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New documents link Huawei to suspected front companies in Iran, Syria

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The U.S. case against the chief financial officer of China’s Huawei Technologies, who was arrested in Canada last month, centres on the company’s suspected ties to two obscure companies. One is a telecom equipment seller that operated in Tehran; the other is that firm’s owner, a holding company registered in Mauritius.

U.S. authorities allege CFO Meng Wanzhou deceived international banks into clearing transactions with Iran by claiming the two companies were independent of Huawei, when in fact Huawei controlled them. Huawei has maintained the two are independent: equipment seller Skycom Tech Co. Ltd. and shell company Canicula Holdings Ltd.

But corporate filings and other documents found by Reuters in Iran and Syria show that Huawei, the world’s largest supplier of telecommunications network equipment, is more closely linked to both firms than previously known.

The documents reveal that a high-level Huawei executive appears to have been appointed Skycom’s Iran manager. They also show that at least three Chinese-named individuals had signing rights for both Huawei and Skycom bank accounts in Iran. Reuters also discovered that a Middle Eastern lawyer said Huawei conducted operations in Syria through Canicula.

The previously unreported ties between Huawei and the two companies could bear on the U.S. case against Meng, who is the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, by further undermining Huawei’s claims that Skycom was merely an arms-length business partner.

Huawei, U.S. authorities assert, retained control of Skycom, using it to sell telecom equipment to Iran and move money out via the international banking system. As a result of the deception, U.S. authorities say, banks unwittingly cleared hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions that potentially violated economic sanctions Washington had in place at the time against doing business with Iran.

Meng did not respond to a request for comment by Reuters, and Huawei declined to answer questions for this story. Canicula’s offices could not be reached. A Justice Department spokesman in Washington declined to comment.

Meng was released on C$10 million ($7.5 million) bail on Dec. 11 and remains in Vancouver while Washington tries to extradite her. In the United States, Meng would face charges in connection with an alleged conspiracy to defraud multiple financial institutions, with a maximum sentence of 30 years for each charge. The exact charges have not been made public.

Huawei said last month it has been given little information about the U.S. allegations “and is not aware of any wrongdoing by Ms. Meng.” The company has described its relationship with Skycom as “a normal business partnership.” It has said it has fully complied with all laws and regulations and required Skycom to do the same.

Meng’s arrest on a U.S. warrant has caused an uproar in China. It comes at a time of growing trade and military tensions between Washington and Beijing, and amid worries by U.S. intelligence that Huawei’s telecommunications equipment could contain “backdoors” for Chinese espionage.

Meng ‘repeatedly lied,’ U.S. claims

The firm has repeatedly denied such claims. Nevertheless, Australia and New Zealand recently banned Huawei from building their next generation of mobile phone networks, and British authorities have also expressed concerns.

Articles published by Reuters in 2012 and in 2013 here about Huawei, Skycom and Meng figure prominently in the U.S. case against her. Reuters reported that Skycom had offered to sell at least 1.3 million euros worth of embargoed Hewlett-Packard computer equipment to Iran’s largest mobile-phone operator in 2010. At least 13 pages of the proposal were marked “Huawei confidential” and carried Huawei’s logo.

Huawei has said neither it nor Skycom ultimately provided the U.S. equipment.

Reuters also reported numerous financial and personnel links between Huawei and Skycom, including that Meng had served on Skycom’s board of directors between February 2008 and April 2009.

Several banks questioned Huawei about the Reuters articles, according to court documents filed by Canadian authorities at the request of the U.S. for Meng’s bail hearing in Vancouver last month.

According to the documents, U.S. investigators allege that in responding to the banks, which weren’t named, Meng and other Huawei employees “repeatedly lied” about the company’s relationship with Skycom and failed to disclose that “Skycom was entirely controlled by Huawei.”

U.S. authorities also allege that at a private meeting with a bank executive, in or about August 2013, Meng said Huawei had sold its shares in Skycom, but didn’t disclose that the buyer was “a company also controlled by Huawei.”

The court documents allege that Huawei told the executive’s bank that the Chinese company had sold its shares in Skycom in 2009 — the same year Meng stepped down from Skycom’s board. Skycom’s buyer wasn’t identified in the documents.

But Skycom records filed in Hong Kong, where the company was registered, show that its shares were transferred in November 2007 to Canicula, which was registered in Mauritius in 2006. Canicula continued to hold Skycom shares for about a decade, Skycom records show.

A “Summary of Facts” filed by U.S. authorities for Meng’s Canadian bail hearing states: “Documents and email records show that persons listed as ‘Managing Directors’ for Skycom were Huawei employees.” None of those individuals were named.

A company record filed by Skycom in Iran that was entered in the Iranian registry in December 2011 states that a “Shi Yaohong” had been elected as manager of Skycom’s Iran branch for two years. Huawei employs an executive named Shi Yaohong.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Shi was named Huawei’s “President Middle East Region” in June 2012. An Emirates News Agency press release identified him in November 2010 as “President of Huawei Etisalat Key Account.” Etisalat is a major Middle Eastern telecommunications group and a Huawei partner.

Shi, now president of Huawei’s software business unit, hung up the phone when Reuters asked him about his relationship with Skycom.

The Syrian connection

Many corporate records filed by Skycom in Iran list signatories for its bank accounts in the country. Most of the names are Chinese; at least three of the individuals had signing rights for both Skycom and Huawei bank accounts. (One of the names is listed in the Iranian registry with two slightly different spellings but has the same passport number.) U.S. authorities allege in the court documents filed in Canada that Huawei employees were signatories on Skycom bank accounts between 2007 and 2013.

Records in Hong Kong show that Skycom was voluntarily liquidated in June 2017 and that Canicula was paid about $132,000 as part of the resolution. The liquidator, Chan Leung Lee of BDO Ltd. in Hong Kong, declined to comment.

The Financial Services Commission in Mauritius, where Canicula remains registered, declined to release any of its records to Reuters, saying they were confidential.

Until two years ago, Canicula had an office in Syria, another country that has been subject to U.S. and European Union sanctions. In May 2014, a Middle Eastern business website called Aliqtisadi.com published a brief article about the dissolution of a Huawei company in Syria that specialized in automated teller machine (ATM) equipment. Osama Karawani, an attorney who was identified as the appointed liquidator, wrote a letter asking for a correction, stating that the article had caused “serious damage” to Huawei.

Karawani said the article suggested that Huawei itself had been dissolved, not just the ATM company. In his letter, which was linked to on the Aliqtisadi website, he said Huawei was still in business.

“Huawei was never dissolved,” he wrote, adding that it “has been and is still operating in Syria through several companies which are Huawei Technologies Ltd and Canicula Holdings Ltd.” Huawei Technologies is one of Huawei’s main operating companies.

Karawani didn’t respond to emailed questions from Reuters about Canicula.

U.S. investigators are aware of Canicula’s connection to Syria, according to a person familiar with the probe. Canicula had an office in Damascus and operated in Syria on behalf of Huawei, another person said.

That person said Canicula’s customers there included three major telecommunications companies. One is MTN Syria, controlled by South Africa’s MTN Group Ltd, which has mobile phone operations in both Syria and Iran. MTN has a joint venture in Iran — MTN Irancell — that is also a Huawei customer. MTN advised Huawei on setting up the structure of Skycom’s office in Iran, according to another source familiar with the matter.

“Skycom was just a front” for Huawei, the person said.

An official with MTN said no one at the company was available to comment.

In December 2017, a notice was placed in a Syrian newspaper by “the General Director of the branch of the company Canicula Ltd.” He was not named. It announced that Canicula had “totally stopped operating” in Syria two months before. No explanation was given.

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Future of Ottawa: Coffee with Francis Bueckert

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Francis Bueckert: When it comes to the current landscape of coffee-roasting companies and independent cafes in Ottawa, I think we are at a really interesting moment in time. There are more local roasters that are doing artisanal small-batch production—with more attention to the quality and origin of the beans.

With larger corporations such as Starbucks closing locations, it has opened a bit of space for local players to grow. We have been lucky to work with many folks in the coffee-roasting community, and we have found that there is a willingness to collaborate among different coffee roasters. For example, when Cloudforest started back in 2014, we were roasting our coffee at Happy Goat and it was the expertise of their head roaster Hans that helped me learn how to roast. Other companies such as Brown Bag Coffee have also lent a hand when we needed extra roasting capacity. There are others, such as Lulo, Mighty Valley Coffee, Bluebarn, The Artery, and Little Victories that are also part of the growing local coffee community. It’s small roasters like these who have shown me what a coffee community can look like, and that we can help to elevate each other, rather than being locked in competition.

If you care to make a prediction… What’s happening to the local café industry in 2021?

We believe that there is hope and that 2021 can be a big pivot year for small roasters and cafes.

This year will not be ideal from a business point of view. However, it could create a shift in people’s attitude toward where they get their coffee. We are holding out hope that people will support the roasters and cafes that are local to help them economically survive what is in all reality a very difficult time.

It all depends on where consumers decide to go this year. People are starting to recognize that supporting large corporations at this moment will be at the cost of the local roasters and cafes. There is the growing realization that a future where there is only Amazon, Walmart, and Starbucks would be pretty bleak. So we have an opportunity this year to support the kind of local businesses that we want to see thrive.

In your wildest dreams, what will the landscape for local coffee roasters and cafés look like in your lifetime?

In my wildest dreams, all of the coffee roasters and cafés would be locally owned and independent. They would all be focused on direct trade and artisanal coffee. Each different coffee roaster and café would know exactly where their coffee came from. Ideally, each company would be a partnership between the farmers who grow the beans and the people here selling them. There would be a focus on how to cooperate and collaborate with the farmers in the countries of origin to share the benefits around. We would all work together and share orders of cups, lids, and other packaging so that we could get better bulk pricing. In this way, we would make our local coffee community so efficient that the large corporate coffee companies wouldn’t even be able to compete.

We would also like to see people use coffee as a way to create social good. For example, we started Cloudforest as a way of helping support farmers in Ecuador who were taking a stand against large mining companies. This remote community stood up to protect their environment, so that they could have clean drinking water and soil for the next generation. They started an organic coffee cooperative to help show that there are other models of development, and we are doing our part year after year to help support their vision. They have a vision of development that does not include mass deforestation and contamination, and organic coffee is a key (among others) to show that another way forward is possible.

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Special events in the Ottawa Valley dominate annual OVTA tourism awards

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The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association hopes that its annual tourism awards will provide a little sunshine during what is a dark time for local tourism operators because of the pandemic.

The Ottawa Valley Tourism Awards are presented annually by the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association (OVTA) to individuals, businesses, and events that recognize the importance of working together for the growth of the local tourism industry, as well as offering exceptional visitor experiences.

“After a year that saw a lot of businesses in the hospitality and tourism industry being challenged like never before, the annual Ottawa Valley Tourism Awards represent a bit of light on the horizon” said Chris Hinsperger, co-owner of the Bonnechere Caves.

The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association’s (OVTA) Awards Committee co-chairpersons, Meghan James and Chris Hinsperger, said they were very pleased with the recent nominations received, especially in the Special Events category. Submissions were received for The Farm to Fork Dinner Series at the Whitewater Inn; Light up the Valley; The Eganville Curling Clubs’ Rock the Rings; The Ontario Festival of Small Halls ; The Bonnechere Caves On-line Underground Concert Series; The Opeongo Nordic Ski Clubs’ Ski Loppet; The Tour de Bonnechere — Ghost de Tour 2020; and The Bonnechere Caves Rock ‘n Roll Parking Lot Picnic.

“During a time when communities were challenged, it is nice to see that people still made an effort to get together and celebrate, albeit under certain conditions. It just shows the creativity and resiliency of our tourism Community here in the valley” said Meghan James, director of sales at the Pembroke Best Western.

There are three Award categories: The Marilyn Alexander Tourism Champion Award, The Business of Distinction and The Special Event of the Year.

Hinsperger, is excited about this year’s awards.

“During this pandemic the hospitality and tourism industry was the first to be hit, was the hardest hit and will be the last of our industries to fully recover. As Valley entrepreneurs we owe it to ourselves, to our businesses and to our communities to be an active part of that recovery. Our livelihood and economic recovery depends on our efforts. And we will get back to welcoming people from all over the world to share a little bit of the place we are privileged to call home. This awards process leaves myself and others fully optimistic about our positive outcomes.”

Award winners will be announced at the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association’s virtual annual general meeting on Monday, May 31.

The OVTA is the destination marketing organization for the Upper Ottawa Valley and proudly represents more than 200 tourism businesses, comprised of attractions and outfitters, accommodation, food, beverage and retail establishments, artists and galleries, municipalities, as well as media and industry suppliers. The OVTA is supported by the County of Renfrew, Renfrew County municipalities and the City of Pembroke.

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Future of Ottawa: Farming with Jeremy Colbeck

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Jeremy Colbeck: Well first, let’s talk about what we mean by farming. Although farms, and farming as an occupation, are in decline across Canada, they are still a major part of our rural landscape. That’s even more true for a strange city like Ottawa which includes a LOT of rural areas and whose urban boundary takes, what, three hours to cross? About 40 per cent of the rural land in Ottawa is farmland. Most of that farming is corn and soybean cash-crop, as well as some dairy and livestock farming. That’s mostly conventional farming (the kind that is profitable but not exactly where you take your kids on a Saturday).

There are also a lot of agri-tourism businesses in Ottawa, which give you that oh-so-good Saturday spot for family donkey-petting and apple-picking. And it’s totally understandable from a business perspective, but sometimes surprising to find out, that even though they grow some of the Christmas trees they sell, they might also be reselling some that come from much larger farms far away. The farmland around Ottawa is also inflated in price because of its proximity to the city, where it is in demand by would-be hobby farmers—folks who want to do some farming on their property in their spare time but make their money (to subsidize their small-scale farming habit) elsewhere. Unfortunately, many of these properties will have large mansions built on them, which will then make them completely unaffordable for the average farmer

There’s also a segment of small-to-medium-sized Ottawa farms that grow “premium” (artisanal, unique, extra-fresh, ecologically- or organically-grown etc…) products that they sell directly to local eaters via farmers’ markets or other direct marketing channels, including on-farm stores and farm stands. That’s where BeetBox fits in.

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