Categories
World News

U.S. charges ex-Panama president's sons with bribery, money laundering

GUATEMALA CITY/PANAMA CITY (Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors have charged two sons of former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli in connection with bribery and money laundering linked to Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, according to a federal complaint unsealed on Monday.

Luis Enrique Martinelli, 38, and Ricardo Alberto Martinelli, 40, were arrested earlier in the day in Guatemala City as they attempted to board a flight to Panama, and face extradition to the United States, Guatemala’s police said in a statement.

A Martinelli family spokesman did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the charges.

But the family said in a statement following the arrest that it was working to ensure the sons have legal assistance in Guatemala and are able to transfer the proceedings to Panama.

Odebrecht has been at the center of a far-reaching Latin American corruption scandal uncovered in 2014, in which the company paid more than $700 million in bribes to government officials in various countries.

The U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement the Martinelli sons are accused of having been intermediaries for the payment of about $28 million in bribes from Odebrecht to a high-ranking Panama official between 2009 and 2014, the period in which their father was in office.

The criminal complaint filed in the federal court in Brooklyn, New York, on June 27, described the brothers as “close relatives” of the official, without providing further detail.

The complaint also alleges that the pair managed secret bank accounts under shell company names to facilitate payment of the bribes, with many transactions made through U.S. banks.

Former President Martinelli and his successor, Juan Carlos Varela, were last week banned from leaving Panama while under investigation for money laundering in separate corruption cases.

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World News

GZERO VIDEO: Covid-19 threatens to push US and China even further apart

NEW YORK (GZERO MEDIA) – Who is to blame for the outbreak of the coronavirus?

The topic is an interesting one considering an unusual public spat between China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian and China’s ambassador to the US, Mr Cui Tiankai.

On March 12, Mr Zhao suggested in a tweet that the US military might have brought the virus to Wuhan.

When asked about Mr Zhao’s comments in an interview with Axios On HBO, Mr Cui opposed the theory, saying that such speculation is “harmful.”

The split amongst Beijing’s diplomatic corps is rare considering that the countries’ officials stick closely to the Communist Party’s official line.

But the blame does not matter as much as the global community’s response to the virus’ impacts, says American foreign policy expert Ian Bremmer.

The number of coronavirus infections has now exceeded 3 million, many countries have travel restrictions in place and economies are taking a hit.

“Millions have been forced out of work and this ongoing feud between superpowers is making it that much harder to come up with a unified plan,” he says.

The one thing that is certain is that the Covid-19 pandemic has only placed further strain on US-China relations in an already heightened moment of competition and rivalry between the two nations.

This GZERO media video is being shown here as part of a media partnership agreement with The Straits Times.

Read the latest on the Covid-19 situation in Singapore and beyond on our dedicated site here.

Get The Straits Times app and receive breaking news alerts and more. Download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store now.

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Categories
Economy

Fed bank branch president says US recovery may be levelling off: FT

BENGALURU (REUTERS) – Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank president Raphael Bostic said the US economic recovery is in danger of stalling due to the recent spike in coronavirus cases across many American states.

High-frequency data had shown a “levelling off” of economic activity both in terms of business openings and mobility, he told the Financial Times newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday (July 7).

“There are a couple of things that we are seeing and some of them are troubling and might suggest that the trajectory of this recovery is going to be a bit bumpier than it might otherwise,” he told the newspaper.

“And so we’re watching this very closely, trying to understand exactly what’s happening.”

California, Texas and Florida are all among two dozen US states reporting high infection rates as a percentage of diagnostic tests conducted over the past week, an alarming sign of a virus still spreading largely unchecked throughout much of the country.

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World News

Japan warns of more heavy rain in flood-hit areas

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan warned of more heavy rain on the southwestern island of Kyushu on Tuesday as the death toll in flood-hit areas reached at least 50, with more than a dozen people reported missing.

“The rain front is expected to remain until the ninth (of July), and rain is expected over a wide front stretching from western to eastern Japan,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a regular press briefing, urging people to take the necessary precautions to ensure their safety.

Japan on Monday issued a flood warning to more than half a million people living in three prefectures on Kyushu, including Nagasaki, Saga and Fukuoka. Police, Self Defense Force and Coast Guard units are conducting search and rescue effort, Suga said.

Images aired by public broadcaster NHK, showed swollen rivers, destroyed homes and roads covered in landslides.

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Categories
World News

Morning News Call – India, July 7

To access a PDF version of this newsletter, please click here here
    
    If you would like to receive this newsletter via email, please register at:
here
    
    
    FACTORS TO WATCH
    11:00 am: Junior Finance Minister Anurag Thakur and NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh
Kant at “FICCI FRAMES 2020” in New Delhi. 
    
    
    LIVECHAT - REUTERS GLOBAL MARKETS FORUM
    Nikita Singareddy, investor at early-stage VC firm RRE Ventures discusses
the pressures faced by healthcare systems due to the pandemic, the ways
healthcare is likely to change due to it and the impact tech investing can have
in responding this challenge. To join the conversation at 7:30 pm IST, click on
the link: refini.tv/2P8N0Wp
    
    
    INDIA TOP NEWS
    • India reviewing around 50 investment proposals from Chinese firms -
sources
    The Indian government is reviewing around 50 investment proposals involving
Chinese companies under a new screening policy, three sources familiar with the
matter told Reuters.
    • Mylan prices its generic remdesivir in India at 4,800 rupees per 100 mg
vial
    Mylan said on Monday it would launch a generic version of Gilead's COVID-19
antiviral remdesivir in India at 4,800 rupees, about 80% below the price tag on
the drug for wealthy nations.
    • India tallies third-highest coronavirus cases but death rate low 
    India on Monday overtook Russia to record the world's third-highest number
of coronavirus infections at nearly 700,000, even as its hardest-hit state said
it will allow hotels to reopen this week.
    • China begins pulling back troops near site of India border clash, Indian
sources say
    China began pulling back troops from along its contested border with India
on Monday, Indian government sources said, following a clash between the two
countries last month in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed.
    • Probe into deadly south Indian gas leak finds LG Polymers negligent
    An investigation into a gas leak that killed 12 people at a plant run by LG
Polymers in southern India in May found the company was negligent and warning
systems were not working, the local state government said on Monday.

    • Vistara in talks with planemakers, lessors to delay taking delivery of
some aircraft
    Indian airline Vistara is in talks with planemakers and leasing companies to
delay taking delivery of some aircraft, the carrier's chief strategy officer
said on Monday, as COVID-19 hits demand for air travel.
    • Coal India workers strike cuts output by 56% - official
    A strike at Coal India cut production by 56% in the three days ending July 4
as workers oppose opening up coal mining to the private sector, a senior company
official told Reuters.
    • Lockdown cuts India's April tea output by 54% y/y-Board
    India's April tea output fell 54% from a year earlier to 39.02 million
kilograms (kg) as restrictions to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus
reduced plucking in the top producing north-eastern state of Assam, the
state-run Tea Board said on Monday.
        
    
    GLOBAL TOP NEWS
    • U.S. pandemic aid program saved 51.1 mln jobs, but wealthy and connected
also benefited
    A high-profile pandemic aid program protected about 51.1 million American
jobs, the Trump administration said on Monday, as it revealed how $521.4 billion
in taxpayer cash was injected into small businesses but also into the pockets of
the rich and famous.
    • U.S. trade groups urge China to increase purchases of U.S. goods, services
    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and over 40 trade associations on Monday urged
top American and Chinese officials to redouble efforts to implement a Phase 1
trade agreement signed by the world's two largest economies in January despite
pandemic-related strains.
    • Japan's household spending slumps by record as curbs hit travel, dining
out
    Japan's household spending fell at the fastest pace on record in May as
consumers heeded authorities' calls to stay home to contain the coronavirus
pandemic, pushing the world's third-largest economy deeper into decline.

    
    
    LOCAL MARKETS OUTLOOK
    (As reported by NewsRise)
    • SGX Nifty nearest-month futures were 0.3% lower at 10,729.00.
    • The Indian rupee is expected to open higher against the U.S. currency,
tracking a Chinese yuan-led decline on the dollar.
    • Indian federal government bond yields are likely to trade largely
unchanged in early session ahead of a fresh supply of state debt. The yield on
the benchmark 5.79% bond maturing in 2030 is likely to trade in a range of
5.81%-5.86% today.
    
    
    GLOBAL MARKETS
    • U.S. stocks rose sharply on Monday as a rebound in U.S. services industry
activity in June and expectations of a revival in China's economy boosted
optimism, helping investors look past a surge in new coronavirus cases in the
United States.
    • Asian shares hit a speed bump following a surge in the previous session.

    • The dollar nursed losses and riskier currencies added a fraction to
galloping gains, after better-than-expected U.S. services data provided the
latest boost to confidence in a worldwide economic recovery from the COVID-19
pandemic.
    • U.S. Treasury yields edged higher on Monday as investors focused on an
eventual economic rebound from the coronavirus, and as traders priced in
auctions this week that will increase the supply of the low-risk debt.
    • Oil prices cautiously rose in early trade with major producers sticking to
supply cuts, but gains were capped as U.S. coronavirus cases surged, potentially
hampering a recovery in fuel demand.
    • Gold prices edged higher, hovering near an eight-year high, as concerns
over surging coronavirus cases around the world kept bullion's safety demand
elevated.
    
    
                   CLOSE        FII INVESTMENTS  EQUITIES         DEBT
 PNDF spot         74.69/74.72  July 6           620.73 crores    (128.80) crores
 10-yr bond yield  5.84 pct     Month-to-date    (3,338) crores   88 crores
                                Year-to-date     (21,851) crores  (1,06,871) crores
 
    
    (FII investment numbers are in Indian rupees. Source: National Securities
Depository Limited)​

    For additional data:
    India govt bond market volumes                 
    Stock market reports                
    Non-deliverable forwards data              
    Corporate debt stories               [IN CORPD]
    Local market closing/intraday levels [IN SNAPSHOT]
    Monthly inflows                      [INFLOWS RTRS TABLE IN]
    
    ($1 = 74.63 Indian rupees)



 (Compiled by Pranay Prakash in Bengaluru)
  

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Categories
World News

Melania Trump’s former aide to publish book

A former aide to Melania Trump has written a memoir about her 15-year friendship with the US first lady.

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s book, Melania and Me, is due out on 1 September.

In 2018, Ms Winston Wolkoff was reportedly forced out of the White House, amid allegations that she had been profiteering from President Trump’s inauguration.

But the former aide has said she was “thrown under the bus”.

She denied claims her company received $26 million (£20 million) in payments to help plan the 2017 ceremony and surrounding events, saying her firm “retained a total of $1.62 million”.

“In her memoir, Wolkoff chronicles her journey from their friendship that started in New York to her role as the First Lady’s trusted advisor to her abrupt and very public departure, to life after Washington,” according to a description of the book published by Vanity Fair.

The book, which will be on sale ahead of the November presidential election – when Mr Trump will take on Democrat nominee Joe Biden, is the latest controversial memoir involving the Trumps.

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s new book, The Room Where It Happened, portrays a president ignorant of basic geopolitical facts and whose decisions were frequently driven by a desire for re-election.

He accuses Mr Trump of wanting help from China to win re-election, while offering approval for China’s plan to build forced-labour camps for its Muslim Uighur minority. He also backs up Democrat allegations that sparked impeachment efforts against the president.

Meanwhile, the president’s niece, Mary Trump, is due to publish Too Much And Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man later this month.

An Amazon blurb for the book says the author will set out how her uncle “became the man who now threatens the world’s health, economic security and social fabric”.

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Categories
World News

GZERO VIDEO: The old US-led order is gone

NEW YORK (GZERO MEDIA) – The world is less likely to return to the old US-led global order and it turns out, America may not even want to. 

American foreign policy expert Ian Bremmer says that the US’ interest in supporting an American-first unilateralist policy is eroding, due to ongoing domestic opposition, soaring unemployment rates and fewer gains from global allies.

“…American power internationally is also going to feel like it’s getting less from allies, not more. I mean, Nato is not aligned towards dealing with China, but China is the principle concern,” he said.

Mr Bremmer also noted that no matter who wins America’s 2020 presidential elections, the old geopolitical order led by the US will be hindered by its reliance on alignment with countries around the world.

An example of this is the weakening transatlantic relationship that is debilitated by Euro-sceptic and anti-establishment sentiments across Europe.

“The UK, as you know, has already left the European Union making it weaker, and the European Union itself is under a lot more strain…there are existential questions that come from coronavirus as to whether the EU will even still be in place in three years time…”

On the other hand, technology firms in the US will be the big winners coming out of the coronavirus crisis as an overwhelming amount of tech firms dominating the global economy are American.

This GZERO media video is being shown here as part of a media partnership agreement with The Straits Times.

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Categories
Business

U.S. home solar installer Sunrun to buy Vivint Solar for about $1.46 billion

(Reuters) – Sunrun Inc (RUN.O) said on Monday it will buy Blackstone-backed peer Vivint Solar (VSLR.N) for about $1.46 billion in an all-stock deal, as the top U.S. residential solar installers look to solidify their market position.

The deal will also help Sunrun compete better with Tesla Inc’s (TSLA.O) SolarCity in a residential solar market, which, according to the companies, has reached only 3% penetration in the United States.

Vivint Solar shareholders will receive 0.55 of Sunrun common stock for each share held, representing a premium of 10.4% to Vivint’s Monday close.

The deal, unanimously approved by the companies’ boards, is valued at $3.2 billion including debt.

Blackstone Group Inc (BX.N) owns a 55.84% stake in Vivint Solar, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.

The private equity company bought Vivint Solar’s parent, Vivint Inc, in 2012 for more than $2 billion. Vivint Solar went public in 2014.

The deal is expected to close by the fourth quarter of 2020 and deliver annual cost savings of about $90 million, the companies said.

Credit Suisse Securities was the financial adviser to Sunrun, while Morgan Stanley and BofA Securities advised Vivint.

Vivint Solar in May reported an adjusted loss of $1.01 per share in its first-quarter results while withdrawing its full-year forecast. Sunrun posted a net loss of 23 cents per share for the same period.

Business Insider reported in April that Sunrun had laid off at least 100 workers and furloughed another 60 due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

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Categories
Travel

Reflections from Bolivia

Up in the cloudless sky, a million stars twinkled.

I had traipsed across South America and capped my 40-day adventure in Bolivia. 2020 was off to a great start and I could not wait for the rest of it.

But towards the end of my trip in February, posts of a yet-unnamed outbreak began filling my Facebook feed. I returned home to a figment of my former lifestyle.

It will be a while before people can wander again, but we can still savour our journeys retrospectively. Here are six experiences from Bolivia that have helped me navigate the present.

1 Adapting to a new normal

Mijael, our chirpy Bolivian driver-cum-guide, picked my fellow travellers and me up in the Chilean desert town of San Pedro de Atacama. It was a scenic two-hour ascent to the Chile-Bolivia border post, nestled at 4,400m between pretty, snow-capped Andean mountains.

Nearly 30 per cent of Bolivia is above 3,000m and the air lacks oxygen. Travellers are thus prone to altitude sickness. Quick ascents, over-exertion and alcohol consumption can increase the effects.

I paid the price for my foolery when I ran around taking selfies. In the hours that followed, I experienced headache and nausea.

After a day of rest, my body got used to the thin air and I fully enjoyed the rest of my Bolivian days.

2 Helping one another

My Singaporean friend Ling and I joined four others on the three-day tour to Bolivia’s famous salt flats. Crammed with us in a hardy jeep was New Yorker Courtney, Canadian Scott and Dutch couple Adriaan and Nikki.

We were an easy-going bunch and shared the same quest to visit Bolivia, our dream destination.

The journey was rough with bumpy roads, long distances and freezing weather, but we knew, for better or worse, we were in this together.

Altitude sickness struck Scott first and Ling shared some coca leaves, which apparently combat its effects. When I fell ill, Scott gave me anti-altitude sickness pills. When we both suffered at the same time, the rest looked after us.

We swopped sweaters constantly because we did not pack enough warm clothes. At photo stops, we helped one another take copious posterity shots. We were as diverse as our hair colours, but shared a kindred kampung spirit.

3 Isolation and connection

Even if the landscape is extraordinary or locals embrace you warmly, it can feel overwhelmingly lonely at times, especially when travelling solo like I often do.

COVID-19 ADVISORY 

International flights to and from Bolivia are suspended and land crossings are closed until further notice.

For updates on Bolivia’s Covid-19 restrictions, go to the website of the US Embassy in Bolivia (bo.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information).

For Bolivia’s Covid-19 situation, go to its Ministry of Health website (www.minsalud.gob.bo)

But nowadays, even in the remotest places, there is probably a Wi-Fi hot spot that can virtually zap you home. Whether it is to share a magical drive through the Andes or the frenetic vibes of a traditional Uyuni street market, going “live” to loved ones is just a click away.

It is ironic, but it takes either an awesome experience or an unexpected tragedy like a global pandemic to remind people how much they yearn to connect.

4 Appreciating nature

Bolivia’s interior is a canvas of stunning lakes, uplifting mountains, moonscape deserts and surreal salt flats. The mighty Amazon rainforest flourishes in the country too.

We passed pools of natural hot springs, valleys with towering rock formations, and massive serpentine canyons.

However, Bolivia’s multi-hued Altiplano lakes are from another world.

A short distance from a massive hissing fumarole field is the most beautiful lake of all – Laguna Colorada. Guarded by shadowy mountains, the red-tinted salt lake is home to hundreds of roosting pink flamingos and the odd camelid.

While the six of us “ooh-ed” and “aah-ed” at the scenery, Mijael commented that he had driven past the lake so often, he was bored of it.

It got me thinking: People often pay to travel the world and gawk at nature, but these free sights, sounds and sensations are also in their backyard.

During these quieter days in Singapore, I have suddenly noticed more flowers and choruses of birds.

5 Believing in the journey

We set off at 4am for Salar de Uyuni. At more than 12,000 sq km in size, the world’s biggest salt flat is also the planet’s flattest place.

It had not rained for several days, so most of it was accessible when we arrived. Mijael drove almost three hours on unmarked ground in near darkness, guided only by a faint image of Mount Tunupa to the north.

As the first golden streaks of dawn broke, we saw the salt flat’s iconic polygonal patterns that stretched to infinity. White ground merged into blue sky as the horizon blurred and it looked like we were floating on clouds.

Mijael was determined to show us the perfect photography spot in the 40,000-year-old dried-up lake.

It was a little unnerving, not knowing our final destination. But we knew we would ultimately get there.

Many times when we travel – and in our lives too – long, difficult or unpredictable journeys are the ones that create precious lessons and memories, and take us to the most remarkable places.

6 Gratitude in counting stars

Bolivia was not on my initial itinerary because of its uncertain political climate. It was also the rainy season.

But I decided to make the detour and the country turned out to be a serendipitous highlight.

I was lucky to have a bunch of fun-loving jeep mates. We laughed, shivered and fell sick together, which only bonded us closer.

After a round of drinks on the last night, I stepped out of our salt hotel, where almost everything from its walls to beds to the restaurant are made from salt bricks.

It was chilly outside, but I did not flinch. The Milky Way spread overhead and it was humbling to feel like a speck in the universe.

It often takes ground-breaking moments to jolt us. Whether in Bolivia or at home, in a surreal time like this, even the small things should make us count our lucky stars.

• Ryandall Lim is a freelance travel writer who is counting down to Earth’s grand reopening by reliving past adventures and planning his next exotic vacation.

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Categories
Economy

Japan household spending slumps as curbs hit travel, dining out

TOKYO (REUTERS) – Japan’s household spending fell at the fastest pace on record in May as consumers heeded the authorities’ calls to stay home to contain the coronavirus pandemic, pushing the world’s third-largest economy deeper into decline.

The large spending drop will add to growing pressure on policymakers to ramp up moves to restore confidence among businesses and in particular consumers.

Household spending slumped 16.2 per cent in May from a year earlier, government data showed on Tuesday (July 7), falling at the quickest pace since comparable data became available in 2001.

The drop, which was larger than a median market forecast for a 12.2 per cent fall, extended an 11.1 per cent decline in April.

A spending recovery is expected to be slow and fragile as households remain reluctant to loosen the purse strings even after a nationwide state of emergency was lifted in May.

“The pace of recovery is worrying,” said Atsushi Takeda, chief economist at Itochu Economic Research Institute.

“Even though the government has rolled out policy measures, it’s difficult for their impact to come out quickly.”

MIXED PICTURE

Still, the Bank of Japan is expected to maintain its view in its quarterly report next week that the economy will gradually recover later this year.

Tuesday’s data showed large cuts in spending on hotels, transportation and eating out as people stayed at home.

On the other hand, stay-home policies boosted spending on pork and beef, alcohol and sanitary goods like face masks and paper towels.

Last year’s unprecedented 10-day Golden Week holiday to celebrate the enthronement of then Crown Prince Naruhito made the drop in spending more pronounced, partly due to larger than usual spending on tourism in 2019, a government official said.

Overall, the outlook for household spending for the months ahead is dim due to an anticipated rise in job losses, especially among service-sector firms, which is weighing on sentiment.

Separate data on Tuesday showed May inflation-adjusted real wages dropped at the fastest pace since June 2015, adding to signs of stress in the labour market.

Policymakers hope a pickup in domestic demand will be strong enough to bring about an economic recovery, as long as the country is able to avert a big second wave of coronavirus infections.

The government already compiled two spending packages worth a combined US$2.2 trillion to offset the hit from the pandemic, which included cash handouts of 100,000 yen (S$1,300) per citizen.

But spending could take a larger hit going forward if the worsening business outlook forces firms to slash workers’ bonuses, especially in winter, or lay off more workers.

“That, in turn, could cause income levels to drop further,” said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.

“I think a phase of worsening consumption will strengthen in the second half of the year.”

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