Monday, January 31, 2005

Hollywood Comes to Davos

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which has been called a "temple of capitalist narcissism," there is, it turns out, a force beyond money and might. Its name is celebrity - and on Friday, Sharon Stone showed why.

Amid hundreds of participants at an earnest debate on "funding the war on poverty," Ms. Stone rose to her feet to say she would donate $10,000 to combat malaria in Tanzania; that country's president. Benjamin W. Mkapa, was one of the podium speakers.

Ms. Stone urged the participants to "be on a team with me" to help President Mkapa because "people are dying in his country today."

"Could you please stand up?" she asked the crowd. Over 30 people did stand up with donations and by the end of the debate, the organizers announced that they had raised $1 million.

Within a few moments, thus, Ms. Stone demonstrated how fame and a flair for drama might inject a passionate message into a complex debate. In the process she stirred a discussion among those attending about whether the conference is harnessing new trends in the pursuit of noble causes, or falling easy prey to the world's fixation with celebrity.

Since the annual gathering of over 2,000 power brokers and executives opened here on Wednesday, much attention has focused on the inclusion in their ranks of those whose renown stems not from boardrooms or bids, but from the movies and rock music, people like Bono, Richard Gere, Angelina Jolie and Ms. Stone.

Call it Hollywood comes to Davos.

Alan Cowell, New York Times

Friday, January 28, 2005

SPORTS: Zurich stadium to be used for Euro 2008

Zurich's Letzigrund stadium will be used during the 2008 European championships, raising Switzerland's number of venues to the required four.

European soccer's governing body, which confirmed the decision Friday, had been concerned after legal challenges in Switzerland against rebuilding Zurich's Hardturm Stadium left the country with only three suitable sites.

UEFA now has accepted plans to rebuild the Letzigrund track and field stadium to hold games during Euro 2008, which will be shared with neighboring Austria.

Swiss Government Cuts 2005 Growth Forecast Amid Export Slowdown

Jan. 28 (Bloomberg) -- The Swiss government lowered its forecast for 2005 growth for the second time in three months as a slowdown in Europe and a rising franc threaten to erode exports.

Gross domestic product will probably expand 1.5 percent this year, down from the 2 percent predicted on Oct. 19, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs in Bern, Switzerland, said in a faxed statement today. The economy is expected to grow 1.8 percent in 2006.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Swiss Get High Marks for African Sanctions

Switzerland is tightening up United Nations sanctions relating to West Africa, including freezing bank accounts of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor. African leaders have had a history of having fortunes in Swiss banks, but money found to be of criminal origin is now being stopped.

The head of Switzerland's sanctions division at the state secretariat for economic affairs, Roland Vock, says Swiss action against war-torn Liberia and divided Ivory Coast was announced late last week.

International Crisis Group West Africa analyst Mike McGovern says it is encouraging to see Switzerland being pro-active, even if some sanctions remain hypothetical. "It's got the significance of showing the goodwill of Switzerland which is a country that's often been used for hiding the ill-gotten goods in its very private bank accounts," he said.

Concerning Liberia, the U.N. Security Council asked in March, 2004, for all members to search for and freeze assets related to Charles Taylor.

Switzerland had already frozen about $5 million linked to the former warlord president in 2003, but later unblocked the funds because of what authorities called insufficient evidence of wrongdoing.

Officials at the court in Freetown say they have been getting excellent cooperation from the Swiss. They are trying to bring Mr. Taylor to trial, but Liberian authorities say it would be better to wait for the peace process to take hold.

Mr. Taylor is accused of stashing millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts and elsewhere, from selling diamonds in exchange for weapons. Mr. Vock did not say how much money is currently linked to Mr. Taylor within the Swiss banking system.

In that matter, Switzerland announced late last year it would return to Nigeria almost $500 million allegedly stolen by the late military leader, after agreeing with Abuja authorities the money was of criminal origin.

Voice of America,27 January 2005, By Nico Colombant, Abidjan

Friday, January 21, 2005

Blair Opens WEF in Davos

  GENEVA - British Prime Minister Tony Blair will address the opening session of the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in the Swiss alpine resort of Davos and is expected to lay out his priorities as president of the G8 group of nations for 2005.

  The G8 in 2005 will focus particularly on climate change, the WEF said.  "The Forum has been especially happy to give its help and support to Mr. Blair's initiative on global warming," said Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the WEF.

    Blair will also take part in a special session on Thursday to discuss "The G8 and Africa: Rhetoric or Action?" along with former US president Bill Clinton, South African President Thabo Mbeki, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. The session will concentrate on the issue of debt relief for poorer nations.

    More than 20 heads of states, 70 cabinet ministers and a thousand senior business executives from 96 countries are expected to gather in Davos for the WEF annual meeting under the theme of "Taking Responsibility for Tough Choices."

    Created in 1971 and based in Geneva, Switzerland, the WEF describes itself as a global community of business, political, intellectual and other leaders of society committed to improving the state of the world

Monday, January 10, 2005

Mismanagement in Iraq Oil-Food Deal

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Internal U.N. audits of the Iraqi oil-for-food program found large contractors overcharging the world body by several million dollars and said one U.N. agency systematically mishandled funds in the field.

Fifty-eight reports were released on Sunday by Paul Volcker, the former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman, who is conducting an independent probe of the $64 billion program.

One report, dated July 21, 1999, on Lloyds Register reported possible overcharges of $1.38 million because inspectors, who earned $770 a day, were not at their posts for 1,800 days. The British Lloyd Inspections firm, later replaced by the Swiss-based Cotecna Inspection SA, inspected goods entering Iraq so vendors could be paid.

Cotecna, which took over from Lloyds in 1999, also maintained a lower staff than was required by its contract, although it charged less per inspector than Lloyd's did.

The reports advocated reclaiming an "appropriate amount" of money from Cotecna based on its under performance."

Tsunami donations outstrip expectations

The Swiss Solidarity charity says it has raised a record SFr130 million ($110.2 million) to help survivors of the Asian tsunami catastrophe.

The charity, which is the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, said on Monday that the lion’s share of the money would be spent on reconstruction work.