Posts tagged DR. RICHARD SENNA






It’s a favorite pastime: Americans worried about their country’s direction love threatening to move abroad. “That’s it, I’m going to Canada!” they say.

Of course, they almost never do.

In China, however, that’s now no idle threat, especially for the rich.  

Amid a widening crackdown on corruption, China’s wealthiest citizens are increasingly seeking a better life abroad.

The United States is their favored destination.  

That’s the surprising conclusion of a new Hurun Report survey of 393 Chinese millionaires. According to the report, 64 percent of wealthy Chinese (those with $1.6 million or more) have emigrated or are planning to do so. Hurun also found that a third of the super-rich (those with $16 million or more) have established homes elsewhere.

A higher percentage of the wealthy favor sending their offspring overseas. Eighty percent want their children educated abroad. The US is the top choice for university, and the second choice (behind the UK) for high school.

The reason? China’s elite are not big fans of the country’s rigid education system.

Even more striking is the surge in wealthy Chinese getting green cards. In 2010, 772 Chinese received investor green cards (given to people who invest at least $1 million in businesses in the US). In 2012, that figure leapt nearly eightfold to 6,124.  

Why the exodus among families who have benefited most from China’s rise?

Aside from education, another obvious motivator is pollution. China’s toxic air and poisonous water are regular topics of complaint among the wealthy (as well as ordinary Chinese).

A less obvious factor is the crackdown on corruption.

Over the last year, Chairman Xi Jinping has overseen investigations into some of China’s wealthiest and most powerful party figures, including those who have profited massively from the state-owned oil industry. He has vowed to take down both “tigers” (top bosses) and “flies” (local officials).

In January, Xi stepped up his campaign by forbidding the promotion of officials who have spouses or children living abroad. These so-called “naked” officials are seen as especially prone to corruption.

“They belong to a high-risk group for corruption,” a party official told the state-run Xinhua news agency. “Around 40 percent of economic cases and nearly 80 percent of corruption and embezzlement cases involve naked officials.” In China, crimes like fraud, bribery, and embezzlement are referred to as economic cases.

This designation covers a large group. According to a report by the Hong Kong newspaper Oriental Daily, a majority of members of China’s 2013 National People’s Congress were “naked officials.”

In fact, Xi himself was one, too. His daughter attended Harvard under an assumed name, and the chairman’s extended family has allegedly amassed assets worth several hundred million dollars.

Of course, it’s not just wealthy Chinese who are leaving the country in droves. According to areport by the Center for China and Globalization, a total of more than 9 million Chinese had emigrated through the end of last year,* most of them middle-income earners between 35 and 55 years old. In 2012, the US was the top destination, with 81,784 Chinese receiving permanent residency in 2012.

For Americans who feel insecure about their country in light of China’s impressive achievements, it may be reassuring to know that, when given the means, many Chinese would rather move to the United States than stay at home.




China has built the world’s second-biggest economy and created a middle class bigger than America’s entire population, but it faces a major problem: The people who get rich there want to put their money somewhere else.

To avoid taxes or even seizure by the government, rich Chinese have exported a stunning $1.4 trillion between 2002 and today.

China leads the world in “illicit capital flows” — we call it “money laundering” — while Russia, with $800 billion hidden outside the country, is runner-up.

So much money is fleeing China — $10 billion a month — that it’s distorting the global economy, particularly in the art market and with real-estate booms in cities like New York.

China began to crackdown on the practice in 2012, following the arrest of powerful politician Bo Xilai for bribery and corruption and his wife for murder.

Thousands of high-level confiscations have followed and this month two top oil executives, a popular television anchorman and the Bank of China itself were accused of laundering money and other forms of skullduggery.

Not all the capital fleeing is obtained from criminal activity, but shipping it out is illegal.

The Chinese cannot convert their money into foreign currencies without a permit and cannot transfer money abroad.

China's Bo Xilai 'expelled from party to face charges

Chinese laundering methods are not innovative, but the sheer scale is unique. The easiest method is to bribe a bank to take a deposit, then wire funds offshore.

The other option is to drive truckloads of cash into the backdoor of friendly casinos where the cash is blended in with the rest then paid out, minus a fee, as gambling winnings in another currency.

Macao and Hong Kong are semi-independent jurisdictions called Special Administrative Regions of China.

Macao has a casino industry with six times the gaming revenue of the Las Vegas Strip, and Hong Kong has obliging banks. A more appropriate label for the two would be the Special Laundering Regions of China.

In China, the cash doesn’t have to go to the casino because intermediaries called “junkets” will swap Yuan for gambling chips that can be cashed into Hong Kong or Macao currency at the casino, then wired by Hong Kong banks.

The next step is to insure that funds cross many borders to frustrate tax investigators, police or ex-wives.

The ultimate goal is to spend or buy a condo with funds from a US trust managed by a shell company in Grand Cayman, owned by another trust in Guernsey with an account in Luxembourg managed by a Swiss banker who doesn’t know who the owner is.

It wasn’t until 2013 that China’s first money-laundering convictions occurred, and these were bit players.

A 19-year-old Hong Kong delivery boy was convicted of laundering $1.7 billion in eight months through his bank account in a subsidiary of the Bank of China.

Another involved an illiterate 61-year-old woman who laundered $876 million in three years by making small deposits of cash daily in several banks.

Both netted 10-year jail sentences, and no one else was charged despite evidence they did not act alone.

But in 2014, prominent Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung was convicted of laundering $100 million that he claimed was gambling winnings.


In six years, $721 million flowed into the playboy’s five bank accounts from Macao. A former hairdresser, Yeung was chair of a Cayman Islands company that owned Birmingham City Football Club in Britain.

Even more devious schemes by big shots have moved tens of billions offshore without handling cash or involving banks at all.

For instance, money managers in North America were offered inflated fees of 20% to invest billions of Chinese corporate funds abroad. The catch was that half of the fees would be paid out to shell companies owned secretly by Chinese officials to buy them condos or art.

Other tactics involve bribing officials by selling assets at a loss so they can pocket immediate profits; or wiring cash to “fronts” owned by officials or their children who wash the bribes as though they were legitimate income.

The Swiss have facilitated shenanigans for decades but have recently been caught, and fined, with other European banks for washing dirty money.

Convictions followed revelations by a Credit Suisse whistleblower that clients were urged to buy diamonds for cash then smuggle them out in toothpaste tubes to fool authorities.

Other tricks included wiring funds to anonymous credit cards. In May, the bank admitted guilt and paid a fine of $2.6 billion. So have others.

China’s economic miracle has made true the promise by former leader Deng Xiaoping that “to get rich is glorious.”

But it’s New York’s real-estate market that is basking in the glory.





A Chinese national has been jailed for four months for money laundering after being handed two bags containing more than $800,000 in cash outside North Sydney railway station.


County Court judge Claire Quin said Chun Wa Wong and a co-accused had flown from Melbourne to Sydney on February 25 this year before catching a taxi to North Sydney for the money exchange.


The pair met an unknown third person outside the railway station who handed over the money after Wong’s co-accused had provided a password.


Wong and the co-accused flew back to Melbourne later that day.


Judge Quin said the pair had the two bags containing $800,080 in cash in their car and were driving from the airport to Box Hill before police intercepted them on Elgar Road.


Wong, 29, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to one count of money laundering.


Judge Quin said Wong had been working for the Bank of China in Hong Kong before becoming involved with the money-laundering syndicate.


She was working for a bakery in Melbourne on a temporary working visa when she agreed to travel with her co-accused to Sydney to pick up the money.


‘‘It was conceded by the prosecution that you were a lesser player in this offence than your co-accused … and other unidentified third parties involved in the scheme,’’ the judge told Wong.


‘‘I was referred to portions of the depositions where it was clear that you reported to others above you in the hierarchy and followed their directions.


‘‘You did not receive or anticipate receiving any financial reward for your involvement.’’


Wong expected to be deported once she had served her jail sentence.


The judge said Wong had spent her early childhood with her parents in Hong Kong before being sent to live with her grandparents in Guangzhou, China. She then moved back to Hong Kong to complete her secondary education.


‘‘Your father passed away in 2007 and you have since been working to support your mother and extended family,’’ the judge said.





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Today, France’s largest bank, BNP Paribas, will become the second major financial institution this year to plead guilty to violations of U.S. law. Following Credit Suisse’s admission in May to facilitating tax evasion, BNP’s guilty plea concerns $30 billion in transactions between 2002-2009 that violated U.S. sanctions against countries like Iran, Cuba, and Sudan.


The guilty pleas are designed to prove the Justice Department’s new “get-tough” policy against big banks, though the policy actually would be better described as “look-tough.” BNP will pay $8.9 billion to settle the investigation, over four times what HSBC paid in 2012 for similar conduct. However, because BNP approved so many more illegal transactions, thepenalty per dollar of violations actually comes out on the low side, compared to other banks. The guilty plea sounds strong, but the Justice Department has managed to remove all the punitive implications, from threats to the bank’s charter to loss of the license to operate as an investment adviser. Initial reports suggested that BNP would lose criticalaccess to dollar-clearing services for a temporary period, which would hamper the bank’s ability to make even rudimentary transactions for clients. But the Financial Times reports that BNP struck a deal to avoid that penalty for up to six months, giving them time to find alternatives for their customers instead of simply losing them. BNP will also have to “fire” over two dozen employees connected with the scheme, which I put in quotes because most of them have already left the bank. 


You can make a case that, relative to the conduct, both BNP and Credit Suisse got off easy. But judging from the Justice Department’s actions, these banks would have received even lighter rebukes had they been based in the U.S.


BNP and Credit Suisse were caught in the crossfire of substantial criticism of the Justice Department for its failure to prosecute the worst abuses of the financial crisis. Instead of seeking criminal charges against banks central to the crisis, like JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America or Citigroup, DoJ instead pursued these foreign firms. The foreign banks’ violations at issue had nothing to do with those abusesthey’re guilty of sins against the U.S. government and its foreign policy agenda, rather than against individuals like homeowners or investors. In fact, during talks over fines for conducting business with countries like Iran, BNP was given a license by U.S. officials to… conduct business with Iran. So the penalties seem purely discretionary, in this context, and unquestionably tangential to the misconduct that caused the Great Recession. Meanwhile, the parallel investigations againstdomestic banks over fraudulent mortgage securities are all civil probes, with no prospect of criminal indictments. 


Even if it was committed to prosecuting foreign-policy violations, the Justice Department could have still pursued domestic banks: It’s not like they have no history of laundering money for entities officially banned by the U.S. government. The Federal Reserve cited Citigroup for failures in its anti-money laundering program last year, but included no fine or admission of wrongdoing. Citi remains under investigation for lack of compliance. Wachovia, since bought by Wells Fargo, laundered money for Mexican drug cartels to the tune of $384 billion, over ten times the amount of BNP, yet paid a grand total of $160 million in fines, less than one cent on the dollar. Bank of America also helped launder money for the Mexican drug trade. JPMorgan Chase engaged in a series of transactions with Iran, Sudan and Cuba from 2005-2011, the exact same violations of trade sanctions that BNP engaged in. Their fine? $88.3 million, without a guilty plea. 


This critique only goes so far. As Pro Publica’s Jesse Eisinger points out, the Justice Department has been notoriously weak in its prosecutions of everymajor financial firm, foreign or domestic. As noted previously, DoJ made sure to scrub recent guilty pleas of any consequences, and no individual bankers have been indicted in any of these cases. Credit Suisse and BNP seem guilty mostly of being the next bank up when the pressure got too great on DoJ, forcing them to at least make a show of getting tough. But we’re really talking about the relative strength of slaps on the wrist.


However, since the standard of meting out justice to financial institutions seems so arbitrary, it’s hard to escape the absence of domestic banks in the conversation. Though still weak, BNP’s fine will wipe out a substantial portion of its 2013 profits (BNP plans to cut its dividend to pay the fine, showing how ultimately shareholders pay for this misconduct, not bank executives). The guilty plea could cause some risk to the bank’s reputation. And it’s notable that other European banks under investigation for similar violations have grown worried, while their domestic counterparts remain nonchalant by comparison.

Domestic banks simply know how to play this game better. They get direct meetings between their CEOs and the Attorney General, a luxury not typically afforded to lawbreakers. They threaten to fight any fine in court, wracking the nerves of Justice Department lawyers afraid of losing a big case. They use allies in Congress and K Street to fend off accountability. And it works well.


To be clear, everyone in global financial services can avoid punishment for their crimes with minimal damage. But the Justice Department appears to bend even further backwards if you’re headquartered in New York or Charlotte, instead of Paris or Geneva.





During the 11 years that Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and her husband Néstor Kirchner have dominated national politics, they accumulated a small fortune.


Between 2003, when Mr. Kirchner was elected president, and 2010, when he died, the couple’s net worth rose from $2.5 million to $17.7 million, according to their annual filings with the federal anticorruption office. A lot of people in Argentina want to know where that money came from.


A string of judicial inquiries have roiled national politics by calling attention to the business dealings of top politicians and their associates. In late June, Vice President Amado Boudou was indicted on a charge of bribery and influence peddling related to the takeover of a bankrupt money-printing firm. A former transportation secretary was indicted in April on charges of illicit enrichment. Both have denied wrongdoing. Two years ago, a former economy minister was convicted of obstructing an investigation into a bag of cash found in her office bathroom.


Yet it is an investigation involving a construction baron with close ties to the Kirchners that is creating one of the biggest stirs. A Buenos Aires prosecutor alleged that the businessman, Lázaro Báez, plotted to launder some $65 million through a global network of shell companies. The prosecutor, José María Campagnoli, said in an interview the money likely was diverted from government funds earmarked for public works and that Mr. Báez was acting on behalf of the Kirchners.

José María Campagnoli


The prosecutor’s investigation was cut short, however, when judicial authorities suspended him, accusing him of exceeding his jurisdiction and leaking information to the media. He denies the accusations, saying he is being persecuted for investigating corruption. He now is facing a judicial proceeding that could cost him his job.


In an interview, Mr. Báez denied the prosecutor’s allegations, which he characterized as part of a campaign to harm his company and discredit the Kirchner administration. A spokesman for Mr. Báez said he has no investments in any country other than Argentina.

Kirchner administration officials didn’t respond to requests for comment about the president’s wealth or the corruption inquiries. In the only time she has publicly commented on her wealth—a terse exchange with students at Harvard University in 2012—Mrs. Kirchner, 61 years old, said: “I’ve worked my whole life, and I’ve been a very successful lawyer, and now I’m a successful president too, thank you.”

The scandals have dented Mrs. Kirchner’s popularity at a delicate time. With less than 18 months left in office, she is trying to stabilize one of Latin America’s most vulnerable economies. Raging inflation and hard-currency shortages have pushed Argentina into a recession. Only 26% of Argentines approve of how she is running the government, according to a recent poll by opinion-research firm Management & Fit.

At the same time, the nation is trying to resolve a standoff with foreign creditors. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a lower-court decision requiring Argentina to fully repay a handful of bondholders who rejected the country’s offer of about 30 cents on the dollar on some $100 billion in debt it defaulted on in 2001. Argentina says it can’t afford to obey the order, but if it doesn’t do so by Wednesday it could default for the second time in 13 years.

One of the bondholder holdouts, U.S. hedge fund NML Capital Ltd., wants a federal court in Nevada to help it seize assets it claims are held in shell companies by Mr. Báez, arguing the money was essentially stolen from the Argentine state. A spokesman for Mr. Báez called NML’s claims “baseless and opportunistic.”

The Kirchners built a successful political brand in Argentina by casting themselves as champions of the downtrodden. Mrs. Kirchner was elected to replace her husband in 2007.

Manuel Garrido, a former anticorruption prosecutor under the Kirchners, says the scandals “mirror the emergence of crony capitalism, oligarchs who rose during the past decade through their ties to government officials.” Mr. Garrido quit in protest in 2009, claiming the Kirchners curbed his investigative powers after he probed alleged corruption involving the administration. The administration didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Austral Construcciones SA, Mr. Báez’s flagship construction company, was created weeks before Mr. Kirchner took office in 2003. Since the Kirchners moved into the Casa Rosada, the pink presidential palace in downtown Buenos Aires, Mr. Báez’s company has received hundreds of millions of dollars in public-works contracts in Santa Cruz, becoming the province’s top private-sector employer.

Mr. Báez, 58, said he first met Mr. Kirchner playing basketball and soccer in the 1970s. Their friendship was cemented by a shared love of sports and political activism in the Peronist movement. Mr. Kirchner often came to his ranch, he said, to play soccer and eat grilled Patagonian beef and lamb.

During an interview at his office, sitting across from a life-size portrait of the Kirchners at a political rally, Mr. Báez said his firm grew quickly because the Kirchners ramped up public spending to foster regional growth, employment and social progress.

“This is no shell company,” Mr. Báez said as he walked around his firm’s headquarters in Rio Gallegos, a sleepy, windswept corner of Argentina’s deep south, part of the Patagonia region. He showed off scores of bulldozers, stone-crushing machines, trucks and equipment.


Lázaro Báez, a construction baron with lots of public-works contracts, has close ties to the Kirchners.Associated Press

Mr. Báez said the Kirchners’ public spending transformed the oil-rich province of Santa Cruz and the country. He said Austral Construcciones disrupted an industry controlled by a half dozen firms that dominated bidding for public works. Driving his black Toyota Hilux pickup around Río Gallegos, he pointed out a new school and public-housing projects that he built with federal funding.

“Most of the people who write about these allegations don’t know what we do down here,” Mr. Báez said as he walked through the new school’s gymnasium. He said this kind of modern infrastructure wouldn’t exist without the Kirchners.

“These allegations have inflicted terrible damage on us,” he said. The scandal “hampers our participation in public-works projects and represents a very elegant way to expel us from the field.”

Mr. Báez said his company’s business is transparent. He attributed the scandal to an effort by his detractors to derail his hopes of winning a bid to build a nearly $5 billion hydroelectric project.

In April 2013, Argentine investigative journalist Jorge Lanata broadcast allegations about Mr. Báez’s company on his popular news show. The program aired secretly recorded videotapes of Leonardo Fariña, who said on the tapes that he managed a $5 billion fortune for Mr. Báez and acted as his courier.

In the tapes, the ponytailed, Ferrari-driving Mr. Fariña said associates of Mr. Báez loaded bags of cash onto Mr. Báez’s executive jet and carried them to Buenos Aires. There the money was taken to a financial firm informally called “La Rosadita,” he said, just five blocks from the presidential Casa Rosada. There was too much cash to be counted by hand, he said, so it was weighed to determine its value, then sent abroad to tax havens. Mr. Fariña also claimed to have played soccer and socialized with Mr. Kirchner.

Federico Elaskar, the owner of the financial firm, appeared on the program and backed up Mr. Fariña’s comments.

After the show aired, Messrs. Fariña and Elaskar both retracted their statements, saying they had lied to Mr. Lanata. But the Buenos Aires prosecutor, Mr. Campagnoli, said his team verified their links to Mr. Báez and their involvement in an alleged money-laundering scheme that used a network of shell companies.

In a recent interview, Mr. Campagnoli alleged that Mr. Báez was a frontman for the Kirchners, diverting funds earmarked for public-works projects. He said he requested raids on the Kirchner residences to collect evidence. The request was denied by a lower-court judge.

Mr. Báez said he fulfills his public-works contracts properly, and dismissed as “ridiculous” the accusation that he had moved bags of cash.


Last December, after Mr. Campagnoli submitted two reports to a federal judge, he was suspended for allegedly leaking information and exceeding his authority.

The case was taken over by another prosecutor and is now in the hands of federal judge Sebastián Casanello. In early May, he unsealed indictments against Messrs. Fariña and Elaskar for money laundering unrelated to their alleged involvement with Mr. Báez. He hasn’t brought any charges against Mr. Báez. The investigation is continuing.

Mr. Fariña is in jail awaiting trial on federal tax-evasion charges in connection with a separate probe. His lawyer, Iván Mendoza, acknowledged his client had previously done business with Mr. Báez but said Mr. Fariña isn’t guilty and is paying a price for living extravagantly.

Efforts to reach Mr. Elaskar and his lawyer were unsuccessful. Mr. Elaskar denied the charges in court testimony, adding that on the TV show he dug himself into a deep hole. “I was put in a sausage-making machine,” he said.

Mr. Campagnoli was reinstated as a prosecutor last week, but the proceedings that could cost him his job continue. “We knew that this was going to end up badly,” he said, “but I did it because I’m a prosecutor and because I had a team that thinks like me.”

Ignacio Rodríguez Varela, an assistant prosecutor who was Mr. Campagnoli’s deputy, said the investigation “was like peeping through a keyhole, because of what we were able to see and what we could have discovered if we had been allowed to continue.”

Ricardo Monner Sans, an Argentine lawyer and anticorruption activist, claims that the judge handling the case “has skated around Mr. Báez because if he goes deeper he might reach the Kirchners.”

Judge Casanello denied that. “A judge has to search for the truth at all costs, while never forgetting due process,” he said. “It is false that this is not being investigated or that it is being investigated slowly.”

The Kirchners’ rising wealth had been the subject of another judicial proceeding back in 2009. Federal Judge Norberto Oyarbide, who has survived repeated efforts to remove him from the bench, cleared the Kirchners of any wrongdoing. He said investigators concluded there was no problem and that the case was closed.

Mr. Garrido, the anticorruption prosecutor who quit in 2009, and Alfredo Popritkin, a forensic accountant and former Supreme Court fraud examiner, said in interviews that the couple never fully explained how they more than doubled their wealth to $12.8 million in 2008, from $5.4 million the previous year.

In their government filings, the Kirchners said they made most of their money from numerous property transactions in Santa Cruz and from cash deposits.

Mr. Garrido said there was no proper valuation of real-estate assets. Mr. Popritkin said the couple never presented documents demonstrating how they managed to obtain above-market interest rates.

The business links between Mr. Báez and the Kirchners are extensive, documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal show. They include loans, property transactions, co-ownership of land and joint real-estate developments.

They also involve payments related to Alto Calafate, a boutique hotel owned by the Kirchners in a Patagonian resort town near the Perito Moreno glacier.

In 2010, for example, Mr. Báez’s company rented out 90 nights worth of rooms each month at the hotel, one of several owned by the Kirchners in the resort, according to a copy of the contract seen by The Wall Street Journal. The price per room at the hotel ranges from $140 to $238 a night, the contract indicates. At the low-end, that would generate some $150,000 in hotel revenue for the year.

Mr. Báez’s spokesman acknowledged the deals. Presidential secretary Oscar Parrilli has called the hotel transactions “a private business matter.”

Over the past decade, Mr. Báez has become one of the biggest landowners in Argentina, buying up tens of thousands of acres across Santa Cruz, public records indicate.

In 2006, Santa Cruz resident Jorge Molfino sold a roughly 25,000-acre ranch to Austral Construcciones. Mr. Molfino said he asked for $1.5 million, but that a representative for Mr. Báez offered to pay him $1.6 million in eight installments—on the condition that the last installment of $200,000 would go to Mrs. Kirchner’s presidential election campaign. He accepted the deal.

Spokesmen for Mr. Báez and the administration didn’t respond to requests for comment.

After Mr. Kirchner died, Mr. Báez erected a three-story mausoleum for him in Rio Gallegos, inspired by the Dôme des Invalides, home to Napoleon’s tomb in Paris.

A memorial plaque, placed by Mr. Báez, adorns a wall adjacent to the entrance: “Here rests Néstor Carlos Kirchner, a Santa Cruz native who changed Argentina, and above all, a friend.”