Coming Up This Week
* There are general elections in the Dominican Republic and Croatia
today. The DR's ruling party looks likely to lose after 16 years in power.
In Croatia, the ruling party is in the lead but will have to form a
* Pres. AMLO will visit the White House (via commercial plane) for
talks with Pres. Trump this Wednesday and Thursday.
* Singapore's general election is Friday. PM Lee Hsien Loong is
running for reelection, but his estranged brother-also a son of Singapore's
founding father Lee Kuan Yew-threw his weight behind the rival Progress
Singapore Party (although he's not running himself because "Singapore does
not need another Lee").
LME Commodity Spot Prices
* Aluminum: $1,582/ton
* Copper: $6,023/ton
* Cobalt: $28,500/ton
* Gold: $1,774/toz
* Kanye West said he still plans to run for president in 2020, amusing
mainstream political analysts. Tesla / SpaceX founder Elon Musk-no stranger
to bizarre public comments himself-sent Kanye his "full support" on Twitter.
* A state-linked Chinese newspaper called COVID-19 a "U.S. epidemic,"
attempting to distance the virus from China.
* Canada suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong over the new
security law, and China-aligned Hong Kong officials scolded Canada for
siding with the U.S.
* Separately, Hong Kong libraries removed books by pro-democracy
figures-ostensibly in order to review them for possible violations of the
new security law.
* Iran conceded that the recent fire at the Natanz nuclear site caused
extensive damage that could slow Iran's production of advanced centrifuges.
While Israel has targeted Iran's nuclear infrastructure before, neither
Israel nor Iran rushed to admit this particular incident was Israeli
* Venezuela's chief prosecutor announced arrest warrants for Pres.
Guaido's rival central bank board, charging board members with crimes
including treason. The move was probably intended to block Guaido's allies
from gaining access to Venezuelan gold held in London after a British court
recognized Guaido as the rightful president of Venezuela.
* A WSJ article pasted below has more details on an IRGC-backed
initiative to sell groceries in Venezuela-seen by many analysts as a sign of
strengthening ties between the two enemies of the U.S.
* Khalifa Haftar's LNA targeted the GNA's air defense systems at Al
Watiya yesterday, and the GNA vowed to respond forcefully.
* I'm seeing signs that DRC is on the verge of a major food shortage.
DRC's domestic production typically covers only 30% of its food needs, and
imports in border cities like Goma have slowed or become prohibitively
expensive due to coronavirus.
* Pres. Tshisekedi also seems to be dealing with rising discontent
among soldiers who say they haven't been paid in months.
* In Ethiopia, protests over the death of Oromo singer Haacaaluu
Hundeessaa continued all week last week, with at least 166 people-145
civilians and 11 security personnel-killed as a result. The deputy police
commissioner of Oromia said the violence is now over, though.
Iranian Military-Owned Conglomerate Sets Up Shop in Venezuela (WSJ)
Iran tightens ties to Maduro, U.S. watches in concern as new grocer brings
ties to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
An Iranian conglomerate owned by the country's military and tied to its
missile program has established a retail foothold in Venezuela, according to
officials and records detailing the move, deepening Tehran's involvement
with the Maduro government.
The Iranian firm is working with the Maduro government's troubled emergency
food program, which is the subject of U.S. enforcement action as an alleged
money-laundering operation, compounding U.S. concerns regarding the move.
The arrival of the company, which also has ties to Iran's elite military
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, designated by the U.S. as a terror
organization, bolsters Tehran's foothold in the Western Hemisphere and comes
as Venezuela increasingly seeks assistance from U.S. foes, including
petroleum from Iran and energy-industry assistance from Russia.
The U.S. has imposed sanctions against the governments of the two countries,
both of which lauded the new venture as part of a growing diplomatic,
military and trade relationship.
"Another success in friendly and fraternal relations between two countries,"
Iran's embassy in Caracas tweeted recently.
On June 21, an Iranian vessel discharged a cargo of food at a Venezuelan
port to supply the Islamic Republic's first supermarket in the Latin
American nation, according to shipping trackers and comments by Tehran's
ambassador to Caracas, Hojatollah Soltani, released by the embassy.
Venezuelan media, including state-run news outlets, showed a giant, empty
grocery store in the Venezuelan capital on the cusp of opening with fresh
products. The location previously was a major outlet for Venezuela's
military-run emergency food program known by its Spanish initials, Clap.
The building now exclusively advertises brands owned by the Iranian
military: Delnoosh, which makes tomato sauce and canned tuna, and Varamin,
which makes sunflower oil. The firms are two of the many subsidiaries of a
company called Ekta, according to its website, which was set up as a
social-security trust for Iranian military veterans.
Ekta didn't respond to a request for comment. Iran's embassy in Caracas and
Venezuela's mission to the United Nations also didn't respond to requests
Ekta is headed by Issa Rezaie, a veteran executive in companies owned by the
IRGC, which has been blacklisted by the U.S. for its involvement in arms
development and for directing proxies fighting across multiple Middle
Ekta is subordinate to the Iranian Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces
Logistics, another entity sanctioned by the U.S. for its alleged role in
ballistic-missile development, according to the U.S. Treasury.
Any Iranian business is required to have IRGC consent to operate overseas,
according to U.S. intelligence reports. As part of Tehran's
sanctions-evasion efforts, Iranian officials have appointed retired IRGC
leaders to head companies in key Iranian sectors, according to the
The Clap program is the main food source for an estimated 15% of Venezuelans
and a critical supplement for a far larger percentage of the population,
analysts say. But U.S., Colombian and Mexican officials charge the Maduro
government has used it to launder stolen state assets, proceeds from drug
trafficking and other illicit activities.
U.S. officials and prosecutors say the Clap money-laundering operations were
conducted through false invoicing of overpriced food imports by contracting
companies owned or controlled by a Colombian businessman, Alex Saab.
Mr. Saab, who has been tied by U.S. officials to Venezuelan and Colombian
drug cartels, was detained a week before the June supermarket announcement.
Authorities in the West African island nation of Cape Verde acted on an
Interpol notice issued after his U.S. indictment for alleged
money-laundering offenses last year.
Mr. Saab was apprehended on the way back from Iran, according to U.S.
officials. Venezuela's foreign ministry said that he was on a mission as an
agent for the government to "ensure procurement of food for [Clap] as well
as medicines, medical supplies and other humanitarian goods."
U.S. officials and Venezuela watchers question the legitimacy of the Clap
program as well as Iran's intentions in setting up the Venezuelan food
"This is Iran's sanctioned military taking advantage of the sanctioned but
desperate Venezuelans to make money," said Russ Dallen, the Miami-based
managing partner of Caracas Capital Markets who tracks developments in
Venezuela. "They are not doing it out of the goodness of their heart."
The new venture follows meetings last month between Venezuela's vice
president of planning, Ricardo Menédez, and Iran's ambassador to Caracas,
Mr. Soltani, detailing "a strategic cooperation" in science, hydrocarbons,
transport, industry and food, according to online Venezuelan government
U.S. officials say they are concerned beyond the potential for the new
commercial cooperation to offer new avenues for evading sanctions and money
laundering. The collaboration also represents a possible security threat as
Tehran exports its military expertise and technology, officials say.
One senior Western diplomat said their nation's intelligence reported that
Iran was transferring military technicians to Venezuela along with engineers
Tehran sent to help the country restore its broken energy infrastructure.
Top officials from both countries have held a series of recent meetings
seeking to bolster cooperation, including in technology transfers.
Etka was established over 60 years ago as a supply store for military
families, but became a giant agribusiness and, with 500 supermarkets, the
country's biggest grocery as European consumer-goods giants left Iran under
a progression of sanctions programs. Etka's products also are sold in Iraq
and Tajikistan and it has held talks to enter Syria and Russia.
U.S. officials and Iran experts say Iran uses its government-controlled
companies to evade sanctions and fund its weapons programs. The U.S.
Treasury last year blacklisted the defense ministry overseeing Etka for
using intermediary companies as a procurement network for its banned
Most Iranian companies involved in Venezuela have ties to the IRGC. The
Golsan, the vessel which shipped the food for the Etka supermarket, is owned
by a firm that delivered fuel to Venezuela and that was sanctioned for
transporting items related to Iran's ballistic-missile and other IRGC
programs. Mahan Air, an Iranian company involved in transporting personnel,
money and arms to Syria for the IRGC, brought components to refurbish a
Venezuelan refinery in exchange for gold. Khatam al-Anbiya, an IRGC
conglomerate, provided the engineers.