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Growing Tensions Between Pro-Russian Moldavan President and Pro-Western Parliament

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Tensions during the last three months between President Igor Dodon and the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova have escalated dramatically since Moldova and Russia have been embroiled in a series of political rows in 2017 leading to Moldovia recalling their ambassador from Russia on 18 December. Dodon is a vocal supporter of Russia and an opponent of his country’s relations with the European Union and NATO. Dodon has vowed to take Moldova into the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union, which includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia and revoke Moldova’s association agreement with the European Union (EU).  The Moldovan parliament has taken a more pro-western stance and has been moving towards closer relations with the EU. Dodon has intentionally refused to carry out his required duties as president whenever the legislation or appointment would not favor a closer Russian-Moldovan relationship. On three occasions since October 2017, the Moldovan Constitutional Court has had to temporarily suspend Dodon from power to enact legally passed legislation, or ministerial appointments, by the Chisinau-based government.

On 5 January the court suspended Dodon’s power to enact legislation that would restrict Russian television broadcasts as foreign propaganda. Previously, the court ruled that Dodon can veto a bill only once and must approve the legislation if passed again. Dodon refused to comply with the judicial ruling and was found to be in violation of his duties. Lawmakers say the bill would prevent the dissemination of what they describe as “fake news” on foreign channels and would ban television channels from airing news and analytical programs from countries that have not signed up to a European broadcasting agreement, such as Russia.

On 2 January the court suspended Dodon’s powers due to a disagreement between him and the pro-Western government over ministerial appointments. Dodon had earlier blocked the government’s choice of new ministers in a reshuffle, accusing the nominees of incompetence and saying some had links to a notorious scandal in which around $1 billion was siphoned out of the Moldavan banking system.

On 24 October the Moldovan Constitutional Court ruled that Dodon could be temporarily suspended over his failure to fulfill his constitutional duties and for causing an institutional deadlock for his refusal to appoint Eugen Sturza as defence minister. Dodon refused to approve Sturza because he said the 32-year-old did not have the proper experience to serve as defence minister.

On December 21 Dodon told his supporters to refrain from “revolution” and wait for the upcoming elections next year to oust the current government because he has seen what revolutions can do in other countries. However, it is important to note that Russia has used the perceived perception of persecution of Russian minorities in former Soviet Union republics as an excuse for military action. It is possible that the underlying context of this statement was more of a veiled threat against the Chisinau government than a genuine plea to Dodon’s supporters.

Ecuador’s Vice-President Sentence to Six Year in Jail in Connection to the Odebrecht Scheme

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Ecuador’s Vice-President Jorge Glas has been sentenced to six years in jail in connection to corruption at Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. Prosecutors say Glas received $13.5m (£10.2m) in bribes from the company from 2012-2016 in exchange for contracts.
Glas, who had served as Vice-President since May 2013, was relieved of his duties by President Moreno on the 3rd August 2017 when corruption allegations against Glas first began, with judicial investigations beginning 3 days after. Moreno was unable to relieve him of his position however as Glas obtained the position of Vice-President through popular vote.

Glas was first detained on 3rd October 2017 in order to prevent him from fleeing the country, and he remained incarcerated until and throughout his trial. Charges were officially brought against Glas on 8th November, with the National Court beginning his trial on the 24th along with 12 others accused in relation to the Odebrecht scheme. On 15th December, Glas was sentenced to 6 years in jail having been found guilty of accepting bribes from Odebrecht, alongside 6 others including his Uncle who was also found to be guilty. During the trial, prosecutors say Glas received bribe payments via his Uncle, Ricardo Rivera.

Former President Rafael Correa has denounced the sentence, saying the courts have imprisoned “an innocent”, and believes the trial against Glas has been politically motivated. Glas’s defence council, Eduardo Loor, announced after the sentencing that he will be appealing the 6-year sentence, and has called it “barbaric”. Glas continues to protest his innocence.

On the 17th of December, the President of Ecuador’s National Assembly, Jose Salgado, announced the country would be going forward with impeachment hearings of Glas. Days later, after receiving unanimous backing, Ecuador’s National Courts paved the way to begin proceedings into the dismissal of Glas from his position as despite his sentence he was refusing to step down as Vice-President. On the 27th, the impeachment of Glas took place, with Glas having 5 days to present written or oral exculpatory evidence to defend himself. The impeachment was, in the end, unnecessary in the removal of Glas from his position. On the 2nd January 2018 under Ecuador’s Constitution’s Article 146, Glas was stripped of his position after being unable to exercise his office for 90 days due to his incarceration. President Moreno has been given 15 days to put forward the names of three candidates for the position of Vice-President, but it is suspected he will do so well before the 15 days given.

Glas at present is the highest-ranking politician to be convicted in the scandal that has spread across much of Latin America, which is being called one of the biggest corporate corruption cases in history. Widespread protests have occurred across Latin America, with the scheme bringing issues of corruption to the forefront of prosecutors and the Medias agendas. Former CEO Marcelo Odebrecht is currently serving a 19-year jail term which began in 2016, and has since provided information to the authorities regarding others involvement in the scheme, including information that was used in Glas’s trial. Over 70 other Odebrecht executives have been jailed, with many of them offering information in exchange for more lenient sentences. At present, $785.5m worth of bribe payments have been admitted by various Latin American and two African countries, with a further $26.5m suspected.

Piracy in South East Asia

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There is no doubt, that South East Asian littoral states are sitting among the busiest maritime routes of recent decades. Half of the Earth’s population lives in the region, stretching from Japan across the busiest straits of Malacca and Singapore to the western ports of India and Pakistan, not to forget the thousands of islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines etc. The thousands of ships responsible for the shipping of various raw materials, manufactured goods, or providing living to people by fishing are concomitant to maritime piracy.

The actual number of crimes under the aegis of piracy is unknown, because all the global and regional organisations and regimes like the UN, the International Maritime Organisation or the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against ships in Asia’s (ReCAAP) Information Sharing Centre (ISC) rely on incidents which have been reported to them. Therefore, many of the small-scale crimes committed mostly against fishing dhows or private vessels remain unreported. According to the annual reports of the ISC, the number of attempted and actual crimes against ships increased until 2015 in the region and totalled in 203 incidents. Mainly, there are two types of attacks depending on the position of the ship, when it is at anchor or berth and when the ship is underway. In 2016 most violent acts of piracy happened in the territorial waters of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, especially around the island of Borneo and the area of the Sulu and Celebes Seas, between the islands of the Philippines and Borneo. The littoral waters of Gujarat province in Western India, the Malacca and Singapore Straits, the southern parts of Vietnam and the Sunda-Strait between the islands of Java and Sumatra in Indonesia are also among the affected areas. Last year, the total crimes topped at less than half of 2015, at 85 incidents. Comparing the first half of the year of 2017 with the same period of previous years shows a decreasing tendency in the number of crimes. Thanks to the efforts of regional states, the reported number of incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships is the lowest of the last ten years.

Littoral states continue to step up efforts in combatting incidents in the affected areas. Malaysian and Philippine maritime forces killed many militants and pirates in recent years. The Defence Ministers of Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia met at the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting in May 2016 and decided to finalise relevant agreements, especially the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on maritime patrol, so all maritime crimes are addressed in a cooperative manner. On 19 June 2017, the Philippine Department of National Defence (DND) announced that Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines launched a trilateral patrol agreement. The agreement addresses the piracy incidents, armed robbery against ships, kidnapping of crew at sea and other maritime transnational crimes along the shared border of these three countries. The launch of the maritime patrol also included the establishment of three Maritime Command Centres located at Bongao in the Philippines, Tawau in Malaysia and Tarakan in Indonesia.

Although number of incidents is decreasing, the ReCAAP ISC reiterates its advice to all the captains and the crews of the ships. Always be alerted and vigilant and in case of an attempt to rob or board a ship, follow procedures, report the incident they were involved in and communicate with the littoral states’ enforcement agencies to assist them the best they can.

The Flynn Charge: Implications and Exposure

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At 10.30am on December 1st, Former National Security Advisor Lt. General Mike Flynn pleaded guilty to a single charge of providing false statements to FBI officials (violation U.S.C. 1001) filed by the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Flynn’s guilty plea was part of a specific, public plea agreement entered into with the special counsel, tasked with investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s possible collusion. The Lieutenant General promised to fully cooperate in all matters of relevance, including turning over “all evidence of crimes about which your client is aware”, “providing sworn written statements” and testifying “before any and all Grand Juries.” For a relatively narrow charge, it was a wide-reaching agreement. It was, moreover, a political and legal bombshell that continues to ricochet within the White House and, quite possibly, the Oval Office. It is best to separate the damage into two distinct categories: exposure to the crime Flynn pleaded guilty to, and those he is possibly relaying to Robert Mueller.

Let’s start with the latter. In the past few days, two main schools of thought have emerged among leading US legal scholars over the significance of Flynn’s plea deal for Mueller’s collusion probe. The first is what we might call the ‘big fish school’, expressed in the analysis of many reputable media and legal commentaries. As stated in Lawfare’s ‘Quick and Dirty Analysis’ of the matter, “if a tenth of the allegations against Flynn are true and provable, he has gotten a very good deal from Mueller” — Flynn was reportedly on the payroll of the Turkish government and companies linked to Russian intelligence, to name a few of the litany of detailed allegations against him. According to this analysis, “prosecutors do not give generous deals in major public integrity cases to big-fish defendants without good reason” and, as such, “for Mueller to give Flynn a deal of this sort, the prosecutor must believe he is building a case against a bigger fish still.” What this case involves would relate to the proffer Flynn made to Mueller: explicit information of crimes of interest that cannot be withdrawn upon entry into the plea agreement. What this information reveals is anyone’s guess.

Preet Bharara, former US attorney for the Southern District of New York and famously fired by Donald Trump, as well as Andrew McCarthy, the conservative former federal prosecutor for the same district, have poured cold water on this view. For these attorneys, Flynn’s plea deal reflects Mueller’s weak hand: how damaging could Flynn’s information be if his plea agreement does not protect him from future prosecution, and would Mueller really wipe a dirty slate clean in exchange for it? Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, Lawfare’s Benjamin Wittes and Susan Hennessey do not dismiss this argument out of hand, arguing instead that it only adds to the “unsolved mystery” of Flynn’s plea agreement. Either Flynn is only minimally exposed in the information he is relaying to Mueller, or there is something not publicly disclosed in the agreement submitted to court. But then again, Flynn testified that there exists no secret side agreement. Hence the mystery.

Turning to Flynn’s actual testimony, his statement of offence makes clear he was not acting as a ‘rogue agent’ during the transition but consulted with a “senior official” over his phone call with Russian Ambassador Kislyak, debriefed “senior members” of the transition team over the nature of that call and was directed by a “very senior member” concerning an additional conversation with the ambassador. The White House’s explanation for Flynn’s firing — that he lied to Vice President Mike Pence (who led the transition team) over the nature of those calls — now looks very precarious, implicating not only the Vice President but all White House staff involved in forming the explanation. Moreover, if a CNN report in November is true — that Mueller interviewed Jared Kushner over whether he possessed information that could exonerate Flynn, Kushner’s exposure is noteworthy, especially in light of US media widely sourcing the “very senior official” as Kushner himself. Given the breadth of Kushner’s reported contacts with Russian officials, it is not unreasonable to suppose Mueller is working his way up the food chain.

Flynn’s statement of offence also appears to expose President Trump in Mueller’s obstruction of justice investigation. By linking Flynn’s crime to senior administration officials, President Trump has additional motive for allegedly telling FBI Director James Comey, “I hope you can see your way to letting this go, to letting Flynn go” (as testified by Comey). President Trump’s response to the Flynn charge also did little to help his cause: by tweeting on 2nd December that he fired Flynn for “lying to the FBI”, he only added credibility to this alleged motive.

This review has separated the implications of Mike Flynn’s plea agreement into those related and unrelated to his charge, but the most significant implication might in fact be in the blurring of the two. Unless one counts the 18th century Logan Act, yet to be prosecuted in a court of law, Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador were arguably not illegal. The questions going forward are likely to be why Flynn, Kushner, Pence and the White House misled their audiences. Could the answer be found in Mike Flynn’s recent cooperation?

The Irish Border: The Latest Roadblock

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When Theresa May signed Article 50 at the end of March the countdown started. Deciding to leave the EU is the easy part, now the UK has to negotiate a thousand different details to ensure that its citizens are able to have the same rights and freedoms that they are used to. The most recent hurdle to the Brexit negotiations is Ireland threatening to veto the Brexit deal if Britain doesn’t state in writing that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. One of the advantages of Brexit is greater control over the borders making this request difficult for the government to agree without a fight. During the negotiation Britain needs to be able to retain control of the border while making sure that we don’t reopen old wounds, hurt the economy of Northern Ireland, or lead to a vote of no confidence triggering an election.

The Troubles was a 30 year long fight between Protestant and Catholic Irish over where Northern Ireland should become part of England or part of Ireland. Ireland is historically a Catholic country and the Protestants mostly came from England and settled in Ireland this lead to the division of Northern Ireland from the rest. It was difficult for people to know which side people were on so bombers attacked the English who had troops in the area and maintained a hard border to try to stop weapons from entering northern Ireland. This border had a large impact on the day to day lives of many Irish who worked in Northern Ireland but lived in Ireland, as well as those who had family there. So for many Irish a hard border is a reminder of the days of violence and uncertainty.

A hard border may be desirable for England as control over the borders is not only useful to keep out illegal immigrants but also stop drug shipments into the country but the downside for England is that it then makes moving legal shipments across the border more time consuming and therefore expensive. According to the Financial Times it will affect 9 out of 10 small companies in Northern Ireland as they are reliant on goods moving between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Northern Ireland is the second poorest area in the UK and is dependent on agriculture for jobs, this industry that will be negatively affected by a hard border as it also relies on moving livestock between the two countries.

After the election the conservatives didn’t have enough MP’s to form a government. They formed a coalition with the DUP the party is from Northern Ireland and they are a pro Brexit party. One possible solution to the border issue it was suggested that Northern Ireland is allowed to stay in the single market but the DUP have stated that they will dissolve the coalition if this is agreed.

The conservatives face a difficult negotiation as many people have leverage over them. The DUP holds the future of the current government in its hands. They face splitting a country that has taken great strides to recover from its large divisions. They face the possibility of crippling an already poor area. And if they get it wrong they face a veto on the Brexit deal and have to walk away with nothing.