Taliban denies hostage death, blames US for prisoner exchange failure

This screengrab taken from a YouTube video shows Kevin King, left, an American national, and Tim Weeks, Australian national who were kidnapped by the Taliban in Kabul, 2016. (Photo courtesy: YouTube/Screengrab)
Updated 17 November 2019

Taliban denies hostage death, blames US for prisoner exchange failure

  • Reports of Professor Kevin King’s death began circulating on social media days after a failed prisoner swap deal
  • The US said it supports the Afghan government in its reassessment of conditions for the prisoner exchange

ISLAMABAD: Afghan Taliban on Sunday dismissed reports circulating on social media that one of two abducted foreign professors in their custody, from the Kabul-based American University of Afghanistan, had died due to poor health.
The Taliban quashed reports about the death of American Kevin King, days after a much-publicized prisoners’ swap deal between the Taliban and Afghan government failed to occur.
“These reports (of his death) are incorrect,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, told Arab News via Whatsapp.
Another Taliban spokesperson in Qatar told Arab News that both the professors were alive and that reports of their death were ‘false rumors.’
“The hostages are alive. Reports about the death are false rumors... their assertions are a figment of the imagination,” he said. 
Afghan president Ashraf Ghani had said on Tuesday that his government would release a leader of the Taliban’s Haqqani militant faction and two other commanders in exchange for the two university professors, American King and Australian Timothy Weeks, who have been in Taliban captivity since 2016.
But the prisoner swap, set for Wednesday, was postponed without elaboration and has led to a blame-game between all parties.
The Taliban have blamed the US for the failure of the prisoner exchange, while Afghan presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said the Taliban were to blame for “not honoring” their promise to free the professors. 
There were reports that Taliban officials had been freed and flown to Qatar for the exchange, but had to be brought back and locked up in Bagram prison north of Kabul. 
However, a Taliban spokesperson in Qatar told Arab News that the Taliban prisoners were never brought to Qatar.
A Taliban spokesperson added that King and Weeks had been shifted to a new safe place because the group’s leaders suspected the Americans had “traced the university professors and were preparing to launch a rescue operation, which would be a deviation from the prisoner exchange deal.”
On Sunday, US ambassador to Kabul, John Bass, said on Twitter that the US endorsed the Afghan government’s decision to “reassess” conditions before the prisoner swap.
“We supported President Ghani’s announcement to release three Taliban prisoners to promote peace – and the decision to reassess their pending transfer following the attacks in Logar and Kabul on November 12 and 13,” Bass tweeted.
The Taliban released a video of both professors more than two years ago in June 2017, in which the men called on the Trump administration to enter into a prisoner exchange deal with the militants. They have not been seen since.


Philippine court dismisses case seeking $3.9bn of Marcos wealth

Updated 32 min 17 sec ago

Philippine court dismisses case seeking $3.9bn of Marcos wealth

  • The country’s anti-graft court decided in favor of the Marcoses for the fourth time since August
  • Judges ruled that photocopied documents could not be used as evidence, so the case would not proceed

MANILA: A Philippine court threw out a high-profile, 32-year-old forfeiture case on Monday involving the family of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, citing insufficient evidence to order the return of $3.9 billion of allegedly ill-gotten wealth.
The country’s anti-graft court decided in favor of the Marcoses for the fourth time since August, with judges ruling that photocopied documents could not be used as evidence, so the case would not proceed.
It has been referred to widely as the “mother” of cases in a three-decade effort by a special presidential panel to recover an estimated $10 billion allegedly siphoned off by Marcos and a family that had lived lavishly during his 20 years in power, 14 of which were ruled under martial law.
The case lodged by the Presidential Commission on Good Government had sought the return of 200 billion pesos ($3.93 billion) it said was tied up in equities, numerous local and foreign banks and real estate at home and in the United States and United Kingdom.
It also included the value of 177 paintings and 42 crates of jewelry worth nearly $9 million.
In a 58-page verdict, the court “acknowledged the atrocities committed during martial law under the Marcos regime and the ‘plunder’ committed on the country’s resources.”
“However, absent sufficient evidence that may lead to the conclusion that the subject properties were indeed ill-gotten wealth, the court cannot simply order the return of the same to the national treasury.”
The same court dismissed similar cases against the family in August, September and October, all for lack of evidence.
Despite being overthrown in a 1986 revolt and driven into exile, the Marcos family remain a powerful force in the Philippines, with loyalists throughout the bureaucracy and political and business elite.
The late leader’s wife Imelda was a four-term congresswoman, daughter Imee is currently a senator, as was son and namesake Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who has been tipped as a possible candidate for the presidency in 2022. A relative is the current Philippine ambassador to the United States.
The family has a powerful ally too in President Rodrigo Duterte, who has spoken well of the former dictator, backed Imee’s senate run and expressed a desire for Marcos Jr to have been his vice president.