Former Thai premier Abhisit fends off challengers to retain Democrat Party leadership

BANGKOK – Former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has fended off challengers to retain his seat as Democrat Party chief, as political parties around the kingdom intensified preparations for an election tentatively set for next February.

The 54-year-old pipped rivals Dr Warong Dechgitvigrom and Mr Alongkorn Ponlaboot to the post after an extended cross-country campaign, winning 67,505 votes out of more than 120,000 cast by Democrat members nationwide. His nearest challenger was Dr Warong, who received 57,689 votes.

Mr Abhisit declined to answer questions from the media after his victory was announced early Saturday afternoon, saying he would make a statement on Sunday (Nov11).

He now leads Thailand’s oldest political party into an uncertain political landscape in a country still under military rule.

Several members of the military government have cited Feb 24 as the tentative election date. Deputy prime minister Wissanu Krea-ngam told reporters on Thursday: “Whether or not the date is Feb 24 is up to the Election Commission, not the National Council for Peace and Order. We are all aware at this moment that it will likely be Feb 24 but it will be the Election Commission that confirms it.”

The National Council for Peace and Order refers to the ruling junta, which has continued to wield absolute power since a military coup in 2014.

Key political players meanwhile are keeping their cards close to their chests. The longtime ban on political activity was only lifted partially in September, but election campaigning is still banned.

Prime minister and coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha, despite recently launching several social media accounts and extensively touring the country, has yet to announce his candidacy.

The Puea Thai party, which won a landslide victory in the last election in 2011, unveiled a leadership line-up last month that conspicuously kept some of its most important figures out of executive posts.

Meanwhile, the scions of several Puea Thai politicians were unveiled this week as key members of a new party called the Thai Raksa Chart Party led by former Puea Thai lawmaker Preechapol Pongpanit.

This sparked talk that it was a “back-up party” for Puea Thai. Its earlier iterations were dissolved by court rulings over the past decade.

Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who headed the Puea Thai-led government from 2011 to 2014, is living in exile to avoid a jail sentence for negligence. Her brother Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted by a coup in 2006 and is also living abroad to evade a jail sentence.

Thailand’s constitution was rewritten after the 2014 coup to introduce proportional representation, which makes it difficult for one big party like Puea Thai to dominate elections as happened previously.

Speaking to The Straits Times, Thai Raksa Chart’s registrar Chayika Wongnapachant, who is also Yingluck’s niece, denied that her party was a “back-up” for Puea Thai but appeared to affirm suggestions by observers that it was set up to secure the most seats possible for Puea Thai and its allies under the new electoral system.

“We are not a ‘back-up’ party. We are our own party,” she stressed. “The person who drafted the Constitution wanted Thailand to have many political parties. So it’s natural that former members of parliament who want to continue serving as MPs after the next election have to find a way to continue serving the people.”

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Malaysia's Cabinet approves legal changes allowing students to engage in politics

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Malaysia’s Cabinet has approved legal amendments that will allow college and university students to participate in political activities on campus.

The amendments to the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) 1971 will involve abolishing sections which curtail students’ questioning of politicians and prevent students from engaging in party events where they study, said Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik in a media statement on Saturday (Nov 10).

He said this move is in line with the political transformation brought by the government in strengthening democracy and to provide more room for university students to speak up and engage in political activities on campus.

This move will also produce graduates who are “balanced” and able to “express opinions” on current issues, he said.

The government has also announced plans to lower the voting age to 18 years old, from 21 years old currently.

The UUCA provisions were tightened up to restrict student activism in 1975, after the landmark Baling protests of Dec 1974.

That was when thousands of university students demonstrated in the small town of Baling, Kedah, in solidarity with rubber tappers who were struggling to make ends meet after global rubber prices collapsed.

They were led by then-prominent student activists like current prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim and social activist Hishamuddin Rais.

Since 1975, the restrictions have applied to students not only at public universities, but also at private higher education institutions, polytechnics, community colleges and teacher institutes.

Dr Maszlee said that the draft bill on the proposed amendment of several UUCA provisions is expected to be tabled at the current Parliament session, which will end in mid-December.

The amendments also involve the Private Higher Education Institutions Act 1996 (Act 555) and the Education Institutions (Discipline) Act 1976 (Act 174).

Dr Maszlee said the approved amendments are a positive development as some provisions in the current UUCA need to be changed to suit the new government’s transformation plans.

He added that this is just the first step in transforming higher education in line with the advancements of technology and information, as the Ministry wants a new higher education law to replace the UUCA by 2020.

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Record number of military vessels to be involved in this year's Singapore-India Maritime Bilateral Exercise

SINGAPORE – A record number of military hardware – aircraft, ships and submarines – are participating in this year’s maritime bilateral exercise between the Singapore and Indian navies, the Ministry of Defence said on Saturday (Nov 10).

Now in its 25th year, the Singapore-India Maritime Bilateral Exercise (Simbex) will feature about 30 participating air, sea and underwater assets from the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and the Indian Navy in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.

The exercise, which starts from Saturday until Nov 21, will see sailors from both navies train together in live firing exercises and naval warfare drills. Senior navy officers from Singapore and India will also make official calls to the other side.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen will visit Simbex on Nov 20 too, said Mindef.

He will also be co-chairing the 3rd India-Singapore Defence Ministers’ Dialogue with India’s Minister of Defence Nirmala Sitharaman on the previous day (Nov 19).

Both ministers will also witness the exchange of a renewed Army bilateral agreement, a long-term deal which allows joint exercises and training between both armies.

The army agreement was last renewed in 2013, while the bilateral navy and air force agreements were exchanged last year (2017).

This year’s Simbex will feature anti-air, anti-surface, and anti-submarine warfare exercise scenarios, growing in scope and complexity from the first Simbex in 1994, which focused on anti-submarine warfare, said Mindef.

It was in the exercise in 2003 when the RSN became the first South-east Asian navy to successfully fire a torpedo against a moving submarine.

“Since the first exercise in 1994, the RSN has enhanced its capability in anti-submarine warfare with the deployment of a range of assets with anti-submarine capabilities, such as the missile corvettes, anti-submarine patrol vessels, frigates, submarines, and naval air assets,” said Mindef.

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Tim Leissner, in unsealed 1MDB plea, cites Goldman Sachs 'culture' of secrecy

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) – Goldman Sachs’s former top banker in Asia says the culture of secrecy at the investment bank led him to conceal wrongdoing from the company’s compliance staff.

Now, Tim Leissner is in a position to help prosecutors peel back the curtain.

In his guilty plea, which was unsealed on Friday (Nov 10), Leissner said others at the bank helped him conceal bribes used to retain business in Malaysia, suggesting he has more to offer prosecutors.

The heavily redacted transcript doesn’t indicate whether he is cooperating with authorities. But the judge warned him that under federal sentencing guidelines he faces decades in prison. Providing useful information to prosecutors might help Leissner get a more lenient sentence.

Leissner’s Aug 28 statement to the judge may give prosecutors more leverage to go after the bank, and other executives, for their roles in raising US$6.5 billion (S$9 billion) for the Malaysian fund, 1MDB. Prosecutors say more than US$4 billion was siphoned off by friends and family of the nation’s prime minister, among others.

“I conspired with other employees and agents of Goldman Sachs very much in line of its culture of Goldman Sachs to conceal facts from certain compliance and legal employees of Goldman Sachs,” Leissner said.

Mr Michael DuVally, a spokesman for Goldman, didn’t have an immediate comment. The bank has said it believed proceeds of debt sales it underwrote were for development projects and that Leissner withheld information from the firm.

In his plea, Leissner acknowledged lying to compliance officials at Goldman about the role in the fund played by Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, the alleged mastermind of the fraud.

“I knew that concealing Jho Low’s involvement as an intermediary was contrary to Goldman Sachs’s stated internal policies and procedures,” he said. “I and several other employees of Goldman Sachs at the time also concealed that we knew that Jho Low was promising and paying bribes and kickbacks to foreign officials to obtain and retain 1MDB business for Goldman Sachs, for the benefit of Goldman Sachs and myself.”

Goldman has been under scrutiny for years over its role in raising money for 1MDB and for the fees it earned – about US$600 million.

1MDB is at the centre of a global scandal involving claims of embezzlement and money laundering, which have triggered investigations in the US, Singapore, Switzerland and beyond and helped drive Malaysia’s former leader from power.

In 2015, after the scandal spilled into public view, Goldman began investigating Leissner and eventually suspended him. He left the following year. Goldman’s lawyers scoured Leissner’s records and provided evidence to prosecutors that he deceived them, not only in lying about his management of the Malaysian fund raising, but in other unrelated matters, people familiar with the matter have said.

Charges against Leissner, Low and Goldman banker Roger Ng were unsealed in the US this month.

Leissner had secretly pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder money and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act at the August hearing. He’s free on US$20 million bail.

Leissner told the judge he took part in the money laundering, bribery and kickbacks from 2009 to 2014 in an effort to acquire and execute the “strategic” 1MDB transaction to benefit himself and Goldman. He said the goal was to influence Malaysian officials so that Goldman would get 1MDB’s business.

Goldman has told prosecutors its comprehensive review of Leissner’s conduct determined that the German-born investment banker violated its internal policies by failing to disclose business investments, including a US$1 million stake in an African energy company, Signet Petroleum, and a 2 million euro (S$3 million) stake in a German insurance start-up, Friendsurance, according to two people familiar with the matter.

In early 2016, shortly after the first public reports of wrongdoing at 1MDB, the bank said it discovered that Leissner had written a letter of recommendation for Jho Low – falsely claiming, the bank says, that Goldman had done due diligence on Low’s family wealth and approved him as a client with no regulatory concerns.

In fact, Goldman had rejected Low as a private wealth management client on several occasions.

Ng was arrested in Malaysia last week at the request of US authorities. He’s filing an application to review the US detention and extradition order, said people familiar with the case, who asked not to be identified as the deliberations are private.

Separately, Ng and his family have agreed to surrender about S$40 million to authorities in neighbouring Singapore, which would then repatriate the funds to Malaysia, the people said.

According to federal filings, Low was closely involved in helping Goldman Sachs win the Malaysian business even as Leissner and others were already working to shield his role from its compliance group.

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Singapore Tourism Board event in Jakarta attracts hundreds of millennials

JAKARTA – The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is out to interest millennials in Indonesia in visiting Singapore.

Sneakers, streetwear, music and dance shows were on offer on Friday (Nov 9) at the start of a three-day event in Jakarta organised by STB. The event also featured trailers of YouTube short films about trips to Singapore by young Indonesian visitors with different passions.

At least 300 visitors, mostly alerted to the event by invites on social media, started queuing outside a function room at a Jakarta shopping mall, two to three hours before it opened its doors on Friday.

“I arrived outside 8.30am and we were allowed in at about 11.30am. I am here first of all because of the sneaker event. The Singapore tourism part is a bonus worth checking out as well,” college student, Mr Belva Fulvian, told The Straits Times.

The weekend event is part of STB’s campaign to introduce the Passion Made Possible brand that was launched last year.

Passion Made Possible is the brand used by STB to market Singapore internationally for tourism purposes. The brand targets tourists based on their lifestyle and travel interests, categorising them into “tribes” such as foodies and explorers.

STB’s three episodes of short films about Indonesian visitors to Singapore, which will be released from Nov 28, will offer touching stories, noted Mr Raymond Lim, area director of STB Indonesia.

“Our brand is about story-telling, about telling people the passions that they have, they can fulfil them in Singapore,” said Mr Lim, adding that one of the films is about a young woman who must choose between her boyfriend and pursuing her passions. She then takes a trip to Singapore, where she gets in touch with her true self and learns about following her dreams.

Every year, about three million Indonesians visit Singapore, the second largest foreign visitor group after those from China. The third largest group is from India.

Mr Lim said the majority of foreign visitors to Singapore are families with children.

“But we are also seeing that the people coming to Singapore are getting younger. We need to start talking to younger people,” he said, referring to those who have just started to work.

On whether the weakening rupiah against the Singapore dollar has had any impact on Indonesian tourist arrivals, Mr Lim said arrival numbers for January to September this year are growing by about 3.6 per cent compared with the same period last year.

“That itself shows resilience. There would definitely be impact but we are happy we are still seeing growth,” he added.

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Don't get scammed while shopping online on Singles' Day, Black Friday: Police, SingCERT

SINGAPORE – Those hoping to have an online shopping spree on Black Friday and Singles’ Day should be careful not to get scammed, the authorities have warned.

In a statement on Saturday morning (Nov 10), the police said that scammers look to cheat victims eager to take advantage of big discounts.

Singles’ Day, falling on Nov 11 (also known as 11.11), is a 24-hour multibillion-dollar sales event that popular online retailers like Taobao, Zalora, and Amazon typically take part in.

Black Friday, originally a US shopping promotion, is on Nov 23.

In a separate statement, the Singapore Computer Emergency Response Team (SingCERT) also warned against a variety of scams with the coming holiday season and series of promotions, including Cyber Monday and Thanksgiving.

These include phishing websites and e-mails, and scams involving impersonation, greeting cards, travel, and text messages.

“Such scams are popularly employed by hackers who lure shoppers with too-good-to-be-true discounts to entice them to click on links and complete their transactions on fraudulent websites,” it said.

In its statement, the police added that they received more than 1,800 reports of e-commerce scams involving $1.5 million cheated between January and September.

“Victims typically fell prey to bogus offers that were advertised on online platforms like Carousell. Items were not received after payments were made,” it said.

The police advised members of the public to refrain from being impulsive, and to be wary of online advertisements with overly cheap prices.

It also warned against making advance payments and said that scammers may use local bank accounts or identification document to make themselves seem legitimate.

SingCERT also advised against using public Wi-Fi networks for financial transactions, and to avoid clicking on links in promotional e-mails or text messages.

Instead, one should visit the official website by typing its address into a web browser, and check if the website has a “lock” icon in the address bar.

This indicates that the site is legitimate and trustworthy as it has a Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL certificate which enables encryption.

More information can be found at 1800-722-6688 or . Those wishing to report scams may do so at 1800-255-0000 or

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White House adviser Navarro says Wall Street should stay out of U.S.-China trade talks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House adviser Peter Navarro on Friday sharply criticized efforts by current and former Wall Street executives to urge the United States and China to resolve their trade dispute, calling them “unregistered foreign agents” who were trying to pressure President Donald Trump into a deal.

“When these unpaid foreign agents engage in this kind of diplomacy, so-called diplomacy, all they do is weaken this president and his negotiating position. No good can come of this. If there is a deal, if and when there is a deal, it will be on President Donald J. Trump’s terms, not Wall Street terms,” Navarro said in remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

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Scoot flight to Berlin delayed 10 hours due to technical defect, replacement aircraft assigned

SINGAPORE – Passengers on a Scoot flight departing Singapore for Berlin were stranded for more than 10 hours on Friday morning (Nov 9) as technical difficulties prevented the plane from taking off.

Flight TR734 was scheduled to depart Changi Airport at 1.10am on Friday morning, but only took off at 11.55am.

The flight is scheduled to land at Berlin Tegel Airport at 5.24pm (Berlin time), according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24.

When contacted by The Straits Times, Scoot said that a technical issue was detected from the aircraft’s spoilers.

“Due to operational restrictions imposed by the technical defect, a replacement aircraft was assigned,” Scoot said in a statement.

A new set of crew was activated for the delayed flight to ensure flight time limits were observed, Scoot added.

One passenger, Facebook user Vedran Capro P, wrote that passengers had to board and disembark the plane twice, first due to technical problems and second due to the crew changeover.

“Communication of the incident was not straightforward and we were mostly kept in the dark,” the Facebook user said.

Scoot said that passengers were provided with meals and refreshments during the delay, and apologised for the inconvenience caused to passengers.

“Safety is critical and Scoot will always ensure that this is utmost in our considerations,” the airline added.

The first Singapore-Berlin flight was launched on June 20 this year and is operated four times a week. The route takes 12 hours 30 minutes from Singapore to Berlin, and 13 hours for the return.

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U.S. OPIC signs $100 million loan deal with Africell

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – African telecoms firm Africell on Friday signed a $100 million loan agreement to fund an expansion of its communications infrastructure with U.S. development financier the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).

The deal was signed on the sidelines of the African Development Bank’s Africa Investment Forum in Johannesburg, and forms part of the OPIC’s $1 billion investment in African infrastructure and technology launched earlier in 2018.

Africell’s chief investment officer Ian Paterson told journalists at the signing of the deal that the financing would be used in the markets where the company is already operating rather than expansion into new markets.

“We will be looking to invest the proceeds to expand our networks, develop new products and services, really using the platform of customers we have today and trying to layer on more value added services to them,” he said.

Africell boasts 12 million customers in Sierra Leone, Gambia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.

Mobile network access, and particularly increasing data penetration, has had a huge impact in underdeveloped African countries where services like mobile money and microlending have boosted financial inclusion among the unbanked.

“The developmental impacts that having data connectivity and data access does for communities is transformational,” said Worku Gachou, OPIC’s managing director for Africa.

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