US wins case to seize Russian superyacht in Fiji, sails away

In this photo taken on April 13, 2022, the superyacht Amadea is docked at the Queens Wharf in Lautoka, Fiji. (Leon Lord/Fiji Sun via AP, File)
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Updated 08 June 2022

US wins case to seize Russian superyacht in Fiji, sails away

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: The United States won a legal battle on Tuesday to seize a Russian-owned superyacht in Fiji and wasted no time in taking command of the $325 million vessel and sailing it away from the South Pacific nation.
The court ruling represented a significant victory for the US as it encounters obstacles in its attempts to seize the assets of Russian oligarchs around the world. While those efforts are welcomed by many who oppose the war in Ukraine, some actions have tested the limits of American jurisdiction abroad.
In Fiji, the nation’s Supreme Court lifted a stay order which had prevented the US from seizing the superyacht Amadea.
Chief Justice Kamal Kumar ruled that based on the evidence, the chances of defense lawyers mounting an appeal that the top court would hear were “nil to very slim.”
Kumar said he accepted arguments that keeping the superyacht berthed in Fiji at Lautoka harbor was “costing the Fijian government dearly.”
“The fact that US authorities have undertaken to pay costs incurred by the Fijian government is totally irrelevant,” the judge found. He said the Amadea “sailed into Fiji waters without any permit and most probably to evade prosecution by the United States of America.”
The US removed the motorized vessel within an hour or two of the court’s ruling, possibly to ensure the yacht didn’t get entangled in any further legal action.
Anthony Coley, a spokesman for the US Justice Department, said on Twitter that the superyacht had set sail for the US under a new flag, and that American authorities were grateful to police and prosecutors in Fiji “whose perseverance and dedication to the rule of law made this action possible.”
In early May, the Justice Department issued a statement saying the Amadea had been seized in Fiji, but that turned out to be premature after lawyers appealed.
It wasn’t immediately clear where the US intended to take the Amadea, which the FBI has linked to the Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov.
Fiji Director of Public Prosecutions Christopher Pryde said unresolved questions of money laundering and the ownership of the Amadea need to be decided in the US.
“The decision acknowledges Fiji’s commitment to respecting international mutual assistance requests and Fiji’s international obligations,” Pryde said.
In court documents, the FBI linked the Amadea to the Kerimov family through their alleged use of code names while aboard and the purchase of items such as a pizza oven and a spa bed. The ship became a target of Task Force KleptoCapture, launched in March to seize the assets of Russian oligarchs to put pressure on Russia to end the war.
The 106-meter (348-foot) -long vessel, about the length of a football field, features a live lobster tank, a hand-painted piano, a swimming pool and a large helipad.
Lawyer Feizal Haniff, who represented paper owner Millemarin Investments, had argued the owner was another wealthy Russian who, unlike Kerimov, doesn’t face sanctions.
The US acknowledged that paperwork appeared to show Eduard Khudainatov was the owner but said he was also the paper owner of a second and even larger superyacht, the Scheherazade, which has been linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The US questioned whether Khudainatov could really afford two superyachts worth a total of more than $1 billion.
“The fact that Khudainatov is being held out as the owner of two of the largest superyachts on record, both linked to sanctioned individuals, suggests that Khudainatov is being used as a clean, unsanctioned straw owner to conceal the true beneficial owners,” the FBI wrote in a court affidavit.
Court documents say the Amadea switched off its transponder soon after Russia invaded Ukraine and sailed from the Caribbean through the Panama Canal to Mexico, arriving with over $100,000 in cash. It then sailed thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean to Fiji.
The Justice Department said it didn’t believe paperwork showing the Amadea was next headed to the Philippines, arguing it was really destined for Vladivostok or elsewhere in Russia.
The department said it found a text message on a crew member’s phone saying, “We’re not going to Russia” followed by a “shush” emoji.
The US said Kerimov secretly bought the Cayman Island-flagged Amadea last year through various shell companies. The FBI said a search warrant in Fiji turned up emails showing that Kerimov’s children were aboard the ship this year and that the crew used code names — G0 for Kerimov, G1 for his wife, G2 for his daughter and so on.
Kerimov made a fortune investing in Russian gold producer Polyus, with Forbes magazine putting his net worth at $14.5 billion. The US first sanctioned him in 2018 after he was detained in France and accused of money laundering there, sometimes arriving with suitcases stuffed with 20 million euros.
Khudainatov is the former chairman and chief executive of Rosneft, the state-controlled Russian oil and gas company.


One person arrested and one person wounded after knife attack in Brussels

A Belgian police officer stands guard near the headquarters of the Federal Police in Brussels. (File/AFP)
Updated 41 min 23 sec ago

One person arrested and one person wounded after knife attack in Brussels

BRUSSELS: Belgian police have arrested a person responsible for a knife attack in a Brussels metro station on Monday.
The attack left one person wounded, but police couldn't confirm to Reuters if the person is critically wounded or not. 


Indonesian Muslims protest Quran burning in Sweden

Updated 30 January 2023

Indonesian Muslims protest Quran burning in Sweden

JAKARTA: Hundreds of Indonesian Muslims marched to the heavily guarded Swedish Embassy in the country’s capital on Monday to denounce the recent desecration of Islam’s holy book by far-right activists in Sweden and the Netherlands.
Waving white flags bearing the Islamic declaration of faith, more than 300 demonstrators filled a major thoroughfare in downtown Jakarta and trampled and set on fire portraits of Danish anti-Islam activist Rasmus Paludan along with the flags of Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Authorities blocked streets leading to the embassy, where more than 200 police and soldiers were deployed in and around the building that was barricaded with razor wire.
Earlier this month, Paludan received permission from police to stage a protest outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm, where on Jan. 21 he burned the Quran. Days later, Edwin Wagensveld, Dutch leader of the far-right Pegida movement in the Netherlands, tore pages out of a copy of the Quran near the Dutch Parliament and stomped on them.
It angered millions of Muslims around the world and triggered protests, including in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Protesters in Jakarta chanted “God is Great” and “Get out, Swedish embassy!”
Indonesian government has strongly condemned the burning of the Quran by Paludan and summoned Swedish Ambassador Marina Berg last week, said Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah.
“This act of blasphemy has hurt and tarnished religious tolerance,” the ministry said in a statement on Jan. 22. "Freedom of expression must be exercised in a responsible manner.”
Turkey has accused the government in Stockholm, which has applied jointly with Finland to join NATO, of being too lenient toward groups it deems as terror organizations or existential threats, including Kurdish groups. NATO requires unanimous approval of its existing members to add new ones, but Turkey says it would only agree to admit Sweden if the country met its conditions.
Protest organizer Marwan Batubara told the crowd that Paludan was being aggressively hostile to Islam and called on Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark to punish those who desecrated the Quran and apologize to Muslims.
“It hurt us deeply and we demand that Sweden bring him to court so that such incidents don’t happen again,” he said. “Defending those who insult Islam under freedom of expression will only invite martyrs to defend Islam.”
The Swedish Embassy in Jakarta said in a statement that “the Islamophobic act committed by a far-right extremist in Sweden is strongly rejected by the Swedish government.”
“This act does not in any way reflect the opinions of the Swedish government,” the statement said.


India's top court to consider cases against block on BBC documentary on Modi

Updated 30 January 2023

India's top court to consider cases against block on BBC documentary on Modi

  • At least 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in 2002 riots in India's Gujarat state
  • The documentary alleges Modi had ordered police to turn a blind eye while he was CM

NEW DELHI: India's Supreme Court will consider petitions next week against a government order blocking the sharing of clips of a BBC documentary that questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi's leadership during riots in 2002 in the western state of Gujarat. 

The government has dismissed as a biased "propaganda piece" the film released last week, titled "India: The Modi Question", and blocked the sharing of any clips from it on social media. 

The Supreme Court will take up the petitions next week, Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud said in court on Monday. 

A New Delhi-based lawyer, M L Sharma, opposed the government's move in one of the petitions to the Supreme Court. 

A separate petition by lawyer Prashant Bhushan, journalist N. Ram and opposition politician Mahua Moitra focused on the order to take down social media links to the documentary. 

In a Twitter comment on the second petition, Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said, "This is how they waste the precious time of the Honourable Supreme Court, where thousands of common citizens are waiting and seeking dates for justice." 

Modi, who aims for a third term in elections next year, was chief minister of Gujarat in February 2002, when a suspected Muslim mob set fire to a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. 

The incident sparked one of the worst outbreaks of religious bloodshed in independent India. 

In reprisal attacks across the state at least 1,000 people were killed, most of them Muslim, as crowds roamed the streets for days, targeting the religious minority. But activists put the toll at more than twice that, at about 2,500. 

Modi has denied accusations that he did not do enough to stop the riots. He was exonerated in 2012 following an inquiry overseen by the Supreme Court and a petition questioning his exoneration was dismissed last year. 

The BBC has said the documentary was "rigorously researched" and involved a wide range of voices and opinions, including responses from people in Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. 


WHO says COVID-19 still an international emergency

Updated 30 January 2023

WHO says COVID-19 still an international emergency

  • WHO chief had suggested the emergency phase of the pandemic is not over

GENEVA: Three years to the day after the World Health Organization sounded the highest level of global alert over COVID-19, it said Monday the pandemic remains an international emergency.
The UN health agency’s emergency committee on Covid-19 met last Friday for a 14th time since the start of the crisis.
Following that meeting, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus “concurs with the advice offered by the committee regarding the ongoing COVID-19pandemic and determines that the event continues to constitute a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC),” the organization said in a statement.
Tedros, it said, “acknowledges the committee’s views that the COVID-19 pandemic is probably at a transition point and appreciates the advice of the committee to navigate this transition carefully and mitigate the potential negative consequences.”
Even prior to the meeting, the WHO chief had suggested the emergency phase of the pandemic is not over, pointing to surging numbers of deaths and warning that the global response to the crisis “remains hobbled.”
“As we enter the fourth year of the pandemic, we are certainly in a much better position now than we were a year ago, when the omicron wave was at its peak, and more than 70,000 deaths were being reported to WHO each week,” he told the committee at the start of Friday’s meeting.
Tedros said the weekly death rate had dropped below 10,000 in October but had been rising again since the start of December, while the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in China had led to a spike in deaths.
In mid-January, almost 40,000 COVID-19 weekly deaths were reported — more than half of them in China — while the true toll “is certainly much higher,” he said.
The WHO first declared a so-called PHEIC as what was then called the novel coronavirus began to spread outside China on January 30, 2020.
Though declaring a PHEIC is the internationally agreed mechanism for triggering a global response to such outbreaks, it was only after Tedros described the worsening COVID-19situation as a pandemic on March 11, 2020, that many countries realized the danger.
Globally, more than 752 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been reported to the WHO, including more than 6.8 million deaths, though the United Nations’ health agency always stresses that the true numbers are likely much higher.


Bomb kills 61 at mosque inside Peshawar police compound: Hospital

People look for survivors under a collapsed roof, after a suicide blast in a mosque in Peshawar on January 30, 2023. (Reuters)
Updated 30 January 2023

Bomb kills 61 at mosque inside Peshawar police compound: Hospital

  • Such attacks have increased since Pakistan Taliban called off truce with government last year

PESHAWAR: More than 60 people were killed and dozens of others wounded when an explosion ripped through a mosque inside a compound where the headquarters of the provincial police force are located in Peshawar, a hospital spokesman said said.

Police said up to 350 worshipers were inside the mosque for afternoon prayers when the bomber detonated his explosives.

“It was a big explosion that totally damaged the mosque’s roof but it will be premature to say whether it was a suicide explosion,” Commissioner Peshawar Riaz Mehsud told Arab News. “Security officials are investigating the nature of the blast.”

"We haven't yet confirmed how many policemen are dead and wounded but I think 90 percent casualties are of police personnel because most of those offering prayers in the mosque were policemen," Mehsud added.

Muhammad Ijaz Khan, the Capital City Police Officer (CCPO), said many people, including policemen, were still trapped under the debris.

“We can’t as of yet determined what caused the explosion but it was a security lapse,” Khan said.

Sarbakaf Mohmand, a commander for the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter. The group has recently carried out similar attacks, with assaults on the rise since last November when it called off a ceasefire signed with the government in May.

Muhammad Asim, a spokesman for the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), the city’s largest medical facility, told Arab News people were still being pulled out of the rubble and being brought to the hospital, so the death toll could rise.

Ahmad Khan, a police constable who was inside the mosque when the blast occurred, said the roof collapsed after the explosion.

“It was the time for Zuhr (afternoon) prayers,” Khan said. “I was in the second row among worshippers when the blast took place. The roof of the mosque collapsed with many worshippers trapped but I managed to come out with small injuries.”

Akbar Khan, an official at the Edhi charity in Peshawar, estimated that 50 people, including policemen, were still trapped under the debris.

Soon after the blast, the provincial health department declared a state of emergency at the city’s hospitals.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif urged people, especially followers of his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz ruling party, to donate blood to those injured in suicide attack.

“Reach Lady Reading Hospital, Peshawar, and contribute to saving precious human lives,” he tweeted.