LONDON: Britain on Tuesday said it found no evidence of “political” bank account closures, according to a review launched after the controversial withdrawal of facilities for Nigel Farage, angering the arch Brexiteer.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said in initial findings that the evidence it has gathered “suggests that no firm closed an account between July 2022 and June 2023 primarily because of a customer’s political views.”
However, the financial markets watchdog also conceded that it had collected limited information and needed to investigate further.
The announcement sparked fury from Farage who labelled it “a total whitewash” and “a joke,” and described the FCA as “overtly political.”
The probe was launched after Coutts, the private banking arm of British lender NatWest, decided to end its relationship with Farage, the former leader of the Brexit Party and the anti-immigration party UKIP.
Farage complained in July that he was removed as a client for his political views, while an internal Coutts document discussed “reputational risk.”
NatWest’s then-CEO Alison Rose resigned after it emerged she had spoken with a BBC journalist about the Farage case in what she called a “serious error of judgment,” ending her 30-year career at the institution.
Peter Flavel, chief executive of Coutts since March 2016, also quit the upmarket bank over the controversy.
The FCA added Tuesday that it needed to do “further work” with banks to verify their data and better understand why they decide to close accounts due to reputational risk.
“While no bank, building society or payment firm reported to us that they had closed accounts primarily due to someone’s political views, further work is needed for us to be sure,” FCA chief executive Nikhil Rathi said.
He added: “The time is also right for a debate on how we balance access to bank accounts with the threat of financial crime, as well as firms’ reasonable risk and commercial appetites.
“An important question for policy makers is whether all individuals, businesses and organizations should have the right to an account, as is the case in some other countries.”
UK says no evidence of political bank account closures
UK says no evidence of political bank account closures
- The financial markets watchdog also conceded that it had collected limited information and needed to investigate further
- The announcement sparked fury from Farage who labelled it “a total whitewash” and “a joke,” and described the FCA as “overtly political”
LONDON: Britain on Tuesday said it found no evidence of “political” bank account closures, according to a review launched after the controversial withdrawal of facilities for Nigel Farage, angering the arch Brexiteer.
Global North must start listening to messages from Global South, former Slovenian president Danilo Turk tells Arab News at UNGA
- West and Russia’s diplomatic stalemate over Ukraine is a major obstacle to progress, says Slovenian diplomat
- The Club de Madrid president lauds Saudi Arabia’s awareness of “its growing global responsibility”
NEW YORK CITY: As the world grapples with challenges ranging from sustainable development to climate change and conflicts, the global conversation has been increasingly dominated by the evolving landscape of multilateralism, the role of emerging powers, and the imperative for cooperation on such matters as migration and human rights.
On the margins of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, Danilo Turk, a former president of Slovenia and current president of Club de Madrid, an organization comprising former heads of state or government from across the globe, shared his insights with Arab News on some of the burning issues of the day.
The UN is an old home for Turk, who was his country’s first UN ambassador, and this latest visit is in the capacity of president of Club de Madrid.
This organization, representing 126 former leaders from 73 countries, maintains deep-rooted connections with the UN, with many of its members serving as special envoys of the UN secretary-general.
According to Turk, the UN is in a state of transformation, growing larger and more diverse, involving not only member states but an array of global actors. He said a visit to the UN today reveals a complex world coming together, seeking solutions to global challenges.
One of the key priorities that Turk and Club de Madrid brings to the UNGA is a spotlight on Sustainable Development Goals, with a special emphasis on social development.
“Sustainable Development Goals are not only about the environment, if I may put it so crudely. It’s about the whole transformation of societies, new social-development models. And we have got to start discussing this very seriously,” he said.
A robust SDG political declaration adopted last week by member states emphasized the need to intensify efforts toward the Summit for the Future next year and the World Social Summit in 2025.
These gatherings, conceptualized and promoted by Club de Madrid, of which UN chief Antonio Guterres is a member, serve as vital platforms to solidify strategies and approaches to development models, “measuring social development in ways which are more comprehensive, giving appropriate space for women to play a full role in the social development process and making other priorities more clearly defined.”
Turk described a conference slated to be held in Brazil in November as a crucial step in shaping this approach. Financing these endeavors poses a challenge, which is why Turk underscored the necessity of aligning financial resources with social-development priorities.
“Public and private finance should be combined in new ways,” he said. “More capacity of private finance should be brought into the picture. But also, on the other hand, public finance must take more risks than was the case so far.”
The overarching theme of this year's UNGA has been multilateralism, a concept that has sparked debates about its viability and relevance. Some diplomatic circles at the UN repeat often that, as conflicts proliferate and inequity widens, the multilateral system has become dysfunctional, if not completely defunct, while its advocates continue to defend its relevance.
The conclusion of the BBNJ Treaty, an important addition to the international architecture on the Law of the Sea, and the inclusion of loss and damage in the COP27 agreement, which aims to provide financial assistance to poorer nations as they deal with the negative consequences that arise from the risks of climate change, are two examples of success that demonstrate that multilateralism can indeed deliver results, according to its advocates.
Turk acknowledged the “very serious changes and transformations” the global landscape is undergoing. He observed that the world is no longer unipolar. With the liberal unipolar period coming to an end, a new multipolar world is taking shape, introducing complexities in global dynamics.
He said: “The world is (no) longer under the domination of the liberal, unipolar period. This has changed. And now, a new multipolar world is emerging, and it is not yet entirely clear how the relations among new centers of power in the world will look. And those new centers, of course, they have always been there, but they haven’t had the kind of critical role that they are now assuming, in the context of BRICS, for example.”
As the relations among these new centers of power evolve, patient diplomacy remains key to avoiding crises, Turk said.
He added: “We’ve got to be (very) patient because it’s not going to happen overnight. But (we have also got to be) attentive; things can get out of hand.”
In this context, multilateral frameworks, including the UN, continue to be valuable because they offer a crucial gathering space for people worldwide, Turk said.
“If nothing else, the United Nations is a wonderful meeting place, a place where everybody comes, a place where everybody can meet, a place where clarifications can be made in a wide variety of informal, discreet ways in the United Nations building and elsewhere. And that is what the charter of the United Nations has asked the United Nations to be. And that is the function that the United Nations is performing.
“So, I am not excessively pessimistic. I am concerned, but I am not a pessimist.”
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development marked a significant milestone as the first ever fully negotiated, all-encompassing global development strategy formally embraced by both the Global South and the developed world. It was widely celebrated as the dawn of a new era in development collaboration.
Despite significant development gains globally, which have raised many millions of people out of absolute poverty, the UN says that inequality between the world’s richest and poorest countries is widening, an anomaly that was particularly spotlighted at UNGA this year, where it has become clear that the Global South and the Global North are coming to issues from diametrically opposed positions.
Reflecting on the dynamic between the developed and developing worlds, Turk said: “The problem is, as it has always been, the whole question of understanding of development.”
He added: “You know, there are inequalities between states, which are growing. There is a diminished fiscal space in much of the developing world. There is a problem of migration which has gone out of control. And none of these problems is new. All of them have been there before. What is now needed is a kind of renewed effort. The United Nations is offering (not only) a good institutional framework, but also a platform for searching for solutions.”
Referring to the grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, Turk said: “I am quite encouraged by the fact that initiatives are emerging, that BRICS is becoming more and more — I shouldn’t say assertive — certainly more imaginative … the group of countries together in the BRICS and so forth.
“In short, the agenda is not new at all. The configuration of power and potential of new actors is there, and it will have to be reflected in solutions.
“In the old days we had G77 and that kind of a very bloc-like, North-South dialogue. This is now much more diverse, much more imaginative, much more, I would say, promising. And the North has got to listen. I think that the problem is that the North is not used to listening (to) the messages that are coming from the South. The North has to start to listen.”
In this emerging global political landscape, Turk highlighted the transformative role of emerging powers, including Saudi Arabia.
He observed that the Kingdom is playing an increasingly prominent role not only in the Middle East but also on the international stage, particularly in the context of climate change.
“Saudi Arabia (is) developing a very large number of new policies and new activism at the global level. Now, this is new, and it is not easy to develop a new pattern based on the fact of multipolarity,” he said.
Elaborating on the point, Turk said Saudi Arabia had always been an important player in the Middle East context, but was now an important player in a global context, “and that's different.”
He added: “When it comes to climate, for example, now I think the countries that have benefited from the high energy prices in the past period have an opportunity to invest the proceeds in ways that actually help to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and also save the planet. So, we see the responsibility of Saudi Arabia is now much larger because the power is much larger.
“It is fortunate that Saudi Arabia seems to be on the path of assuming this larger responsibility. That’s very good. Of course, I cannot speak for Saudi Arabia and I cannot speak about priorities that Saudi Arabia is developing, but clearly, the awareness of its growing responsibility and global responsibility is there. This is good for the world.”
Beyond the Gulf region, the Middle East remains fraught with complex, protracted conflicts, from Syria and Yemen to Sudan and the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Turk said finding solutions to these conflicts is a “question of commitment.” He applauded efforts such as Syria’s readmission to the Arab League, which to him signals a positive approach via diplomatic engagement, with the Arab League “now taking an active approach.”
He added: “And again, Saudi Arabia has a very important role in that regard. So have other countries, including Egypt and others. So, there are solutions that could be developed on the basis of what was done already.”
Turk also lauded initiatives to end the war in Yemen. “There have been very useful initiatives, assisted (indirectly) by China, for example, that have created a new political atmosphere,” he said.
“I hope that the countries that have influence in the region, in particular Saudi Arabia, will seize that opportunity to bring peace to Yemen.”
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Turk said: “Palestine is a very sad situation, really very sad. I am saying this deliberately because we should have moved toward a two-state solution much more vigorously and much earlier. I don’t think that a real solution could be ignorant of the legitimate needs for survival of Palestinian people. That has to be put really in the center.
“The international community should come together. We have seen a kind of a diversification of views regarding Palestine, which is not good. Now we have got to figure it out. A two-state solution is the only framework, and this has been known from 1948 onwards, that (it) can produce a stable, durable, just peace in the region.
“Now, how to get there? It’s not clear. It’s perhaps more difficult now than it was 20 years ago. But still, I think, realizing that — and initiatives in that direction — would be very welcome.”
Australian government faces legal action for failing to rescue women, children detained in Syrian detention camp
- Australia has effective control over the detention of Australians, Save the Children claims
LONDON: More than 30 Australian women and children detained in a Syrian detention camp are taking legal action against their government, arguing that it has the authority and obligation to repatriate them to Australia, The Guardian reported on Monday.
The Australians, who are wives, widows and children of dead or jailed Daesh fighters, remain detained inside the Roj camp in northeast Syria. Most have been in the camp for more than four years and some of the children born at the location have never left.
Many of the women claim their husbands coerced or manipulated them into traveling to Syria. None has been charged with a crime or received a warrant for arrest, The Guardian reported.
The Australians are being forcibly held by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria and its military wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Save the Children Australia, which represents 12 Australian women and their 21 children, argues in federal court filings that Australia is a part of the coalition that “specifically supports the AANES to maintain the detention of persons, including women and children.”
According to the court documents, AANES has openly urged coalition countries, including Australia, to repatriate citizens.
There is no safety issue with traveling to camps, the organization added, as journalists, family members, and nongovernmental organization employees often travel in and out.
Save the Children claims that Australia has effective control over the detention of Australians and that the government must prove that the women and children are lawfully detained, or that Australia cannot repatriate them, “or bring their bodies to the court.”
Michael Newton, a Vanderbilt University law school professor, has argued in an affidavit that Australia “enjoys the practical ability, by virtue of exercising de facto authority, to make arrangements for ending the extended detention of Australian women and children in northeastern Syria.”
He added: “As a logical corollary, Australian officials have the means, in my expert opinion, of securing the release and subsequent return of the Australian women and children in northeastern Syria.”
The Australian government has said in court documents that it “does not have control of the remaining Australian women and children” and cannot be forced to return them, The Guardian reported.
It claims it is not responsible for Australians traveling to Syria or being detained, and that camp detention is at the “absolute discretion” of the AANES, over which the government has no power.
Even if repatriation was agreed by Syrian forces, “the commonwealth would need to arrange for their safe repatriation having regard to the security and geopolitical situation that exists at the relevant time.”
Save the Children Australia CEO Mat Tinkler said the legal challenge was necessary because “these innocent Australian children … have been abandoned by their own government.”
He added: “Despite countless opportunities to repatriate these families, the Australian government has ultimately failed in its duty to bring all of its citizens home to safety.”
Eight orphaned children, including a pregnant teenager, were returned to New South Wales in 2019. Four women and 13 children were also rescued from Roj in October last year.
The government has said that it is committed to repatriating all Australians who may be safely evacuated, but has not stated when another operation may be carried out.
Saudi crown prince launches masterplan for new 'Soudah Peaks' luxury tourism project
- Soudah situated within extraordinary natural and cultural environment in the Aseer region, southwest Saudi Arabia
- Project is key part of Public Investment Fund efforts to diversify economy by expanding industries like tourism
RIYADH: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has launched the masterplan to develop a new project in the mountainous region of Soudah to present a new face of luxury mountain tourism.
The project called “Soudah Peaks” will see a luxury mountain tourism destination set 3,015 meters being created above sea level on Saudi Arabia's highest peak. It will extend from the region of Souda and parts of Rijal Almaa.
Situated within an extraordinary natural and cultural environment in the Aseer region, southwest Saudi Arabia, the project is a key part of the Public Investment Fund (PIF)’s efforts to diversify the economy by expanding vital industries such as tourism, hospitality, and entertainment, and supporting Aseer development strategy.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Chairman of Soudah Development’s Board of Directors, stated that Soudah Peaks represents a new era of luxury mountain tourism by providing an unprecedented living experience while preserving the natural environment, cultural, and heritage richness.
It is strategically aligned with Vision 2030 goals of expanding tourism and entertainment, supporting economic growth, attracting investments, contributing more than SAR29 billion to the Kingdom’s cumulative GDP, and creating thousands of direct and indirect job opportunities.
The Crown Prince said: “Soudah Peaks will be a significant addition to the tourism sector in Saudi Arabia and place the Kingdom on the global tourism map, whilst highlighting and celebrating the country’s rich culture and heritage. Visitors will have the opportunity to discover the beauty of Soudah Peaks, explore its rich culture and heritage, and experience the authentic hospitality of the local community. Soudah Peaks will offer unforgettable experiences amidst lush greenery, above the clouds.”
Soudah Peaks aims to offer high-end luxurious hospitality services to over two million visitors throughout the year by 2033. The masterplan is being designed to reflect the local traditional, and architectural styles, and will promote both the cultural and landscape heritage of the region.
The destination will be home to 6 unique development zones: Tahlal, Sahab, Sabrah, Jareen, Rijal, and Red Rock. Each will offer a range of world-class facilities including hotels, luxury mountain resorts, residential chalets, villas, premium mansion sites, entertainment and commercial attractions, as well as outdoor attractions dedicated to sports, adventure, wellness and culture.
Soudah Development will deliver 2,700 hospitality keys, 1,336 residential units, and 80,000 square meters of commercial space for Soudah Peaks by 2033.
Indonesia’s alms agency hopes to increase collaboration with KSrelief
- KSrelief has been supporting vulnerable Indonesians with various programs
- Nearly 10 percent of the Indonesian population lives below poverty line
JAKARTA: Indonesia’s National Alms Agency is hoping for more collaboration in education and humanitarian programs with the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center to promote the welfare of Indonesians, the organization’s top official said on Monday.
BAZNAS, a government agency responsible for zakat and other Islamic social funds in Indonesia, has experience in working with various international aid agencies, including the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA and UNICEF.
KSrelief partnered with BAZNAS in 2022 to support Indonesians in need with food aid. This year, the Saudi aid agency also distributed food assistance in 22 Indonesian districts and cities during Ramadan.
Saidah Sakwan, who heads the distribution and utilization department in BAZNAS, told Arab News that Saudi cooperation is always welcome.
“BAZNAS is hoping that this cooperation will continue and develop further on other programs for the sake of promoting the welfare of Muslims and other people in the world,” she said.
With nearly 10 percent of the Indonesian population, or about 26 million people, living below the national poverty line, support from aid agencies is often crucial.
“The aid distributed by KSrelief means a lot for them to fulfill their daily needs,” Sakwan said, adding that BAZNAS is in talks with KSrelief for an education program for tens of thousands of Indonesian orphans.
She was part of a high-level BAZNAS delegation visiting KSrelief headquarters in Riyadh in May to discuss ways to advance collaboration.
“In the future, BAZNAS hopes to continue synergizing with KSrelief to increase cooperation for the public through education and humanitarian programs, as well as poverty alleviation,” Sakwan said.
“Relations between Saudi Arabia and Indonesia continue to develop. Should this continue positively, it will bring many benefits for the public.”
Taliban weighs using US mass surveillance plan, met with China’s Huawei
- Mass camera rollout is part of a new security strategy that will take four years to be fully implemented
- Preventing attacks by militant groups is at heart of interaction between Taliban and many foreign nations
KABUL: The Taliban are creating a large-scale camera surveillance network for Afghan cities that could involve repurposing a plan crafted by the Americans before their 2021 pullout, an interior ministry spokesman told Reuters, as authorities seek to supplement thousands of cameras already across the capital, Kabul.
The Taliban administration — which has publicly said it is focused on restoring security and clamping down on Daesh, which has claimed many major attacks in Afghan cities — has also consulted with Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei about potential cooperation, the spokesman said.
Preventing attacks by international militant groups — including prominent organizations such as Daesh — is at the heart of the interaction between the Taliban and many foreign nations, including the US and China, according to readouts from those meetings. But some analysts question the cash-strapped regime’s ability to fund the program, and rights groups have expressed concern that any resources will be used to crackdown on protesters.
Details of how the Taliban intend to expand and manage mass surveillance, including obtaining the US plan, have not been previously reported.
The mass camera rollout, which will involve a focus on “important points” in Kabul and elsewhere, is part of a new security strategy that will take four years to be fully implemented, Ministry of Interior spokesman Abdul Mateen Qani told Reuters.
“At the present we are working on a Kabul security map, which is (being completed) by security experts and (is taking) lots of time,” he said. “We already have two maps, one which was made by USA for the previous government and second by Turkiye.”
He did not detail when the Turkish plan was made.
A US State Department spokesperson said Washington was not “partnering” with the Taliban and has “made clear to the Taliban that it is their responsibility to ensure that they give no safe haven to terrorists.”
A Turkish government spokesperson didn’t return a request for comment.
Qani said the Taliban had a “simple chat” about the potential network with Huawei in August, but no contracts or firm plans had been reached.
Bloomberg News reported in August that Huawei had reached “verbal agreement” with the Taliban about a contract to install a surveillance system, citing a person familiar with the discussions.
Huawei told Reuters in September that “no plan was discussed” during the meeting.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said she was not aware of specific discussions but added: “China has always supported the peace and reconstruction process in Afghanistan and supported Chinese enterprises to carry out relevant practical cooperation.”
ELECTRICITY CUTS, RIGHTS CONCERNS
There are over 62,000 cameras in Kabul and other cities that are monitored from a central control room, according to the Taliban. The last major update to Kabul’s camera system occurred in 2008, according to the former government, which relied heavily on Western-led international forces for security.
When NATO-led international forces were gradually withdrawing in January 2021, then-vice president Amrullah Saleh said his government would roll out a huge upgrade of Kabul’s camera surveillance system. He told reporters the $100 million plan was backed by the NATO coalition.
“The arrangement we had planned in early 2021 was different,” Saleh told Reuters in September, adding that the “infrastructure” for the 2021 plan had been destroyed.
It was not clear if the plan Saleh referenced was similar to the ones that the Taliban say they have obtained, nor if the administration would modify them.
Jonathan Schroden, an expert on Afghanistan with the Center for Naval Analyzes, said a surveillance system would be “useful for the Taliban as it seeks to prevent groups like the Islamic State ... from attacking Taliban members or government positions in Kabul.”
The Taliban already closely monitor urban centers with security force vehicles and regular checkpoints.
Rights advocates and opponents of the regime are concerned enhanced surveillance might target civil society members and protesters.
Though the Taliban rarely confirm arrests, the Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 64 journalists have been detained since the takeover. Protests against restrictions on women in Kabul have been broken up forcefully by security forces, according to protesters, videos and Reuters witnesses.
Implementing a mass surveillance system “under the guise of ‘national security’ sets a template for the Taliban to continue its draconian policies that violate fundamental rights,” said Matt Mahmoudi from Amnesty International.
The Taliban strongly denies that an upgraded surveillance system would breach the rights of Afghans. Qani said the system was comparable with what other major cities utilize and that it would be operated in line with Islamic Sharia law, which prevents recording in private spaces.
The plan faces practical challenges, security analysts say.
Intermittent daily power cuts in Afghanistan mean cameras connected to the central grid are unlikely to provide consistent feeds. Only 40 percent of Afghans have access to electricity, according to the state-owned power provider.
The Taliban also have to find funding after a massive economic contraction and the withdrawal of much aid following their takeover.
The administration said in 2022 that it has an annual budget of over $2 billion, of which defense spending is the largest component, according to the Taliban army chief.
The discussion with Huawei occurred several months after China met with Pakistan and the Taliban’s acting foreign minister, after which the parties stressed cooperation on counter-terrorism. Tackling militancy is also a key aspect of the 2020 troop-withdrawal deal the United States struck with the Taliban.
China has publicly declared its concern over the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an armed separatist organization in its western Xinjiang region. Security officials and UN reports say ETIM likely has a small number of fighters in Afghanistan. ETIM couldn’t be reached for comment.
Daesh has also threatened foreigners in Afghanistan. Its fighters attacked a hotel popular with Chinese businesspeople last year, which left several Chinese citizens wounded. A Russian diplomat was also killed in one of its attacks.
The Taliban denies that militancy threatens their rule and say Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks elsewhere. They have publicly announced raids on Daesh cells in Kabul.
“Since early 2023, Taliban raids in Afghanistan have removed at least eight key (Islamic State in Afghanistan) leaders, some responsible for external plotting,” said US Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West at a Sept. 12 public seminar.
A July UN monitoring report said there were up to 6,000 Daesh fighters and their family members in Afghanistan. Analysts say urban surveillance will not fully address their presence.
The Afghan “home base” locations of Daesh fighters are in the eastern mountainous areas, said Schroden. “So, while cameras in the cities may help prevent attacks ... they’re unlikely to contribute much to their ultimate defeat.”