UK whistleblower receives $500k payout after Kosovo corruption claims

UK whistleblower receives $500k payout after Kosovo corruption claims
Maria Bamieh, a former prosecutor with the Foreign Office, was awarded the $512,000 settlement a decade after first raising concerns in her position in 2012. (FILE/AFP)
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Updated 03 July 2022

UK whistleblower receives $500k payout after Kosovo corruption claims

UK whistleblower receives $500k payout after Kosovo corruption claims
  • Ex-Foreign Office prosecutor told to ‘turn a blind eye’ before losing job
  • Lawyer: ‘The protection of whistleblowers is crucial for a fair and functioning democratic society’

LONDON: The UK government has agreed a settlement of more than $500,000 with a Foreign Office whistleblower who claimed she was undermined after exposing corruption in EULEX, the EU’s mission in Kosovo.
Maria Bamieh, a former prosecutor with the Foreign Office, was awarded the $512,000 settlement a decade after first raising concerns in her position in 2012, The Observer reported.
In her role Bamieh worked with EULEX, but a series of discoveries and interventions led to her being sidelined and terminated from her position in 2014.
Bamieh alleges that after discovering corruption and referring evidence back to the Foreign Office and local embassy, she was told to ignore the evidence.
The Foreign Office denies her claims despite the payout, which was agreed upon before a hearing took place.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We have agreed to settle this long-running case without any admission of liability and continue to strongly refute these allegations.”
Bamieh said: “I believe that I should have been commended and supported by the Foreign Office for raising my concerns about possible corruption within EULEX and the treatment I suffered afterward, but instead I felt abandoned.”
The $1 billion EULEX mission aimed to pursue high-profile politicians and officials in Kosovo with links to organized crime and corruption.
Bamieh’s first discovery came in 2012 after attempts by a health official in Kosovo to undermine an investigation using links with a senior EULEX judge.
A senior prosecutor allegedly shared details of the investigation with the official through a third party.
Bamieh raised concerns with a UK diplomat but was told to “turn a blind eye.” A year later, however, she was disciplined for parking and work experience violations in an apparent attempt to undermine her work.
In 2014, the Foreign Office reduced its staff presence in Kosovo. Bamieh was terminated late that year.
He lawyer Mike Cain said: “The protection of whistleblowers is crucial for a fair and functioning democratic society. This is all the more the case in spaces where public power is being exercised as it was when our client formed and reported her concerns both in
Kosovo and to senior figures within the Foreign Office.”
Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, urged the Foreign Office to reform its internal complaints system.
“It takes great moral fibre and courage to raise your head above the parapet, knowing there may be significant personal cost,” he said.
“Cover-up culture benefits no one. Perhaps if the Foreign Office strengthened its complaint processes, and increased its openness, members of staff within the department would not have to resort to such drastic measures.”


Killing of Afghan refugee prompts police reinforcements in French town

Killing of Afghan refugee prompts police reinforcements in French town
Updated 17 August 2022

Killing of Afghan refugee prompts police reinforcements in French town

Killing of Afghan refugee prompts police reinforcements in French town
  • Quayyem Abdul Ahmadzai shot dead after fight broke out with local youths over noise complaint
  • 60 officers sent to Colmar as govt clamps down on illegal motorcycle activity

LONDON: The death of an Afghan refugee in the eastern French province of Alsace has prompted police to send reinforcements to the area, The Times reported on Wednesday.
Quayyem Abdul Ahmadzai, 27, was allegedly shot in the chest after a fight broke out in the town of Colmar.
He and two other Afghans were having a picnic when the scuffle began, after he told a teenager nearby to make less noise with his motor scooter.
Witnesses said the teenager had been revving the engine of the scooter while standing on the pavement.
After insulting the three Afghans, he left, only to return with a group of friends, at which point the fight broke out and Ahmadzai was shot, said Catherine Sorita-Minard, the state prosecutor.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced in the aftermath of the killing that 60 police officers would be seconded to the town’s standing force of around 150 officers, to “reinforce security” and “reassure the inhabitants” of Colmar. Two teenagers, aged 17 and 18, are being sought by police in connection with the shooting.
Ahmadzai, who fled to France in 2017 and was granted refugee status, lived in the neighboring town of Mulhouse and worked for the car manufacturer Peugeot.
Another Afghan living in Colmar told The Times that Ahmadzai had been forced to leave his wife and children behind in Afghanistan when he fled, and that he “was all on his own here.”
His death has gained broad coverage across France as it came in the wake of a government crackdown on antisocial behavior by youths using motorcycles, which came to a head after four children were severely injured, and a 10-year-old girl in Paris left with severe neurological damage, after a number of accidents due to illegal races and stunts.
Darmanin said so far, 338 arrests had been made in relation to the crackdown nationwide, with 203 people remanded in custody, 157 motorcycles confiscated and 5,712 fines issued.


UK police detail ‘remarkable’ probe into Daesh ‘Beatles’ cell

UK police detail ‘remarkable’ probe into Daesh ‘Beatles’ cell
Updated 17 August 2022

UK police detail ‘remarkable’ probe into Daesh ‘Beatles’ cell

UK police detail ‘remarkable’ probe into Daesh ‘Beatles’ cell
  • Counter-terrorism officers said the hostages' recollections helped "zero in" on three of the British captors
  • The Daesh cell members were known to their captives as the "Beatles" because of their distinctive British accents

LONDON: UK police lifted the lid Wednesday on a years-long probe into the notorious Daesh kidnap-and-murder cell dubbed the “Beatles” by their captives.
Counter-terrorism officers said the hostages’ recollections helped “zero in” on three of the British captors.
The Daesh cell members, who tried to keep their identities hidden, held dozens of foreign hostages in Syria between 2012 and 2015 and were known to their captives as the “Beatles” because of their distinctive British accents.
Two of them — 38-year-old Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, 34 — have been brought to justice in the United States for their part in the gruesome beheadings and killings of several Americans.
Another, Mohamed Emwazi — dubbed “Jihadi John” — died in Syria in 2015.
A fourth alleged British member was remanded in UK custody last week on terrorism charges after Turkey deported him following a jail term there.
Ahead of Elsheikh’s sentencing on Friday, British police have now detailed how their nearly decade-long probe unearthed key evidence used by US prosecutors to convict him in April.
“The building of the case is described as like putting together very small pieces of a jigsaw,” Richard Smith, the head of London police’s counter-terrorism unit, told reporters at a briefing Wednesday.
“What we pieced together here is a trail of breadcrumbs, fragments of breadcrumbs really, among a huge amount of other inquiries, which we were then able to present... to a court to assist the prosecution in the US.”
London’s Metropolitan Police first began probing what would become known as the “Beatles” cell in November 2012, when a spate of kidnappings of Western journalists and aid workers began in northern Syria.
Following some hostages’ release, as well as videos of other captives being beheaded by an executioner with a British accent, officers discovered some of the suspected perpetrators were UK citizens.
From the accounts of freed hostages, alongside other information and intelligence, they first identified the executioner as Emwazi.
Born in Kuwait but raised in the UK since aged six, he was killed by a US drone strike in Syria in 2015.
As British police worked to identify others, Smith said a “snippet of conversation” between captors and captives provided the key breakthrough.
Kotey and Elsheikh had revealed they were once arrested in central London at a far-right English Defense League (EDL) protest, which featured a counter-demonstration by an Islamic group.
Officers were able to trawl back through records of arrests at such events and discovered a September 2011 incident in which the pair were held over a stabbing.
Police then unearthed video footage of the duo from the day, data from their seized mobile phones that showed links to Emwazi, and other evidence leads.
“(That) one piece of information emerged from the hostages we spoke to, which was fairly unremarkable on the face of it to the hostage but proved very significant to us,” said Smith.
Officers also used a 2014 firearms conviction of Elsheikh’s brother to find further evidence from his mobile phone seized in that case.
It included images of Elsheikh in Syria in combat gear with a gun, and graphic pictures of severed heads which the 34-year-old had labelled “Syrian casualties.”
Meanwhile, officers discovered a 2009 police interview with him over an unrelated case that featured his voice, which experts were able to conclude was the same as a captor’s heard in Daesh hostage videos.
The “Beatles” cell is accused of abducting at least 27 journalists and relief workers from the United States, Britain, Europe, New Zealand, Russia and Japan.
Kotey and Elsheikh were captured in January 2018 by a Kurdish militia in Syria and turned over to US forces in Iraq before being sent to the US with UK permission.
There they faced charges of hostage-taking, conspiracy to murder US citizens and supporting a foreign terrorist organization.
Kotey pleaded guilty to his role in the deaths last September and was sentenced to life in prison in April.


WHO urges caution after dog catches monkeypox

WHO urges caution after dog catches monkeypox
Updated 17 August 2022

WHO urges caution after dog catches monkeypox

WHO urges caution after dog catches monkeypox
  • A first case of human-to-dog transmission of monkeypox was reported last week in the medical journal The Lancet
  • "This is the first case reported of human-to-animal transmission," said WHO's technical lead for monkeypox

GENEVA: The World Health Organization called Wednesday for people infected with monkeypox to avoid exposing animals to the virus following a first reported case of human-to-dog transmission.
A first case of human-to-dog transmission of monkeypox — between two men and their Italian greyhound living together in Paris — was reported last week in the medical journal The Lancet.
“This is the first case reported of human-to-animal transmission... and we believe it is the first instance of a canine being infected,” Rosamund Lewis, the WHO’s technical lead for monkeypox, told reporters.
Experts, she said, had been aware of the theoretical risk that such a jump could happen, and that public health agencies had already been advising those suffering from the disease to “isolate from their pets.”
In addition, she said “waste management is critical” to lower the risk of contaminating rodents and other animals outside the household.
It was vital, she said, for people to “have information on how to protect their pets, as well as how to manage their waste so that animals in general are not exposed to the monkeypox virus.”
When viruses jump the species barrier it often sparks concern that they could mutate in a more dangerous direction.
Lewis stressed that so far there was no reports that was happening with monkeypox.
But, she acknowledged, “certainly as soon as the virus moves into a different setting in a different population, there is obviously a possibility that it will develop differently and mutate differently.”
The main concern revolves around animals outside of the household.
“The more dangerous situation... is where a virus can move into a small mammal population with high density of animals,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told reporters.
“It is through the process of one animal infecting the next and the next and the next that you see rapid evolution of the virus.”
He stressed though that there was little cause for concern around household pets.
“I don’t expect the virus to evolve any more quickly in one single dog than in one single human,” he said, adding that while “we need to remain vigilant... pets are not a risk.”
Monkeypox received its name because the virus was originally identified in monkeys kept for research in Denmark in 1958, but the disease is found in a number of animals, and most frequently in rodents.
The disease was first discovered in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the spread since then mainly limited to certain West and Central African countries.
But in May, cases of the disease, which causes fever, muscular aches and large boil-like skin lesions, began spreading rapidly around the world, mainly among men who have sex with men.
Worldwide, more than 35,000 cases have been confirmed since the start of the year in 92 countries, and 12 people have died, according to the WHO, which has designated the outbreak a global health emergency.


Russia replaces Black Sea fleet chief after Crimea setbacks

Russia replaces Black Sea fleet chief after Crimea setbacks
Updated 17 August 2022

Russia replaces Black Sea fleet chief after Crimea setbacks

Russia replaces Black Sea fleet chief after Crimea setbacks
  • Moscow blamed saboteurs for blasts that engulfed an ammunition depot in northern Crimea on Tuesday
  • Ukraine has not officially taken responsibility but has hinted at it

KYIV/LONDON: Russia has replaced the commander of its Crimea-based Black Sea Fleet, a state news agency reported on Wednesday.
This comes after a series of explosions rocked the peninsula it annexed in 2014 and had previously seen as a secure rear base for its war in Ukraine.
Moscow blamed saboteurs for blasts that engulfed an ammunition depot in northern Crimea on Tuesday. Plumes of smoke were later seen rising at a second Russian military base in central Crimea, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper said.
Ukraine has not officially taken responsibility but has hinted at it. The apparent Ukrainian capability to strike deeper into Russian-occupied territory, either with some form of weapon or with sabotage, indicates a shift in the conflict. Blasts destroyed warplanes at a Russian naval air base in Crimea last week.
On Wednesday, Russia’s RIA news agency cited sources as saying the commander of its Black Sea fleet, Igor Osipov, had been replaced with a new chief, Viktor Sokolov.
If confirmed, the move would mark one of the most prominent sackings of a military official so far in a war in which Russia has suffered heavy losses in men and equipment.
State-owned RIA cited the sources as saying the new chief was introduced to members of the fleet’s military council in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.
The Black Sea Fleet, which has a revered history in Russia, has suffered several humiliations since President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine — which Moscow terms a “special military operation” — on Feb. 24.
In April, Ukraine struck its flagship, the Moskva, a huge cruiser, with Neptune missiles. It became the biggest warship to be sunk in combat for 40 years.

CRUCIAL SUPPLY ROUTE
Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014 and has extensively fortified since then, provides the main supply route for Russian forces in southern Ukraine, where Kyiv is planning a counter-offensive in coming weeks.
Ukrainian military intelligence said in a statement that after the recent explosions in Crimea, Russian forces had urgently moved there some of their planes and helicopters deeper into the peninsula and to airfields inside Russia. Reuters could not independently verify the information.
President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Ukrainians to steer clear of Russian military bases and ammunition stores and said the explosions could have various causes, including incompetence.
“But they all mean the same thing — the destruction of the occupiers’ logistics, their ammunition, military and other equipment, and command posts, saves the lives of our people,” he said in an evening address on Tuesday.
On Wednesday Russia’s FSB security service said it had detained six members of what it called an Islamist terrorist cell in Crimea, though it did not say if they were suspected of involvement in the explosions.
The Black Sea fleet has also blockaded Ukraine’s ports since the start of the war, trapping vital grain exports, which are only now starting to move again under an agreement brokered by Turkey and the United Nations.
Another three ships left Ukraine on Wednesday, the infrastructure ministry said on its Facebook page.
“This morning, three ships with Ukrainian food products left the ports of Chornomorsk and Odesa... More than 33,000 tons of agricultural products are on board,” it said.

’WHERE SHOULD WE GO’
The war has caused millions to flee, killed thousands and deepened a geopolitical rift between the West and Russia, which says the aim of its operation is to demilitarise its neighbor and protect Russian-speaking communities.
Ukraine, which broke free of Moscow’s rule when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, accuses Russia of waging an imperial-style war of conquest.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of the eastern Donetsk region, which has seen some of the fiercest fighting, said early on Wednesday that two civilians were killed and seven wounded in shelling by Russian forces in the past 24 hours.
The Ukrainian government has ordered mass evacuations in Donetsk, but for one couple on a small farm near the city of Kramatorsk leaving was not an option.
“Grandmother cannot be transported – she is almost 100 years old,” Nataliia Ataiantz, 47, said as she checked on the elderly woman. For her husband, Oleksandr, the idea of leaving was “scary.”
“Our parents are buried here. And this is our land too ... where should we go, to foreign country?” he said.


Germans spot ‘Russian forces’ in Mali after French exit

Germans spot ‘Russian forces’ in Mali after French exit
Updated 17 August 2022

Germans spot ‘Russian forces’ in Mali after French exit

Germans spot ‘Russian forces’ in Mali after French exit
  • German ambassador in Bamako has contacted Mali’s foreign minister about ‘the suspected presence of Russian uniformed forces in Gao’
  • France announced in February that it was withdrawing its troops from Mali after a breakdown in relations with the country’s ruling junta

BERLIN: German soldiers in Mali spotted several dozen suspected Russian security forces in the city of Gao just as the last French soldiers left the country, the German government said Wednesday.
The German ambassador in Bamako has contacted Mali’s foreign minister about “the suspected presence of Russian uniformed forces in Gao,” said a foreign ministry spokesman.
Gao is home to a contingent of German soldiers, not far from the former base occupied by the French.
A Russian presence in the city would be a development “that changes the mission environment,” the spokesman said, adding that the government was also discussing the matter with the United Nations.
France announced in February that it was withdrawing its troops from Mali after a breakdown in relations with the country’s ruling junta. That ended a near 10-year deployment against extremist groups that pose a growing threat in West Africa.
The arrival of Russian paramilitaries in the country on the invitation of the government was a key factor in France’s decision to pull its military forces out.
The last French soldiers left Mali on Monday.
Germany’s government was also aware of an aircraft being used by Malian armed forces that “could possibly be an aircraft that was handed over by Russia,” said a defense ministry spokeswoman.
“We have received information that about 20 to 30 persons who were not associated with the Malian armed forces were seen loading and unloading this aircraft in a hangar” on Monday, the spokeswoman said.
The government is “intensively investigating” these reports, which concern a “training and ground combat aircraft of the L-39 type,” she said.
Germany on Friday said it had stopped reconnaissance operations and helicopter transport flights in Mali until further notice after Bamako denied flyover rights to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA.
But MINUSMA resumed contingent rotations from Monday under new approval procedures.
MINUSMA — the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali — was launched in 2013 to help one of the world’s poorest countries cope with a bloody extremist campaign.
It is one of the UN’s biggest peacekeeping operations, with 17,609 troops, police, civilians and volunteers deployed as of April, according to the mission’s website.