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Brazil Regulator Votes to Continue Probe Into Banks’ Rejection of Crypto Firms

Brazil’s biggest private banks are not out of the woods yet.

On Wednesday, Brazil’s antitrust watchdog, the Administrative Council for Economic Defense (CADE), voted to continue its investigation of banks who denied financial services to crypto brokers in alleged violation of Brazilian competition law. 

CADE’s nearly two-year-old inquiry into Itaú Unibanco, Banco do Brasil, Santander, Inter, Bradesco and Sicredi now returns to the General Superintendency for further review, as per the decision by CADE’s chief tribunal. Those six banks comprise the lion’s share of Brazil’s banking sector.

The ruling, made by a seven-member tribunal, reopens the possibility that these powerhouse banks – they held over 80% of deposit market share during the time in question – could face eventual sanctions and even be forced to provide financial services to crypto brokers.

Such an outcome appeared unlikely as recently as last week, after the General Superintendency, CADE’s investigative wing, tried to close the case on technical grounds. But on May 13, Counselor Lenisa Rodrigues Prado called upon CADE to reopen its investigation.

In Prado’s view, these banks failed to give reasonable justification for shutting out crypto brokers. She found “significant evidence” that they had violated Brazilian laws protecting market competition and called upon CADE to initiate a sanctions inquiry.

Fernando de Magalhães Furlan, a former CADE official who leads the Brazilian Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Association’s (ABCB) charge against the banks, said the ruling “is a victory to the Brazilian crypto sector. ABCB represents 39 crypto brokers, according to Furlan.

Shutdowns 

Crypto brokers and banks had been at loggerheads before CADE launched its probe in September 2018. Banks, weary of the legal grey zone that cryptocurrency trading inhabits in Brazil (and allegedly fearful cryptocurrency’s success would eat into their own) had begun shutting down crypto brokerage accounts.

Without brokerage accounts, exchanges such as Nox Bitcoin could not easily provide cash on and off ramps to their customers. Founder João Paulo Oliveira said Banco Bradesco closed his brokerage account.

Banco Bradesco declined to comment on CADE proceedings.

It was a pattern rippling across Brazil’s crypto landscape, said Furlan, who as CEO of ABCB first called for a CADE investigation in April 2018.

Furlan said the banks would swoop in and close accounts “without any justification whatsoever.” He said their collective cold shoulder was a broadside to Brazil’s growing crypto industry.

“No company, no enterprise can survive in capitalism without access to the financial system,” Furlan said. 

Competition

Itaú Unibanco denied allegations it acted anti-competitively.

Itaú “has always guided its commercial practices based on the defense of free initiative and competition, as well as the understanding that competition is positive not only for the financial system, but for the whole country,” a spokesperson told CoinDesk.

There does not appear to be any evidence the banks coordinated their decisions, Furlan said. A previous CADE official said none of them wielded individual market power, according to Furlan. These are usually two hallmarks of anti-competitive case law. 

Indeed, Furlan said, a different CADE official’s December 2019 attempt to drop the case partly rested on the banks’ individual inability to control the market.

Furlan said it was a distinction without a difference. Four of the banks involved in the inquiry rank among the five-largest in all of Brazil. CADE said that in 2017, a year before its own investigation began, the six banks together held over 80% of Brazilian deposits.

The other argument Furlan said the first CADE ruling drew from was the banks’ stated fear that crypto brokers would expose them to money laundering. 

Members of the crypto business landscape reject that claim.

“We do a better job in checking the legitimacy of the money we touch than banks and government agencies,” said Fabiano Dias, vice president of LATAM operations for the crypto payroll company Bitwage.

“For us crypto businesses, I know I can speak for our partners in Brazil on that too, we are confident in our [know-your-customer] procedures, making sure we are only enabling legit professionals, helping them to add efficiency to their payments and finances,” he said.

Furlan and ABCB appealed the decision. The appeal was denied. But on May 13, Prado said money laundering was not a good enough reason to lock out the crypto brokers in her call to continue the inquiry.

Crypto’s nascency was actually an argument for letting such businesses in, she wrote.

“In order to avoid the risk of pushing independent crypto asset brokers into a ‘limbo’ of the financial system (which could even increase the risks related to money laundering), CADE must exercise its duty to protect competition in this growing market,” she wrote.

Next steps

Itaú, the second-largest bank in Brazil and the only one to respond to CoinDesk’s questions before Wednesday’s ruling, said it “remains confident that its conduct will be considered legal and valid.”

“If the investigation is reopened, the bank will continue to collaborate with CADE in the necessary clarifications,” an Itaú spokesperson said at the time (the spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment after the ruling).

Oliviera, the Brazilian exchange founder, thinks the sanctioning argument only failed previously because its proponent, ABCB, “was funded exclusively and controlled by” Atlas Quantum, an alleged crypto ponzi scheme.

(Furlan’s April 2018 letter to CADE highlights that Atlas, an ABCB member, was denied a bank account by Banco do Brasil).

“I do believe that relations between ABCB and Atlas were considered for CADE to have decided that there’s no competition conflict for banks to close bank accounts of crypto business,” Oliviera said. 

Furlan told CoinDesk that ABCB has 39 members but acknowledged that the organization “has not been very active” since its main contributor ran into regulatory trouble with Brazil’s SEC. 

UPDATE (May 20, 18:15 UTC): Brazil’s antitrust regulator voted Wednesday to continue its investigation of local banks for allegedly blocking crypto firms’ access to financial services.

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The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Democrats Panic After Senate Homeland Security Panel Approves Hunter Biden Probe Subpoenas (VIDEO)

Democrats are PANICKED after a Senate panel announced plans to issue subpoenas related to Hunter Biden and corruption at Burisma Holdings.

Senate Republicans approved subpoenas in their investigation of Hunter Biden and Burisma on Wednesday.

This comes the day after Ukrainian officials released the recordings of Joe Biden and former Ukrainian President discussing their quid pro quo agreement on firing the prosecutor who was investigating Hunter Biden in exchange for IMF funding.

Chairman of the Senate Homeland Committee Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) joined FOX News on Wednesday to discuss the investigation.

TRENDING: Illinois Governor Pritzker Threatens Business Owners with a Year in Prison if They Try to Reopen

Ron Johnson says he must have hit a nerve.

“I’m somewhat suspicious. My interest level has been raised by the high level of their objections. I think they protest a little too much. Apparently we’re hitting a nerve here. Maybe we’re getting close to finding out some important information.”

Obviously, Democrats are very worried!

 

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COMEY urged probe into Flynn by misrepresenting Russian contacts, declassified memo shows — RT USA News

Ex-FBI director James Comey pushed to investigate Trump’s incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn despite lacking any evidence Flynn had shared classified info with Russian officials, a newly-declassified memo reveals.

It was Comey who told President Barack Obama and other administration officials that “incoming NSA Flynn is speaking frequently with Russian Ambassador Kislyak” in a meeting documented in the January 2017 memo by National Security Advisor Susan Rice, the unredacted first page of which was obtained by CBS on Tuesday.

The FBI director admits he “has no indication thus far that Flynn has passed classified information to Kislyak,” and no real basis for his insistence that the probe must go on.

The only thing backing his hunch that the meetings between the general and the Russian diplomat “could be an issue”?

The level of communication is unusual,” Comey tells Obama, according to Rice, hinting that the National Security Council should “potentially” avoid passing “sensitive information related to Russia” to Flynn.

The FBI director did not elaborate on what is supposed to be “unusual” about an incoming foreign policy official speaking with a Russian counterpart, especially in the midst of what was then a rapidly-unraveling diplomatic relationship between the two countries with Obama expelling 35 Russian diplomats and imposing sanctions over alleged-but-never-substantiated “election interference.” Given the circumstances, an absence of communication might have been more unusual. But the timing is certainly auspicious.

Rice, Flynn’s predecessor who authored the memo, relates that the January 5 meeting followed “a briefing by [Intelligence Committee] leadership on Russian hacking during the 2016 Presidential election.”

The previous day, the FBI field office assigned with investigating Flynn attempted to close the case against him, called CROSSFIRE RAZOR, after having found “no derogatory information” to justify continued inclusion in the overarching CROSSFIRE HURRICANE probe (the “Russian collusion” investigation). They were blocked from doing so by Agent Peter Strzok, who added that the orders to keep the investigation going came from the “7th floor” – i.e. agency leadership. The Flynn investigation had been underway since August, beginning the day after Strzok discussed an ‘insurance policy’ that was supposed to keep then-candidate Donald Trump out of office with Comey’s deputy, Andrew McCabe.




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While Comey describes his probe of Flynn as “proceeding ‘by the book’” after Obama repeatedly stresses he wants only a “by the book” investigation – both parties presumably hoping to avoid exactly the sequence of revelatory events that are currently unfolding – recently-unsealed documents from the case against Flynn indicate the general was entrapped, with the FBI’s goal being to “prosecute him or get him fired” with an ambush-style interview.

They got both their wishes – after agents tricked him into sitting for questioning without a lawyer present, Flynn was accused of lying about his contacts with Kislyak, fired from his post in the White House, and subsequently pled guilty to lying to a federal agent.

The Department of Justice has dropped its charges against Flynn, citing gross misconduct and abuse of power at the FBI, which it claims had no basis for launching its investigation. However, US District Judge Emmet Sullivan has attempted to block the dismissal, appointing a retired judge as independent prosecutor to both argue against the Justice Department’s move and pursue perjury charges against Flynn – essentially charging him with lying about lying.

On Tuesday, Flynn’s attorney filed a writ of mandamus with the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, urging them to force Sullivan to step aside and allow the dismissal of the charges.

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China Slaps Australia with Huge Barley Tariff Amid Canberra’s Push for COVID-19 Origins Probe

Beijing’s recent decisions come against the backdrop of heightened diplomatic tension between China and Australia, following a push by Prime Minister Scott Morrison for an independent COVID-19 investigation amid allegations the Asian country had downplayed the seriousness of the virus.

China has announced huge five-year duties on Australian barley exports, with a 73.6 percent anti-dumping tariff and a 6.9 percent anti-subsidy tariff to be applied from Tuesday, 19 May, reported ABC news.

China’s Ministry of Commerce announced the move on Monday, after completing a 16-month investigation into an anti-dumping complaint.

“The Ministry of Commerce conducted an investigation in strict accordance with China’s relevant laws and regulations… The investigating authority has ruled that there was dumping of imported barley from Australia and the domestic industry suffered substantial damage,” reads a statement on the ministry’s website, quoted by the outlet.

In response to the news, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham reiterated that Australia had neither subsidised nor dumped barley in China, and indicated the country might appeal the imposition of the crippling import tax.

“Australia is deeply disappointed with China’s decision to impose duties on Australian barley. We reserve all rights to appeal this matter further and are confident that Australian farmers are among the most productive in the world, who operate without government subsidy of prices,” ABC news reported the minister as saying.

Senator Birmingham underscored the decision would also affect China.

“Whist this is a blow for Australian farmers, it’s also Chinese breweries and Chinese consumers, who will pay a price through paying more for barley through other [producers], or will end up getting substandard barley from other markets around the world,” said the official.

Brett Hosking, Chairman of Grain Growers organisation, did not rule out Australia would pursue the issue at the World Trade Organisation, saying:

“It’s not guaranteed, but we do want to engage with the Chinese around this… It’s a diplomatic situation, it feels more like a misunderstanding on their behalf, than it does genuine trade action.”

Barley, one of Australia’s top three agricultural exports to China, has been at the heart of dumping allegations since 2018, with the newly-announced tariffs set to deal a huge blow to the country’s trade with Beijing, believed to cover around half of its exports of the grain.

The ‘Politicised Barley Controversy’

The imposition of tariffs comes weeks after China’s ambassador to Australia, Jingye Cheng, warned of economic fallout for the country over its call for an independent probe into the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

In late April Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, defended the “entirely reasonable and sensible” call for an inquiry, saying:

“This is a virus that has taken more than 200,000 lives across the world. It has shut down the global economy. The implications and impacts of this are extraordinary. Now, it would seem entirely reasonable and sensible that the world would want to have an independent assessment of how this all occurred, so we can learn the lessons and prevent it from happening again.”

Australia is one of around 120 World Health Organisation (WHO) member nations supporting a proposed  EU motion calling for an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of the “international health response to COVID-19”.


©
REUTERS / Andrew Kelly

People in Personal Protective Equipment in Central Park, New York

Beijing, which has been rejecting a succession of accusations led by Washington and specifically President Donald Trump over wrongdoing during the pandemic, branded Canberra “gum stuck to the bottom of China’s shoe” in the state media for kowtowing to the US.

Chinese President Xi Jinping defended his country’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which started in Hubei province in late 2019, telling the World Health Assembly in Geneva via a video message that Beijing would support an investigation “conducted in an objective and impartial way”.


©
REUTERS / THOMAS PETER

An employee works at a factory of Renesas Semiconductor Co. during a government organised tour of the facility following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Beijing, China May 14, 2020.

Director-general of the World health Organisation Tedros Ghebreyesus promised at the meeting of the World Health Assembly (WHA) that an investigation will be launched as soon as possible, amid growing criticism of the WHO for its response to the pandemic, most notably spearheaded by US President Donald Trump, who froze Washington’s funding to the organisation in April.

 

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Dems launch ANOTHER Trump probe – after he fires State Dept official who was investigating Pompeo & pushed a new ‘dossier’ — RT USA News

Two Democrat-led committees on Capitol Hill have launched a fresh investigation into President Trump. This probe focuses on allegations that Trump fired a State Department employee for political reasons.

Trump informed Congress on Friday that he intends to fire State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, claiming he “no longer” had confidence in him.

By Saturday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-New York) and Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) sent a letter to the White House, alleging the firing was “politically-motivated,” and announcing an investigation.

The two Democrats wrote that Linick was in the process of investigating State Secretary Mike Pompeo for some non-specific “wrongdoing.” Pompeo, they claimed, instructed Trump to sack Linick.

Trump may have had other reasons to fire Linick. A holdover from the Obama administration, Linick came forward last October with a mysterious dossier, which allegedly revealed an effort by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani to push the State Department to investigate Joe Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine. 

Coming after the initial intelligence community whistleblower complaint that kickstarted the impeachment drive against Trump, the dossier was briefly hyped by the media as an impeachment “bombshell.” However, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) – who received the dossier – said it raised “more questions than it answers,” and contained nothing “directly relevant to the president’s impeachable conduct.”




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When Trump was eventually acquitted by the Senate, he fired star witnesses Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland. That the president would remember Linick’s role in the impeachment drama is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility.

Engel and Menendez have requested that the Trump administration turn over all documents related to Linick’s firing by May 22. Until then, the precise details of the firing, and Trump’s motivations, remain a mystery.

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‘Disliked by Both’ Parties, GOP Senator Will Find Few Defenders Amid Insider Trading Probe – Journo

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Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) recently stepped down as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee after he was accused of selling hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock before the US COVID-19 outbreak, a symptom of inherent corruption in the US political system, Jim Kavanagh, the editor of ThePolemicist.net, told Sputnik Friday.

“The problem for Burr is that he made these stock trades himself. [Sen. Dianne] Feinstein (D-CA), [Sen. Kelly] Loeffler (R-GA), a couple of other people who were involved in this, all have the excuse or rationale or reason that their stock trades were made by financial advisers, third-party investment advisers,” Kavanagh told Loud & Clear host John Kiriakou.

“Now, they could [have], of course, tipped off the financial adviser to do that, but you have the direct fact that Burr made these trades himself, which puts him in a unique position,” Kavanagh noted. “He’s not as wealthy as the other people, and the amount of money he traded is more significant in terms of his stock portfolio and wealth.”

FBI agents seized Burr’s cell phone Thursday as part of a criminal investigation into his suspicious stock transactions. The senator is accused of selling up to $1.7 million in publicly traded stocks in February, just before a sharp downturn in the market caused by COVID-19 lockdowns but after attending a confidential briefing from government officials about the coronavirus.

It is illegal for Congress members to trade stock on the basis of non-public information to which they are privy due to their positions. 

Three other senators – Loeffler, Feinsten and Jim Inhofe (R-OK) – also traded large amounts of stock before the US coronavirus outbreak, drawing accusations of insider trading. However, only Burr is currently being investigated by the Justice Department. The trading by the other senators is believed to have been carried out by their spouses or advisers.

According to Kavanagh, many Republicans don’t like Burr and won’t be eager to advocate for him. Burr drew Republicans’ ire in May 2019 when he issued a subpoena for the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., regarding the Russiagate investigation after it was deemed closed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). 

“Trumpists don’t like Burr,” Kavanagh told Sputnik.

“So nobody’s coming to Burr’s defense … he’s ticked off the Republican Trumpers, and of course the Democrats would like to get his seat. So, I don’t see it having immediate political consequences, but the long-term trends in North Carolina favor the Democrats anyway. This whole thing with him being replaced might actually help the Republicans if it allows them to extend their term,” Kavanagh explained, noting that if Burr is indicted, there will be an opportunity for Democrats to take the North Carolina seat. 

“There are symptoms of deep problem of a kind of inherent corruption or at least implicit corruption in the process when you have a Senate, especially when it’s made up of wealthy individuals … I  don’t think there’ll be a great big reform of Senate practices or Congressional practices coming out of this … Unless you have constant oversight of this in much more specific ways, it’s just going to pass along until some really significant crisis comes up where people really ticked off,” Kavanagh added.

However, the story could continue to draw headlines, Kavanagh added.

“This probably does have media staying power,” he noted. “This is the type of scandal they’ll talk about forever, especially since Burr is disliked by both the Republicans and the Democrats.”

The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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Richard Burr to step down as Senate intel chair during FBI’s probe into suspicious stock dumps before Covid-19 market crash — RT USA News

Republican Senator Richard Burr will step down from his post as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee pending a probe into suspicious stock trades he made before the Covid-19 crisis hit US markets.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that Burr had contacted him to say he would not remain in the role “during the pendency of the investigation.”

McConnell said it had been agreed that the decision was “in the best interests of the committee” and would be effective from the end of the day on Friday. 

The decision comes hours after FBI agents seized the North Carolina senator’s private cell phone as part of the probe and served him with a search warrant.




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FBI serves search warrant, seizes Sen. Richard Burr’s phone amid probe into insider trading before Covid-19 market crash – reports



Burr became the subject of a federal lawsuit back in March following reports from ProPublica which revealed suspicious stock trading activity. The Republican lawmaker, who was privy to daily classified briefings about the Covid-19 situation, dumped between $628,000 and $1.7 million in stock holdings during 33 transactions in mid-February just before the crisis began to hit the US.

Burr has denied using his position to inform personal trading decisions. 

The Department of Justice is also investigating Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), whose husband dumped over $1 million in stock of a biotech firm in January. Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler is also being investigated after selling up to $3.1 million in stocks after attending a Senate Health Committee briefing in January.

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FBI serves search warrant, seizes Sen. Richard Burr’s phone amid probe into insider trading before Covid-19 market crash – reports — RT USA News

Federal agents have seized the private cell phone of Republican Senator Richard Burr, reportedly serving him with a search warrant amid a Justice Department probe into suspicious stock trades he made soon after Covid-19 hit the US

The North Carolina senator was presented with the warrant at his Washington-area residence on Wednesday night, the LA Times reported, citing a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The move comes as the DOJ intensifies its probe into a series of stock sales Burr made in February, just before US markets took a nosedive, possibly on the basis of information gleaned during confidential briefings on the coronavirus outbreak.




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An adviser to Burr, Alice Fisher, told the Hill earlier this month that Burr “participated in the stock market based on public information and he did not coordinate his decision with Mr. [Gerald] Fauth,” referring to Burr’s brother-in-law, who also made significant stock sales around the same time as the senator.

Burr sold between $628,000 and $1.7 million in stock holdings through 33 separate transactions in mid February, according to ProPublica, which first reported the sales. Though the senator received daily briefings from US health officials before the sell-off, he has denied using his position as a lawmaker to inform his decisions in the stock market.

In addition to Burr, who also serves as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the DOJ is probing other officials as well, including Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) – whose husband sold off more than $1 million in stock in a biotechnology firm in January – and Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), who made a smaller sale around the same period. Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler (R) has also come under suspicion after dumping between $1.2 and $3.1 million in stocks soon after attending a Senate Health Committee briefing on the outbreak in January. All of them claim the transactions were routine.




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US Navy Warship Spills Nearly 4,000 Gallons of Diesel Into Virginia River, Prompts Probe

The US Navy has launched an investigation to identify what led the service’s Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG-58) to spill thousands of gallons of fuel into Virginia’s York River on May 7.

A US Navy oil recovery team and the US Coast Guard were called to Naval Weapons Station Yorktown on Thursday after it was discovered that the Phillippine had leaked almost 4,000 gallons of diesel into the York River earlier that morning, reported US Naval Institute (USNI) News.

Navy officials noted that ammunition was scheduled for loading aboard the guided-missile cruiser when the spill began around 7 a.m. local time.

Despite the size of the spill, service members were able to keep the fuel in a localized area through the use of emergency containment booms.

“Recovery and cleanup efforts began immediately,” US Fleet Forces Environmental Public Affairs Officer Ted Brown told the Williamsburg Yorktown Daily in an emailed statement.

In addition to the US Coast Guard and the Navy oil recovery team, the Environmental Protection Agency, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Department of Emergency Management and the US Fish and Wildlife Service responded to initial reports of the mishap.

The Remotely Operated Vehicles for Emergency Response (ROVER) Team of the York County-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office also joined in on recovery efforts and deployed an aerial drone around the shoreline to monitor the fuel’s potential spread to land.

Citing Navy officials, USNI reported that 90% of the spill had been recovered within a few hours on Thursday. The Navy later told the outlet that the environmental damage, if any, was minimal.

“The fuel was recovered using a fuel vacuum truck and fuel absorbing materials by Thursday afternoon,” Brown noted to the WY Daily. “The remaining sheen was unrecoverable and dissipated with minimal impact to the shoreline.”

The Navy has launched an investigation into the cause of the spill.

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France launches probe into sex assault claim against 94yo ex-President d’Estaing — RT World News

An investigation has been launched into former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing after a German journalist accused the ex-leader – who is in his 90s – of repeatedly groping her after an interview in 2018.

French prosecutors decided to go ahead with the probe onMonday, following a complaint from Ann-Kathrin Stracke, a reporter for the German public broadcaster WDR, alleging the statesman grabbed her behind several times while posing for a photograph in his office in Paris after the December 2018 interview.

I was standing to his left, and while taking the photo, he put his hand on my left waist before sliding it to my backside where it stayed.




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In her complaint – which she brought to prosecutors in March after an independent inquiry by WDR – the journalist said he repeated the same action three separate times as she attempted to remove d’Estaing’s hand “several times and with all [her] strength,” but to no avail, adding “I felt like he insisted.”

While Stracke drafted a 13-page complaint at the behest of her employers once she returned to the WDR office in Cologne, she says she decided to go public with the story after more than a year with encouragement from the #MeToo movement, saying “people should know that a French former president harassed me sexually.”

Though D’Estaing, 94, has yet to comment on the allegations himself, his office manager told Le Monde the ex-president had “no memory” of the meeting with Stracke.

D’Estaing served as the president of France between 1974 and 1981, and continues to sit on France’s Constitutional Council, which is tasked to review laws to ensure they are consistent with the country’s founding document.




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Georgia Attorney General Asks For DOJ Probe Into Handling Of Ahmaud Arbery Case : NPR

Demonstrators protest the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery at the Glynn County Courthouse on May 8, 2020 in Brunswick, Georgia.

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Demonstrators protest the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery at the Glynn County Courthouse on May 8, 2020 in Brunswick, Georgia.

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Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr asked the Department of Justice on Sunday to conduct an investigation into the handling of the Ahmaud Arbery case.

Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was shot and killed in February while jogging through a neighborhood in the city of Brunswick, Ga. His death sparked a national outcry and demands for justice after a cellphone video of the shooting began circulating online last week.

On Thursday, two men, Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis, who is 34, were arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault. The arrests came two days after state authorities took over the case from local law enforcement — and 10 weeks after Arbery’s death.

McMichael, a retired police detective, told authorities that he and his son pursued Arbery because they believed he had been involved in local burglaries.

Prior to the state’s takeover of the investigation, the case had landed on the desk of three separate district attorneys. The first recused herself because the father had previously worked in her office as an investigator.

A second district attorney was appointed but recused himself at the request of Arbery’s family. He then wrote a lengthy letter saying, “We do not see grounds for an arrest of any of the three parties.”

A third district attorney was appointed to the case and asked for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to step in after video of the altercation and shooting became public.

“We are committed to a complete and transparent review of how the Ahmaud Arbery case was handled from the outset. The family, the community and the state of Georgia deserve answers, and we will work with others in law enforcement at the state and federal level to find those answers,” Carr said in a statement.

Carr highlighted a lack of information given to his office about involvement from various people involved in the case — including one of the suspects, who had previously investigated Arbery in a different legal matter.

In a statement, attorneys for Arbery’s mother and father praised the attorney general’s request for a Justice Department investigation.

“We are pleased that Georgia AG Chris Carr has officially asked the Dept. of Justice to investigate the handling, and potential cover-up, of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder,” wrote S. Lee Merritt, Benjamin Crump and L. Chris Stewart. ” … There are far too many questions about how this case was handled and why it took 74 days for two of the killers to be arrested and charged in Mr. Arbery’s death.”

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Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr Requests Department of Justice to Probe Handling of Ahmaud Arbery Case

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr announced on Sunday that he has asked the Department of Justice to investigate the handling of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was fatally shot by two white men while jogging.

“We are committed to a complete and transparent review of how the Ahmaud Arbery case was handled from the outset,” Carr said in a statement. “The family, the community and the state of Georgia deserve answers, and we will work with others in law enforcement at the state and federal level to find those answers.” 

Also on Sunday, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced that it has arrested 20-year-old Rashawn Smith and charged him with “Dissemination of Information Relating to Terrorist Acts for a Facebook post that contained a threat to future protests related to Ahmaud Arbery.” The GBI said it was conducting the investigation with the FBI and the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office.

Arbery was fatally shot while jogging in Brunswick, Georgia, on Feb. 23. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested and charged Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, with murder and aggravated assault on Thursday after video footage of the deadly attack went viral and sparked international outrage. 

The graphic video shows the McMichaels chasing Arbery, who was unarmed, in a pickup truck before the shots were fired. The two men have maintained that they believed Arbery was a suspect in a recent string of robberies, but Glynn County Police Lt. Cheri Bashlor told CNN that there was only one burglary in the area nearly two months before the shooting, on Jan. 1.

Gregory was previously a law enforcement officer who worked for Brunswick DA Jackie Johnson. County Commissioner Allen Booker told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week that “the police at the scene went to [Johnson], saying they were ready to arrest both of them,” but Johnson “shut them down to protect her friend McMichael.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Sunday called Arbery’s killing a “lynching of an African American man” and asserted that the arrests of the father and son would not have happened if the video of the shooting did not surface. “I think had we not seen that video, I don’t believe that they would be charged,” she said. 

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Why ‘Independent’ COVID-19 Probe Into China is a Political Ploy That Has No Legal Leg to Stand On

Trying to launch an international probe into the origins of the COVID-19 outbreak and China’s initial response independently of the WHO is evidently an effort by the US and its allies to manipulate it, deems retired UN expert Alfred de Zayas, stressing that Washington would have never given a green light to such a probe on its own territory.

The Trump administration is continuing to promote the idea that the novel coronavirus originated from the Chinese virology laboratory in Wuhan – despite a lack of evidence –  and urging the People’s Republic to grant access to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) to the US and “the world”.

Earlier, the US called for conducting an investigation into how China and the World Health Organisation (WHO) handled the coronavirus pandemic. The idea was echoed by Australia government officials who underscored the necessity to run an international probe into China’s COVID response “independently” of the WHO. The general idea of an inquiry into the origins of the virus was also backed by the British Ambassador Karen Pierce on 29 April and by President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen during her interview with CNBC on 1 May. For its part, China rejected the initiative as “politically motivated” and untimely.

The initiative backed by the US, Australia and the EU has no legal basis to stand on, underscores retired UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order Alfred-Maurice de Zayas.

Sputnik: What’s your take on the US, Australia and the EU calls for an “independent” international inquiry into the origins of the pandemic in China? How does the international inquiry initiative correspond to international law and the concept of sovereignty?

Alfred de Zayas: An investigation of the origins of the virus should be carried out at a later date, and it should be entrusted to the World Health Organisation (WHO), and not to an ad hoc “independent international commission” which would certainly be as politicised and antagonistic as the discredited Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which was set up with an ideal of independence and professionalism, but whose Syria investigations were fundamentally flawed and essentially destroyed its reputation and credibility. The US/Australian/EU proposal constitutes a pretty obvious political ploy and has no legal leg to stand on. It is tantamount to “weaponising” the pandemic in order to put the blame on China, who is envied and hated because of its economic power.

It is a disgrace to politicise the COVID pandemic in order to score political points – and in the United States (that means) points for the November election.

The order of the day must be international solidarity as provided for in the Draft Declaration on International Solidarity, submitted to the Human Rights Council by special rapporteur Virginia Dandan.

In times of crisis what we must do is laid out in Article 44 of the International Health Regulations – international cooperation to defeat the pandemic as early as possible. The Priority must be to put all resources into fighting the pandemic, producing ventilators, test kits, a vaccine, etc. and developing a strategy to come out of the economic and social crisis that has ensued.


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REUTERS / THOMAS PETER

A scientist works in the lab of Linqi Zhang on research into novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) antibodies for possible use in a drug at Tsinghua University’s Research Center for Public Health in Beijing, China, March 30, 2020

Sputnik: Are there any UN mechanisms of launching such an investigation? If so, why didn’t the countries launch this initiative through the UN?

Alfred de Zayas: As far as international law is concerned, the core legal instrument are the WHO Constitution and the 2005 International Heath Regulations, which 196 States have adhered to. The purpose of IHR is cooperation, not litigation. Article 56 of the IHR provides for dispute settlement through the good offices of the WHO. Trying to take the “investigation” out of the WHO is evidently an effort to manipulate it. In any event the IHR do not envisage strict liability of “absolute” liability. Article 56 stipulates:

First, in the event of a dispute between two or more States Parties concerning the interpretation or application of these Regulations, the States Parties concerned shall seek in the first instance to settle the dispute through negotiation or any other peaceful means of their own choice, including good offices, mediation or conciliation. Failure to reach agreement shall not absolve the parties to the dispute from the responsibility of continuing to seek to resolve it.

Second, on the event that the dispute is not settled by the means described under paragraph 1 of this Article, the States Parties concerned may agree to refer the dispute to the Director-General, who shall make every effort to settle it.

Third, a State Party may at any time declare in writing to the Director-General that it accepts arbitration as compulsory with regard to all disputes concerning the interpretation or application of these Regulations to which it is a party or with regard to a specific dispute in relation to any other State Party accepting the same obligation. The arbitration shall be conducted in accordance with the Permanent Court of Arbitration Optional Rules for Arbitrating Disputes between Two States applicable at the time a request for arbitration is made. The States Parties that have agreed to accept arbitration as compulsory shall accept the arbitral award as binding and final. The Director-General shall inform the Health Assembly regarding such action as appropriate.”

However, it bears repeating that the core of the IHR regime is Article 44 which mandates international cooperation: “States Parties shall undertake to collaborate with each other, to the extent possible, in: (a) the detection and assessment of, and response to, events as provided under these Regulations; (b) the provision or facilitation of technical cooperation and logistical support, particularly in the development, strengthening and maintenance of the public health capacities required under these Regulations; (c) the mobilisation of financial resources to facilitate implementation of their obligations under these Regulations.” This provision has been grossly violated by the United States e.g. by imposing unilateral sanctions and financial blockades on countries trying to combat the pandemic.


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REUTERS / MANAURE QUINTERO

People wearing protective masks walk on a street during a nationwide quarantine as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Caracas, Venezuela April 20, 2020.

Sputnik: Would the US allow such an “independent” investigation to be held on its soil by a group of nations with or without a UN mandate? What legal precedent could such a non-UN inquiry set for the international community?

Alfred de Zayas: The US sees itself as an “exceptionalist” State, and it operates as if it were above international law. The US would certainly not accept any investigation on its territory. Already with regard to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the US went so far as to intimidate and threaten the judges and staff of the ICC if they dared continue with their investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan. They dared. Now let’s see how that plays out.

The US does not recognize the jurisdiction of any UN human rights expert body to accept individual complaints against it. Nor has it given the declaration under article 36 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) recognising its jurisdiction. At an earlier time when the US did recognise the jurisdiction of the ICJ, every judgment of the ICJ against the US was ignored – in total impunity.

It is telling that the US added reservations and understandings to the IHR, rejecting any eventual US liability. Thus, specifically on the question of whether the IHRs create judicially enforceable private rights, the US demurred “the Government of the United States of America does not believe that the IHRs were intended to create judicially enforceable private rights: The United States understands that the provisions of the Regulations do not create judicially enforceable private rights.” Thus it contravenes the US reservation when US courts pretend to make China liable for tort and demand trillions of dollars in compensation. The principle of estoppel necessarily blocks this legal aberration.

Sputnik: China says that a US and Australia-proposed international independent inquiry seems to be “politically motivated” and it’s not the time to launch the probe while China is struggling against the pandemic since it will divert its resources. What do you think about China’s stance? Are Beijing’s concerns justified and if so why?

Alfred de Zayas: Like everything in life – there are priorities. And, as the UN Secretary General and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have said, the priority now and for the duration of the crisis is international solidarity in combatting the pandemic. Hitherto China has been cooperating with the WHO on investigations. The proposal of an “international independent inquiry” is not a good faith initiative, but a distraction away from the outrageous unpreparedness of precisely those countries whose budgets for decades have prioritised military expenditures over the strengthening of health infrastructures, proper funding of research and development in the field of prevention of pandemics and in the development of vaccines. Even the WHO has been woefully underfunded. Give the WHO appropriate funding and it will do more for prevention and cure.

I think is is time for the UN Secretary General to convene a World Conference on Post-Covid Recovery in which all issues could be discussed in a more coherent and sedate atmosphere. In De Providentia IV, 6 Seneca told us “calamitas virtutis occasio” – a catastrophe is an opportunity to demonstrate courage.  Alas, in the US the maxim has been transformed into “calamitas pecuniae occasio” – a disaster is a good occasion to make money, to litigate, to politicise.

The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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I want Biden’s CORONATION, not probe of sexual assault, says veteran NYT journalist urging Trump removal — RT USA News

An ex-New York Times journalist who helped launch Politico denounced calls to investigate sexual assault allegations against Joe Biden, urging Democrats to turn a blind eye in the name of defeating President Donald Trump.

Martin Tolchin, a former member of the New York Times’s Washington bureau, has raised quite a few eyebrows online after he brushed off sexual assault allegations against the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as something that should be shelved for good so the former VP’s chances to oust Trump won’t suffer in this November’s election.




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“I don’t want an investigation. I want a coronation of Joe Biden. Would he make a great president? Unlikely. Would he make a good president? Good enough,” Tolchin wrote in a scathing letter in response to the New York Times editorial board.

 I don’t want justice, whatever that may be. I want a win, the removal of Donald Trump from office, and Mr. Biden is our best chance.

Tolchin appeared to acknowledge that some compromising information may come to light as result of an in-depth probe, arguing that a possibility of the former VP’s losing nomination to whoever “with a minimal chance of defeating Mr.Trump” should overshadow all other concerns.

Should we really risk the possibility?

The veteran journalist, who had spent decades working for the Times and co-founded the Hill, signed his letter as “a former member of The Times’s Washington bureau and a founder of Politico”. This was hotly disputed by Politico’s chief of communications, who said that Tolchin was “not the Founder of POLITICO, and it’s false to describe him that way” while responding to criticism of Tolchin’s comments rather than his letter itself.

Politico’s own staff web page described Tolchin as someone “helping launch” the paper, however.

The occasion for Tolchin’s letter was a softball suggestion by the the Times’ editorial board that the Democratic Party should investigate allegations that Biden sexually assaulted his former Senate staffer Tara Reade in 1993.




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“The Democratic National Committee should move to investigate the matter swiftly and thoroughly, with the full cooperation of the Biden campaign,” read the editorial,  published on Friday.

The DNC, which hardly has a stellar reputation when it comes to treating its top candidates – one may look no further than to its well-documented bias in favor of the Clinton campaign back in 2016 – has already rejected this, calling it “an absurd suggestion on its face.”

It did not take long for Tolchin’s letter to draw a swift backlash on Twitter, either. Many argued that his call to sweep the sexual assault allegations under the rug was a disgrace for journalism.

Some even wondered if the letter was a rather clumsy attempt at satire (apparently it was not).

One prominent liberal journalist argued that although Tolchin’s was “a very unjournalistic sentiment,” he should be given a pass due to his old age.

Others suggested that Tolchin might have just said out loud what the US media establishment is thinking about the situation.

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