The old lady and the pitbull

I met the loveliest old lady yesterday who, seemingly unaware it had been illegal since 1991, told me she recently had a “110 pound pitbull who used to sleep in my bed when I let him. The dog was sweet but very anxious and alert and I’d never leave him alone with my child so it didn’t maul him.”

Presumably she meant the dog mauling the child, not the other way round.

In any case, she said she tried to warn people not to approach the dog when she took it out on walks, “but people are just stupid. They think all dogs are harmless.” These walks tended to be short, because of the people, not because of the dog, she told me.

The dog also “made the most terrible uproar when someone rang the doorbell. He had a most peculiar bark, and a subtle but throaty growl that would chill anyone right to the bone. But that was part of the point.”

The world interfered with the old lady’s love for her pitbull.

“Eventually I had to take him to a behavioural therapist but that didn’t do any good.”

I didn’t get the impression the dog was with us today and by then someone else barged into the conversation so it was too late to ask.

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Lootin’ with Putin: my (small) contribution to a special report in Private Eye

It was a privilege to make a small contribution to this six-page special report in Private Eye magazine, exposing the UK firms without which the malignant post-Soviet oligarchy would have been unable to gain the power it has today. Featured are lawyers, bankers, accountants, public relations and real estate agents — all eminently respectable, even, for some, admirable people — yet enablers who have for years been feeding at the same trough of blood money from the collapsing communist empire.

In the words of Richard Brooks, who was the author of the report, these “pukka professionals” are now exposed. Read it all here on the website of Private Eye magazine.

For me it was all the more wonderful to take part in this story because although I’ve been writing in Private Eye since 2013, it was the first time I had a byline — Private Eye doesn’t usually do bylines.

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Deutsche Bank’s ‘undocumented’ deal with rogue bank to keep dirty money flowing

After S&P Global Market Intelligence news service published my three-part series into rogue Cypriot bank FBME’s activities, we received more confidential documents from sources keen to expose the depth of the abuses that took place at this bank. And some of those documents revealed that top German bank and one of the world’s most important lenders — Deutsche Bank — had cut a secret deal with FBME to process anonymous money transfers from its clients — including some who had links with financing the Syrian chemical weapons program, the Russian mafia, fraud, forgery and corruption. The arrangement, which lasted several years and breached international regulations, only came to light because during my research I obtained notes taken by lawyers hired by FBME to contain the bank’s legal problems.

Read the full exclusive for free by clicking here.

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My new (and first) novel

If you would like to know more about my new novel, Country Gumption, which is also unpublished and my first, please click here.

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FBME Cyprus: the global criminal’s bank of choice

S&P Global Market Intelligence, the financial newswire where I work as a reporter, recently published my investigative series into FBME, the now closed rogue Cypriot bank linked to the Russian mafia, Syrian war crimes, fraud, money laundering, corrupt offshore finance & other illegalities.  The newswire is usually available only to subscribers, but these stories are free to read.

Part one shows how, thanks to FBME’s brazen rulebreaking, Russian gangsters who robbed the state (in what became known as the Magnitsky case) channelled their dirty money into Syrian tyrant Bashar Al-Assad’s banned weapons program:

Part two exposes the variegated bunch of crooks and politically-connected businesspeople that took advantage of FBME’s dodgy services, as well as a number of moody schemes in which the bank’s owners were involved directly:

The third part looks into what exactly went wrong in the bank’s compliance department, allowing money laundering, fraud and sanctions evasion to take place for years… This one is for those who care about financial procedures known as AML (anti-money laundering) and KYC (know your customer):

S&P Global Market Intelligence is one of the only six publications that obtained the ream of confidential audits, internal reports and witness statements which revealed the extent of the wrongdoing at this bank. The others are Asia Sentinel, Cyprus Mail, Buzzfeed UK, CNN and The Daily Beast.

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The Wapping Mole discovers likely Romanian prostitution ring

The Wapping Mole, a lively blog running journalistic investigations and general interest news about the Wapping neighbourhood of Tower Hamlets, London, has discovered what appears to be a Romanian sex trafficking gang operating on the quaint cobblestoned streets it patrols.

The Mole duly ran an investigative series about it — complete with candid pictures — and shortly afterwards the police and local council followed up and are now said to be monitoring the situation.

I made a slight contribution to the Mole’s work in the form of a few comments about how Romanian human trafficking gangs generally work. They are a much bigger problem in Italy, Spain and France but it seems the UK is not immune.

Read all about it here:

Beyond antisocial behaviour, which is a nuisance of course, the police should make sure that there is no modern slavery or other organised crime going on around the activity of these escorts. Trust the Mole to keep chasing the story.

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Moldova’s other choice

Maia Sandu could be living proof that Moldovans don’t necessarily have to choose between handing their lives over to either oligarchs or communists.

A plane with the name of the country written across it. Creative commons license, Pieter van Marion, Flickr[dot] com

A plane with the name of the country written across it. Creative commons license,
Pieter van Marion, Flickr[dot] com

Much has changed for the better in Moldova in recent months — there is a new governor of the central bank after a much-publicized series of frauds which nearly bankrupted the government, a new interpretation of the constitution allows people to directly elect the president after about 15 years of only electing members of parliament, and a new voice championing reform, human rights, liberal democracy and the rule of law emerged from the chaos of winter: Maia Sandu, the former education minister.

Sources with inside knowledge of Maia Sandu’s fledgling political organization tell me she is going to formally register a new centrist political party some time in late April. They have so far signed up 6,000 members (population of Moldova: 3.5 million) and created six or seven regional offices. More are on the way. Chicanery from the current oligarch-controlled government is expected during the process of making the party eligible for elections, one source says.

To learn who Sandu is and what she wants, please read on.

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Another Brick Lane Tale

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Brick Lane on a Sunday in August 2014. Personal archive

Much ink has been used on the topic of how the East End is now compared to the good ol’ days.

Of all the well-documented waves of immigrants that came here, Eastern Europeans like me are the newest. I was broke and friendless, having just been kicked out of a shared house in Stratford in February 2012 when a an old Bengali man gave me a room. Jakir, Hussain and other Bengalis from the neighbourhood often gave me work helping with their businesses when I found myself down and out. None of them ever complained about gentrification – on the contrary, they are better off for it. The value of their houses went up, the wealth of their customers as well, and E1, E2 and E3 became fashionable postcodes.

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The ‘silent secret’ app

Before spending eight months as a night-shift delivery driver for a posh deli called Benugo, I distributed flyers advertising the Silent Secret app to children in Barking, East London, for a few hours in December 2014 as a means to some quick spare cash.

A few months after it was done, the creator of this app approached me to write him an article puffing his brainchild in one of the magazines I contribute to. This is how I got this story. Obligingly, I wrote an item and managed to sell it to a magazine like he asked.

Well, the magazine and the article weren’t quite like he asked. Private Eye kindly published the article in July, and I suspect the manager of the app now regrets calling me. If he hadn’t I wouldn’t have looked closely into what exactly his company does.

Now I’m glad I distributed those flyers, otherwise I’d never have known about this mess of an app.

While obviously not silent since it explicitly urges vulnerable children to “speak out”, the app turns out be not exactly secret either, since it does a poor job at preserving the anonymity of its contributors. The big question is why the Government put £157.9K of taxpayer money into it.

Here’s the Eye:

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Gentles’ Easter

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-all pictures mine (full copy rights etc)

Celebrated the week after Easter, Gentles’ Easter is widely considered the most important holiday of the year by many Moldovans. This year it fell on the 19th and 20th of April, when cemeteries in all the towns, cities and villages of Moldova are coming alive with people laying tables and spending a full day with the family and the community eating and drinking among the graves.

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