Russia fires deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and extends his arrest

Russia fires deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and extends his arrest
Former Russian Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov stands in a defendants’ cage prior to a court hearing on extension of his arrest in the Basmanny District Court in Moscow on Jun. 20, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 20 June 2024
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Russia fires deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and extends his arrest

Russia fires deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and extends his arrest
  • Timur Ivanov, 48, is one of several senior military officers arrested on corruption charges in recent months
  • Ivanov, arrested in April, was charged with taking an especially large bribe

MOSCOW: Russian authorities have formally dismissed a deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and accused by Kremlin critics of living a lavish lifestyle, Russian media reported Thursday. A court ordered that his pre-trial detention be extended for three more months.
Timur Ivanov, 48, is one of several senior military officers arrested on corruption charges in recent months. He was a close associate of Sergei Shoigu, whom President Vladimir Putin replaced as defense minister last month.
Ivanov, arrested in April, was charged with taking an especially large bribe. His lawyers said he maintains his innocence. The Basmanny District Court in Moscow on Thursday extended his detention pending investigation and trial until at least Sept. 23. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.
Russian media, citing an online registry of government officials, said Thursday that Ivanov was dismissed from his post. His lawyer Denis Baluyev confirmed the dismissal in comments to Russian business news site RBK. It wasn’t immediately clear from the reports when exactly Ivanov was fired.
Other top military officials arrested in recent months include deputy chief of the Russian military general staff Lt. Gen. Vadim Shamarin; Gen. Ivan Popov, a former top commander in Russia’s offensive in Ukraine; and Lt. Gen. Yury Kuznetsov, head of the Defense Ministry’s personnel directorate. All three have been accused of bribery.
According to the Defense Ministry’s website, Ivanov was appointed in 2016 by a presidential decree. He oversaw property management, housing and medical support for the military, as well as construction projects.
Ivanov’s arrest came nearly a month after Putin called on the Federal Security Service to “keep up a systemic anti-corruption effort” and pay special attention to state defense procurement.
Russian media reported that Ivanov oversaw some of the construction in Mariupol — a Ukrainian port city that was devastated by bombardment and occupied by Russian forces early in the war. Ivanov has been sanctioned by both the United States and European Union.
Zvezda, the official TV channel of the Russian military, reported in summer 2022 that the ministry was building an entire residential block in Mariupol and showed Ivanov inspecting construction sites and newly erected residential buildings.
That same year, the team of the late Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner, alleged Ivanov and his family had been enjoying luxurious trips abroad, lavish parties and owning elite real estate.
The activists also alleged that Ivanov’s wife, Svetlana, divorced him in 2022 to avoid sanctions and continued living a lavish lifestyle.


US files details of Boeing’s plea deal related to plane crashes. It’s in the hands of a judge now

US files details of Boeing’s plea deal related to plane crashes. It’s in the hands of a judge now
Updated 15 sec ago
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US files details of Boeing’s plea deal related to plane crashes. It’s in the hands of a judge now

US files details of Boeing’s plea deal related to plane crashes. It’s in the hands of a judge now
  • Deal calls for the appointment of an independent compliance monitor, three years of probation and a fine of at least $243.6 million
  • Boeing was accused of misleading the aviation regulator FAA about aspects of the Max before the agency certified the plane for flight
  • A lawyer for families of victims of the 737 Max crashes, who wanted Boeing to face trial, criticized the agreement

Boeing was accused of misleading the aviation regulator FAA about aspects of the Max before the agency certified the plane for flight

Deal calls for the appointment of an independent compliance monitor, three years of probation and a fine of at least $243.6 million

A lawyer for families of victims of the 737 Max crashes, who wanted Boeing to face trial, criticized the agreement

 

The Justice Department submitted an agreement with Boeing on Wednesday in which the aerospace giant will plead guilty to a fraud charge for misleading US regulators who approved the 737 Max jetliner before two of the planes crashed, killing 346 people.
The detailed plea agreement was filed in federal district court in Texas. The American company and the Justice Department reached a deal on the guilty plea and the agreement’s broad terms earlier this month.
The final version states Boeing admitted that through its employees, it made an agreement “by dishonest means” to defraud a Federal Aviation Administration group that evaluated the 737 Max. Because of Boeing’s deception, the FAA had “incomplete and inaccurate information” about the plane’s flight-control software and how much training pilots would need for it, the plea agreement says.
US District Judge Reed O’Connor can accept the agreement and the sentence worked out between Boeing and prosecutors, or he could reject it, which likely would lead to new negotiations between the company and the Justice Department.
The deal calls for the appointment of an independent compliance monitor, three years of probation and a fine of at least $243.6 million. It also requires Boeing to invest at least $455 million “in its compliance, quality, and safety programs.”

A Boeing 737 Max aircraft during a display at the Farnborough International Airshowin Farnborough, Britain. (REUTERS/File Photo)

Boeing issued a statement saying the company “will continue to work transparently with our regulators as we take significant actions across Boeing to further strengthen” those programs.
Paul Cassell, a lawyer for families of victims of the 737 Max crashes who wanted Boeing to face trial, criticized the agreement.
“The plea has all the problems in it that the families feared it would have. We will file a strong objection to the preferential and sweetheart treatment Boeing is receiving,” he said.
Boeing was accused of misleading the FAA about aspects of the Max before the agency certified the plane for flight. Boeing did not tell airlines and pilots about the new software system, called MCAS, that could turn the plane’s nose down without input from pilots if a sensor detected that the plane might go into an aerodynamic stall.
Max planes crashed in 2018 in Indonesia and 2019 in Ethiopia after a faulty reading from the sensor pushed the nose down and pilots were unable to regain control. After the second crash, Max jets were grounded worldwide until the company redesigned MCAS to make it less powerful and to use signals from two sensors, not just one.
Boeing avoided prosecution in 2021 by reaching a $2.5 billion settlement with the Justice Department that included a previous $243.6 million fine. It appeared that the fraud charge would be permanently dismissed until January, when a panel covering an unused exit blew off a 737 Max during an Alaska Airlines flight. That led to new scrutiny of the company’s safety.
In May of this year, prosecutors said Boeing violated terms of the 2021 agreement by failing to make promised changes to detect and prevent violations of federal anti-fraud laws. Boeing agreed this month to plead guilty to the felony fraud charge instead of enduring a potentially lengthy public trial.

Families and friends who lost loved ones in the March 10, 2019, Boeing 737 Max crash in Ethiopia, hold a memorial protest in front of the Boeing headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, on March 10, 2023 to mark the four-year anniversary of the event. (AFP)

The role and authority of the monitor is viewed as a key provision of the new plea deal, according to experts in corporate governance and white-collar crime. Cassell has said that families of the crash victims should have the right to propose a monitor for the judge to appoint. The agreement calls for the government to select the monitor “with feedback from Boeing.”
In Wednesday’s filing, the Justice Department said that Boeing “took considerable steps” to improve its anti-fraud compliance program since 2021, but the changes “have not been fully implemented or tested to demonstrate that they would prevent and detect similar misconduct in the future.”
That’s where the independent monitor will come in, “to reduce the risk of misconduct,” the plea deal states.
Boeing, which is based in Arlington, Virginia, is a major Pentagon and NASA contractor, and a guilty plea is not expected to change that. Government agencies have leeway to hire companies even after a criminal conviction. The plea agreement does not address the topic.
Some of the passengers’ relatives plan to ask the judge to reject the plea deal. They want a full trial, a harsher penalty for Boeing, and many of them want current and former Boeing executives to be charged.
If the judge approves the deal, it would apply to the criminal charge stemming from the 737 Max crashes. It would not resolve other matters, potentially including litigation related to the Alaska Airlines blowout.
Boeing could appeal any order the court imposes to pay restitution to victims’ families — the agreement leaves restitution up to the judge. The company could also appeal if the judge indirectly increases the fine beyond $243.6 million by failing to give Boeing credit for an identical amount it paid as part of the 2021 settlement.
O’Connor will give lawyers for the families seven days to file legal motions opposing the plea deal. Boeing and the Justice Department will have 14 days to respond, and the families will get five days to reply to the filings by the company and the government.


Typhoon Gaemi weakens as it leaves Taiwan for China

Typhoon Gaemi weakens as it leaves Taiwan for China
Updated 15 min 19 sec ago
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Typhoon Gaemi weakens as it leaves Taiwan for China

Typhoon Gaemi weakens as it leaves Taiwan for China

TAIPEI: Typhoon Gaemi passed through Taiwan overnight and was headed toward eastern China on Thursday, leaving two dead as heavy rains and strong gusts continued to lash the island in its wake.

The day before, the storm had forced Taiwan to cancel some of its annual war games, shutter schools and offices, and evacuate thousands from high-risk, landslide-prone areas.

By Thursday morning, its sustained wind speeds had weakened to 154 kilometers (95 miles) per hour after “the center has moved out to sea” at around 4:20 am (2020 GMT), said Taiwan’s Central Weather Administration.

“Wind and rain continue posing a threat to various parts of Taiwan, (and the outlying islands of) Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu,” the administration said.

The nearby Philippines — which was not in Gaemi’s path — saw its seasonal monsoon rains exacerbated by the typhoon’s impacts, triggering floods that killed at least six, according to authorities Wednesday.

The storm is now tracking toward China’s Fujian province, while Taiwan is still experiencing persistent downpours and reports of flooding in the south.

Several cities, including Taipei, announced a second consecutive day off, with schools, government offices and the stock market closed.

More than 200 people were injured and two killed before Gaemi made landfall at around midnight. A motorist in the southern Kaohsiung city was crushed by a tree, while a woman in eastern Hualien died after part of a building fell on her car.

Taiwan is accustomed to frequent tropical storms from July to October, but experts say climate change has increased their intensity, leading to heavy rains, flash floods and strong gusts.

At its peak, Gaemi packed sustained wind speeds of 190 kilometers (118 miles) per hour as it was barrelling toward Taiwan, prompting forecasters to say it could be “the strongest” typhoon to make landfall in eight years.


Violence sends Mexican families fleeing into Guatemala

Violence sends Mexican families fleeing into Guatemala
Updated 25 July 2024
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Violence sends Mexican families fleeing into Guatemala

Violence sends Mexican families fleeing into Guatemala

GUATEMALA CITY: Dozens of Mexican families have fled across the border into Guatemala because of drug cartel violence, Guatemalan President Bernardo Arevalo said Wednesday.

The Central American nation’s defense ministry said that the army was tightening security along the countries’ shared border.

Guatemalan authorities were providing assistance “to people who are escaping this confrontation between (criminal) groups that is taking place on the Mexican side,” Arevalo said at a press conference.

The office of the country’s human rights ombudsman told AFP that around 280-300 displaced Mexicans were at a temporary shelter near the border.

Mexico’s southernmost state of Chiapas draws tourists with its lush jungle, Indigenous communities and ancient Mayan ruins, but it has also seen intensifying turf wars between gangs fighting for control of drug and people-smuggling routes.

In late June, a clash between drug cartels in Chiapas left 19 people dead, including several Guatemalans.

Earlier that month, violence displaced several thousand people in the southern state.

Spiraling criminal violence has seen more than 450,000 people murdered in Mexico since the government of then-president Felipe Calderon launched a military offensive against drug gangs in 2006.


Australia imposes sanctions on Israeli settlers, youth group over West Bank violence

Australia imposes sanctions on Israeli settlers, youth group over West Bank violence
Updated 25 July 2024
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Australia imposes sanctions on Israeli settlers, youth group over West Bank violence

Australia imposes sanctions on Israeli settlers, youth group over West Bank violence
  • Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the unnamed group was responsible for inciting and perpetrating violence against Palestinians
  • Australia considers Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian Territories illegal and an obstacle to peace.

SYDNEY: Australia on Thursday imposed financial sanctions and travel bans on seven Israeli settlers and a youth group it said had been involved in violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.
The unnamed group was responsible for inciting and perpetrating violence against Palestinians, while the settlers had been involved in beatings, sexual assault and torture and in some cases death, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said.
“We call on Israel to hold perpetrators of settler violence to account and to cease its ongoing settlement activity, which only inflames tensions and further undermines stability and prospects for a two-state solution,” Wong said in a statement.

The move by the Australian government comes after allies Britain, the United States, Canada and Japan sanctioned some Israeli settlers in response to the violence in the West Bank.

Palestinian Mohamed al-Nawajaa, 78, talks with a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity coordinator, in Susya village, in the south of the occupied West Bank, July 17, 2024. (AFP)

Israel’s embassy in Australia said the country condemned violence acts against Palestinian communities.
“Israel is a state of law and will work to bring the extreme minority involved to justice,” a spokesperson said in an email.
Violent acts by some Israeli settlers in the West Bank have increased amid Israel’s war in Gaza, sparked by an attack on Israel by Palestinian militant group Hamas on Oct. 7.
Since the 1967 Middle East war, Israel has occupied the West Bank of the Jordan River which Palestinians want as the core of an independent state. It has built Jewish settlements there that most countries deem illegal but Israel disputes this and cites historical and Biblical ties to the land.
Australia considers Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian Territories illegal and an obstacle to peace.


Venezuela’s Maduro is everywhere as vote looms

Venezuela’s Maduro is everywhere as vote looms
Updated 25 July 2024
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Venezuela’s Maduro is everywhere as vote looms

Venezuela’s Maduro is everywhere as vote looms

CARACAS: Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro is omnipresent in the runup to elections Sunday — shaking his fist on state TV, smiling on building facades in Caracas, beaming from the night sky over Maracaibo.

Unlimited access to state media and propaganda funding has allowed non-stop appearances on television, radio, murals, toll booth signage and even ambulances.

The opposition, in comparison, has been all but absent from traditional campaigning platforms in a political climate widely denounced as authoritarian. Nevertheless, polls show the opposition leaving Maduro in the dust.

It is not for a lack of trying on his part.

A well-oiled spin machine has worked 24-7 to portray the 61-year-old as an anti-imperialist strongman, but caring and convivial.

Maduro is shown alternately railing against capitalist “fascists,” dancing salsa with his wife, and promising prosperity after years of economic crisis that has sent more than seven million Venezuelans fleeing — almost a quarter of the population.

“There is a saturation that allows him to survive in the minds of people,” Leon Hernandez of the Andres Bello Catholic University’s Institute for Information and Communication Research told AFP.

And importantly, to remind them that he is the heir of the late socialist icon Hugo Chavez. Unlike Maduro, he remains wildly popular and is hailed by many as a revolutionary hero.

With no independent TV channels left, images of opposition candidate Edmundo Gonzalez Urrutia do not make it into people’s living rooms.

Instead, the opposition communicates on YouTube and TikTok, a space they also have to share with Maduro’s 24-hour spin machine.

The president, seeking a third six-year term at the helm, blares at his people in numerous daily broadcasts of his campaign “pilgrimage” through Venezuela.

He is also the subject of a film that recently premiered at a Caracas theater, based on a book about his life.

To augment his real-life presence, Maduro also has a cartoon character in his image — a caped hero named Super-Bigote (Super Moustache) fighting monsters sent by the United States.

And he has recently embraced the emblem of a fighting cock with feathers in Venezuela’s yellow, blue and red, that is meant to highlight his sprightliness relative to the soft-spoken 74-year-old Gonzalez Urrutia.

Cock crows can be heard echoing over Maduro’s live election events, and campaign songs glorify the pugilist bird.

The cock has also featured, along with Maduro’s face, in a drone light show over Maracaibo, once the epicenter of the petro-state’s oil riches but today battling constant fuel shortages among other ills.

On the other side of the spectrum, there has been little space for opposition voices in an independent media.

More than 400 private newspapers, radio and television stations have closed in over two decades of Chavista rule — a social movement named after Chavez.

Others were bought by business people close to the regime. Yet more opted for self-censorship to continue operating semi-independently.

Foreign networks such as CNN Spanish and Deutsche Welle (DW) were taken off air by cable providers on the government’s orders.

On platforms like YouTube, from which the opposition cannot be banned, the onslaught has been relentless.

Videos accuse Gonzalez Urrutia — a stand-in for wildly popular opposition leader Maria Corina Machado, barred from the race by institutions loyal to Maduro — of fomenting plots and wanting to “give” Venezuelan oil to the United States.

In a country where the electoral authority is aligned to the regime, there are no posters bearing Gonzalez Urrutia’s face, and few alluding to the opposition at all.

During the campaign, which officially closes on Thursday, Gonzalez Urrutia was able to secure only a handful of interviews in national media, conducted in a climate of strict regime oversight and self-censorship.

Disinformation, too, has been a popular tool.

Military leaders recently spread a video of a talk given by Machado and Gonzalez Urrutia in front of a screen listing proposals to privatize the PDVSA state oil company and the education system.

AFP has established that the video was altered, and the screen had in fact been blank.