Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Documents show Eritrea defying Canadian government by using Toronto consulate to raise money for regime | Canada | News | National Post
Darren Calabrese/National PostThe entrance to the Consulate General of Eritrea, located in Toronto, which has been imposing a fee of up to $500 on Eritrean-Canadians to meet the country’s national defence needs.
TORONTO — Canada is investigating allegations that Eritrea’s diplomatic mission in Toronto has continued soliciting money for the East African regime’s military despite being warned by the Department of Foreign Affairs to stop.
The RCMP and Foreign Affairs are reviewing new evidence that appears to show the Consulate General of Eritrea has been imposing a fee of up to $500 on Eritrean-Canadians to meet the country’s national defence needs.
The fundraising scheme would be illegal since Eritrea is the subject of United Nations Security Council sanctions. Canada insisted in September that Eritrea either cease soliciting such payments or recall its consul, Semere Ghebremariam O. Micael.
But nine months later, evidence gathered by an Eritrean-Canadian human rights group shows the practice has continued: As recently as January the consulate issued forms demanding payment for Eritrea’s “national defence against Ethiopian invasion.”
The documents also show the consulate is still imposing a 2% income tax on Eritrean-Canadians — a practice Ottawa had also insisted had to end after the RCMP and UN reported that those who refused to pay were subjected to threats, intimidation and coercion.
“We take these allegations very seriously, and are currently working to determine if the Eritrean consulate is continuing to disregard Canadian law,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s press secretary, Rick Roth, said Tuesday.
“We have clearly communicated to the Eritrean government our concerns both in Ottawa, and Eritrea. We expect the Eritrean government not to test our resolve. These actions, if true, will have repercussions.”
The Eritrean-Canadian Human Rights Group of Canada, which shared the consulate forms with the National Post and Foreign Affairs, said it wants the government to close the consulate, Eritrea’s only remaining outpost in Canada.
“They’re thumbing their noses at the Canadian government,” said David Matas, the group’s senior legal counsel. “The government of Canada has given them a warning. They’re still doing it. They should shut down the consulate.”
Darren Calabrese/National PostThe Toronto building where the Consulate General of the State of Eritrea is located. he Eritrean-Canadian Human Rights Group of Canada wants to see it shut down.
The investigation into the consulate’s fundraising activities is the latest chapter in a diplomatic dispute that has been simmering between Canada and Eritrea, one of the world’s most repressive and impoverished states.
Since winning independence 20 years ago this week following a war with Ethiopia, Eritrea has failed to develop a formal economy and remains dependent on “diaspora taxes” imposed on the large number of expatriates who have fled the country.
Although one of the world’s least developed nations, Eritrea has somehow managed to supply weapons, training and cash to regional armed groups such as the al-Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab in Somalia. As a result, the UN imposed sanctions on Eritrea in 2009.
Canada sent a diplomatic note to Eritrea last September, after UN investigators reported that the Eritrean consulate in Toronto was raising money for military purposes, and that those who refused to pay were suffering retribution.
AFP/Getty Images filesEritrean President Issaias Afeworki
The letter warned that if Mr. Micael continued to carry out “tax solicitation and tax collection activities in spite of Canada’s express disapproval” then Ottawa would expect him to be recalled. The Eritrean Foreign Ministry responded with a Sept. 18 letter saying it had “complied in full” with Canada’s demands.
The collection scheme appears to have continued anyway. The only change is that money no longer changes hands at the consulate office in Toronto. Instead, Eritrean-Canadians are told to transfer the payments through German’s Deutshe Zentral Consossenshaft Bank to the Housing and Commerce Bank of Eritrea.
Daniel Awshek said he phoned the consulate on May 16. Using a false name, he told an official he needed his college transcript from Eritrea. He also said his brother needed to renew paperwork for their father’s business.
“I did call, just to see what they were doing,” the Winnipeg resident said in an interview. Mr. Awshek said he was told he had to pay 2% of the income he had earned since arriving in Canada, as well as a “defence force contribution.”
The military fee was $300 if he was single or $500 if he was married, he said. He was told to fax all his Canadian income tax returns to the consulate in Toronto so they could calculate how much he owed. Once that was done, they would arrange for him to meet someone to arrange payment, he said.
Mr. Micael could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Last September he said the diaspora taxes were mandatory and part of Eritrean law. He also denied the money was for military purposes, saying that in Eritrean “national defence” referred to building roads and schools.
The Foreign Affairs website warns Canadians solicited for taxes by Eritrea that “payments made in support of military and similar activities, whether called dues, contributions, donations or any other term, may be prohibited under Canadian sanctions.”
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