The key facts of the Maruti Suzuki workers’ case

Thirteen autoworkers in India have been condemned to life imprisonment after being framed up on murder charges stemming from a July 2012 confrontation at a Maruti Suzuki car assembly plant on the outskirts of Delhi, India’s capital city.

Those sentenced to rot in India’s notorious prisons include the entire 12-member executive of the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU) at the Manesar, Haryana plant. All the workers are victims of a ruthless vendetta mounted by the corporation, the police and judicial authorities, with the full complicity of India’s principal political parties—the Congress Party and the Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

These workers are totally innocent. Their only “crime” was to challenge the sweatshop conditions imposed by the Japanese-based transnational corporation with the aid of a pro-company, stooge union.

The International Committee of the Fourth International and the World Socialist Web Site have initiated an international defense campaign to demand the immediate release of Ram Meher, Sandeep Dhillon, Ram Bilas, Sarabjeet Singh, Pawan Kumar, Sohan Kumar, Ajmer Singh, Suresh Kumar, Amarjeet, Dhanraj Bambi, Pradeep Gujjar, Yogesh and Jiyalal.
The background to the case

In March 2012, after months of walkouts, sit-down strikes, and other actions mounted in defiance of a company-controlled union, the Manesar Maruti-Suzuki workers forced the company to recognize the MSWU as a first step to realizing their demands. These included abolition of the hated contract labor system, which pays thousands of temporary workers 14,000 rupees (US $214) a month, or less than half the salary of permanent workers. Four months later, on July 18, 2012, management provoked an altercation on the factory floor. While workers were defending themselves from an army of private security thugs, a fire of mysterious origin broke out. The fire claimed the life of human resource manager Awanish Kumar Dev, who was overcome by smoke.

There is not a shred of evidence that connects any of the framed-up workers to the fire or to Dev’s death. Moreover, he would have been the last one workers wanted to harm, since he was the one manager at the factory who was sympathetic to the workers. He had even helped them to register the MSWU with the Haryana Labour Department.

The fire was the crux of the prosecution’s murder case. Yet it could not establish where, when or how the fire started. The authorities did claim to have found a matchbox, which supposedly escaped detection during the initial investigation of the fire and inexplicably survived unscathed in an area destroyed by the blaze. Nothing ties this matchbox to any of the workers.
The police crackdown

The July 18 events were used by the company and Indian authorities as a pretext for a massive crackdown on workers. Beginning the very next day, police smashed into workers’ homes and beat and detained hundreds of workers.

Suzuki then purged the Manesar workforce, firing and replacing 2,300 workers.

Defense lawyers soon began to expose the state frame-up against the almost 150 workers police formally arrested and jailed. They showed police had worked off lists of “suspects” supplied by management and that 89 of the workers had been arrested on the basis of names provided by police in alphabetically organized allotments by four Maruti Suzuki contractors. Thus, one “eyewitness” only saw “rioting workers” whose names began with a first letter from A to G, another only those with names in the G-P range, and so on. At the trial itself, these and other witnesses were systematically unable to identify the workers they had implicated.

Despite these and many other inconsistencies and fabrications, 148 workers were held for more than three years in jail, where police, according to civil rights groups, subjected them to torture. In denying them bail, authorities declared that they had to restore the confidence of global investors and demonstrate that they would not face “labor unrest” in India.

In convicting the 13 workers of murder and 18 other workers of lesser crimes, the Gurgaon District court had to willfully ignore its own finding that there had been collusion between the police and Maruti Suzuki management and fabrication of evidence.

Indeed so full of holes and dubious was the prosecution’s evidence, the court had to exonerate 117 workers—workers who prosecutors had vehemently claimed till the very end were just as guilty as the rest.
Why the Maruti Suzuki workers were targeted

In the 14 months that preceded the mass arrests and frame-up, the Manesar Maruti Suzuki workers had become a focal point of workers’ resistance across the huge Manesar-Gurgaon industrial belt, raising the ire of the corporate bosses and the political establishment. The Congress Party-led Haryana state government repeatedly mobilized police en masse to break workers’ actions and suggested that the MSWU was in cahoots with “terrorists” and other “outsiders” determined to “sabotage” the state’s economy.

The prosecution, in its closing argument, demanded savage retribution against the Maruti Suzuki workers, claiming their actions were a threat to the BJP national government’s “Made in India” program. That is, they were a threat to its drive to undercut China and make India the sweatshop of the world by supplying the transnational corporations with cheap and compliant labor.

The defense of the Maruti Suzuki workers is an international issue and a responsibility of the international working class. Transnational corporations like Suzuki scour the world to find the cheapest labor costs. Meanwhile, governments are criminalizing worker resistance.

There is no time to lose! If this travesty is not reversed and the Maruti Suzuki workers freed, it will embolden not only the Indian ruling elite, but the corporate and financial aristocracy in every country.

The Indian prison system is a living hell. Many of the families of the framed-up workers are facing destitution with their sole breadwinners behind bars. Maruti Suzuki has also served notice it considers the life sentences too lenient. Company attorneys have vowed to appeal the March 18 judgment, so as to press for the punishment that the prosecution demanded for the 13: death by hanging.

The attack on the Maruti Suzuki workers is part of the war being waged against the working class throughout the world. Justice for these workers will not be obtained by appealing to capitalist courts, to the Indian political establishment, or the major unions, which are all tied to this establishment and, consequently, have systemically isolated the persecuted workers.

Workers around the world and all those who defend democratic rights must come to the aid of the courageous Maruti Suzuki workers and demand their immediate release.

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Jailed for 3 Years, Speaks Out on Intimate Partner Violence

The case of Marissa Alexander, the African-American mother of three who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing what she maintains was a warning shot at her abusive husband in 2010. She attempted to use Florida’s “stand your ground” law in her defense, the law that was made famous when white vigilante George Zimmerman successfully used it in his defense after he shot and killed unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin. But in March 2012, the jury rejected Alexander’s use of “stand your ground” and convicted her after only 12 minutes of deliberation. She was sentenced to 20 years behind bars under a Florida law known as “10-20-Life” that carries a mandatory minimum for certain gun crimes regardless of the circumstance. Alexander won an appeal for a new trial and later accepted a plea deal that capped her sentence to three years of time served.

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Trusts – Weapons of Mass Injustice

It is a fact that the trust laws of some tax havens openly promote illegality. The reality that some tax havens will not enforce foreign laws (e.g. ensuring non-recognition of foreign laws and judgements that favoured legitimate heirs and former spouses) is even publicly advertised by some offshore service providers, not on the deep web like drugs and illegal weapons, but on the internet, accessed by a simple google search on tax or estate planning.

Despite this, there has been some reluctance from governments to take on the issue of trusts, and some difficulties posed for governments that have attempted to deal with some of their more problematic features. Today, a new paper called Trusts – Weapons of Mass Injustice from the Tax Justice Network attempts to reopen the debate on trusts, and argues that there is urgent need for effective measures to curtail their activities.

A controversial issue

Trusts create a lot of controversy. While many of them are taxable at the trust level, they may hold assets or engage in business just like companies, and not everybody fully agrees with the idea of registering all trusts, including some transparency campaigners. That’s either because of their complexity or because they believe in “cheaper” options, such as targeting only tax haven trusts.

We looked at some of these issues in a paper we published in November 2015, which made the case for trust registration. The paper describes trust’s secrecy risks and explains why available technology applied to registers of companies means that registering trusts’ beneficial owners is just as simple. Another crucial point is that incorporation of trusts (requiring them to incorporate or register in order for them to legally exist) is the only way to enforce trust registration. This idea currently applies to companies and other legal entities similar to trusts in their effects, like foundations.

Taking on the trusts

In May 2015 the European Union approved the 4th Anti-Money Laundering Directive, establishing central registries of beneficial owners[1] for companies and legal persons (in Art. 30) but leaving glaring loopholes when dealing with the beneficial owners of trusts (in Art. 31).

In response to this, we published a paper suggesting amendments both to the EU Directive but also to the FATF[2] Recommendations’ definitions of beneficial owners of trusts. In contrast to some countries’ regulations (e.g. the UK and the U.S.) that limit the definition of the beneficial owner of a trust to the trustee and anyone with control, we favour a definition that encompasses all related persons of the trust as beneficial owners (all settlors, protectors, trustees, beneficiaries, classes of beneficiaries, and any other person mentioned in the trust deed with control over the trust). This ought not be controversial: the OECD’s Common Reporting Standard (CRS) for automatic exchange of information already requires financial institutions in more than 100 countries to take this approach when identifying the beneficial owners of their trust clients.

In a set back for transparency, in July of 2016, the French Constitutional Court banned the newly introduced French public registry of trusts on the basis of an individual’s right to privacy. Our arguments, which can be found here, rely on a very basic principle: trusts should not be considered a private matter if they can be used and abused to commit financial crimes (e.g. tax evasion, money laundering) and also to defraud legitimate creditors. In essence, we propose a basic principle of responsibility: if you want your trust provisions to be binding on third persons (e.g. a personal creditor to whom you owe money), then a trust must be registered and its beneficial owners publicly disclosed. You don’t need to register anything else that can have no effect on people not related to the trust arrangement.

But, back to the beginning: the problem with trusts goes way beyond their sophisticated secrecy that allows so many crimes to be committed. This new paper explores trusts as creatures of history. While they had good reasons to exist centuries ago (e.g. to protect the family of knights joining the crusades in the Middle Ages), trusts have been used across time to evade and avoid taxes and restrictions placed on asset ownership or transfer by governments.

More recently, new types of trusts and provisions, such as spendthrift provisions and discretionary trusts (available not only in traditional tax havens but some of them also in the U.S. or the UK), allow trusts to be used as asset protection vehicles. This effectively shields assets from legitimate creditors of settlors and beneficiaries, such as tax authorities, former spouses or victims of damages (e.g. mala praxis). Such schemes are being offered instead of an insurance (after all, why pay an insurance premium as a medical doctor if your personal wealth can be protected by placing it in an asset protection trust?).

The results for society can be devastating: in the case of malpractice by a doctor, the claimant will be unable to reach the doctor’s assets for compensation even after trial, while the doctor can avoid liability and financial responsibility for (gross) negligence. Trusts also allow wealth to be accumulated for centuries (reducing or avoiding inheritance tax in the meantime), and inequality inevitably deepens.

To make matters worse, traditional trust rules that did ensure a certain level of good governance are being eroded, such as the rule against perpetuities (to limit the duration of trusts), limits to the settlor having control over the trust or being “a” or “the only” beneficiary of the trust, the requirement for trusts to have beneficiaries (e.g. purpose trusts) and even the very control and management by the trustee (e.g. the BVI Vista Trust).

Often, trusts’ asset protection (and secrecy) is justified by the need to protect vulnerable persons. Yet nothing in trust law requires trust beneficiaries to be vulnerable or minors. And – as our paper shows – specific exemptions could accommodate such concerns easily without creating uncontrollable risks or loopholes.

Trusts offer even more asset protection than an ordinary company. While both trusts and companies may achieve a similar separation of assets and limit liability, corporate shareholder’s personal creditors have one last resort if the shareholder doesn’t pay back: claim the shareholdings (and eventually reach corporate assets). Trusts, in contrast, have no shareholdings. Therefore, if the trust is structured so that beneficiaries have no vested interest (e.g. in a discretionary trust), personal creditors of the settlor and beneficiary have no access to trust assets.

For decades trust law has evolved without democratic scrutiny, and is frequently abused for nefarious purposes. We frankly doubt whether trust law would look as it does if society were aware of the potential harm that trusts can cause.

Our latest paper thus tries to start a new, more critical debate on trusts. Not only on the secrecy that they enjoy (and the fallacious arguments that prolong it), but a more profound discussion on whether society still needs all the current provisions available for trusts, given their huge potential for abuse.

[1] The natural persons who ultimately own, control or benefit from a company, trust or any type of entity or arrangement.

[2] Intergovernmental body in charge of setting up and reviewing Anti Money Laundering Recommendations

You can read the paper we’re releasing today Trusts – Weapons of Mass Injustice here.

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Operation Condor-Era Argentine Dictator Gets Life Imprisonment

An Argentine federal court on Wednesday sentenced former military dictator Reynaldo Bignone to life imprisonment for his role in kidnapping, torturing and murdering anti-government protesters during the 1970s and 80s. Bignone, along with six other former military leaders, were convicted for “crimes against humanity.” He was also charged for human rights violations against conscripts of Argentina’s Military College that occurred between 1976 and 1977. Dubbed “Argentina’s last dictator,” Bignone ruled as president from 1982 to 1983, representing the country’s right-wing military dictatorship that arose during the Dirty War.

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JPMorgan Chase to Pay $55M to Settle Housing Discrimination Lawsuit

JPMorgan Chase will pay $55 million to settle a lawsuit with the Justice Department accusing the bank of discriminating against more than 50,000 homeowners of color between 2006 and 2009. The lawsuit accuses JPMorgan Chase of violating the Fair Housing Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act. As part of the settlement, JPMorgan Chase does not have to admit wrongdoing, and no bankers are facing criminal charges.

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what a wonderful country. justice for sale.