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Ghislaine Maxwell faces 35 years in jail if convicted of luring underage girls so Epstein could abuse them

British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell has appeared in court on charges of luring underage girls so they could be sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein.

Prosecutors say the 58-year-old, a former girlfriend and long-time associate of the convicted paedophile, faces up to 35 years in jail if she is found guilty.

She was described as a flight risk during the hearing, and was ordered to remain in custody while she is transferred to New York for a detention hearing.

Maxwell, who has kept a low profile since Epstein’s death in August last year, was arrested by the FBI in New Hampshire on Thursday.

She is accused of helping the disgraced financier “identify, befriend and groom” multiple girls, including one as young as 14.

Meanwhile, a source close to the Duke of York said he is “bewildered” by claims made by US authorities that he has not offered to cooperate with the Epstein case.

Maxwell, the daughter of the late media mogul Robert Maxwell, has previously denied any wrongdoing or knowledge of sexual misconduct by Epstein.

The disgraced financier took his own life in prison last year while awaiting trial on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges.

Announcing the charges against Maxwell, Audrey Strauss, acting US attorney for the southern district of New York, claimed that the socialite had helped Epstein to exploit underage girls – and “in some cases” would participate in the abuse herself.

“Maxwell was among Epstein’s closest associates and helped him exploit girls who were as young as 14 years old,” she told reporters.

“Maxwell played a critical role in helping Epstein to identify, befriend and groom minor victims for abuse.”

Ms Strauss said Maxwell had “repeatedly lied” about her involvement because the truth was “almost unspeakable”.

Maxwell is charged with four criminal counts related to procuring and transporting minors for illegal sex acts and two of perjury, according to the indictment.

Appearing via video link during a 17-minute court hearing in Concord, New Hampshire, she did not enter a plea and answered Judge Andrea Johnston’s questions with either “I do” or “I am aware”.

Lawyer Brad Edwards, who represents dozens of Epstein’s alleged victims, says they are relieved following Maxwell’s arrest.

He said: “It’s a long time coming and I’ve spoken with my clients today, some of whom had a lot of interactions with Ghislaine, and others who have none.

“But either way, all of them were extremely relieved. And to understand the importance of this particular arrest.”

And he says he does not think Maxwell’s arrest will be the last.

“I think that you’re going to see other people that along the way helped to facilitate enable these types of crimes to be committed. And I would not be surprised if some of these other people get indicted,” Mr Edwards added.

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Greece starts clearing ground for Athens property plan after long delay

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece started work clearing ground on Friday for a real estate project that plans to turn a disused airport on the Athens coast into one of Europe’s biggest tourist resorts, three times the size of Monaco.

The former Hellenikon airport, a sprawling site of disused runways, terminals and venues used for the Athens 2004 Olympics, has been abandoned for almost two decades.

After years of delays due to bureaucratic red tape, political resistance and local opposition, demolition crews began tearing down the first block of buildings out of hundreds that need to be removed from the 1,500-acre plot.

Lamda Development, which secured the long-term lease on the site in 2014, plans to build a complex of luxury homes, hotels, offices, a yachting marina and a casino at a total cost of 8 billion euros ($9 billion).

“This is a project which symbolises a new Greece,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, whose Conservative government has promised to speed up the project, told a launch ceremony.

Development of the site was a requirement under international bailouts Greece reached with creditors.

Lamda, which first outlined its plan in 2013, has said it will spend about 2 billion euros in the first five years of an estimated 25-year construction phase, building two skyscrapers for offices and a hotel, and about 800 residences and a park.

It plans to demolish about a third of about 900 buildings on the site in the coming months and aims to start building infrastructure in the first half of 2021, Chief Executive Officer Odisseas Athanasiou said during the ceremony.

Before construction starts, Greece needs to resolve a dispute between two U.S. firms over the award of a tender to operate the property’s casino.

The Hellenikon project is expected to create about 10,000 jobs during construction and attract thousands of tourists and investors to the Greek capital.

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From tubs to toilets, Vietnam hotel opens with gold-plated pizzazz

HANOI (Reuters) – A five-star hotel in Vietnamese capital Hanoi has opened with a twist that it hopes will attract guests with intimately expensive tastes: gold-plated bath tubs, basins and even toilets, all housed behind a massive golden exterior.

The Dolce Hanoi Golden Lake Hotel has made the extra effort to bring visitors back to Vietnam where the tourism sector is slowly reopening after a three-month coronavirus lockdown.

The hotel, owned by Hoa Binh Group and managed by U.S.-based Wyndham Hotels & Resorts Inc, stands in stark contrast to its surrounding weather-worn Soviet-era buildings.

“At the moment, there is no other hotel like this in the world,” said Nguyen Huu Duong, majority owner and chairman of Hoa Binh Group.

Hotel facilities include a 24 karat gold-tiled infinity pool on the rooftop, while inside guest rooms, bathrooms are laced with yellow metal. From $250 a night, the hotel is in the same price bracket as rival luxury accommodation in the city.

“It has changed my mind about what luxury can be. Other luxury hotels usually use marble as tiles, but here everything is gold-plated down to the washing basin,” said 62-year-old guest Luong Van Thuan, himself a hotel owner.

Vietnam has been relatively successful in containing the coronavirus outbreak with only 350 or so cases and no reported deaths. Duong said if not for the pandemic, the hotel would likely be fully booked with international guests.

Around a tonne of gold was used to cover the hotel, said Duong, a Vietnam War veteran and former cyclo taxi driver who made his fortune in construction and property.

He is planning gold-plated projects in Ho Chi Minh City and a resort in central Vietnam.

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Death toll rises to 162 in Myanmar jade mine collapse

(Reuters) – The death toll in a landslide at a jade mine in northern Myanmar has risen to at least 162, with more feared dead, authorities said.

A heap of mining waste collapsed into a lake on Thursday and buried many workers under mud and water.

By late evening on Thursday, rescue workers had recovered 162 bodies, the fire service department said, but the search was ongoing.

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Outrage as judge calls alleged rape victim ‘unbecoming’

An Indian judge is under pressure to delete comments from a court order that questioned the behaviour of a woman who alleged she was raped.

Granting bail to the rape accused last week, Justice Krishna S Dixit of the Karnataka High Court said he found the woman’s statement “a bit difficult to believe”.

Justice Dixit went on to ask why the woman had gone “to her office at night – at 11pm”; why had she “not objected to consuming drinks with him”; and why she had allowed him “to stay with her till morning”.

“The explanation offered by her that after the perpetration of the act she was tired and fell asleep is unbecoming of an Indian woman,” the judge said, adding that it was “not the way our women react when they are ravished”.

His remarks set off a storm of protest. Outraged Indians asked if there was a “rulebook” or a “guide” to being a rape victim. An illustration was widely shared online which, drawing on several recent court rulings, mocked up “An Indian judge’s guide to being the ideal rape survivor”.

Aparna Bhat, a senior Delhi-based lawyer, wrote an open letter to the chief justice of India and the three female judges of the Supreme Court in response to the ruling.

“Is there a protocol for rape victims to follow post the incident which is written in the law that I am not aware of?” she wrote. “Are ‘Indian women’ an exclusive class who have unmatched standards post being violated?”

Appealing to the Supreme Court judges to intervene, Ms Bhat said the judge’s remarks showed “misogyny at its worst”, adding that not condemning them would “amount to condoning”.

Madhu Bhushan, a women’s rights activist in Bangalore, where the Karnataka high court is located, described the language used by the judge as “shocking” and “absolutely uncalled for”.

“His comments are objectionable at several levels,” she told the BBC. “What does he mean by ‘our women’? And ‘ravished’? It’s so Victorian, so outdated, it takes away from the seriousness of the issue, which is violence against women.”

Ms Bhushan said she was not questioning the order itself, but asked “why did he have to pass these comments on her conduct?”

“It’s preposterous to say women don’t behave like this. It has nothing to do with law, it’s judging her behaviour,” she said.

Ms Bhushan is among dozens of civil liberties activists, writers, actors, singers and journalists who wrote an open letter to Justice Dixit saying his ruling had “deeply disturbed and disappointed” activists and demanding that he expunge the comments.

“Women who make decisions to live independently and make choices regarding their own lives, including their intimate/ sexual lives are still viewed as women with loose morals and character,” the letter said.

Ms Bhushan said the language in the court order normalised sexual violence and enforced the idea that rape was a woman’s fault.

“If it proves that the allegation of rape is false, so be it, but why pre-judge it? Why put the woman on trial? It is not expected of a high court judge,” she said.

Rape and sexual crimes have been in the spotlight in India since December 2012, when the brutal gang rape – and the subsequent death – of a young woman on a bus in Delhi sparked days of protests and made global headlines.

According to government data, thousands of rapes take place every year in the country and the numbers have been rising over the years.

Latest figures from the National Crime Records Bureau show police registered 33,977 cases of rape in 2018 – an average of a rape every 15 minutes.

And campaigners say the actual number is much higher, because cases of sexual violence are grossly under reported.

Ms Bhat, who has worked on hundreds of cases of sexual assault over the years, said research showed that survivors of sexual assault generally do not seek justice, “primarily to avoid the secondary trauma” of a criminal trial.

“Sexual violence is associated with stigma, and when a woman goes to testify, there’s the feeling that most people in the room will not believe her,” she said.

And she said the remarks made by Justice Dixit could further deter women from coming forward.

This is not the first time the Indian judiciary has been criticised for court orders seen as patriarchal and misogynistic.

In a a 2017 ruling, judges castigated a gang-rape victim for drinking beer, smoking, taking drugs and keeping condoms in her room, and called her “promiscuous”. Speaking to the BBC at the time, Supreme Court lawyer Karuna Nundy said the ruling implied the woman “had no right not to be raped”.

And in a 2016 order, a woman who had alleged abduction and gang-rape was questioned about her “noticeably unusual conduct and movements post the assault”.

“Instead of hurrying back home in a distressed, humiliated and a devastated state, she stayed back in and around the place of occurrence,” the judge said, adding that the fact that “she was accustomed to sexual intercourse… before the incident also has its own implication”.

They are just two examples from a long list of cases in which the judiciary has shamed the victims of rape and sexual assault.

“A judge is not supposed to make such remarks, no matter what the provocation,” Professor Upendra Baxi, emeritus professor of law at University of Warwick and Delhi, told the BBC. “As a judge, you ought to think about it before you speak. You might hold those views but you should not articulate them.”

The judges remarks in the Karnataka high court judge reflected a bias against women and stereotyped them, Prof Baxi said.

“Women are equal citizens and you cannot do anything to undermine her dignity. Doing your job as a judge doesn’t include passing remarks on a large group of people, stigmatising them,” he said.

Decades ago, Prof Baxi and three of his lawyer colleagues fought a similar battle to ensure personal biases of judges did not find their way into court orders.

In 1979, they wrote an open letter to the then-chief justice of India, after the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of two policemen who were found guilty of raping Mathura, a “14-16-year-old” tribal girl, in a police station.

In his ruling, the Surpreme Court judge said that Mathura was used to sex because she was in a relationship, and that her medical report showed she had no injuries and she had “invented” the story of rape.

“In our letter, we said we saw patriarchal tendencies in the Supreme Court and we pushed for it to change,” Prof Baxi said.

In the wake of the Mathura case, violence against women became a matter of national debate and new rape laws were passed in India.

In 1983, the parliament amended the rape law – shifting the burden of proof from the victim to the accused and stating that the past sexual history of the victim should not be a factor.

But 40 years later, the comments of Justice Dixit and other judges finding fault with the behaviour of victims show that the past sexual history of a woman is still a factor in many courts adjudicating rape cases.

“The judicial process needs to exorcise itself of these beliefs. These prejudices have to be dismantled from the outside or cleaned out from within,” said Ms Bhushan.

“We have asked Justice Dixit to expunge his remarks. If he does that, it will be a great service to egalitarian gender-just jurisprudence,” she said.

Read more from Geeta Pandey

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Australian PM seeks voter redemption in by-election

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will on Saturday vie to secure a 100-year first by winning a seat from the opposition at a by-election, a contest that will test how well voters believe his government has handled the dual crises of catastrophic summer bushfires and COVID-19 pandemic.

The sprawling Eden-Monaro electorate on the south coast of New South Wales state was one of the worst hit by fires and some locals jeered Morrison over his handling of the deadly event when he visited the devastation.

The conservative leader was widely criticised for taking his family on holiday to Hawaii as fires raged across the country.

Political polls soon rebounded, however, with Morrison lauded for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic that has seen Australia record about 8,000 infections and 104 deaths – well below other countries.

“By rights, the opposition Labor party should win the seat – but he has turned his standing around dramatically since the bushfires,” said John Hewson, a former leader of the Liberal Party now headed by Morrison.

“If the Liberals win, then coronavirus has changed the landscape.”

Voters in Eden-Monaro – about 478 km (297 miles) south of Sydney – are voting to elect a new parliamentary member after the retirement of an opposition Labor lawmaker due to ill-health. Election campaigns in Eden-Monaro are historically tightly-fought contests.

While a victory for the Liberal candidate, Fiona Kotvojs, won’t change the balance of power in the national parliament, it would be a boon for Morrison, given voters usually lodge protest votes against the sitting government in by-elections.

The last time the opposition lost a by-election to a government candidate was in 1920, in the West Australia state goldfields electorate of Kalgoorlie.

Haydon Manning, a political science specialist at Flinders University in South Australia, said a victory for the Liberal candidate would provide strong momentum ahead of a tricky period ahead navigating an economic recovery out of the pandemic.

The next federal election is due by mid-2022.

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Botswana tests to solve mystery of dead elephants

Botswana is investigating “completely unprecedented” deaths of hundreds of elephants since May.

The government said three laboratories in Canada, South Africa and Zimbabwe would be asked to “process the samples taken from the dead elephants”.

More than 350 elephant carcasses have been spotted in Botswana’s Okavango Delta in the past two months.

No-one knows why the animals are dying in Botswana – home to a third of Africa’s declining elephant population.

Warning: Some people may find the following images upsetting

In a report prepared for the government, conservation organisation Elephants Without Borders (EWB) said its aerial surveys showed that elephants of all ages appeared to be dying, according to Reuters.

Dr Niall McCann, of the UK-based charity National Park Rescue, earlier this week told the BBC that local conservationists first alerted the government in early May, after they undertook a flight over the delta.

“They spotted 169 in a three-hour flight,” he said. “To be able to see and count that many in a three-hour flight was extraordinary.

“A month later, further investigations identified many more carcasses, bringing the total to over 350.”

“This is totally unprecedented in terms of numbers of elephants dying in a single event unrelated to drought,” he added.

Back in May, Botswana’s government ruled out poaching as a reason – noting the tusks had not been removed, according to Phys.org.

There are other things which point to something other than poaching.

“It is only elephants that are dying and nothing else,” Dr McCann said. “If it was cyanide used by poachers, you would expect to see other deaths.”

Dr McCann has also tentatively ruled out natural anthrax poisoning, which killed at least 100 elephants in Botswana last year.

But they have been unable to rule out either poisoning or disease. The way the animals appear to be dying – many dropping on their faces – and sightings of other elephants walking in circles points to something potentially attacking their neurological systems, Dr McCann said.

Either way, without knowing the source, it is impossible to rule out the possibility of a disease crossing into the human population – especially if the cause is in either the water sources or the soil. Dr McCann points to the Covid-19 pandemic, which is believed to have started in animals.

“Yes, it is a conservation disaster – but it also has the potential to be a public health crisis,” he said.

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Top US spies brief Congress on Russia-Taliban intelligence

Congress eyes new sanctions as Trump downplays reports Russia offered Taliban affiliates cash to kill Americans.

CIA Director Gina Haspel and National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone met with congressional leaders at the United States Capitol on Thursday to share US intelligence suggesting Russia offered the Taliban bounties to kill US troops in Afghanistan.

Amid rising calls for new sanctions on Russia, US intelligence officials are under pressure from members of both parties in Congress to provide explanations.

US media outlets have reported that intelligence agencies concluded the Russian military offered bounties to Taliban affiliates in Afghanistan to kill American troops and coalition forces. President Donald Trump has played down the reports and called the allegations a hoax. 

Members of Congress who were briefed behind closed doors on Thursday included top Republican and Democrat leaders from the House of Representatives and the Senate as well as chairs of the intelligence committees. The US’s top spy, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, also attended.

“I’m not going to say anything about the briefing, but I believe that the president is not close to tough enough on [Russian President] Vladimir Putin,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told reporters as he left the briefing.

Going into the meeting, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – who has been harshly critical of Trump, calling him unfit for office – said she hoped to learn “the truth” about the Russian bounties.

After the closed briefing, Schumer and Pelosi issued a joint statement accusing Trump of being “soft” on Putin. 

The intelligence “was of a consequential level” and the president and Congress should have been briefed, Pelosi said at a news conference.

“The White House put on a con that if you don’t have 100 percent consensus on intelligence that it shouldn’t rise to a certain level,” Pelosi said.

Warmer relations

Pelosi said Congress should now impose financial sanctions on Russia’s intelligence and military sectors – penalties that were withheld at Trump’s request, she said, in a US sanctions law passed overwhelmingly by Congress in 2017.

Trump, a Republican, has worked to cultivate warmer relations with Moscow. Recently, the US president sought to invite Russia back into the Group of Seven meeting of industrialised nations, but was blocked by Germany and other allies. Russia was expelled by the group after annexing Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine.

Four US and European government sources, who are familiar with intelligence reporting and spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Reuters news agency that in recent weeks the US had acquired fresh reporting backing up the allegations that Russia had encouraged Taliban-affiliated militants to kill US and allied soldiers in Afghanistan.

US intelligence agencies are confident Russia encouraged the Taliban to kill US troops, but there is a disagreement between the CIA and the National Security Agency over whether Moscow had actually paid bounties, Reuters reported.

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Three US cities pilot truth, reconciliation push to tackle racism

Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco will help form a pilot effort to confront racism in the criminal justice system.

District attorneys in Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco are teaming up on a pilot effort patterned after South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission to confront racism in the criminal justice system.

Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins, Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner and San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin announced the initiative on Wednesday in partnership with the Grassroots Law Project, which is leading the effort. It will tackle racial inequities, and police violence and misconduct.

“We need to confront our ugly past to create a more just and equitable future,” said Rollins, whose jurisdiction includes Boston.

Organisers said the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission will “process and address the injustices of the past that simply were not given the time, attention and dignity that they deserved”.

“When marginalized people have needed to finally rely on this system for justice, it has routinely failed them in the worst ways imaginable. This isn’t a bug in the system, but a feature,” they said in a statement.

The three district attorneys said they will be working out details over the summer and plan to formally launch the commission in the fall (autumn).

The Grassroots Law Project, an organisation led by activist Shaun King and civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, said Rollins, Krasner and Boudin “will lead community-centred, localised efforts to address the harms of unaccountable, unjust and racist policing and prosecution”. Additional cities will be announced later this year, it said.

New York efforts

Separately, New York City took the lead last month when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city would form its own commission to examine its history of racial discrimination.

The city’s new Racial Justice and Reconciliation Commission will give New Yorkers a platform to discuss their experiences with racism, examine possible discrimination in public policy and recommend changes such as removing symbols of racism from public spaces, de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, said in announcing its formation. McCray, an author and activist, is Black; the mayor is white.

It is the latest in a trend of progressive prosecutors eschewing traditionally cosy relationships with police departments and pressing instead for criminal justice reforms to better hold police accountable for wrongdoing.

Rollins, Boston’s first woman and Black district attorney, said the entire system – not just police – needs to change to ensure people of colour are not victimised. “Our efforts at reform cannot only focus on police. Your district attorneys, state’s attorneys and top prosecutors are failing you too,” she tweeted on Wednesday.

In the 1990s, South Africa’s own Truth and Reconciliation Commission took the nation on a painful path to air injustices perpetrated during more than 40 years of apartheid rule that included the torture, beatings and bombings of Black people. Rather than hunt down and try people accused of atrocities, Nuremberg-style, the country’s approach helped talk through grievances and heal divisions between Black people and whites.

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Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Exiled Russian oligarch calls vote giving Putin power until 2036 a ‘total fraud’

Exiled Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky has called a referendum that has given Vladimir Putin the right to remain in power until 2036 a “total fraud”.

The former head of oil giant Yukos, who was imprisoned by the Putin government for tax evasion and theft in a controversial case, said the president’s staff made sure he did not have fewer votes than in previous elections.

Only one of the country’s 85 regions voted against allowing former KGB officer Mr Putin, who has led Russia for more than two decades, to amend most of the Russian constitution, ensuring he could stay at the helm for two further six-year terms after the current one ends in 2024.

“It was total fraud,” Mr Khodorkovsky, 57, told Sky News at a central London location where he now lives after fleeing Russia when he was pardoned by Mr Putin after eight years in prison.

Russia’s wealthiest man in 2003, he accused Mr Putin of lying to parliament about what kind of amendments he wanted for the Russian constitution and said the changes did not adhere to any current rules but were “invented” by the president.

The amendments have resulted in about 60% of the constitution being altered, including giving Mr Putin more power, heavily limiting who can run for president, making the Russian constitution take precedence over international law and not recognising same-sex marriage.

Mr Khodorkovsky, who founded democracy and human rights initiative Open Russia, said the president craves legitimacy on the world stage but “lives in his own world” so it was “a total surprise” to him when Russia was banished from the G7 after he annexed Crimea in 2014.

He said Mr Putin was initially very popular as he brought stability to Russia, but said he should have left when his second term was over in 2008 to remain successful in the history books.

Now, he has very little real support in Russia due to six years of economic stagnation, the former oligarch said.

But he said the president has no idea how unpopular he is as he surrounds himself with people who are too afraid to go against him because he is handing them money and giving them exclusive rights.

“I have no doubts that in the international arena Putin uses the same gangster methods that he uses in Russia, that he learnt back at the time of his work in the KGB, FSB, and in St Petersburg,” Mr Khodorkovsky said.

“These are thuggish technologies and absolutely gangster apparatus. And he creates uncomfortable situations.

“He creates problems and then allows countries to try and resolve those problems and situations.”

Mr Khodorkovsky added that he knows he is taking a risk every time he speaks out against Mr Putin.

“Any opponent of Putin’s faces the threat,” he said.

“We know quite a number of people, starting with [murdered journalist] Anna Politkovskaya, [assassinated anti-Putin politician] Boris Nemtsov, and many others who lost their lives in that battle, in that confrontation.

“When you start driving a car or when you step out into the street, you take a risk and yet you want to accept this risk.

“Otherwise, you couldn’t lead a normal life. My normal life is to say what I think openly about what’s happening in Russia.

“My normal life is to try and get democracy for Russia.

“If, to have this normal life, I will have to pay at some moment in my life – with my life… I will be prepared to do that.”

The multi-millionaire – a multi-billionaire before his imprisonment – said he hopes Mr Putin leaves office before he becomes elderly because while he is still physically fit he hopes “to be useful to my country – politically and socially”.

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