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Austrian court clears way for U.S. extradition of Ukrainian tycoon Firtash

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Austria’s Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a decision granting a request by the United States to extradite Ukrainian tycoon, Dmytro Firtash, paving the way for him to face trial there over bribery allegations.

A U.S. grand jury indicted Firtash in 2013, along with a member of India’s parliament and four others.

They were indicted on suspicion of bribing Indian government officials to gain access to minerals used to make titanium-based products.

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Arab League to meet over U.S. support for Israeli settlements Nov. 25

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The Cairo-based Arab League will hold an emergency ministerial-level meeting on Nov. 25 to discuss the recent U.S. recognition of Israeli settlements on Palestinian occupied territories, an official said.

The Palestinian Embassy in Cairo said this in a statement on Wednesday.

“The meeting will discuss the recent U.S. position … which no longer considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank contrary to international law,” Palestinian Ambassador to Cairo Diab al-Louh said in the statement.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced support for the establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, saying they are “not, per se, inconsistent with international law.”

The Palestinian ambassador said the recent U.S. move “comes among a series of U.S. unilateral positions and decisions that violate international law and relevant resolutions of international legitimacy.”

Pompeo’s remarks were met by regional and international rejection.

On Tuesday, the League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit slammed Pompeo’s announcement as “a very negative development,” warning it would encourage Israeli settlers “to exercise more violence and brutality against the Palestinians.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict started more than 70 years ago following the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and the creation of Israel in 1948. (Xinhua/NAN)

Edited by Fatima Sule/Felix Ajide (NAN)

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Malta premier under pressure after new arrest over journalist’s murder

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A prominent Maltese businessman was arrested on Wednesday, in a potential turning point for the criminal investigation into the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Galizia was killed by a car bomb on Oct. 17, 2017, after running a blog that accused top Maltese politicians, including Labour Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat and his close advisers, of major corruption.

Businessman Yorgen Fenech was arrested at sea shortly after he tried to leave Malta on board his luxury yacht.

Video footage uploaded by several Maltese media outlets showed Armed Forces of Malta soldiers inspecting the docked vessel at Portomaso, a luxury yacht marina owned by the Fenech family.

Speaking shortly after the arrest, Muscat told reporters that Fenech was a person of interest in the Caruana Galizia murder case, but said he could not elaborate futher.

He insisted that at this point, there was nothing pointing towards his chief of staff Keith Schembri or current tourism minister and erstwhile energy minister Konrad Mizzi of being involved in the Caruana Galizia case.

Wednesday’s arrest came just a day after Muscat revealed he had recommended a pardon for a suspected middleman in the murder if he provided legally binding evidence on who was behind the killing.

Fenech is a director of a consortium that won a tender in 2013 from the Maltese government to build a gas power station.

In 2018, he was also revealed as the owner of a secret offshore company called 17 Black, which allegedly made secret payments to Schembri and Mizzi.

Both Mizzi and Schembri have denied taking any money from 17 Black via secret offshore companies.

Suspicions arose after their names came up in the Panama Papers, a massive set of documents leaked in 2016 that exposed the dealings of shell companies.

Caruana Galizia had written about the affair months before she was assassinated.

“There’s no one left for whom it is not clear that Daphne was killed to cover up the corruption in the awarding of the Electrogas power station contract,” investigative journalist Manuel Delia wrote on his blog.

He criticised Muscat for not heeding past calls to fire Schembri and Mizzi, and appealed to parliament to dismiss the prime minister, who has been in office since 2013.

“Parliament has the duty to preserve the rule of law. Fire Joseph Muscat. Hire a new prime minister. Start a new government. Let the cleaning begin,’’ Delia wrote.

His remarks were backed by Caruana Galizia’s family.

Andrew, one of the slain journalist’s three sons, tweeted: “Joseph Muscat guaranteed the impunity for corruption of the men who contracted my mother’s murder. Now he holds the keys to justice. He should give them to someone else.’’

Delia said there would be a civil society protest outside the prime minister’s office at 6 p.m (1700 GMT) to demand parliamentarians removal of Joseph Muscat from the post of prime minister if they don’t get his resignation first.’’

Conservative former opposition leader Simon Busuttil joined the calls for Muscat’s ouster.

“The Prime Minister’s position is untenable. He must RESIGN NOW and let JUSTICE take its course,’’ he tweeted.

Until now, Maltese authorities had only managed to arrest three men accused of materially carrying out Caruana Galizia’s murder, but not the people believed to have ordered it.

Edited by Halima Sheji/Felix Ajide (NAN)

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Trump denies speaking with Sondland, knowing him ‘well’

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U.S. President Donald Trump says he does not know Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the EU at the centre of the impeachment inquiry, well.

“I have not spoken to him much,” Trump tells reporters outside the White House. “This is not a man I know well.”

Trump spoke as Sondland testified before House impeachment investigators.

The ambassador has told Congress his dealings with Ukraine were under Trump’s direct orders and that there was a quid pro quo for the president’s benefit.

Sondland told Congress on Wednesday that his dealings with Ukraine were under the direct orders of Trump, in the fourth day of public hearings in an impeachment inquiry that has consumed Washington.

There was a “quid pro quo” in which a White House meeting for the Ukrainians was on the line in exchange for a probe linked to Trump’s rival Joe Biden, Sondland said.

Sondland told lawmakers that he came to understand that military assistance to Ukraine was being made contingent on Kiev publicly announcing a corruption probe linked to Biden, a leading Democratic contender to challenge Trump in presidential elections in 2020.

Sondland, while conducting a balancing act that seemed to be an attempt to vindicate his own behaviour, insisted that top officials above him, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, were “in the loop,” about his actions in Ukraine.

Sondland told the House committee carrying out the impeachment inquiry that he and others “played the hand we were dealt” while denying he was engaged in “rogue diplomacy.”

This included having to work through Rudy Giuliani, the president’s private lawyer.

“We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the U.S. and Ukraine.

“So, we followed the president’s orders,” said Sondland, a Republican donor who was appointed as EU ambassador by Trump.

“I believed then, as I do now, that the men and women of the State Department, not the president’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for Ukraine matters,” said Sondland.

A former hotelier, Sondland has found himself at the centre of the impeachment inquiry.

Sondland said that while he never heard directly from the president that aid was conditioned on any specific investigation, he came to believe this and maintained this conviction even after speaking directly with Trump.

“ of the August, my belief was that if Ukraine did something to demonstrate a serious intention to fight corruption, specifically addressing Burisma and 2016 server, then the hold on military aid would be lifted,” Sondland says.

Burisma is a Ukrainian energy company where Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, sat on the board.

The server refers to a conspiracy theory, apparently believed by Trump, about the 2016 election.

There is no evidence either Biden did anything illegal, though the Republicans have raised questions about the son’s role while his father was vice president and running U.S. policy on Ukraine, during the Obama administration.

“Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’ As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes,” Sondland said.

The testimony is the latest to indicate that Trump primarily was concerned with Burisma, and Biden, and not with corruption in general in Ukraine, as Republicans have tried to present as a line in the president’s defence.

Democrats in the House of Representative have set up an exhausting pace for the inquiry, amid hopes they can wrap up their side before the end of the year.

Trump insists there was nothing wrong with his interactions with Ukraine.

The inquiry in the House is the first step and could lead to impeachment.

A trial, which could lead to the president’s removal, would take place in the Senate, where Trump’s Republicans have a majority.

Edited by Fatima Sule/Felix Ajide (NAN)

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Kenya to host Diaspora convention in December

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Kenya will host a Diaspora conference in December to explore innovative ways to tap into skills and capital from citizens working abroad to hasten implementation of a national development blueprint, organisers said on Wednesday.

More than 500 people are expected to participate in the sixth edition of Kenya Diaspora Home Coming Convention slated for Dec. 17 to 19 themed “Diaspora and the Big 4 Agenda.”

“The three-day convention that will take place in Nairobi will bring together leading Diaspora and local captains of industry to network and hold discussions on investments.

Others are skills, know-how and governance required to leapfrog the country to new levels of growth,” said Kenya Diaspora Alliance which is organising the event.

Senior government officials will participate in the Diaspora conference that will raise awareness on the opportunities that Kenyans working abroad can harness to foster growth and cohesion in their native homeland.

“It will be a consultative event whose objective includes awareness creation among Kenyans in the Diaspora on investment opportunities at national and county levels,” said the organisers.

According to the alliance, the premier event will create a platform to facilitate interaction between the diaspora and policymakers and enhance their participation in the socio-economic development of the country.

Shem Ochuodho, Chair of Kenya Diaspora Alliance said that citizens working abroad were keen to be enjoined in programmes that advance inclusive growth, prosperity, stability and cohesion in their country of birth.

“The main goal of the upcoming convention is to bring together the Diaspora community to be part of Kenya’s economic, cultural and ideological change,” said Ochuodho.

It is important to discuss ways that the diaspora can contribute towards the country’s development blueprint that focuses on food security, affordable housing, manufacturing and universal healthcare, ” he added.

Statistics from the Central Bank of Kenya indicate that the diaspora remittances stood at 215.6 billion shillings (about 2.15 billion dollars) in September. (Xinhua/NAN)

Edited by Fatima Sule/Felix Ajide (NAN)

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Nigeria urges Gulf of Guinea Commission member states to collaborate, combat region’s security challenges

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Nigeria has urged member states of the Gulf of Guinea Commission to work closely and come up with measures to combat the insecurity in the region.

Nigeria also urged the member states to show commitment to their financial obligation toward the commission.

Amb. Zubairu Dada, Nigeria’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs made the call on Wednesday in Abuja during the 11th Ordinary Session of the Council of Ministers of the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC).

Dada said that the collective quest to address the security challenges in the region required member countries to endeavour to put in place measures to check the violation of domestic and international treaties in the region.

“Nigeria’s resolve to address the security problems in the region led to the recent signing into law of the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Act by the Country, which gives a comprehensive framework to tackling the issue of piracy and other maritime crimes on Nigerian waters.

“I commend efforts of member states of the Gulf of Guinea Commission who through strengthening the capacities and capabilities of their Navy and other institutions are fighting the insecurity in the region.

“On our part, Nigeria will continue to intensify efforts, in collaboration with relevant countries, partners, and institutions within the sub-region to address the current security challenges in the Gulf of Guinea.

“This 11th Ordinary Session of the Council of Ministers of the Gulf of Guinea Commission once again provides an opportunity for all of us, the member states to redouble our efforts to revitalise the orgnisation as approved by the 4th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of States, to enable the GGC achieve its mandates,” Dada said.

He recalled that in Nov. 2017, while taking the mantle of leadership of the organisation, Nigeria called for renewed commitments on the part of member states to make the Gulf of Guinea Region a zone of peace and security.

He added that Nigeria also tasked member countries on sustainable development for the benefit of individual countries, the people, and stakeholders in the region.

The minister of state, however, noted that the GGC was faced with challenges, which have threatened its smooth operations.

He said that the challenges could be traced to lack of member states’ commitment to holding regular meetings.

He said that another challenge could be traced to the continued unwillingness of the majority of the states to pay their annual statutory contributions to enable the organisation to finance its numerous activities.

Dada said that the commission was in a dire financial situation and that unless urgent action was taken in the meeting to address the concerns, the situation might put the smooth functioning of the organisation at greater risk.

Also speaking, Amb. Florentina Ukonga, Executive Secretary, Gulf of Guinea Commission said that the experts had worked very hard to come up with recommendations to encourage participation of member states is GGC’s activities.

Ukonga said that the recommendations included timely contribution and liquidation of arrears of contributions and appropriate participation in GGC’s activities to enable the organisation to achieve its objectives.

She said that the Gulf of Guinea Region also needed to take full control of the security apparatuses that would ensure security in its maritime domain.

“Assistance from outside the region is good and desirable but this should not be substituted for our own action to be at the vanguard of solving our problems.

“Our institutions must function with or without assistance from our partners. Wwe must be fully committed to the principles of helping ourselves first before calling on others to help us.

“This is the only way our institutions an grow and solve the problems they were established to solve.

“We must never forget that our interest as States in the region are not necessarily the interest of other stakeholders operating in the region”, Ukonga said.

Nigeria News Agency reports that the Gulf of Guinea Commission was established in 2001 with set objectives which includes combating maritime crimes- piracy, sea robbery, illegal bunkering.

The commission also aims to combat environmental pollution, drugs and arms trafficking, as well as illegal unreported and unregulated fishing.

Member countries of the Gulf of Guinea Commission includes: Nigeria, Angola, Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sao Tome and Principe, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Congo Brazzaville.

(Edited by Emmanuel Yashim (NAN))

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AU urges South Sudan to utilise extension period to address outstanding matters

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The AU on Wednesday called on South Sudan’s parties to agree on a systematic approach to address remaining outstanding matters within the agreed 100-days extension period.

The statement was made by the Peace and Security Council of the 55-member pan-African bloc in a statement issued on Wednesday, which followed the council’s latest meeting that dwelt upon the current situation in South Sudan.

The council underscores the need for the parties to agree on a systematic approach for addressing outstanding matters, with a view to effectively and efficiently utilise the coming 100 days to complete the remaining crucial tasks.

The outstanding matters include notable security arrangements and the number of states and internal boundaries of South Sudan, according to the statement.

The council, which welcomed the extension of the Pre-Transitional Period, also noted that the outcome creates a conducive environment for the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to decisively give impetus to the implementation of the Revitalised Agreement.

It also commended IGAD “for its continued efforts to address the situation in South Sudan.”

The council called on “all regional and international stakeholders to further enhance their coordination and to harmonise their efforts, under the leadership of IGAD for the promotion of peace, security and development in South Sudan.”

The AU Peace and Security Council made the call weeks after South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and the country’s main opposition leader Machar agreed to postpone the formation of a transitional government of national unity by 100 days.

On Nov. 7, Kiir and Machar agreed to postpone the formation of a transitional government of national unity by 100 days in a bid to iron out contentious issues like security arrangements, number and boundaries of states alongside constitutional amendment. (Xinhua/NAN)

Edited by Fatima Sule/Ali Baba (NAN)-Inuwa

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