Vijay Mallya extradition trial: CBI gets boost on evidence admissibility, next hearing on July 11
London: A UK court today admitted the bulk of the evidence submitted by the CBI against Vijay Mallya in connection with his ongoing extradition trial, giving a boost to India’s efforts to bring back the embattled liquor baron to face charges of fraud and money laundering amounting to around Rs 9,000 crore.
The 62-year-old flamboyant businessman, who appeared in the Westminister Magistrate’s Court here, had his 650,000 pounds bail extended until the next date of hearing on July 11.
When the court reconvenes, oral submissions will be made on closing arguments to be submitted in writing to Judge Emma Arbuthnot over the next two months. The judge is then expected to indicate plans for a verdict in the case at the next hearing.
During the hearing, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) got a boost as Judge Arbuthnot confirmed that the bulk of the evidence submitted by it will be admissible. Today’s hearing comes days after the Indian government’s High Court appeal against a previous Westminster Magistrates’ Court extradition ruling that had been denied.
UK-based Sanjeev Kumar Chawla, wanted in India as a key accused in the cricket match-fixing scandal involving former South African captain Hanse Cronje in 2000, had been discharged in October last year on human rights grounds over severe conditions in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, where the accused was to be held on being extradited.
District Judge Rebecca Crane had based her verdict to discharge Chawla largely upon the testimony of Dr Alan Mitchell, former head of healthcare at the Scottish Prison Service and an elected member of the European Council’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).
Mallya’s defence team has previously deposed the same prisons expert in his extradition case, who told Judge Arbuthnot during the course of the trial that conditions in all Indian jails are “far from satisfactory”.
During the last hearing in the case in March, CPS barrister Mark Summers reiterated that the Indian government had provided further clarifications related to availability of natural light and medical assistance at Barrack 12 of Mumbai Central Prison on Arthur Road, where Mallya is to be held if he is extradited from the UK.
The trial, which opened at the London court on December 4 last year, is aimed at laying out a prima facie case of fraud against Mallya, who has been based in the UK since he left India in March 2016. It also seeks to prove there are no “bars to extradition” and that the tycoon is assured a fair trial in India over his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines’ alleged default of over Rs 9,000 crore in loans from a consortium of Indian banks.
The CPS, representing the Indian government, has argued that the evidence they have presented establishes “dishonesty” on the part of the businessman and that there are no bars to him being extradited from the UK to face Indian courts. Mallya’s defence team has deposed a series of expert witnesses to claim he had no “fraudulent” intentions and that he is unlikely to get a fair trial in India.
If the judge rules in favour of the Indian government, the UK home secretary will have two months to sign Mallya’s extradition order. However, both sides will have the chance to appeal in higher courts in the UK against the Magistrates’ Court verdict.
First Polar Bear born in the Tropics dies in Singapore zoo
In rather sad and tragic news, Singapore on Wednesday mourned the death of the first polar bear born and bred in the tropical island city, put down by wildlife authorities after a five-year battle with health difficulties because of old age. Inuka, a 27-year-old animal who grappled with challenges ranging from arthritis to dental problems and ear infections, carried until his last days a green tinge in his fur blamed on algae growth, reported Reuters.
“As much as we would like to keep Inuka with us for as long as possible, our ultimate responsibility is his welfare,” said Cheng Wen-Haur, an official of zoo operator Singapore Wildlife Reserves. “The greater kindness would be to relieve him from prolonged suffering,” Cheng said in a statement.
“Please do let him pass on naturally,” said Vanessa S. Wee, one of more than 100 social media users who commented on the zoo operator’s Facebook page. “He is the only tropical polar bear, a true-blue Singaporean, a one-of-a-kind icon,” added another, Anita Ryanto.
The Polar bear i.e. Inuka, or “foreboding strength” in Inuit, was born on Boxing Day in 1990 to parents Nanook and Sheba, who had arrived from Canada and Germany, respectively, in 1978. His father, Nanook, died in 1995 at 18 while Sheba died at the age of 35 in 2012. In the wildlife, the bears have an average life expectancy of 15 to 18 years.
But in 2004, when the fur on Inuka and his mother started turning green, questioning began over the ethics of keeping polar bears in the tropics. The Singapore Zoo said the green tinge was algae growth. In 2004, the BBC said the bears were bleached with hydrogen peroxide. Animal rights groups have urged zoos not to keep polar bears and live them in their natural habitat.
India, Mongolia to enhance bilateral trade, investments
Ulaanbaatar: India and Mongolia today discussed economic cooperation in areas such as infrastructure development, energy, services and IT and agreed to explore possibility of launching direct air connectivity between New Delhi and the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during a joint media briefing with Mongolian Foreign Minister D Tsogtbaatar after the 6th Session of the Indian-Mongolia Joint Committee on Cooperation here said the two countries agreed to explore ways to identify new areas of cooperation in all sectors of mutual interest and to enhance bilateral trade and investments. Swaraj, the first Indian foreign minister to visit the resource-rich country in 42 years, said India sees Mongolia as a factor of stability in East Asia and believes that Mongolia’s social and economic development is important for peace and prosperity in the region.
During the Indian-Mongolia Joint Committee on Cooperation, the two sides discussed pressing global challenges, particularly the scourge of terrorism and agreed to collaborate bilaterally and in international arena to thwart the designs of those who extend support to terrorist outfits. The two sides also reviewed the progress in the ongoing collaborative projects, including the refinery project selected by the Government of Mongolia for implementation with the support of USD one billion Indian Line of Credit.
“We directed our officials to coordinate follow up action on each side for the expeditious implementation of these projects. Our strong political ties must be complemented by commensurate levels of trade, economy and investment,” she said. “Today, India has emerged as one of the fastest growing large economies in the world. With its rich natural resources and strong aspiration for development, Mongolia can be an important partner in India’s growth story,” she said.
Swaraj, who arrive here yesterday on a two-day visit, said collaboration for the ongoing refinery project is in recognition of this fact. She said Mongolia is not only India’s strategic partner but also a spiritual neighbour. “We share long historical links. Mongolia is well known in India for the valour of her kings and her strong Buddhist heritage. India was among the first countries, outside the erstwhile Communist bloc, to establish diplomatic relations with Mongolia,” she said.
Swaraj said in the six decades of the partnership between the two countries, the bilateral relations have grown from “strength to strength”. “This is reflected in our widening and deepening strategic partnership today, based on the common ideals of democracy and freedom, and enriched by mutual respect and trust.” She said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “historic visit” in 2015, the first ever by an Indian Prime Minister to Mongolia, provided a fresh impetus to the bilateral relations and qualitatively raised the level of the engagement.
“We also agreed that we should make all efforts to maintain and accelerate the momentum of our interaction in all areas.” She said that in tandem with the countries’ “ever growing” engagement, India and Mongolai will have more frequent visits now on at Foreign Minister’s level. Calling upon the Mongolian business community to “seize economic opportunities arising out of “India’s growth”, she said the two countries have agreed to remove institutional and logistical impediments to boost trade, tourism and people to people contacts.
“In this regard, we also agreed to explore possibility of launching direct air connectivity between our two capitals,” she said. In the meeting, they discussed economic cooperation in areas such as infrastructure development, energy, services and IT. She said that India is committed for capacity building programmes for the people of Mongolia, including in areas such as, training in English language and IT. She said India looks forward to more students from Mongolia visiting the country for pursuing vocational education and training under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme, also known as ITEC, and through scholarships offered by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations.
“We would encourage students from Mongolia to pursue studies in Indian art, music and culture which would further reinforce our cultural links,” she said. In view of the two countries’ common Buddhist heritage, she said, India also encourage students from Mongolia to visit the country for further study and research in the field of Buddhist studies. Swaraj will participate in a special event to commemorate the birth centenary of the Venerable 19th Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, who was not only an eminent Buddhist leader, but also the longest serving Ambassador of India to Mongolia.
The event will mark his contribution to the promotion of Buddhism in Mongolia and to the deepening of civilizational and spiritual bonds between the two countries. She said India and Mongolia share a bond of peace through Buddhism. “As we tread the path of developing our partnership; I am sure, the teachings of Lord Buddha will continue to guide us,” she said. India and Mongolia have close cooperation in trade and economy, science, health, agriculture, culture, education, communication and tourism. The two countries are also working closely to ensure security and curbing international crimes and terrorism. The total trade between the two countries amounted to USD 25.6 million in 2016.
Former US President George HW Bush in intensive care
Washington: Former US President George H.W. Bush is in intensive care after contracting an infection, a day after a funeral was held for his wife, Barbara Bush, the media reported.
Bush, 93, was admitted to the Houston Methodist Hospital on Sunday morning after contracting the infection that spread to his blood, CNN quoted family spokesman Jim McGrath as saying in a statement late Monday. “He is responding to treatments and appears to be recovering. We will issue additional updates as events warrant,” said McGrath. According to a source close to the former Republican President, Bush was admitted to the hospital with an infection that led to sepsis, which can be life-threatening.
Former US President George HW Bush hospitalised a day after his wife’s funeral
He was in critical condition, the source said. The source added that Bush’s blood pressure kept dropping and a couple of times there was serious concern about whether he was going to come through, but that he had been stabilized. But with Bush’s age, his health and with this infection, this is very serious, the source told CNN.
Bush revealed several years ago that he suffers from a form of Parkinson’s disease, which has left him unable to walk, so he gets around either in a wheelchair or a scooter. The former President’s hospitalisation is especially upsetting for his family because it follows so closely on the death of his wife of 73 years last April 17. The family had been worried about how he would deal with her death and such an emotional week, according to the source.
World will hear “positive voices” against rising protectionism at Modi-Xi summit: China
Beijing: China today said President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will discuss the threat of rising protectionism and the “unprecedented” changes in the world in the past 100 years at their informal summit at Wuhan this week and the world will hear “very positive voices”.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi yesterday announced that Modi and Xi will meet in the central Chinese city of Wuhan on April 27-28 to improve bilateral relations and discuss global issues.
During the meeting, the two leaders will discuss the changes that have taken place and which are unprecedented in the past 100 years to exchange views on the strategic over- arching long term issues concerning over bilateral ties. relationship, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said.
This will bring positive influence to regional and world peace, stability and development and bring more benefits to the people of both countries, Lu said.
As to the background against which this meeting will be held, Lu said, “I believe you are also clear that the world is now faced with rampant unilateralism as well as the rising protectionism in the process of globalisation. All these new trends in the world have to be closely followed and debated.
“Against such back drop China and India have a lot to discuss. We are newly emerging markets as well as developing countries with big population. So we believe the two countries will continue to uphold the globalisation so that it is more inclusive. So we have a lot of shared interests, concerns and positions,” the spokesman said.
At Wuhan, the two leaders will “exchange views on overarching long-term strategic issues as well as the latest trends of the world so that the world will develop in a more stable way,” Lu said.
All these new trends in the world have been closely followed and debated, Lu said in apparent reference to a host of measures initiated by US President Donald Trump in his ‘America First’ policy leading to a lot of protectionist measures including the current trade spate between the China and US.
Lu was responding to question whether there will be a joint message related to trade and protectionism specially against US unilateral protectionism after the meeting between Modi and Xi.
To a specific question whether there would be a joint message related to trade and protectionism especially against US unilateral protectionism, he said while he cannot make any prejudgement ahead of the meeting, “it is sure that the two leaders will exchange views on these issues but I believe you will see and hear very positive voices”.
At the recently-held Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) India and China displayed wider convergence on threats to globalisation and rising protectionism.
NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar had said in his address to the fifth India-China Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) here on April 14 that the world economy is staging a synchronised recovery after a long time.
But the “recovery is marred and disrupted by unseemingly protectionist noises that are coming out from the Atlantic basin from north and America and Europe,” he said in a thinly veiled attack on US and Western countries’ protectionist policies.
He also made a strong case for China to open its import market for India for soybean and sugar after Beijing imposed 25 per cent tariff on a host of products, including the two, following the trade spat with US.
“I was noticing that there are some tariffs you imposed on farmers’ from Iowa and Ohio (in US). May be India can be a substitute for soybean and sugar, if we could access those exports with all the due quality considerations to our farmers. That is very useful,” he told chairman of China’s National Development Reforms Commission (NDRC) He Lifeng at the meeting.
Kumar’s pitch for soybean and sugar exports to China came amid the ongoing trade spat between the US and China following which Beijing had slapped 25 per cent tariffs on American soybean imports in a tit-for-tat retaliation to US President Donald Trump imposing tariffs on a range of Chinese products.
Trump is pressuring China to reduce America’s whopping USD 375 billion trade deficit with China to USD 100 billion.
China had hit back with tariffs on a wide variety of agricultural products such as soybean, corn, beef, orange juice and tobacco which are expected to hit American farmers.
Soybean is regarded as most important for US farmers as China is their largest importer.
US customs fined $500 to woman over apple
Washington: A woman said on Monday that she was facing a $500 fine from the US customs agency after a free apple that she was given as a snack on a plane was found in her bag. Crystal Tadlock, travelling to the US from Paris, said she was saving the fruit for her onward flight to Denver, Colorado, reports the BBC.
But the apple was revealed in a random search by US border agents after her first flight landed in Minneapolis. US Customs and Border Patrol would not comment on the case, but said all agricultural items should be declared.
The apple was handed out in a plastic Delta Air Lines bag. When the apple was found, Tadlock told the agent that she had just received it from the airline and asked whether she should throw it out or eat it, the BBC reported. Instead the agent handed her a $500 fine.
Tadlock now has the choice of paying the fine or fighting the penalty in court. She told the Denver-based broadcaster KDVR she wanted to take the case to court. Delta Air Lines has issued a statement saying that “we encourage our customers to follow US Customs and Border Protection protocols”.
Gaza Palestinian dies of Israeli gunfire wounds, says ministry health Gaza City
Palestinian Territories: A Palestinian wounded by Israeli gunfire in the Gaza Strip has died, the Hamas-controlled territory’s health ministry said today. Abdullah Shamali, 20, died overnight of “bullet wounds to his belly” sustained on Friday in Rafah, near the enclave’s border with Israel, a ministry spokesman said.
Shamali was one of five Palestinian demonstrators, including a 15-year-old, killed or fatally wounded in Gaza on Friday. His death brings to 39 the toll from Israeli fire since the start of “March of Return” protests on March 30.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians in the coastal enclave, wedged between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean, have gathered at the border on consecutive Fridays to call for Palestinian refugees to be allowed to return to their former homes now inside Israel. Some protestors have launched stones or burning tires at Israeli soldiers.Israeli forces have responded with live ammunition, wounding hundreds in addition to those killed.
The Israeli army says its fores only open fire in self-defence or to stop protestors attempting to breach the barrier separating the territory from Israel. More than 440 demonstrators suffered bullet wounds or gas inhalation on Friday, rescuers said.
Israel has drawn harsh criticism from rights groups along with calls for investigations by the United Nations or the European Union. Israel has for more than a decade imposed a crippling blockade on Gaza, fighting three wars with Islamist movement Hamas since 2008.
Scientists find way to bend, stretch diamond Boston
In a first, scientists have found that diamond can bend and stretch much like rubber, and snap back to its original form when grown in extremely tiny, needle-like shapes. Diamond is well-known as the strongest of all natural materials, and with that strength comes another tightly linked property: brittleness. The finding by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US could open the door to a variety of diamond-based devices for applications such as sensing, data storage, actuation, biocompatible in vivo imaging, optoelectronics, and drug delivery. For example, diamond has been explored as a possible biocompatible carrier for delivering drugs into cancer cells. Published in the journal Science, the research shows that the narrow diamond needles, similar in shape to the rubber tips on the end of some toothbrushes but just a few hundred nanometers across, could flex and stretch by as much as nine per cent without breaking, then return to their original configuration.
Ordinary diamond in bulk form, and has a limit of well below one per cent stretch, said MIT postdoc Daniel Bernoulli. “It was very surprising to see the amount of elastic deformation the nanoscale diamond could sustain,” he said. “We developed a unique nanomechanical approach to precisely control and quantify the ultralarge elastic strain distributed in the nanodiamond samples,” said Yang Lu, associate professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). Putting crystalline materials such as diamond under ultralarge elastic strains can change their mechanical properties as well as thermal, optical, magnetic, electrical, electronic, and chemical reaction properties in significant way, researchers said.
This could be used to design materials for specific applications through “elastic strain engineering,” they said. The team measured the bending of the diamond needles, which were grown through a chemical vapour deposition process and then etched to their final shape, by observing them in a scanning electron microscope while pressing down on the needles with a standard nanoindenter diamond tip (essentially the corner of a cube). Following the experimental tests using this system, the team did many detailed simulations to interpret the results and was able to determine precisely how much stress and strain the diamond needles could accommodate without breaking.
US Senate narrowly confirms Donald Trump’s new NASA chief
Washington: The US Senate has narrowly confirmed President Donald Trump’s pick to head the space agency NASA, over objections from Democrats who warned he lacked a technical background. Jim Bridenstine, a congressman from Oklahoma, US Navy veteran and former pilot, was confirmed on a 50-49 vote, and will become the 13th administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration seven months after Trump named him to lead the agency.
Bridenstine, 42, has expressed an interest in returning humans back to the moon, spoken of closer ties between NASA and the commercial space industry, and has voiced skepticism about human-caused climate change. He was a strong supporter of Trump during the 2016 presidential race.Senate Democrat Bill Nelson, a former astronaut from Florida, was unenthusiastic in his welcome for Bridenstine.
“The @NASA administrator should be a consummate space professional — not a politician,” Nelson tweeted. “He or she must also be a leader who has the ability to bring us together on a shared vision for future space exploration.” NASA’s previous full-time administrator, former astronaut Charles Bolden, resigned in January 2017.
The confirmation came as Trump complained in a tweet that Democrats are “‘slow walking’ all of my nominations.” His pick for Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, is expected to be voted on next week.
James Comey memos on Trump released to Congress
Washington: A series of explosive memos prepared by former FBI director James Comey detailing US President Donald Trump’s alleged efforts to influence the bureau’s expanding investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections have been submitted to Congress.
Trump claimed vindication after the release of memos and said they “‘show clearly that there was NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION.” “WOW! Will the Witch Hunt continue?” he asked. The redacted and declassified memos – running 15 pages in total — had previously been provided to Justice special counsel Robert Mueller to assist his investigation into Trump’s possible attempts to obstruct the probe of Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections.
They give details of the telephonic conversations and meetings that Comey has had with Trump before he was fired by the president last May. They detail the president’s alleged demands for loyalty from the former director and his requests for Comey to shut down its investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his pre-inaugural contacts with Russia ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn is now cooperating with Mueller’s investigators. Among the disclosures in the memos is a February 8, 2017, encounter in which Trump confronted Comey about the contents of a dossier prepared by a former British intelligence agent purportedly describing Trump’s involvement with prostitutes during a 2013 visit in Moscow.
Trump, according to the memos, repeatedly denied the allegations and prodded Comey to help disprove them, while also recalling being told by Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia has the most beautiful prostitutes, it said.
According to The Hill, the memos detail Comey’s account of several now-famous incidents: one in which Trump allegedly demanded his personal loyalty; one in which he asked him to investigate allegations in the dossier that he had paid Russian prostitutes to urinate on a hotel bed once slept in by former President Obama; and the request that Comey “let go” of the Flynn probe.
Expressing frustration over the leaks, in one of the memos Trump is suggesting jailing reporters to find out what they know. Comey, told Trump that he was “eager to find leakers and would like to nail one to the door as a message,” but explained that prosecuting reporters was “tricky”.
“I said something about the value of putting a head on a pike as a message,” Comey wrote. “(Trump) replied by saying it may involve putting reporters in jail. ‘They spend a couple days in jail, make a new friend, and they are ready to talk.’ I laughed as I walked to the door Reince Priebus had opened,” Comey wrote. “I was a fan of pursuing leaks aggressively but that going after reporters was tricky, for legal reasons and because (the Justice Department) tends to approach it conservatively.
He replied by telling me to talk to (Attorney General Jeff) Sessions and see what we can do about being more aggressive,” Comey wrote. In a joint statement, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes said these memos are significant for both what is in them and what is not.
“Former Director Comey’s memos show the President made clear he wanted allegations of collusion, coordination, and conspiracy between his campaign and Russia fully investigated. “The memos also made clear the ‘cloud’ President Trump wanted lifted was not the Russian interference in the 2016 election cloud, rather it was the salacious, unsubstantiated allegations related to personal conduct leveled in the dossier,” the three Republican lawmakers said. The memos also show former Director Comey never wrote that he felt obstructed or threatened.