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Russians liquidating crypto in UAE in hunt for safe havens | Russia-Ukraine war News

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Crypto firms in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are being deluged with requests to liquidate billions of dollars of virtual currency as Russians seek a safe haven for their fortunes, according to company executives and financial sources.

Some clients are using cryptocurrency to invest in real estate in the UAE, while others want to use firms there to turn their virtual money into hard currency and stash it elsewhere, the sources said

One crypto firm has received lots of queries in the past 10 days from Swiss brokers asking to liquidate billions of dollars of Bitcoin because their clients are afraid Switzerland will freeze their assets, one executive said, adding none of the requests had been for less than $2bn.

“We’ve had like five or six in the past two weeks. None of them has come off yet – they’ve sort of fallen over at the last minute, which is not rare – but we’ve never had this much interest,” the executive said, adding his firm normally receives an inquiry for a large transaction once a month.

“We have one guy – I don’t know who he is, but he came through a broker – and they’re like, ‘we want to sell 125,000 Bitcoin’. And I’m like, ‘what? That’s $6bn guys’. And they’re like, ‘yeah, we’re going to send it to a company in Australia’,” the executive said.

Switzerland’s financial market supervisor declined to comment on cryptocurrency transaction volumes.

The country’s economic affairs secretariat (SECO) said in an emailed statement that crypto assets were subject to the same sanctions and measures Switzerland has imposed on “normal” Russian assets and individuals, so if a person is sanctioned their crypto assets must also be frozen in Switzerland.

Dubai, the Gulf region’s financial and business centre and a growing crypto hub, has long been a magnet for the world’s ultrarich and the UAE’s refusal to take sides between Western allies and Moscow has signalled to Russians their money is safe there.

One real estate broker, whose company has partnered with a cryptocurrency service to help people buy property, said: “We’ve been seeing a lot of Russians and even Belarusians coming to Dubai and bringing whatever they can bring, even in crypto.”

Way out of sanctions?

A financial source in the UAE confirmed that Russians were buying property in Dubai, using crypto as a way of getting their money out of other jurisdictions and into the Gulf state.

Cryptocurrency exchanges have said, while giving few details, they are blocking the accounts of Russians sanctioned by the West over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which Russia calls a “special military operation”.

Major exchanges such as Coinbase Global Inc and Binance say they are taking steps to ensure that crypto is not used as a vehicle to evade sanctions, and they collaborate with law enforcement on the issue.

Still, as crypto offers users a high degree of anonymity, European countries such as Germany and Estonia have this week called for tighter oversight to snuff out any loopholes that could allow sanctions-busting.

Three Western diplomats said they were increasingly alarmed by the number of Russians who in recent weeks were seeking refuge in the UAE for their fortunes, including in property, and were wary that some could be acting on behalf of those under sanctions.

Two of the diplomats said they were sceptical the UAE would crack down on Russian wealth in the Gulf state, which they said was predominantly held in Dubai, citing the country’s neutral stance in the conflict.

A third said they hoped the UAE, which is also a gold trading hub, understood the implications for its reputation and would take action.

The UAE was put on a “grey list” this month for increased monitoring by financial crime and money laundering watchdog the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

The FATF cited risks in certain sectors, including real estate and precious metals. Dubai adopted a virtual assets law this week and established a regulator. The UAE’s regulator said it was close to issuing regulations and has consulted on money laundering risks in the sector.

The Dubai government’s media office and the Central Bank of the UAE did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The UAE’s foreign ministry said it had no further comment beyond previous statements that the government has a “strong commitment” to working with FATF on areas for improvement in its anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing regime.

Marina and downtown

Some experts say the relative transparency of cryptocurrency transactions, which are recorded on the blockchain ledger that underpins Bitcoin and other tokens, makes large-scale sanctions evasion difficult.

The US Treasury said on Monday that sanctions-busting using crypto was “not necessarily practicable”, and called for vigilance from companies in the industry.

Two sources familiar with the matter said UAE companies had reputational concerns about doing business with Russians, but felt the state’s abstention at the United Nations Security Council, when Russia vetoed a resolution condemning its invasion of Ukraine, was a signal they should not impose restrictions on Russians.

The UAE, which has deepened ties with Russia over the years, has not matched sanctions imposed by Western nations and its central bank has not issued any guidance regarding the measures.

Dubai, an attractive tourism destination, has long been popular with Russians, who were among the top visitors and buyers of real estate even before the war and ensuing sanctions threw the Russian economy into turmoil.

‘Trying to protect themselves’

Apurv Trivedi of Healy Consultants, which advises on setting up businesses, including crypto companies, said they had definitely been getting more interest from Russian clients.

“They’re basically trying to protect themselves against the inflationary pressures that are happening against the Russian currency. So crypto has been a very good exit for them to manage the risks that they’re facing,” Trivedi said. “It’s a good liquidity provider for them.”

Healy’s Sami Fadlallah said a lot of the money coming from Russia has been moving into Dubai’s real estate, citing both industry talk and their company’s experience.

“People parking their money in dozens of apartments in the Marina, Downtown,” Fadlallah said.

“We’ve seen a lot of Russians hedging their bets against the devaluation of the rouble by moving a lot of assets into crypto. And the UAE is relatively loose in terms of its regulation and authorities over transferring crypto here.”



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Pope to visit Canada in July to meet residential school survivors | Indigenous Rights News

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Visit from July 24 to 30 comes after Pope Francis apologised for Catholic Church’s role in abuse of Indigenous children.

Warning: The story below contains details of residential schools that may be upsetting. Canada’s Indian Residential School Survivors and Family Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.

Pope Francis will travel to Canada at the end of July, the Vatican has announced, as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church is expected to meet Indigenous survivors of abuse committed at so-called residential schools.

The 85-year-old will travel to Edmonton, Quebec City and Iqaluit, the Vatican said on Friday, adding that more details on the July 24 to 30 visit will be published in the coming weeks.

The announcement comes after the pope last month apologised for abuses that members of the church committed against Indigenous children at residential schools.

Speaking to Indigenous delegates at the Vatican, Pope Francis said he felt “sorrow and shame” for the role Catholics played in the many harms that Indigenous children suffered while attending the forced-assimilation institutions.

“For the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God’s forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart, I am very sorry. And I join my brothers, Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon,” he said.

A map of former residential schools in Canada

Canada forced more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children to attend residential schools between the late 1800s and 1990s. The children were stripped of their languages and culture, separated from siblings, and subjected to psychological, physical and sexual abuse.

Thousands are believed to have died while attending the institutions, most of which were run by the Roman Catholic Church. A federal commission of inquiry into Canada’s residential schools, known as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), concluded in 2015 that the system amounted to “cultural genocide”.

The discoveries of unmarked graves at former residential school sites across Canada over the past year spurred renewed calls for accountability – and an apology from the Catholic Church in particular.

The pope’s apology last month was welcomed by Indigenous leaders, but they called on him to visit Canada to deliver the apology on Indigenous lands.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday that “a formal in-person apology” from the head of the Roman Catholic Church to survivors and their families would be an important step “to advance meaningful reconciliation for Indigenous Peoples in our country”.

Edmonton is home to the second-largest number of Indigenous people living in urban Canadian centres, and approximately 25 residential schools were located in Alberta, the most of any province or territory in Canada, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said.

Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith, who is coordinating the papal visit on behalf of the Canadian bishops, said the pontiff will visit a former residential school site “and other locations of significance”.

Quebec is home to Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre, one of the oldest and most popular pilgrimage sites in North America, while Iqaluit, on vast Baffin Island, is the capital of the Nunavut territory, home to many Inuit.

Bishop Raymond Poisson said Canada’s bishops were “immensely grateful” the pope will visit to “continue the journey of healing and reconciliation”.

Francis is expected to repeat his apology to school abuse survivors and relatives of victims.



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US states argue to keep contentious border policy in place | Migration News

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US court is hearing challenge to Biden administration’s plan to end Title 42 restriction at US-Mexico border this month.

A group of 21 US states have argued that the Biden administration’s plan to lift a contentious border restriction that barred most asylum seekers from seeking protection at the US-Mexico border was made without sufficient consideration of the effects it would have.

Drew Ensign, a lawyer representing the states involved in the legal challenge, told US District Judge Robert Summerhays on Friday that their lawsuit was “not about the policy wisdom” behind the announcement to end the policy on May 23.

Rather, Ensign argued that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did not follow proper administrative procedures requiring public notice and the gathering of comments on the decision to end the restrictions imposed under what is known as Title 42.

More than 1.8 million Title 42 expulsions have been carried out since March 2020, when the policy was first invoked under former President Donald Trump’s administration as the nation was going into lockdown due to COVID-19.

Rights groups have said the move was made largely to deter asylum at the border, however.

Title 42 has allowed US authorities to quickly expel most asylum seekers who arrived at the border without giving them chance to request protection in the country, which rights groups said violated US and international law.

Migrants being returned
The US states that sued are alleging that proper consideration was not given to increases in border crossings and their possible effects [File: Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters]

The lawsuit came after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on April 1 that the restriction would be lifted by May 23 after the CDC said it was no longer needed.

Arizona, Louisiana and Missouri quickly sued and were later joined by 18 other states in the legal challenge being heard on Friday. Texas sued independently.

The states have alleged that proper consideration was not given to the resulting increases in border crossings and their possible effects, including pressure on state healthcare systems and the diversion of border law enforcement resources from drug interdiction to controlling illegal crossings.

Jean Lin, with the Department of Justice, argued on Friday that the CDC was within its authority to lift an emergency health restriction it felt was no longer needed. She said the CDC order was a matter of health policy, not immigration policy.

“There is no basis to use Title 42 as a safety valve,” Lin told Summerhays.

Several migrant advocacy groups have asked Summerhays to at least allow Title 42 to be lifted as planned in California and New Mexico, two border states that have not challenged the administration’s decision.

But the effort to end the policy came just months before crucial US midterm elections in November, and it appeared to have emboldened some Republicans who want to make immigration an issue before the vote.

Migrants being returned to Mexico
Rights groups say Title 42 violates US and international law [File: Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters]

“Ending refugee protection for those fleeing violence and human rights violations is a betrayal of the Democrats’ supposed values and our nation’s identity,” Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a group that advocates for immigration reform, said in a statement on Wednesday.

“It will do nothing to stop Republican attacks and falsehoods over the border, and it will do nothing to modernize our immigration system so that it serves our interests and reflects our values,” Sharry said in a statement.

US authorities stopped asylum seekers more than 221,000 times at the Mexican border in March, a 22-year high. Many of those were repeat crossers.

Title 42 authority has been applied unevenly across nationalities. Mexico has agreed to take back migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico — but largely refused to take back people from other countries.

Under Title 42, the US has flown Haitian asylum seekers, including those who had not lived in the country for years, to the crisis-stricken nation on board deportation flights.

Earlier this year, however, US border officials exempted Ukrainians fleeing the war from Title 42 expulsions and allowed them to enter the US through the US-Mexico border.



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UN experts condemn Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing, demand probe | Israel-Palestine conflict News

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A panel of United Nations human rights experts have condemned the killing of Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh and said it may constitute a war crime.

In a news release published on Friday, the UN’s Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) called for a thorough and independent investigation into her death.

“Authorities have an obligation not to harm journalists and to protect them from harm under international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” the experts said according to the statement. “The killing of Abu Akleh, who was clearly performing her duties as a journalist, may constitute a war crime.”

Abu Akleh, a veteran reporter with Al Jazeera, was killed on Wednesday while covering an Israeli army raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin. She was wearing a helmet and a vest that clearly identified her as a journalist.

Abu Akleh's coffin being carried
Shireen Abu Akleh, a veteran reporter with Al Jazeera, was killed on Wednesday while covering an Israeli army raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin [Abbas Momani/Pool via Reuters]

“We demand a prompt, independent, impartial, effective, thorough and transparent investigation into the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh,” according to the statement.

“The killing of Abu Akleh is another serious attack on media freedom and freedom of expression, amid the escalation of violence in the occupied West Bank.”

Thousands of people jammed the streets in her hometown of Jerusalem Friday for her funeral and burial. Israeli police kicked and beat mourners with batons as they carried her body from the hospital in occupied East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, nearly causing the pallbearers to drop the coffin.

Israeli forces also attacked the hearse as it carried her body, to snatch Palestinian flags from it.

“Al Jazeera Media Network denounces this violence in the strongest terms, and holds the Israeli government fully responsible for the safety and security of all the mourners and the family of our colleague Shireen,” the broadcaster said in a statement Friday.

Abu Akleh was buried next to her parents at the Mount Zion Protestant Cemetery.

INTERACTIVE Journalists killed by Israeli forces
[Al Jazeera]

The UN experts said Abu Akleh’s killing came as violence has been on the increase in the occupied West Bank and Gaza in recent years. Last year, according to the statement, marked the highest number of Palestinian deaths resulting from confrontations with Israelis since 2014. It also came amid a high rate of attacks against Palestinian journalists.

At least Palestinian journalists have been killed since 2000, and hundreds more have been injured.

“The role of journalists, especially in a context of heightened tension and marked by continuous abuses, like the occupied Palestinian territory, is critical,” the experts said.

“Lack of accountability gives carte blanche to continue the litany of extrajudicial executions. The safety of journalists is essential in guaranteeing the freedom of expression and media freedom.”

large crowd during funeral
Al Jazeera has accused Israeli of deliberately killing Shireen Abu Akleh [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

The Israeli military said its initial investigation into Abu Akleh’s death showed that a heavy firefight was under way in Jenin approximately 200 metres (about 220 yards) from where she was killed, but that it was unable to determine whether she was shot by Israeli forces or Palestinian fighters.

In a statement issued Friday, the military said Palestinian gunmen recklessly fired hundreds of rounds at an Israeli military vehicle, some in the direction of where Abu Akleh was standing. It said Israeli forces returned fire, and that without doing ballistic analysis, it cannot determine who was responsible for her death.

Reporters who were with Abu Akleh, including one who was shot and wounded, said there were no clashes or fighters in the immediate area when she was killed.

Al Jazeera has accused Israel of “blatant murder” and have called for an independent investigation into her death.

Rights groups have said that Israel rarely follows through on investigations into the killing of Palestinians by its security forces and hands down lenient punishments on the rare occasions when it does.

Abu Akleh, 51, had joined Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language service in 1997 and rose to prominence covering the second Intifada, or uprising, in the early 2000s.



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