Sunday, August 11, 2013
Eritrean consulate in Toronto defied UN arms embargo with ‘illicit revenue collection’ for military: report | National Post
Darren Calabrese/National PostA plaque outside the door to the Consulate General of the State of Eritrea in Toronto, May 21, 2013.
TORONTO — An investigation by United Nations monitors has found that the Eritrean consulate in Toronto was collecting money for the African country’s military as recently as January in violation of an arms embargo.
The consulate was part of an “international system of illicit revenue collection” run by Eritrea, ranked one of the world’s least developed and most repressive states, the UN monitors wrote in a recently-released report.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird expelled the Eritrean consul in May after a government investigation found he had been running a taxation scheme that coerced money for the country’s armed forces.
At the time, Eritrea denied any wrongdoing but UN investigators have now reached the same conclusion: that the consulate was part of a military fundraising scheme that used “coercive measures” against Eritreans living in Canada.
“We have seen the report of the Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group,” Mr. Baird’s press secretary, Rick Roth, said Friday. “There have been allegations that extortion, threats of violence and fraud are being used to collect the tax in some cases. … Canada has repeatedly made clear to Eritrea to respect international sanctions and Canadian law.”
The arms control monitors called on Canada and other countries with sizeable Eritrean populations to submit reports by the end of December detailing what they had done to stop Eritrea’s efforts to impose a 2% income tax and $300 “defence fee” on members of the diaspora.
Among the evidence cited in the report was a receipt issued by the consulate in Canada indicating that a Toronto man was required to make a $300 donation to the Eritrean military. Other documents show how money was wired from Canadian banks through Germany to the Eritrean ruling party.
HandoutThe Eritrean consulate headed by Semere Ghebremariam Micael was shut over its role in financing the repressive regime.
The investigators also said they had obtained an audio recording of a speech by Consul General Semere Ghebremariam Micael at Centre St-Louis in Winnipeg a month before he was expelled from Canada.
In the April 21 recording, he “mentioned the appointment of assistants and representatives of the consulate in Winnipeg for the express purpose of collecting taxation from Eritrean citizens in that city. Ghebremariam also informed the gathering that Eritrean citizens would be precluded from investing in Eritrea unless they paid the 2% tax.”
The UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Eritrea in 2009 because of its destabilizing role in the Somali conflict. The Eritrean military has provided training, weapons and money to armed factions such as Al-Shabab. The monitors said Eritrea continued to have “close links” to two leaders of Al Shabab.
The report recommended the adoption of a “due diligence framework” to prevent Eritrea’s mining revenues from being used to violate UN sanctions. A Vancouver company, Nevsun Resources Ltd., operates a gold and copper mine in Eritrea.
Ghezae Hagos, spokesman for the Eritrean-Canadian Human Rights Group of Manitoba, urged Ottawa to adopt the report’s mining recommendations, which call for a system similar to one set up in Liberia following concerns over conflict diamonds.
With little in the way of an economy, Eritrea is largely dependent on mining revenues and diaspora taxes. “Agents of the government have also raised significant revenues from the trafficking and abduction of refugees fleeing Eritrea,” the UN monitors wrote.