June 2, 2016

Fat Leonard and the corruption of the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet

Filed under: Asia, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

An amazing story in the Washington Post details how a Malaysian defence contractor got his claws into the senior officers of the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet:

A 51-year-old Malaysian citizen, Francis has since pleaded guilty to fraud and bribery charges. His firm, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, is financially ruined.

But his arrest exposed something else that is still emerging three years later: a staggering degree of corruption within the Navy itself.

Much more than a contracting scandal, the investigation has revealed how Francis seduced the Navy’s storied 7th Fleet, long a proving ground for admirals given its strategic role in patrolling the Pacific and Indian oceans.

In perhaps the worst national-security breach of its kind to hit the Navy since the end of the Cold War, Francis doled out sex and money to a shocking number of people in uniform who fed him classified material about U.S. warship and submarine movements. Some also leaked him confidential contracting information and even files about active law enforcement investigations into his company.

He exploited the intelligence for illicit profit, brazenly ordering his moles to redirect aircraft carriers to ports he controlled in Southeast Asia so he could more easily bilk the Navy for fuel, tugboats, barges, food, water and sewage removal.

Over at least a decade, according to documents filed by prosecutors, Glenn Defense ripped off the Navy with little fear of getting caught because Francis had so thoroughly infiltrated the ranks.


In his dealings with the Americans, Francis went to great lengths to ingratiate himself with senior officers, recognizing that they often cared more about high-quality service than how the bill would be paid.

Whenever a Navy vessel arrived in port, the odds were high that Francis would be waiting at the pier. Like a five-star concierge, he would arrange for shopping trips, sightseeing tours and concert tickets. A limousine and driver would be reserved for the ship’s commander.

Select sailors would be invited to an extravagant banquet, featuring cognac and whiskey, Cohiba cigars from Cuba, and platters of Spanish suckling pig and Kobe beef. Francis would sometimes fly in a band of pole dancers, which he called his Elite Thai SEAL Team, for X-rated shows, court records show.

In another display of panache, he purchased an aging, decommissioned British warship, the RFA Sir Lancelot. He refurbished and renamed it the Glenn Braveheart.

The vessel became the flagship of his fleet, and it would often deploy alongside the USS Blue Ridge, the 7th Fleet’s flagship. When in port, Francis would sometimes turn the Braveheart into a giant party boat, with prostitutes in the wardroom to entertain U.S. officers, according to court records and interviews.

November 19, 2014

Corruption in the sport of … Badminton?

Filed under: Asia, Sports — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Vice‘s Brian Blickenstaff smashes Badminton as “the world’s most corrupt sport”:

Late last week, it emerged that Lee Chong Wei, the world’s top badminton player, failed a drug test. A niche sport in the United States, badminton has been part of the Olympics since 1992 and enjoys huge popularity in Asia. Lee is the sport’s Novak Djokovic, a truly dominant force over the past several years. He’s the best player Malaysia, one of the world’s most badminton-mad countries, has ever produced. A two-time Olympic silver-medal winner, Lee is, or was, a favorite for gold in Rio de Janeiro; he faces a two year ban and could miss the Olympics entirely.

But Lee’s drug test isn’t notable simply because sports fans can’t look away when a giant teeters and falls; it’s notable because the incident is one of many scandals to hit badminton over the past year. On current form, badminton might be the world’s most corrupt sport.

In June, during the Japan Open, two Danish players were approached and offered north of 2,500 Euros to fix matches. The alleged fixer was Malaysian. The two players, Kim Astrup Sorenson and Hans Kristian Vittinghus, both reported the incident to authorities. 2,500 Euros might not be a lot of money, but the implications are huge. Vittinghus is the world’s 10th ranked singles player. If people are trying to flip a top-ten athlete, what’s happening lower down the pyramid?

I can attest that I’ve never been offered a bribe to throw a badminton game. Perhaps that’s because I’m not good enough to convincingly throw a game … unlike the Chinese Olympic players in 2012. Oh, wait … they weren’t convincing either.

July 18, 2014

Russia’s foreign policy just went over the ledge

Filed under: Europe, Media, Military, Russia — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:24

Tom Nichols discusses what the destruction of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 means for Russia:

Here’s what the shootdown of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 means: Russia, with Vladimir Putin at the wheel, just drove off the edge of a cliff.

Now, by this I don’t mean that the United States and the European Union are going to charge in with a new round of sanctions, provide lethal aid to Ukraine, patrol the skies of Ukraine, or anything of that nature. The West didn’t react in time, or with enough resolve, to the initial invasion and partition of Ukraine last spring, and there’s no reason to think our reaction will be any more effective or resolute this time. It would be reassuring to think America and Europe will now fully engage on the problem of Russian aggression, but it’s unlikely.

As far as Russia’s future is concerned, however, it doesn’t matter. The moment Flight 17 exploded was the moment that Putin’s foreign policy officially went over the ledge, and with it his dreams of restored Russian greatness.

Until now, Moscow claimed it was protecting the interests of Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine. That was nonsense right from the start, but it was nonsense the Americans and Europeans decided they could live with, as galling as it was. (Who, after all, protects the rights of Russians in Russia? Certainly not Putin.) The West looked away as Putin seized Crimea, as we conveniently convinced ourselves that this was some odd ethnic quarrel in which we had no say. Now that a civilian airliner has been blown out of the sky by a Russian missile, however, there can be no further denial that Russia is actively pursuing a major proxy war against its neighbor in the center of Europe, and with a brutality that would make the now-departed marshals of the old Soviet high command smile with approval. This is no longer a war on Ukraine, but a war on the entire post-Cold War international order.

February 19, 2013

Container ships embiggen again

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:17

BBC News looks at the soon-to-be-launched Triple-E container ships:

What is blue, a quarter of a mile long, and taller than London’s Olympic stadium?

The answer — this year’s new class of container ship, the Triple E. When it goes into service this June, it will be the largest vessel ploughing the sea.

Each will contain as much steel as eight Eiffel Towers and have a capacity equivalent to 18,000 20-foot containers (TEU).

If those containers were placed in Times Square in New York, they would rise above billboards, streetlights and some buildings.

Or, to put it another way, they would fill more than 30 trains, each a mile long and stacked two containers high. Inside those containers, you could fit 36,000 cars or 863 million tins of baked beans.

The Triple E will not be the largest ship ever built. That accolade goes to an “ultra-large crude carrier” (ULCC) built in the 1970s, but all supertankers more than 400m (440 yards) long were scrapped years ago, some after less than a decade of service. Only a couple of shorter ULCCs are still in use. But giant container ships are still being built in large numbers — and they are still growing.

It’s 25 years since the biggest became too wide for the Panama Canal. These first “post-Panamax” ships, carrying 4,300 TEU, had roughly quarter of the capacity of the current record holder — the 16,020 TEU Marco Polo, launched in November by CMA CGM.

In the shipping industry there is already talk of a class of ship that would run aground in the Suez canal, but would just pass through another bottleneck of international trade — the Strait of Malacca, between Malaysia and Indonesia. The “Malaccamax” would carry 30,000 containers.

Comparison of bounding box of Chinamax with some other ship sizes in isometric view. (Wikimedia)

Comparison of bounding box of Chinamax with some other ship sizes in isometric view. (Wikimedia)

November 11, 2012

The natural lifecycle of a “monopoly”

Filed under: Asia, China, Economics, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:53

In Forbes, Tim Worstall celebrates the natural end to a “monopoly” — the quasi-monopoly of Chinese exports of rare earth compounds:

These past several years I’ve been shouting to all who would listen that while China does indeed have a stranglehold on current production of rare earths that’s not something that we really need to worry about. For the important thing about rare earths is that they’re not rare (nor earths either). There are plenty of deposits around and we can get all we need from other areas of the world if we should care to.

    The same cannot be said of Kuantan, the Malaysian locale where Lynas plans to build a rare earth processing plant, a type of facility residents and Australian supporters say, in online campaigns, will result in “millions of tonnes of toxic radioactive waste left behind”.

    Residents took Lynas to court in Malaysia, resulting in the suspension of its operating licence. That decision was overturned yesterday.

Lynas is the company desiring to mine the Mt. Weld deposit (a nice rich one it is too). They are going to separate the RE concentrate at that plant in Malaysia. There’s been a vocal campaign against the licensing of that extraction plant and Lynas has, as above, just succeeded in over-turning a previous license refusal. Once up and operating fully the plant should supply some 20,000 tonnes a year of REs. This is a substantial portion of demand outside China: it’s some 15% or so of entire global demand in fact.

And thus we again see how an apparent monopoly isn’t really all that much use to the supposed monopolist. It certainly was true that China supplied 95-97% of the world’s REs. Largely because they were willing to mine and supply at prices that made it not worth anyone else’s while to do so. But when they tried to constrain supply, to exercise that monopoly, instead of being able to exploit us all they simply encouraged the competition that destroys that monopoly.

Markets do indeed work and the only monopoly that can really be exploited is one that isn’t contestable. And an attempted monopoly in something as common as rare earths simply is contestable and thus cannot be exploited.

October 28, 2012

Malaysian group calls for “Films that carry confusing messages” to be banned

Filed under: Asia, Media, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:52

A Bollywood film is at the centre of controversy in Malaysia:

An influential Muslim youth group said today that Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s “My Name Is Khan” movie confuses Muslims as it promotes liberal Islam and religious pluralism, and warned Malaysian broadcasters not to air the hit film.

The Muslim youth group’s statement comes after the Malay right-wing group Perkasa’s call last week for Muslims nationwide to boycott award-winning singer Jaclyn Victor for singing the Malay-language Christian song “Harapan Bangsa”, which she has said is meant for Christians.

“Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM) strongly protests the screening of ‘My Name Is Khan’ on TV3 on the second Hari Raya Aidil Adha.

“Films that carry confusing messages clearly shouldn’t (tidak wajar) be screened by a main Malaysian television station,” the group’s vice-president Ahmad Saparudin Yusup said in a statement today.

He questioned the timing of the film screening, saying that it raises the question of where the “media’s care and responsibility in their broadcasting materials” went.

H/T to Blazing Cat Fur for the link.

October 23, 2012

Canada’s foreign investment “net benefit” test is a farce

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Cancon, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:15

Andrew Coyne scrambles to find the right words to describe the indescribable:

The existing rules, as readers will know, require that a foreign takeover be of “net benefit” to Canada. How this is to be demonstrated, how it is even defined, is a secret to which the bidder is not privy — understandably enough, since it is not known to the government either. The result may be compared to a game of blind man’s bluff, only with both players wearing blindfolds. The bidder makes repeated attempts to hit the mark, while the government shouts encouragingly, “warmer… ” or “cooler…” depending on its best guess of where the target happens to be at the time.

I’m joking, of course. In fact, there’s a perfectly clear definition of “net benefit.” As set out in section 20 of the Investment Canada Act, the minister is required to take into account the effect of the investment on “the level and nature of economic activity in Canada,” specifically (but “without limiting the generality of the foregoing”) “on employment, on resource processing, on the utilization of parts, components and services produced in Canada and on exports from Canada.” Clear enough, right?

[. . .]

All told, I count more than 20 different criteria to be applied, vague, elusive and contradictory as they are. Whether it is possible to measure even one of them in any objective fashion, still less all of them at the same time, may be doubted — but even if you could, the Act provides no benchmark of what is acceptable, separately or collectively. Neither does it say what weight should be given to each in the minister’s calculations, or even whether he strictly has to pay any of them any mind at all (“the factors to be taken into account, where relevant, are…”).

In other words, the whole thing is a charade, applying a veneer of objectivity to what remains an entirely subjective — not to say opaque, arbitrary and meaningless — process. Which is good, since any attempt to define such benchmarks, weights, etc would be even more arbitrary and meaningless. Because there isn’t any objective definition of “net benefit,” at least in the sense implied, nor is it necessary to invent one. We don’t need to clarify the net benefit test. We need to abolish it.

September 15, 2012

Malaysia working on its “homosexual problem”

Filed under: Asia, Liberty, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:43

From the Guardian:

The Malaysian government has begun holding seminars aiming to help teachers and parents spot signs of homosexuality in children, underscoring a rise in religious conservatism in the country.

So far, the Teachers Foundation of Malaysia has organised 10 seminars across the country. Attendance at the last event on Wednesday reached 1,500 people, a spokesman for the organisation said.

“It is a multi-religious and multicultural [event], after all, all religions are basically against that type of behaviour,” said the official.

The federal government said in March that it is working to curb the “problem” of homosexuality, especially among Muslims who make up over 60% of Malaysia’s population of 29 million people.

According to a handout issued at a recent seminar, signs of homosexuality in boys may include preferences for tight, light-coloured clothes and large handbags, local media reported.

[. . .]

Official intolerance of gay people has been on the rise. Last year, despite widespread criticism, the east coast state of Terengganu set up a camp for “effeminate” boys to show them how to become men.

H/T to Christopher Taylor for the link.

February 12, 2012

Interpol system key in arrest of Hamza Kashgari

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Law, Liberty, Religion — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:27

Abuse of a system designed to catch international criminals led to the arrest of Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari for “insulting the Prophet Muhammed” on Twitter:

Interpol has been accused of abusing its powers after Saudi Arabia used the organisation’s red notice system to get a journalist arrested in Malaysia for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Police in Kuala Lumpur said Hamza Kashgari, 23, was detained at the airport “following a request made to us by Interpol” the international police cooperation agency, on behalf of the Saudi authorities.

Kashgari, a newspaper columnist, fled Saudi Arabia after posting a tweet on the prophet’s birthday that sparked more than 30,000 responses and several death threats. The posting, which was later deleted, read: “I have loved things about you and I have hated things about you and there is a lot I don’t understand about you … I will not pray for you.”

More than 13,000 people joined a Facebook page titled “The Saudi People Demand the Execution of Hamza Kashgari”.

Clerics in Saudi Arabia called for him to be charged with apostasy, a religious offence punishable by death. Reports suggest that the Malaysian authorities intend to return him to his native country.

January 18, 2011

Singapore diplomats caught speaking very undiplomatically

Filed under: Asia, China, India, Japan — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:15

Sometimes, the information in the various WikiLeaks releases shocks and surprises. Other times, it merely confirms common beliefs:

Singaporean officials are putting up a brave face after highly embarrassing Wikileaks’ disclosures. They have rubbished the leaked cables as “cocktail talk” and accused the media of blowing the casual remarks out of context. Singapore-specific cables have shown that diplomats and officials of this tiny but prosperous city state have scant regard for leaders of neighboring countries and have insulted their neighbors with disparaging remarks.

[. . .]

Tommy Koh, a senior diplomat of Singapore, took pot shots at Japan and said that Japan was “the big fat loser” in the larger strategic matrix as China’s relations with ASEAN nations continued to improve. This is not insulting had Koh stopped at that only. However, the Singaporean diplomat blabbed on and blamed Japan’s “stupidity, bad leadership, and lack of vision.” Koh dragged in the Indians as well and called India “stupid” for being “half-in, half-out” of ASEAN.

Another leaked cable quotes Peter Ho, Singapore’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Permanent Secretary, telling a U.S. official in March 2008 that Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was an “opportunist”. Another Singapore diplomat remarked senior colleague in Singapore’s foreign ministry, Bilahari Kausikan, told US Deputy Secretary of Defence for South that ousted Thailand leader Thaksin Shinawatra was ‘corrupt’, along with “everyone else, including the opposition.”

The art of diplomacy is saying in public what your government wants everyone to believe, while saying to your government what is really happening.

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