senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who works in the financial services industry, said of Russia’s cooperation with a price cap. “If that were the case, he wouldn’t have invaded Ukraine in the first place.”

But proponents believe that if the European Union bans insurance transactions, an oil price cap may be the best chance to mitigate the economic fallout.

John E. Smith, former director of the foreign assets control unit, said the key was ensuring that financial services firms and maritime insurers were not responsible for vetting every oil transaction, as well as providing guidance on complying with the sanctions.

“The question is will enough jurisdictions agree on the details to move this forward,” said Mr. Smith, who is now co-head of Morrison & Foerster’s national security practice. “If they do, it could be a win for everyone but Russia.”

Matina Stevis-Gridneff contributed reporting from Brussels.

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Gustavo Petro Wins the Election, Becoming Colombia’s First Leftist Leader

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — For the first time, Colombia will have a leftist president.

Gustavo Petro, a former rebel and a longtime legislator, won Colombia’s presidential election on Sunday, galvanizing voters frustrated by decades of poverty and inequality under conservative leaders, with promises to expand social programs, tax the wealthy and move away from an economy he has called overly reliant on fossil fuels.

His victory sets the third largest nation in Latin America on a sharply uncertain path, just as it faces rising poverty and violence that have sent record numbers of Colombians to the United States border; high levels of deforestation in the Colombian Amazon, a key buffer against climate change; and a growing distrust of key democratic institutions, which has become a trend in the region.

Mr. Petro, 62, received more than 50 percent of the vote, with more than 99 percent counted Sunday evening. His opponent, Rodolfo Hernández, a construction magnate who had energized the country with a scorched-earth anti-corruption platform, won just over 47 percent.

official figures.

part of a different rebel group, called the M-19, which demobilized in 1990, and became a political party that helped rewrite the country’s constitution. Eventually, Mr. Petro became a forceful leader in the country’s opposition, known for denouncing human rights abuses and corruption.

called his energy plan “economic suicide.”

riddled with corruption and frivolous spending. He had called for combining ministries, eliminating some embassies and firing inefficient government employees, while using savings to help the poor.

One Hernández supporter, Nilia Mesa de Reyes, 70, a retired ethics professor who voted in an affluent section of Bogotá, said that Mr. Petro’s leftist policies, and his past with the M-19, terrified her. “We’re thinking about leaving the country,” she said.

Mr. Petro’s critics, including former allies, have accused him of arrogance that leads him to ignore advisers and struggle to build consensus. When he takes office in August, he will face a deeply polarized society where polls show growing distrust in almost all major institutions.

He has vowed to serve as the president of all Colombians, not just those who voted for him.

On Sunday, at a high school-turned-polling station in Bogotá, Ingrid Forrero, 31, said she saw a generational divide in her community, with young people supporting Mr. Petro and older generations in favor of Mr. Hernández.

Her own family calls her the “little rebel” because of her support for Mr. Petro, whom she said she favors because of his policies on education and income inequality.

“The youth is more inclined toward revolution,” she said, “toward the left, toward a change.”

Megan Janetsky contributed reporting from Bucaramanga, Colombia, and Sofía Villamil and Genevieve Glatsky contributed reporting from Bogotá.

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U.S. bars Cuba, Venezuela from Americas summit; Mexican leader sits out

WASHINGTON/MEXICO CITY, June 6 (Reuters) – The White House on Monday excluded Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the U.S.-hosted Summit of the Americas this week, prompting Mexico’s president to make good on a threat to skip the event because all countries in the Western Hemisphere were not invited.

The boycott by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and some other leaders could diminish the relevance of the summit in Los Angeles, where the United States aims to address regional migration and economic challenges. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, hopes to repair Latin America relations damaged under his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, reassert U.S. influence and counter China’s inroads.

The decision to cut out Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua followed weeks of intense deliberations and was due to concerns about human rights and a lack of democracy in the three nations, a senior U.S. official said.

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U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the Biden administration “understands” Mexico’s position, but “one of the key elements of this summit is democratic governance, and these countries are not exemplars, to put it mildly.”

Biden aides have been mindful of pressure from Republicans and some fellow Democrats against appearing soft on America’s three main leftist antagonists in Latin America. Miami’s large Cuban-American community, which favored Trump’s harsh policies toward Cuba and Venezuela, is seen as an important voting bloc in Florida in the November elections that will decide control of the U.S. Congress, which is now in the hands of the Democrats.

Lopez Obrador told reporters that his foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, would attend the summit in his place. The Mexican president said he would meet with Biden in Washington next month, which the White House confirmed. read more

“There can’t be a Summit of the Americas if not all countries of the American continent are taking part,” Lopez Obrador said.

Lopez Obrador’s absence from the gathering, which Biden is due to open on Wednesday, raises questions about summit discussions focused on curbing migration at the U.S. southern border, a priority for Biden, and could be a diplomatic embarrassment for the United States.

A caravan of several thousand migrants, many from Venezuela, set off from southern Mexico early Monday aiming to reach the United States. read more

But a senior administration official insisted Lopez Obrador’s no-show would not hinder Biden’s rollout of a regional migration initiative. The White House expects at least 23 heads of state and government, which the official said would be in line with past summits.

U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat and chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticized the Mexican president, saying his “decision to stand with dictators and despots” would hurt U.S.-Mexico relations.

CUBA CRITICAL

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist and Trump admirer who leads Latin America’s most populous country, will attend after initially flirting with staying away. read more

The exclusion of Venezuela and Nicaragua had been flagged in recent weeks. President Miguel Diaz-Canel of Communist-ruled Cuba said last month he would not go even if invited, accusing the United States of “brutal pressure” to make the summit non-inclusive.

On Monday, Cuba called the decision “discriminatory and unacceptable” and said the United States underestimated support in the region for the island nation.

The United States invited some Cuban civil society activists to attend, but several said on social media that Cuban state security had blocked them from travel to Los Angeles. read more

Having ruled out Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the Biden administration expects representatives for opposition leader Juan Guaido will attend, Price said. He declined to say whether their participation would be in person or virtually.

The senior administration official, asked whether Biden might have a call with Guaido during the summit, said there was a good chance of an “engagement,” but declined to elaborate.

Washington recognizes Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president, having condemned Maduro’s 2018 re-election as a sham. But some countries in the region have stuck with Maduro.

Also barred from the summit is Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla who won a fourth consecutive term in November after jailing rivals.

Most leaders have signaled they will attend, but the pushback by leftist-led governments suggests many in Latin America are no longer willing to follow Washington’s lead as in past times.

Faced with low expectations for summit achievements, U.S. officials began previewing Biden’s coming initiatives. Those include an “Americas partnership” for pandemic recovery, which would entail investments and supply-chain strengthening, reform of the Inter-American Development Bank, and a $300 million commitment for regional food security.

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Reporting By Matt Spetalnick in Washington and Dave Graham in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Eric Beech and Patricia Zengerle in Washington, Kylie Madry and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City, Jose Torres in Tapachula and Dave Sherwood in Havana; Writing by Ted Hesson; Editing by Grant McCool, Alistair Bell and Leslie Adler

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Migrant caravan in Mexico heads for U.S. border as Americas Summit starts

TAPACHULA, June 6 (Reuters) – Several thousand migrants, many from Venezuela, set off from southern Mexico early Monday aiming to reach the United States, timing their journey to coincide with the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles this week.

Migration activists said the group could be one of the region’s largest migrant caravans in recent years.

At least 6,000 people, according to Reuters witnesses, left the border city of Tapachula. Mexico’s National Institute for Migration did not provide an estimate of the group’s size and provided no additional comment on the caravan.

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Caravan organizer Luis Garcia Villagran said the group represented various nationalities of people fleeing hardship in their home countries, including many from Venezuela.

“These are countries collapsing from poverty and violence,” he said. “We strongly urge those who attend the summit … to look at what is happening, and what could happen even more often in Mexico, if something is not done soon.”

U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to announce a regional pact on migration later in the week.

The migrants, including many children, began their trip early under rainfall and fanned out across several lanes of highway, with some wearing plastic ponchos and holding umbrellas, Reuters images show.

Large caravans headed to the United States also traveled across Mexico in 2018 and 2019, mostly comprised of Central Americans, followed by smaller groups in recent years.

Record numbers of migrants last year attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

Colombian migrant Robinson Reyes, 35, said he hoped the group would attract the attention of leaders at the summit.

“We want a future for our children … we want to cross Mexico without any problems,” he said. “God willing, they can talk and resolve this.”

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Reporting by Jose Torres in Tapachula and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; editing by Grant McCool

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Biden to unveil economic partnership for Americas – U.S. official

A LAPD helocopter flies near the LA Convention Center during the first day of the Ninth Americas Summit in Los Angeles, U.S., June 6, 2022. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

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WASHINGTON, June 6 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden will announce this week at the Summit of the Americas an economic partnership for the Western hemisphere focusing on promoting economic recovery by building on existing trade agreements, U.S. administration officials said on Monday.

Dubbed the “Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity”, the plan will cover five areas including mobilizing investments, reinvigorating institutions, clean energy jobs, resilient supply chains and sustainable trade.

“The overall objective is to build our economies from the bottom up and middle out by building on the foundation established by our free trade agreements with the region to better address inequality and lack of economic opportunity,” a senior administration official told reporters in a call.

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The plan would aim to offer an alternative in a region where China has been expanding its sphere of influence. It was unclear, however, how many countries in economically troubled Latin America would buy into such an arrangement.

The United States is hosting the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, a gathering where Biden aims to address regional migration and economic challenges. On Monday, the White House said it was not inviting Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, prompting Mexico’s president to skip the event.

The summit is being convened in the United States for the first time since the first such gathering in Miami in 1994, as Biden seeks to reassert U.S. leadership and counter China’s growing clout. He is due to formally open the summit on Wednesday.

Biden will put forward “an ambitious reform” of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the official said, adding that the United States would also seek an equity stake at the bank’s private sector lending arm to support the deployment of private capital.

“Because the private sector has a central role to play,” the official said.

Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas think tank, told a Senate subcommittee last week that the Biden administration should push for a regional trade initiative similar to the one for the Indo-Pacific that Biden announced during his Asia tour in May.

But the idea of creating a hemisphere-wide trade bloc has never gotten off the ground, partly because of protectionism sentiment among U.S. labor unions and some lawmakers.

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Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Los Angeles; Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Eric Beech; Editing by Chris Reese and Stephen Coates

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Biden Has ‘Only Bad Options’ for Bringing Down Oil Prices

HOUSTON — When President Biden meets Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, he will be following in the footsteps of presidents like Jimmy Carter, who flew to Tehran in 1977 to exchange toasts with the shah of Iran on New Year’s Eve.

Like the prince, the shah was an unelected monarch with a tarnished human rights record. But Mr. Carter was obliged to celebrate with him for a cause that was of great concern to people back home: cheaper gasoline and secure oil supplies.

As Mr. Carter and other presidents learned, Mr. Biden has precious few tools to bring down costs at the pump, especially when Russia, one of the world’s largest energy producers, has started an unprovoked war against a smaller neighbor. In Mr. Carter’s time, oil supplies that Western countries needed were threatened by revolutions in the Middle East.

During the 2020 campaign, Mr. Biden pledged to turn Saudi Arabia into a “pariah” for the assassination of a prominent dissident, Jamal Khashoggi. But officials said last week that he planned to visit the kingdom this summer. It was just the latest sign that oil has again regained its centrality in geopolitics.

oil prices fell below zero at the start of the pandemic. Big companies like Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP and Shell have largely stuck to the investment budgets they set last year before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Energy traders have become so convinced that the supply will remain limited that the prices of the U.S. and global oil benchmarks climbed after news broke that Mr. Biden was planning to travel to Saudi Arabia. Oil prices rose to about $120 a barrel on Friday, and the national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline was $4.85 on Sunday, according to AAA, more than 20 cents higher than a week earlier and $1.80 above a year ago.

Another Biden administration effort that has appeared to fall flat is a decision to release a million barrels of oil daily from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Analysts said it was hard to discern any impact from those releases.

The Biden team has also been in talks with Venezuela and Iran, but progress has been halting.

The administration recently renewed a license that partly exempts Chevron from U.S. sanctions aimed at crippling the oil industry in Venezuela. In March, three administration officials traveled to Caracas to draw President Nicolás Maduro into negotiations with the political opposition.

In another softening of sanctions, Repsol of Spain and Eni of Italy could begin shipping small amounts of oil from Venezuela to Europe in a few weeks, Reuters reported on Sunday.

Venezuela, once a major exporter to the United States, has the world’s largest petroleum reserves. But its oil industry has been so crippled that it could take months or even years for the country to substantially increase exports.

With Iran, Mr. Biden is seeking to revive a 2015 nuclear accord that President Donald J. Trump pulled out of. A deal could free Iran to export more than 500,000 barrels of oil a day, easing the global supply crunch and making up for some of the barrels that Russia is not selling. Iran also has roughly 100 million barrels in storage, which could potentially be released quickly.

But the nuclear talks appear to be mired in disagreements and are not expected to bear fruit soon.

Of course, any deals with either Venezuela or Iran could themselves become political liabilities for Mr. Biden because most Republicans and even some Democrats oppose compromises with the leaders of those countries.

“No president wants to remove the Revolutionary Guards of Iran from the terrorist list,” Ben Cahill, an energy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said about one of the sticking points in the talks with Iran. “Presidents are wary of any moves that look like they are making political sacrifices and handing a win to America’s adversaries.”

Foreign-policy experts say that while energy crises during war are inevitable, they always seem to surprise administrations, which are generally unprepared for the next crisis. Mr. Bordoff, the Obama adviser, suggested that the country invest more in electric cars and trucks and encourage more efficiency and conservation to lower energy demand.

“The history of oil crises shows that when there is a crisis, politicians run around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to figure out what they can do to provide immediate relief to consumers,” Mr. Bordoff said. U.S. leaders, he added, need to better prepare the country for “the next time there is an inevitable oil crisis.”

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Analysis: Russia’s ‘political’ debt default sets emerging market precedent

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  • Russia says has paid $100 mln in interest due on May 27
  • The country was rated investment grade in early 2022
  • A defaults pushes up borrowing costs for issuers

NEW YORK/LONDON, May 27 (Reuters) – Russia is on the cusp of a unique kind of debt crisis which investors say would be a first time a major emerging market economy is pushed into a bond default by geopolitics, rather than empty coffers.

Until the Kremlin launched an attack on Ukraine on Feb. 24, few would have entertained the possibility of Russia defaulting on its hard currency bonds. Its strong solvency track record, bumper export revenues and an inflation-fighting central bank had made it a favourite of emerging market investors.

But the U.S. Treasury’s decision not to extend a licence allowing Russia to keep up debt payments despite wide-ranging sanctions, have set Moscow on the road to default.

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The Russian finance ministry has wired some $100 million in interest payments on two bonds due on Friday to its domestic settlement house. But unless money shows up in foreign bondholders’ accounts, it will constitute a default by some definitions.

And even if funds go through this time, payments of nearly $2 billion are due by the end of the year. One in late June is mandated to be settled outside Russia – a task experts predict will be impossible without the U.S. waiver. read more

Emerging market debt crises are nothing new — Russia itself reneged on its rouble bonds in 1998. Geopolitics too have spilled into the debt sphere before, forcing defaults in Venezuela and Iran for instance.

Yet in Iran’s case, small amounts of loan debt were hit by U.S. sanctions after its 1979 revolution, while Venezuela’s economy was already on its knees before U.S. curbs in 2019 pushed $60 billion in sovereign and sub-sovereign debt across the brink.

Russia meanwhile continues to rake in oil and metals earnings. Even with half its $640 billion reserves’ war chest frozen by sanctions, the central bank has enough cash to repay the $40 billion outstanding in sovereign hard currency debt.

“This is a completely different crisis from other emerging market crises, it’s not about ability or willingness to pay, they technically cannot pay,” said Flavio Carpenzano, investment director at Capital Group, an asset manager that – like many others – was exposed to Russia before war erupted. read more

The impact is amplified by the fact this would be Russia’s first major foreign bond default since just after its 1917 Bolshevik revolution. Sanctions on Russia and its own countermeasures have effectively severed it from global financial systems.

Comparisons with recent defaults such as Argentina in 2020 are inappropriate because most countries’ finances are strained when defaults happen, said Stephane Monier, chief investment officer at Lombard Odier.

“This would be the first externally and politically driven default in emerging markets’ history,” Monier said.

The Treasury license expiry means creditors may be unable to receive payments anyway, which Daniel Moreno, head of global emerging market debt at Mirabaud Asset Management, likened to “turning the world upside down.”

“Me, the creditor, is now not willing to accept the payment,” he added.

NO GOING BACK

Russia’s international bonds, most of which started the year trading above par, have dropped in value to between 13-26 cents on the dollar. They have also been ejected from indexes.

A key difference with past defaulters such as Argentina or Venezuela is that Russia’s attack on Ukraine — which it calls a special operation — has made it a pariah in many investors’ eyes, probably for years to come.

“There is a huge stigma in actually holding these bonds, with emerging markets asset managers under pressure from their clients asking them not to invest in Russia and to liquidate their positions,” said Gabriele Foa, portfolio manager for the Algebris Global Credit Opportunity Fund.

For now, a potential default is symbolic because Russia cannot borrow internationally anyway, nor does it need to. But what comes further down the line is crucial.

Regime change in Russia could at some point end Western sanctions and allow it back into the fold.

But first, creditors face a long and costly process to recover money, for instance by exchanging defaulted bonds with new ones. read more

A default stigma would also raise future borrowing costs.

By defaulting “you increase the cost of funding and it’s very likely this will happen to Russia too. They will need to pay a premium,” said Capital Group’s Carpenzano.

The White House expects a default to have minimal impact on the U.S. or global economy but Carpenzano reckons events around Russia are forcing a re-assessment of geopolitical risks in emerging markets. read more

“Geopolitical noise has increased and investors would like to be compensated for this higher risk,” he said, citing China’s hefty investment outflows in recent weeks.

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Reporting by Davide Barbuscia in New York and Sujata Rao, Karin Strohecker, Marc Jones and Jorgelina do Rosario in London
Editing by Susan Fenton

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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How Western Firms Quietly Enabled Russian Oligarchs

Behind a set of imposing metal doors in an easy-to-miss office building in a New York City suburb, a small team manages billions of dollars for a Russian oligarch.

For years, a group of wealthy Russians have used Concord Management, a financial-advisory company in Tarrytown, N.Y., to secretly invest money in large U.S. hedge funds and private equity firms, according to people familiar with the matter.

A web of offshore shell companies makes it hard to know for sure whose money Concord manages. But several of the people said the bulk of the funds belonged to Roman Abramovich, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

Concord is part of a constellation of American and European advisers — including some of the world’s largest law firms — that have long helped Russian oligarchs navigate the Western financial, legal, political and media landscapes.

both said they were leaving Russia. A spokeswoman for another large firm, Debevoise & Plimpton, said it was terminating several client relationships and would not take any new clients in Moscow. Ashurst, a large London-based law firm, said it would not “act for any new or existing Russian clients, whether or not they are subject to sanctions.”

The accounting giants PwC, KPMG, Deloitte and EY — which have provided extensive services to oligarchs and their networks of offshore shell companies — also said they were leaving Russia or severing ties with their local affiliates.

wrote a letter to the White House arguing that Russia’s Sovcombank shouldn’t face sanctions, citing the bank’s commitment to gender equity, environmental and social responsibility.

Sovcombank had agreed to pay the lobbyist’s firm, Mercury Public Affairs, $90,000 a month for its work.

The Biden administration recently imposed sanctions on Sovcombank. Within hours of the announcement, Mercury filed paperwork with the Justice Department indicating that it was terminating its contract with Sovcombank.

As recently as mid-February, the British law firm Schillings represented the Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, a longtime ally of Mr. Putin.

Two weeks later, the European Union and the U.S. Treasury placed sanctions on Mr. Usmanov. Nigel Higgins, a spokesman for Schillings, said the firm is “not acting for any sanctioned individuals or entities.”

say on its website that it represents “some of Russia’s largest companies,” including Gazprom and VTB. The firm said it was “reviewing and adjusting our Russia-related operations and client work” to comply with sanctions.

In Washington, Erich Ferrari, a leading sanctions lawyer, is suing the Treasury on behalf of Mr. Deripaska, who is seeking to overturn sanctions imposed on him in 2018 that he claims have cost him billions of dollars and made him “radioactive” in international business circles.

And the lobbyist Robert Stryk said he had recently had conversations about representing several Russian oligarchs and companies currently under sanctions. He previously represented clients targeted by sanctions, including the administrations of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and former President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mr. Stryk said he would consider taking the work if the Treasury Department provided him with the necessary licenses, and if the prospective clients opposed Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

online profiles of current and former Concord employees.

Wall Street bankers and hedge fund managers who have interacted with Concord and its founder, Michael Matlin, said it oversaw between $4 billion and $8 billion.

It isn’t clear how much of that belongs to Mr. Abramovich, whose fortune is estimated at $13 billion.

Mr. Abramovich has not been placed under sanctions. His spokeswoman, Rola Brentlin, declined to comment on Concord.

Over the years, Concord has steered its clients’ money into marquee financial institutions: the global money manager BlackRock, the private equity firm Carlyle Group and a fund run by John Paulson, who famously anticipated the collapse of the U.S. housing market. Concord also invested with Bernard Madoff, who died in prison after being convicted of a vast Ponzi scheme.

panel focused on European security, requested that the U.S. government impose sanctions on Mr. Abramovich and seize the assets at Concord, “as this blood money presents a flight risk.”

The work performed by law, lobbying and public relations firms often plays out in public or is disclosed in legal or foreign agent filings, but that is rarely the case in the financial arena.

While Russian oligarchs make tabloid headlines for shelling out for extravagant superyachts and palatial homes, their bigger investments often occur out of public view, thanks to a largely invisible network of financial advisory firms like Concord.

Hedge fund managers and their advisers said they were starting to examine their investor lists to see if any clients were under sanctions. If so, their money needs to be segregated and disclosed to the Treasury Department.

Some hedge funds are also considering returning money to oligarchs who aren’t under sanctions, fearful that Russians might soon be targeted by U.S. and European authorities.

Paradise Papers project, involved the files of the Appleby law firm in Bermuda. At least four clients owned private jets through shell companies managed by Appleby.

When sanctions were imposed on companies and individuals linked to Mr. Putin in 2014, Appleby jettisoned clients it believed were affected.

The Russians found other Western firms, including Credit Suisse, to help fill the void.

Ben Freeman, who tracks foreign influence for the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, said Russians were likely to find new firms this time, too.

“There is that initial backlash, where these clients are too toxic,” Mr. Freeman said. “But when these lucrative contracts are out there, it gets to be too much for some people, and they can turn a blind eye to any atrocity.”

David Segal contributed reporting. Susan Beachy contributed research.

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Venezuela’s Maduro says work agenda agreed with U.S. delegation, article with image

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro speaks beside Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov (not pictured) after the signing of documents during a bilateral agreement at the Miraflores Palace during his visit to Caracas, Venezuela February 16, 2022. REUTERS/Leonardo Fernandez Viloria

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CARACAS, March 7 (Reuters) – Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro on Monday said he agreed an agenda for future talks with a U.S. delegation that he met on Saturday, the first high-level meeting between the two countries in years.

Officials from the two countries discussed easing oil sanctions on the South American country but made little progress towards reaching a deal, five sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Sunday, part of U.S. efforts to separate Russia from one of its key allies. read more

“Last Saturday night a delegation from the government of the United States of America arrived in Venezuela, I received it here at the presidential palace,” Maduro said in a broadcast on state media.

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“We had a meeting, I could describe it as respectful, cordial, very diplomatic,” he said.

The meeting lasted two hours, he said, without specifying the topics discussed or who the U.S. delegates were.

Sources previously told Reuters the U.S. delegation was led by Juan Gonzalez, the White House’s top adviser on Latin America, U.S. Ambassador James Story, as well as Roger Carstens, the United States’ presidential special envoy for hostage affairs.

Earlier, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the purpose of the trip was to discuss a number of issues, including “energy security” and the cases of nine U.S. citizens who are in prison in Venezuela.

The talks will continue, Maduro said, without offering a date.

“As I said to the (U.S.) delegation, I reiterate all our will so that from diplomacy, from respect and from the hope of a better world, we can advance in an agenda that allows well-being and peace,” Maduro said.

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Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas; writing by Oliver Griffin; editing by Richard Pullin

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