Garbage piled up in Naples. The illicit disposal of waste is bringing billions of dollars a year to organized crime. /Photo by REUTERS
“You throw garbage in and you get gold out.” The famous sentence pronounced by a mafia associate and wiretapped by investigators more than 20 years ago must have sounded particularly familiar to Antonello Pianigiani.
Pianigiani is an Italian business titan, president of the company Pianigiani Rottami and of the Poggibonsi Calcio football club. But last March, he found himself in handcuffs, arrested in one of the latest and largest investigations into illegal waste trafficking in Italy.
Pianigiani’s operation cut a wide swath across central Italy, from Tuscany to Emilia Romagna to Molise. The businessman was not accused of trafficking in ordinary waste, but of using the detritus of junked automobiles to produce refuse-derived fuel (RDF).
RDF is loaded with substances toxic to human health and to the environment, but Pianigiani Rottami is accused of classifying the waste as non-hazardous. The outcome, according to investigators, was a $6.6 million (€5 million) trade that deposited 50,000 tons of untreated hazardous waste in landfills all over Italy.
As the United Nations’ General Assembly opens in New York, visiting dignitaries from impoverished nations and those struggling with austerity measures are back in town. They’re the ones packing New York’s top hotels, shopping in the most expensive boutiques, eating at the finest restaurants. How can they afford this, when more than half their citizens get by on less than $2 a day?
Call to action!
Announcing KleptoWatch 2012: Name that Shame, a photo contest to promote government accountability during General Assembly week.
100Reporters is asking New Yorkers and visitors to the city to charge up their cellphones and open their eyes. We’re seeking pictures of foreign dignitaries cruising high-end restaurants and shops, or tooling around in cars worth more than their countrymen can hope to earn in a lifetime, between September 24 and October 1, 2012. We’ve posted pictures of a few to watch out for, to help get you started. The winning photo gets $250. Second Prize is $100, and Honorable Mention takes home $50.
ENTER THE CONTEST
You’d smile too: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (r) shakes hands with HTC CEO Peter Chou in New York this week. In Washington, a Senate hearing disclosed that Microsoft stockpiled $1.7 trillion in earnings offshore, avoiding $4.5 billion in taxes to the U.S. government. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Want to learn a magic trick? Take 47% of sales proceeds in the U.S., transfer them to your own subsidiary in Puerto Rico, and – poof – a $4.5 billion tax bill for goods sold in the U.S. disappears. That’s a sleight-of-hand maneuver Microsoft performed last year, and many other companies are getting away with too, according to a report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
At a hearing on Thursday, Democratic subcommittee chair Senator Carl Levin accused Microsoft and other U.S. multinational corporations of using just this kind of “tax alchemy” to stockpile $1.7 trillion in earnings offshore.
He said such “shenanigans” were rampant in the technology sector, where companies shunt intellectual property, royalties and fees to offshore tax havens.
The panel used Microsoft and Hewlett Packard as case studies in its investigation, issuing subpoenas for hundreds of thousands of internal documents from the two firms. [Full Article]
Gold miners form a human chain while digging an open pit at the Chudja mine in the Kilomoto concession near the village of Kobu, 62 miles (100 kilometers) from Bunia in north-eastern Congo on Feb. 23, 2009. /REUTERS / Finbarr O’Reilly
Makers of smart phones and other high-tech gear will have to publicly disclose whether or not their products rely on so-called “conflict minerals” under a new U.S. federal rule, though manufacturers won a two-year reprieve before the rules will take full effect.
The new requirements, meant to stem the flow of money fueling atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, target manufacturers of so-called “blood phones” and other hi-tech equipment made with conflict-tainted minerals.
Brutal warlords in the eastern DRC reap big profits from tin, tungsten and gold, as well as lesser-known elements such as cassiterite, coltan and wolframite. Western companies that buy those minerals can indirectly be financing atrocities including systematic rape, slavery and the use of child soldiers.
Human rights activists expressed cautious optimism upon seeing the final rule, whose release was originally slated for April 2011. Under the rule, publicly-listed companies will have to post on their Web sites the results of independent audits showing whether or not the source of their minerals is connected to factions committing atrocities in the DRC.
“This represents the first time, in terms of legislation from the U.S., that we’ve seen concrete action taken to really address this issue from a legal sense,” said Jana Morgan, an assistant policy advisor for Global Witness, a London-based human rights group. [Full Article]
A truck drives through a palm oil plantation in Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan province. Over the past decade, the area planted with oil palm in Indonesia has almost tripled. / REUTERS
A New York venture capital firm, which has leased some 180,000 acres of land in Western Africa to create one of the world’s largest palm oil plantations, has abruptly ceased efforts to obtain an independent certification that its operation is socially and environmentally responsible.
The firm, Herakles Capital, withdrew on August 24 from an internationally-recognized protocol for certifying that its $350 million palm oil project in Cameroon met minimum standards set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, or RSPO. Instead, the company says, it will start clearing the land and establish its own environmental and social standards later.
“We’re going to develop our own standard, and we think it will meet or exceed what RSPO has in place,” Bruce Wrobel, chief executive of Herakles, told 100Reporters. He said the company would ask academics to help it draft standards that would apply only to Cameroon.
It’s unclear which companies or organizations, if any, would recognize such a standard – or what it could mean if individual companies start breaking away from the roundtable to create their own rules. [Full Article]