Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Right Stuff

Having already written about the Kafkaesque plight of the Rahavan family in my 23/11/10 post Behind the ASIO Assessment, I was reminded of them again by a report in yesterday's Australian, which revealed just how much it was costing the Australian taxpayer to 'protect' us from them:

"They are Australia's most expensive refugees. The Rahavans, a Sri Lankan family of 5, most of whom journeyed to Australia on the ill-fated Oceanic Viking, were until recently costing the Australian taxpayers a staggering $428,861 every 3 months in security bills. Yogachandran Rahavan and his wife, Sumathi, were declared security threats by ASIO 18 months ago over alleged links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or Tamil Tigers... The family had all been found to be genuine refugees, meaning Australia was prevented by law from deporting them to Sri Lanka. But their negative security assessment means they can never be given visas, either, potentially consigning them to a life of perpetual detention. Because of ASIO's concern, guards were assigned to live with the family 24 hours a day. For 9 months they had to maintain their dignity as a family with 2 guards in their house at all times... The Immigration Department said that between November 2010 and February 2011 the cost of placing 'static guards' inside the Rahavan's family compound had run to $428,861. That adds up to about $1.14 million in the 8 months the security remained in place." (Million-dollar refugee family caught in perpetual detention, Paul Maley, 27/5/11)

We know virtually nothing of the heinousness of the Rahavan's 'crimes', all evidence of which is kept strictly under wraps by ASIO. What we do know, however, is shocking in the extreme: "Sumathi had worked as a legal officer in the LTTE-run court system in Sri Lanka's north... [but] it is not known what Sumathi's husband, who came to Australia ahead of his family on a separate boat is alleged to have done." (ibid) OK, I did warn you!

Why revisit this bizarre story from Australia's Gulag then? Well, I'd read the following tale the day before and it got me thinking, a dreadful curse I know:

"Variously described as publicity-shy, secretive, even mysterious, Ivan Glasenberg's most prized asset had been his closely guarded privacy. But that came to an end with his dramatic emergence as Australia's second-richest person on the BRW Rich List, worth an estimated $8.8 billion. Before yesterday, few knew the powerful South African-born businessman was an Australian citizen. The decision to partially float the world's largest commodity trader, Glencore, where Mr Glasenberg is chief executive, has made instant millionaires of 485 senior employees - and catapulted the company's boss into the limelight." (Mysterious financier blitzes the rich list, Philip Wen, Sydney Morning Herald, 26/5/11)

You see, it was Ivan Glasenberg's story, and that of the Rahavan family, that led me to ponder the weighty subject of just who is worthy, and who is not, to enter our little South Pacific paradise, who's in and who's out in Godzone country, so to speak.

Well, obviously the Rahavans are a bit of a worry: that Sumathi, for example, working in the Tiger-infested jungles, sorry, Tiger-administered courts of Tamil Eelam. Now if only she'd made a beeline for Colombo, thrown herself on the mercy of the Rajapaksa bruvvers, denounced the Tigers and all their works, and declared her intention of going public with a heart-rending story of forgiveness and peace in the strife-torn island of Sri Lanka, maybe even penning a little number called I Shall Not Hate, containing maybe a photo of her good self cosying up to the Rajapaksas, and even - why not? - eventually turning up at the Sydney Writers Festival like our good friend Abuelaish... Of course, she'd probably have been raped and thrown into a dungeon somewhere along the way, if not just shot out of hand, but hey, wouldn't that (every cloud having a silver lining, as they say) have saved the Australian taxpayer a pretty penny!

But I digress. You can play what ifs? till the proverbial cows come home - the plain fact of the matter is she's brown!

But Ivan - sorry, our Ivan - what a catch! Yes, yes, he's white, but hey, that's just the beginning. The man's a legend. I mean, who in his right mind would not want Ivan to call Australia home? Among his many assets I need mention but the following:

There's his focus on the things that really matter:

"Glasenberg... became intrigued with commodities trading when studying accountancy in South Africa... 'I observed a man sourcing candle wax from South America and selling it to Japan. I thought, 'That's unbelievable. Talking on the phone in his office, that man made money moving candle wax from one country to another'. It really interested me." (Newsmaker-Ivan Glasenberg's long walk to Glencore billions, Webb & Onstad, Reuters/, 5/5/11)

There's his (slag) heaps and heaps and heaps of good work all over the planet:

"News that the London Stock Exchange is on the verge of a mammoth flotation didn't spread quite as far as the Zambian mining village of Mufilira. Even if it had, it's unlikely the villagers there would have seen much cause for celebration. While the rich seams of copper that lie deep in the ground beneath Mulifira have helped to make Swiss-based Glencore the largest and wealthiest commodities trader in the world, the African villagers are still struggling to get by on just a few dollars a day. This is barely enough even to feed their families, let alone pay for the medicine they need to treat the illnesses caused by the dangerous levels of pollution spewed out by Glencore-controlled mines... In Zambia alone, Glencore is accused of manipulating its financial accounts in order to reduce its tax bill, deliberately depriving that poverty-stricken nation of much-needed income. Indeed, the foul-smelling sulphur clouds that hang low over Mulifira are not the only thing about this obsessively secret company leaving a bitter taste in the mouth. The truth is that until now, most people would not have heard of Glencore - it's only as a result of the proposed flotation that questions about its practices are being asked... Its empire stretches from the jungles of Colombia to the plains of Australia. It makes its money from metals, minerals, oil, sugar, grain - commodities that form the very building blocks of world trade. And, armed with the best possible knowledge of global events, its traders buy these at the lowest possible price and sell at the highest possible mark-up." (Flotation to shine light on shadowy Glencore, Sunderland & Davies,, 4/5/11)

There's his sterling commercial pedigree:

"... Glencore grew out of the business empire of a man cited in the biggest tax fraud indictment in history. American oil trader Marc Rich, who founded the company - originally named Marc Rich & Co - in 1974, arrived in the US as a small boy with his parents in 1941, having fled from the Nazis in Belgium. At the peak of his powers, he dominated the global oil market. He traded with African dictators, Cuban communists and, most notoriously with Iran during the embargo on that country imposed by America during the 1979-1981 hostage crisis. He is also said to have financed operations by Mossad... former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit said Rich helped with the intelligence agency's work in Yemen and Sudan in the Eighties, when Israel was evacuating Jews from those countries. His support for Israel, however, did not prevent him also doing deals with Islamic fundamentalists bent on the destruction of the Jewish state. And he also made a 1.2 billion pound profit selling oil to South Africa during the apartheid years, contrary to an international trade embargo. In 1983, he was charged by lawyer and future New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani with 51 crimes, including evading at least 29m pounds in taxes, racketeering, conspiracy and trading with the enemy, Iran. Rich fled to Switzerland, from where he evaded various attempts by the US authorities to seize him. In 1994, he sold his business empire, handing control to his long-time German associate, Willy Strothotte, who reinvented it as Glencore. Rich was eventually pardoned in 2001 by President Clinton after lobbying by his former wife, a songwriter who has penned hits for such stars as Celine Dion. Today, Glencore may have eliminated all trace of Rich from its website, but his ghost haunts the company. Traders who worked with Rich remain steeped in his philosophy of cut-throat negotiation over prices - operating in a murky world, albeit on the right side of the law." (ibid)

Ivan, of course, has unerringly followed the path of the master:

"During Saddam's rule in Iraq, and the UN sanctions which accompanied its final years, Glencore made handsome profits marketing embargoed oil. In February 2001, Glencore bought 1 million barrels of Iraqi crude oil destined for the US and diverted the black gold to Croatia, where it was sold for a premium of $3 million, according to a UN Security council report." (Glencore: Profiteering from hunger & chaos, Chris Arsenault,, 9/5/11)

But, best of all he's a sportsman. And... and... I can hardly contain myself at this icing on the cake, he's also an... Israeli citizen and so practically one of us already!:

"A 54-year-old champion race-walker for both South Africa and Israel (he has dual nationality), Glasenberg runs and swims every day to maintain his lean physique. Selected colleagues accompany him on his early-morning jogs - some say under sufferance - to display their loyalty to the workaholic Glencore 'cult'." (Sunderland & Davies)

We are indeed a lucky country. Shame about the Rahavans though. If only Sumathi had pulled her finger out and listened up as somebody was making money moving candle wax from one country to another while on the phone. We might even have forgiven her for being brown.


Anonymous said...

Wow! Isn't that a bit to...Rich?

Anonymous said...

I don't get it. In South Africa Ivan is white.Just ask Marc. When abroad Ivan is a semite.Can't be both. Could Ivan be one of those world famous semitic impersonators? Hang on, Noah's son Shem was the proverbial and original semite. Could Ivan be an Arab? It's all so antediluvian it'l all come out in the wash.