Sunday, January 17, 2016

Top 62 billionaires as wealthy as half the world population; As sanctions go, Iran's foes fear the worst; Tennis match-fixing evidence revealed

1 Top 62 billionaires as wealthy as half the world population (Larry Elliott in The Guardian) The vast and growing gap between rich and poor has been laid bare in a new Oxfam report showing that the 62 richest billionaires own as much wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population.

Timed to coincide with this week’s gathering of many of the super-rich at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, the report calls for urgent action to deal with a trend showing that 1% of people own more wealth than the other 99% combined.

Oxfam said that the wealth of the poorest 50% dropped by 41% between 2010 and 2015, despite an increase in the global population of 400m. In the same period, the wealth of the richest 62 people increased by $500bn to $1.76tn. The charity said that, in 2010, the 388 richest people owned the same wealth as the poorest 50%. This dropped to 80 in 2014 before falling again in 2015.

Leading figures from Pope Francis to Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, have called for action to reverse the trend in inequality, but Oxfam said words had not been translated into action. Its prediction that the richest 1% would own the same wealth as the poorest 50% by 2016 had come true a year earlier than expected.

Oxfam said a three-pronged approach was needed: a crackdown on tax dodging; higher investment in public services; and higher wages for the low paid. It said a priority should be to close down tax havens, increasingly used by rich individuals and companies to avoid paying tax and which had deprived governments of the resources needed to tackle poverty and inequality.

Oxfam cited estimates that rich individuals have placed a total of $7.6tn in offshore accounts, adding that if tax were paid on the income that this wealth generates, an extra $190bn would be available to governments every year. The charity said as much as 30% of all African financial wealth was thought to be held offshore.

2 As sanctions go, Iran’s foes fear the worst (San Francisco Chronicle) As the nuclear deal with Tehran goes into effect, many Middle Eastern countries fear a newly emboldened Iran, flush with cash and international recognition, will grow more aggressive with what they see as meddling in conflicts across the region.

The deal forced Iran to dismantle most of its nuclear program, a step that proponents say will prevent it from gaining the capability to make a bomb for well over a decade. The International Atomic Energy Agency has certified that Iran had met its obligations, paving the way for Western sanctions to be lifted and giving Iran access to $100 billion in frozen assets.

While the US, which led the negotiations, has tried to promote the deal as the beginning of a new chapter in relations with the Islamic Republic, the agreement has been greeted with suspicion and trepidation across much of the Middle East. For Israel and Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia, Shiite Iran is seen as a destabilizing force.

On the other hand, Iran's hostility to the Islamic State group has since 2014 put it in effect on the same side as the US-led coalition battling the group in Iraq, where Iranian-backed Shiite militias have proven to be effective ground forces against the Sunni extremists. Improved relations between Washington and Tehran could allow for greater coordination. Iraq's Shiite-led government has welcomed the nuclear deal, suggesting it could help resolve the region's many conflicts.

3 Tennis match-fixing evidence revealed (Simon Cox on BBC) Secret files exposing evidence of widespread suspected match fixing at the top level of world tennis, including at Wimbledon, can be revealed by the BBC and BuzzFeed News.

Over the last decade 16 players who have ranked in the top 50 have been repeatedly flagged to the tennis integrity unit over suspicions they have thrown matches. All of the players, including winners of Grand Slam titles, were allowed to continue competing.

The Tennis Integrity Unit - set up to police the sport - said it had a zero-tolerance approach to betting-related corruption. The cache of documents include the findings of an investigation set up in 2007 by the organising body, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP).

Its job was to look into suspicious betting activity after a game involving Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello. The two players were cleared of violating any rules but the investigation developed into a much wider enquiry looking into a web of gamblers linked to top-level players.

The documents we have obtained show the enquiry found betting syndicates in Russia, northern Italy and Sicily making hundreds of thousands of pounds betting on games investigators thought to be fixed. Three of these games were at Wimbledon.

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