Russian ex-governor gets 13 years in major anti-corruption trial

By ethan / February 9, 2018

A court in the Russian Far East region of Sakhalin has sentenced former Governor Aleksandr Khoroshavin to 13 years in prison for running a ring that brought in over half a billion rubles in bribes for him.

Apart from the sentence, to be served in a maximum-security prison, the court ordered the ex-governor to pay a fine of 500 million rubles ($ 8.6 million) and banned him from assuming any official posts for five years after the sentence is served.

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© Nikolay Gyngazov / Global Look Press

The announcement of the sentence took the judge several days. Other suspects in the case – the former adviser to the governor, the ex-deputy chairman of the regional government, and the former Sakhalin minister of agriculture and trade – were also convicted of corruption crimes and received lengthy prison sentences and multi-million-ruble fines.

Prosecutors said they were satisfied with the sentence, while the defense team claimed the conviction was a foregone conclusion. They intend to appeal the verdict.

Khoroshavin and other former officials of the Sakhalin regional administration were arrested in March 2015 and taken to Moscow for investigation. Searches in their homes and apartments yielded around $ 17 million in cash (in various currencies), expensive jewelry, and a collection of watches worth over $ 10 million. In addition, investigators said they confiscated around $ 2 billion in assets that belonged to the ex-governor.

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President Vladimir Putin (RIA Novosti / Alexei Druzhinin)

Soon after the arrest, Khoroshavin was sacked due to lack of trust. At the trial, the ex-governor was charged with receiving a $ 5.6-million bribe for his role in the inclusion of a local energy corporation in a federal investment program. Further investigation uncovered additional episodes of bribery that brought the sum to 522 million rubles. Other suspects faced charges of bribery and money laundering.

After the court sentenced the former Sakhalin officials, the spokesperson for Russia’s top investigative body – the Investigative Committee – revealed additional details about the property seized from Khoroshavin. “Apparently, the [former] governor had a great need in expensive watches. He had 195 in his collection for a total price of 602 million rubles ($ 10.4 million),” Svetlana Petrenko told reporters. She added that the most expensive piece from the collection cost $ 700,000 and that shortly before his arrest in 2015, Khoroshavin had ordered a watch for 36 million rubles. 

Petrenko also said that a “significant part” of Khoroshavin’s assets were not properly declared and the court impounded and later confiscated a home, four city apartments, six cars, including a Mercedes limo, two Lexuses and two Bentleys, and numerous pieces of jewelry and expensive watches.

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Dilemma for Kate? Does the Duchess show solidarity with #TimesUp or stick to royal rules?

By ethan / February 9, 2018

Kate Middleton has a tough choice to make for the BAFTAs – will she join legions of stars preparing to dress in black for the #TimesUp campaign, or risk criticism taking the royal stance of avoiding political comment.

The Duchess, who will attend this year’s British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) ceremony with her husband, the Duke of Cambridge, is about to be landed in a diplomatic minefield. Actresses are gearing up to don black dresses in support of the #TimesUp movement, a campaign against sexual harassment prompted by the #MeToo phenomenon.

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The move comes after the Academy Awards in the US saw only a handful of women ignore the call of solidarity by wearing lighter shades. Kate is faced with a crisis: show solidarity or keep with the royal family’s policy of avoiding political statements or comment.

Kensington Palace told RT that they would not comment, but they did confirm that Meghan Markle – Prince Harry’s fiancée – would not be in attendance, only the Duchess and Duke.

A letter to BAFTA guests, published by film industry magazine the Hollywood Reporter, has laid out plans from a “collective of UK based female film and television industry leaders,”  for a “physical and visual representation of our solidarity with people across all industries who have experienced sexual harassment and abuse or have been held back due to an imbalance in power.”

“Here in the UK, more than half of all women and nearly two-thirds of women aged 18 to 24 have experienced sexual harassment at work,” the letter said.

“And we hope that those of us who are privileged enough to have a platform, can use it to raise awareness of the experiences of women beyond our industry, whose experiences are often silenced and marginalized.

“At this point, we are keeping things under wraps as the UK-side movement shapes up and we’ll have some exciting plans to announce soon. We wanted to personally reach out to you at this point to let you know of the colour code and we will be in touch again with more information, including talking points on why we’re wearing black.”

While stars have not publicly vowed to wear black to the BAFTAs, Harry Potter star Emma Watson all-but confirmed it with a single, simple tweet.

BAFTA CEO Amanda Berry told the Telegraph that awards organizers are braced for speeches about the Hollywood harassment scandal. “It often has (been used as a platform) in the past, I think in different years there have been different issues,” she said.

“People obviously feel it’s a very powerful platform. The film awards go out globally so that makes it even more powerful, so we never say to people don’t say anything, please just thank the crew or whatever it is. Because if somebody feels passionately about it, they are going to say it. There has been a lot of conversation to date and obviously that conversation continues, awards season shines a very bright spotlight on that conversation.”

The BAFTAs will take place on February 18 at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

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Blacker than black: Darkest building in the world unveiled in S. Korea

By ethan / February 9, 2018

A ground-breaking building designed for the Winter Olympics is so dark it looks like a slice of Space. The Hyundai Pavilion in PyeongChang is the blackest building ever, thanks to high-tech paint that plays tricks on the eyes.

Designed by architect Asif Khan, the structure has been spray-painted with the blackest black matt paint ever. ‘Vantablack VBx 2’ is the spray-paint version of Vantablack, the blackest possible pigment. It absorbs an incredible 99 percent of light, making it look like no other black.

READ MORE: Kim Jong-un’s sister arrives in South Korea in historic visit (VIDEO)

The result is a building that looks like an otherworldly black hole. The walls no longer appear three dimensional, and tiny lights on the building are suggestive of stars against the backdrop of deep darkness.

“From a distance, the structure has the appearance of a window looking into the depths of outer space,” Khan said, ArchDaily reports. “As you approach it, this impression grows to fill your entire field of view. So on entering the building, it feels as though you are being absorbed into a cloud of blackness.”

The building’s interior is in sharp contrast to its deep dark outside. Everything is a glossy white and is one big water installation. Haptic sensors allow visitors to change the way the water flows.

The Pavilion’s water and starry sky effect is a reference to Hyundai’s hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle. “In the project, I wanted to move from the scale of the cosmos to the scale of water droplets in a few steps. The droplets contain the same hydrogen from the beginning of the universe as the stars,” Khan explained.

Vantablack paint was originally invented for use in space and defense, to reduce atmospheric distortion in telescopes and to cut out stray light refraction from polished lenses.

It is made using millions of carbon nanotubes, which are about 3,500 times thinner than a strand of human hair, and between 14 and 50 microns long. A micron is 0.001 millimeters. Light gets caught in the nanotubes, and eventually dissipates as heat. The spray-paint version was invented by Surrey NanoSystems, but the VBx paints don’t use nanotubes at all.

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‘Double standards are unacceptable’: Russian State Duma reacts to CAS ruling over Olympic ban

By ethan / February 9, 2018

Speaker of the Russian State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin has called for a firm response from his colleagues to the recent Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling, which denied Olympic entry to 47 Russian athletes.

On Friday morning, the Ad Hoc division of the CAS dismissed two appeals filed by the Russian athletes and coaches, stating that invitation to the Olympic Games lies exclusively within the competence of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – the organizer of the event.

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The logo of Russian Olympic team competing in 2018 Winter Olympics © Maxim Shemetov

Russian State Duma deputies are expected to prepare an official statement regarding the CAS decision to uphold an Olympic ban against the 47 Russian team members who appealed their ban from PyeongChang, TASS reports.

Speaker of the Russian parliament’s lower chamber, Vyacheslav Volodin, said that the proposal to make an official statement would be discussed by Duma deputies during the Friday’s plenary meeting.

“There is a proposal to ask the Duma Sports Committee to prepare a project of the statement, which will be discussed during the day. It will be for the best if the Legislative Committee and Committee on International Affairs are engaged as well,” he said. “Double standards are unacceptable. We obey the laws, and when the laws are violated we must react (to these actions), firmly and decisively.”

A total of 47 Russian team members, including Olympic biathlon champion Anton Shipulin and six-time Olympic gold medalist in short-track skating Viktor Ahn, were named ineligible to compete at the upcoming Games after the IOC-appointed Invitation Review Board refused to add them to the list of approved athletes. This was despite their non-involvement in any doping cases.

READ MORE: Russia will push for WADA, IOC reforms after PyeongChang 2018 – Duma official

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov criticized the CAS refusal to uphold the Russian appeal, describing the verdict as unfair and unreasonable. “It’s clear that the CAS accepted the IOC’s points emphasizing that the IOC has an absolute freedom in deciding whom to invite to the Olympic Games,” he said.

“Undoubtedly, everybody including the athletes think that the decision is unfair, because representatives of the Russian team have been barred from the competition without reasonable explanation. Right now the athletes, along with the lawyers, are considering possible legal actions which might be taken.”

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Next bear market will be ‘worst in our lifetime’ – Jim Rogers

By ethan / February 9, 2018

This week’s dramatic stock market sell-off has raised concerns of an impending bear market, which, according to legendary investor Jim Rogers, will be more catastrophic than any other market downturn that he has lived through.

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© MacFormat Magazine / Getty Images

“When we have a bear market again, and we are going to have a bear market again, it will be the worst in our lifetime,” Rogers told Bloomberg.

According to the veteran investor, that will happen because even more debt has accumulated in the global economy since the financial crisis, especially in the US.

“Debt is everywhere, and it’s much, much higher now,” he said, adding that he expects the current stock market rout to continue. Rogers, however, added that he wouldn’t go so far as to say this was the start of a bear market, which is typically defined as a drop of 20 percent or more from a significant peak.

The market may sputter for the next several weeks, according to the Quantum Fund co-founder, who says it will rally only after the Fed raises interest rates in March, as is expected.

Rogers has already witnessed several bear markets, including the crash of 1987 (a 36 percent decline), the bursting of the dot-com bubble of 2000-2002 (a 38 percent drop) and the Great Recession of 2007-2009 (a 54 percent fall).

In November, Rogers told MarketWatch the US was “overdue” for a bear market, predicting stock turmoil within the next two years. He said he was light on US stocks due to expectations of a forming bubble, and that Japan, China and Russia offered better investment opportunities. 

Rogers also warned investors to stay away from bitcoin as “it looks and smells like all the bubbles I have seen throughout history.”

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Russian deputy FM opposes US participation in Donbass settlement talks

By ethan / February 9, 2018

Russia’s deputy foreign minister said the inclusion of the US in talks on a peaceful settlement in Donbass would not help the process, but noted that Moscow-Washington consultations on the issue could bring positive changes.

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FILE PHOTO © Міністерство оборони України

No, a change of format would lead to nothing, I am absolutely sure of that,” Grigory Karasin told RIA Novosti. He was asked if he considered it reasonable to include the American delegation into the so-called ‘Normandy format’ – talks on a peaceful settlement of the conflict between Kiev and the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk Republics held between Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France.

Karasin added that it is important for Ukraine to assume a constructive position aimed at deescalating the crisis.

Unfortunately, so far the Ukrainian authorities want to solve all of their problems by using someone else’s hands. This is a road to nowhere. This plan has been doomed to fail from the very start,” he said.

However, the ‘Surkov-Volker’ channel of Russia-US interaction is working and let’s hope that it would bring some new tendencies and have positive effect on the general atmosphere in this crisis,” Karasin noted.

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US Army bazooka Javelin © Wikipedia

Vladislav Surkov is the Russian president’s aide in charge of interaction with former USSR republics, and Kurt Volker is the US special representative for Ukraine negotiations. During the latest talks between the two officials that took place in late January, the US side presented a detailed plan for a phased deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission to Donbass. The Russian representative described it as “balanced” and promised to continue the discussion after studying the proposal in detail.

In mid-January, the Ukrainian parliament passed the so-called ‘Law on the reintegration of Donbass’, which grants the president the right to use military force inside Ukraine without consent from lawmakers. The Russian Foreign Ministry commented on the law in a special statement, saying the move was another confirmation of Kiev’s intent to resolve the conflict by force.

The law grants Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko “unlimited powers to silence dissent, similar to those of a dictator,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said. “It cannot be described otherwise than as preparation for a new war.”

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Soros-backed anti-Brexit group is ‘undemocratic’ – cofounder Gina Miller

By ethan / February 9, 2018

Chief remainer Gina Miller has turned against the pro-EU lobby group she founded, branding it “undemocratic” after reports broke that it is bidding to topple Theresa May and force a second referendum on Brexit.

Miller, who was hailed a hero by remainers after winning a case against the government allowing for a parliamentary vote on the final terms of a Brexit deal, distanced herself from the Best for Britain campaigners.

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© Maurizio Gambarini/ Global Look Press

The pro-EU lobby group made the headlines on Thursday when it was claimed George Soros made a £400,000 ($ 558,000) donation, leading to claims that the billionaire was interfering in UK politics.

The Telegraph reported that Best for Britain is trying to recruit major political donors and business leaders to undermine Brexit, reportedly lobbying MPs to vote down the final Brexit deal in a move that could initiate another referendum or a general election.

Miller told the Telegraph: “When I read the coverage I pulled back and thought this is not where I think this should be going. It was a good decision to part ways.

“It [Best for Britain] is undemocratic. One of the objectives cannot be to bring down a Government, not without an election or a referendum.

“This idea of bringing down a Government and guerrilla warfare, I don’t agree with any of that. I’m a transparency campaigner, it doesn’t matter which side of the argument you are on.

“If you are going to have funders who are getting involved in something that could determine Britain’s future then the public has a right to know who is backing it. This is about the future of our country.”

Miller was quick to distance herself from the group she co-founded in 2017, after the Soros story broke on Thursday.

“Contrary to misleading media reports published earlier today, I have absolutely no relationship with, or involvement in the work of, Best for Britain.

“It is, of course, a matter for Best for Britain whether they choose to make public their list of donors. As a transparency campaigner, I hope they do,” she wrote in a statement.

Despite claims of Best for Britain seeking to undermine the Conservative’s hand in negotiations, Lord Malloch-Brown, a former Labour minister and allegedly part of the Soros meeting, insisted he is actually “coming to rescue the Tories.”

“We are talking about a defeat [for the Conservative Party] of historic proportions.

“This argument that somehow what we’re trying to do is anti-Tory – I’m the cavalry. I’m coming to rescue the Tories from their own mistake,” he told the Telegraph.

“Our feeling is that the general assumption out there was that the battle was over. We wanted to show that there was still a resistance there. We are deadly serious about trying to reverse the decision.”

Patrick Gascard, the president of George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, said: “Human rights protections, hard-won civil and labour rights, safeguards on key issues such as clean air or food standards are at stake here for British citizens.

“It is essential that they are informed and empowered to make decisions about the future relationship between the UK and the EU.”

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Kim Jong-un’s sister arrives in South Korea in historic visit (VIDEO)

By ethan / February 9, 2018

The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un arrived in South Korea on Friday for the Winter Olympics, making her the first member of the country’s ruling family to cross the border since the Korean War.

Kim Yo-jong arrived at Incheon International Airport on a private jet along with North Korea’s ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong-nam, and an entourage of senior officials. Kim Yong-nam is the most senior North Korean official to visit the South.

READ MORE: Female sword dancers & missiles: N. Korea holds mass parade on eve of Olympics (VIDEOS)

The last member of the Kim family to enter South Korea was Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s founder, in 1950. Although the Korean War ended with a ceasefire 1953, both countries are technically still at war as no treaty was ever agreed upon. Tensions have remained high between the two nations ever since, but terse relations have seen something of a thaw in the run up to the Games.

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Global markets tumble after another massive US stock sell-off

By ethan / February 9, 2018

Asian and European markets are in turmoil after another significant drop in American stocks. The main US index, the Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered its second 1,000-point loss this week, triggering a worldwide sell-off.

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© Brendan Mcdermid

China’s Shanghai Composite index closed over 4 percent down, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dipped over 3 percent, and Japanese Nikkei closed over 2 percent lower.

“Emerging markets have become much more sensitive to the long end than the short end of the US yield curve,” said Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian economic research at HSBC, as quoted by Reuters.

European markets reacted calmer to the American crash. Britain’s FTSE100, France’s CAC40 and Germany’s DAX were down less than 1 percent during the first hour of trading on Friday. The Russian markets were down just over 1 percent at 12:00 MSK.

The Dow plunged by more than 1,000 points on Thursday, a fall that followed a record 1,175-point loss earlier in the week.

“It is problematic to find any clear reasons for such a powerful decline in US markets this week. In our opinion, the correction is primarily due to technical factors: the global markets have not seen a correction for far too long, and investors have got used to low volatility (as a rule, the sudden increase in volatility in the markets is the way out of this situation),” Russian bank PSB said in a note e-mailed to RT.

The failure of the US Congress to approve the budget is also weighing on the markets, the bank added.

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Corbyn ‘planning coup’ against May, telling Brussels he envisions ‘very different’ Brexit

By ethan / February 9, 2018

As Prime Minister Theresa May struggles to find consensus between feuding Tory factions over Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn is said to be planning his own “very different” deal, secretly negotiated with senior EU diplomats.

The Labour leader, along with Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer, met with EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in London, where Corbyn is reported to have promised to run negotiations “very differently,” a memo from the meeting seen by the Telegraph reveals.

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© Toby Melville

Corbyn is understood to have told Barnier he would be willing to push for Britain to stay in the customs union, despite the PM’s repeated assertion to the contrary.

He is also said to have suggested that a post-Brexit Britain submit to the European Court of Justice, one of the crucial issues in negotiations along with the rights of EU citizens and the single market.

“It sounded like he more or less asked for a coup d’etat,” one EU diplomat joked. “As if he was saying, ‘You guys just let May go and I’ll be your guy,’” the Daily Express reported a source as saying.

In a statement on Thursday night, Labour denied the contents of the memo.

“Jeremy did not say he was open to staying in the customs union. He said that a customs union was a viable end point. We have been clear all the way through that you can’t be in the customs union if you are not in the EU,” it read.

READ MORE: Meet the historian determined to expose the UK government’s secrets

“As for the suggestion that we are trying to undermine the government, it’s true that we would negotiate a better deal but it is certainly not the case that we are trying to undermine the negotiations.”

It comes a day after May summoned cabinet ministers on an away day to resolve the differences between them. The Tory leader reportedly organized the weekend retreat at her official country residence after a second meeting of her ‘war cabinet’ – formally known as the European Union Exit and Trade (Strategy and Negotiations) sub-Committee – broke up with “no kind of agreement at all.”

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