World leaders prepare for Davos amid gloomy forecasts

Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. (AFP)
Updated 18 January 2019
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World leaders prepare for Davos amid gloomy forecasts

  • Delegates to annual forum to include presidents of Iraq and Afghanistan

DUBAI: World leaders are preparing to head to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, amid the riskiest global backdrop in years, according to a report from the event organizer itself.

As the WEF announced the names of some of the 3,000 participants set to attend the meeting and details of the four-day agenda, it also published a gloomy outlook on international politics, economics, the environment and technology. 

Rising geopolitical and geo-economic tensions are the most urgent risks in 2019, with 90 percent of experts surveyed expecting further economic confrontation between major powers, according to the WEF’s annual Global Risks Report.

“The world’s ability to foster collective action in the face of urgent major crises has reached crisis levels, with worsening international relations hindering action across a growing array of serious challenges. Meanwhile, a darkening economic outlook, in part caused by geopolitical tensions, looks set to further reduce the potential for international cooperation in 2019,” it added.

Although political and economic worries were top of the immediate agenda for the 1,000 experts polled by the WEF, the environment and climate change are also a cause for concern, as are “rapidly evolving” cyber and technological threats, the WEF said.

Børge Brende, the WEF president, said: “With global trade and economic growth at risk in 2019, there is a more urgent need than ever to renew the architecture of international cooperation. We simply do not have the gunpowder to deal with the kind of slowdown that current dynamics might lead us toward. What we need now is coordinated, concerted action to sustain growth and to tackle the grave threats facing our world today.”

The leaders who will begin to arrive in Switzerland in the next week include Shinzo Abe, prime minister of Japan; Jair Bolsonaro, president of Brazil; Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany; and Wang Qishan, vice president of China.

With US President Donald Trump pulling out of the meeting to deal with the partial government shutdown, the American delegation is expected to be led by Steven Mnuchin, Treasury secretary, and Mike Pompeo, secretary of state.

The Middle East is well represented at the meeting, with at least nine heads of state or government from the region, including Palestine, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. Saudi Arabia will be represented by a team of senior policymakers and business leaders.

The risk report will give them all food for thought in the Alpine resort.

Asking whether the world is “sleepwalking into a crisis,” the report responded: “Global risks are intensifying but the collective will to tackle them appears to be lacking. Instead, divisions are hardening. The world’s move into a new phase of strongly state-centered politics continued throughout 2018.

“The idea of ‘taking back control’ — whether domestically from political rivals or externally from multilateral or supranational organizations — resonates across many countries and many issues.”

Macro-economic risks have moved into sharper focus, it said. 

“Financial market volatility increased and the headwinds facing the global economy intensified. The rate of global growth appears to have peaked,” the report said, pointing to a slowdown in growth forecasts for China as well as high levels of global debt — at 225 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP), significantly higher than before the financial crisis 10 years ago.

Raising the prospect of a “climate catastrophe,” the report said extreme weather, which many experts attribute to rapid climate change, was a risk of great concern. “The results of climate inaction are becoming increasingly clear,’ the WEF said.

Of the 3,000 participants at Davos, which runs from Jan. 22 to 25, around 78 percent are men, with an average age of 54. 

The oldest will be the 92-year-old British broadcaster David Attenborough, the youngest 16-year-old South African wildlife photographer Skye Meaker.


Russian court jails US investor pending fraud trial

Updated 53 min 35 sec ago
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Russian court jails US investor pending fraud trial

MOSCOW: A Russian court on Saturday jailed the US founder of a major investment firm for two months over fraud charges he says were fabricated for use in a shareholder battle.
Michael Calvey, founder of the multi-billion-dollar investment fund Baring Vostok Capital Partners (BVCP), was placed under arrest until April 13 as he and five others await trial on charges they embezzled 2.5 billion rubles ($37.7 million).
Authorities detained four BVCP employees on Friday, including French national Phillipe Delpal.
Two other suspects include a former fund employee and someone at another firm mentioned in the probe. All six are now under pre-trial arrest.
In a statement Saturday, Baring Vostok said the claims made against its employees “have no merit.”
The case has already drawn comparisons to other high-profile probes against foreign investors in Russia, notably one against Bill Browder and the Hermitage Capital fund.
Ironically, it comes as Russia hosts a high-profile investment forum in its Black Sea city Sochi.
Calvey says he is innocent and argued in court that the probe is a bid to exert pressure on him amid a shareholder conflict within Vostochniy Bank, which he is trying to resolve in a London arbitration court.
The charges against him are intended to “pressure Baring Vostok to drop its arbitration claims in London or to obstruct the new share emission of Vostochniy Bank,” Calvey alleged according to a statement by Baring Vostok on Saturday.
Investigators say that a firm controlled by Calvey in 2017 owed 2.5 billion rubles to Vostochniy bank and paid the debt with a 59.9 percent stake in the Luxembourg company International Financial Technology Group (IFTG), which was valued at three billion rubles.
The investigators claim that IFTG’s real value was only 600,000 rubles.
The fraud claim against Calvey was filed with the FSB security service this month by Sherzod Yusupov, a minority shareholder in Vostochniy Bank, Russian agencies reported.
Baring Vostok controls more than 52 percent of Vostochniy Bank, while 32 percent is owned by Artyom Avetisyan, Russian reports said.
Calvey said in court that he and Avetisyan are tangled in a shareholder dispute, and that by filing the claim Yusupov was in fact acting on Avetisyan’s behalf.
BVCP is a veteran investor in Russia, with current and past projects that include the Internet company Yandex, online retailer Ozon.ru, several drugstore and food store chains, and Russia’s leading online classifieds service Avito.
Some Russian officials have supported Calvey, with Rosnano board chairman Anatoly Chubais calling him “one of the most respected investors” whose efforts “attracted about four billion dollars in foreign direct investment to Russia.”