Umno lawmaker faces 12 counts of graft and money laundering

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Umno supreme council member Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim claimed trial on Wednesday (Jan 16) to three counts of graft amounting to RM5.2 million (S$1.7 million) over allegations that he helped a local company to obtain government contracts.

The 53-year-old Baling MP and former Tabung Haji chairman was accused of receiving RM1.2 million, RM2 million and RM2 million in three separate transactions from one Mohammad Redzuan Mohanan Abdullah, who is the director of Menuju Asas, as a reward for helping the company.

The projects, valued at RM842.2 million, involved upgrading and building road works in Perak and Kedah.

Abdul Azeez allegedly committed the offences at three different banks between Dec 8, 2010 and April 10, 2018.

He was charged under the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009 which carries a maximum jail term of up to 20 years and a fine of no less than five times the amount of gratification or RM10,000, whichever is higher, upon conviction.

His older brother Abdul Latif, 61, was charged with two counts of abetting him in two alleged transactions involving RM2 million each.

Abdul Azeez was also charged with nine counts of money laundering under the Anti-Money Laundering Act, Anti-Terrorism Financing Act and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001.

He allegedly received proceeds of unlawful activities amounting to RM139.4 million from several companies between March 2010 and August 2018.

Sessions Court judge Azura Alwi fixed bail at RM800,000 in one surety for Abdul Azeez and RM500,000 in one surety for Abdul Latif.

The case is fixed for mention on March 27.

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'Pig' British tourists to be deported from New Zealand after theft, littering, not paying for food

WELLINGTON (AFP) – Members of a British family have been branded “worse than pigs” and face deportation from New Zealand after a spree of bad behaviour that left normally easygoing Kiwis outraged.

The family have been involved in a string of incidents in and around Auckland and Hamilton, including accusations of littering, assault, not paying for restaurant meals and intimidating behaviour.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff led national outcry at the tourists’ antics, demanding the police take action.

“These guys are trash. They are leeches,” he told a local radio station.

“If you say one time ‘I found a hair or an ant in my meal’ you’d believe it but they find it every meal that they have as a way of evading payment. That’s a criminal activity.

“They’re worse than pigs and I’d like to see them out of the country.”

New Zealand’s assistant general manager of immigration, Mr Peter Devoy, said the family had been issued with a deportation notice on the grounds of “matters relating to character”.

One 26-year-old member of the family on Wednesday (Jan 16) pleaded guilty to stealing NZ$55 (S$50.79) worth of goods from a petrol station.

The family attracted extensive media coverage in New Zealand after a video showed them leaving beer boxes, bottles and other rubbish strewn on a popular beach.

When a woman asked them to clean up their litter, a child in the group can be seen on video threatening he would “knock your brains out”.

Stuff Media reported that one family member hit a journalist with her shoe after being approached for comment.

A member of the family told the New Zealand Herald they have now decided to cut short their holiday and will return home this week.

Mr John Johnson insisted his family were of good stock, claimed his grandfather was the “10th richest man in England” and said he was made to feel “very unwelcome” in New Zealand.

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Phishing SMSes target POSB users again; DBS advises customers to stay alert

SINGAPORE – Phishing scams dogging local bank POSB have reared their ugly head again.

Netizens reported receiving text messages from “POSB” purporting to have detected suspicious activity on their bank account, before asking them to follow a link.

A Reddit user claimed to have received a message stating: “This is your personal manager Emma. We detected suspicious activity in your account. Please follow the link posb-dbs-sg.org/?65xxxxxxxx to protect yourself.”

In response to queries, DBS advised its customers to stay alert when browsing online or social media platforms.

“If they encounter any suspicious or unusual activity, which could come from websites, online ads, SMS or emails – they are advised to inform us immediately,” said a DBS spokesman on Wednesday (Jan 16).

Customers can call the bank at 1800-111-1111 or visit www.dbs.com/security for the latest security alerts.

In a joint release last November, DBS and the police said that there had been a resurgence of phishing messages impersonating DBS and POSB.

More than 50 reports of such incidents had been made since Sept 20 last year.

Some examples of fake SMSes include one that claimed suspicious activity was detected in the bank account, and another that said all transactions had been suspended.

Customers were then directed to click on a link to confirm these details.

Bank customers who clicked on the links in the SMS were redirected to a non-DBS website, such as posb.validation-details.info, dbs.account-access.info or posb.account-certification.in.

Members of the public were advised to verify details received from messages purporting to be from banks and not to disclose details such as one-time passwords or personal identification numbers to anyone.

Those who wish to report scams should contact the police at 1800-255-0000 or www.police.gov.sg/iwitness.

More information on scams can be found at 1800-722-6688 or www.scamalert.sg.

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Lighthizer saw no progress on U.S.-China key trade issues: Senator Grassley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer did not see any progress made on structural issues during trade talks with China last week, Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley said on Tuesday.

Grassley, who held a meeting with Lighthizer on Friday, said the top trade negotiator commented very positively on China’s soybean purchases, which resumed in modest amounts last month after Washington and Beijing agreed to a 90-day truce in a trade war that has disrupted the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars of goods.

“But he (Lighthizer) said that there hasn’t been any progress made on structural changes that need to be made,” Grassley said in his weekly conference call with reporters, adding that those issues would include intellectual property, stealing trade secrets and putting pressure on corporations to share information.

The meeting came after mid-level U.S. and Chinese officials met in Beijing to discuss China’s offers to address U.S. complaints about intellectual property theft and increase purchases of U.S. goods and services. The two sides are trying to reach a deal that avoids a scheduled March 2 escalation of U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods.

Grassley said Chinese officials were due to visit Washington for further trade talks in a couple of weeks. “From my point of view … the economy of China is suffering … there is a chance for progress,” he said.

A USTR spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment on Grassley’s remarks to reporters. The news briefly tempered U.S. stock market sentiment.

U.S. officials expect China’s top trade negotiator may visit Washington this month, signaling that higher-level discussions are likely to follow last week’s talks with mid-level officials in Beijing.

Halfway through a 90-day truce in the U.S.-China trade war agreed to on Dec. 1 when Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping met at the G20 summit in Argentina, there have been few details provided of any progress made.

But China has purchased around 5 million tonnes of U.S. soybeans from the 2018 harvest so far. China in 2017 had booked more than 23 million tonnes of U.S. soy, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

China last week during the talks also approved five genetically modified U.S. crops for import, a move that could boost U.S. grain sales to China.

Trump has vowed to increase tariffs to 25 percent from 10 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports on March 2 unless China takes steps to protect U.S. intellectual property, end policies that force American companies to turn over technology to a Chinese partner, allow more market access for U.S. businesses and reduce other non-tariff barriers to American products.

The timeline is seen as ambitious, but the resumption of face-to-face negotiations has bolstered hopes of a deal.

China has repeatedly played down complaints about intellectual property abuses, and has rejected accusations that foreign companies face forced technology transfers.

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Deadly blast rocks Kabul, Taliban claims responsibility

At least 95 killed and 158 injured as Taliban attack hits Afghan capital, with explosives hidden in an ambulance.

    At least 95 people have been killed and 158 were wounded in a powerful suicide blast in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

    The Taliban claimed responsibility for Saturday’s assault, the third major attack in the past seven days. An interior ministry spokesman blamed the the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, which has been behind many of the biggest attacks on urban targets in Afghanistan.

    Attackers blew up an explosives-packed ambulance near an interior ministry building on a busy and heavily-guarded street in Kabul’s centre in the afternoon. The Jamhuriat hospital, government offices, businesses and a school are close to the site of the blast.

    Ahmed Naweed, a witness, told Al Jazeera the attack took place between two checkpoints. 

    “There were many dead bodies and blood everywhere,” he said. “People were crying and screaming and running away.”

    Al Jazeera’s Jennifer Glasse, reporting from Kabul, said Afghan officials were calling the attack a “massacre”.

    “In the immediate aftermath of the attack, we saw bodies scattered across the street,” she said. “The hospitals are inundated with the wounded and officials fear the death toll may rise.” 

    The driver passed through one checkpoint by telling police he was escorting a patient to the hospital, our correspondent said, and detonated the explosives at the second.

    Huge plumes of dark smoke rose over the city following the attack, and vibrations of the explosion could be felt several kilometres away, according to witnesses. 

    Emergency vehicles rushed to the city centre, TOLO news reported.

    United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said attackers must be brought to justice.

    “Today’s attack is nothing short of an atrocity, and those who have organised and enabled it must be brought to justice and held to account,” Tadamichi Yamamoto, head of the UNAMA, said in a statement.

    The incident comes a week after a Taliban-claimed attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in the city, which left more than 20 dead, and days after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) killed at least three people at the office of Save the Children in Jalalabad.

    Commenting on Saturday’s bomb blast, Dejan Panic, coordinator at a hospital run by the Emergency NGO, said: “It’s a massacre.”

    The organisation tweeted a photo of a makeshift medical ward, where patients were being attended to on the floor.

    At least seven people were dead on arrival, Emergency said.

    Abdullah Fahimi, a Kabul-based researcher, told Al Jazeera that the attack could be in response to the government’s recent efforts to pound the Taliban in remote areas, in addition to recent US sanctions on its members.

    Fahimi explained: “This is an impasse, neither side is winning. The [Taliban] group is not going to surrender or give up, they want to take more areas, territories.”

    On Friday, the administration of US President Donald Trump sanctioned four Taliban and two Haqqani network leaders “who have been involved in attacks on coalition troops, smuggling of individuals, or financing these terrorist groups”, said Sigal Mandelker, under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, a position within the US treasury department.

    Afzal Ashraf, visiting fellow at Nottingham University’s Centre for Conflict, Security and Terrorism, said the Taliban’s aim was to tell the international community that it “remains a force to be reckoned with”. 

    The Trump administration’s strategy of sending more troops to Afghanistan and increasing air strikes there was “clearly not working”, he said.

    “The solution has to be political,” he said, adding: “And I’m afraid the same amount of effort hasn’t been put into providing a political solution, while politicians tasked with delivering a more attractive form of government in Afghanistan than the Taliban haven’t been able to provide that counterbalance.

    “That is part of what has emboldened the Taliban.”

    With reporting by Al Jazeera’s Shereena Qazi: @ShereenaQazi


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    Indian woman alleges assault by mother-in-law for defying temple ban

    KOCHI, India (REUTERS) – One of two Indian women who entered an ancient Hindu hill temple in southern India this month in defiance of a centuries-old ban on women of menstruating age alleged she was beaten up by her mother-in-law on Tuesday (Jan 15), police said.

    Kanaka Durga, 39, a civil servant, suffered injuries to her head and had to be hospitalised, police said.

    She claims she was attacked only minutes after she returned to her home from spending a month at undisclosed locations fearing attacks by conservative Hindu groups, police said.

    “We received a complaint from Kanaka Durga alleging that she was attacked by family members of her husband when she returned home after entering the temple,” said Jaya Mani, officer in charge of Perinthalmanna police station in Malappuram district, which is in the state of Kerala where the Sabarimala temple is located.

    Police were investigating, Mani said.

    A second police source said Durga had alleged she was assaulted by the mother-in-law. The mother-in-law had denied the allegation, he said.

    Durga did not return calls seeking comment.

    The family members, including Durga’s mother-in-law, could not be reached for comment.

    The Sabarimala temple has been the site of tension since India’s Supreme Court ruled in late September to end a ban on women and girls aged from 10-50 from entering.

    The Kerala state government, led by the Communist Party of India, has tried to implement the court order and has said it would not give in to attempts by Hindu groups to prevent women from entering that temple.

    But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has never made much headway in Kerala, has accused the state government of showing little respect for a centuries-old Hindu tradition.

    In the strongest statement to date, Modi on Tuesday said: “The conduct of the Kerala LDF (Left Democratic Front) government on the Sabrimala issue will go down in history as one of the most shameful behaviours by any party or government.”

    “We knew that the communists do not respect Indian history, culture and spirituality but nobody imagined they will have such hatred,” Modi, who is on a visit to Kerala, said.

    The Sabarimala temple administration has refused to abide by the court ruling and thousands of devotees have blocked attempts by women to visit the temple.

    But on Jan 2, Bindu Ammini, 40, a law lecturer at Kerala’s Kannur University, and Durga succeeded in entering the temple through a side entrance in the middle of the night.

    Some other women have claimed they have got into the temple since then.

    Their entry sparked widespread protests and a day-long strike in Kerala led in part by members of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

    “The attack is a natural reaction of the family members, who are strong believers of the temple’s customs and rituals,”Ammini said.

    “Her friends told me that her family members were angry with her action. They have unleashed their anger when they saw her.”

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    Czech Republic PM says he will reopen embassy in Singapore

    SINGAPORE – One of the first things on the agenda for Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis when he heads home after his first official trip to Singapore, and to Asia, will be to reopen an embassy in Singapore.

    “To help and promote relations, I have decided to reopen the embassy in Singapore,” Mr Babis said, noting Singapore’s importance as a hub for trade and finance in the region.

    Speaking exclusively to The Straits Times on Tuesday (Jan 15), he added: “I don’t understand why we don’t have an embassy here… but we have to reopen it.”

    The Czech Republic Embassy in Singapore closed in 2008. Since then, the country’s ambassador to Indonesia has been responsible for matters between Singapore and the Czech Republic.

    Mr Babis is in town on a two-day official visit which began with an official welcome ceremony at the Istana on Monday evening. He also called on President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who hosted him to an official dinner.

    Earlier on Tuesday, he visited the Singapore Botanic Gardens, where an orchid was named in his honour. He also delivered a keynote speech at the fourth Singapore-Czech Republic Business Forum at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore. Present at the forum were Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Education Chee Hong Tat, who also spoke.

    Mr Babis also met Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and described their meeting as “fantastic” and “educational”. They spoke “very concretely about debt, assets and so on”, he said.

    He added he is happy that he and Mr Heng share a similar opinion on economic strategy.

    When asked if his country, which has been part of the European Union since 2004, would join the euro zone – the bloc of EU member countries that have adopted the euro as their currency – he was quick to respond with a “no”.

    “No. If I am in government, definitely not.”

    On maintaining an independent currency, he said: “We are very much an export(-oriented) country. If we were to enter the euro zone, then of course, we will be in the club with countries which don’t perform very well – they are not very much responsible for the budget, they have a high debt…

    “It is also a question (of whether) to be independent. I know that we have some obligation to enter the euro zone but the euro zone will need to reform because there are some countries which have high debt, and are not so much budgetary responsible.”

    Another item on Mr Babis’ list is to establish a direct airline connection between Prague and Singapore to better facilitate economic relations and promote tourism.

    The Czech Republic is Singapore’s 14th largest trading partner in the EU.

    Bilateral trade between Singapore and the Czech Republic stood at $1.15 billion in 2017, with imports amounting to $486.5 million and exports amounting to $660.2 million. In 2005, trade between Singapore and the Czech Republic amounted to $300 million.

    Mr Babis also visited Nanyang Technological University’s Centre of Excellence for Testing & Research of Autonomous Vehicles on Tuesday.

    The university signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague, on a partnership for research in energy storage and future mobility solutions.

    Mr Babis heads to Thailand and India after Singapore.

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    U.S. producer prices fall more than expected in December

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. producer prices fell more than expected in December, weighed by down by a plunge in the cost of energy products, pointing to moderate inflation pressures at the factory gate.

    The Labor Department said on Tuesday its producer price index for final demand dropped 0.2 percent last month after edging up 0.1 percent in November. That left the annual increase in the PPI at 2.5 percent in December.

    Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the PPI slipping 0.1 percent in December and gaining 2.5 percent on a year-on-year basis.

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    Exhaust duct covered in flames and smoke at Pasir Ris coffee shop fire

    SINGAPORE – A fire broke out outside a Pasir Ris coffee shop on Tuesday (Jan 15).

    A Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) spokesman said it responded to a fire at 442 Pasir Ris Drive 6 at 5.08pm.

    The fire was extinguished using two water jets and there were no reported injuries.

    SCDF is investigating the cause of the fire.

    Videos of the fire on social media showed flames coming out of an exhaust duct linked to the coffee shop and smoke billowing out of it.

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