Justice Dept announces new rules for seizing financial assets

By RT

In a statement on Tuesday, Holder said the new policy would affect the way the government targets companies and individuals suspected of “structuring” bank transactions. Structuring involves purposefully keeping transactions from surpassing a certain threshold so they do not require banks to make a record of them or file a report regarding a possibly suspicious operation. The Justice Department said that in addition to being a crime on its own, structuring is usually linked with other illegal activity.

Previously, the government could seize bank accounts, as well as other property, without a warrant and without filing criminal charges, as long as it suspected wrongdoing. Since 2001, law enforcement agencies around the United States have confiscated $2.5 billion in cash despite never filing criminal charges or obtaining warrants, the Washington Post reported.

If they cannot indict suspected wrongdoers, prosecutors will need to gather more evidence linking the transactions to other illegal crimes and get the approval of a supervisor.

New AG policy on asset forfeiture in structuring offenses http://t.co/CIjvt8Kob5

— Dody DBoss Banditz (@BossBanditz) March 31, 2015

“With this new policy, the Department of Justice is taking action to ensure that we are allocating our resources to address the most serious offenses,” Holder said in a statement. “Appropriate use of asset forfeiture law allows the Justice Department to safeguard the integrity, security and stability of our nation’s financial system while protecting the civil liberties of all Americans.”

“As we continue our comprehensive review of the Asset Forfeiture Program, we will stay focused on deterring criminal activity, assisting victims of wrongdoing and defending the rights of our citizens.”

In addition to restricting the government’s behavior, the guidelines require prosecutors to return any seized assets in the event that they determine there isn’t enough evidence to prevail against the accused in court. If seized without an indictment, prosecutors have 150 days to file charges or return the money.

Via:: RT.com

Russia Extends Natural Gas Deal With Ukraine

By webdesk@voanews.com (VOA News) Russian President Vladimir Putin has approved a plan to extend Moscow’s current natural gas deal with Ukraine for another three months.

Russian authorities announced the extension Tuesday, just hours before a temporary pricing agreement reached in October 2014 was set to expire.

The deal required Ukraine to make monthly payments in advance of delivery, with Kyiv paying $365 per 1,000 cubic meters in the first quarter of 2015. Russian energy officials recently said Ukraine would pay $348 beginning April 1.

In a separate development, a top Russian economist said Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula would cost up to $200 billion in the next four years as the Russian economy teeters on the brink of recession.

Alexi Kudrin, Russia’s finance minister from 2000 to 2011 and a former deputy prime minister, issued his prediction Tuesday at a forum marking the 15th anniversary of Putin’s rise to power.

In his televised comments, Kudrin warned that Russia — already facing plummeting global oil prices and stiff Western economic sanctions for supporting Ukraine’s pro-Russian rebellion — is not likely to return to economic prosperity in the near future.

Moscow’s RBC news agency said that Kudrin predicted five years of economic stagnation and that he described the economic crisis as the most serious challenge facing Putin’s widespread popularity.

The Russian economy is expected to contract 3 to 6 percent this year, its steepest decline since Putin was first elected president in 2000.

Via:: Voice of America

Bosnia Cabinet Confirmed After Six-Month Wait

By webdesk@voanews.com (Reuters) Bosnia’s national parliament on Tuesday approved a long-awaited central cabinet that the European Union expects to pursue economic reforms to revive a stalled bid to join the bloc.

The nine-member Council of Ministers from six parties in the ruling coalition was confirmed nearly six months after Bosnians voted in a general election.

Bickering over division of power and jobs has slowed the formation of governments at various levels of Bosnia’s highly decentralized and unwieldy power-sharing system created after a 1992-95 war.

Lawmakers in the 42-seat national parliament backed the government headed by Prime Minister Denis Zvizdic, a former architecture professor. Twenty-six voted in favor, seven against and one abstained.

Deputies of two Bosnian Serb parties boycotted the session after their request to discuss charges against the speaker of the chamber was dismissed.

For the first time in a decade, the party of Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, president of Bosnia’s autonomous Serb Republic, finds itself left out of the central government. A bloc of smaller Bosnian Serb parties entered instead.

Dodik, who frequently questions Bosnia’s viability as a state, has previously stood accused of blocking progress at the national level.

In February, Bosnian lawmakers backed a written commitment to pursue economic reform and address political divisions in accordance with a new initiative launched by Germany and Britain and adopted by the European Union, designed to shake the country out of years of stagnation.

The declaration was a condition for the EU’s endorsement of a pre-accession pact with Bosnia, originally signed in 2008. The exact reform path has yet to be defined.

Via:: Voice of America

CERN Resolves Snag, Will Restart Collider Soon

By webdesk@voanews.com (Reuters) CERN engineers said Tuesday that they had resolved a problem that delayed the relaunch after a two-year refit of the Large Hadron Collider particle smasher, which is probing the mysteries of the universe.

A statement from the research center just outside Geneva said a metal fragment that caused an intermittent short circuit in one of the giant magnets in the vast underground complex had been successfully removed.

The relaunch of the so-called “Big Bang” machine had to be postponed last week because of the problem.

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, said that after new tests on all the circuits in the area where the fault appeared, the way would be clear for proton particles to be sent in opposite directions right around the machine’s 27-kilometer underground tubes. This could happen “in a few days,” the statement said.

However, proton particle collisions at twice the power of the first runs, which brought the discovery of the long-sought Higgs boson, will not begin until May, physicists said.

These collisions, at almost the speed of light, create the chaotic conditions inside the collider close to those that followed the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago, from which the universe eventually emerged.

The product of the collisions is captured in the collider’s giant detectors and is analyzed by scientists at CERN and around the world for signs of new information about the cosmos and how it works at the elementary particle level.

Among the aims of scientists at the revamped collilder is to establish the existence of the unseen dark matter that makes up about 96 per cent of the stuff of the universe, but has been detected only through its influence on visible objects.

Via:: Voice of America

Tragedies Move Germany, France Closer, Leaders Say

By webdesk@voanews.com (Reuters) The leaders of Germany and France announced plans Tuesday to work more closely on economic and security issues after years of strain, saying the tragedies of the Charlie Hebdo killings and air crash in the French Alps had brought them closer.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Francois Hollande, whose relationship has sometimes been tense since the French Socialist took power in 2012, met in Berlin a week after a German pilot with a history of depression steered an airliner into a mountain in southern France, killing 150 people.

The disaster came two months after Islamist gunmen killed 17 people in Paris at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish shop.

“Looking back, Germany and France were tested in the first three months of 2015, and we moved closer to each other,” Merkel said at a joint news conference. “I remember the horrible events around Charlie Hebdo, but also the decisive response in favor of free speech, democracy and the fight against terrorism. Together we sent a signal about how we will deal with the challenges of our time.”

Hollande said the Franco-German friendship had “evolved” over the past days and weeks into one of “brotherly closeness.”

In a sign that Berlin and Paris are trying to bridge differences, which have centered on economic policy, they announced nine joint investment projects focused on the energy and digital economy sectors. They included efforts to encourage investment in startups and strengthen cooperation in setting standards for cloud computing and “big data.” The initiatives are to be pursued at the European level.

Separately, the two countries agreed to cooperate on a new military observation satellite program and to start development of a European drone, together with Italy.

Though largely symbolic at this point, the plans suggest the Franco-German motor that has powered European integration since World War II may be shifting up a gear.

For much of last year, politicians in Berlin were highly critical of the pace of Hollande’s economic reform drive. The French, meanwhile, pressed Germany to invest more public money in infrastructure and other areas.

Both sides have shown signs of movement in recent months.

Merkel’s cabinet approved plans this month to boost spending by 15 billion euros over the next four years. In February, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls rammed an economic reform bill through parliament by decree.

Merkel and Hollande have also taken the lead in the Ukraine crisis, negotiating a fragile cease-fire with Moscow and Kyiv last month.

On Tuesday, they presented a united front on Greece, demanding that it fulfill its reform obligations, and on Iran, saying any deal on the country’s nuclear program must ensure Tehran cannot develop nuclear weapons capability.

Despite the signs of unity, analysts said the relationship is no longer one of equals. Germany’s economic success and France’s malaise have created an imbalance that has aggravated tensions.

In her 10th year as chancellor, Merkel enjoys the support of nearly three in four Germans, while Hollande has the support of just one in four French. His Socialists received a drubbing in local elections Sunday, losing ground to former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservatives.

“The course has been set, and we will stick to it,” Hollande said in Berlin.

Via:: Voice of America

Carter: ‘Too early to say’ US is winning against ISIS as Iraqis liberate Tikrit

By RT

I think it’s too early to say that we’re winning, but I think we have certainly inflicted a lot of damage,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie during a visit to his old high school in Pennsylvania. The key part would be assembling the local forces on the ground that could “sustain the defeat” of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

Tomorrow On TODAY: Secretary of Defense Carter speaks to @SavannahGuthrie in his first interview since being sworn in pic.twitter.com/7uGdHWdJbZ

— TODAY (@TODAYshow) March 30, 2015

Iraqi forces successfully liberated Tikrit after a month of fighting, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on Tuesday. The city, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Baghdad, had been under IS control since June 2014. US airstrikes began last week to help the stalled Iraqi ground offensive.

Read More: US launches Tikrit airstrikes as Iraqi offensive stalls

The Pentagon confirmed US airstrikes have continued this week, with eight overnight strikes against IS positions near Tikrit, the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, and the Kurdish-held town of Kobani in northern Syria.

The success of the Tikrit experiment will be repeated in other areas,” al-Abadi told Iraqi media.

Pics from #Tikrit battle pic.twitter.com/MmpgJ3KIWt

— Methaq Al -fayydh (@AlFayth) March 31, 2015

It’s the lasting nature of the defeat that’s really the key,” Carter said in the TV interview, echoing his comments to US troops in Kuwait during his February visit. A lasting victory, he said then, would require “those who can take responsibility for their societies and their territory after the campaign against ISIL has rid them of this scourge.”

It will take some time to inflict defeat upon ISIL,” Carter told Guthrie. “We’re still building the coalition and building the forces, and that’s why I’m hesitant to say we’re winning. I’m confident we will win.

The loss of Tikrit is the first major defeat for the Islamic State since the retreat from Kobani in October 2014.

Map of #ISIS controlled and penetrating area in #Iraq and #Syria#Tikrit#IslamicState#Damascus#Iran#IranTalkspic.twitter.com/7tC4KlvjAq

— Ali Haad (@haadali01) March 12, 2015

Carter is on a two-day tour of Pennsylvania and New York, speaking to students and soldiers about reforming the Pentagon in order to create the “force of the future.” Today’s youth, he said, don’t want to go into big, rigid institutions, but prefer something “agile, nimble and inspiring.

Read More: Pentagon’s ‘Force of the Future’ drive could ease job recruitment standards

The top civilian at the Pentagon also commented on the current conflict in Yemen, nuclear negotiations with Iran, and the controversial prisoner swap involving Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, charged last week with desertion and misconduct.

We do have a principle,” Carter said, declining to comment on any details of the case. “We bend over backward in trying to return an American serviceman.”

Read More: Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl charged with desertion

Any agreement on Iran’s nuclear program “cannot be based on trust,” the secretary said, but “has to be based on verification.” If the deal falls through, or is violated, “the military option certainly will remain on the table.”

Asked to comment on the war against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), disrupted by the recent conflict in Yemen, Carter said the US was “going to continue to prosecute our counterterrorism operations against AQAP whatever happens on the ground there,” but would “have to do it in a different way.”

Read More: Creepy Veep: Joe Biden chalks up another sensational ‘snuggle’

Much of the media coverage of Carter’s interview focused on him shrugging off the scene from his inauguration, when Vice-President Joseph Biden hugged his wife and whispered to her. Carter said he “laughed” when he watched the video clip of the scene.

They know each other extremely well. We’re great friends of the Bidens,” he said.

Via:: RT.com

US lifts Egypt arms ban, sends $1.3 bn in weapons

By RT

Among the weapons systems released are twelve F-16 aircraft, 20 “Harpoon” anti-ship missiles, and 125 upgrade kits for US-made M1A1 Abrams tanks in Egyptian service. The “executive hold” on weapons deliveries was imposed after the military overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government of President Mohamed Morsi in October 2013. Egypt is the second-largest recipient of US military aid in the world.

“#US releases military aid to #Egypt, cites national security” http://t.co/t5OeLwPHUO

— Matt Lee (@APDiploWriter) March 31, 2015

In a telephone call on Tuesday, Obama told Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi that the annual military aid amounting to $1.3 billion would continue, but that Washington wanted to “modernize” it by ending sales of military equipment on credit starting in the fiscal year 2018.

Future US aid would be directed towards counterterrorism equipment, border security, maritime security and operations against militants in the Sinai Peninsula, as well as maintaining weapons Egypt is already using, the White House said in a statement.

In this way, we will ensure that US funding is being used to promote shared objectives in the region, including a secure and stable Egypt and the defeat of terrorist organizations,” Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said in a statement.

The United States has had a decades-long strategic relationship with Egypt. Since the August 2013 Egyptian government crackdown, we have made clear our commitment to simultaneously pursuing our security interests and our support for meaningful Egyptian political reform,” added Meehan.

Obama to Sisi: I don’t like your repression, but never mind, we’re resuming your military aid. http://t.co/oGeG1PFlAi pic.twitter.com/nS6irCip2k

— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) March 31, 2015

Obama also “reiterated US concerns about Egypt’s continued imprisonment of non-violent activists and mass trials” and “encouraged increased respect for freedom of speech and assembly,” the White House statement said, adding that the resumption of military aid was not a certification that Egypt has made progress toward democracy.

Obama took the decision that complies most with his stance towards the arab spring, he lifts the arm freeze against Egypt oppressive regime

— yehiahamed (@yehiahamed) March 31, 2015

Read More: Saudi Arabia bombs Yemen, launches coalition op against Houthi rebels

Egyptian air force bombed targets in eastern Libya in February, after militants proclaiming allegiance to the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) beheaded 21 captured Egyptian Christians who were in the country as guest-workers. Egyptian forces are also taking part in the operation “Decisive Storm,” started last week by Saudi Arabia against the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Via:: RT.com

Racketeering conspiracy trial begins for 6 former Philly narcotics cops

By RT

The former Philadelphia police officers were charged with committing a variety of crimes between February 2006 and November 2012, among them beatings, threatening to shoot suspects, busting into homes without warrants to steal drugs and money, and the distribution of narcotics.

The officers standing trial are Thomas Liciardello, 38; Brian Reynolds, 43; Michael Spicer, 46; Perry Betts, 46; Linwood Norman, 46; and John Speiser, 44.

“Make no mistake about ittaking money while armed and while exercising your power as a Philadelphia police officer and keeping it for yourself and your co-conspirators is robbery, even if the money is illegal drug money,” Assistant US Attorney Anthony Wzorek said during his opening statements on Monday.

He told jurors the former officers routinely broke into homes without search warrants and ransacked them to steal drugs, cash, a Rolex watch and other valuables.

“These are men sworn to uphold the law but instead broke it,” Wzorek said, accusing the six men of “disrespecting their badge” by shaking down suspects, stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars and lying about it on their police reports.

But Jack McMahon, Reynolds’ lawyer and the first defense attorney to give an opening statement, told jurors the government had little evidence to back up the testimony of their criminal witnesses, including that of convicted former narcotics unit member Jeffrey Walker.

“They take all this cast of characters, and they get Jeffrey Walker, and they think… they can just wash away all the problems of this case,” McMahon said.

“When you’re dirty and despicable and dumb and arrogant, it’s easy to get you,” McMahon said of Walker, who was arrested in May 2013 on charges of robbery, extortion and committing criminal acts through his position as a police officer. Walker pleaded guilty to robbery charges and faces up to 10 years in jail.

Spicer’s defense lawyer, Jimmy Binns, called Walker “an admitted home invader,” “a drug dealer,” “a thief,” “a drunk” and “a drooler.”

McMahon lambasted the government’s 19 primary witnesses, calling them “trashy,” “disreputable,” “greedy,” “sociopathic” and “odoriferous,” among other descriptions.

“If you have 19 bags of trash,” he told jurors, “you don’t have better trash. You just have a pile of trash.”

The case began when the FBI started to investigate Philadelphia’s Narcotics Field Unit and conducted two undercover sting operations, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Walker was nabbed during the second sting, and began to cooperate with the federal investigators, telling them of cases where he and the other officers stole money or drugs, physically abused suspects or committed other crimes.

In one instance, the officers allegedly held a drug suspect over a balcony railing of an 18th-floor apartment during an interrogation. In another case, the six officers kidnapped a drug suspect and held him in a hotel room for days while making threats to his family, federal prosecutors said, adding that the officers often attempted to cover their activities by falsifying police reports.

Information provided to investigators by Walker was used to build the case against the rogue officers, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said when the six men were arrested.

The six officers were subsequently removed from the narcotics unit after the District Attorney’s Office told the commissioner’s office that their testimony could no longer be used in their cases, Ramsey said. The officers were not fired at the time in an effort to maintain the integrity of the ongoing investigation, he added.

“That many of the victims were drug dealers, not Boy Scouts, is irrelevant,” Edward Hanko, head of the FBI’s Philadelphia office, said when the officers were arrested. “This corrupt group chose to make their own rules. Now they will have to answer for it.”

Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper has dismissed 160 cases relating to investigations conducted by Walker. She upheld another 58 cases in which Walker played a lesser role or there was other corroborating evidence, authorities said.

The six men are also the subjects of at least 81 federal lawsuits filed between November 2011 and August 2014, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The city paid at least $777,500 between 1999 and 2012 to settle 15 lawsuits involving Betts, Reynolds, Spicer, Liciardello and Speiser, according to a 2012 Daily News report. Attorney Michael C. Schwartz, who is representing 14 plaintiffs, told the paper that he expects the number of lawsuits to grow.

The city could owe millions of dollars to plaintiffs if it loses or settles those cases.

The defense’s opening statements continued Tuesday. The racketeering corruption trial is expected to last for 10 weeks. If convicted, the six officers face between 40 years and life in prison.

Via:: RT.com