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BLACKWATER USA | DAILY BRIEF




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

coalition.

*       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




U.S.


*       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.




China


*       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


*       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

sabotage.




Venezuela


*       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.




Libya


*       Khalifa Haftar's LNA targeted the GNA's air defense systems at Al

Watiya yesterday, and the GNA vowed to respond forcefully.




DRC


*       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.




Other News


*       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

for comment.




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

Eastern fronts.




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

intelligence.




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

operation.




"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

comments.




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

ballistic-missile program.




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.

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