Police go undercover on Black Friday to curb violence & theft across US

By ethan / November 23, 2017

Undercover officers and helicopters will be watching over bargain hunters during this Black Friday in an effort to stamp out the annual chaos that turns America’s malls into potential war zones every holiday season.

The day after Thanksgiving, millions of customers wait outside their favorite retailers for the first day of the Christmas gift shopping season.

When big-box stores opened their doors early in the past, people have been trampled to death by the large crowds and shoppers have been injured fighting each other to get the best Black Friday deals.

This year, police in cities across the country are announcing new security measures to deter criminal activity and ensure public safety.

Tennessee

On Monday, the Mt. Juliet Police Department in Tennessee announced Operation Safe Shopper would begin Thursday and run through the end of the year to “reduce response time and give a more visible presence.”

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People walk through Macy's Herald Square store during early opening for Black Friday sales in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 24, 2016 © Andrew Kelly

During that time, the department will deploy more officers in and around the major shopping areas in town. Investigative units will also be conducting undercover enforcement operations, with officers on the lookout for “suspicious or unsafe behavior” during the holiday.

Since Operation Safe Shopper began in 2010, there has not been a major theft or violent crime incident in the shopping areas on Black Friday, according to Captain Tyler Chandler.

Police in Nashville will take to the skies, with helicopter pilots being told to watch parking lots at malls for “sightings of suspicious activity,” according to the Tennessean. Officers will use a Skycop camera trailer, which will allow them to zoom in to watch specific shoppers.

A recent report from Reviews.org ranks Tennessee as the state with the highest chance for Black Friday violence.

New Jersey

On Wednesday, the Gloucester Township Police Department in Camden, New Jersey issued a statement letting shoppers know there will be undercover police among the large crowds Friday.

“Your search for the ultimate deal this Friday will be safe as Gloucester Township Police undercover officers will be waiting in lines with you as you purchase that special item,” police said, according to CBS News. “Our officers will be throughout the community both in uniform and undercover to keep you safe this holiday season.”

Kansas

Overland Park Police Department will also have undercover police officers at the Oak Park Mall in Kansas on Black Friday, according to KSHB.

The mall has also installed more than 140 cameras in and outside the property to identify shoplifters. The cameras are able to zoom in on license plates with great detail, which are then sent to the police.

California

Commander Roy Jones of the Simi Valley Police Department in California also said there will be  increased police presence from uniformed and undercover officers at shopping centers during during the holiday season, according to the Ventura County Star.

Captain Garo Kuredjian of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office warned shoppers not to leave expensive items in their cars, saying thieves lurk in parking lots to break into parked cars.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office also advised shoppers to park their vehicles in well-lit areas and keep their personal belongings in sight at all times if possible.

“In general, people need to be most aware of leaving purses and wallets unattended,” said Commander Tom Higgins, spokesman for the Ventura Police Department told the Ventura County Star.

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Better than a refugee camp? Spanish authorities under fire for hosting migrants in prison

By ethan / November 23, 2017

The Spanish government has been forced to defend its decision to house around 500 recently-arrived asylum seekers in a prison, following harsh criticism by human rights groups and NGOs, who slammed it as an “unfair criminalization” of migrants.

Madrid justified its actions by saying that nearly a thousand asylum seekers landed on Spanish shores by boat between 17-19 November. New arrivals are usually detained by police before being sent to immigrant detention centers while their claims are being processed.

However, claiming there was not enough space at existing detention centers, authorities sent around five hundred of mostly Algerian migrants to a new prison facility in the southern town of Archidona, near Malaga. The prison has state-of-the-art facilities including classrooms, an infirmary, sports fields, hairdressers, gym, occupational workshops, leisure rooms, showers and air conditioning, according to a government statement.

“We feel it is better that the migrants be held in a center with the latest technology, with sanitary facilities, showers, heating, beds, sports areas than to put them in camps like in other countries,” AFP quoted Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido as telling radio Onda Cero.

The decision, however, has come under heavy fire from human rights and migrant aid groups as well as NGOs. A joint statement issued by 22 organizations, including the Association for Human Rights of Andalusia (APDHA), the SOS Racism Federation and Doctors of the World, condemned the move as being illegal and criminalizing migrants. The statement also noted that under Spanish law, processing centers for asylum seekers are not allowed to be prisons, and called on the Ministry of the Interior to “immediately rectify” the situation.

“We are radically against this,” Alejandro Cortina, the head of local migrant rights group Malaga Acoge, told AFP. “We don’t know if they will have staff authorized to detect human trafficking, or if a judge will monitor this facility.”

The decision to hold asylum seekers in prison was also criticized by the by Jesuit Migration Service, who said keeping them there violated their “rights and constitutional guarantees” and “unfairly criminalizes people.” The Spanish Council of Lawyers said the migrants must be taken out of the jail immediately.

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Refugees seeking reunification in Germany announce hunger strike during a protest opposite the parliament building in Athens © Alkis Konstantinidis

The NGO, Andalucia Acoge, which sent a team of lawyers to the site, described the prison to El Diario as being tense and overcrowded. Those being held there reportedly cannot use phones or call their family to tell them where they are. At least two of those held there are minors. The staff, meanwhile, are dressed as prison guards and not immigration officers.

The Spanish government has also been criticized by the leader of the United Left/The Greens–Assembly for Andalusia (IULV-CA) political movement, Antonio Maillo. Accusing the government of being “reactionary,” Maillo said the law is very clear – even when there is no space, foreigners have the right to be taken somewhere elsewhere to a penitentiary. Another politician, Senator Maribel Mora of the left-wing Unidos Podemos, said the fire control and emergency evacuation systems in the prison have not yet been tested or reviewed, while the padlocked system of opening and shutting the cells is a fire hazard.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), some 17,687 migrants reached Spanish shores by boat between January 1 and November 15 of this year, compared to only to 5,445 during the same period in 2016. Although not as popular as the illegal migration routes offered by Italy or Greece, Spain is still an important hub of entry for those seeking refuge in Europe.

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Baltimore police dismiss cop-on-cop murder rumors encircling detective’s death

By ethan / November 23, 2017

Baltimore homicide detective Sean Suiter was set to testify against fellow officers before being shot in the head and killed while on duty. Now the police department is reassuring the public that the killing was not part of a conspiracy among cops.

Baltimore police pushed back against swirling theories accusing Suiter’s partner of playing a part in his shooting death. Suiter was set to testify against fellow officers the day after he died.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis confirmed Wednesday evening that Suiter, 43, was set to testify against a squad of indicted Baltimore police officers, according to the Baltimore Sun.

But Davis stated he was told “in no uncertain terms” that Suiter was not a target of the investigation into the eight officers named in the Trace Task Force investigation, and said authorities do not have reason to believe Suiter’s death was connected to his pending testimony in a different case.

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Selah and local artist PFK Boom gather to remember Freddie Gray and all victims of police violence. © Bryan Woolston

Commissioner Davis said federal prosecutors told him that Suiter was set to testify the day after his death against officers who were already indicted on charges in relation to an incident from several years ago.

“The BPD and FBI do not possess any information that this incident is part of any conspiracy,” the commissioner said. Davis added that the department’s evidence showed the shooting was a spontaneous occurrence, ignited by Suiter’s decision to investigate a suspicious person.

Suiter was killed with his own weapon on November 15, as he and his partner were following up on an investigation of a triple homicide. They encountered a person acting suspiciously in an alley, before Suiter was shot in the head with his own service weapon during an altercation with the suspect. Authorities said there is also evidence that Suiter was involved in a struggle with the suspect, according to the BPD, the Sun reported.

As he sought to quash rumours surrounding Suiter’s killing, Davis said his department obtained a private surveillance video proving that the detective’s partner had nothing to do with Suiter’s death.

“The evidence refutes the notion that Det. Suiter’s partner was anything but just that, his partner,” Davis said as he read from a prepared statement, the Sun reported. “Upon the sound of gunfire Det. Suiter’s partner sought cover across the street. He immediately called 911. We know this, because it is captured on private surveillance video that we have recovered.”

Meanwhile, all eight members of the department’s elite Gun Trace Task Force were indicted earlier this year and are being accused of shaking down citizens and conspiring with drug dealers.

Four of the officers have pleaded guilty, at least two others are cooperating with authorities and four others have pleaded not guilty. The four that pleaded not guilty are tentatively scheduled to stand trial in January.

READ MORE: Here we go again: Another Baltimore Police body cam allegedly shows drugs being planted (VIDEO)

Davis’ comments on Wednesday come on the back of statistics released In October showing that Baltimore had surpassed New York and Chicago for the most amount of murders committed in 2017.

In recent years the Baltimore Police Department has made headlines for various alleged police abuses, including the death of an unarmed black man named Freddie Gray in 2015.

In May 2015, the Justice Department under former President Barack Obama launched a federal civil rights probe of the entire department following Gray’s death.

As the probe was launched, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch stated that Gray’s death had “given rise to a serious erosion of public trust,” in Baltimore, and added that “fractured trust” between the department and the community it serves was “an understatement,”ABC News reported.

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Two Australians & their dog survive 4 nights on roof of stuck car surrounded by crocodiles

By ethan / November 23, 2017

Two fishermen became crocodile bait after falling victim to a bog tide in the Australian wild. To escape the hungry predators, they had to practice their survival skills on the roof of their stranded vehicle for days before help arrived.

Last Friday two Australian fishermen and their dog embarked on a rejuvenating voyage to grab some catch in the remote Kimberley region in north-west Australia. However, their four-wheel drive got stuck in a tidal bog that unexpectedly swamped the nature enthusiasts enjoying the breathtaking Australian scenery.

With their car filled with seawater and hopelessly stuck in the mud, the trio was forced on top of their vehicle to escape numerous tidal cycles. They stayed on top of the car for four nights in fear of saltwater crocodiles lurking next to the vehicle waiting to feast on the unusual bait.

Charlie Williams, 19, and Beau Bryce-Maurice, 37, used blankets and towels to shield themselves and their dog Mindee from the heat. They also recorded video logs on their phones in case they were never found alive. 

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© Zimbo88

“Me and Charlie and Mindee are slowly dying,” Bryce-Maurice said laughing in one of the videos, seen by ABC Australia. “No one can find us. Can hear planes and shit now and again. You don’t know how disheartening it is when they f***ing fly off.”

“We were surrounded by crocodiles last night,” Bryce-Maurice noted in another vlog. “[They] tried to attack my dog.”

When the two fishermen failed to return home from their weekend trip on the Dampier Peninsula, relatives alerted local authorities who launched a massive search and rescue effort. By Tuesday afternoon, both men and their dog were rescued. They were fatigued, dehydrated and suffering heat-stroke but happy to be alive, as they had been running out of water when located by rescuers.

“They stayed on top of the vehicle and went through about six tides, which covered the vehicle on a number of occasions,” Sergeant Mark Balfour, from Broome police, told ABC Australia News. “Obviously in the Kimberley here you’ve got to watch the crocs and snakes, and I believe one of the gentlemen said a croc did come close to their vehicle while they were out there, so obviously they were a bit panicky about that.”

READ MORE: Gang of 30 angry hippos attacks croc in Tanzania (VIDEO)

Crocodiles are known to live in big tidal rivers, creek mouths and mangrove swamps found on the coast of the Dampier Peninsula. Fishermen taking trips to the areas are advised to be careful and remain vigilant of the large reptiles and snakes.

“Saltwater crocodiles are the largest reptiles in the world (in terms of weight). They can grow to over 6 meters and their jaws can exert a pressure of several tons. They are huge, territorial and aggressive, and they are plentiful across the Kimberley,” the local tourist board says on its website.

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Billionaire Peter Thiel may buy Gawker, the website he helped bankrupt

By ethan / November 23, 2017

Venture capitalist Peter Thiel is reportedly pursuing a bid to buy Gawker.com, a website he helped topple by funding a clandestine legal battle against its parent company.

The billionaire complained in court documents filed Wednesday that administrators overseeing the sale of the site are “maintaining selective secrecy over the process,” and are discriminating against his bid based on his history with the publication, according to Buzzfeed.  

The roots of the dispute between the site and Thiel is believed to hark back to 2007, when Gawker published a story questioning the sexuality of the Facebook board member. When a sex tape involving former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, real name Terry Bollea, appeared on the site in October 2012, Bollea launched a lawsuit against Gawker Media. Following Bollea’s victory and award of $ 140 million in damages, and Gawker’s subsequent bankruptcy over its inability to pay, it emerged that Thiel had spent millions of dollars to help fund Bollea’s legal challenge.

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Terry Bollea, known as professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, Peter Thiel © Boyzell Hosey, Jacky Naegelen

Gawker’s sister sites were sold to Univision in August 2016 for $ 135 million, but the bankruptcy plan administrator has been unable to find a buyer for Gawker.com. Under the terms of sale, the new owner would have control of the site’s 14-year archives, meaning it would be within their power to delete them.

One obstacle to the sale of the site to a party other than Thiel is the threat of further legal action against a new owner. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal in February, Bollea’s lawyer, Charles Harder, said the new owner would have to delete some articles in order to protect themselves from litigation.

“It would be the responsible thing to do for a new buyer to remove articles from Gawker.com that violate defamation laws, privacy laws or journalism ethics,” Harder said. “Such articles never should have been published in the first place, and if they were to be removed now, the public, and journalism, would benefit.”

Thiel would not be short of cash to complete his takeover. On Wednesday, the tech tycoon sold three quarters of his remaining stake in Facebook for about $ 29 million, leaving him with more than 59,000 Class A shares in the social media giant. He had already sold more than $ 1 billion worth of stock in three separate transactions in 2012 and 2016. But for some, the prospect of a Thiel takeover of Gawker is too much to bear.

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German cyber security agency seeks power to ‘hack back’ in case of attack

By ethan / November 23, 2017

In order to overcome present-day cyber security challenges, Germany must be able to “hack back” into the computers of alleged culprits, the head of the country’s newly formed digital security agency has said, arguing that similar measures are being taken by other countries.

“As a [German] citizen I expect that our state would remain capable to act in the face of the emerging digital threats,” Wilfried Karl, the president of the Central Service for Information Technologies in Security Field (Zitis), told the Der Spiegel weekly. He explained that in order to make it possible, German security services, including his agency, must be empowered with wide-reaching authority in the field of cyber security.

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© Hannibal Hanschke

“Would it not be desirable [to have capacity] to at least delete stolen data and documents from the thieves’ servers?” Karl asked rhetorically, as he explained what could be achieved if German security services had the legal mandate to “hack back.”

He then pointed out that legislation allowing intelligence services to plant malicious software into cyber criminals’ computers in the event of a hacking attack already exists in neighboring Switzerland. A law passed in 2015 and which came into force this September, allows the Swiss intelligence service, the NDB, to plant Trojans into alleged culprits’ computers and hack into their networks.

Karl, however, criticized a proposed US bill that envisages legal ways for private companies to take retaliatory measures against suspected hackers, particularly in the form of “hacking back.” Such “offensive capabilities should be reserved for governmental agencies only,” he said.

Zitis was formed earlier this year with a directive to assist German security agencies in developing information technology tools to fight cybercrime. It was also granted powers to track the communications of potential terrorists. The Munich-based agency, which falls under the interior ministry, officially started its work in mid-September with just 20 employees. German authorities plan to increase the number of its personnel to as many as 400 by 2022.

Karl is not the first German security official to speak in favor of giving the country’s security network wider powers and the legal capacity to “hack back.” In early October, the head of Germany’s domestic security service, the Federal Agency for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Hans-Georg Maassen, also said that German security services should be authorized to destroy data stolen from domestic servers and moved to other servers abroad in the event of an attack from foreign powers.

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© Alexey Malgavko

At a session before the German parliament’s committee which monitors the activities of its security services, Maassen said “infecting” the servers of foreign hackers with malicious software would give the Berlin’s intelligence services greater surveillance capabilities over any operations potentially aimed against Germany.

At the time, Maassen was supported by Bruno Kahl, the President of Germany’s Foreign Intelligence Agency (BND), who said his division already had the necessary expertise in destroying foreign servers, but still lacked legal authority to do so.

Such suggestions, however, were not well received by some politicians and IT experts both in Germany and abroad. Konstantin von Notz, the deputy head of the Green Party faction in the lower house of the German parliament, the Bundestag, opposed such proposals, saying “[cyber] attacks are most problematic both in [a] legal and practical sense, so they should not be legalized.”

“In the cyber security field, the best defense is still a [good] defense,” the politician said, as cited by Der Spiegel. Brad Smith, Microsoft’s President and Chief Legal Officer, expressed a similar opinion. Smith even suggested adopting an international “Digital Geneva Convention” to lay down the rules of conduct in cyberspace.

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Professor conducted back-alley herpes vaccine trial at Illinois hotels – report

By ethan / November 23, 2017

A US researcher aiming to develop a herpes vaccine conducted illegal trials during which he injected people in hotel rooms and at a house on the island of St. Kitts, according to a new investigation.

William Halford, a former associate professor at Southern Illinois University (SIU), began his first “trial” in 2013. But the setting wasn’t a university laboratory or a room at a hospital – it was a Holiday Inn Express and a Crowne Plaza Hotel located 15 minutes away from the college, according to an investigation by Kaiser Health News.

Halford, who died of cancer in June, administered his experimental shots to at least eight herpes patients on four different occasions in the summer and fall of 2013. The volunteers were injected with a virus he had created, according to emails from seven participants and interviews with one participant.

In multiple email exchanges between Halford and the participants, seen by Kaiser, he asked them to send photographs of rashes, blisters and other reactions they might have received as a result of the injections.

Halford, who was a microbiologist rather than a physician, apparently knew that his makeshift trial was a violation of US law, as he stated the need for secrecy in one of his emails. He said it would be “suicide” if it became too public about how he was conducting his research.

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© Cambridge University

He described his methods in some of his emails, as well as the number of injections given.

“Just wanted to pass along that I immunized someone with the higher dose of the HSV-2 vaccine on Monday, and I attach the photos of the injection site at 48 hours to give you and everyone else an idea of what to expect…,” he wrote in September 2013. “This individual requested that I give him two immunizations to double the effect…one immunization per leg.”

Four days later, Halford wrote that “everyone’s vaccines contained ~150 million infectious units of the HSV-2 vaccine strain,” noting that the first injection of the group represented about a 30- to 40-fold increase over what others received in August 2013. In the same email, the microbiologist wrote that he believed the trials were important.

“Saturday Sept. 21 definitely represents a milestone in my career,” he wrote. “Don’t know how it will turn out, but I undoubtedly feel like this was a real test of the (a) safety / tolerability of the HSV-2 vaccine and (b) an opportunity to see if it has any therapeutic potential…I am indebted to all of you.”

In an email dated October 2, 2013, Halford told a participant that his hypothesis of the injection’s outcome was “nothing more than an education guess.” He added that “the proof is in the pudding…let’s see if your problems with outbreaks dial back or not.”

In addition to the trial being blatantly illegal, the microbiologist also did not obtain written informed consent from the participants, which is required by US law when testing a live virus on humans. Moreover, medical researchers are not allowed to inject people without a physician or nurse practitioner being present, Jonathan Zenilman, a doctor and expert on sexually transmitted diseases at Johns Hopkins University, told Kaiser.

Meanwhile, a man from Texas who said he received the injections said he fears the vaccine may have given him genital herpes (HSV-2), when he previously only had HSV-1, which usually emerges as sores on the face.

The Texan wrote in an email on February 24, 2014, that he was frightened after his second shot. “I got a large rash on my leg and it burned and swelled,” he wrote. “Then a blister popped up.”

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© Juanmonino / Getty Images

Responding to his concern in an email, Halford said: “I did not think the HSV-2 vaccine strain would be capable of reactivation, but perhaps I will have to reconsider that.” Experts who reviewed the man’s medical details for Kaiser said such a scenario was possible.

“It makes me angry that Halford went ahead with the offshore trial anyway,” the Texas man said. “I hope more people weren’t hurt.”

Another woman, however, claims to have been cured from Halford’s vaccine. She went on to help him recruit patients and organize injections.

The Texas man said he did not know how the trial was paid for, noting that Halford would not accept money from the participants and told them “it would get him in more trouble if he was ever caught.”

Even though Halford was apparently aware of the potential “suicide” that could occur if his under-the-radar trial became public, he launched a similar trial in 2016 at a house in St. Kitts, once again failing to notify US or local authorities. News of that trial was made public earlier this year.  A woman from Colorado who took part in that trial has also reported possible side effects from the injections.

Was the university aware?

SIU has refused to comment to Kaiser about Halford’s 2013 trials. However, many exchanges between Halford and the participants in 2013 were sent from his university email account. He also used the university telephone for communication and referred to a graduate student as assisting in the trial and to using a laboratory on campus.

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© Maxim Shipenkov

“My lab currently consists of myself and 1 graduate student and anything I do with you guys or your blood is extra and on top of what I get paid to do …” he wrote in a November 3, 2013, email.

After a Kaiser report stated that Halford completed the 2016 trial with no independent safety or oversight, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) demanded a response from SIU. In an initial response to federal authorities, the university said it found “serious non-compliance with regulatory requirements and institutional policies and procedures.”

“If deemed necessary, SIU will develop an effective corrective action plan,” the dean of SIU’s medical school, Jerry Kruse,  wrote in a letter to the HHS, which was obtained by Kaiser under the Freedom of Information Act.

The university previously said it had no role, responsibility, or knowledge of the 2016 trial on St. Kitts, because Halford pursued it through Rational Vaccines, a company he co-founded in 2015. Its sole purposed was to market and research the herpes vaccine.

However, SIU shared a patent on the herpes injection with the company, and promoted Halford’s research on its website. Furthermore, when a company owned by entrepreneur and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel invested millions of dollars into the research in April, SIU publicly hailed Halford and Rational Vaccines.

Several of the participants of both trials have told Kaiser that they asked SIU for help. The Colorado woman called the university “dismissive,” while a participant from California said he wanted the university to continue the vaccine research with safety oversight while “taking responsibility.” When SIU did not provide him with an adequate response, he said “it was obvious they want nothing to do with us.”

READ MORE: Condom that attacks HIV, herpes to hit Australian stores in months

Meanwhile, the surviving co-founder of Rational Vaccines, Hollywood filmmaker Agustín Fernández III, has said he considers the 2016 trial a success, and vowed to continue the research. He said that he was not involved with Halford’s work before the company was formed (meaning he had no part in the 2013 trial), but said he is aware of “individuals who experienced positive outcomes from the vaccine.”

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Russian billionaire senator under formal investigation on tax evasion charges in France

By ethan / November 22, 2017

A French judge has placed Russian businessman and parliament member Suleiman Kerimov under formal judicial investigation, charging him with tax evasion. The senator was arrested earlier this week amid a money laundering probe.

“He has been charged with tax evasion and laundering that money. The court is about to rule [on whether he should be held],” Nice’s Public Prosecutor Jean-Michel Pretre told Sputnik. Being formally investigated under France’s legal system does not always lead to a court trial.

Kerimov, who is among the richest people in Russia, was snatched by French law enforcement after arriving in Nice on Monday night. The arrest, the Russian Foreign Ministry said, violated the protection from “coercive actions” he enjoys as a Russian senator from the Republic of Dagestan.

The politician is estimated by Forbes to be worth $ 7.4 billion. The French authorities reportedly suspect him of purchasing real estate in the French Riviera through shell companies to avoid paying taxes. The 51-year-old denies any wrongdoing.

DETAILS TO FOLLOW

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Broke Britain could cancel over half the F-35 fighter order – while the world’s militaries move on

By ethan / November 22, 2017

Britain’s order of F-35 fighter jets may be significantly slashed as the list of problems bedevilling the stealth planes grows, along with the ‘issues’ of the UK defense budget. The UK has ordered 138 stealth jets. Pilots say the F-35’s will revolutionize air combat as it is the most advanced jet ever assembled.

However, for the first time, officials have suggested that the number could be scaled down as it remains unclear how much each jet will actually cost.

The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) is likely to pay around £80 million ($ 103 million) more than its earlier estimate of £9.1 billion ($ 12bn) for the jets. The spiraling costs are due partly to the fall in the value of the pound, allied to a spate of technical glitches to hit the F-35.

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The F-35 fighter jets will revolutionize air combat, but have been hit with problems ©  Amir Cohen

At the same time the government is demanding a £30bn ($ 39bn) saving across Britain’s Army, Navy and Air Force.

MPs on the Commons Defense Committee have now heard it’s not possible to accurately forecast the cost of the fighter jets as the MoD said it would have to “make adjustments in our program accordingly.”

Britain said it would “maintain our plan” to pay for the full order of the Lightning aircraft.
So far Britain signed up for delivery of 48 F-35’s, estimated to cost around £9.1bn.
Permanent Secretary Stephen Lovegrove refused to be drawn on the cost of the rest, while problems are reported during testing in the US.

Lovegrove said it would be “imprudent” and “misleading” to give a figure. This was not well received.

Mark Francois MP, a former defense minister, said the public would be “pretty shocked.”
“Is it any wonder people have some skepticism about budgeting in the Ministry of Defense,” he added.

Julian Lewis MP, committee chairman, indicated this could mean the order is scaled down.

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FILE PHOTO © Pascal Rossignol

Claiming a rise in price could mean “we are going to have to adjust the numbers of these aircraft that we order.”

Five incidents of pilots suffering hypoxia-like symptoms have been reported during test flight as well as issues with maneuverability.

Lewis asked directly if what the MOD was reporting meant that aside from the “safe” 48, the status of the other F-35’s remain unclear.

Lieutenant General Stephen Poffley, deputy Chief of the Defense Staff, said: “We would consider exactly that dynamic at the point at which it was evident that we weren’t able to pursue our original plan of 138, but that is some way off.”

Such a move would mean Britain keeps older jets the F-35 is due to replace while other militaries move on.

Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey are all hoping to complete their orders of the jets.

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Climate activist convicted in Montana pipeline protest

By ethan / November 22, 2017

An activist trying to highlight the effects of climate change has been convicted for closing a valve on a pipeline carrying crude oil from Canada to the US. He is the third activist to be convicted over the multi-state civil disobedience action.

A Montana jury found Leonard Higgins of Portland, Oregon, guilty of criminal mischief and trespassing Wednesday. Higgins entered a fence site near Big Sandy, Montana, in October 2016 and closed a valve on a pipeline operated by Spectra Energy. Higgins, 65, faces up to 10 years in prison and a $ 50,000 fine.

The 12-person jury could have found Higgins guilty of a lesser charge, but determined that his actions caused more than $ 1,500 in damage to the pipeline’s owner Enbridge Corp., making the criminal mischief a felony offense, according to the Corvallis Gazette Times.

Higgins was one of five activists known as the “Valve Turners,” who took part in the #ShutDown pipeline protests organized by the Climate Disobedience Center in October 2016. Other activists carried out similar acts of civil disobedience to protest oil coming from Canada’s tar sands to the US in Minnesota, North Dakota and Washington state, and beamed the protests on Facebook Live.

Higgins is the third activist to be convicted on charges resulting from the incidents.

In October, a Pembina County jury, North Dakota  found Michael Foster of Seattle guilty of conspiracy to commit criminal mischief, criminal mischief and trespass. Samuel Jessup of Winooski, Vermont, who filmed Foster’s protest, also stood trial and was convicted of conspiracy. Sentencing for both men is scheduled for January 18.

In June, a Skagit County, Washington jury found Ken Ward guilty of burglary for his actions during the coordinated protest.

Ward, 60, was found guilty of second degree burglary for closing a safety valve on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline and blocking the flow of oil to the Anacortes refineries. The jury deadlocked on a second charge of sabotage.

Ward was facing a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $ 20,000, but Judge Michael Rickert used the “first-time offender waiver” and sentenced Ward to 32 days, including 2 days in custody (served when he was arrested) and 30 days (240 hours) community service in Skagit County, plus six months community service. The state declined to re-file the sabotage charge.

Following his arraignment last October, Ward released a statement that said his direct action was the only effective way to stop the effects of climate change.

“I am a responsible and law abiding citizen,” Ward said. “I did these things because I believe that it is the obligation of every thinking person to find a way to stave off climate cataclysm, and there is no effective, legal alternative to personal direct action.”

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