Friday, November 5, 2010

Awal Bank Asks US Court For Deadline Extension

Charles Russell LLP, the Bahrain-appointed administrator of Awal Bank BSC, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s embattled Saad Group owned by Saudi billionaire Maan al-Sanea, has asked a U.S. court for an extension of the deadline to file schedules of assets and liabilities and a statement of financial affairs in the bank’s application for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The request follows rejection last week by the New York court of Awal Bank’s initial application for limited Chapter 11 because the troubled bank was asking to be allowed to keep information confidential and to be exempted from the need to create a U.S. creditors committee. At the same time, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Allan Gropper kept the door open for Awal to repetition the court provided it the bank agreed to establish such a committee. Gropper said he would allow more time to assess the information provided give creditors the opportunity for creditors to make representations.

In the request for an extension, Charles Russell said it needed additional time to canvass creditors’ views and would only once it had done so decide whether it wished to further pursue Chapter 11 protection. The Office of the United States Trustee indicated that it had no objection to Charles Russell request for an extension of the deadline.

Awal initially applied last month for Chapter 11 protection saying that it would help the bank recover “avoidable” transfers out of its estate prior to the bankruptcy. The Chapter 11 filing came little more than a year after Awal had filed for Chapter 15 bankruptcy in the same court. Chapter 15 bankruptcy seeks to protect companies from U.S. litigation while they reorganize in a non-U.S. court.

Defaults on loans last year by Awal Bank as well as Saudi conglomerate, Ahmad Hamad Al-Gosaibi & Brothers Co. set off a bitter legal battle on three continents between the two groups that are related by al Sanea’s marriage to a daughter of the Al-Ghosaibi family. Al-Gosaibi has accused Al-Sanea in court filings on three continents of siphoning off $10 billion from his in-laws.

Al-Gosaibi is seeking to recover $9.2 billion in lawsuits in the Cayman Islands against al-Sanea and Awal subsidiaries. The lawsuits were stayed after al-Sanea challenged the Cayman court’s jurisdiction, and an appeal of that decision is set to be heard in November. In July, New York State Supreme Judge Hon. Richard B. Lowe dismissed a lawsuit Al-Gosaibi had filed against Awal and al- Sanea, on grounds of that court being an improper forum. Court proceedings involving Awal are also ongoing in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Britain.

Awal’s original Chapter 11 court filing suggested that it would it file a reorganization plan or opt for liquidation in Bahrain rather than the United States. Even though the court papers kept reorganization on the table, the Chapter 11 filing suggests that liquidation is the more likely option. According to its court filing, Awal has assets valued at most at $100 million and liabilities of more than $1 billion. Under Bahrain law, the administrator has until the summer of next year to decide whether to liquidate Awal or return it to its owners.

Assuming that the bankruptcy filing was made with the consent of the Bahrain Central Bank, the filing suggests that Bahrain has decided that Awal is beyond salvation and should be liquidated. In its filing, Awal asserts that after payment of the administrators and other immediate expenses, it will not be able to compensate its unsecured creditors, who number somewhere between 60 and 100 and include: Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, AlGosaibi Money Exchange, Bank of Montreal, Bayerische Hypo-und Vereinsbank, Bayerische Landesbank, Boubyan Bank, Calyon Corporate and Investment Bank, Commercial Bank of Kuwait, Commercial Bank of Qatar, Commerzbank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Fortis Bank, Gulf International Bank, HSBC, HSH Nordbank AG, JP Morgan, Kuwait Finance House and The International Banking Corporation.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Oil and Gas Finds Fueling Tension in Eastern Mediterranean

By James M. Dorsey

(In)Coherenci / World Politics Review

Oil and gas discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean are ratcheting up tensions in a region that already has its fair share of pernicious disputes. Rival communities on the divided island of Cyprus, as well as Turkey and arch-enemies Lebanon and Israel are staking claims in one of the world's newest oil frontiers.

The region's deposits are minor compared to the Persian Gulf, but for small nations like Israel and Cyprus they hold substantial promise. But rather than providing an opportunity for stability through economic cooperation, the discoveries raise the specter of renewed conflict as the parties push ahead with deals to start exploration.

Complicating matters is the fact that the deposits are in international waters, historically a reason for nations to call in the gun boats in the absence of a production-sharing agreements. The potential threat is heightened by the state of war between Israel and Lebanon and tension between Turkey and Cyprus over Turkey's backing of Turkish Cypriots in their dispute with the island's Greek Cypriot majority.

While Israel and Lebanon have warned that their economic rights in the eastern Mediterranean may constitute a casus belli, Turkey and the two Cypriot communities have so far steered clear of military threats in their perennial disputes over oil and gas.

Turkey's announcement last month that it will soon begin to explore for oil in a 288,000-square-kilometer area between the southeastern Turkish city of Mersin and the northern coast of Cyprus has nonetheless fueled tension. Turkey maintains an estimated 40,000 troops in northern Cyprus since its invasion of the island in 1974 and is the only country to have recognized the north's self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

The internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government, the Republic of Cyprus (ROC), which represents the island in the European Union, accuses Turkey of acting as a "bully" in disputes over oil-exploration licenses that are a continuous point of friction in two-year-old peace talks aimed at ending one of the world's most enduring conflicts.

Turkey and the TRNC have denounced ROC negotiations of oil-exploration deals with Lebanon that will also include Syria, arguing that it lacks the authority. Lebanon and the ROC signed an exclusive-zone agreement in 2007 to demarcate an undersea border that would determine the areas in which each may grant oil- and gas-exploration licenses. ROC signed a similar agreement with Egypt, and in September it concluded a memorandum of cooperation with Israel for the surveying and mapping of joint-research energy projects.

ROC initially licensed companies in 2007 to explore blocks in a 20,000 square-kilometer area. Texas-based Noble Energy, an independent oil company, together with its Israeli consortium partners, Delek Drilling and Avner Oil and Gas, acquired a license, but Turkey's opposition persuaded majors such as ExxonMobil, BP, China National Petroleum Corporation and India's Oil and Natural Gas Corporation not to participate. Noble, as well as Libya's National Oil Company, are expected to participate in a second ROC licensing round next year.

Turkey has warned the Lebanese and the ROC governments that it is "determined to protect its rights and interests" and will "not allow attempts to erode them." Turkish officials, however, believe that Lebanon and the ROC will not start exploration any time soon. Amid mounting tension in Lebanon over the proceedings of a United Nations investigation into the 2005 killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Ankara believes that parliament is unlikely to focus on the agreement once it is presented for ratification.

As a result, Turkey and Israel may be laughing all the way to the bank. Israel has completed preliminary exploration and is preparing to begin extracting gas in 2012. Israel hopes the oil and gas finds will make it energy-independent, but its preliminary efforts have Lebanon up in arms. Staking its claim on the potential reserves, Lebanon sees newly found oil and gas wealth as its ticket to paying off its $50 billion national debt.

Lebanon accuses Israel of intending to siphon the gas from reserves off the northern Israeli coast that it says are rightfully Lebanese. Israel denies the claim and says that the three fields it has invested in lie between it and Cyprus.The largest of the fields, Leviathan, is estimated to hold 16 trillion cubic feet of gas worth billions of dollars.

The fields are in international waters between Israel and Cyprus, beyond the maritime borders that extend 12 nautical miles off the coasts of both countries. Under international law, Israel or Cyprus could declare an exclusive economic zone that extends 200 nautical miles beyond their maritime borders, but so far neither has opted to do so. Israeli officials say they see no need to make such a declaration because the reserves lie under Israel's continental shelf.

The conflicting Israeli and Lebanese claims have both countries rattling their sabers. Israeli Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau has warned that Israel "will not hesitate to use force" to protect its investment. In response, Lebanese parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri called for speedy approval of proposals for oil and gas exploration off the coast of Lebanon as "the best way to respond to Israeli threats."

It will take years for Lebanon to prove its claims that Israeli exploration and production would violate Lebanese territory. Even if it does, Beirut lacks the military muscle to do anything about it. That frustrating realization is likely to complicate efforts to reduce tension in a region that already has enough flash points.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Prominent Dutch jihadist recants and denounces terrorism

By James M. Dorsey

(In)Coherent / Deutsche Welle

A key figure in one militant Islamic European network has joined the ranks of a small but important number of jihadists to have a change of heart, calling on their brethren to abandon violence. The imprisoned Dutch terrorism suspect Jason Walters said in an open letter that he has renounced Islamic radicalism.

"The ideals that I once honored have been lost and I have come to realize that they are morally bankrupt," Walters said in what he called a "review document" written from the maximum-security prison in Vught. It was published recently in the Dutch daily De Volkskrant.

Walters is a leading member of the jihadist Hofstadgroep, made up of Islamists primarily of Moroccan origin. The group was led by Mohammed Bouyeri, who is serving a life sentence for killing controversial Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004.

Observers said Walters' letter offered a window into the mind of a man who had dedicated his life to propagating militant Islam through violence. It helped to understand why some adopt terrorism and what prompts them to reconsider.

Walters' review could also inform the increasingly partisan immigration debate in Germany and other European nations about how to prevent the radicalization of immigrant youth and help them become functioning members of society.

A different denunciation

Walters was accused of plotting to kill controversial Dutch parliamentarians Geert Wilders and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. He resisted his arrest in 2004 in a 14-hour siege during which he threw a grenade at police, injuring four policemen. He has now served four years of his 15-year sentence.

Born in the Netherlands to an African-American soldier and a Dutch mother, Walters converted to Islam at age 16 after the divorce of his parents and his father's subsequent conversion. In 2003, he made his way to Pakistan for training with jihadist groups. He boasted on his return to the Netherlands that he could "disassemble a Kalashnikov blindfolded and put it back together again."

Walters' denunciation is more political and philosophical than that of other jihadist ideologues which employed Islamic theology to explain their change of heart, such as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) or Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, one of the early associates of Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's second-in-command. Walters, on the other hand, takes issue in his letter with the basic tenant of his former worldview.

"The image that the world only exists of believers and infidels, in which the latter are motivated only to destroy the former, is a childish and coarse simplification of reality," Walters said. "It ignores the complexity and many nuances of which reality is rich."

Analysts and counter-terrorism authorities say Walters' letter is likely to spark debate in militant Islamist circles and serve as an important tool in efforts to counter jihadists in Europe. In a statement, the Dutch National Coordinator for Counterterrorism (NCTb) described it as "a remarkable document" not seen before in the Netherlands.

Dutch terrorism analyst Edwin Bakker from the Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael said the letter would serve as "a good tool in the ideological fight against terrorists and Islamists."

A sincere document

Walters' lawyer, Bart Nooitgedagt, rejected allegations that his client had written the letter in an effort to influence his appeal hearing. An Amsterdam court is set to determine whether the throwing of the grenade was a criminal or a terrorist act and whether the Hofstadgroep was a terrorist organization.

The appeals court had ordered new proceedings in response to objections by the public prosecutor to the initial conviction of Walters and his associates on criminal charges only. Of the seven defendants in the original case, Walters is the only one still incarcerated.

Nooitgedagt said Walters had written his letter some time ago, even though he only published it last week.

"Jason anticipated the criticism, but assertions that the letter was inspired by dishonest motives are incorrect," Nooitgedagt said. "The content of the letter is too fundamental for that."

Walters initially signaled his change of heart during the appeals court hearing in July, where he was the only defendant to appear in court in person.

"I was passive and uncooperative in the (lower) court in The Hague," Walters told the court in a reference to his earlier rejection of the Dutch justice system. "But now I will actively defend myself. I have confidence in the competence and the integrity of this court and in the Dutch system."

A warning to youth

Nooitgedagt said Walters' change of heart was sparked by his reading of history books, as well as writings on the theory of evolution and the works of philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Karl Popper. In his letter, he explained his recantation with the fact that those nations who were liberated by Islamists ultimately rejected the
Islamist worldview.

"This has forced me to reconsider my views critically, and has led to the realization that they are untenable," Walters said in the letter.

Walters expressed his disappointment with a utopian movement that has fallen short of its ideals.

"I have watched with horror how a once lofty 'struggle for freedom' that should have been the go-ahead signal for a new, just world - especially in Iraq - has turned into a bloody escalation of violence, sectarianism and religious mania," he wrote. "Unheard of cruelty and crimes have been committed in the process."

He said the random killing by Islamists of innocent Muslims had rendered the struggle for Islamic rule "a total failure."

The 25-year-old said he hoped his letter would serve "to warn youth not to be misguided by false promises and ideals." He called on Islamists "to put down their weapons and employ other, productive methods" in order to bring about reforms instead of blaming the United States and the West.

Lessons learned

Dutch commentator and De Volkskrant columnist Pieter Hilhorst noted that Walters, like other recanting Islamists, explained his change of heart in analytical rather than personal terms.

"He doesn't write that he regrets throwing a grenade at the police," Hilhorst said. "He doesn't write that he is ashamed of having glorified the murder of Theo van Gogh. Jason acts as if he was an observer, not a perpetrator."

The lesson from recantations like that of Walters, Hilhorst said, is that appealing to Islamists' compassion in an effort to change their wayward means was meaningless as they "express no empathy with their non-Muslim victims."

"They are only concerned about the nature of the true Muslim and the consequences for Muslims," he said. "This last point is every jihadist's real Achilles Heel. The best way to draw him away from his violent belief is to ask him what he really wants to achieve. That's when facts become more important than divine inclination."

Al Qaeda Threat Heightens Need to Resolve Western Sahara

It’s hard to see the United States’ faltering efforts to resolve the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian dispute as a model for conflict resolution. Yet, parallels between the Middle East conflict and the Arab world’s other seemingly intractable dispute in the Western Sahara that has soured relations between Morocco and Algeria, suggest otherwise.

Resolution of the 35-year old conflict, one of Africa’s longest festering disputes, has become more urgent with the realization that lack of cooperation between North African and Sahel nations undermines efforts to stem the rise of Al Qaida’s affiliate in the region, Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The need to align North African nations was driven home by AQIM’s brazen kidnapping in Niger in September of seven foreigners, including five Frenchmen, that threatens France's major source of uranium. Algeria, which backs Polisario, the Sahrawi liberation movement in its dispute with Morocco, last month refused to participate in a meeting in the Malian capital Bamako organized by the G8 Counter-Terrorism Action Group to discuss AQIM because of the presence of Moroccan representatives.

While there are obvious differences between the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and the conflict in the Western Sahara, similarities between the two suggest that the most recent Middle East peacemaking experience may be applicable.

At the heart of both conflicts is annexation of territory that has displaced population groups and subjected them to occupation. The parties to both conflicts pay lip service to international peace efforts but in practice act to subvert them. Both conflicts position a Western-backed ally against a liberation movement supported by influential regional powers. The United States and Europe, despite their support for the occupying power in both conflicts, pay lip service to the rights of the dispossessed.

It is these similarities that positions Middle East peacemaking as a model for preventing the festering conflict in the Sahara from playing into AQIM’s hands. The Obama’s administration message to Israel that security can only be achieved by accommodating Palestinian national aspirations is applicable to Morocco too: regional security demands a two-state solution. Morocco and the Sahrawis need to agree on a formula that balances Moroccan claims of sovereignty with Sahrawi demands for independence.

The roadmap adopted by the Middle East Quartet, which groups the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia is equally applicable to the Western Sahara based on UN Security Council resolutions that call for a negotiated solution and recognition of the Sahrawi right to self-determination. A Saharan roadmap would allow the international community to empower former US diplomat and current UN envoy Chris Ross with the same mandate given to US Middle East peace negotiator George Mitchell: impose a one-year deadline within which the parties seriously negotiate a resolution of their seemingly intractable differences.

To provide the roadmap, the international community would have to come together as it did in the case of the Middle East rather than ignoring the dispute in the Sahara or adopting contradictory policies.In the past the United States was the only power seeking to bring the parties to the negotiating table with little support from its fellow council members. That is no longer a tenable situation with AQIM’s increasingly brazen operations and threats by Polisario, the Saharan liberation movement, to revive its armed struggle.

Turkish Opposition To NATO Missile Shield Fuels Tension

A proposed $280 million NATO missile defense system upgrade is straining relations between the United States and Turkey in the run-up to a NATO summit in Lisbon later this month.

Turkish officials say they will only agree to basing radar components of the system on Turkish soil if NATO abstains from identifying any potential target of the system and promises not to share intelligence with non-NATO members.

The Turkish demands reflect a mounting divergence in US and Turkish foreign policy with Turkey no longer signing up to Western policies simply to align itself with the West but making a cost-benefit analysis a key element of its decision-making. As a result, Turkey is demanding a quid-pro-quid for its accommodation of the proposed missile defense shield upgrade that could put it between a rock and a hard place. If Turkey rejects the upgrade, it risks angering its US and NATO allies; if it joins the shield, it would upset Iran, a neighbor and major energy supplier, and could complicate its relations with Russia, which opposed the upgrade when it was first proposed by US President George W. Bush.

The Turkish demand that NATO refrain from identifying the system’s target strikes at declared US policy: a White House fact sheet recently described Iran as the threat the proposed shield would be designed to counter. Turkey, concerned that any US or Israeli military effort to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program would further destabilize the Middle East, further wants assurances that any intelligence garnered from radars on its territory will not be shared with Israel.

Analysts say the quid-pro-quid Turkey is seeking for possible accommodation of NATO is US pressure on France and Germany to reverse policies that are preventing progress in negotiations for Turkish European Union membership. They note that the agenda of a US-EU summit scheduled immediately after the NATO gathering features Turkish EU membership high on its agenda.

Some analysts suggest the United States’ perceived preoccupation with security risks posed by the Middle East and China at the expense of its past focus on Europe may help sway France and Germany, where calls for a new European security architecture that would put a greater emphasis on the role of Turkey as well as Russia are gaining momentum.