Archive for May, 2004

Our friend Richard Chichakli, Texan accountant and business identity, would surely agree that some of his customers have been other than controversial. After all, in his capacity as president of San Air General Trading he would surely have been delighted to see some US$925,000 in two months come into the company. The source of these funds was interesting, according to the House Armed Services Committee. The US-based company which manages the Liberian shipping register, LISCR, had paid this sum in two tranches to San Air’s Sharjah account with the Standard Chartered Bank (no.01015712572). Later, the ways of commerce would bless San Air with a further US$697,980. What a body set up to register companies and ships with the Liberian government was doing paying an airline this sort of money is not clear. The UN Expert Panel seems to believe that this was in the nature of a consideration for services rendered, specifically the supply of war material.

So they say. No alternative explanation has yet been put forward, however. At the time, a consignment of Bulgarian-made rifles was making its way to the Liberian ruler Charles Taylor by means of an Ilyushin 18 aircraft registered to Centrafricain Airlines, supposedly owned by a Bulgarian firm, chartered by MoldTransavia and re-chartered by Centrafricain. It was supposedly a replacement at short notice for another aircraft (a Tupolev 154) leased by Mold from San Air, which in any case was insuring the Il-18. The original charter was signed by the Bulgarians and Centrafricain, but the payment was made by San Air. The conclusion that San Air paid because it received the LISCR money would seem the simplest explanation.

The Royal Geographical Society is going to open its archive to the public. And if you are a map freak like me, that’s very good news. Two million of them, in fact.

Off to buy the newspapers this morning, I passed a huge red Chrysler Cruiser (the one that tries to look like a thirties gangster wagon) with – what? – a UK Independence Party poster plastered to the window. And a UKIP sticker in the rear windscreen. And another on the opposite side, and UKIP literature liberally (hah!) scattered about the interior. Outside the shop stood a chap waving a UKIP poster, canvassing the public at large. There was a question I wanted to ask him.

Accepting a flyer, I casually inquired “If you are fully committed to absolute economic sovereignty, why do you drive a German car? Why not a Rover?” “It’s not a German car.” “Oh yes it is. Daimler-Chrysler – it’s a German company. Designed in Germany, head office in Germany, listed on the Frankfurt stock exchange.” “It’s American! Made in Mexico.” (What?) “It’s a German company. Anyway, they make them in Austria too.”

“Well, I’m not a racist about it.” And that was it. I thought he was going to say “I am not a racist, but..”, but no such luck. He did, though, hand me a document that rather gave the lie to this. “IMMIGRATION TO SOAR!” howls the headline of UKIP’s election leaflet.

“With enlargement of the EU in May 2004, Britain will allow 73 million eastern European citizens the right of entry, despite our one million unemployed. Why doesn’t France and Germany share this burden? Only UKIP MEPs voted against enlargement.”

Well, to start with, why doesn’t you learn to write English properly? Or at least use a spellcheck? But let that pass. Note the quite insane suggestion that all of them – all 73 million! – are coming right here. That’s right – soon tumbleweeds from the untended fields of Hungary will blow through the deserted streets of a Prague abandoned by its people. Or perhaps not, eh? A little professionalism would have allowed that in fact, France and Germany have allowed them the “right of entry”. (How else did the Polish motorhome I saw yesterday get here – airfreight?) This unsavoury document was illustrated with a cartoon showing “GREAT BRITAIN – STANDING ROOM ONLY” with houses built on stilts in the sea, threatened by crowds pushing through the “Channel Funnel”. Helpful roadsigns indicate that they are coming from various places in central Europe.

It is not defensible, in my view, to argue that this is not xenophobia. This is an anti-immigrant campaign. Unfortunately, history tells us that you cannot campaign painlessly against immigrants in general. The particular, human immigrant is the target. Only through the individual, they used to say, can you attack the class. That goes for right-wing extremists as much as for the left-wing ones who coined the phrase.

The degree of reality that the UKIP’s platform contains is well demonstrated by that cartoon. Looking from the mouth of the channel tunnel, a sign to “Poland, Hungary, Slovakia” points to the left. Or to put it another way, south-west.

It is reported that agreement has been reached to terminate the US offensive in Najaf and to hand over security to a force drawn from local tribal militias. Moqtada al-Sadr’s army will, supposedly, evacuate the city and cease operations, though not necessarily disband. All very good, but why didn’t it all happen much earlier? Back on the 5th of May, I blogged that the US Army and Shia powerbrokers had come around to something like that, quoting this from Informed Comment. However, it didn’t happen, allegedly due pressure from the CPA, and the battering began. Question: if this option had been taken then, wouldn’t it have wound up the fight for Najaf just as much as it has now – without shooting up the Imam Ali mosque or driving tanks all over the cemetery?

Our favourite defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, surprised everyone recently when he announced a further deployment of British troops to Iraq. It shouldn’t have been much of a surprise, because every media source in the kingdom has trailed the deployment of some 3,000 additional soldiers for weeks, and the idea of calling on Britain for more has been current since the Spanish elections. Hoon’s surprise was that he didn’t announce a mass move. He announced a reinforcement of some 370 soldiers. This was a net figure, and conceals more than it explains. The force going is made up of an armoured infantry battalion – about 600 – and a squadron of engineers, around 170, plus some military police. The explanation of this difference is that these reinforcements are going to replace the last lot of reinforcements, sent out earlier this year as a short-term measure. The Argylls are coming back, and the Black Watch are going out. The difference is that the Watch are armoured, bringing their Warrior fighting vehicles. Now that doesn’t sound much like the official task of the reinforcements, which was to speed up efforts to train locally recruited forces.

In fact, the heavy metal is needed because of the frequent fighting around Amara in the north of the British zone. The Argylls, being a light unit, were short on armour, firepower and mobility. Clearly, they are taking no chances on a repeat of their bayonet charge of an ambush as a policy. At the same time, Hoon announced that 40 Commando, Royal Marines, was being placed on notice to move. This may be more important, as one of the major moves under discussion was to send the Marines of 3 Commando Brigade to the ex-Spanish sector. Alternatively, there was talk of sending a British-led NATO headquarters and one battalion to take charge. Either way, it appears that the government has been doing two things – haggling with the US about the role of any further forces, and less creditably attempting to put the movement off until after the elections. It is now said that the military are unhappy that this might mean going in after the handover deadline. Standing-to as many of the units involved now might well be a response to this concern. And, failing all else, they would at least serve as a reserve if the 30th of June turns out to be a black day…

Another of those fuel contracts was signed with Air Bas Transportation, UAE. The only address given is a Sharjah PO box number (8299), and the billing details are the same. Oddly enough, the DODAAC contract is number TBTC02. The British Gulf one is TBTC03! Now, the best known Bout airline, Air Cess, was made to disappear during 2001, no doubt in order to conceal the ownership of its assets. Many of its activities continued under the new title Air Bas. In fact, most of its fleet were stripped of their (minimal) markings and re-registered to get them off the Kazakh registry, before they re-appeared in Air Bas titles and new regs. Especially interesting is the history of an An-12, serial no. 9346509 that worked for Cess under the Kazakh registration UN-11007, and was also registered to “GST AeroCompany” under the same reg. It then re-appeared as an Air Bas-er registered 3C-00Z. The significance is that, although BGIA is a recent development, Bas has never been anything other than “Stadtbekannt” or “known to the city” as a sheister outfit. This defeats any claim of ignorance.

It will come as no surprise that they are also connected with British Gulf. And – as a starter for 10 – I wonder who Sky Traffic Facilitators of Sharjah, contract no. TBTC01, are? They appear to be a charter broker based in Sharjah. And the contact given for them by Air Cargo World is one Kirill Pilgorov. Strange, given that Kirill is better known as a Russian movie star.

Due to very bad Blogger/Blogspot performance during an edit, much of the sidebar was lost this morning. It should now be working again, but progress has been very slow, not least due to the incredibly poor service from Blogger (did I mention that?) – dropping out during publish attempts 7 times out of 10, incredibly slow page generation etc. If you cannot see sidebar items at the moment, please wait as download time beyond the weather graphic is inexplicably slow at the moment.

If you noticed an unpleasant picture on this blog yesterday, this was due to a hack (not that kind). Sorry.

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The Centre for Public Integrity, some time ago now, ran this story: Link to saved copy

“From 1979 to 1986, Chichakli lived most of the time in Saudi Arabia, first studying at Riyadh University, and later working for a variety of businesses. During his university days, he told the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that he used to “sit around and eat sandwiches and sing songs” with Osama bin Laden and his siblings, back when “Osama was OK.” He added that he probably knew about 40 bin Laden family members and that most of them were nice people. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Chichakli claims he was contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to assist bin Laden family members living in the United States. “FBI acted absolutely wonderfully,” he said, then remarked of the bin Laden family that that’s how it goes when one has friends in high places.

Chichakli moved to Texas in 1986 and married; at some point obtaining U.S. citizenship. According his military service record and résumé, both of which were obtained by ICIJ, Chichakli served in the U.S. Army from 1990 to 1993, specializing in fields such as aviation, first aid, interrogation and intelligence. He also earned FAA certification as an air traffic controller with military control-tower rating. He took courses at the Defense Language Institute and the Army’s academy for non-commissioned officers, in addition to receiving training in conventional and unconventional warfare. He left the military as a decorated veteran. Chichakli claimed in an interview with ICIJ that his service to the United States was not limited to his three-year tour in the military. He said he spent some 18 years working in intelligence.

After his honorable discharge from the Army, Chichakli returned to the Gulf States, specifically the United Arab Emirates, and became the commercial manager of the free zone in Sharjah. From 1993 to 1996, he was responsible for much of the liaison and commercial activity at the airport where, according to the United Nations, most of Victor Bout’s companies had their operations base.

Chichakli has held several senior positions in companies owned by Bout, U.N. documents say, including chief financial manager with responsibilities such as accounting, financial and reporting activities, and overall responsibility for the financial systems. Chichakli downplayed his role. “I did provide some accounting advice here and there,” he said. “Making companies public, prepare business plan etc. … I helped him advance his cargo business.” He also denied any involvement in the arms trade. But he did say that Bout had taken part in at least one operation with a military purpose. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Chichakli told ICIJ, Bout organized three flights ferrying U.S. personnel to Afghanistan, but he refused to elaborate.”

This raises interesting questions. A Machiavellian view might suggest that, if Bout really had done the state some service in Afghanistan, his past is of no interest to us. But the period when Chichakli was running the SAFZ – 1993 to 1996 – precedes his swing from supporting the warlords who became the Northern Alliance to supplying the Taliban and eventually al-Qa’ida. In fact he seems to have swung with the wind once the Taliban took power. The UAE, of course, was one of only three countries to recognise them. If he had been serving US interests, he would surely have been brought to heel after 1999, by which time the Western line on Afghanistan had become explicitly hostile to the Taliban. But his Afghan business continued to grow. The questions are as follows: what did the Coalition hire BGIA to do, and what did they know of its background? Further to that, why was such a seedy outfit chosen? The date may be of importance – the 5th of April was during one of the worst weeks of the Shia uprising, the day before Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia took over Najaf. Within a week there were reports of a logistics crisis due to the insurgency on the roads. Could that be a connection? That is, of course, speculation.

An Austrian report suggests that the new members of the EU will see something like 4.2% GDP growth this year and 4.4% next, which implies a rapid catching-up process between them and the rich EU. (What of those migrant hordes now? If you’re reading this and you spotted a horde, can you make yourself known? There’s a good chap.) Not only that, but they should benefit further as the growth rate in the rich EU picks up (2% this year, 2.4% next. Which isn’t going to set the Rhine alight, but it’s a sight better than media-popular belief would suggest). And, I suppose, the rest of the EU ought to feel the benefit too as investment there pays off. There is, to be sure, a distinction between small and large – Lithuania will see 6.9% growth, the Czech Republic 3.0% this year. But I suspect this is bearable. The figures for the Czechs, for example, show an uptick to 3.5% next year. Can anyone say they would not have settled for 3.5% GDP growth in practically any year post-war in the UK?

Whatever the unevennesses, it is worth noting that even Macedonia is seeing 4% annual growth. I remember thinking when I lived in Vienna that the Austrians weren’t so much worried about immigrants and “welfare tourists” as the poisoned political discourse suggested – in fact, as many were worried about the competition. Enlargement may yet turn out to be the best decision the EU ever made.





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