US Supreme Court allows release of Donald Trump’s tax records to prosecutors

US Supreme Court allows release of Donald Trump’s tax records to prosecutors
American presidents are not required by law to release details of their personal finances but every US leader since Richard Nixon has done so. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Updated 23 February 2021

US Supreme Court allows release of Donald Trump’s tax records to prosecutors

US Supreme Court allows release of Donald Trump’s tax records to prosecutors
  • Donald Trump has been waging a protracted legal battle to prevent his tax records from being handed over to New York prosecutors

NEW YORK: The US Supreme Court on Monday allowed the release of Donald Trump’s tax records to criminal prosecutors, rejecting a last-ditch bid by the former president’s lawyers to keep them secret.
Trump, 74, has been waging a protracted legal battle to prevent his tax records from being handed over to New York prosecutors probing hush payments to women and possible fraud.
The nation’s highest court denied the request filed by lawyers for Trump without comment, paving the way for the documents to be handed over to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance.
The prosecutor, a Democrat, has been fighting for over a year to obtain eight years of Trump’s tax returns as part of an investigation into the ex-president’s finances.
Monday’s ruling concerns a subpoena that Vance had issued to Trump’s accountants Mazars USA in August 2019 ordering it to furnish documents stretching back to 2011.
“The work continues,” Vance said in a three-word statement issued after the ruling.
Vance’s probe was initially focused on payments made before the 2016 presidential election to two women who claim they had affairs with Trump, including porn star Stormy Daniels.
But the state-level investigation is also now examining possible allegations of tax evasion, and insurance and bank fraud.
Trump, who left the White House last month, called the investigation “a continuation of the greatest political witch hunt in the history of our country.”
“The Supreme Court never should have let this ‘fishing expedition’ happen, but they did,” he said in a statement following the ruling.
US presidents are not required by law to release details of their personal finances but every US leader since Richard Nixon has done so.
Trump repeatedly said he would release them pending an audit but ultimately broke with the tradition.
Vance’s investigators have interviewed Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who received a three-year prison term after admitting making hush payments to the two women.
The ex-lawyer had testified to Congress that Trump and his company artificially inflated and devalued the worth of their assets to both obtain bank loans and reduce their taxes.
If Trump were charged and convicted he could face a possible jail term. Unlike federal offenses, state crimes are not subject to presidential pardons.
Investigators also recently interviewed employees of Deutsche Bank, which has long backed the former president and the Trump Organization, US media reported.
They spoke to staff at Trump’s insurance broker Aon, too.
Vance’s investigation is taking place behind closed doors in front of a Grand Jury.
It is unclear if and when it will lead to a prosecution, which would be the first of a former US president.
In July, the Supreme Court rejected Trump’s argument that as a sitting president he was immune from prosecution.
Trump’s lawyers then challenged the scope of the requested documents, saying it was too broad.
Ahead of the November 3 election, The New York Times alleged that Trump had avoided paying federal taxes in 11 out of the 18 years for which it had obtained returns.
The newspaper also reported that Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017, a claim the former president denies.
New York state’s Attorney General Letitia James is also investigating allegations of bank fraud and insurance fraud through civil proceedings.
Trump’s legal troubles may not end there.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said that as a civilian Trump “is liable for everything he did while he was in office.”
At his historic second impeachment trial, the US Senate acquitted Trump of inciting the crowd that stormed the US Capitol in January, but McConnell suggested Trump could face criminal and civil action over the riot.
In February, prosecutors in Georgia opened an investigation “into attempts to influence” the presidential election in the state.
Trump had pressured officials to overturn his loss in the key battleground.


US says Russian-backed outlets spread COVID-19 vaccine ‘disinformation’

US says Russian-backed outlets spread COVID-19 vaccine ‘disinformation’
Updated 08 March 2021

US says Russian-backed outlets spread COVID-19 vaccine ‘disinformation’

US says Russian-backed outlets spread COVID-19 vaccine ‘disinformation’

WASHINGTON: The United States has identified three online publications directed by Russia’s intelligence services that it says are seeking to undermine COVID-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna , a State Department spokeswoman said on Sunday.
The outlets “spread many types of disinformation, including about both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, as well as international organizations, military conflicts, protests, and any divisive issue that they can exploit,” the spokeswoman said.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) first reported on the identification of the alleged campaign on Sunday. A Kremlin spokesman denied the US claim Russia was spreading false information about vaccines to the WSJ.
Russia’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A sample article from the OrientalReview.org talking about a plot by Bill Gates and Microsoft to dominate the world using vaccines and microchips, with a patent ominously carrying the numbers 666. 

Russia approved its Sputnik V vaccine in August, before a large-scale trial had begun, saying it was the first country to do so for a COVID-19 shot. Peer-reviewed trials months later proved it was almost 92% effective in fighting the virus.
Pfizer, headquartered in New York, and Germany’s BioNTech, produced the first vaccine that was authorized in the US, which regulators approved in December. The second, made by Moderna, headquartered in Massachusetts, was authorized later that month.
The State Department’s Global Engagement Center, set up to counter propaganda and disinformation campaigns, identified the three outlets, the spokeswoman said.
News Front is controlled by Russia’s federal security service, the center found. New Eastern Outlook and Oriental Review are directed and controlled by the Russian foreign intelligence service.
A fourth outlet, Rebel Inside, controlled by the Russian army, was also named by the center but is largely dormant, the spokeswoman said.
“The Department will continue to expose Russia’s nefarious activities online,” she added. “We will also continue to work closely with our allies and partners to provide a global response to countering disinformation.”

 


Australia ends defense cooperation with Myanmar over coup

Australia ends defense cooperation with Myanmar over coup
Updated 30 min 58 sec ago

Australia ends defense cooperation with Myanmar over coup

Australia ends defense cooperation with Myanmar over coup
  • Myanmar's junta has also detained since February Australian citizen Sean Turnell, an economic policy adviser of Aung San suu Kyi

CANBERRA: Australia has suspended its defense cooperation with Myanmar and is redirecting humanitarian aid because of the military takeover of the government and ongoing detention of an Australian citizen.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Monday that Australian diplomats and relatives had only been able to contact economic policy adviser Sean Turnell twice by phone since he was detained in early February. She described the access as “very limited consular support.”
“We believe Professor Turnell has been arbitrarily detained along with senior members of the Myanmar government including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, including the President” Win Myint, Payne told reporters.
“We do not accept the conditions of his detention and the reasons for his detention. We seek a return to democracy. We seek absolutely the cessation of any armed violence against unarmed peaceful protesting civilians. And in everything we are doing we are seeking Professor Turnell’s release,” she added.
Australia announced late Sunday it had suspended a defense training program with Myanmar worth about 1.5 million Australian dollars ($1.2 million) over five years. The program had been restricted to non-combat areas such as English-language training.
Australian humanitarian aid will be directed away from Myanmar government and government-related entities. Instead it will focus on the immediate humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable and poor in Myanmar including the Rohingyas and other ethnic minorities, Payne said.
“One of the things that I do not want to do, and that Australia does not want to do, is to penalize the people of Myanmar,” Payne said.
Australia had previously imposed sanctions including an arms embargo and sanctions targeting five members of Myanmar’s armed forces. These sanctions would continue to be reviewed, Payne said.
Turnell was detained within weeks of arriving in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, from Australia to take up a job as adviser to Suu Kyi’s government.
Turnell’s Australian friend and fellow Myanmar expert Monique Skidmore described Australia’s response to the Feb. 1 military coup as late and “very soft.”
“The reality is that they have enough money, they have enough weapons, they have enough trade partners with China on their doorstep. They don’t need the West,” Skidmore said.
“I assume that we are going more softly than otherwise at the moment until Sean is returned to Australia,” she added.


UAE breaks ground for Sheikh Zayed Mosque replica in Indonesia

UAE breaks ground for Sheikh Zayed Mosque replica in Indonesia
Updated 08 March 2021

UAE breaks ground for Sheikh Zayed Mosque replica in Indonesia

UAE breaks ground for Sheikh Zayed Mosque replica in Indonesia
  • $20m replica of UAE’s largest mosque was gifted by Abu Dhabi crown prince

JAKARTA: Top Emirati officials have broken ground for a replica of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Indonesia.

The mosque will be constructed in Solo in Central Java province, the hometown of Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

The replica of the UAE’s largest mosque was gifted to Widodo during the visit of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan to Jakarta in July 2019. 

The crown prince’s visit to Indonesia was the first by a UAE leader since that of his father Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan in 1990.

On the Emirati side, the ground-breaking ceremony was attended by Energy and Infrastructure Minister Suhail Al-Mazroui, and General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments Chairman Dr. Mohammed Al-Kaabi. 

On the Indonesian side, it was attended by Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir and Solo Mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who is Widodo’s eldest son.

“The mosque will be almost 100 percent similar to the one in Abu Dhabi, but it will also incorporate some Indonesian ornaments and will maximize the use of local materials,” Husin Bagis, Indonesia’s ambassador to the UAE, told Arab News on Sunday.

The mosque, which will be built on a 3-hectare plot, will feature four minarets, with the main dome surrounded by smaller domes. It will be able to accommodate about 10,000 worshippers.

The ambassador said it could become a major religious tourism destination in the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian country. “Now worshippers can go to Solo to marvel at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque’s splendor,” he added.

The $20 million mosque project is expected to be ready to welcome worshippers in September 2022. 

Construction is being fully financed by the UAE, Qoumas said during the ground-breaking ceremony.

“The mosque, which has a contemporary historical value, will be dedicated to all Muslims and will be managed by the Indonesian government,” he added.

The mosque compound will include an Islamic center to provide UAE-sponsored training for clerics to promote religious moderation.

The ground-breaking ceremony capped a series of events as part of Indonesia-Emirati Amazing Week in Jakarta, Solo, Bandung and Surabaya, which started on March 1 and witnessed the signing of a number of agreements.

The visit by Al-Mazroui and his delegation is a follow-up to $22.9 billion worth of UAE investment deals signed by Widodo during his visit to Abu Dhabi in January 2019.

The agreements, which cover energy, infrastructure, defense and mining, are seen as the biggest foreign investment in Indonesia’s history, and a major advancement of its ties with the Gulf state.

In October 2020, one of the roads in Abu Dhabi’s diplomatic quarters was renamed President Joko Widodo Street.

The Indonesian ambassador said: “Following the grand mosque construction in Solo, the UAE will also construct a mosque named after President Widodo on a location near President Joko Widodo Street.”


Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote

Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote
Updated 07 March 2021

Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote

Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote
  • The measure to amend the Swiss constitution passed by a 51.2-48.8% margin, provisional official results showed
  • The Central Council of Muslims in Switzerland called the vote a dark day for the community

ZURICH: A far-right proposal to ban facial coverings in Switzerland won a narrow victory in a binding referendum on Sunday instigated by the same group that organised a 2009 ban on new minarets.
The measure to amend the Swiss constitution passed by a 51.2-48.8% margin, provisional official results showed.
The proposal under the Swiss system of direct democracy does not mention Islam directly and also aims to stop violent street protesters from wearing masks, yet local politicians, media and campaigners have dubbed it the burqa ban.
"In Switzerland, our tradition is that you show your face. That is a sign of our basic freedoms," Walter Wobmann, chairman of the referendum committee and a member of parliament for the Swiss People's Party, had said before the vote.
He called facial covering "a symbol for this extreme, political Islam which has become increasingly prominent in Europe and which has no place in Switzerland".
The Central Council of Muslims in Switzerland called the vote a dark day for the community.
"Today's decision opens old wounds, further expands the principle of legal inequality, and sends a clear signal of exclusion to the Muslim minority," it said.
It promised legal challenges to laws implementing the ban and a fundraising drive to help women who are fined.
The proposal predated the COVID-19 pandemic, which has required adults to wear masks in many settings to prevent the spread of infection.
Two cantons already have local bans on face coverings.
France banned wearing a full face veil in public in 2011 and Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Bulgaria have full or partial bans on wearing face coverings in public.
Practically no one in Switzerland wears a burqa and only around 30 women wear the niqab, the University of Lucerne estimates. Muslims make up 5% of the Swiss population of 8.6 million people, most with roots in Turkey, Bosnia and Kosovo.
The government had urged people to vote against a ban.
"After the ban on minarets, a majority of Swiss voters has once again backed an initiative that discriminates against a single religious community and needlessly stirs up fears and division," Amnesty International said.
"The veiling ban is not a measure for women's liberation, but a dangerous symbolic policy that violates freedom of expression and religion."


Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths

Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths
Updated 07 March 2021

Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths

Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths
  • The government’s coronavirus taskforce said that 368 people had died in the last 24 hours

MOSCOW: Russia on Sunday reported 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, including 1,534 in Moscow, taking the national case tally to 4,322,776 since the pandemic began.
The government’s coronavirus taskforce said that 368 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the Russian death toll to 89,094.