I recently wrote about the Independent and its dodgy "World Report" supplement on Botswana (see worldreport-ind.com).
This hyped up the country's diamonds industry and its heavenly marriage with De Beers but failed to mention the 1000 or so Bushmen shoved against their will from their homelands into resettlement camps to make way for the mines. It read like a vanity report on behalf of the Botswana government and De Beers.
Of equal interest is the mysterious company behind this and many other World Report supplements, World Report International Ltd registered at 2 Old Brompston Rd, London, SW7.
Who actually owns this?
A search at Companies House fails to answer this conclusively. A trail takes you to its intermediate parent company AFA Press UK Ltd (at 1 King St, London, EC2) which in turn is owned by an entity called the Cresent (sic) Trust - presumably Crescent Trust - registered in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands.
Company secretaries and directors of both World Report Intl and AFA are named unhelpfully as "Joint Secretarial Services" and "Joint Corporate Services" - both based at AFA's 1 King St. All very unilluminating.
I am indebted to a Ray Corbis who has written a fascinating online report at the Felix Salmon website (see below) on this curious web of companies (and more) that produce "special reports" supplements for all sorts of newspapers globally, often on behalf of governments that some may deem corrupt, tyrannical or in some way morally compromised.
First, he identifies a number of websites very similar to worldreport-ind.com - such as unitedworld-usa.com, summitreports.com, universalnews-us.com, etc. All have produced government "special reports" for newspapers such as the UK Daily Telegraph, New York Times and USA Today. All are registered at AFA's 1 King St. And he has discovered that every last website is registered using the same IP location (Fujitsu internet Spain).
Peculiar subjects of these spun "special reports" include Libya, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. In the case of stricken Rwanda, an expensive 12-page supplement was recently placed in the New York Times Magazine promoting the country's highly improbable tourist industry - produced by Summit Communications, a Crescent Trust company.
Summit Communications runs some friendly video interviews on their website. "One is with Joseph Kabila, tinpot dictator of Congo, but the prize goes to the oddest video I've seen in ages, an interview that had my jaw drop to the floor -- with Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha, the architect of the war in Sudan," claims one writer at Felix Salmon, Stefan Greens.
Corbis reveals links between the Crescent Trust and a company called Missions World (which issued shares to AFA and other linked companies). He then makes serious, unproven, allegations of fraud and racketeering against Crescent Trust's United World and senior post-holders at the newspaper USA Today in relation to lucrative "special reports".
But who is behind this mind-boggling set-up? Step forward Argentinian businessman Alberto Llaryora. He seems to excite very different responses - some think he's a mafia devil, others a charming chap who's running a legitimate empire. Even Madame Arcati will refrain from repeating certain things he is accused of. She will nonetheless endeavour to make contact with him since she wouldn't want him unfairly maligned.
One correspondent, identified only as "flimsy", claims to have worked for a Crescent company and in a long detailed post writes: "They call themselves journalists and claim that they want to 'portray the positive image of country XYZ' while all they care about is to make as much money from advertising as possible, while being more than willing to compromise their 'independent reporting'."
I do not say that the Crescent Trust is a corrupt business, not at all. But the complexity of Mr Llaryora's off-shore business set-up naturally gives rise to grave suspicions about motives and financial practices. Considerable profit, after all, is being made from some off-colour types.
Why not opt for corporate transparency?
And maybe the Indy needs to think twice about running reports by a corporate hydra that attempts to launder the reputations of certain despots (while perhaps nonetheless bringing business to client poor countries). After all, it's the Indy's good name that Crescent Trust companies are hiring to add that special moral gloss on their special reports.
To be continued..... For more read: