French billionaire Drahi to face investors as graft claims swirl

French billionaire Drahi to face investors as graft claims swirl
French telecom and media group Altice president Patrick Drahi arrives for a hearing before a parliamentary commission on media concentration at the French Senate in Paris on February 2, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 06 August 2023
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French billionaire Drahi to face investors as graft claims swirl

French billionaire Drahi to face investors as graft claims swirl
  • The Moroccan-born tycoon has a fortune estimated at more than $10 billion, making him France’s 13th richest man
  • Drahi's multinational business empire Altice spans telecoms and media in Europe, Israel and North America

PARIS: French-Israeli billionaire Patrick Drahi is set to make a rare appearance in front of investors this week with his multinational business empire Altice in the grip of a corruption scandal.

Swiss-based Drahi, whose empire spans telecoms and media in Europe, Israel and North America, is expected to try to ease investor concerns weeks after one of his top lieutenants was detained in Portugal.
The authorities there have accused Portuguese billionaire Armando Pereira of 11 offenses of corruption and money laundering, with a central allegation that he set up a network of bogus suppliers to embezzle money through Altice’s procurement system.
Pereira denies the claims but the scandal has spread from Portugal to other parts of Drahi’s empire, with executives in the United States and France being dismissed, suspended or stepping back.
Drahi, who generally keeps a low profile, has amassed a fortune estimated at more than $10 billion, making him France’s 13th richest man, according to French magazine Challenge.
He pieced together a network of companies through leveraged acquisitions and is now a major player in telecoms in France, Israel, Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal and Switzerland.
Drahi, who also owns broadband firm Altice USA and part of Britain’s BT, is known as an art lover and bought the auction house Sotheby’s in 2019.
But his investment spree was made possible only by amassing a debt pile worth around $60 billion.
With interest rates rising and the corruption scandal making headlines, Drahi’s calls with investors on Monday and Tuesday will be closely monitored by investors.

The company has tried to play down the investigation, saying it is cooperating with the authorities and highlighting that several employees have been suspended.
Pereira, despite being widely seen as Drahi’s right-hand man, has no official post at the company.
Arthur Dreyfuss, CEO of Altice France, told a meeting with trade unions on Wednesday that only a handful of the companies named in the Portuguese inquiry had trading relations with Altice.
“At this stage, this represents less than four percent of our annual purchases in terms of volume,” he said.
But Olivier Lelong of the CFDT trade union, who was at Wednesday’s meeting, told AFP that the nature of the allegations suggested fundamental issues with the company.
“On a day-to-day basis, expenses are the most closely monitored thing in the group,” he said.
“It’s on such a scale... that there must have been a problem with the company’s control and governance.”

Drahi, 59, was born in the Moroccan city of Casablanca and moved to France at 15, eventually studying at the country’s top engineering school, the Ecole Polytechnique.
After an early career spent working for fiber-optics companies, he set out on his own and bought up several troubled cable and mobile operators, before hitting the big time in 2014 when he took control of SFR, France’s second-biggest mobile operator.
From there he built his vast empire, with unions dubbing him the “cost killer” for his habit of streamlining the firms he bought.
But with the corruption claims and rising interest rates forcing him to renegotiate the terms of his loans, Drahi is facing one of his biggest challenges to date.
“Patrick Drahi has built his success on access to low-cost debt,” Denis Lafarge, a partner at PMP Strategy, told AFP.
Drahi is known as a smart financial operator and has long relied on selling off infrastructure like telecoms masts and fiber networks to raise cash.
Lafarge said those options are getting thinner but he still has some sellable assets — the Meo operator in Portugal and some data centers could be sacrificed.
Sylvain Chevallier of the BearingPoint consultancy added that rising inflation meant businesses like Altice will be able to raise prices and raise cash that way.
But the immediate need is for Drahi to stem the damage from the corruption inquiry.
“It’s important for him to speak out,” said Dreyfuss.
“Until we have proof to the contrary, Altice is a victim of all this.”


Michael Cohen says he stole from Trump’s company as defense presses key hush money trial witness

Michael Cohen says he stole from Trump’s company as defense presses key hush money trial witness
Updated 33 sec ago
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Michael Cohen says he stole from Trump’s company as defense presses key hush money trial witness

Michael Cohen says he stole from Trump’s company as defense presses key hush money trial witness
The defense has painted Cohen as a serial fabulist who is on a revenge campaign aimed at taking down Trump
Cohen is the last prosecution witness, and it’s not yet clear whether Trump’s attorneys will call any witnesses, let alone Trump himself

NEW YORK: Former Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen admitted Monday to jurors in the Republican’s hush money trial that he stole tens of thousands of dollars from Trump’s company as defense lawyers seized on the star witness’ misdeeds to attack his credibility.
With the prosecution’s case nearing its end, Trump’s attorneys hope Cohen’s admission — on top of his numerous other past lies and crimes — will sow doubt in jurors’ minds about Cohen’s crucial testimony implicating the presumptive Republican presidential nominee in the hush money scheme. The defense has painted Cohen as a serial fabulist who is on a revenge campaign aimed at taking down Trump.
Back on the witness stand for a fourth day, Cohen admitted while being questioned by defense attorney Todd Blanche that he pocketed cash that was supposed to be reimbursement for a $50,000 payment Cohen claimed he had shelled out to a technology firm. But Cohen actually gave the technology firm just $20,000 in cash in a brown paper bag, he said.
“So you stole from the Trump Organization?,” Blanche asked.
“Yes, sir,” Cohen replied. Cohen said he never paid the Trump Organization back. Cohen has never been charged with stealing from Trump’s company.
Cohen is the last prosecution witness, and it’s not yet clear whether Trump’s attorneys will call any witnesses, let alone Trump himself.
After more than four weeks of testimony about sex, money, tabloid machinations and the details of Trump’s company recordkeeping, jurors could begin deliberating as soon as next week to decide whether Trump is guilty of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first criminal trial of a former US president.
The charges stem from internal Trump Organization records where payments to Cohen were marked as legal expenses, when prosecutors say they were really reimbursements for Daniels’ hush money payment.
Trump has pleaded not guilty. His lawyers say there was nothing criminal about the Daniels deal or the way Cohen was paid.
“There’s no crime,” Trump told reporters after arriving at the courthouse Monday. “We paid a legal expense. You know what it’s marked down as? A legal expense.”
While Cohen is prosecutors’ most important witness, but he is also vulnerable to attack.
The now-disbarred attorney has admitted on the witness stand to previously lying under oath and other falsehoods, many of which he claims were meant to protect Trump. Cohen served prison time after pleading guilty to various federal charges, including lying to Congress and a bank and engaging in campaign finance violations related to the hush money scheme.
And he has made millions of dollars off critical books about the former president, whom he regularly slams on social media in often profane terms.
Blanche grilled Cohen on Monday about his initial public denials that Trump knew about the Daniels payoff. After The Wall Street Journal reported in January 2018 that Cohen had arranged the payout to the porn actor more than a year earlier, Cohen told journalists, friends and others that Trump had been in the dark about the arrangement.
He did not change his account until after federal authorities in April 2018 searched Cohen’s home, office and other locations tied to him. Four months later, Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign-finance violations and other charges and told a court that Trump had directed him to arrange the Daniels payment.
Known for his hot temper, Cohen has remained mostly calm on the witness stand despite sometimes heated interrogation by the defense about his misdeeds and the allegations in the case.
Jurors remained largely engaged with Cohen’s testimony, though some appear to be dragging as his testimony stretched into another day. Several jurors stifled yawns while peering at the witness and looking at monitors in front of them as emails and other evidence were displayed. Some took notes. Others sat back and took in the testimony, occasionally peering at the gallery of reporters and public observers.
Cohen told jurors that Trump was intimately involved in the scheme to pay off Daniels to prevent her from going public late in his 2016 presidential campaign with claims of a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump. Trump says nothing sexual happened between them.
Cohen told jurors about meetings and conversations with Trump, including one in 2017 in which Cohen says he, Trump and then-Trump Organization finance chief Allen Weisselberg discussed how Cohen would recoup his outlay for the Daniels payment and how the reimbursement would be billed as “legal services.”
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office is expected to rest its case once Cohen is off the stand, but prosecutors would have an opportunity to call rebuttal witnesses if Trump’s lawyers put on witnesses of their own. Judge Juan M. Merchan, citing scheduling issues, says he expects closing arguments to happen May 28, the Tuesday after Memorial Day.
Defense lawyers said they have not decided whether Trump will testify. And Trump did not respond to shouted questions from reporters about whether his lawyers have advised him not to take the stand. Defense attorneys generally are reluctant to put their clients on the witness stand and open them up to intense questioning by prosecutors, as it often does more harm than good.
Trump’s lawyers have said they may call Bradley A. Smith, a Republican law professor who was appointed by former President Bill Clinton to the Federal Election Commission, to refute the prosecution’s contention that the hush money payments amounted to campaign-finance violations. But the judge has limited what Smith can address.
There are often guardrails around expert testimony on legal matters, on the basis that it’s up to a judge — not an expert hired by one side or the other — to instruct jurors on applicable laws in a case.
Merchan has ruled that Smith can give general background on the FEC, the laws it enforces and the definitions of such terms as “campaign contribution.” But he cannot interpret how federal campaign-finance laws apply to the facts of Trump’s case or opine on whether the former president’s alleged actions violate those laws.

Putin appoints another economist as deputy Russian defense minister

Putin appoints another economist as deputy Russian defense minister
Updated 7 min 58 sec ago
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Putin appoints another economist as deputy Russian defense minister

Putin appoints another economist as deputy Russian defense minister
  • Putin sprang a surprise last week by removing defense minister Sergei Shoigu
  • The move was widely seen as aimed at getting more value from defense spending

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin on Monday appointed former deputy economy minister Oleg Savelyev as a deputy defense minister, according to a published decree, in a further sign of his intention to improve the efficiency of Russia’s war economy.
Putin sprang a surprise last week by removing defense minister Sergei Shoigu and replacing him with Andrei Belousov, an economist and former deputy prime minister. The move was widely seen as aimed at getting more value from defense spending and cleaning up the defense ministry, which has been hit by a major bribery scandal.
Savelyev worked in the economy ministry from 2008 to 2014 and briefly served as a deputy to Belousov, who headed the ministry at the time.
After Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Savelyev served as Minister for Crimean Affairs in 2014-2015. For the past five years, he has been an auditor for the Russian Accounts Chamber, overseeing state defense and security spending.


Indian police arrest four Sri Lankans for suspected Daesh links

Indian police arrest four Sri Lankans for suspected Daesh links
Updated 20 May 2024
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Indian police arrest four Sri Lankans for suspected Daesh links

Indian police arrest four Sri Lankans for suspected Daesh links
  • The arrests were made late Sunday at the Ahmedabad airport following a tip-off, top police officer says
  • Preliminary investigations show they were in contact with a key Daesh leader, allegedly based in Pakistan

AHMEDABAD: India’s anti-terror police have arrested four Sri Lankan nationals in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad for suspected links to the Islamic State (Daesh) militant group, police said on Monday.

The arrests were made late on Sunday at the city’s airport following a tip-off, said Vikas Sahay, the top police officer in Gujarat state where Ahmedabad is located.

“Preliminary investigations show they were in contact with a key IS leader known as Abu, who is currently based in Pakistan. Further investigations are continuing to uncover the full extent of the conspiracy,” Sahay told reporters, giving only one name for the Islamic State leader.

The arrested individuals were identified as Mohammed Nusrat (33), Mohammed Nafran (35), Mohammed Faaris (27), and Mohammed Rashdin (43), all residents of Colombo, Sri Lanka, whose foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sahay said the Gujarat Police’s anti-terrorism squad found a Daesh flag in their possession, while analysis of two seized mobile phones showed various photographs and videos indicating that they were involved with the militant group.

The ATS also recovered three loaded pistols along with another Daesh flag from a location near Ahmedabad, identified from photos in the mobile phones, Sahay said.

Police have registered a case under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Arms Act against the four suspects, the officer said.


Greece to deport nine European nationals over pro-Palestinian protest

Greece to deport nine European nationals over pro-Palestinian protest
Updated 20 May 2024
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Greece to deport nine European nationals over pro-Palestinian protest

Greece to deport nine European nationals over pro-Palestinian protest
  • The protesters have denied any wrongdoing
  • The Greek protesters were released pending trial on May 28 but the nine foreign nationals remained in custody pending an administrative decision on their deportation

ATHENS: Nine protesters from Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain, arrested during a pro-Palestinian demonstration at the University of Athens School of Law last week are set to be deported from Greece, their lawyers said on Monday.
Police last week detained a total of 28 Greek and foreign protesters occupying the building, on charges including disrupting the operation of a public entity and assistance in damaging foreign property, according to court documents.
The protesters have denied any wrongdoing.
Evidence included leaflets, Palestinian flags, two smoke flares, gas masks, helmets, paint cans and banner poles, along with a statement uploaded on a website in Greek and English urging others to join the protest, according to the documents.
The Greek protesters were released pending trial on May 28 but the nine foreign nationals — one man and eight women, aged 22 to 33 — remained in custody pending an administrative decision on their deportation.
The foreigners’ lawyers said in a statement that deportation orders had been issued, which would prevent the defendants attending their own trial.
Lawyers Ioanna Sioupouli and Anny Paparoussou said that their clients who live and work in Greece planned to appeal.
Lawyer Vassilis Papadopoulos, representing a 33-year-old Spaniard, called the decision “arbitrary and illegal.”
Pro-Palestinian supporters have staged several protests in Greece since Israel’s war with Hamas began in Gaza in October.
Greece in 2019 scrapped legislation that prohibited police from entering universities, as the conservative government said it was used as a cover for lawlessness.
The Academic Sanctuary Law, a legacy of the crackdown on a 1973 student revolt by the military junta of the time, was designed to protect protesting students and freedom of ideas. Critics decried its abolition as a clampdown on democracy.


World Water Forum opens in Bali to address resource shortage, management 

World Water Forum opens in Bali to address resource shortage, management 
Updated 20 May 2024
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World Water Forum opens in Bali to address resource shortage, management 

World Water Forum opens in Bali to address resource shortage, management 
  • Saudi Environment Minister Abdulrahman Al-Fadhli leads Kingdom’s delegation in Bali
  • Saudi Arabia is set to host the next edition of World Water Forum in Riyadh in 2027

JAKARTA: The 10th World Water Forum, a gathering aimed at fostering international collaboration in global water management, opened on Indonesia’s island of Bali on Monday.

The World Water Forum will run until May 25, as hundreds of international participants join the conference to address global water and sanitation challenges. 

The 10th edition held under the theme “Water for Shared Prosperity” saw several heads of state and ministers in attendance, including Tajikistan Prime Minister Qohir Rasulzoda, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Fiji President Wiliame Katonivere, and Saudi Minister of Environment Water and Agriculture Abdulrahman Al-Fadhli. 

President Joko Widodo called attention to the “central role” of water for human civilizations as he opened the forum on Monday. 

“Water scarcity can also trigger war and become the source of disasters. Too much water or too little water both can turn into problems for the world,” Widodo said in his opening speech. 

“The 10th World Water Forum is very strategic to revitalize real collective action and commitment to realize an integrated management of water resources … Water isn’t merely a natural product, but a product of collaboration that unites us and therefore we must have collaborative efforts to preserve it.” 

Loic Fauchon, president of the World Water Council, also called for global action. 

“This 10th World Water Forum should mark the turning point towards concrete action,” he said. 

The World Water Forum is held every three years and organized by the World Water Council and a host country. 

This year, the multi-day event will also see Saudi Arabia participate in a special session focusing on its role as the next host of the international conference under the theme “Action for a Better Tomorrow.”

The Kingdom will host the 11th World Water Forum in 2027 in Riyadh.