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Pandora Papers: Rich and powerful deny wrongdoing after dump of purported secrets

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The Czech prime minister, the king of Jordan and the chairman of a well-known Indian conglomerate were among global figures denying wrongdoing on Monday after the leak of what major news outlets called a secret trove of documents about offshore finance.

India said it would investigate cases linked to the data dump, known collectively as the “Pandora Papers”, while Pakistani Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin said officials named in the documents would be investigated – including himself.

The Kremlin said it had seen no evidence in the leak of hidden wealth among Russian President Vladimir Putin’s entourage, after the Washington Post said the documents showed Putin’s mistress had used offshore funds to buy a flat in Monaco.

The dump of more than 11.9 million records, amounting to about 2.94 terabytes of data, was five years after the leak known as the “Panama Papers” exposed how money was hidden by the wealthy in ways that law enforcement agencies could not detect.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a Washington-based network of reporters and media organizations, said the files are linked to about 35 current and former national leaders, and more than 330 politicians and public officials in 91 countries and territories.

It did not say how the files were obtained, and Reuters could not independently verify the reports or the documents detailed by the consortium.

The use of off-shore companies is not illegal or by itself evidence of wrongdoing, but news organisations in the consortium said such transactions could be used to hide wealth from tax collectors and other authorities.

Jordan’s King Abdullah, a close U.S. ally, was reported to have used offshore accounts to spend more than $100 million on luxury homes in the United Kingdom and the United States.

The royal palace said in a statement it was “no secret that His Majesty owns a number of apartments and residences in the United States and the United Kingdom. This is not unusual nor improper.”

In his first comments on the matter, Abdullah told tribal leaders: “The cost of these properties and all related expenditures have been personally funded by His Majesty. None of these expenses have been funded by the state budget or treasury.”

“There is nothing I have to hide from anyone but we are stronger than this and this is not the first time people target Jordan,” the monarch told the gathering.

DLA Piper, a London law office representing Abdullah, told the consortium of media outlets that he had “not at any point misused public monies or made any use whatsoever of the proceeds of aid or assistance intended for public use.”

The U.S. State Department spokesman said the United States was reviewing the findings of the Pandora Papers but was in no position to comment on specifics.

Addressing a specific query about Jordan, a significant recipient of U.S. aid, Ned Price said U.S. assistance to Amman was “in the direct national security interests of the United States.”

“We carefully conduct monitoring and evaluation of all of our programs to ensure they are implemented according to their intended purpose,” he said.

The Washington Post, which is part of the consortium, also reported on the case of Svetlana Krivonogikh, a Russian woman who it said became the owner of a Monaco apartment through an offshore company incorporated on the Caribbean island of Tortola in April 2003 just weeks after she gave birth to a girl. At the time, she was in a secret, years-long relationship with Putin, the newspaper said, citing Russian investigative outlet Proekt.

The Post said Krivonogikh and her daughter, who is now 18, did not respond to requests for comment.

The Kremlin said it had seen no evidence in the leak of hidden wealth among Putin’s inner circle.

“For now it is just not clear what this information is and what it is about,” spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said. Asked about Putin’s alleged relationship with Krivonogikh in November, Peskov said he had never heard of her.

PAKISTAN OPPOSITION SEEKS RESIGNATIONS

Days ahead of the Czech Republic’s Oct. 8-9 parliamentary election, the documents reportedly tied prime minister Andrej Babis to a $22 million estate near Cannes, France.

Speaking in a television debate, Babis, who was a billionaire before he entered politics, denied any wrongdoing.

“The money left a Czech bank, was taxed, it was my money, and returned to a Czech bank,” Babis said.

Lebanon’s former prime minister Hassan Diab said he had given up shares in a company he was linked to in the leak, and denied wrongdoing. A statement by his office said he had taken part in founding the company in 2015 and owned 17 shares, but that the firm had no activity since then and he had resigned and sold his stake.

The Indian Express, part of the consortium, said the documents showed that businessman Anil Ambani and his representatives owned at least 18 offshore companies in Jersey, the British Virgin Islands and Cyprus.

Set up between 2007 and 2010, seven of these companies had borrowed and invested at least $1.3 billion, the report said.

In 2020, following a dispute with three Chinese state-controlled banks, Ambani, chairman of Reliance Group, had told a London court his net worth was zero.

Ambani did not immediately respond to a Reuters request seeking comment.

An unidentified lawyer, on behalf of Ambani, told the Express: “Our client is a tax resident of India and has made disclosures to Indian authorities as required to be made in compliance with law. All required considerations were taken into account when making disclosures before the London court. The Reliance Group conducts business globally and for legitimate business and regulatory requirements, companies are incorporated in different jurisdictions.”

India’s Finance Ministry said it would investigate cases linked to the Pandora Papers and take appropriate action, adding: “The government will also proactively engage with foreign jurisdictions for obtaining information in respect of relevant taxpayers/entities.”

Pakistan’s opposition called on Prime Minister Imran Khan to order cabinet ministers and aides named in the leak to resign and face investigation.

Finance minister Tarin, among the Pakistanis identified, told Geo TV everyone would be investigated, including himself. He denied wrongdoing.

“If any wrongdoing is established we will take appropriate action,” Khan said on Twitter.

 

(Reporting by Washington newsroom; writing by William Maclean, Peter Graff; Editing by Jon Boyle and Grant McCool)

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Biden says United States would come to Taiwan’s defense

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The United States would come to Taiwan‘s defense and has a commitment to defend the island China claims as its own, U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday, though the White House said later there was no change in policy towards the island.

“Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” Biden said at a CNN town hall when asked if the United States would come to the defense of Taiwan, which has complained of mounting military and political pressure from Beijing to accept Chinese sovereignty.

While Washington is required by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, it has long followed a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on whether it would intervene militarily to protect Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

In August, a Biden administration https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-position-taiwan-unchanged-despite-biden-comment-official-2021-08-19 official said U.S. policy on Taiwan had not changed after the president appeared to suggest the United States would defend the island if it were attacked.

A White House spokesperson said Biden at his town hall was not announcing any change in U.S. policy and “there is no change in our policy”.

“The U.S. defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. We will uphold our commitment under the Act, we will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo,” the spokesperson said.

Biden said people should not worry about Washington’s military strength because “China, Russia and the rest of the world knows we’re the most powerful military in the history of the world,”

“What you do have to worry about is whether or not they’re going to engage in activities that would put them in a position where they may make a serious mistake,” Biden said.

“I don’t want a cold war with China. I just want China to understand that we’re not going to step back, that we’re not going to change any of our views.”

Military tensions between Taiwan and China are at their worst in more than 40 years, Taiwan’s Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said this month, adding that China will be capable of mounting a “full-scale” invasion by 2025.

Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend its freedoms and democracy.

China says Taiwan is the most sensitive and important issue in its ties with the United States and has denounced what it calls “collusion” between Washington and Taipei.

Speaking to reporters earlier on Thursday, China’s United Nations Ambassador Zhang Jun said they are pursuing “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan and responding to “separatist attempts” by its ruling Democratic Progressive Party.

“We are not the troublemaker. On the contrary, some countries – the U.S. in particular – is taking dangerous actions, leading the situation in Taiwan Strait into a dangerous direction,” he said.

“I think at this moment what we should call is that the United States to stop such practice. Dragging Taiwan into a war definitely is in nobody’s interest. I don’t see that the United States will gain anything from that.”

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington, Michelle Nichols in New York and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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Alec Baldwin fires gun on movie set, killing cinematographer, authorities say

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Actor Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on a movie set in New Mexico on Thursday, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza, authorities said.

The incident occurred on the set of independent feature film “Rust,” the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office said in a statement.

“The sheriff’s office confirms that two individuals were shot on the set of Rust. Halyna Hutchins, 42, director of photography, and Joel Souza, 48, director, were shot when a prop  firearms was discharged by Alec Baldwin, 68, producer and actor,” the police said in a statement.

A Variety report https://bit.ly/3nnyldg said the shooting occurred at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, a production location south of Santa Fe in New Mexico.

No charges have yet been filed in regard to the incident, said the police, adding they are investigating the shooting.

Baldwin’s representatives did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

 

(Reporting by Bhargav Acharya in Bengaluru; Editing by Karishma Singh)

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Trudeau 'confident' other countries will accept Canadians' proof of vaccination – CBC.ca

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today he’s “very confident” countries around the world will accept Canadians’ proof of vaccination.

Today, the federal government announced that Canadians will be able to use a standardized provincial or territorial proof-of-vaccination documentation to travel internationally — although it will be up to foreign governments to accept them or not.

Government officials, speaking on background during a briefing this morning, said they worked with the provinces to come up with a “pan Canadian” format and are confident it will be widely accepted.

They added the government is working with other countries to ensure acceptance abroad.

“We are very confident this proof-of-vaccination certificate that will be federally approved, issued by the provinces with the health information for Canadians, is going to be accepted at destinations worldwide,” Trudeau told a news conference in Ottawa today.

The standardized COVID-19 proof of vaccination includes the holder’s name and date of birth, the number of doses received, the type of vaccine, lot numbers, dates of vaccination and a QR code that includes the vaccination history. Canadians can also request the proof by mail.

The documentation was designed with what the government calls a “common look” featuring the Government of Canada logo and the Canadian flag.

The official Canada wordmark on the top right of an Ontario vaccination proof document. (Government of Ontario)

The government said that as of today, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon are issuing the standardized proof of vaccination.

Trudeau said all the provinces and territories have agreed to issue the accepted credentials ahead of the holiday season.

“Not every province has yet delivered on that but I know they are all working very quickly and should resolve that in the weeks to come,” he said.

In Ontario, for example, fully vaccinated residents can download a QR code built to the SMART Health Card standard, which includes the Government of Canada “wordmark” or logo.

WATCH |  Canadians will be able to use their provincial vaccine certificates for international travel

Canadians will be able to use their provincial vaccine certificates for international travel, says Trudeau

10 hours ago

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that as more provinces and territories require the use of vaccine certificates, he is ‘confident’ that foreign governments will accept these documents from Canadians travelling internationally. 2:01

The SMART Health Card standard is a set of guidelines, approved by the International Organization for Standardization and endorsed by Canada, to store health information and is used by a number of tech companies, including Apple. 

The government said it’s talking to other countries to encourage them to recognize those who have received mixed vaccine doses as being fully vaccinated.

“This includes sharing Canada’s evidence and experience with mixed schedules of Health Canada-authorized vaccines for both AstraZeneca/mRNA and mixed mRNA doses,” says a government release.

“Initial outreach has focused on the ongoing exchange of technical and scientific information to advance this time-sensitive work.”

Proof can be used for domestic travel too

The standardized proof of vaccination can also be used when the requirement for proof of vaccination to travel domestically kicks in at the end of the month, although travellers can continue to use their old provincial proof of vaccination if their province is not yet issuing the standardized credentials.

As of Oct. 30, all travellers aged 12 and older taking flights leaving Canadian airports or travelling on Via Rail and Rocky Mountaineer trains must be fully vaccinated before boarding. Marine passengers on non-essential passenger vessels like cruise ships must also complete the vaccination series before travelling.

Mike McNaney is president of the National Airlines Council of Canada, which represents Canada’s largest air carriers — including Air Canada, Air Transat and WestJet. He said he welcomes the standardized approach and urged the government to ease off on other pandemic measures.

“With aviation becoming one of the only sectors requiring fully vaccinated employees and customers, it is imperative that the government work with us and determine what other travel measures can now be amended in keeping with global practices,” he wrote in a media statement.

“Such as elimination of blanket advisories against travel, elimination of mandatory PCR testing pre-departure for fully vaccinated international travellers coming to Canada, and enabling children under 12 to be exempt from de facto home quarantine.”

Officials said they considered other options, including federally issued credentials, but decided that would have “limited value” given that provinces and territories administered the shots and held the data.

They also said the global health travel advisories will soon adopt a destination-based approach, so that Canadians can better prepare travel plans.

Dispute over mandatory vaccine rule for MPs continues

Trudeau’s announcement comes as a fight brews over making vaccination mandatory for MPs ahead of Parliament’s return next month.

Earlier this week, the House of Commons’ governing body introduced a new mandatory vaccination policy for MPs and anyone else entering the House of Commons.

Conservatives said they oppose the “secret” move by the Board of Internal Economy and object to the idea of more virtual sittings of the chamber.

“While we encourage everyone who can be vaccinated to get vaccinated, we cannot agree to seven MPs, meeting in secret, deciding which of the 338 MPs, just elected by Canadians, can enter the House of Commons to represent their constituents,” said a statement from the party Wednesday.

 WATCH| ‘It’s not too much to ask’ — Trudeau discusses mandatory vaccination rule for MPs

‘It’s not too much to ask’ — Trudeau discusses mandatory vaccination rule for those working in the House of Commons

10 hours ago

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for MPs, which will be in place when Parliament resumes in November. 2:04

While the Conservative Party says that it supports vaccination as the “most important tool to get us out of this pandemic,” it did not require all of its candidates in the federal election to be fully vaccinated. It also didn’t reveal how many of its candidates were vaccinated.

Both the Liberals and NDP required that their candidates be vaccinated during the election campaign, though they did not extend that requirement to staff members. The Bloc Québécois said during the campaign that all of its candidates were vaccinated. The Green Party told CBC that both of its MPs have been fully vaccinated.

“It is puzzling to me that there are people out there that think that just because they are members of Parliament they do not need to keep themselves, their loved ones or their constituents safe, when the vast majority of Canadians have done the right thing,” Trudeau said Wednesday.

“It is on Mr. O’Toole to explain why he thinks people should not be fully vaccinated if they want to serve as members of Parliament, and why indeed he doesn’t even think there should be a hybrid model so those who aren’t fully vaccinated can still speak up for their constituents in the House of Commons.”

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