Russia jails former US diplomat for smuggling drugs

Russia jails former US diplomat for smuggling drugs
The detained US citizen Marc Fogel insisted the marijuana was for medical purposes, prescribed in the US after a spinal operation. (AFP)
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Updated 17 June 2022

Russia jails former US diplomat for smuggling drugs

Russia jails former US diplomat for smuggling drugs
  • Russia and US regularly clash over detention of each other’s citizens
  • Sentence comes amid tensions between Moscow and the West following war in Ukraine

MOSCOW: A Moscow court has sentenced a former US diplomat to 14 years in prison for “large-scale” cannabis smuggling, the latest American to be caught up in Russia’s legal system.
Russia and the United States regularly clash over the detention of each other’s citizens and sometimes exchange them in scenes reminiscent of the Cold War.
The sentence comes as relations between Moscow and the West, particularly Washington, are tense after Moscow began its military operation in pro-Western Ukraine.
“The American citizen (Marc) Fogel has been found guilty,” the Khimki court said in a statement late Thursday.
It said Fogel committed “large-scale drugs smuggling” by crossing the Russian border, as well as “large-scale illegal storage of drugs without a commercial purpose.”
Russian authorities in January said Fogel had been arrested by customs officers after arriving from New York with his wife at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow.
“During customs checks, the marijuana and hash oil were found in his luggage,” officials said, adding that the drugs were hidden in contact lens cases and e-cigarette cartridges.
The incident took place in August 2021.
Fogel, who worked as a teacher in the Anglo-American School of Moscow, insisted the marijuana was for medical purposes and that it was prescribed in the United States after a spinal operation.
Russia has not made the use of cannabis legal for medicinal purposes.
Russian officials say Fogel was employed in the US embassy in Moscow and benefitted from diplomatic immunity until May 2021.
Several Americans are currently detained in Russian prisons, and vice versa.
In April, the United States exchanged former American marine Trevor Reed, sentenced by a Russian court to nine years in prison for violence, for a Russian pilot who had been in a US jail since 2010.
And US basketball star Brittney Griner is currently in pre-trial detention in a Russian jail for drugs smuggling.
Griner’s detention came days before Russia defied US warnings and sent troops into Ukraine in late February.


Spanish PM blames traffickers, migrants for deaths at border

Spanish PM blames traffickers, migrants for deaths at border
Updated 6 sec ago

Spanish PM blames traffickers, migrants for deaths at border

Spanish PM blames traffickers, migrants for deaths at border
MADRID: Spain’s prime minister is defending the way Moroccan and Spanish police repelled migrants last week as they tried to cross the shared border into the north African enclave of Melilla, depicting the attempt in which at least 23 people died as “an attack on Spain’s borders.”
“We must remember that many of these migrants attacked Spain’s borders with axes and hooks,” Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said during an interview Monday with The Associated Press. “We are talking about an attempt to assault the fence that was evidently carried out in an aggressive way, and therefore what Spain’s state security forces and Moroccan guards did was defend Spain’s borders.”
Authorities in Morocco have blamed the deaths on a “stampede” of people that formed early Friday as hundreds attempted to scale or break through the 12-meter (29-feet) iron double fence.
The barrier surrounds Melilla, a town of 85,000 separated from the Spanish mainland by the Strait of Gibraltar.
Nonprofits working in northern Africa and human rights organizations have deplored the treatment the migrants received from police on both sides. But they have also directed their blame at Spanish and European Union officials who they say have essentially outsourced border controls to Morocco and other states.
Sánchez, whose left-to-center government is trying to improve ties with Morocco following an acrimonious diplomatic dispute over Western Sahara, has refused to criticize the crackdown.
Speaking at the palace on the outskirts of Madrid that hosts his office and residence, Sánchez told AP that his thoughts were with the families of those who died. But he blamed the tragedy on “international human trafficking rings who are profiting from the suffering of human beings who only want to seek a better life.”
“I insist, these are international mafia groups that are not only damaging the territorial integrity of Spain but also that of Morocco, which is a country suffering that irregular migration.”
Sánchez spoke to AP on the eve of hosting NATO leaders in a summit that aims to redraw the defense alliance’s strategy for the next decade. While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will take center stage at the Wednesday and Thursday meeting, the group will also debate its posture on Africa, where Russian mercenaries are adding to concerns about migration, extremism and the impacts of poverty and climate change.
Footage uploaded to social media shows how a large number of migrants approached a section of the fence and began scaling it. Some of the migrants hurled rocks at Moroccan anti-riot police trying to stop them. At one point, the fence collapses, sending many of the migrants to the ground from a height of several meters.
In at least one video released by Spanish online news website eldiario.es, Spanish guards can also be seen escorting migrants back to the Moroccan side, a practice that human rights activists say denies the right of refugees to apply for asylum on European soil.
More gruesome videos and photos posted online appear to show the aftermath of the crossing attempt, with scores of young men, some of them motionless and others barely moving and bleeding as Moroccan security forces stood over them.
At least 76 civilians and 140 security officers on the Moroccan side, and 60 National Police and Civil Guard officers on the Spanish side, were injured, according to their respective governments. A small group of African men who did make it across the fence were taken to a migrant holding center in Melilla.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, head of the continent’s largest grouping of countries, the African Union, has called for an investigation into the deaths. In a tweet, Mahamat said he wanted to “express my deep shock and concern at the violent and degrading treatment of African migrants,” adding that all countries have “obligations under international law to treat all migrants with dignity and to prioritize their safety and human rights while refraining from the use of excessive force.”
While Moroccan authorities say 23 people died in addition to scores of injuries both among the migrants and border guards, activists claim that the death toll is higher and denounce the EU’s policy of striking deals with Morocco and other states like Turkey to control migration flows.
A group of 51 human rights groups said Monday in a joint statement distributed by Spanish NGO Walking Borders that the deaths “are the tragic example of the European Union’s policies of externalizing its borders, with the complicity of a southern country, Morocco.”
“The death of these young Africans at the borders of ‘Fortress Europe’ is a warning of the deadly nature of the security cooperation on immigration between Morocco and Spain,” the statement added.
Spanish authorities in Melilla, meanwhile, are using the most recent attempt by migrants to cross over in mass numbers to make an appeal for even greater guarantees on their territorial security. Last year, when relations between Spain and Morocco were frayed, Moroccan border guard let thousands of people cross in a few hours in Ceuta, Spain’s other enclave city in Africa.
Since then, the Spanish media has been rife with debate about whether NATO would help Spain out if its hold of Melilla and Ceuta was ever in jeopardy.
“Melilla is Europe’s southern frontier, and that is why Europe must look to the south,” Melilla chief Eduardo de Castro said Monday.

46 people found dead in truck in San Antonio, local media report

46 people found dead in truck in San Antonio, local media report
Updated 57 min 3 sec ago

46 people found dead in truck in San Antonio, local media report

46 people found dead in truck in San Antonio, local media report
  • San Antonio’s WOAI TV said the 20 were migrants and that police were investigating

SAN ANTONIO: Forty-six people were found dead and 16 others were taken to hospitals after a tractor-trailer rig containing suspected migrants was found Monday on a remote back road in southwest San Antonio, officials said.
A city worker at the scene was alerted to the situation by a cry for help shortly before 6 p.m. Monday, Police Chief William McManus said. Officers arrived to find a body on the ground outside the trailer and a partially opened gate to the trailer, he said.

Law enforcement officers work at the scene where people were found dead inside a trailer truck in San Antonio, Texas, U.S. June 27, 2022. (REUTERS)

Of the 16 taken to hospitals with heat-related illnesses, 12 were adults and four were children, said Fire Chief Charles Hood. The patients were hot to the touch and dehydrated, and no water was found in the trailer, he said.
Three people were taken into custody, but it was unclear if they were absolutely connected with human trafficking, McManus said.
Those in the trailer were part of a presumed migrant smuggling attempt into the United States, and the investigation was being led by US Homeland Security Investigations, McManus said.
Those in the trailer were in a presumed migrant smuggling attempt in South Texas, according to an official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the information had not been authorized for public release.

In this aerial view, members of law enforcement investigate a tractor trailer on June 27, 2022 in San Antonio, Texas. (AFP)

It may be the deadliest tragedy among thousands who have died attempting to cross the US border from Mexico in recent decades. Ten migrants died in 2017 after being trapped inside a truck that was parked at a Walmart in San Antonio. In 2003, 19 migrants were found in a sweltering truck southeast of San Antonio.
Big rigs emerged as a popular smuggling method in the early 1990s amid a surge in US border enforcement in San Diego and El Paso, Texas, which were then the busiest corridors for illegal crossings.
Before that, people paid small fees to mom-and-pop operators to get them across a largely unguarded border. As crossing became exponentially more difficult after the 2001 terror attacks in the US, migrants were led through more dangerous terrain and paid thousands of dollars more.
Heat poses a serious danger, particularly when temperatures can rise severely inside vehicles. Weather in the San Antonio area was mostly cloudy Monday, but temperatures approached 100 degrees.
 


Philippines’ Duterte, infamous for deadly drug war, ends term

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (C) holding a Galil sniper rifle in Manila. (AFP file photo)
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (C) holding a Galil sniper rifle in Manila. (AFP file photo)
Updated 28 June 2022

Philippines’ Duterte, infamous for deadly drug war, ends term

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (C) holding a Galil sniper rifle in Manila. (AFP file photo)
  • Duterte’s woes deepened during his final year in office as International Criminal Court (ICC) judges authorized a full-blown investigation into a possible crime against humanity during his drugs crackdown

MANILA: Rodrigo Duterte, who steps down as Philippine president Thursday, has earned international infamy for his deadly drug war and foul-mouthed tirades but remains hugely popular among Filipinos fed up with the country’s dysfunction and political elite.
A tough-talking populist and self-professed killer, Duterte launched an anti-crime campaign that has resulted in the deaths of thousands of alleged dealers and addicts while drawing global condemnation.
Yet millions of Filipinos backed the 77-year-old’s swift brand of justice, even as he joked about rape in his rambling speeches, locked up his critics and failed to root out the nation’s entrenched corruption.
His daughter Sara’s victory in the vice presidential race on May 9 showed his popularity remains sky-high, six years after being swept to power on a promise to rid the country of drugs.
That trust was dented by the coronavirus pandemic, which plunged the country into its worst economic crisis in decades, leaving thousands dead and millions jobless amid a slow-paced vaccine rollout.
Duterte’s woes deepened during his final year in office as International Criminal Court (ICC) judges authorized a full-blown investigation into a possible crime against humanity during his drugs crackdown.
Critics of his signature campaign ended up behind bars or facing lengthy jail terms, including opposition Senator Leila de Lima and journalist Maria Ressa, who was named a Time magazine person of the year in 2018 for her work.

Duterte repeatedly said there was no official campaign to illegally kill addicts and dealers, but his speeches included incitements to violence and he told police to kill drug suspects if their lives were in danger.
“If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself, as getting their parents to do it would be too painful,” Duterte said hours after being sworn in as president in June 2016.
His unfiltered comments were part of his self-styled image as a maverick, which found traction with a public desperate for solutions to pervasive corruption, dysfunction and bureaucratic red tape.
He freely used vulgarities and even called God “stupid,” a widely disparaged opinion in the majority-Catholic Philippines.
A night owl who turned up his nose at diplomatic niceties, he would show up several hours late to public events — often with his shirt partly unbuttoned and sleeves rolled up — where he gave hours-long stream-of-consciousness speeches.
Duterte was rarely seen in public during the pandemic, apart from weekly appearances on television in pre-recorded meetings with his key advisers.
On occasion, he disappeared altogether, fueling rumors about his health until loyal aides posted “proof of life” photos on social media, showing him playing golf, riding a motorbike or taking a walk.
The former lawyer and prosecutor was born in 1945 into a political family. His father served for three years as a cabinet secretary in Ferdinand Marcos’s government before the nation plunged into dictatorship in 1972.
An ally of the Marcos family, Duterte even allowed Ferdinand, whose brutal regime silenced the legislature and killed opponents, to be buried in the capital’s Heroes’ Cemetery.
During his long tenure as mayor of the southern city of Davao, Duterte was accused of links to vigilante death squads that rights groups say killed more than 1,000 people there — accusations he has both accepted and denied.

His rule was also marked by a swing away from the nation’s former colonial master, the United States, in favor of China.
“I simply love (Chinese President) Xi Jinping... he understands my problem and is willing to help, so I would say thank you China,” he said in April 2018.
As part of that rapprochement, he set aside the rivalry with Beijing over the resource-rich South China Sea, opting to court Chinese business instead.
But billions of dollars of promised trade and investment from the country’s superpower neighbor have been slow to materialize.
In July, he walked back a decision to end a key military deal with the United States.
Duterte failed to tackle some of the country’s worst problems, including corruption, wrongdoing and impunity among local officials and police.
Three Philippine policemen were sentenced in 2018 to decades in prison for murdering a teenager during an anti-narcotics sweep, the first and only conviction so far against officers carrying out Duterte’s war on drugs.
Duterte’s critics hailed the conviction as a rare example of justice and accountability during the president’s reign.
He had said he was ready to go to jail over the crackdown, but vowed never to allow himself to come under ICC jurisdiction.
Characteristically defiant and menacing, Duterte said in May he would continue waging his drug war even after leaving office.
“I will go riding on a motorcycle and roam around... I’ll search for drug peddlers, shoot them and kill them.”


Russian missile strike hits crowded shopping mall in Ukraine

Russian missile strike hits crowded shopping mall in Ukraine
Updated 28 June 2022

Russian missile strike hits crowded shopping mall in Ukraine

Russian missile strike hits crowded shopping mall in Ukraine
  • The casualty figures were difficult to determine as rescuers searched the smoldering rubble

KREMENCHUK, Ukraine: Russian long-range bombers fired a missile that struck a crowded shopping mall in Ukraine’s central city of Kremenchuk on Monday, raising fears of what President Volodymyr Zelensky called an “unimaginable” number of victims in “one of the most daring terrorist attacks in European history.”
Zelenskky said more than 1,000 civilians were inside the mall, with many managing to escape. Images from the scene showed giant plumes of black smoke, dust and orange flames, with emergency crews rushing in to search broken metal and concrete for victims and put out fires. Onlookers watched in distress.
The casualty figures were difficult to determine as rescuers searched the smoldering rubble. The regional governor, Dmytro Lunin, said at least 13 people were dead and more than 40 wounded.
At Ukraine’s request, the UN Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting in New York on Tuesday to discuss the attack.
The missile strike unfolded as Western leaders pledged continued support for Ukraine, and the world’s major economies prepared new sanctions against Russia, including a price cap on oil and higher tariffs on goods. Meanwhile, the US appeared ready to respond to Zelensky’s call for more air defense systems, and NATO planned to increase the size of its rapid-reaction forces nearly eightfold — to 300,000 troops.
Zelensky said the mall presented “no threat to the Russian army” and had “no strategic value.” He accused Russia of sabotaging “people’s attempts to live a normal life, which make the occupiers so angry.”
In his nightly address, he said it appeared Russian forces had intentionally targeted the shopping center and added, “Today’s Russian strike at a shopping mall in Kremenchuk is one of the most daring terrorist attacks in European history.”
Russian Tu-22M3 long-range bombers flying over Russia’s western Kursk region fired the missile that hit the shopping center, as well as another that hit a sports arena in Kremenchuk, according to Ukrainian officials.
The Russian strike carried echoes of attacks earlier in the war that caused large numbers of civilian casualties — such as one in March on a Mariupol theater where many civilians had holed up, killing an estimated 600, and another in April on a train station in eastern Kramatorsk that left at least 59 people dead.
“Russia continues to take out its impotence on ordinary civilians. It is useless to hope for decency and humanity on its part,” Zelensky said.
Kremenchuk Mayor Vitaliy Maletskiy wrote on Facebook that the attack “hit a very crowded area, which is 100 percent certain not to have any links to the armed forces.”
The United Nations called the strike “deplorable,” stressing that civilian infrastructure “should never ever be targeted,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. Group of Seven leaders issued a statement late Monday condemning the attack and saying that “indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime. Russian President Putin and those responsible will be held to account.”
The attack happened as Russia was mounting an all-out assault on the last Ukrainian stronghold in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk province, “pouring fire” on the city of Lysychansk from the ground and air, according to the local governor. At least eight people were killed and more than 20 wounded in Lysychansk when Russian rockets hit an area where a crowd gathered to obtain water from a tank, Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said.
The eastern barrage was part of Russian forces’ intensified offensive aimed at wresting the eastern Donbas region from Ukraine. Over the weekend, the Russian military and their local separatist allies forced Ukrainian government troops out of Lysychansk’s neighboring city, Sievierodonetsk.
To the west of Lysychansk on Monday, the mayor of the city of Sloviansk — potentially the next major battleground — said Russian forces fired cluster munitions, including one that hit a residential neighborhood. Authorities said the number of victims had yet to be confirmed. The Associated Press saw one fatality: A man’s body lay hunched over a car door frame, his blood pooling onto the ground from chest and head wounds. The blast blew out most windows in the surrounding apartment blocks and the cars parked below, littering the ground with broken glass.
“Everything is now destroyed,” said resident Valentina Vitkovska, in tears as she spoke about the blast. “We are the only people left living in this part of the building. There is no power. I can’t even call to tell others what had happened to us.”
Before Monday’s attacks, at least six civilians were killed and 31 others wounded as part of intense Russian shelling against various Ukrainian cities over the past 24 hours — including Kyiv and major cities in the country’s south and east, according to Zelensky’s office. Shelling on Monday in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, killed at least five people and wounded 15.
Russian forces continued to target the key southern Black Sea port of Odesa. A missile attack destroyed residential buildings and wounded six people, including a child, Ukrainian authorities said.
In Lysychansk, at least five high-rise buildings and the last road bridge were damaged over the past day, Haidai said. A crucial highway linking the city to government-held territory to the south was rendered impassable. The city’s prewar population of around 100,000 has dwindled to fewer than 10,000.
Analysts say that Lysychansk’s location high on the banks of the Siverskiy Donets River gives a major advantage to Ukrainian defenders.
“It’s a very hard nut to crack. The Russians could spend many months and much effort storming Lysychansk,” said military analyst Oleh Zhdanov.
In other developments, in Germany’s Bavarian Alps, leaders of the G7 countries unveiled plans to seek new sanctions and pledged to continue supporting Ukraine “for as long as it takes.” In a joint statement Monday after they held a session by video link with Zelensky, the leaders underlined their “unwavering commitment to support the government and people of Ukraine in their courageous defense of their country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Elsewhere, Washington was expected to announce the purchase of an advanced surface-to-air missile system for Ukraine.
In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced plans to greatly expand the alliance’s rapid-reaction forces as part of its response to an “era of strategic competition.” The NATO response force currently has about 40,000 soldiers. NATO will agree to deliver further military support to Ukraine — including secure communication and anti-drone systems — when its leaders convene in Spain for a summit later this week, Stoltenberg said.
Britain’s defense ministry said Russia is likely to rely increasingly on reserve forces in the coming weeks. Analysts have said a call-up of reservists by Russia could vastly alter the balance in the war but could also come with negative political consequences for President Vladimir Putin’s government.


People smuggler sentenced to 7 years in jail in Austria

People smuggler sentenced to 7 years in jail in Austria
Updated 27 June 2022

People smuggler sentenced to 7 years in jail in Austria

People smuggler sentenced to 7 years in jail in Austria
  • The 19-year-old Latvian was found guilty of people smuggling and causing fatal injuries, but was not found guilty of murder

VIENNA: An Austrian court on Monday sentenced a people smuggler to seven years in prison over the deaths of two Syrians who suffocated in the crammed minivan he was driving, Austria’s news agency reported.
The bodies of the two men were discovered last October when Austrian authorities stopped and searched a van at the border with Hungary.
Thirty people in total were crammed in the vehicle, whose driver fled the scene but has later arrested in Latvia and extradited.
The 19-year-old Latvian was found guilty of people smuggling and causing fatal injuries, but was not found guilty of murder, APA reported.
He said he would accept the verdict, but the prosecution can still appeal it, APA said.
A court spokeswoman could not immediately be reached by AFP.
Austria’s interior ministry announced in May that police had smashed a group believed to have smuggled tens of thousands of mostly Syrians, including the two found suffocated, from Hungary to Austria.
A total of 205 people suspected to be linked to the group have been arrested in central and eastern Europe, the ministry said.
Those smuggled, including children, were trying to reach western European countries, including Germany and France.
The October discovery of the dead men recalled a dire event in August 2015 when 71 people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan suffocated in the back of an air-tight van where they had been hidden by people smugglers.
The bodies, including those of three children and a baby, were discovered in Austria but they had died while still on the other side of the border.
Almost four years later, the Hungarian courts sentenced their smugglers to life imprisonment.
The emotion aroused by that tragedy triggered a brief opening of the borders to hundreds of thousands of people wishing to reach Western Europe.
But Austria and other European countries have since fortified borders to stop people smuggling.