Archive for May, 2017

House Intelligence Panel Issues Seven Subpoenas in Russia Probe

May 31, 2017

Four are related to Russia investigation, three to ‘unmasking’ controversy, individuals say

Former CIA Director John Brennan testifying before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last week.

Former CIA Director John Brennan testifying before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last week. PHOTO: DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES

The House Intelligence Committee issued seven subpoenas on Wednesday, in a sign that its investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election is ramping up in scope and intensity, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Republican-led committee issued four subpoenas related to the Russia investigation. Three subpoenas are related to questions about how and why the names of associates of President Donald Trump were unredacted and distributed within classified reports by Obama administration officials during the transition between administrations.

The committee has subpoenaed the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency for information about what is called “unmasking.” Republicans on the committee have been pushing for a thorough investigation of how the names of Trump campaign officials became exposed in classified intelligence reports based off intelligence community intercepts.

Those subpoenas seek information on requests made by former national security adviser Susan Rice, former CIA Director John Brennan and former United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power for names to be unmasked in classified material. The three didn’t personally receive subpoenas, the people familiar with the matte said. Mr. Brennan, Ms. Rice and Ms. Power didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Ms. Power hasn’t previously been reported as a potential witness in the probe so her inclusion in the subpoenas may mean Republicans are broadening their areas of investigation.

Typically, information about Americans intercepted in foreign surveillance is redacted, even in classified reports distributed within the government, unless a compelling need exists to reveal them. Unmasking requests aren’t uncommon by top intelligence community officials but Republicans want to know whether any of the unmaskings of Trump campaign officials during the transition were politically motivated.

The four subpoenas related to the Russia investigation remain unknown but Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the panel, has previously said that former national security adviser Mike Flynn would be subpoenaed by the panel. It is unclear if Mr. Flynn is one of the four targeted Wednesday.

The House Intelligence Committee is one of two bodies currently probing the question of whether Russian meddled in the 2016 election and whether anyone from Mr. Trump’s campaign played a role. The Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting its own investigation and has already issued subpoenas to Mr. Flynn and his businesses. Mr. Trump has said there was no collusion with Russia and called the investigation a witch hunt. Russia has denied the allegations.

The House panel also sent a letter to former White House press aide Boris Epshteyn asking him to voluntarily submit information to the committee. Mr. Epshteyn briefly served as special assistant to the president in the Trump administration before departing his post earlier this year.

“Like many others, Mr. Epshteyn has received a broad, preliminary request for information from the House Intelligence Committee,” an attorney for Mr. Epshteyn said Wednesday. “This is a voluntary request. Mr. Epshteyn has not been subpoenaed nor do we anticipate that he will be. We have reached out to the committee with several follow up questions and we are awaiting their response in order to better understand what information they are seeking and whether Mr. Epshteyn is able to reasonably provide it.”

Write to Byron Tau at byron.tau@wsj.com

Comey to Testify That Trump Asked Him to Back Off Flynn Investigation

May 31, 2017

Former FBI director’s Senate testimony will be his first time speaking in public since president unexpectedly fired him

Former FBI Director James Comey during a House intelligence committee hearing in March.

Former FBI Director James Comey during a House intelligence committee hearing in March. PHOTO: NICHOLAS KAMM/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

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Updated May 31, 2017 3:14 p.m. ET

Former FBI Director James Comey is expected to testify as early as next week before a Senate committee that President Donald Trump asked him to back off the investigation of former national security adviser Mike Flynn, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee would be Mr. Comey’s first time speaking in public following his unexpected firing on May 9 by President Trump.

Mr. Comey wrote in a memo after a February encounter with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office that the president said to him, “I hope you can let this go,” referring to the FBI’s investigation of Mr. Flynn, according to people who have seen the memo. Mr. Trump has denied asking Mr. Comey to drop the investigation of Mr. Flynn.

The Oval Office conversation took place shortly after Mr. Flynn resigned under pressure for having misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his phone conversations with a Russian diplomat.

Related Video

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/comey-to-testify-publicly-before-senate-intelligence-committee-1496255738?mod=e2tweu
Trump Cites Russian Investigation in Reasons for Firing Comey
After a flurry of explanations from administration officials for how and why President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, the President went on the record himself, saying the decision was related to the handling of the Russian hacking investigations. WSJ’s Jason Bellini reports. Photo: AP

The controversy surrounding President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey continues to grip Washington. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains how the uproar, and any impact on his approval ratings, may affect Mr. Trump’s agenda. Photo: Getty

The former national security adviser is also being investigated by federal authorities for potential violations of a law regarding the disclosure of work for a foreign power.

In early March, Mr. Flynn filed a retroactive disclosure form with the Justice Department detailing how his firm received $530,000 in 2016 from a Turkish businessman through a Dutch company called Inovo BV.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, along with several other congressional panels, is investigating possible collusion by members of the Trump campaign with Russia in its meddling in the 2016 elections.

Mr. Comey was spearheading the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe into Moscow’s interference when he was fired by Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump has said there was no collusion with Russia and called the investigation a witch hunt. Russia has denied the allegations.

Following the firing, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed a special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, to lead the federal inquiry.

Mr. Comey has spoken to members of Mr. Mueller’s team to ensure his testimony won’t hurt the special counsel’s investigation, according to the person familiar with the matter. It isn’t clear if the White House will seek to intervene and block Mr. Comey’s testimony.

The testimony could come as early as June 8, according to people close to Mr. Comey.

Rebecca Watkins, a spokeswoman for Sen. Richard Burr (R., N.C.), the chairman of the intelligence committee, said in a statement that the committee “welcomes the testimony of former Director Comey, but does not have an announcement to make at this time.”

Rachel Cohen, a spokeswoman for Sen. Mark Warner, the committee’s top Democrat, declined to comment.

Write to Del Quentin Wilber at del.wilber@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/comey-to-testify-publicly-before-senate-intelligence-committee-1496255738?mod=e2tweu

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Comey to testify publicly about Trump confrontations

May 31, 2017

Updated 1:24 PM ET, Wed May 31, 2017

Image may contain: 1 person

(CNN) Fired FBI director James Comey plans to testify publicly in the Senate as early as next week to confirm bombshell accusations that President Donald Trump pressured him to end his investigation into a top Trump aide’s ties to Russia, a source close to the issue said Wednesday.

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Final details are still being worked out and no official date for his testimony has been set. Comey is expected to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia during last year’s presidential election.
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Comey has spoken privately with Special Counsel Robert Mueller III to work out the parameters for his testimony to ensure there are no legal entanglements as a result of his public account, a source said. Comey will likely sit down with Mueller, a longtime colleague at the Justice Department, for a formal interview only after his public testimony.
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When he testifies, Comey is unlikely to be willing to discuss in any detail the FBI’s investigation into the charges of possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign — the centerpiece of the probe, this source said. But he appears eager to discuss his tense interactions with Trump before his firing, which have now spurred allegations that the president may have tried to obstruct the investigation. If it happens, Comey’s public testimony promises to be a dramatic chapter in the months-long controversy, and it will likely bring even more intense scrutiny to an investigation that Trump has repeatedly denounced as a “witch hunt.”
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The appointment of Mueller as a special counsel in the Russia investigation had raised concerns among some members of Congress that his probe could scuttle the chance for Congress and the public to hear directly from Comey. That appears less likely now that Mueller and Comey have discussed the limits of his testimony.
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Since his firing last month, dramatic accounts have emerged in the New York Times, CNN, and elsewhere about the tense confrontations with Trump that Comey memorialized in memos afterward. A week after he took office in January, Trump allegedly demanded Comey’s “loyalty” if he kept him on as FBI director, and he urged Comey to drop his ongoing investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump’s fired national security adviser, in a separate, one-on-one meeting.
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The source said that Comey is expected to stand by those accounts in his testimony.
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“The bottom line is he’s going to testify,” the source close to the issue said. “He’s happy to testify, and he’s happy to cooperate.”
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Officials with the Justice Department and Mueller’s office declined to comment.
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Seven Tons of Pangolin Scales Seized in Hong Kong — Importing or exporting an endangered species without a license is illegal

May 31, 2017

A shipment from Nigeria was seized on Monday after Hong Kong Customs found it to contain 7.2 tons of suspected scales from endangered pangolins on Monday.

The shipment, which was declared to be charcoal, arrived at the Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound in a 20-foot container from Africa earlier this week. Officials inspected the container as part of a risk assessment, and found around 7,200kg of suspected pangolin scales, with an estimated market value of HKD4.6 million.

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Pangolin

Under Hong Kong law, anyone found guilty of importing or exporting an endangered species without a license could face a maximum fine of HKD5 million and two years’ imprisonment.

Pangolins are the most illegally trafficked animal on earth, surpassing the trafficking of even rhinoceroses and elephants. The endangered animals, which are also known as scaly anteaters, are valued in traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicine as their keratin-rich scales are believed to have healing properties — and are literally being eaten out of existence.

Learn more about these elusive animals and the fight to save them in the Coconuts TV documentary “Guardians of the Pangolin”:

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Uganda probes Chinese diplomats over ivory trafficking

May 31, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Uganda has announced a probe into possible collusion between wildlife officials and Chinese diplomats in the trafficking of ivory

KAMPALA (AFP) – 

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has ordered an investigation into possible collusion between the country’s wildlife agency and two Chinese diplomats in the trafficking of ivory.

Poaching has risen sharply in recent years across Africa, fuelled by rising demand in Asia for ivory and rhino horn, coveted as a traditional medicine and a status symbol. Uganda is a major transit country for the illegal trade.

The Chinese embassy officials are suspected of colluding in the movement of ivory from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan, using Uganda as a transit point, a government official said.

Ali Munira, spokeswoman for the Inspectorate General of Government (IGG) ombudsman, did not name the Chinese diplomats but said the Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA) was under suspicion.

The Chinese embassy could not be reached for comment.

Museveni has also ordered a new probe into the theft of ivory worth more than $1-million in November 2014.

“The president’s directive to the IGG is to have all these accusations investigated and if there is a prima facie case, the executive director (of the UWA) should be suspended alongside other officials,” said Munira.

Five top officials were suspended from the UWA after the disappearance of the 1,335 kilogrammes (2,943 pounds) of ivory from supposedly secure stockpiles.

The outcome of the initial investigation, which involved Interpol, was never made public, although the international police network did carry out sting operations on trafficking networks throughout East Africa in 2015.

A police source involved in earlier investigations said it appeared Museveni was not pleased with the prior probe and that new intelligence showed the likely involvement of Chinese officials.

More than 35,000 elephants are killed across Africa every year for their tusks.

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Labour Leader Corbyn Gains Ground — Only 6 Point Behind in UK Election — Jeremy Corbyn takes part as Theresa May sits out seven-way debate

May 31, 2017

READING, England — For a radical socialist written off by many as a no-hoper leading Britain’s Labour Party to its worst ever election defeat on June 8, Jeremy Corbyn is pulling in big crowds.

Corbyn, a 68-year-old peace campaigner, has been speaking at modestly-attended fringe rallies and demonstrations for decades. But he now seems to have more of audience.

In a leisure center car park on the outskirts of Reading, 40 miles from London, more than a thousand people gathered in the middle of a working day, leaving behind their desk jobs and even climbing trees to catch a glimpse of Corbyn.

“He’s a normal person, which I think resonates,” said Trish Whitham, a former Green Party voter who had traveled around an hour to get to a Corbyn rally – the first she had ever attended.

“People have complained about him being a bit scruffy so he’s smartened up a bit, but he’s never going to be a media person, he’s never going to conform to what the media wants him to be – which is another thing I really like him for.”

Image result for Jeremy Corbyn, photos

Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election last month when she was riding high in opinion polls, hoping for a landslide win on a par with the era-defining victories of Margaret Thatcher in 1983 and Tony Blair in 1997.

But May’s lead has shrunk from more than 20 percentage points to as little as 5 points, according to opinion polls, though all major polls put May in the lead.

Another who attended Corbyn’s rally said he was curious about a politician who appeared genuine.

“I heard they were coming and I’d seen on the news how great some of his rallies were so I thought I’d come down and check it out,” said Jason Guy, a 28-year-old insurance worker who joined Labour a week ago after reading Corbyn’s manifesto.

“He doesn’t seem like other politicians where it’s just full of fluff and nothing, and constant regurgitation of slogans; he seems to actually mean what he says.”

After losing a second successive national election in 2015 Labour took a sharp turn to the political left. They picked Corbyn, a rank outsider who just scraped enough nominations to make it into the contest, to lead the party in a new direction.

Corbyn’s drive to align Labour more closely with its socialist roots and eschew the pro-business centrist platform championed by three-time election winner Blair has split the party.

By attracting thousands of zealous young new supporters and re-engaging hard-left activists who had abandoned the party under Blair, Corbyn created a power base that helped him survive an attempted coup by party moderates last year.

His manifesto for renationalisation, higher public spending and tax rises for the rich has gone down well with a wide pool of voters, while May has upset core supporters with a plan to make the elderly pay more toward their old age care.

“Support for Labour among younger voters has gone up, and gone up dramatically, but then the crucial question is whether these young people will come out to vote,” said John Curtice, a leading psephologist who is president of the British Polling Council.

INSURGENT CAMPAIGN

Wednesday’s event was one of dozens of rallies across the country led by Corbyn, drawing thousands but operating largely beneath a media radar which has been more focused on the margin of victory his rival might achieve.

Echoing elements of U.S. President Donald Trump’s election-winning rhetoric, Corbyn and senior Labour figures have leveraged strong support on social media by criticizing traditional media outlets and stirring an anti-establishment mood.

A campaign source said momentum behind Corbyn had been building ever since election broadcasting regulations, which ensure party leaders get airtime, came into force a month ago.

“We’re demonstrating the energy and the excitement behind the campaign and behind the manifesto,” the source said. “The size has been growing – we’ve been seeing remarkable things.”

The crowd in Reading, a staunchly Conservative town close to May’s own parliamentary seat, was a mix of local Labour activists, trade union volunteers and first-time voters.

“He’s highlighting a lot of issues that are so blatantly around in society – I’m a social worker and I see a lot of stuff all the time – and he is actually trying to make a difference,” said Eloise, a social worker who declined to give her surname.

“There are a lot of people who are suffering in this country, and this is meant to be a first-world country. It’s unbelievable, the divide,” she said from her vantage point, halfway up a tree.

(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Andrew Roche)

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BBC Election Debate Live: Jeremy Corbyn takes part as Theresa May sits it out

Theresa May has been accused of running scared of tonight’s seven-way debate on the BBC as she also faced accusations of “extreme cowardice” over her decision not to take part.

Jeremy Corbyn accused the Prime Minister of showing “weakness” and claimed she was treating the public with “contempt” by failing to show up.

It came as the Labour leader dramatically announced he would join the set-piece clash and threw down the gauntlet for Mrs May to join him.

Read the rest:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/31/bbc-election-debate-live-jeremy-corbyn/

Ohio Sues Five Drug Firms, Saying They Fueled Opioid Crisis

May 31, 2017

Attorney general of state hard-hit by addiction says companies misrepresented risks

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, shown in early 2016, said the state is suing five drugmakers.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, shown in early 2016, said the state is suing five drugmakers. PHOTO: JOHN MINCHILLO/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Ohio is suing five drug makers, the state’s attorney general said, alleging they fueled the opioid crisis by misrepresenting the addictive risks of their painkillers.

The lawsuit targets Purdue Pharma LP, Endo Health Solutions, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon and Allergan PLC, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Mike DeWine said. The companies couldn’t immediately be reached to comment.

In a news conference, Mr. DeWine, a Republican, said the companies were dishonest with doctors about their painkillers’ risks. He said they marketed heavily to general practitioners, who “may not have a particular specialty” in treating pain.

“The evidence is going to show they knew what they were saying was not true and they did it to increase sales,” Mr. DeWine said.

In 2016, Wall Street Journal video journalists Robert Libetti and Adya Beasley chronicled the devastating impact of opioid abuse. This is the story of four families touched by the epidemic. Photo: Robert Libetti

Ohio has been among the states hardest-hit by opioid addiction, which has helped drive U.S. overdose deaths to all-time highs. Many people became addicted by taking powerful opioid painkillers, and often progressed to heroin if they couldn’t get access to pills. Public-health officials have long blamed lax opioid painkiller prescribing for sparking the crisis.

Some big pharmaceutical companies have paid large fines over their marketing of opioid painkillers. In 2007, Purdue Frederick Co., an affiliate of Purdue Pharma, and three of its executives pleaded guilty to criminal charges of misleading the public about the addictive qualities of OxyContin, and agreed to pay $634.5 million in fines.

Write to Jeanne Whalen at jeanne.whalen@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/ohio-sues-five-drug-firms-saying-they-fueled-opioid-crisis-1496248317?mod=djemalertNEWS

In The Philippines, Most People Support President Duterte — “Rody”

May 31, 2017

In the Philippines, All the President’s People

CANBERRA, Australia — In the year that he has been president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte has been called a murderer, a tyrant, a misogynist and a madman. And yet, according to some recent opinion polls, he inspires “much trust” in 80 percent of Filipinos.

Mr. Duterte’s supporters are sometimes pejoratively called “Dutertards.” But are they simply naïve, and easy prey for demagoguery, propaganda and fake news? I don’t think so.

For more than three years, I have been studying how democratic politics takes shape in post-disaster contexts — specifically in communities that were affected by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. Haiyan was one of the strongest tropical storms ever to make landfall, and it killed more than 6,200 people.

Tacloban City, my field site, was ground zero for the cyclone. A city of about 240,000 people in the central part of the Philippines, it is a hub of commerce, trade, education and tourism in one of the country’s poorest regions. I have talked to more than 250 residents, mostly in hazard-prone areas the government has declared “no-build zones,” and many, while still reeling from the disaster, were energized when Mr. Duterte ran for the presidency, and when he won it.

Tacloban may not be an exact snapshot of the entire country, but it reveals something important, and something beyond the merely anecdotal, about why communities living in precarious conditions value Mr. Duterte’s leadership: He seems like a rare politician who doesn’t forget about the people.

Consider Shirelyn, a gregarious mother of two in her 20s. When I first met her in 2014, she lived in a shanty made of driftwood and galvanized iron sheets. Her home had been washed away by the typhoon. Shirelyn worked odd jobs whenever her partner, a pedicab driver, failed to earn enough to support the family.

Last year, she chose to forego a few days’ pay to campaign for Mr. Duterte when he was running for president. “This is the least I can do,” she told me in April 2016, at the height of the race.

Mr. Duterte was the mayor of Davao City when Haiyan struck, and he sent rescue operations to Tacloban at the time. “It’s our turn to help him” said posters plastered around Tacloban during his presidential bid.

Six months into his term, Mr. Duterte’s campaign promise “change is coming” materialized for Shirelyn. She and her family were relocated to the northern part of the city — to a house with concrete walls, a toilet, even a garden. Her new home brings to mind the aspirational middle-class gated communities of Manila, with their brightly painted welcome arches, rowhouse designs and picket fences.

“I knew Duterte would not forget,” Shirelyn said.

In November I heard Mr. Duterte give a speech in Tacloban commemorating the third anniversary of Haiyan’s landing. He promised to speed up relief assistance in the region, which had stalled. And he threatened to kill a government official he had put in charge of the effort if that official failed to move families into permanent disaster-proof homes fast enough. (“You know mate,” he told the man, who was on stage with him, “in truth, it’s rare that I shoot people, especially my friends. But if you are unable to do this…”)

In the same speech, Mr. Duterte also made a comment implying that he had ogled Vice President Leni Robredo’s legs during cabinet meetings.

“What a pervert,” I whispered to an old woman sitting next to me in the audience. “Let it go,” she said. “He cared enough to be here.”

Politicians in the Philippines are often viewed as opportunists who reach out to constituents while they are courting votes but disappear from view once in office. To Haiyan survivors, Mr. Duterte is different. Three years after the disaster, even since becoming president, he came to Tacloban. This set him apart from his predecessor, Benigno S. Aquino, who once castigated survivors for complaining about their hardships instead of being grateful for still being alive.

The paradox, of course, is that even as Mr. Duterte restores dignity to disaster victims who have felt neglected by the state, his administration is attacking other vulnerable communities, like suspected drug users and those around them.

In January I asked Rafael, a security guard in Tacloban, how he felt about the government’s campaign against drugs, which has already claimed more lives than Haiyan did. Rafael lost his wife to the typhoon.

“It’s sad,” he said, mentioning the case of a teenager who was killed by unidentified gunmen after being mistaken for someone else. “But others deserve it. I know. I patrol the streets here.”

I asked if he thought that what Mr. Duterte was doing was fair. “He has been fair to us,” Rafael replied.

In other words: Not all suffering is equal, and compassion must be earned. Mr. Duterte’s antidrug campaign masterfully builds on the popular view that there are hierarchies of misery.

In a village near where Shirelyn used to live, a market vendor proudly told me that she had reported a drug dealer to the head of the village.

“I have been working hard to put my kids to school,” she said. “Then this man sells them drugs. This can’t be.”

The dealer is now on a government watch list.

According to a poll conducted in March, 73 percent of respondents said they were worried that they or someone they knew might become the victim of an extrajudicial killing. But the anxiety I encountered in Tacloban was about something else. It was about people’s fear of being abandoned by the state once again.

Shirelyn showed me a notebook in which she had written down the promises Mr. Duterte made in his first address to the country as president. This was in January, a few months after she moved into her new home. For that, she was grateful; about the rest — the jobs, the new schools and the better health care to come — she was unsure.

“I made a list so I won’t forget,” she said. “We know what we deserve.” Mr. Duterte might get away with murder, but he won’t get away with broken promises.

EU corruption watchdog ‘flooded’ with cases

May 31, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Corruption watchdog OLAF said it detected an estimated 631 million euros ($705 million) in EU funds that were lost to fraudulent claims in 2016

BRUSSELS (AFP) – 

The EU’s anti-graft watchdog said Wednesday it has been “flooded” with alleged fraud cases in the European Parliament and other bodies that have dragged in France’s far-right National Front.

OLAF said cases in the European Parliament last year involved fictitious employment, the fraudulent declaration of allowances and misuse of funding to support the activities of national parties.

“Last year the unit dealing with internal cases has been flooded,” OLAF director general Giovanni Kessler told a press conference in Brussels as he presented his annual report.

In 2016, he said out of a total 272 investigations concluded, 34 focused on EU employees or members and staff of the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Investment Bank and the EU Court of Justice, the bloc’s top court.

The watchdog, which has no power of its own to take punitive actions, made recommendations in 25 of those cases.

Kessler said his body is pursuing another 47 investigations this year, most of them linked to the European Parliament.

Kessler referred to the high-profile case of a parliamentary assistant working for the National Front (FN), headed by Marine Le Pen who lost to Emmanuel Macron in this year’s race for the French presidency.

OLAF concluded that Le Pen, also a member of the European Parliament, had improperly used parliament funds to pay an assistant for a fake job and recommended the body recover more than 300,000 euros.

It also recommended disciplinary proceedings against the assistant.

The FN meanwhile has accused 19 French MEPs, including France’s new European affairs minister Marielle de Sarnez, of having employed fake assistants.

In its annual report, OLAF said it detected an estimated 631 million euros ($705 million) in EU funds that were lost to an array of fraudulent claims in 2016, which is lower than the 888 million euros it said were bilked in 2015.

The total EU budget for last year amounted to 136 billion euros.

The losses also related to cigarette smuggling as well as fraud in public procurement projects, but did not include a case of Chinese imports to Britain that was only concluded this year.

OLAF accuses Britain of ignoring rampant use of fake invoices and customs claims by Chinese importers which cost 1.99 billion euros ($2.1 billion) in lost customs duties to the EU.

© 2017 AFP

Vietnam Explores Its Trade Options With the U.S.

May 31, 2017

By John Lyons, Jacob M. Schlesinger and William Mauldin
The Wall Street Journal
May 31, 2017 11:02 a.m. ET

When U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of a 12-country free-trade accord in January, it upended the plans of banker-turned-entrepreneur Rose Tran in Vietnam.

Ms. Tran had raised $50 million to set up a suit factory in Ho Chi Minh City, betting on the increased access to markets like the U.S. that the Trans-Pacific Partnership was supposed to bring. “We were disappointed to say the least,” said Ms. Tran, who is scrambling to remake her strategy and repay her debts.

Five months later, trade experts are watching a Wednesday meeting between Mr. Trump and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc for hints on how the new administration will deal with countries like Vietnam, which is counting on exports from businesses like Ms. Tran’s to help it build wealth and develop its economy.

Vietnam has grown more than 6% a year for a decade by providing cheap manufacturing for companies from Nike Inc. to Samsung Electronics Co. Economists estimate the scrapped TPP deal would have let the country export more, boosting Vietnam’s economy by at least 8 percentage points — more than any other TPP partner. Vietnam also saw the deal as driving domestic overhauls, and helping offset the rise of China by anchoring the U.S. to the region.

International trade experts say that Mr. Phuc hopes to start talks to replace TPP with one of the bilateral, country-to-country deals that the Trump administration says it prefers over multination accords.

“The Vietnamese want to find out more clearly where the U.S. is” on trade, says John Goyer, senior director for Southeast Asia for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington. “From Hanoi’s perspective, ‘What does the U.S. want in a bilateral that they didn’t get in TPP? What do we have to give up?’ ”

Vietnamese authorities declined to respond to questions for this story.

While Trump officials have said a bilateral trade deal with Vietnam is possible, it would likely only be considered after higher-priority items such as revising the North American Free Trade Agreement and pacts with the U.K. or Japan, according to people familiar with the process.

On Tuesday, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer appeared to tag Vietnam as a country unfairly benefiting from trade by selling more to the U.S. than it buys. Mr. Lighthizer emphasized a $32 billion U.S. trade deficit with Vietnam while introducing Mr. Phuc at an event for businesses.

“This concerning growth in our trade deficit presents new challenges,” Mr. Lighthizer said.

Some economists argue that even if the U.S. curbs imports from countries like Vietnam, it is unlikely that much manufacturing will shift back to higher-cost American factories.

And engaging with Vietnam on trade could carry security benefits for the U.S., foreign policy experts say. Both nations are skeptical about the rise of China, which has fought multiple wars with neighboring Vietnam. Vietnam’s relations with the U.S. — long chilly following the Vietnam War — have warmed. Last year, the U.S. lifted a ban on selling lethal weapons to Vietnam.

More recently, Vietnamese diplomats urged other Southeast Asian nations to perform joint military exercises with the U.S. despite China’s objections, according to diplomatic officials in the region.

“The Vietnamese, of all the Asian countries, are the most worried about Chinese influence,” says Ernie Bower, president of the Bower Group, an Asia Pacific think tank.

Signing trade deals with other countries is an important part of Vietnam’s strategy to limit its reliance on China, trade experts say. China is pushing a separate Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade deal with the U.S., while doling out loans and infrastructure projects around the region.

Vietnam is in the final stages of a trade accord with the European Union. TPP nations are also considering a deal without the U.S., a move that would keep the accord alive and allow the U.S. to rejoin later.

Economist Pham Chi Lan, who gave birth to her only son in a Hanoi bunker under U.S. bombardment in the 1970s, has argued for more engagement with the U.S. and for a more open, market-driven economy. Ms. Lan and others want Vietnam’s leaders to enact most of the reforms they agreed to under TPP, to keep Vietnam on its growth path.

That includes pushing inefficient state-owned companies to sell off noncore businesses and face more competition. “It will be hard to do without TPP, but we are committed,” she said.

At her suit factory, LPTEX, Ms. Tran is figuring out a new export strategy post-TPP. To qualify for local content rules under TPP, Ms. Tran imported expensive fabric-making machines from Europe. She hired an Italian expert to manage them and found him a translator.

That anticipated advantage is gone, but Ms. Tran still hopes the equipment will help her snag contracts with higher quality customers. So far it is working, and LPTEX is producing suits for several brands in Europe.

Her new company slogan: “Producing in Vietnam with the quality of Italy and the standard of Japan.”

“TPP is not coming, but we still think we will crack the U.S. on quality, ” Ms. Tran says.

–Vu Trong Khanh contributed to this article.

Write to John Lyons at john.lyons@wsj.com, Jacob M. Schlesinger at jacob.schlesinger@wsj.com and William Mauldin at william.mauldin@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/vietnam-explores-its-trade-options-with-the-u-s-1496242942

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