in time. In fact, there are sequence of logical steps that central bankers will follow which will allow anyone paying attention to foresee the moment when banks will close their doors to the public in what is usually called a bank holiday.

And so what will come out of a bank holiday? That is also uncertain, although if one goes by what history shows, most likely the value of the currency held in savings, checking or other kinds of accounts will be exponentially devalued and whatever remains of those funds will only be returned to its lawful owners in the form of an account with very limited access and in a different currency than the one it was originally saved. This in turn will strongly reduce the purchasing power of individuals who will see their very survival in danger.

With no jobs and no funds to buy food, water or to pay for basic services, the outcome will repeat itself once again: riots on the streets, with police slamming people on their heads while others rob and attack fellow slaves trying to get their hands on food and whatever else they can get to survive through the final collapse. If you don’t believe it, ask an Argentinian.

Competing Currencies: A Defense against Profligate Spending

by Rep. Ron Paul

The end of June marked what is hopefully the end of the Federal Reserve’s policy of quantitative easing. For months the Fed has purchased hundreds of billions of dollars of Treasury debt, enabling the government to fund its profligate deficit spending, push the national debt to its limit, and further devalue the dollar. Confidence in the dollar is plummeting, confidence in the euro has been shattered by the European bond crisis, and beleaguered consumers and investors are slowly but surely awakening to the fact that government-issued currencies do not hold their value.

Currency is sound only when it is recognized and accepted as such by individuals, through the actions of the market, without coercion. Throughout history, gold and silver have been the two commodities that have most fully satisfied the requirements of sound money. This is why people around the world are flocking once again to gold and silver as a store of value to replace their rapidly depreciating paper currencies. Even central banks have come to their senses and have begun to stock up on gold once again.

But in our country today, attempting to use gold and silver as money is severely punished, regardless of the fact that it is the only constitutionally-allowed legal tender! In one recent instance, entrepreneurs who attempted to create their own gold and silver currency were convicted by the federal government of “counterfeiting”.

Also, consider another case of an individual who was convicted of tax evasion for paying his employees with silver and gold coins rather than fiat paper dollars. The federal government acknowledges that such coins are legal tender at their face value, as they were issued by the U.S. government. But when it comes to income taxes owed by the employees who received them, the IRS suddenly deems the coins to be worth their full market value as precious metals.

These cases highlight the fact that a government monopoly on the issuance of money is purely a method of central control over the economy. If you can be forced to accept the government’s increasingly devalued dollar, there is no limit to how far the government will go to debauch the currency. Anyone who attempts to create a market based currency– meaning a currency with real value as determined by markets– threatens to embarrass the federal government and expose the folly of our fiat monetary system.  So the government destroys competition through its usual tools of arrest, confiscation, and incarceration.

This is why I have taken steps to restore the constitutional monetary system envisioned and practiced by our Founding Fathers. I recently introduced HR 1098, the Free Competition in Currency Act. This bill eliminates three of the major obstacles to the circulation of sound money: federal legal tender laws that force acceptance of Federal Reserve Notes; “counterfeiting” laws that serve no purpose other than to ban the creation of private commodity currencies; and tax laws that penalize the use of gold and silver coins as money. During this Congress I hope to hold hearings on this bill in order to highlight the importance of returning to a sound monetary system.

Allowing market participants to choose a sound currency will ensure that individuals’ needs are met, rather than the needs of the government. Restoring sound money will restrict the ability of the government to reduce the citizenry’s purchasing power and burden future generations with debt. Unlike the current system which benefits the Fed and its banking cartel, all Americans are better off with a sound currency.