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UK Prince Andrew 'bewildered' over claims of not cooperating in US sex trafficking of minors probe

LONDON (AFP) – UK’s Prince Andrew is “bewildered” by claims he is not cooperating with the US investigation into the alleged sex trafficking of minors by British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell and the late financier Jeffrey Epstein, his legal team said on Friday (July 3).

The daughter of the late newspaper baron Robert Maxwell is believed to have introduced Prince Andrew to Epstein – a convicted paedophile – and US authorities want to speak to the prince about their relationship.

Maxwell was arrested and charged by US authorities on Thursday after spending months living in seclusion.

Epstein committed suicide in jail while awaiting trial last year and Queen Elizabeth II’s second son quit his royal duties after he defended his relationship with him.

He has since faced claims from US prosecutors that he is running shy of giving his version of events.

“The duke’s team remains bewildered given that we have twice communicated with the DOJ in the last month and to date we have had no response,” an unnamed source on his legal team was quoted as saying by the Press Association news agency, referring to the US Department of Justice.

Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Audrey Strauss told reporters on Thursday they would “welcome Prince Andrew coming in to talk with us”.

“We would like to have the benefit of his statement,” she added.

The 60-year-old Duke of York vehemently denies claims he had sex with a 17-year-old girl procured by Epstein.

Pictures of him posing with his arm around the girl’s waist forced Prince Andrew to give a disastrous TV interview to the BBC that was quickly followed by his standing down from all royal duties in November.

A lawyer who represents some of Epstein’s alleged victims told British television on Friday that the prince was “avoiding and evading” the US authorities.

“More excuses, more delays, it really is painful for many of the victims. It’s just not fair,” lawyer Gloria Allred told ITV.

Another lawyer representing the alleged victims said Prince Andrew’s royal connections were helping him avoid facing justice.

“He has been hiding behind not only the royal family but his attorneys,” lawyer Spencer Coogan told BBC radio.

A US attorney for the Southern District of New York said last month that Prince Andrew had “repeatedly declined our request to schedule” an interview.

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Homeless man saves Washington DC police officer stabbed in the head

A homeless man has said he feels like a “little hero” after intervening to save a police officer who was being stabbed in the head in Washington DC.

The officer was taken to hospital after being attacked by another homeless man with scissors on Thursday.

The Metropolitan Police Department has thanked John Burrows for stepping in.

“It’s very, very kind – very heroic,” chief of police Peter Newsham said in a news conference.

A 61-year-old man was arrested and charged with assault with intent to kill an officer.

It is not known what the motive was for the attack but it is not thought to be linked to the anti-racism protests which have been taking place in the downtown area of the capital for the past few weeks.

Mr Burrows told NBC’s News4 he had previously met the Second District officer and was just doing the right thing.

“I grabbed the guy’s arm and me and the cop together got him under control so he couldn’t stab him no more. He got arrested, the cop went to the hospital and I guess I’m like a little hero,” he said.

“I was really mad at the guy, for just stabbing him for no reason. That made me mad,” he added.

“They’re my cops. This is my city and I don’t want you stabbing them.”

A fundraiser set up for Mr Burrows by the DC Department of Human Services has raised almost $10,000 (£8,000).

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South Korea shakes up security team after North Korea setbacks

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) – South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in shook up his security team and appointed veterans in North Korea relations after Kim Jung Un’s regime blew up a joint liaison office that once served as a symbol of his rapprochement towards Pyongyang.

Moon named Park Jie-won as the new head of the National Intelligence Service, his office said on Friday (July 3). Park helped broker the first inter-Korea summit 20 years ago when he was the chief of staff to former South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung and last year met Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korea’s current leader at Panmunjom truce village, which straddles the border between the two Koreas.

Before North Korea detonated explosives in the US$15 million (S$21 million) facility paid for by South Korea and located in the North Korean border city of Kaesong, Kim Yo Jong said it was “high time” to break ties with South Korea, blaming Moon for not living up to promises he made in three summits with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un that led to the set up of the liaison office.

The act of destruction, which a Moon spokesman denounced as “reckless”, appeared to be part of a calculated gamble to try to force the South Korean president to break with the US and support sanctions relief for North Korea. The result was to literally blow up the most concrete achievement of Moon’s decades-long drive to establish a lasting peace with his country’s greatest foe.

Park told Bloomberg in an interview last month before the blast that North Korea fears US military supremacy, adding it wouldn’t dare to start an all-out war in the Korean Peninsula.

He said reviving inter-Korea relations was a key task and that Kim Yo Jong plays a “pivotal role” in ensuring regime continuity.

“Unlike his predecessors, Kim Jong Un did not have enough time to solidify his political foundation before he got put into office,” Park said. There is an urgent need within the North Korean regime to make Kim Yo Jong the “second-in-command” in case of an emergency since Kim Jong Un’s children are “too young for that job”, he said.

Moon also appointed Lee In-young, a ruling party lawmaker, as his new unification minister after his previous point person for North Korea resigned in the wake of the liaison office destruction.

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England puts United States on 'red-list', will quarantine arrivals

LONDON (Reuters) – Passengers arriving into England from the United States will not be exempted from quarantine rules, Britain’s transport minister Grant Shapps said on Friday.

Asked whether the United States would be on a ‘red-list’ of countries to which a 14-day quarantine period will apply, Shapps said: “I’m afraid it will be.”

“The U.S. from a very early stage banned flights from the UK and from Europe so there isn’t a reciprocal arrangement in place,” he told the BBC.

England is relaxing its quarantine rules for around 50 other countries.

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European stocks pause as virus worries offset rebound hopes

(Reuters) – European stocks paused on Friday after gains through the week as another record surge in U.S. coronavirus cases dulled optimism from a brisk recovery in China’s services sector.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index was largely flat after opening marginally higher, with trading volumes thinned by a U.S. market holiday.

Technology stocks .SX8P led the gains, rising 0.7%, while banks .SX7P, insurers .SXIP and oil & gas .SXEP fell after a strong rally in the previous session.

The benchmark index was headed for a 2.8% weekly gain as hopes of a COVID-19 vaccine and a series of strong data pointed to a global economic recovery from the health crisis.

But investors are skeptical of further gains in equities as the United States set a new daily global record for COVID-19 cases on Thursday, driving several U.S. states to delay their reopening plans.

“The fear of another big(ger) drop in equity prices continues to haunt financial markets. The opportunity to engage in European assets also seems a bit limited,” Thomas Flury, head of FX Strategies at UBS Global Wealth Management wrote to clients.

“For this, clearer signs of a recovery in international trade should be visible. The data on this is constructive, but not surprising to the upside.”

A private survey showed that China’s services sector expanded at the fastest pace in over a decade in June as the easing of lockdown measures revived consumer demand, though companies continued to shed jobs.

Paris’s blue-chip CAC 40 .FCHI slipped 0.3% as French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe resigned ahead of a government reshuffle by President Emmanuel Macron designed to win back disillusioned voters ahead of a possible re-election bid.

Among individual movers, Germany’s Delivery Hero (DHER.DE) jumped 5.5% after the takeaway food company said its order growth nearly doubled in the second quarter.

France’s utility firm EDF (EDF.PA) rose 4.8% after it revised upwards its 2020 nuclear output target.

UK retailer Next (NXT.L) fell 2.5% after Goldman Sachs downgraded the stock to “sell”, while Primark-owner AB Foods (ABF.L) slipped 1.3% after the U.S. bank downgraded its stock to “neutral”.

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Dry lightning risk rises in US, thanks to tardy monsoon

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – The annual monsoon that drenches the US South-west is late this year, raising the risk of wildfires sparked by another of the region’s meteorological quirks: dry lightning.

While heavy rain isn’t expected in the normally arid area until mid-July, thunderstorms continue to form high above the Earth. But the air below is so parched that raindrops can evaporate on their way down. The only things that strikes the ground are lightning bolts – dry lighting.

The phenomenon, which also occurs in Australia, is blamed for many of the wildfires that charred more than 3 million acres in the US West last year.

The threat is particularly severe in Arizona, Nevada and parts of Southern California, where utilities plan to cut power during high-risk conditions. And the strikes are notoriously difficult to forecast because they just need a storm to pass over a sliver of dry air.

“The difference between a wet strike and a dry strike can be 500 feet (152m),” said Mr Heath Hockenberry, national fire weather programme manager for the National Weather Service.

Dry lightning can occur in any desert or semi-arid region that draws in moisture from nearby oceans. The dry air that makes rain drops evaporate also dries out plants, making it easier for lightning to start fires.

One storm in 2008 sparked hundreds of fires across California in a single night that took weeks to tame.

“As global warming causes temperatures to rise, evaporation rates are increasing, causing increased drying of vegetation,” said Mr Jeff Masters, a meteorologist with Yale Climate Connections. “The risk of lightning-sparked wildfires will increase.”

Dry strikes are hard to forecast because they require finding a arid pocket in the atmosphere that can be just 500 feet thick, Mr Hockenberry said. A typical thunderstorm can rise to 50,000 feet above the Earth. So a dry layer that can cause all the trouble is just 1 per cent of a raindrop’s journey to the ground.

The monsoon that typically starts soaking Arizona and New Mexico this time of year may not arrive until mid-July. Across 11 western states almost 67 per cent of the land is abnormally dry and 46 per cent is locked in some form of drought as of June 23, according to the US Drought Monitor. Almost half of California is in drought.

While the monsoon may ease threats in the South-west, “July is the entry point into the core of the western fire season,” according to the National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook issued Wednesday (July 1). This means the threats will rise throughout California, the Pacific North-west and the central and northern Rocky Mountains.

The fire threat eases for much of the West in mid-September, but for California the severity creeps up with the start of the fall gusts, marked by the Diablo and Santa Ana winds.

The fire threat comes as PG&E Corp, which serves Northern California, has emerged from bankruptcy after its equipment sparked devastating blazes in 2017 and 2018 and left it facing US$30 billion (S$41.84 billion) in liabilities.

There are 44 large fires burning now in 9 states, and the threat of dry lightning is increasing the risk. The National Weather Service issued warnings this week across the West.

There have been more than 24,000 wildfires so far this year, burning 1.4 million acres, compared with about 19,700 blazes for the first half of 2019 that consumed about 1,10,000 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Centre in Boise, Idaho.

There’s hope that the risk of fires from dry lightning will diminish in the next few weeks. Some forecasts show a large high-pressure system emerging across the Four Corners region where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet, Mr Hockenberry said.

That may draw moisture off the ocean and trigger the monsoon that will soak the ground and bring rain to accompany the lightning.

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Police arrest 746 people in record sting after cracking criminals’ secret code

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Among those rounded up were underworld kingpins and drug lords. Loot seized included £54million in cash, 77 firearms, 1,800 rounds of ammunition and £80million of drugs such as heroin and cocaine. The National Crime Agency (NCA) boasted that entire organised crime networks had been dismantled and 200 lives saved from murders and gangland executions.

Nikki Holland, the NCA’s director of investigations, said being able to infiltrate the mobile phone network was like “having an inside person in every top organised crime group in the country”.

She added: “This is the broadest and deepest ever UK operation into serious organised crime.”

The NCA also revealed Operation Venetic had snared a few allegedly corrupt law enforcement officials but declined to give further details.

Dame Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, which made 171 of the arrests, described the operation as a “game changer”.

She added: “We will be disrupting organised criminal networks as a result for weeks, months and possibly years to come.”

The wave of arrests – with more across Europe – was made possible by specialist officers in France deciphering the gangsters’ military-grade EncroChat system two months ago. The breakthrough, after four years of painstaking work by police throughout Europe, was akin to cracking the Enigma code in the Second World War, according to the NCA.

EncroChat, based in France, was set up in 2016 and used exclusively by criminals. Handsets were Android and cost £3,000 a year to lease.

It is thought there were 60,000 users, with 10,000 in Britain. Features of the system included self-destructing messages and “panic wipe”, where all the data on a device could be destroyed by entering a code from the lockscreen. Officers uncovered details of plots to cut off arms, legs and hands, attack rivals with acid and shoot competitors as part of turf wars.

Forensic tests are now being carried out on seized firearms to identify weapons used in murders.

Other crimes being investigated include drug-running, money laundering, kidnap and acid attacks. NCA deputy director Matt Horne said: “This is very much about the organised crime gangs operating on street corners, on estates and across communities across the entire UK.”

Every British police force was involved. Suffolk Police’s Chief Constable Steve Jupp said: “This has sent a shockwave throughout a tier of criminals who considered themselves to be untouchables.”

Police were congratulated on their “significant achievement” by Home Secretary Priti Patel. EncroChat had been a thorn in the side of law enforcement for many years.

Drug dealers Andrew Venna and Matthew Cornwall, who operated in Stroud and Gloucester, used Encro Chat before they were jailed last May.

Mark Fellows and Steven Boyle, jailed for life in Liverpool last year for the killings of John Kinsella and Paul Massey, also used it.

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‘Demanding’ Meghan Markle claims drop in ocean compared to what was going on behind scenes

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Meghan was unhappy with the Kensington Palace communication team and their general policy not to comment on press inquiries and reports, a source has said. However, the palace could not defend the Duchess of Sussex on a story she was particularly upset about because the claims were largely true, another source added. 

Newly-released documents submitted by the Duchess of Sussex’ lawyers in response to questions raised by The Mail on Sunday had yesterday led to believe Meghan was accusing members of the Royal Family of not protecting her from the media scrutiny.

However, a source told The Times the claims made by Meghan’s legal team refers to the palace machinery and her former media representatives rather than her in-laws.

Voicing concerns, the source said: “No one thinks this is going to end well. For anyone.”

Meghan is believed to have been particularly angry at the palace’s response on two stories followed by the press between mid-2018 and 2019. 

The first concerned the resignation of her PA, Melissa Toubati, only six months after the Royal Wedding on May 19 2018.

A widely reported source at the time claimed the French assistant had “put up with a lot” before quitting.

They told the Daily Mirror: “Her job was highly ­pressurised and in the end it became too much. She put up with quite a lot.  

“Meghan put a lot of demands on her and it ended up with her in tears.

“She is hugely talented and played a pivotal role in the success of the royal wedding.

“She’ll be missed by everyone in the household.  

“Melissa is a total professional and fantastic at her job, but things came to a head and it was easier for them both to go their separate ways.”

While Meghan was dissatisfied with this story, the communication teams at Kensington Palace found it difficult to deny press reports as they were largely true, according to another source who spoke with The Times.

The source claimed: “The stories were a drop in the ocean compared to what was going on”.    

Meghan was also upset at the relentless attacks of her half-sister Samantha Markle and the lack of response from Kensington Palace.

However, the Times wrote, palace staff was not going to get involved with opinions voiced by a private citizen based in Florida.

In late 2018, Ms Markle was understood to have been included on a “fixated persons list” by the police royalty and specialist protection unit, flagging the “reputational risk” that she posed to the Royal Family with her attacks to the Sussexes.

Kensington Palace’s communication team represented Meghan and Harry between May 2018 and the spring of 2019, when it was announced the couple would create a new media team based at Buckingham Palace. has contacted Kensington Palace for comment.

Lawyers for Meghan made a court filing on June 30 after the Mail on Sunday asked for further information relating to the ongoing High Court case. 

Asked to explain why the Duchess was “vulnerable” at the time of the newspaper printed her private letter to her father Thomas Markle Snr, Meghan’s legal team said: “The Claimant had become the subject of a large number of false and damaging articles by the UK tabloid media, specifically by the Defendant, which caused tremendous emotional distress and damage to her mental health.

“As her friends had never seen her in this state before, they were rightly concerned for her welfare, specifically as she was pregnant, unprotected by the Institution, and prohibited from defending herself.”

Following the Mail on Sunday’s decision to publish extracts of a personal letter the Duchess sent to her father, Meghan sued Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Mail on Sunday as well as the Daily Mail and the MailOnline, for misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act.

The newspaper denies the claims.

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‘One MILLION livelihoods already lost’ ahead of big reopening, hospitality tycoon warns

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Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Jeremy Goring, CEO of The Goring Hotel group in London, warned the hospitality industry in the UK is set to see “mass unemployment” this year despite hotels, pubs and restaurants reopening on Saturday after months of coronavirus lockdown measures. He warned: “I’m currently witnessing across, particularly London, but across the UK’s hospitality, mass unemployment taking place.

“Many, many restaurants are never going to reopen, some of those are icons, people that we’ve looked up to when we were learning the business.

“Some of the great chefs are now saying I’m not coming back.

“It does look very much like it could be one million livelihoods that are lost for the foreseeable future.

“I’m seeing it happening right now.”

More to follow…

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What Hong Kong losing its 'special status' would mean

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) – Under the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, the US treats Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous part of China with its own legal and economic system, differently than the Chinese mainland in trade, commerce and other areas.

President Donald Trump has begun stripping away that “special status” to punish China for moves to tighten its grip on the city after a year of pro-democracy street protests.

At its most extreme, that could mean the global financial hub being treated the same as any other Chinese city – a seismic shift that could harm both economies at an already difficult time. China has already begun retaliating.

1. Is the special status gone?

It’s going. On May 27, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo notified Congress that the Trump administration no longer regarded Hong Kong as autonomous from mainland China. On June 29, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the special status had therefore been revoked.

2. What’s been the impact?

In an opening salvo, Pompeo announced visa restrictions against unspecified Chinese officials; China did the same against Americans. Mr Pompeo said the US would also cease selling defence equipment to Hong Kong, a largely symbolic act that will mostly affect the city’s police and corrections forces. The Commerce Department made it harder to export sensitive American technology to Hong Kong by suspending special treatment in areas including export licence exceptions; Hong Kong’s leader said the impact would be “minimal”. More far-reaching measures could follow. The city is still treated differently from the mainland when it comes to tariffs, for instance.

3. Why so slow?

It’s up to Mr Trump to decide how quickly he wants to move while he’s also threatening consequences for China over its handling of the coronavirus and its repression of minorities in Xinjiang province. Hurting China also carries additional risks for the US economy, including the US-China trade deal that Mr Trump had considered one of his biggest achievements, which could affect his odds of winning re-election. Mr Trump has made harsh comments but hasn’t threatened specific punishments for the Beijing government.

4. What’s at stake for Hong Kong and China?

While Hong Kong remains a key gateway from China to the rest of the world, it matters far less to the country’s fortunes than it once did. In 2019, 12 per cent of China’s exports went to or through Hong Kong, down from 45 per cent in 1992. China is also far less reliant on inflows of foreign capital and expertise, and has made a much lower priority of making the yuan an international currency. Nonetheless, the city still matters. Hong Kong’s open capital account and adherence to international standards of governance are unmatched by any mainland Chinese city and make it an important base for international banks and trading firms. Revoking the special status would be “the nuclear option” and “the beginning of the death of Hong Kong as we know it”, said Professor Steve Tsang, director of the University of London’s SOAS China Institute.

5. And their financial markets?

One worst-case scenario: if the US treats Hong Kong no differently than any other Chinese city, why wouldn’t ratings firms and investors do the same? It’s a question posed by Deutsche Bank, which noted that S&P Global Ratings has Hong Kong three notches above China while Moody’s and Fitch have Hong Kong one notch higher. The risk is that China’s own rating gets lowered in coming years and drags Hong Kong’s with it. At the same time, equity index providers may take a fresh look at Hong Kong, which is currently in the MSCI World Index with other developed markets. China is in the emerging market index, raising the question, should Hong Kong be treated the same as Shanghai and Shenzhen?

6. What about for the US?

It has its own reasons for not rocking the boat too much. Hong Kong, the only semi-democratic jurisdiction under Chinese rule, offers US companies a relatively safe way to access the Chinese market and employs a US dollar peg, linking it with the American financial system. According to the Congressional Research Service, the largest US trade surplus in 2019 was with Hong Kong – US$36 billion (S$50.1 billion). Hong Kong counted 278 US companies with regional headquarters in the city that year and another 457 with offices. Hong Kong’s first justice minister after the handover to China in 1997, Ms Elsie Leung, told the South China Morning Post in May that any damage would be mutual: “We are not just getting the benefits – it’s a free-trade arrangement which is good for both sides.”

7. How has China responded?

Despite the US action, Chinese lawmakers approved new national security legislation for Hong Kong anyway. The Foreign Ministry has promised unspecified retaliation against what it terms foreign interference, insisting Hong Kong is purely an internal affair. China said last year it would sanction some US-based activist groups including the National Endowment for Democracy, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, and suspend port visits by US Navy ships to Hong Kong. The official Xinhua News Agency has dismissed as “groundless” accusations about the loss of freedom or human rights issues in Hong Kong. It also noted that the 2018 Human Freedom Index compiled by the Fraser Institute, a Vancouver-based think tank, ranked Hong Kong at No. 3, well ahead of the US at No. 17.

8. And Hong Kong?

The city’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, has defended the national security law (as has Mr Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong’s richest tycoon). Mrs Lam also has said it would be “totally unacceptable” for foreign legislatures to interfere in Hong Kong’s internal affairs, and that sanctions would only complicate the problems in the city. (Mrs Lam was selected in 2017 by a committee of 1,200 political insiders overwhelmingly loyal to the Chinese government.) She has sought to reassure investors that the city still adheres to the rule of law and has an independent judiciary. She also has defended police actions.

9. Is this what the protesters have been seeking?

As a largely leaderless movement, the Hong Kong protests have made no official request for international assistance. But some prominent activists including Mr Jimmy Lai and Mr Joshua Wong called on Mr Trump to hit China hard with sanctions, even to the point of revoking the city’s special trading status. Mr Wong had testified last year in Washington in favour of the Bill, seeking to put pressure on China. On the streets of Hong Kong, some protesters have made clear their interest in US support by waving American flags, singing The Star-Spangled Banner and calling on Mr Trump to “liberate” Hong Kong.

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