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Ceasars signed deal with hotelier accused of having tie to Russian mob

A Caesars Entertainment subsidiary signed a licensing deal with a New York hotel firm after Caesars’ own investigation turned up material alleging a principal in the hotel company had ties to Russian mobsters and had helped sponsor a visa for a reputed professional hit man, according to a report from Massachusetts casino investigators


Caesars confirmed over the weekend that state investigators had raised red flags over a branding deal with Gansevoort Hotel Group, a New York boutique hotel company. Caesars severed the agreement after Massachusetts regulators flagged it as a problem.
State investigators raised issues with one of the principals of Gansevoort, Arik Kislin, who was alleged in a 2012 New York Post article to have ties to Russian mobsters.
“During this investigation, investigators have consulted with various law enforcement entities, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, regarding Arik Kislin and the information detailed within this investigative report,” state investigators wrote. “In response to our request for information, we received information from the FBI that Arik Kislin is in fact known to them and has been linked to various members of Eurasian Organized Crime.”

In Russia's Vast Far East, Timber Thieves Thrive


Forests cover about half of Russia's land mass, an environmental resource that President Vladimir Putin calls "the powerful green lungs of the planet."
But Putin himself acknowledges that Russia, the world's biggest exporter of logs, is having its timber stolen at an unprecedented rate.
The demand for high-value timber is fueling organized crime, government corruption and illegal logging in the Russian Far East. The hardwood cut in the endless forests often ends up as flooring and furniture in the United States, Europe, Japan and China.
At a meeting on timber management earlier this year, Putin said that illegal logging has increased by nearly 70 percent over the past five years, and he added that timber thieves have no problem selling their product.
Illegal loggers are often linked to violent organized crime, and together, they undermine what officials say could be sustainable forests and contribute to Russia's endemic corruption by paying off local officials.

Threat To The Siberian Tiger
But there's another reason illegal logging is considered a threat in the Far East.
"This provides an important habitat, both in terms of shelter and food, for such unique animals as the Amur tiger. Only about 450 of these beautiful animals are left in the wild," says Nikolay Shmatkov, the forest policy projects coordinator for the World Wildlife Fund in Russia.
The Amur tiger, more commonly called the Siberian tiger, is known throughout the world as one of the largest living members of the cat family. It preys on deer and wild boar, which in turn live on acorns and walnuts that grow in one of Russia's most diverse forests.
But oak and walnut wood are highly prized for flooring and furniture, and are targets for illegal loggers.
Shmatkov says that timber can be stolen outright from the tiger's habitat, but he notes that much of it is taken by companies with valid logging permits.
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"We found out that the vast majority of it first goes into China, which is right next door, into their manufacturing centers, and in products of any type you can imagine, as it spreads around the world," says EIA's executive director, Alexander von Bismarck.

China's Involvement
Von Bismarck says the team set up a dummy corporation and posed as buyers of wood flooring. They recorded conversations with a Mr. Yu, an executive of a large Chinese wood products company called Xingja.
"He openly described the types of illegality in the supply chain — that he cuts illegally on his own land, which is a common method that is destroying the forest there, and he talked about corruption and how he used that to stay out of trouble," von Bismarck says.
When an NPR reporter in China recently contacted Mr. Yu by telephone, Mr. Yu charged that the allegations in the EIA report were "all lies" and said he would take the matter up with his government.
The EIA report makes another allegation that involves the Chinese company's biggest American customer, Lumber Liquidators.
Von Bismarck says Lumber Liquidators bought flooring from Xingja, and that it should have known that the flooring was made from illegally logged wood.
That's a serious allegation, because a U.S. law called the Lacey Act prohibits American companies from buying illegally cut wood products from other countries.
The law puts the burden on U.S. companies to actively determine, as best they can, that the products they buy come from legal sources.
Lumber Liquidators' founder and CEO, Tom Sullivan, says the report is inaccurate and that its claims are not substantiated.
"If we had any knowledge of any mill of ours buying from an illegal source or a nonsustainable source, we immediately would not buy from them," Sullivan says. "We are extremely pro-active in making sure that all our materials are from legal and sustainable sources."
Sullivan says his company has more than 60 experts in the field who work to make sure that the products it buys comply with the law.
In September, federal agents searched Lumber Liquidators headquarters and one of its stores in Virginia, a raid that included investigators from Immigration and Customs, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Justice Department.
The search warrants in the case remain sealed, but the environmental group, EIA, says the raid was connected with the allegations of importing illegal wood products.
The company says it is cooperating fully with the investigation.
(Lumber Liquidators is an NPR underwriter whose credits are on air and on NPR's website.)
Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Investigation finds Russian loggers 'laundering' illegal timber


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A three-year investigation by the Environmental Investigation Agency, or EIA, a U.S.-based advocacy group, has revealed an illegal network. Loggers, connected with Russia's large organized crime network is operating out of a temperate forest in Russia's far east region to sell stolen old-growth lumber to Chinese manufacturers for export around the world.

Eighty percent of the lumber exported from the region is illegal. In addition to the destruction wreaked upon by the environment, the illegal operation is harming the livelihoods of local people who rely on the forest. The logging is also endangering the habitat for the 450 remaining Siberian tigers.

"Liquidating the Forests: Hardwood Flooring, Organized Crime and the World's Last Siberian Tigers" released by the EIA this week tells of how rampant illegal logging in the world's last region of temperate old-growth hardwood consumer demand for hardwood flooring end up complicit in forest destruction.

"Importing cheap illegal wood from the Russian far east is a tragic crime of convenience that directly undercuts any business trying to play by the rules," Alexander von Bismarck, executive director of the non-profit group that works to expose environmental crimes says. "The same types of wood are available around the world from legal and sustainable sources."

U.S. investigators raided the offices of Lumber Liquidators last month after EIA showed them the allegations laid out in its report that the discount flooring company violated a 2008 U.S. law that prohibits dealing in illegally sourced lumber.

Under the Lacey Act, companies are required to check their supply chain. The EIA says that that Lumber Liquidators' Chinese manufacturer Xingjia made no secret of the fact that the bulk of its wood came from illegal loggers in Russia, which would be simple for the U.S. company to find out.

Lumber Liquidators says it has policies in place on sourcing and is reviewing the EIA report, which it said it believes has a number of inaccuracies and unsubstantiated claims.

"We support protection of the environment and responsible forest management, and if we find that any of the company's suppliers are not adhering to our standards, we will discontinue sourcing from those suppliers," company spokeswoman Leigh Parrish says.