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Real estate tycoon sentence to death in largest-ever fraud case



Real estate tycoon Truong My Lan was sentenced Thursday to death by a court in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam in the country’s

Real estate tycoon Truong My Lan was sentenced Thursday to death by a court in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam in the country’s largest financial fraud case ever, state media Vietnam Net said.

The 67-year-old chair of the real estate company Van Thinh Phat was formally charged with fraud amounting to $12.5 billion — nearly 3% of the country’s 2022 GDP.

Lan illegally controlled Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank between 2012 and 2022 and allowed 2,500 loans that resulted in losses of $27 billion to the bank, reported state media VnExpress. The court asked her to compensate the bank $26.9 million.

Despite mitigating circumstances — this was a first-time offense and Lan participated in charity activities — the court attributed its harsh sentence to the seriousness of the case, saying Lan was at the helm of an orchestrated and sophisticated criminal enterprise that had serious consequences with no possibility of the money being recovered, VnExpress said.

Her actions “not only violate the property management rights of individuals and organizations but also push SCB [Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank] into a state of special control; eroding people’s trust in the leadership of the Party and State,” VnExpress quoted the judgment as saying.

Her niece, Truong Hue Van, the chief executive of Van Thinh Phat, was sentenced to 17 years in prison for aiding her aunt.

Lan and her family established the Van Thinh Phat company in 1992 after Vietnam shed its state-run economy in favor of a more market-oriented approach that was open to foreigners. She had started out helping her mother, a Chinese businesswoman, to sell cosmetics in Ho Chi Minh City’s oldest market, according to state media Tien Phong.

Van Thinh Phat would grow to become one of Vietnam’s richest real estate firms, with projects including luxury residential buildings, offices, hotels and shopping centers. This made her a key player in the country’s financial industry. She orchestrated the 2011 merger of the beleaguered SCB bank with two other lenders in coordination with Vietnam’s central bank.

The court found that she used this approach to tap SCB for cash. She indirectly owned more than 90% of the bank — a charge she denied — and approved thousands of loans to “ghost companies,” according to government documents. These loans then found their way back to her, state media VNExpress reported, citing the court’s findings.

She then bribed officials to cover her tracks, it added.

Former central bank official Do Thi Nhan was also sentenced Thursday to life in prison for accepting $5.2 million in bribes.

Lan’s arrest in October 2022 was among the most high-profile in an ongoing anti-corruption drive in Vietnam that has intensified since 2022. The so-called Blazing Furnace campaign has touched the highest echelons of Vietnamese politics. Former President Vo Van Thuong resigned in March after being implicated in the campaign.

But Lan’s trial shocked the nation. Analysts said the scale of the scam raised questions about whether other banks or businesses had similarly erred, dampening Vietnam’s economic outlook and making foreign investors jittery at a time when Vietnam has been trying to position itself as the ideal home for businesses trying to pivot their supply chains away from China.

The real estate sector in Vietnam has been hit particularly hard. An estimated 1,300 property firms withdrew from the market in 2023, developers have been offering discounts and gold as gifts to attract buyers, and despite rents for mixed-use properties known in Southeast Asia as shophouses falling by a third in Ho Chi Minh City, many in the city center are still empty, according to state media.

In November, Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, Vietnam’s top politician, said that the anti-corruption fight would “continue for the long term.”


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Japan, South Korea announce sanctions over Russia-North Korea arms trade



Experts have said Pyongyang's recent testing spree may be of weapons destined for Russian use on battlefields in Ukraine

Pyongyang is accused of sending thousands of containers of munitions to Moscow for its use in the war against Ukraine.

A person in a hat watching a news bulletin about North Korea’s missile launch The screen is showing file footage from a previous test.
Experts have said Pyongyang’s recent testing spree may be of weapons destined for Russian use on battlefields in

Japan and South Korea have announced separate sanctions packages targeting companies, vessels or individuals allegedly involved in supplying North Korean weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine, in violation of United Nations resolutions.

Friday’s announcements come just days before the leaders of South Korea, Japan and China meet in Seoul for their first trilateral summit in nearly five years.

Recently, Pyongyang has been accused of sending thousands of containers of munitions to Russia, and experts have said Pyongyang’s recent testing spree may be of weapons destined for use on battlefields in Ukraine.

On Friday, Japan’s top government spokesperson Yoshimasa Hayashi said Tokyo “strongly condemns” the alleged deals.

“We have cooperated with allies like the United States to freeze the assets of 11 groups and one individual involved in the Russia-North Korea military assistance meant to support Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine,” he told reporters.

“It violates the UN security resolutions that categorically ban the transfer with North Korea of weapons and related materials.”

Japan’s Asahi newspaper reported that nine of the groups and the individual were in Russia while the other two organisations, based in Cyprus, allegedly helped transport weapons from North Korea.

In August, the US Treasury Department imposed similar sanctions as it said Russia was using up munitions and losing heavy equipment in Ukraine, forcing Moscow to turn to its few allies, including Pyongyang, for support.

Russia has been waging a war against Ukraine since 2014, and it launched a full-scale invasion against its former Soviet satellite state in 2022.


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No asylum seekers will be deported to Rwanda – Rishi Sunak



No asylum seekers will be deported to Rwanda before the General Election on July 4, Rishi Sunak has confirmed – essentially guaranteeing

No asylum seekers will be deported to Rwanda before the General Election on July 4, Rishi Sunak has confirmed – essentially guaranteeing that the policy will never take effect despite the hundreds of millions of taxpayer cash spent.

Labour leader Keir Starmer, who polls suggest will walk into No 10 after the nationwide vote is held, has already dismissed the idea of implementing the Tories’ Rwanda policy, suggesting it is not a “serious” proposal and that he would ditch it “straight away”.

On Thursday, Sunak said that no flights to Rwanda would take off before the General Election.

He told LBC they would only go “after the election,” saying: “The preparation work has already gone on.”

Sunak added: “If I am re-elected as prime minister on July 5, these flights will go.”

While the UK Government has been tight-lipped about exact costs, the Rwanda scheme has cost more than £290 million to date and a watchdog estimate suggested it could cost half a billion pounds.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Sunak’s admission proved the “whole Rwanda scheme has been a con from start to finish”.

She went on: “With all the hundreds of millions they have spent, it would be extraordinary if ‘symbolic flights’ didn’t take off in early July, as the Tories planned.

“But Rishi Sunak’s words confirm what we’ve known all along – he doesn’t believe this plan will work and that’s why he called the election now in the desperate hope that he won’t be found out.”

The news comes as new figures, published by the Office for National Statistics on Thursday, showed net migration to the UK dropped by 10% last year – after hitting a new record of 764,000 in 2022, revised official estimates show.

The ONS said it is too early to tell if this is the start of a new downward trend but that the most recent estimates indicate the number of people coming to the UK is slowing while those leaving is rising.

Work was the biggest driver of migration in 2023, overtaking study, and there was a substantial increase in the number of people arriving from outside the EU on work-related visas, the figures suggest.

The measure – which is the difference between the number of people arriving and leaving the country – has been revised upwards by 19,000 for 2022 from an earlier estimate of 745,000 now that more complete data for the year is available.

Some 1.22 million people are estimated to have arrived in the UK in 2023 (immigration), while 532,000 are likely to have left (emigration). This is compared with 1.26 million and 493,000 respectively in 2022.


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Essex man, 64, charged with assisting Russian intelligence service



A man has been charged with assisting Russian intelligence after being arrested by UK counter-terror police. Howard Michael Phillips, 64,

A man has been charged with assisting Russian intelligence after being arrested by UK counter-terror police.

Howard Michael Phillips, 64, from Harlow in Essex, was arrested in central London and is due at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Thursday afternoon.

Investigators have also searched addresses in Hertfordshire and Essex.

There is not believed to be any threat to the wider public, the Metropolitan Police have said.

Mr Phillips was arrested under new National Security Act powers, which mean people can be detained without a warrant if police “reasonably” suspect they are involved “in foreign power threat activity”.

Police have not disclosed details about the activities he is alleged to have engaged in.

The charge covers actions which “materially assist a foreign intelligence service in carrying out UK-related activities”.

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British PM Sunak Announces UK General Election for July, Earlier Than Expected



Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called a summer UK general election to take place on Thursday 4 July, months earlier than expected by the country.

He had been widely expected to wait until the autumn before triggering the poll, which does not legally have to be held until January 2025. But in a surprise move, he announced the first July election since 1945.

“Earlier today, I spoke with His Majesty, the king, to request the dissolution of Parliament. The king has granted this request and we will have a general election on the 4th of July.

“This election will take place at a time when the world is more dangerous than it has been since the end of the Cold War. These uncertain times call for a clear plan and bold action to chart a course to a secure future.

“You must choose in this election who has that plan. Who is prepared to take the bold action necessary to secure a better future for our country and our children?,” he said.

Sunak’s call a snap general election threw the fate of his embattled Conservative Party to a restless British public that appears eager for change after 14 years of Conservative government.

He was speaking from a rain-spattered lectern in front of 10 Downing Street, marking the starting gun for six weeks of campaigning that will render a verdict on a party that has led Britain since Barack Obama was America’s president.

But the Tories have discarded four prime ministers in eight years, lurching through the serial chaos of Brexit, the coronavirus pandemic and a cost-of-living crisis, the New York Times reported.  With the opposition Labour Party (LP) ahead in most polls by double digits for the last 18 months, a Conservative defeat has come to assume an air of inevitability, the paper said.

For all that,  Sunak is calculating that Britain has had just enough good news in recent days — including glimmers of fresh economic growth and the lowest inflation rate in three years — that his party might be able to cling to power.

“Now is the moment for Britain to choose its future,” Sunak said, as pelting rain drenched his suit jacket. The choice for voters, he said, was to “build on the future you’ve made or risk going back to square one.”

Political analysts, opposition leaders and members of  Sunak’s own party agree that the electoral mountain he must climb is Himalayan.

Burdened by a weak economy, a calamitous foray into trickle-down tax policies, and successive scandals, the Tories have seemed exhausted and adrift, split by internal feuds and fatalistic about their future. They face a threat on the right from the anti-immigrant Reform UK party.

“The Conservatives are facing a kind of extinction-level event,” said Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics at the University of Kent who has advised Boris Johnson and other party leaders. “They look like they’re going to suffer an even bigger defeat than they did to Tony Blair in 1997,” he added.

Other political analysts were more cautious: Some pointed out that in 1992, the Conservative government of Prime Minister John Major overcame a deep polling deficit to eke out a narrow victory and stay in power.

Still, since the party won by a landslide in the 2019 elections on the slogan “Get Brexit done,” the Tories have bled support among young people, traditional Conservative voters in the England’s south and southwest and, crucially, working-class voters in the industrial Midlands and north of England, whose backing in 2019 was key to then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s landmark victory.

Many are disillusioned by the scandals of Johnson’s tenure, including Downing Street social gatherings that breached Covid lockdown rules, and even more so by the fiasco of his successor, Liz Truss, who was toppled after just 44 days, following proposed tax cuts that rattled financial markets, caused the pound to torpedo and fractured the party’s reputation for economic competence.

While Sunak, 44, steadied the markets and has run a more stable government than his predecessors, critics say he never developed a convincing strategy to recharge the country’s growth.

Nor did he fulfil two other promises: to cut waiting times in Britain’s National Health Service and to stop the stream of small boats carrying asylum seekers across the English Channel.

Many voters in the “red wall” districts — so called because of Labour’s campaigning color — appear ready to return to their roots in the party. Under the competent, if uncharismatic, leadership of Keir Starmer, Labour has shaken off the shadow of his left-wing predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn.

Under British law, Sunak was obliged to hold an election by January 2025. Political analysts had expected him to wait until the fall to allow more time for the economy to recover.

But in the wake of an announcement on Wednesday that inflation had fallen to an annual rate of 2.3 per cent — just above the Bank of England’s target of 2 per cent — he may have gambled that the news was as good as it is going to get.

Sunak may also be calculating that the government can put a first flight carrying asylum seekers to Rwanda in the air before the vote. That would allow him to claim progress on another of his priorities, the report said.

The Rwanda policy, which involves deporting asylum seekers to the African nation without first hearing their cases, has been condemned by rights campaigners, the courts and opposition leaders — and it has drawn a raft of legal challenges. But Sunak has made it a centrepiece of his agenda, because it is popular with the Conservative Party’s political base.

In his remarks,  Sunak tried to paint Labour as lacking an agenda. “I don’t know what they offer — and in truth, I don’t think you do either,” he said.

But his message was occasionally drowned out by the sound of Labour’s 1997 campaign anthem, “Things Can Only Get Better,” which blared from a demonstrator’s loudspeaker in a nearby street.

For Mr. Sunak, the son of parents of Indian heritage who emigrated from British colonial East Africa six decades ago, the decision to go to the voters earlier than expected is not completely out of character.

In July 2022, he broke with  Johnson by resigning as chancellor of the Exchequer, triggering the loss of cabinet support that ultimately forced Mr. Johnson out of power.

Mr. Sunak then mounted a spirited bid for party leader, losing out to Truss in a vote of the party’s 170,000 or so members. After Truss’s economic policies backfired and she was forced to resign, Sunak re-emerged to win the next contest, this time held only among members of Parliament from the Conservative Party.

Sunak inherited a forbidding set of problems: double-digit inflation, a stagnant economy and rising interest rates, which stung people in the form of higher rates on their home mortgages. Waiting times at the National Health Service, which is depleted after years of fiscal austerity, stretched into months.

Sunak had some early successes, including an agreement with the European Union that largely defused a trade impasse over Northern Ireland. He exceeded his goal of halving the inflation rate, which was 11.1 percent when he took over in October 2022. And there are signs that the economy is starting to turn.

Britain had an unexpectedly strong exit from a shallow recession at the start of this year, with the economy growing 0.6 percent. The International Monetary Fund upgraded its growth forecast for the country this year, while praising the actions of the government and the central bank.

But the good news could be fleeting. Inflation is expected to bounce back up again in the second half of this year, and April’s number was not as low as economists expected. That has led investors to rethink how soon the Bank of England might cut rates, almost ruling out that they will be lowered next month. Even expectations that rates will come down in August have diminished.

At the same time, the scope for further tax cuts before the election has narrowed. Data published on Wednesday showed that public borrowing was up.

It will see the Conservatives try to win a fifth consecutive term in office, taking on Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, which is ahead in opinion polls.

Parliament will be suspended on Friday, before being formally shut down on Thursday next week, in advance of the official five-week election campaign, said the BBC.

Sunak had been expected to call the poll in October or November, to give his party a better chance of closing its polling gap with Labour.

His announcement, following hours of speculation in Westminster, came after it was confirmed inflation in the year to April fell to 2.3 per cent, the lowest annual figure in almost three years.

Souce: This Day

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Indian government agency spent millions promoting BJP election slogans



The Central Bureau of Communication is meant to promote government plans. Its ads instead carried Modi’s party’s catchphrases as the agency became the top pre-election spender on Google ads.

Mumbai, India — In November, as India’s election campaign was beginning to take shape, a catchphrase coined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) started gaining traction.

“Modi ki guarantee” (Modi’s guarantee) was positioned by the governing party as the personal promise of the vastly popular prime minister to Indian voters, as the BJP tried to draw a contrast with the seemingly hodgepodge coalition of opposition parties railing against it. The BJP launched advertisements on Google with that tagline in the third week of November.

But around the same time, another organisation started pumping in millions of rupees into an almost identical-sounding campaign: “Modi sarkar ki guarantee” (Modi government’s guarantee). The videos in that campaign, which would continue for months, often referred simply to “Modi’s guarantee”.

In one such advertisement, aired on February 23, an actor portraying a young entrepreneur reassures a father apprehensive about his son’s career choice by telling him, “Papa, there is Modi’s guarantee. Modi ji has promised that he will make India one of the places with the most unicorn startups.” Towards the end, he confidently asserts that “thanks to Modi’s guarantee, every startup will start in India”.

Only these advertisements were not from the BJP. They were paid for by the Indian taxpayer and were part of a campaign rolled out by the Indian government’s advertising agency, the Central Bureau of Communication (CBC). At least one other campaign, with multiple advertisements unveiled in March, also echoed the wording and look of the BJP’s election slogans.

On March 22, the country’s largest opposition party, the Indian National Congress, filed a complaint with the Election Commission of India (ECI) – the constitutional body overseeing the country’s elections – alleging that these CBC advertisements violated election rules by misusing public funds for the governing party’s campaign.

Now, an Al Jazeera investigation reveals the scale of the CBC’s spending on government advertisements that appear to mimic the BJP’s campaign messages and that, according to critics, raise questions about the ability of non-partisan institutions to ensure a level playing field in the election.

The government’s communication agency spent nearly 387 million rupees ($4.65m) on Google advertisements in just under four months, from when it first started advertising regularly on the online platform in November, until March 15, when it last launched an advertisement. India’s national elections were formally announced on March 15. From that point on, government agencies are barred from any advertisements.

In fact, in these 113 days, the CBC was India’s largest spender on political advertisements on Google, while the BJP stood in second place with 314 million rupees ($3.7m). The CBC spending in this period was 41 percent more than the 275 million rupees ($3.3m) that the primary opposition Congress party had spent in almost six years– between June 2018 and March 15, 2024 – according to Google Ads Transparency data in this period.

And many of the CBC advertisements were part of the campaigns with slogans that independent election transparency activists and the opposition say were too close to the BJP’s promotional messages.

Source: Aljazeera

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Thousands mourn Iran’s Raisi in Tabriz procession after helicopter crash



Iranians are observing the second of five days of public mourning announced by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei..

Iranians have gathered in Tabriz, the capital of the East Azerbaijan province, to mourn at a farewell procession for President Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and six other people in the helicopter, including crew members, were also killed in the crash.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of mourners, waving Iranian flags and portraits of the late president, set out from a central square in the northwestern city where Raisi was headed when his helicopter crashed.

Reporting from the capital, Tehran, Al Jazeera’s Resul Serdar said on Tuesday that funeral ceremonies for Iranian state dignitaries occur over “an extended period of time in several locations”.

After the procession in Tabriz, the bodies of Raisi, 63 and Amirabdollahian, 60, will be transferred to Tehran for another ceremony.

Before that Serdar said that later on Tuesday the bodies would be taken to Qom, a city in central Iran of great religious significance, for another ceremony and then moved to the capital.

On Wednesday, a larger ceremony will take place in Tehran, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expected to lead the prayers and foreign dignitaries in attendance.

Raisi’s body will then be taken to Mashhad, the country’s second largest city located in the northeast, where he had been born and raised.

Organisers in Mashhad said they are planning a “glorious” burial on Thursday for Raisi in the holy city.

Source: Aljazeera

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