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Blackwater USA | Daily Brief

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Coming Up This Week

*       The UK is hosting NATO heads of state Dec. 3rd and 4th. Pres. Trump
is going, even though he considers NATO obsolete.
*       House Democrats gave Pres. Trump until Friday to decide whether his
legal team will participate in impeachment proceedings, or just watch them
*       OPEC meets on Thursday: Saudi Arabia is hoping to keep oil
production cuts in place in the lead-up to Saudi Aramco’s IPO.


*       Pakistan said it would be willing to host U.S.-Taliban talks, if
asked. That said, Qatar seems happy to continue hosting them, so Pakistan’s
offer seems like a symbolic gesture more than a real plan.
*       Two Afghan officials were killed in an attack on an NDS vehicle in
Kabul, but details are still hazy.
*       An Afghan man was arrested after he tried to smuggle a kilogram of
gold from Afghanistan to India…and he apparently confessed to having
successfully smuggled 400 grams of gold into India on a previous trip.


*       Malta’s government is unraveling quickly because of belated fallout
from the 2017 murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia: PM
Muscat and his energy minister quit, and the economy minister suspended
*       Apparently this latest burst of progress in the lukewarm case
started when a dog sniffed €210,000 in undeclared cash on a man boarding a
flight from Malta to Istanbul on November 13th, and the man admitted to
police that he’d acted as an intermediary in Galizia’s contract killing two
years prior. Police followed his leads, and arrested a wealthy businessman
who eventually implicated PM Muscat’s Chief of Staff.
*       A Guardian article pasted below has more juicy details.


*       Pres. Guaido’s opposition is investigating allegations of corruption
by nine legislators from its ranks. The story first appeared in an report that alleges the accused men wrote letters supporting a
Colombian national linked to Maduro. It’s not clear whether they violated
any laws, but the optics are ugly for Guaido.
*       There are reports that Colombians are increasingly blaming
Venezuelan migrants for the ills affecting their country, and accusing them
of being behind isolated looting and vandalism incidents during this latest
round of protests.


*       Iran’s security forces overreacted again yesterday, and shot several
more protesters dead. The NYT estimates they’ve killed at least 180 people
in this round of protests.


*       A UAE drone strike killed 11 people in Murzug. Always eager to point
out wrongdoings by the LNA and its backers, the GNA claims that most of the
casualties were women and children.

Other News

*       An “early warning system” operated by Invisible Children (an NGO)
says that Joseph Kony’s LRA has abducted at least 43 children in 2019—of
whom 37 are still missing, and presumed to be in captivity.

How a dog called Peter sparked Malta’s political crisis (The Guardian)

The spaniel’s keen nose triggered a week of convulsions over the killing of
a journalist

A week of arrests and resignations, of drama and fury unlike anything Malta
has seen in generations, might not have happened but for the keen nose of a
police sniffer dog called Peter.

On Wednesday 13 November, the spaniel was screening passengers when he
alerted his handlers to the smell of cash. Lots of it.

Customs reportedly found €210,000 (£178,000) in the belongings of a man
preparing to board a flight to Istanbul.

The economic crimes unit were called and a day later, the incident led to
the arrest of a taxi driver, Melvin Theuma.

Under questioning by police, Theuma made the sensational claim that he had
acted as intermediary in the contract killing of Malta’s best-known
investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Now, as a consequence of Theuma’s claims, the EU’s smallest state is in the
throes of its biggest political convulsion since the 1960s, when the former
British colony became an independent country.

At the heart of it all is the murder of Caruana Galizia, who died two years
ago when a bomb planted under the seat of her rental car was detonated near
her home in the village of Bidnija.

Eight months before she died, Caruana Galizia revealed that the then energy
minister, Konrad Mizzi, and the prime minister’s chief of staff, Keith
Schembri, had become beneficiaries of secretive offshore companies soon
after entering office.

Both denied wrongdoing – and the disclosures made her a target for
criticism by supporters of Joseph Muscat’s Labour government.

Three men accused of planting the bomb are awaiting trial. But until this
week, the police investigation into what happened appeared to have stalled,
even though it is claimed police knew the name of a potential middleman in
spring 2018.

And then Theuma was arrested – and made his claims.

When Theuma called for his lawyers, he gave two names that made it clear he
was ready to talk.

He asked for Jason Azzopardi, the Caruana Galizia family lawyer, and his
colleague Simon Busuttil.

Both are members of parliament for the opposition nationalist party –
Busuttil was its leader until 2017. They have been at the forefront of the
battle to hold Muscat’s government to account.

“The moment he was arrested he immediately informed police that he will not
speak unless he has two lawyers – myself and Jason Azzopardi,” said Busuttil
in an interview at his office in Valletta. “When this news got to us it was
immediately evident not only who this man was, but also that because he was
arrested he wanted to protect himself. Both of us obviously declined to meet
him, but this is what happened.”

On Monday the attorney general accepted his testimony, and Theuma was
granted a presidential pardon. From that moment, arrests and resignations
followed each other at bewildering speed. Theuma claimed the man who paid
€150,000 for the contract killing was Yorgen Fenech.

Fenech, a local businessman with interests in property and gambling, and a
lucrative government concession to run a power station, was apprehended at
sea after attempting to leave Malta on his yacht.

Under questioning, Fenech gave testimony about Schembri – the man who had
run Muscat’s office since the 2013 election.

Fenech claimed Schembri was connected to the plot to murder Caruana

After resigning from his post on Monday, Schembri was taken into custody
and questioned by police until Thursday, when he was released. Schembri’s
lawyers have not responded to multiple requests for comment. However, he
broke his silence late on Friday, telling a Times of Malta reporter that he
denied the allegations against him.

His resignation was followed by two others. Mizzi quit, and then the
economy minister – another target of Caruana Galizia’s investigations –
suspended himself. Both have denied any criminal wrongdoing and neither have
been arrested.

News of Schembri’s release broke during a marathon six-and-a-half-hour
cabinet meeting that began on Thursday evening and continued into Friday.

The unscheduled gathering was officially called to decide whether the
cabinet should grant Fenech’s request for a presidential pardon – in
exchange for evidence which his lawyers claimed would implicate Schembri and
others. The cabinet decided against.

But journalists were briefed, as the ministerial cars began arriving, that
there was another item on the agenda: the question of whether Muscat should
remain as prime minister. His deputy, Chris Fearne, has been campaigning for
the top job.

Fearne had broken ranks some days before, saying damage from the scandal to
Malta’s reputation was “almost irreparable”.

Thanks to the drama of the last two weeks, those inside the prime
minister’s office in the 18th-century sandstone palace known as the Auberge
de Castille will have been only too aware that observers around the world
were paying close attention to their deliberations.

What happens in Malta has come to matter to Europe, and those who see
threats to the rule of law within its borders.

This point was made in a carefully timed speech on Thursday by the MEP
Manfred Weber, chair of the centre-right EPP group. “The situation in Malta
has consequences for the entire European project,” said Weber. “I think this
parliament needs to point out now more than ever to the authorities that the
assassination of a journalist with clear political links must have clear
political consequences.”

By far the smallest of the EU states, Malta has a population roughly the
same as that of Leeds, but its vote carries equal weight at European council
meetings with those of the bloc’s major economies. It has enjoyed a
financial boom, fuelled by online gambling, crypto-currency exchanges, the
sale of citizenship, and a financial centre with a reputation for lax
controls on money laundering and tax evasion.

The country has been used a gateway into Europe for money from Libya,
Azerbaijan, Russia, even Venezuela.

In 2018, the European Central Bank revoked the licence of a bank called
Pilatus, first investigated by Caruana Galizia, after its Iranian owner was
arrested on sanctions-busting charges by US prosecutors.

Despite growing alarm over events in Malta, condemnation within the wider
European Labour family has been mostly absent.

Muscat drew on support from, among others, Tony Blair, who sent a video
message endorsing his 2017 re-election campaign. Blair and his wife, Cherie,
were photographed later that year with the Muscats, in casual summer
clothes, during a visit to the island.

He even launched a campaign to succeed Donald Tusk as president of the EU

Defiant to the end, on Friday morning Muscat said he would only step down
once the investigation was “complete”.

His decision was greeted with dismay, not least by Caruana Galizia’s sons,
both of whom were waiting at Castille.

Across town, a nightly ritual was under way. Contractors acting on
government orders were picking up flowers and candles. The makeshift
memorial to Caruana Galizia, set up opposite the court house, was being
quietly cleared away. A few hours later, as they do each morning, her
sisters and their friends would return to replace them.

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