French judges question fugitive former Nissan exec Carlos Ghosn in Beirut

French judges question fugitive former Nissan exec Carlos Ghosn in Beirut
Former Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn is pictured at the podium at the Lebanese Press Syndicate where he addressed a large crowd of journalists on his reasons for dodging trial in Japan. (AFP)
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Updated 31 May 2021

French judges question fugitive former Nissan exec Carlos Ghosn in Beirut

French judges question fugitive former Nissan exec Carlos Ghosn in Beirut
  • Monday's session started at 10:00 am local time and ended at 6:00 pm, as sessions are expected to continue until June 4
  • "It is the very first time of justice for Carlos Ghosn since he was arbitrarily arrested in Japan," said his lawyer

BEIRUT: French investigating judges questioned fugitive former car executive Carlos Ghosn in Beirut on Monday, in hearings that one of his lawyers described as a first for justice since his arrest in Japan.
The architect of the Renault-Nissan auto alliance has been fighting multiple probes since fleeing to Lebanon from Japan in late 2019 and has said he hopes to clear his name in financial misconduct cases against him.
The French allegations concern financial misconduct in France. Monday’s hearing started at 10:00 am local time (0700 GMT) and ended at 6:00 pm.
The sessions are expected to continue until June 4.
“It is the very first time that our client can explain himself in front of the judges with his lawyers sitting next to him and after preparing his defense,” Jean Tamalet, one of Ghosn’s lawyers, told reporters at the end of the hearing.
“It is the very first time of justice for Carlos Ghosn since he was arbitrarily arrested in Japan,” he said.
Ghosn, who has denied wrongdoing in all cases against him, was chairman of both Nissan and Mitsubishi and chief executive of Renault when he was arrested in Japan in 2018 on charges of under-reporting his salary and using company funds for personal purposes.
He fled to Lebanon in December 2019 hidden in carry-on luggage on a private jet that flew out of Japan’s Kansai Airport and has remained there since.
In France, Ghosn is at loggerheads with his former employer Renault over pension and severance payments he argues are due, and tax authorities have looked into his fiscal arrangements.
The French magistrates in Lebanon are pursuing questions about events thrown by Ghosn at the sumptuous Palace of Versailles, including whether in one case he knowingly used company resources to host a party that was for private purposes.
The French prosecutor’s office is also looking into financial flows between Renault, its Dutch affiliate and a car dealership in Oman.
Ghosn’s defense team had earlier said it had identified procedural irregularities in the French case that undermine the legal proceedings being organized by Lebanese judicial authorities.
The lawyers said in a statement that Ghosn — who had previously lived and worked in France and has French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenship — would be heard as a witness and so cannot dispute the legality of the procedure.
The statement said the team was calling for Ghosn “to be afforded the status of ‘indicted’, as only this would allow him to challenge the legal flaws surrounding the case.”
Ghosn suffered a setback in one of his legal cases last week, when a Dutch court ordered him to repay 5 million euros ($6.1 million) in wages to Nissan and Mitsubishi in a case he had brought.


Iran’s supreme leader criticizes US as nuclear talks stalled

Iran’s supreme leader criticizes US as nuclear talks stalled
Updated 11 min 5 sec ago

Iran’s supreme leader criticizes US as nuclear talks stalled

Iran’s supreme leader criticizes US as nuclear talks stalled
TEHRAN, Iran: Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday called the US “stubborn” in stalled nuclear talks in Vienna for discussing Tehran’s missiles and regional influence.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s remarks come as his hard-line protege, President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, is posed to be sworn in next week as the head of the country’s civilian government and as talks on reviving the deal remain stalled in Vienna.
While Raisi has said he wants to return to the accord, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions, Khamenei seemingly called for a more-adversarial approach in his remarks. They also appeared to describe outgoing President Hassan Rouhani’s eight-year government as naive for its approach in reaching the 2015 agreement as its officials sat before him.
“Others should use your experiences. This experience is a distrust of the West,” Khamenei said in remarks broadcast by state television. “In this government, it was shown up that trust in the West does not work.”
He added: “Westerners do not help us, they hit wherever they can.”

Israel to issue 16,000 more work permits for Palestinians

Israel to issue 16,000 more work permits for Palestinians
Updated 28 July 2021

Israel to issue 16,000 more work permits for Palestinians

Israel to issue 16,000 more work permits for Palestinians
  • The new permits will bring the number of Palestinians allowed to work in Israel to 106,000
  • The COVID-19 pandemic prompted Israel to suspend the 7,000 permits previously granted to workers

JERUSALEM: Israel announced Wednesday it is to issue 16,000 more permits for Palestinians from the occupied West Bank to work in its construction and hotel industries, taking the total to over 100,000.
“Israel intends to increase by 15,000 workers the quota of Palestinian residents of Judea and Samaria (the southern and northern West Bank) working in the field of construction,” the Israeli military body responsible for civil affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories, COGAT, said.
Another 1,000 permits will be issued to Palestinians working in Israeli hotels, it added.
The new permits will bring the number of Palestinians allowed to work in Israel to 106,000, with another 30,000 Palestinians authorized to work in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity told AFP.
The announcement followed discussions between Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas. The Israeli government is expected to approve it next week, the security source said, adding: “We want to apply it as fast as possible. It’s in the interest of both sides.”
Jobs in Israel offer higher wages than those in Palestinian-administered areas of the West Bank but Palestinians complain they do not get paid as much as their Israeli counterparts or enjoy similar labor protections.
The head of COGAT, Major General Rassan Alian, said the additional work permits “will strengthen the Israeli and Palestinian economies, and will largely contribute to the security stability in the area of Judea and Samaria.”
No Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip are currently permitted to work in Israel, the security official said.
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted Israel to suspend the 7,000 permits previously granted to workers from the impoverished territory of some two million people which has been under Israeli blockade since 2007.


A birthday gift: Israeli woman donates kidney to Gaza boy

A birthday gift: Israeli woman donates kidney to Gaza boy
Updated 28 July 2021

A birthday gift: Israeli woman donates kidney to Gaza boy

A birthday gift: Israeli woman donates kidney to Gaza boy
  • ‘You don’t know me, but soon we’ll be very close because my kidney will be in your body’

ESHHAR, Israel: Idit Harel Segal was turning 50, and she had chosen a gift: She was going to give one of her own kidneys to a stranger.
The kindergarten teacher from northern Israel, a proud Israeli, hoped her choice would set an example of generosity in a land of perpetual conflict. She was spurred by memories of her late grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, who told her to live meaningfully, and by Jewish tradition, which holds that there’s no higher duty than saving a life.
So Segal contacted a group that links donors and recipients, launching a nine-month process to transfer her kidney to someone who needed one.
That someone turned out to be a 3-year-old Palestinian boy from the Gaza Strip.
“You don’t know me, but soon we’ll be very close because my kidney will be in your body,” Segal wrote in Hebrew to the boy, whose family asked not to be named due to the sensitivities over cooperating with Israelis. A friend translated the letter into Arabic so the family might understand. “I hope with all my heart that this surgery will succeed and you will live a long and healthy and meaningful life.”
Just after an 11-day war, “I threw away the anger and frustration and see only one thing. I see hope for peace and love,” she wrote. “And if there will be more like us, there won’t be anything to fight over.”
What unfolded over the months between Segal’s decision and the June 16 transplant caused deep rifts in the family. Her husband and the oldest of her three children, a son in his early 20s, opposed the plan. Her father stopped talking to her.
To them, Segal recalled, she was unnecessarily risking her life. The loss of three relatives in Palestinian attacks, including her father’s parents, made it even more difficult.
“My family was really against it. Everyone was against it. My husband, my sister, her husband. And the one who supported me the least was my father,” Segal said during a recent interview in her mountaintop home in Eshhar. “They were afraid.”
When she learned the boy’s identity, she kept the details to herself for months.
“I told no one,” Segal recalled. “I told myself if the reaction to the kidney donation is so harsh, so obviously the fact that a Palestinian boy is getting it will make it even harsher.”
Israel has maintained a tight blockade over Gaza since Hamas, an Islamic militant group that opposes Israel’s existence, seized control of the area in 2007.
The bitter enemies have fought four wars since then, and few Gazans are allowed to enter Israel. With Gaza’s health care system ravaged by years of conflict and the blockade, Israel grants entry permits to small numbers of medical patients in need of serious treatments on humanitarian grounds.
Matnat Chaim, a nongovernmental organization in Jerusalem, coordinated the exchange, said the group’s chief executive, Sharona Sherman.
The case of the Gaza boy was complicated. To speed up the process, his father, who was not a match for his son, was told by the hospital that if he were to donate a kidney to an Israeli recipient, the boy would “immediately go to the top of the list,” Sherman said.
On the same day his son received a new kidney, the father donated one of his own — to a 25-year-old Israeli mother of two.
In some countries, reciprocity is not permitted because it raises the question of whether the donor has been coerced. The whole ethic of organ donation is based on the principle that the donors should give of their own free will and get nothing in return.
In Israel, the father’s donation is seen as an incentive to increase the pool of donors.
For Segal, the gift that had sparked such conflict in her family accomplished more than she hoped. Her kidney has helped save the boy’s life, generated a second donation and established new links between members of perpetually warring groups in one of the world’s most intractable conflicts. She said she visited the boy on the eve of his surgery and maintains contact with his parents.
Segal said she honored her grandfather in a way that helps her cope with the grief of his death five years ago. The donation was an act of autonomy, she said, and she never wavered. And eventually her family came around — a gift, perhaps, in itself.
She said her husband understands better now, as do her children. And on the eve of Segal’s surgery, her father called.
“I don’t remember what he said because he was crying,” Segal said. Then, she told him that her kidney was going to a Palestinian boy.
For a moment, there was silence. And then her father spoke.
“Well,” he said, “he needs life, also.”

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Tunisians back their president as he vows: ‘Your freedoms are safe’

Tunisians back their president as he vows: ‘Your freedoms are safe’
Updated 28 July 2021

Tunisians back their president as he vows: ‘Your freedoms are safe’

Tunisians back their president as he vows: ‘Your freedoms are safe’
  • Responsibility for political crisis lies with Islamist Ennahda party, analysts tell Arab News

JEDDAH: Tunisians threw their weight behind President Kais Saied on Tuesday after he told leading civil society groups that the emergency situation was temporary and he would “protect the democratic path.”
Saied pledged that the “freedoms and rights of Tunisians would not be affected in any way,” said Sami Tahri, an official in the powerful UGTT trade union.
Thousands celebrated on the streets on Monday after Saied dismissed the government, including Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and the justice and defense ministers. He also suspended parliament, which had been dominated by its speaker, Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda party.
On the streets of Tunis, many welcomed the president’s orders. Najet Ben Gharbia, 47, a nurse, said she had been waiting “a long time” for such a move. A decade after Tunisians ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, many are struggling.
“There is still great poverty,” Ben Gharbia said, describing the inflation that has stripped the value of income, making meat too expensive to buy. “People are miserable.
“Kais Saied, he’s a teacher, not a politician, he’s like us. We are sure of him, he is not like Ben Ali, he is not a dictator.”
Mounir Mabrouk, 50, said: “What the president is doing is in our interest. Political parties have done nothing except sell our property to foreigners and wealthy elites.”

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Taxi driver Hosni Mkhali, 47, said action had to be taken — especially to bring the cases of coronavirus under control, as Tunisia struggles with one of the world’s worst recorded death rates. “All Tunisians are disgusted,” he said. “It was the best time to act.”
Analysts laid the blame for Tunisia’s turmoil firmly at the door of Ennahda, the Islamist party led by Ghannouchi.
Ammar Aziz, an associate editor at Al Arabiya News Channel, told Arab News: “With Ennahda controlling parliament and also the government, everything has simply collapsed — from security to the economy. The same is true for the country’s transport system and public health institutions. All Tunisians have noticed the deterioration and it is for this reason we saw the protests in different towns on July 25.”
Writing today in Arab News, Sir John Jenkins, a senior fellow at Policy Exchange and former leading British diplomat, said Ghannouchi’s motives were questionable.
He said: “Although Ghannouchi claimed to have separated the political, social welfare and dawa wings of Ennahda in 2016, there has never been anything to suggest that he does not share the ultimate Muslim Brotherhood goal of an Islamized state.”


Collective action is key to fighting corruption in Lebanon, experts say

Collective action is key to fighting corruption in Lebanon, experts say
Updated 28 July 2021

Collective action is key to fighting corruption in Lebanon, experts say

Collective action is key to fighting corruption in Lebanon, experts say
  • A new research paper says the Lebanese state ‘is built on systemic corruption and non-accountability. This system has effectively collapsed’
  • Recovery is possible but will require civil society groups, the media, private organizations and other activists to work together to confront the ruling elite and force change

LONDON: The political and economic crisis in Lebanon can be resolved, experts say, but it will require collective action, the mobilization of civil society, and the formation of coalitions.
Since the end of the civil war in 1990, corruption among the political elite has undermined Lebanon’s recovery and development, according to Karim Merhej, a researcher and data analyst at The Public Source, culminating in the unprecedented socioeconomic crisis the country now faces.
Lebanon is in a transitional period in which the foundations of the post-civil war political and economic systems are built on the exploitation of resources that should be benefiting the people of the country, Merhej said.
His comments came during a discussion of his newly published research paper, “Breaking the Curse of Corruption in Lebanon,” hosted by Chatham House, a think tank in London.
“This state is built on systemic corruption and non-accountability,” he said. “This system has effectively collapsed and we are in a period where we are not sure what is going to happen yet. Even the political class in Lebanon do not know what is happening — they have gone almost 10 months without forming a government.”
On Monday, billionaire businessman Najib Mikati was chosen to be Lebanon’s new Prime Minister-designate, tasked with forming a government to end a year of political deadlock that has crippled the country. This is the third time he has been elected to the post after previously serving in 2005 and 2011.
He replaced Saad Hariri, who resigned on July 15 after nine months of negotiations with President Michel Aoun about the composition of the new government ending in failure. After his resignation, the Lebanese currency, which had already lost most of its value, hit record lows.
Last month the World Bank said Lebanon is enduring one of the three worst economic collapses since the mid-19th century. More than half the population is believed to be below the national poverty line and children, 30 percent of whom “went to bed hungry or skipped meals” in June, are “bearing the brunt” of the crisis, the institution said.

Words are written by Lebanese citizens in front of the scene of an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020. (AP)

Merhej’s paper examines the anti-corruption laws in Lebanon, investigates why they are not working, and offers recommendations for action by the government, the international community and civil society.
“Lebanon’s anti-corruption initiatives, culminating in the recent adoption of the National Anti-corruption Strategy, are destined to be ineffective,” he writes.
“The Lebanese political elite unveiled these initiatives to the international community, as well as the Lebanese electorate, following the uprising of late 2019 and early 2020 in order to rehabilitate their tarnished image, and in some cases to acquire much-needed international funding.”
Merhej said that while the strategy and new laws might look commendable on paper, they are likely to be poorly implemented because of “a lack of political will among Lebanon’s ruling elites to engage in transparency, the absence of an independent judiciary, the use of state resources to benefit the private interests of the elites, the use of bureaucracy to make laws unimplementable, and the fact that the ruling elites are the custodians of the country’s broad anti-corruption strategy.”
The fight against corruption requires great effort and will not achieve results overnight, he warned. The government must prioritize the formation of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, he added, and ensure the judiciary is independent and not tied or subservient to the political class.
“We have seen a lot of collective organizing in the past two-to-three years, particularly after the October uprising in 2019, and we have seen the emergence of alternative syndicates (and) grassroots organizations and initiatives to protect free speech,” he said.
A lot of funding is flowing into Lebanon, with more expected, Merhej added as he called on the international community to implement transparency strategies to ensure aid goes directly to the people who need it and not into the pockets of corrupt officials.

Diana Kaissy, director of civil society engagement at the International Republican Institute in Lebanon, agreed that greater transparency is needed, particularly for parliamentary committee meetings, which are held behind closed doors and the minutes are not released to the public.
“We need to be sitting at the table, being part of these consultations, drafting these laws, so we make sure that they are laws that can be used (and) they are not toothless, they do not have loopholes,” she said.
Not all government officials are corrupt, Kaissy added, and a multi-stakeholder approach must be adopted that capitalizes on key players.
Little by little, she said, eventually it will be possible to make the changes people want. “I currently see no other way, and that is maybe what is keeping us hopeful and working the whole time,” she added.
Badri Meouchi, a corporate governance consultant with Tamayyaz, said countries or institutions that want to support anti-corruption efforts in Lebanon should work closely with the media, civil-society groups, private-sector organizations, and others in the public arena. Elections are also important, he said, but there are major challenges to overcome.
“We need to organize ourselves better, as well as financially, because they are very well organized (and) have amazing financial resources at their disposal, and we need to become more creative than they are — because they’re very creative,” he said.
Lebanon is set to hold separate municipal, parliamentary, and presidential elections next year.
There is hope, however, in what is happening on the ground, he added.
“What has changed in the past two years, which is encouraging, is that the formula of fear has changed,” Meouchi said. “It used to be, a couple of years ago, that if a politician entered a public place everyone wanted to shake their hand and be seen with them.
“Today you have citizens who are emboldened and this is a new factor in the fight against corruption, because there is only so much that we in civil society can do.”