French press review 17 August 2017


This week Le Monde is telling the fascinating story of the “scam of the century”, which cost the European Union six billion euros, of which 1.6 billion were stolen in France, according to Europol.

The plot is thick with shady deals, offshore accounts, and plenty of money laundering and each day, Le Monde is bringing us a new episode of the saga, based on a trial which took place last year.

It all began in 2008, when the European Union introduced a Carbon Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), to reduce greenhouse gas emissions using market mechanisms.

The system imposed a cap on the amount of carbon companies could produce.

If they did not use their full allowance companies could then sell off the surplus, while those that had exceeded the limit could buy more.

Vast VAT fraud

The EU’s intention was to combat climate change but the system was soon exploited by a network of villains straight out of a Scorcese movie, who devised a scheme to defraud billions of euros.

They purchased emission allowances abroad, where they were not subject to the EU’s 19.6 percent value-added tax (VAT), and sold them in Europe, making huge profits on complex VAT scam and laundering them through a dense network of offshore accounts, businesses and even playing chips at casinos.

Le Monde delves into the lives of these multi-million-euro fraudsters.

Some of them started off as small time crooks in the streets of Paris or Marseille, before going on to make astronomical sums, which were never recovered.

One of the group’s masterminds, Cyril Astruc, says he was making over 600,000 euros a month at one point, enjoying a lavish lifestyle and mixing with movie stars.

Europe’s jihadi problem

What will happen when European jihadists fighting with the Islamic State armd group return to their home countries?

Le Figaro is dedicating two full pages to the issue, with new statistics revealing the scale of the problem.

According to a report commissioned by the EU, of the 5,000 Europeans who left to fight in Iraq and Syria between 2011 and 2016, up to 3,000 could soon return to Europe.

In France 269 people, of whom 46 are children, have already been officially recorded as having returned.

After a psychological examination, adults are prosecuted and most of them imprisoned for criminal association in relation to a terrorist undertaking.

Those who are released are placed under surveillance.

The report, which was put together by the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN), reveals that 300 French fighters have lost their lives in Iraq and Syria and that 700 French men and women are still out there.

The report underlines the risk they pose when they come back, suggesting that their individual motivations be assessed in depth, based on their mental state and the reasons for their return.

In its editorial, le Figaro says that France and Europe face a huge challenge, as the Islamic State’s dream of a caliphate crumbles.

“Once you’ve been ordered to kill, and sometimes brought up to kill, can you ever get out of it?” the right-wing paper asks.

“So far,” it says, “no de-radicalisation experiment has been shown to work”.

Le Figaro says France should revoke their citizenship, even if the measure is symbolic, and try to stop them from returning to Europe, which is virtually impossible, given how porous the EU’s borders are.

Therefore intelligence services should be reinforced, le Figaro says, in order to catch these men and women on France’s doorstep.

Trump slammed on Charlottesville stance

The left-wing newspaper Libération is incensed by Donald Trump’s remarks on the far-right violence in the American town of Charlottesville last weekend, in which one woman lost her life.

On Tuesday the US president said both the far right and the anti-fascist protesters who oppsed them were to blame for the deadly violence.

Libération says that by portraying white supremacists and anti-racists as morally equivalent, Trump is insulting American democracy.

“And that’s a historical mistake”, the paper adds.

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