Posts Tagged ‘corruption’

Why the choice between Netanyahu and the rule of law is no choice at all for Israel

February 21, 2018

Is Israel going to drum out a skilled PM for a few piffling infractions? Well, it might, but they may not be piffling, and the framers of our laws ensured it won’t be done lightly

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves the Muni World conference in Tel Aviv on February 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves the Muni World conference in Tel Aviv on February 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

Toward the end of a panel discussion in which I participated on Tuesday evening, organized by American Jewish leaders on a mission to Jerusalem, a member of the audience asked us whether we realized how lacking in self-awareness Israel currently seems to many of its supporters overseas, as it apparently moves to hound out of office a highly effective prime minister for alleged bribery offenses involving piffling sums.

The $300,000 or so in total that Netanyahu and wife Sara is alleged to have received in cigars, champagne and other goodies from billionaire friends Arnon Milchan and James Packer, the questioner scoffed at our session of the annual gathering in Jerusalem of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, is so insignificant it could be regarded as a rounding-off number.

Over such a sum, he asked in outraged bafflement, Israel was going to lose a leader uniquely capable of keeping the country safe and thriving?

Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich attends an Interior Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on February 20, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

There was plainly a degree of support for this view in the room; the questioner received a smattering of applause. One of my fellow panelists, in similar vein, had earlier suggested that police chief Roni Alsheich ought not to be pursuing the various corruption investigations into Netanyahu, because the prime minister needed to focus his full attention on the security challenges facing Israel; any criminal probes should wait until his time in office was completed.

With Iran now encamped directly on our northern border, and upping the ante just days ago by sending one of its own drones into the country in an unprecedented direct challenge; with Hezbollah strengthening, the Mahmoud Abbas era nearing its end, Putin ascendant in the neighborhood and an unpredictable if supportive US president, there are indeed threats and instabilities in most every direction.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends an inauguration ceremony for a new emergency room at the Barzilai Hospital in the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon on February 20, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

Looking back over recent years in which Netanyahu-led Israel has maintained relative stability and strong economic growth while much of the Middle East collapsed around it, and watching the dexterity with which Netanyahu puts Israel’s case to key world leaders, it is easy to understand why many people watching from overseas who care for this country would be horrified at the notion of an Israel helmed by anybody else. Indeed, polls taken in the last few days — even as police recommended that Netanyahu be prosecuted for fraud, breach of trust and bribery in two cases, and with new criminal allegations continuing to surface — underline how widely supported Netanyahu remains among Israelis too. As of this writing, I have yet to see a survey indicating anyone but Netanyahu as our preferred choice of prime minister.

Communications Ministry Director-General Shlomo Filber at a Knesset committee meeting on July 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Even today, with Israel’s opposition leader Avi Gabbay having proclaimed that “the era of Netanyahu is over,” and one of the prime minister’s closest aides, Communications Ministry director Shlomo Filber, turning state witness against him, there is no definitive saying when or even whether Netanyahu will fall. It might be credibly asserted that Filber could turn out to be Netanyahu’s Shula Zaken — the longtime aide turned state witness, privy to all the boss’s darkest secrets, whose testimony was central to the conviction and eventual incarceration of prime minister Ehud Olmert. But Netanyahu, it should be stressed, retains the presumption of innocence, has not been charged with any offense, and is unlikely to be charged for many, many months at the earliest.

Ehud Olmert and Shula Zaken in September 2011 (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

Ehud Olmert (left) and Shula Zaken, September 2011 (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

Nonetheless, the notion that this or any other prime minister, this or any other Israeli, however effective and ostensibly uniquely masterful, should be given special legal dispensation — should be, that is, above the law — does not bear close scrutiny.

An argument can be made that a national leader constrained by term limits should be protected from investigation and prosecution in most circumstances. France, for instance, provides that immunity for its presidents, who may serve no more than two five-year terms. But in an Israel without term limits, a prime minister could utilize such protection to not just discredit but actively work to dismantle the democratic framework, including the law enforcement authorities. Fighting for his political life, Netanyahu has taken not only to castigating his political opposition, but also the media, and most unconscionably of late, the police, which he has accused of bias and a lack of objectivity. Freed from the imperative to answer to any alleged crimes until out of office, a prime minister might be tempted to do everything to ensure that day never came.

Israel’s second longest-serving prime minister (he has to hang on until July 2019 to overtake David Ben-Gurion), Netanyahu has long since persuaded himself that his presence in the Prime Minister’s Office is crucial to Israel’s very survival. Many Israelis, and many of Israel’s supporters around the world, share that assessment. But more than Israel needs Netanyahu or any other prime minister, it should not require saying, we need our democracy. And the shapers of that democracy, with a wisdom for which they are not often credited, provided a framework to ensure that even situations such as that facing Netanyahu and his investigators would be handled with the appropriate sensitivity, the appropriate balance.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with then-cabinet secretary and current Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, May 26, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

When answering our questioner on Tuesday night, I remembered the interview I conducted recently with the retired deputy Supreme Court president Elyakim Rubinstein. We had talked a little about the challenges facing Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in weighing the evidence and determining whether to prosecute Netanyahu. Rubinstein, himself a former attorney general, was sensibly circumspect in what he wanted to say. But after we had moved on to discuss other issues, he chose to bring the conversation back to that vexed subject again, because he wanted to point out that investigating a serving prime minister is not a step that is taken lightly in Israel, and that extraordinary procedures apply.

Rubinstein walked over to one of the bookshelves in his office at the Supreme Court, took down a volume, leafed through its pages until he had found what he was looking for, pointed to the passage in question, and said: “We spoke earlier about the investigation. Look, it is written here in the Basic Law, ‘A criminal investigation will not be opened against the prime minister unless it is with the agreement of the attorney general. An indictment will be served by the attorney general to the district court.’ You see, this special process…”

Looking at some of the assorted egotists, extremists and relative incompetents who presume to think they could take on that most arduous of tasks, serving as prime minister of Israel, it is no surprise that many at home and abroad are fearful for an Israel without Netanyahu. But if our prime minister allegedly subverted the rule of law — if he cut illicit deals with business and media barons to boost their wealth, in return for benefits in the shape of gifts and favorable press coverage (as claimed in Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000) — then the suspicions must be probed. The investigations were not ordered casually; as Rubinstein was at pains to point out, a “special process” was required, overseen by the country’s most senior legal officer.

That’s how our democracy works. And a stable, properly functioning democracy is more central to Israel’s existence, to its capacity to thrive economically and meet its security challenges, than the maintenance in power of any prime minister, however gifted. Our stable, properly functioning democracy, ensuring the rule of law, is at the core of our national resilience. The choice between preserving that, and preserving Netanyahu, is no choice at all.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/why-the-choice-between-netanyahu-and-the-rule-of-law-is-no-choice-at-all/

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Philippines: President Duterte ‘counts killing of Filipinos among accomplishments’ — Creeping dictatorship, disregard for human rights and rule of law

February 21, 2018
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV slammed President Rodrigo Duterte anew over his persecution of his political and media critics. Combination Photo, File

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV on Wednesday slammed the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte anew over its alleged political persecution of political and media critics and the mounting number of drug-related deaths in the country.

In a privilege speech, Trillanes claimed there were already more than 20,000 drug-related deaths in the country based on the administration’s year-end report in December 2017.

He said that under the accomplishments of the Department of Interior and Local Government the administration listed 3,967 drug deaths in anti-narcotics operations from July 2016 to November 2017.

It meanwhile said that there were more than 16,000 homicide cases still under investigation from July 2016 to Sept. 30, 2017.

“It is only in this country where the president counts the killing of his countrymen as among his accomplishments,” he said.

Duterte has faced local and international criticisms over the rights violations and extrajudicial killings allegedly marring his flagship war on drugs.

Trillanes also condemned the order of the president barring Rappler and its palace reporter Pia Ranada for supposedly losing the trust of the chief executive over allegations that it was publishing so-called “fake news.”

The opposition lawmaker said that was Duterte’s retaliation for Rappler’s critical coverage of his administration.

“This is a violation of our Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights that guaranteed press freedom,” Trillanes said in Filipino. “Duterte is doing all these out of political vendetta and to send a chilling message to other reporters and media outfits that they should tow Malacañang’s propaganda line or else.”

Trillanes also cited the administration’s efforts to intimidate other news organizations such as the Philippine Daily Inquirer and ABS-CBN.

The ban on Rappler on Palace grounds is the latest woe to strike the news website. Just weeks ago, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the government’s corporate regulator, issued a shutdown order on the media outfit following allegations that it was not 100 percent Filipino owned.

Rappler has disputed the order and is questioning the directive before a court.

Trillanes also urged his Senate colleagues to help and defend Sen. Leila De Lima, who is currently detained in Camp Crame on drug charges she claimed were trumped up.

Trillanes said that De Lima, who was arrested in February last year, was a victim of “political persecution” and not a drug queen as the administration would like to paint her image.

“She is a symbol of injustice and violation of human rights, rule of law and democracy in our country,” the opposition lawmaker said, adding that her incarceration was due to her strong insistence on investigating alleged extrajudicial killings that happened in Davao City during Duterte’s time as its mayor and in the country now that he is the chief executive.

http://old.philstar.com/headlines/2018/02/21/1790121/trillanes-duterte-counts-killing-filipinos-among-accomplishments

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 (No man is above the law…)

Scores of girls ‘missing’ after new Boko Haram school attack — Nigerian government spending a lot on arms, ammunitions, vehicles but it isn’t clear they really want to do away with Boko Haram

February 21, 2018

AFP

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© BOKO HARAM/AFP / by Aminu ABUBAKAR, with Phil HAZLEWOOD in Lagos | Fourteen missing ‘Chibok girls’ were seen in a video released on January 15 by their abductors

KANO (NIGERIA) (AFP) – Fears grew in northeast Nigeria on Wednesday about the fate of potentially scores of girls who have not been seen since a Boko Haram attack on their school two days ago.Militants stormed the Government Girls Science Secondary School in Dapchi, Yobe state, on Monday evening. Locals initially said the girls and their teachers fled the attack.

The jihadists gained worldwide notoriety in April 2014 when they abducted 276 girls from their school in Chibok, in neighbouring Borno state.

Fifty-seven escaped in the immediate aftermath and since May last year, 107 have either escaped or been released as part of a government-brokered deal. A total of 112 are still being held.

Monday’s incident sparked fears of a repeat of Chibok and on Wednesday morning some 50 parents and guardians gathered at the school demanding information.

“Our girls have been missing for two days and we don’t know their whereabouts,” Abubakar Shehu, whose niece is among those missing, told AFP.

“Although we were told they had run to some villages, we have been to all these villages mentioned without any luck. We are beginning to harbour fears the worst might have happened.

“We have the fear that we are dealing with another Chibok scenario.”

– Confused picture –

According to school staff, there were 710 students at the state-run boarding school, which caters for girls aged 11 and above.

Inuwa Mohammed, whose 16-year-old daughter, Falmata, is also missing, said it was a confused picture and that parents had been frantically searching surrounding villages.

“Nobody is telling us anything officially,” he said. “We still don’t know how many of our daughters were recovered and how many are still missing.

“We have been hearing many numbers, between 67 and 94.”

Police in the state, which is one of three in the northeast Nigeria worst-affected by the Boko Haram insurgency, said they had no reports of abductions following the attack.

Yobe’s education commissioner, Mohammed Lamin, said the school had been shut and a rollcall of all the girls who have returned was being conducted.

“It is only after the head-count that we will be able to say whether any girls were taken,” he said.

Some of the girls had fled to villages up to 30 kilometres (nearly 20 miles) away through the remote bushland, he added.

– Weapon of war –

Boko Haram has used kidnapping as a weapon of war since its insurgency began in 2009, seizing thousands of women and young girls, as well as men and boys of fighting age.

Some 300 children were among 500 people abducted from the town of Damasak in November 2014.

Getting accurate information from the remote northeast remains difficult. The army still largely controls access and infrastructure has been devastated by nine years of conflict.

In Chibok, the military initially claimed the students had all been found but was forced to back-track when parents and the school principal said otherwise.

As the issue gained world attention, spawning the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, the then president Goodluck Jonathan was increasingly criticised for his lacklustre response.

The mass abduction and Jonathan’s handling of it was seen as contributing to his 2015 election defeat to Muhammadu Buhari, who promised to bring the Boko Haram insurgency to an end.

But despite Buhari’s repeated claims the group is weakened to the point of defeat, civilians remain vulnerable to suicide attacks and hit-and-run raids in the remote northeast.

No-one from Buhari’s administration has yet commented on Dapchi.

Security analysts told AFP on Tuesday that government ransom payments to secure the release of the Chibok girls could have given the under-pressure group ideas for financing.

“They need money for arms, ammunitions, vehicles, to keep their army of fighters moving across the borders,” said Amaechi Nwokolo, from the Roman Institute of International Studies.

“They’re spending a lot of money on arms and logistics.”

by Aminu ABUBAKAR, with Phil HAZLEWOOD in Lagos
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Goodluck Jonathan

 (Has links to several previous articles)

Remember this from April 2014? From left: Michelle Obama, Cara Delevingne and Malala Yousafzai call for the release of the girls during the “hashtag campaign”

Parents of abducted Chibok girls cry as police denied them access to see President Muhammadu Buhari during a rally in Abuja

Parents of abducted Chibok girls cry as police denied them access to see President Muhammadu Buhari during a rally in Abuja, Nigeria August 25, 2016. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Ally of Kremlin critic Navalny arrested over tweet

February 21, 2018

AFP

© AFP/File | Navalny’s supporters took part in a rally on January 28 calling for a boycott of March 18 presidential elections.

MOSCOW (AFP) – 

An ally of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny has been sentenced to ten days in detention after posting a tweet calling on followers to come to an unauthorised rally last month.

The Simonovsky District Court late on Tuesday ruled that Roman Rubanov was guilty of organising an unauthorised rally and sentenced him to ten days in police cells, his lawyer Ivan Zhdanov told Interfax news agency.

According to the ruling, Rubanov — who heads Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation — tweeted a link to a video by the Kremlin critic called “First step toward victory” in which Navalny appealed to Russians to attend the “voters’ strike” rally on January 28.

 Image result for Roman Rubanov, russia, photos
Roman Rubanov — FILE photo

Russian authorities have increasingly cracked down on the anti-corruption campaigner Navalny, who aimed to take part in the March presidential polls but was barred from standing over a controversial criminal conviction.

He is now calling for a boycott of the election.

Many of Navalny’s associates have received administrative punishment over similar misdeeds, including his press secretaries who were sentenced to several days in custody after streaming footage of the protests online.

Last week Russia’s media watchdog blocked Navalny’s website, where he publishes exposes of corruption in Russia’s top political echelon as well as calls for a boycott of the March 18 election.

People in his campaign have been endlessly harassed by the authorities, with campaign chief Leonid Volkov on Tuesday tweeting that they have already served a combined 2433 days behind bars and had to pay a total of 13.4 million rubles ($237 thousand) in various fines.

Netanyahu Peril Grows, as Trusted Aide Agrees to Testify

February 21, 2018

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Munich this month. The Israeli police have arrested several of his friends and confidants, as well as top executives of the telecommunications company Bezeq, in a widening inquiry into whether he traded favors for favorable news coverage. Credit Thomas Kienzle/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Reuters

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A confidant of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to provide testimony on behalf of the state about alleged corrupt dealings between the government and the country’s biggest telecoms group, Israeli media reported on Wednesday.

Image result for Shlomo Filber, photos

Shlomo Filber 

Shlomo Filber, who was arrested this week along with top executives at Bezeq Telecom (BEZQ.TA), had been a personal appointment of Netanyahu’s to head the Communications Ministry.

Police now suspect Bezeq received regulatory benefits, and in return, Netanyahu received favorable media coverage on a popular news website that is also controlled by Bezeq’s former chairman.

The Bezeq executives have denied the allegations.

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during an inauguration ceremony for a fortified emergency room at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, southern Israel, February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during an inauguration ceremony for a fortified emergency room at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, southern Israel, February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Israel’s Ynet news website reported that Filber has now agreed to testify for the state in the case, a development that could further complicate things for Netanyahu as he battles mounting corruption allegations.

Israeli authorities were not immediately available to confirm that a deal with Filber had been reached.

BEZQ.TATEL AVIV STOCK EXCHANGE
-0.60(-0.11%)
BEZQ.TA
  • BEZQ.TA

On Tuesday, police alleged that Netanyahu’s former spokesman tried to bribe a judge to drop a fraud case against Netanyahu’s wife. Netanyahu himself is suspect in two other investigations.

The right-wing leader, in office for 12 years since 1996, has denied wrongdoing in any of the cases, calling them a political “witch hunt”.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Robert Birsel

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Netanyahu Peril Grows, as Trusted Aide Agrees to Testify

NYT:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/20/world/middleeast/benjamin-netanyahu-corruption.html?ribbon-ad-idx=12&rref=homepage&module=Ribbon&version=origin&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Home%20Page&pgtype=article

Philippines: Something ‘sinister’ behind National Police Chief’s prolonged term — Duterte’s propensity to reward officials who follow his fascist orders

February 21, 2018

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said PNP chief Ronald Dela Rosa’s tour of duty may be extended by another three months. President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier prolonged the term of Dela Rosa for three months to introduce reforms in Mindanao.

PNP-PIO, File
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Gaea Katreena Cabico (philstar.com) – February 21, 2018 – 11:54am

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MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV believes there is something “sinister” behind the chief executive’s decision to prolong the term of one of his most trusted men, Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa.
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In an interview on ANC’s “Early Edition,” Trillanes called on the public to be vigilant following the announcement of Dela Rosa’s indefinite term extension.

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“There must be something sinister behind it. There is a diabolical plot behind it […] They’re creeping and soon enough, we just might lose our democracy,” he warned.
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Trillanes, one of the most outspoken critics of the administration, noted that such move is reminiscent of the rule of late strongman Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
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“That is a blunder because Mr. Duterte should learn from the lessons of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. when he did the same. He extended the term of loyal generals so that he could secure his place in Malacañang. But it turned out to be counterproductive because it will definitely cause demoralization within the ranks,” he said.
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Former Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Fabian Ver kept overstaying generals loyal to him and Marcos, which caused the demoralization of younger officers. It led to the establishment of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement, which played a crucial role in the downfall of the Marcos dictatorial regime.
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Trillanes added that there are capable senior officials who can replace Dela Rosa.
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Karapatan: Duterte rewarding those who follow his orders

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Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, for her part, said that Duterte’s decision “speaks of his propensity to reward officials who follow his fascist orders such as his ‘kill, kill, kill’ orders in the drug war.”
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Palabay said that this would further promote the climate of impunity in the Philippines.
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“This move comes as Bato has emphatically reiterated his loyalty to the president and as the body count in the drug war continues to rise, with the PNP at the helm of the campaign’s implementation,” she added.
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On Tuesday, Duterte announced his decision to extend anew the term of Dela Rosa “for a little bit longer.”
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“The police has always been a problem. But they are not that many. There are scoundrels, scalawags in every organization. And that is why the PNP [chief] now who’s supposed to retire on the 24th of April and because he enjoys my trust and confidence, I will extend his term for a little bit longer,” he said.
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Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said Dela Rosa’s tour of duty may be extended by another three months.
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Duterte had earlier prolonged the term of Dela Rosa for three months to introduce reforms in Mindanao.
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ANTONIO TRILLANES, PNP,RODRIGO DUTERTE, RONALD “BATO” DELA ROSA

 http://old.philstar.com/headlines/2018/02/21/1789995/trillanes-something-sinister-behind-pnp-chief-batos-prolonged-term
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Philippines: Senate ethics body junks complaints vs Senator De Lima

February 20, 2018
By: – Reporter / @MAgerINQ
 / 10:20 AM February 20, 2018
Image may contain: 1 person, standing

Senator Leila de Lima INQUIRER FILE PHOTO / NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

For lack of jurisdiction, the Senate committee on ethics has rejected the three ethics cases filed against detained Senator Leila de Lima.

The committee headed by Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III unanimously approved the motion of Senate Minority Leader Fraklin Drilon to dismiss the cases filed by leaders of the House of Representatives and two charges initiated by presidential spokesman Harry Roque and lawyer Abelardo de Jesus.

The complaints against de Lima stemmed from her alleged advice to former aide and partner Ronnie Dayan to refrain from attending the House probe into her alleged involvement in the proliferation of illegal drugs at the New Bilibid Prison when she was still Justice Secretary.

In moving for the dismissal of the cases, Drilon cited the pending case in courts also lodged against de Lima and the committee’s lack of jurisdiction over the alleged violations she had committed.

Drilon’s motion was seconded by Senator Panfilo Lacson, saying de Lima did not violate any Senate rule or was not performing her duty as a senator when she supposedly gave the advice to Dayan.

“She has not violated any Senate rule nor it is related to an official act as a senator so on that note, if there’s a motion I will support to outrightly dismiss the case against de Lima as filed by the counterparts in the House,” Lacson said.

Senator Gringo Honasan also backed the dismissal of the charges against de Lima “in the spirit of humanity.”

“What else can we do to Senator De Lima…?” Honasan asked.

“So in the spirit of humanity, maybe this might possibly set a trend prospectively that will allow naman the chamber to assert its independence as the last bastion of a pluralistic democracy and start protecting its members against abuse of discretion or authority,” he added.

At one point, Sotto suggested to just “archive” and not dismiss the case, citing the possibility that the criminal case against de Lima might prosper.

In the end, the committee agreed with Drilon to dismiss the charges without prejudice to refiling them or to filing of a new complaint against de Lima. /cbb

Read more: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/970024/breaking-news-leila-de-lima-house-of-representatives-senate-vicente-sotto-iii-franklin-drilon#ixzz57gQtJlKa
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Pursued by the Law, Netanyahu Sparks Revival of Right-wing Lunacy

February 20, 2018

Haaretz

A Likud MK’s demented analogy with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin nonetheless hits a raw nerve

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during an inauguration ceremony for a fortified emergency room at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, southern Israel, February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during an inauguration ceremony for a fortified emergency room at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, southern Israel, Feb 20, 2018\ AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

The immediate reaction to the analogy drawn by Likud Member of Knesset Miki Zohar between the troubles of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin is ridicule and scorn. Why stop with Rabin? What about Bar-Kochba? Jeanne D’Arc? Jesus Christ? The six million, perhaps? Then comes consternation. How low must we have sunk, if an elected official can’t differentiate between a prime minister who was murdered for his positions and another who is being investigated for his transgressions?

Nonetheless, Zohar put his finger on the right spot. His own words prove it. He is not a deviation from the norm or an exception that proves the rule. His sicko comparison between Netanyahu and Rabin – as well as the new reports about the efforts made by Netanyahu’s aide to appoint an attorney general who would exonerate the prime minister’s wife – are but symptoms of a general mental breakdown on the right. It’s a global phenomenon, of course, with deep-seated historical and sociological roots, which has accelerated with the presidency of Donald Trump, who disseminates inanities throughout the globe. In the local Israeli edition, however, the willingness of so many on the right to break the rules, buck the system, defy the state and blindly follow Netanyahu, one of Israel’s most charismatic politicians, cannot but evoke ominous associations from the past.

MK Miki Zohar (Likud)

MK Miki Zohar (Likud)Olivier Fitoussi

The situation was insane from the outset, even before the police began to investigate.  The well-documented compulsion of Netanyahu and his wife to live the good life at the expense of billionaires is a sickness in itself. Their obsession with what the media says about them has long gone beyond the rational. In any normal country, Netanyahu’s decision in late 2014 to topple his own government in order to protect Sheldon’s Adelson’s Yisrael Hayom newspaper, to which he has now fessed up, would be considered totally unhinged. Netanyahu’s amok to pervert Israeli media and to control it – along with his coalition’s astounding silence of the chickens that has greeted it – are all indications of a government that is going off the rails.

Netanyahu’s implication in criminal investigations is the trigger that has caused serious deterioration. Like Trump – his great friend, partner in probes and sometimes role model – Netanyahu has launched an irresponsible assault on the Israeli police. He depicts himself, outrageously, as the innocent victim of a dark conspiracy, whose agents are out to destroy him. Whether his paranoia is as genuinely acute as it seems or just a cynical manipulation, ever-growing parts of the Israeli right, from top to bottom, are getting sucked into the whirlwind of Netanyahu’s lurid fantasies. They are increasingly convinced that the state itself is his enemy, and thus, by extension, their own.

The factual similarities to the time of Rabin’s assassination are slim. Then, the future of Israel was at stake, here we’re dealing with expensive champagne and Cuban cigars. There, devout Jewish settlers served as Netanyahu’s storm troopers, now he has to make do, for the time being at least, with opportunists and sycophants who flow with his frenzy, along with die-hard Bibi fans who nonetheless have to be prodded to participate in the support rallies that the Likud organizes from time to time. On the other hand, then as now, the pivotal main actor is a talented orator like Netanyahu, acknowledged expert on incitement and genius grandmaster of demagoguery, who has already shown his lack of inhibitions in the pursuit of power, who continues to ignore warnings about the dangerous influence of his words, who fiddles with the public’s frustrations and preys on its fears and stirs up evil winds with no regard for who or what they could ignite.

The madness might not suffice to save Netanyahu himself, but it could very well erupt and engulf his successor. In the demented Bizarro world of right-wing politicians like Zohar, Netanyahu’s replacement could find himself pilloried as another Yigal Amir, the only person, so far, who truly murdered a prime minister.

Malaysian court jails, fines artist for clown caricature of Najib Razak

February 20, 2018

Malaysian artist Fahmi Reza with one of the versions of his caricatures of Prime Minister Najib Razak looking like a clown. (Courtesy Fahmi Reza Facebook)
KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian artist and prominent opposition activist was jailed for a month on Tuesday for publishing a caricature of Prime Minister Najib Razak looking like a clown, a ruling likely to exacerbate concern about free speech.
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Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy recently announced plans to amend a law to stamp out fake news, the latest step to broaden enforcement powers and penalties against online posts or content deemed detrimental to public order and security.
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Artist Fahmi Reza was found guilty under a communications law for spreading online content deemed “obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person.”
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Image result for Fahmi Reza, artist, photos
Artist Fahmi Reza
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Fahmi was also fined 30,000 ringgit ($7,700). His lawyer, Syahredzan Johan, said the judge did not give any grounds for the ruling.
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“We are appealing the decision,” Syahredzan said, adding that they will post a 10,000 ringgit bond to release Fahmi from custody pending the appeal.
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Fahmi faces a second similar charge in a separate court.
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Fahmi was among anti-government and opposition leaders and activists rounded up after protests against Najib over his handling of a multi-billion dollar scandal tied to state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
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The government blocked several websites and news portals carrying reports critical of 1MDB and Najib, despite a longstanding government pledge not to censor the Internet.
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Najib, who faced a leadership challenge following the 1MDB scandal, is preparing to call general elections that must be held by August. The fund and Najib denied all wrongdoing.
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1MDB has been the subject of money-laundering investigations in countries including the US, Switzerland and Singapore.
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In civil lawsuits, the US Justice Department has alleged that about $4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB.

Thai ex-PM Thaksin calls for party unity ahead of promised election

February 19, 2018

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BANGKOK (Reuters) – Fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra met lawmakers from his Puea Thai Party in Hong Kong where he called for party unity ahead of an approaching general election, party members said on Monday.

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Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra — February 23, 2016. Photo: Reuters

Many are watching to see how Puea Thai Party performs in a vote which the military government has promised to hold in November but which could be delayed.

Thaksin, who founded Advance Info Service Pcl, Thailand’s largest mobile phone operator, was prime minister from 2001 to 2006 when he was overthrown in a military coup supported by the Bangkok-based establishment.

Thaksin, who is based in Dubai, continues to loom large over Thai politics and remains popular in the northeast ‘Isaan’ region which, along with the north, forms the stronghold of parties aligned with Thaksin which have won every election since 2001 by appealing to poorer voters.

His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was elected prime minister in 2011. She was overthrown in a 2014 military coup.

Yingluck fled Thailand last August, weeks before the Supreme Court found her guilty of negligence in mismanaging a rice subsidy scheme and sentenced her to five years in prison.

Sources in the Puea Thai Party say she is currently based in England.

Thaksin was convicted in absentia in 2006 on conflict of interest charges.

The siblings have been in Asia since the start of the month, said party members, and have visited China, Japan and Hong Kong before traveling to Singapore on Monday.

Prayuth Siripanich, a Puea Thai Party member and its former representative for the northeastern province of Maha Sarakham, said ten lawmakers flew to Hong Kong on Saturday and returned on Monday.

“Thaksin asked lawmakers to be united and not to break that unity,” Prayuth told Reuters. “He asked that lawmakers meet their constituents because the election is fast approaching.”

Piyapong Klinpan, a spokesman for the junta, or National Council for Peace and Order as it is formally known, told reporters in Bangkok that “relevant agencies”, including police, were following Yingluck and Thaksin.

He did not give further details.

Supporters of the Shinawatras say the family are victims of political persecution. Their critics accuse them of widespread corruption, which they deny.

Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Additional reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Nick Macfie