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2018

 

Freight Carriers Sued For Overcharging The US Government

United States Sues Freight Companies for Systematic Overcharging of Shipments

The United States has filed a complaint in the Western District of New York against YRC Freight Inc., (YRC); Roadway Express Inc. (Roadway); and Yellow Transportation Inc. (Yellow), alleging that these companies systematically overcharged the government for freight carrier services and made false statements to the government that hid their misconduct, the Justice Department announced today.

The United States filed this lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Buffalo, New York.  The United States alleges that, for more than seven years, the defendants defrauded the Department of Defense by millions of dollars for shipments that were actually lighter, and thus cheaper, than the weights for which the defendants charged the government.  The United States further alleges that the defendants knowingly made or used false statements concealing their overcharging practices to the Department of Defense.

“Those who do business with the government must do so fairly and honestly,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.  “Knowingly overcharging the government is an affront to American taxpayers, and the Department of Justice will seek to ensure that those who engage in such misconduct are held accountable.”

Specifically, the United States’ lawsuit alleges that the defendants reweighed thousands of shipments and suppressed the results whenever they indicated that a shipment was actually lighter than its original estimated weight.  Thus, instead of charging the Department of Defense for shipments based on the correct weight, the defendants knowingly billed the government (and their other customers) based on weights that they knew to be inflated.  The defendants also allegedly made false statements to induce the Department of Defense to use them as freight carriers and further knowingly made or used false statements to improperly avoid their obligations to correct inflated invoices and return overpayments.

“When a federal agency, such as the Department of Defense, enters into a service contract with a private corporation or company, the expectation is that the agreement will be administered in good faith,” stated U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy Jr. for the Western District of New York. “In this case, YRC did not legally fulfill its agreed upon obligations to the Defense Department, choosing instead to line its pockets with tax payer’s dollars. Such actions are fraudulent and illegal. This case should serve as a warning to any organization that enters into a contract with the federal government—if you try to rip us off, be prepared to pay a heavy price.”

“This complaint is the result of a successful investigation to identify those who seek to profit by defrauding the Defense Department,” stated Leigh-Alistair Barzey, Special Agent-in-Charge, Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), Northeast Field Office.  “DCIS will continue to investigate procurement fraud allegations, along with its law enforcement partners, in order to protect U.S. military members and the American tax payer.”
 
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The original lawsuit in this case was filed by James Hannum under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act.  Under the act, private citizens can bring suit on behalf of the United States for false claims and share in any recovery.  The act permits the government to intervene in such lawsuits, as it has done here.  Those who violate the act are subject to treble damages and civil penalties.

This matter was investigated by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, and the United States Army Criminal Investigation Division Command.

The case is captioned United States ex rel. Hannum v. YRC Freight, Inc.; Roadway Express, Inc.; and Yellow Transportation, Inc., Civil Action No. 08-0811(A) (W.D.N.Y.).

The claims asserted in the United States’ complaint are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability.
 
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[Source: U.S. Department of Justice -/- Media Relations]
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Cybercrime Is Now A Mature Industry

 

The Industrialization of Cybercrime

 
 

Cybercrime is now a mature industry operating on principles much like those of legitimate businesses in pursuit of profit. Combating the proliferation of cybercrime means disrupting a business model that employs easy-to-use tools to generate high profits with low risk.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Long gone are the legendary lone-wolf hackers of the late 1980s, when showing off level 99 computer wizard skills was the main reason to get into other people’s computers. The shift to profit making, starting in the 1990s, has gradually taken over the hacking scene to create today’s cybercrime industry, with all the attributes of normal businesses, including markets, exchanges, specialist operators, outsourcing service providers, integrated supply chains, and so on. Several nation-states have used the same technology to develop highly effective cyber weaponry for intelligence gathering, industrial espionage, and disrupting adversaries’ vulnerable infrastructures.

 

Evolution

Cybercrime has proliferated even though the supply of highly skilled specialists has not kept pace with the increasing technical sophistication needed to pull off profitable hacks with impunity. Advanced tooling and automation have filled the gap. Hacking tools have evolved spectacularly over the past two decades. In the 1990s, so-called penetration testing to find vulnerabilities in a computer system was all the rage in the profession. Most tools available at that time were simple, often custom built, and using them required considerable knowledge in programming, networking protocols, operating system internals, and various other deeply technical subjects. As a result, only a few professionals could find exploitable weaknesses and take advantage of them.

As tools got better and easier to use, less skilled, but motivated, young people—mockingly called “script kiddies”—started to use them with relative success. Today, to launch a phishing operation—that is, the fraudulent practice of sending email that appears to be from a reputable sender to trick people into revealing confidential information—requires only a basic understanding of the concepts, willingness, and some cash. Hacking has become easy to do.

Cyber risk is notoriously difficult to quantify. Loss data are scarce and unreliable, in part because there is little incentive to report cyber losses, especially if the incident does not make headlines or there is no cyber insurance coverage. The rapidly evolving nature of the threats makes historical data less relevant in predicting future losses.

Scenario-based modeling, working out the costs of a well-defined incident affecting certain economies, produces estimates in the tens or hundreds of billions of dollars. Lloyd’s of London estimates losses of $53.05 billion for a cloud service outage lasting 2½ to 3 days affecting the advanced economies. An IMF modeling exercise put the base-case average aggregated annual loss at $97 billion, with the worst-case scenario in the range of $250 billion.

Causes and consequences

Crime in the physical world—with the intent of making money—is generally motivated simply by profit potentially much higher than for legal business, which criminals view as compensation for the high risk. In the world of cybercrime, similar or even higher profits are possible with much less risk: less chance of being caught and successfully prosecuted and almost no risk of being shot at. Phishing profitability is estimated in the high hundreds or even over a thousand percentage points. We can only speculate on the profits made possible by intellectual property theft carried out by the most sophisticated cyber threat actors. The basics, however, are similar: effective tooling and an exceptional risk/reward ratio make a compelling case and ultimately explain the sharp increase in and industrialization of cybercrime.

Cybercrime gives rise to systemic risk in several industries. While different industries are affected differently, the most exposed is probably the financial sector. A relatively new threat is posed by destruction-motivated attackers. When seeking to destabilize the financial system, they look at the most promising targets. Financial market infrastructure is the most vulnerable because of its pivotal role in global financial markets. Given the financial sector’s dependence on a relatively small set of technical systems, knock-on effects from defaults or delays due to successful attacks can be widespread, with potentially systemic effects.

Given the inherent interconnection of financial sector participants, a successful disruption to the payment, clearing, or settlement systems—or stealing confidential information—would result in widespread spillovers and threaten financial stability.
 
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Fortunately, to date, we have not experienced a cyberattack with systemic consequences. However, policymakers and financial regulators are increasingly wary, given recent incidents that took out ATM networks and attacks against online banking systems, central banks, and payment systems.

The financial sector has been dependent on information technology for decades and has a history of maintaining strong IT control environments mandated by regulation. While the financial sector may be most at risk of cyberattack, such attacks also carry a higher risk for cyber criminals, in part because of greater attention from law enforcement (just like old-fashioned bank robberies). The financial sector also does a better job of supporting law enforcement—for example, by keeping extensive records that are valuable in forensic investigations. Deeper budgets can often lead to effective cybersecurity solutions. (A recent notable exception is Equifax, whose hack was arguably a consequence of a cyber regulatory regime that was not proportional to its risk.)

The situation is different in health care. Except in the wealthiest nations, the health care sector typically does not have the resources necessary for effective cyber defense. This is evident, for example, in ransomware attacks this year that targeted computer systems at the electronic health record company Allscripts and two regional hospitals in the United States. Although also heavily regulated and under strict data protection rules, health care has not relied nearly as much on IT as the financial sector has, and consequently has not developed a similar culture of strict IT controls. This too makes the health care sector more susceptible to cyber breaches. What is most worrisome about this weakness is that, unlike in the financial sector, lives can be lost if, for example, attackers hit computerized life-support systems.

Utilities, especially the power and communication grids, are often cited as the next sectors where large-scale cyberattacks can have severe consequences. In this case, however, the main concern is disruption or infiltration of systems by rival states, either directly or through proxy organizations. As famously exemplified by the massive 2007 attack against Estonia’s Internet infrastructure—which took down online financial services, media, and government agencies—the more advanced and Internet-based an economy, the more devastating cyberattacks can be. Estonia is among the most digitalized societies in the world (see “E-stonia Takes Off” in the March 2018 F&D).

Countermeasures

If critical infrastructure—say, a power grid—or telecommunication and transportation networks are affected, or an attack prevents governments from collecting taxes or providing critical services, major disruptions with systemic economic implications could ensue and potentially pose a public health or security hazard. In such instances, the aggregate risk to the global economy could exceed the sum of individuals’ risks, because of the global nature of IT networks and platforms, the national nature of response structures, ineffective international cooperation, or even the presence of nation-states among the attackers.

International cooperation in combating and prosecuting cybercrime lags well behind the global nature of the threat. The best way to tackle cybercrime is to attack its business model, which relies on the exceptional risk/reward ratio associated with ineffective prosecution. In this context, the business risk of cybercrime must be raised significantly, but this is possible only with better international cooperation.

Cybercrime operations can span several jurisdictions, which makes them harder to take down and prosecute. Some jurisdictions are slow, ineffective, or simply uncooperative in tackling cybercrime. Stronger cooperation would make tracking down suspects and charging them faster and more effective.

In the financial sector, regulators have developed specific assessment standards, set enforceable expectations and benchmarks, and encouraged information sharing and collaboration among firms and regulators. Bank regulators conduct IT examinations that factor cybersecurity preparedness into stress testing, resolution planning, and safety and soundness supervision. Some require simulated cyberattacks designed specifically for each firm, drawing on government and private sector intelligence and expertise, to determine resilience against an attack. Companies have also increased investment in cybersecurity and are incorporating cybersecurity preparedness into risk management. In addition, some have sought to transfer some risk via cyber insurance.

The current cybersecurity landscape remains disparate and decentralized, with risks handled mainly as local idiosyncratic problems. There are some cooperation mechanisms, and governments and regulators are stepping up their efforts, but the choice of cybersecurity is largely determined by corporate need—“each to its own.” This must change to bring about generally enhanced cyber risk resilience. Strong preventive measures are needed both at the regulatory and technology levels and across industries. Among the most important of these is adherence to minimum cybersecurity standards, enforced in a coordinated way by regulators. Stepped-up cybersecurity awareness training will help defend against the basic technical weaknesses and user errors that are the source of most breaches.

Cyberattacks and cybersecurity breaches seem inevitable, so we also need to focus on how fast we detect breaches, how effectively we respond, and how soon we get operations back on track.
 
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[Source: By Tamas Gaidosch / International Monetary Fund -/- Media Relations]
(TAMAS GAIDOSCH, senior financial sector expert in the IMF’s Monetary and Capital Markets Department, is a cybersecurity professional with more than 20 years’ experience, including probing banking systems to find cyber weaknesses. He formerly led the Information Technology Supervision Department at the Central Bank of Hungary.)

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Note: Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author; they do not necessarily reflect IMF policy.

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Related Video: Hackers will pose a greater threat in 2018 | The Economist https://youtu.be/kCrV_hQ1W-Q
 

 
 



NATO Gives Full Support To Ukraines’ Territorial Sovereignty

 

NATO Secretary General and President Poroshenko discuss developments in and around the Sea of Azov

 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko met on Thursday (13 December 2018) to discuss developments in and around the Sea of Azov and the Alliance’s strong support for Ukraine. Mr. Stoltenberg reaffirmed NATO’s full support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, noting that NATO has stepped up its presence in the Black Sea region over the past few years and will continue to assess its posture.

 
 

The Secretary General stressed that NATO Allies remain concerned by the heightened tensions in and around the Sea of Azov. “There can be no justification for Russia’s use of military force against Ukrainian ships and sailors,” he said. He added that NATO condemns the building of the Kerch Straight bridge, which represents another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Mr. Stoltenberg affirmed that NATO will continue to provide Ukraine with strong political and practical support, including around 40 million euros pledged by Allies for NATO-Ukraine Trust Funds. He also announced that NATO will deliver secure communications equipment for the Ukrainian Armed Forces by the end of the year.
 

 
Mr. Stoltenberg commended President Poroshenko for his commitment to the democratic process, stressing that good governance and reform will bring Ukraine closer to joining the Alliance. The Secretary General encouraged Ukraine to continue implementing key reforms, including toward greater civilian control over the security and intelligence services, anti-corruption and minority rights. “Allies recognise Ukraine’s aspirations to join the Alliance,” he said.
 
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[Source: NATO -/- Media Relations]
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The Modernization Of FYR Macedonia’s Railway Infrastructure Is Progressing

EBRD partners with EU for Macedonian Railway Corridor VIII

The modernization of FYR Macedonia’s railway infrastructure is progressing, with the signing in Skopje today of a grant agreement for a further €68.6 million of co-financing from the European Union through the Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF).

This grant will be used to co-finance the construction of approximately 34 km of the rail network, from Beljakovce to Kriva Palanka, the second phase of the railway Corridor VIII project, which, once completed, is to become part of the Trans-European Transport Network, linking the country with Albania in the west and Bulgaria in the east.

It follows sovereign loans of €46.4 million and €145 million provided by the EBRD to the Macedonian government for on-lending to the Macedonian Public Enterprise for Railway Infrastructure (PERI), a state-owned company established in 2007. The first phase of the project – the rehabilitation of a rail section approximately 31 km in length between Kumanovo and Beljakovce – is currently being implemented. For the second phase, procurement activities have started and the contractor that will carry out the work is now being selected.

The WBIF has also been providing technical cooperation grants in the amount of €5.7 million for project preparation and implementation.

The development of the Macedonian economy depends on connections to major international land transport routes along which freight can travel easily. The country also lies on the route of the 215 km rail Corridor X.

Established in 2009, the WBIF is a joint initiative of the European Commission, international financial institutions such as the EBRD, bilateral donors* and governments of the Western Balkans countries. The Framework aims to support development and EU accession through the provision of finance and technical assistance for strategic investment, particularly in transport, energy, environment, social infrastructure (such as schools and community housing) and private sector development.
 
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The grant agreement was signed in the presence of Goran Sugareski, Minister of Transport and Communications, Dragan Tevdovski, Finance Minister, Samuel Zbogar, Head of EU Delegation and Anca Ionescu, EBRD Head, Macedonia.

Note:Bilateral donors to the WBIF are:  AustriaCanada,the Czech RepublicDenmark,Finland,France, GermanyGreece, Hungary, Ireland,Italy,Luxembourg,the NetherlandsNorwayPoland,the Slovak Republic,Slovenia, Spain,Sweden and the United Kingdom.
 
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[Source: By Vanora Bennett / European Bank for Reconstruction and Development -/- Media Relations]
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Is Singapore Stifling Free Speech?

Singapore government threatens critics and independent media with defamation claims

 

Two separate defamation cases against a news site and blogger in Singapore have put the country’s severe restrictions on free speech back in the spotlight.

 

The cases, which target blogger Leong Sze Hian and the political news site The Online Citizen, re-raise longstanding concerns about the consequences of criminal defamation laws for freedom of expression. In Singapore, defamation is an offense that carries a maximum penalty of two-year imprisonment and a fine.

 
 

Defamation probe against The Online Citizen

The Online Citizen (TOC) is facing a criminal defamation probe for publishing a letter written by Willy Sum, a government critic. Police say the letter is defamatory because it accused top government officials of corruption.

On November 20, police raided the home of TOC editor-in-chief Terry Xu, confiscating computers and other equipment, and forcing the news website to declare a hiatus from publication. Xu was also interrogated by police for eight hours.

A crowdfunding effort by its subscribers allowed TOC to buy new hardware and resume operations. In a joint statement, several Southeast Asia-based civil society groups urged the government to drop the defamation probe against TOC:

Instead of persecuting individuals who ask difficult questions and publish critical views, the government should be more transparent and refute assertions it does not agree with while adhering to the standards of civility and encouraging civil discourse.

They have also stressed that TOC removed the alleged defamatory letter as soon as it received a takedown notice from the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), an agency of the Singaporean government.

Blogger sued for sharing article on Facebook

On November 7, blogger Leong Sze Hian shared on his Facebook page an article published by a Malaysian news website, TheCoverage.my, about a possible link between Singapore’s prime minister and a high-profile corruption scandal in Malaysia involving Malaysian Development Berhad, a government-run development company.

In early December, Leong revealed that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had filed a defamation claim against him, simply for sharing the article.

The article cited a story by States Times Review, an Australia-based political blog aimed at Singaporeans, which was later found to contain baseless allegations. It claimed that editor-in-chief of investigative journalism platform Sarawak Report, Clare Rewcastle, had mentioned Singapore as “one of the key investigation targets, alongside Switzerland and the United States” in an interview with Malaysian media. Sarawak Report later rebutted this claim, calling it “erroneous” and making a request for STR to correct it.

The Singaporean state agency IMDA requested the publisher of States Times Review to take down the article, but the website refused, so the IMDA instead directed Singaporean ISPs to block access to the entire website, along with other Malaysian media that had republished the story. States Times Review ceased operations shortly thereafter.

Singaporean laws empower the IMDA to order local ISPs to remove any material it deems against the public interest, social order, or national harmony. Local news websites are also required to remove a content deemed illegal by the government within 24 hours. These orders are not subject to judicial approval.

The IMDA also requested that Leong remove the Facebook post on November 10. Leong complied, but then received a letter from the prime minister’s lawyers demanding a public apology and compensation for damages.

News about the defamation case against Leong alarmed many people. Ghui, a TOC contributor, warned that it could set a dangerous legal precedent:

If Leong is indeed taken to court and found guilty, this sets a dangerous precedent for virtually any entity (ranging from big corporations to rich individuals) with the money to pursue law suits to bully anyone into not speaking up. Is this the kind of society we want to live in whereby money can be used as a tool to subjugate?

Ghui also questioned whether there was a strong enough case for charging Leong with defamation, given that he had complied with the government’s takedown notice and did not write a caption for the original article when he shared it on Facebook.

Some believe that Leong was singled out because of his previous affiliation with a human rights group which had been advocating free speech and other civil liberties in Singapore.

One of those who expressed support for Leong was Roy Yi Ling Ngerng, a blogger who was also sued for defamation by the prime minister in 2014:

How can a prime minister be offended by someone sharing a Facebook post? If so, thousands of people all over the world should also be sued by him too.

Roy was ordered by the court to apologize to the prime minister and pay the equivalent of USD $106,383 in fines. Roy is now based in Taiwan.

Leong has refrained from commenting on the details of the case, but affirmed his commitment to free speech:

I have fought for fundamental human rights in Singapore for the better part of my adult life in the last 2 decades or so, and the freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental of these human rights.

Facebook refuses to remove post

The IMDA also requested that Facebook remove the States Times Article from its platform, but the company refused to comply. A statement by the company from November 10 said: “Facebook has indicated that they will not accede to IMDA’s request”.

Facebook’s refusal prompted Singapore’s Ministry of Law to follow up with a statement calling for tougher legislation on “fake news”:

Facebook has declined to take down a post that is clearly false, defamatory and attacks Singapore, using falsehoods. This shows why we need legislation to protect us from deliberate online falsehoods. (…). Facebook does not feel that [falsehood] is sufficient grounds for it to remove the post. FB cannot be relied upon to filter falsehoods or protect Singapore from a false information campaign.

Singapore is among the many countries in the world considering such legislation. In January 2018, the Parliament established a committee to address the problem of “deliberate online falsehoods”, or disinformation on the internet.

Community Action Network, a local rights advocacy group, disagreed with Singapore’s government’s order to ISPs to block the websites in connection to the States Times Review case:

While we do not approve of articles which contain falsehoods, it is disproportionate for the government to resort to criminal sanctions for speech which does not incite violence, hate and discrimination.

Criminalising ‘fake news’ will have a chilling effect and further entrench the stigma of engaging in critical political activities and discourse. It will also give those in power more ammunition to silence views they don’t agree with.

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[Source: By Mong Palatino / Global Voices -/- Media Relations]
 
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U.S. Federal Jury Convicts 36 People In ‘International Thai Sex Trafficking Organization’

Thirty-Six Defendants Guilty for Their Roles in International Thai Sex Trafficking Organization

Five defendants were convicted yesterday by a federal jury for their roles in operating a massive international sex trafficking organization that was responsible for coercing hundreds of Thai women to engage in commercial sex acts across the United States.

Michael Morris, 65, of Seal Beach, California; Pawinee Unpradit, 46, of Dallas, Texas; Saowapha Thinram, 44, of Hutto, Texas; Thoucharin Ruttanamongkongul, 35, of Chicago Illinois; and Waralee Wanless, 39, of The Colony, Texas, were convicted following a six-week trial before Senior Judge Donovan Frank in U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Thirty-one defendants previously pleaded guilty for their roles in the sex trafficking organization.

The convictions were announced yesterday by U.S. Attorney Erica H. MacDonald for the District of Minnesota, Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, Special Agent in Charge Tracy J. Cormier of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) St. Paul, Supervisory Special Agent Todd Strom of IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) and Directing Attorney Panida Rzonca for the Thai Community Development Center.

“More than two years ago, my office filed the first federal indictment against a criminal organization that relied on the sexual exploitation of women for their own financial gain,” said U.S. Attorney MacDonald.  “Since then, our team of prosecutors and investigators systematically dismantled the organization, while seeking justice for every victim of this organization.  The process has been long, but today’s guilty verdict represents both a successful and just outcome.  While our work combatting human trafficking continues, this case stands as a powerful example of the Department of Justice’s commitment to achieving justice for victims.  I applaud our law enforcement partners for the remarkable dedication and collaboration they have demonstrated throughout this process.”

“The defendants convicted yesterday participated in a massive yet brutally efficient criminal enterprise that trafficked hundreds of vulnerable Thai women for sexual exploitation and used sophisticated money laundering techniques to conceal and sustain itself,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.  “The Criminal Division, through our Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to dismantle the financial infrastructure supporting criminal organizations such as these.”

“Sex trafficking is a horrific crime that seeks to erode the human dignity of victims,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.  “I want to thank U.S. Attorney Erica H. MacDonald, the District of Minnesota’s Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team, HSI St. Paul, IRS Criminal Investigations, the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, and other law enforcement and local partners for their hard work on this case which dismantled an extensive transnational trafficking enterprise.  The Department of Justice will bring the full force of the law against perpetrators of sex trafficking crimes.”

“The convictions of these defendants close this chapter for law enforcement, however mark only the beginning of the recovery process for the victims,” said Special Agent in Charge Comier.  “I am extremely proud of the work done by HSI’s special agents, and of the teamwork demonstrated by our law enforcement partners in dismantling this criminal organization.  Our communities are safer as a result of this investigation.”

“The cruel and illegal actions of the defendants tear at the fabric of our community, causing trauma, fear and anguish both seen and unseen,” said St. Paul Police Chief Axtell.  “Thankfully, due to the exceptional work of many law enforcement agencies and their representatives, the guilty will be held accountable for their actions and survivors will get help, support and justice.”
 
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“The guilty verdict of these five individuals received yesterday is the culmination of a large sophisticated international sex trafficking criminal enterprise,” said IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Strom.  “This criminal organization exploited women and laundered hundreds of thousands of illicit profits. Pooling the skills of each agency in this complex investigation made a tremendous team including IRS Criminal Investigation who provided the financial expertise to follow the money trail of these criminals.  Today’s guilty verdict demonstrates the collective efforts of law enforcement and U.S. Attorney’s Office who brought down an international sex trafficking organization.”

As proven at trial, this criminal organization compelled hundreds of women from Bangkok, Thailand, to engage in commercial sex acts in various cities across the United States, including Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Phoenix, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Houston, Dallas, Seattle and Austin.  The trafficking victims were often from impoverished backgrounds and spoke little or no English. They were coerced to participate in the criminal scheme through misleading promises of a better life in the United States and the ability to provide money to their families in Thailand.

Once in the United States, the victims were sent to houses of prostitution where they were forced to have sex with strangers – every day – for up to 12 hours a day, at times having sex with 10 men a day.  The victims were isolated from the outside world.  They were not allowed to leave the houses of prostitution unless accompanied by a member of the criminal organization.  The victims moved around the United States between houses of prostitution in multiple cities.  They and their families in Thailand were threatened.

The organization also engaged in widespread visa fraud to facilitate the international transportation of the victims.  Traffickers assisted the victims in obtaining fraudulent visas and travel documents by funding false bank accounts, creating fictitious backgrounds and occupations, and instructing the victims to enter into fraudulent marriages to increase the likelihood that their visa applications would be approved.  Traffickers also coached the victims as to what to say during their visa interviews.  While working to obtain visa documents, traffickers gathered personal information from the victims, including the location of the victims’ families in Thailand.  This information was later used to threaten victims who sought to flee the organization in the United States.

The organization dealt primarily in cash and engaged in rampant and sophisticated money laundering in order to promote and conceal illegal profits. The organization used “funnel accounts” to launder and route cash from cities across the United States to the money launderers in Los Angeles.  To date, investigators have been able to recover $1.5 million in cash and $15 million in money judgments secured through plea agreements.  During the extensive investigation, law enforcement traced tens of millions of dollars to the organization.  Indeed, at trial, there was testimony that more than $40 million was sent to Thailand by one money launderer alone.

The District of Minnesota is one of six districts designated through a nationwide selection process as a Phase II Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team (ACTeam), an ACTeam Initiative of the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Labor. ACTeams focus on developing high-impact human trafficking investigations and prosecutions involving forced labor, international sex trafficking and sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion through interagency collaboration among federal prosecutors and federal investigative agencies.  Today’s convictions validate the continued ACTeam mission—to take on and take down the most entrenched and sophisticated human trafficking organizations that seek to profit from human exploitation.

U.S. Attorney MacDonald, Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski and Assistant Attorney General Dreiband commended the multiple agencies that assisted in this investigation over the past three years including: HSI; IRS-CI; the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section; the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit;  the St. Paul Police Department; the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s Minnesota Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force; the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office; the Cook County (Illinois) Sheriff’s Office; the State Department Diplomatic Security Service; and the International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center (IOC-2).  U.S. Attorney MacDonald also thanks the Thai Community Development Center for the support and advocacy they have done on behalf of the victims of this sex trafficking organization.

U.S. Attorney MacDonald, Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski and Assistant Attorney General Dreiband further thanked the trial team led by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Melinda A. Williams and Laura Provinzino, with assistance from HSI Special Agent Tonya Price, IRS-CI Special Agent John Tschida, Senior Investigator Steven Baker of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit for their dedication to the pursuit of justice
 
Stop Human Trafficking
 

This case is filed as United States v. Michael Morris, et al., 17-cr-107 (DWF/TNL) and United States v. Sumalee Intarathong, et al., 16-cr-257 (DWF/TNL).

Defendants:

MICHAEL J. MORRIS, 65

Seal Beach, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Sex trafficking by use of force, fraud, and coercion, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution, 1 count

PAWINEE UNPRADIT, 46 

Dallas, Texas

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution, 1 count

SAOWAPHA THINRAM, 44 

Hutto, Texas

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution, 1 count

THOUCHARIN RUTTANAMONGKONGUL, 35 

Chicago, Ill.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution, 1 count

WARALEE WANLESS, 39

The Colony, Texas

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution, 1 count

CHATARAK TAUFFLIEB, 52

San Jose, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

PEERACHET THIPBOONNGAM, 58

Los Angeles, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

GREGORY ALLEN KIMMY, 38

Hutto, Texas

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

WILAIWAN PHIMKHALEE, 40

Chicago, Ill.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

KANYARAT CHAIWIRAT, 52

Chicago, Ill.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

PORNTHEP SUKPRASERT, 42

Huntington Beach, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

MULCHULEE CHALERMSAKULRAT, 41

Huntington Beach, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

BHUNNA WIN, 51

San Diego, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Unlicensed money transmitting business, 1 count

NATCHANOK YUVASUTA, 50

Los Angeles, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

NATTAYA LEELARUNGRAYAB, 47

Los Angeles, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

PEERASAK GUNTETONG, 61

North Hollywood, CA

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

VEERAPON GHETTALAE, 57

Lake Elsinore, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

MATTHEW MINTZ, 27

Chicago, Ill.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit alien harboring, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

MOHIT TANDON, 38

Burr Ridge, Ill.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

RICHARD ALEXANDER, 53

DeKalb, Ill.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

TANAKRON PATRATH, 60

Houston, Texas

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

PANWAD KHOTPRATOOM, 47

Houston, Texas

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

CHABAPRAI BOONLUEA, 44

Winder, Ga.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

NOPPAWAN LERSLURCHACHAI, 37

Lomita, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Sex trafficking by use of force, fraud, and coercion, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

WATCHARIN LUAMSEEJUN, 48

Unknown

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

PANTILA RODPHOKHA, 33

Mount Prospect, Ill.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

SOYSUDA SIANGDANG, 34

Chicago, Ill.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

ANDREW FLANIGAN, 53

Winder, Ga.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

TODD VASSEY, 56

Lahanina, Hawaii

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

THI VU, 50

Atlanta, Ga.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

JOHN ZBRACKI, 61

Lakeville, Minn.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

JOHN NG, 41

Cottage Grove, Minn.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 1 count

PATCHARAPORN SAENGKHAM, 43

Los Angeles, Calif.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to enter the United States by means of misrepresentation and concealment of facts, 1 count

CHANANCHIDA SENASU, 42

Dallas, Tex.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to enter the United States by means of misrepresentation and concealment of facts, 1 count

YADAPORN PANNGOEN, 32

Chicago, Ill.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to enter the United States by means of misrepresentation and concealment of facts, 1 count

CHONTHICHA SOICHAISONG, 38

Austin, Tex.

Convicted:

  • Conspiracy to enter the United States by means of misrepresentation and concealment of facts, 1 count

 
IJzeren voetring voor gevangenen transparent background
 

[Source: U.S. Department of Justice -/- Media Relations]
[Photo Credits: Photos inserted by Openeyesopinion.com (credits embedded)]

 

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International Operation In Italy Successfully Dismantled An Organized Crime Group

ITALIAN OPERATION ARRESTS TEN MEMBERS OF AN ORGANIZED CRIME GROUP

 

An international operation successfully dismantled an organized crime group, suspect of money laundering and illegally trading gold. Italy’s Guardia di Finanza (Bologna) led the operation. The Guardia di Finanza handles all areas of financial crime. Europol supported the case with codename Pietra Filosofale.

 

House searches were carried out on 12 December in the Italian regions of Abruzzo, Basilicata, Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany.

 
 
Ten members of the targeted organized crime group were arrested. During the operation, the Guardia di Finanza seized EUR 260 000. There are four arrest warrants for criminals in Romania and Turkey. The members of the organized crime group came from China, Italy, Romania and Turkey. In addition, the Judge for Preliminary the Investigations in Bologna ordered to freeze EUR 7.4 million in assets.

The aim of the operation was to dismantle the group, which was active in international money laundering. The Guardia di Finanza had been collecting evidence against the group for two years. The investigation led to the seizure of over 70 kg of gold (valued at EUR 2.5 million) and EUR 1.5 million in cash.

The main target, a 50-year-old Turkish national collected cash from Chinese businesspeople to commit tax evasion. He invested the collected cash and bought gold, which he traded on the legal gold market. He then transferred the profits to bank accounts in Romania and Turkey, and eventually to bank accounts in the UK owned by the Chinese criminals who led the crime group.

International cooperation via Italy’s Guardia di Finanza and Europol played a crucial role in this complex case. Europol facilitated the rapid exchange of information and provided investigators with qualified support.
 
Guardia.di.finanza.car.arp
 
[Source: Europol -/- Media Relations]
[Photo Credits: Photos inserted by Openeyesopinion.com (credits embedded)]

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Pompeo’s Remarks At The United Nations Security Council Meeting On Iran

U.S. Secretary of State Remarks at the United Nations Security Council Meeting on Iran

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you very much, and good morning. Thank you for the kind words. I appreciate them.

Just two days ago, the head of the IRGC’s airspace division, Amir Hajizadeh, boasted that Iran is capable of building missiles with a range beyond 2,000 kilometers. He said, quote, “We have the ability to build missiles with broader ranges. We don’t have limitations from a technical perspective.” End of quote. He also said there are many “enemy bases” within 800 kilometers of Iran – in other words, within striking distance of Iranian missiles. He bragged that Iran does 40 to 50 tests per year.

 
 
 

As I’ll talk about further, it is clear that the Iranian regime’s ballistic missile activity has grown since the nuclear deal. Iran has exploited the goodwill of nations and defied multiple Security Council resolutions in its quest for a robust ballistic missile force. The United States will never stand for this.

No nation that seeks peace and prosperity in the Middle East should either.

Since 2006, this Council has been telling Iran to stop testing and proliferating ballistic missiles in one form or another. From 2010 to 2015, Iran was subject to UN Security Council Resolution 1929 – the strictest resolution addressing the Iranian ballistic missiles to date.

In that resolution, the Security Council decided that, “Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology, and that States shall take… necessary measures to prevent the transfer of technology or technical assistance to Iran related to such activities.” This provision of UNSCR 1929 imposed a legal prohibition on Iran’s ballistic missile activity. There was force of law behind these words.

Nevertheless, Iran conducted multiple ballistic missile launches between 2010 and 2015, in flagrant violation of that resolution.

So what did we do in response? Did we increase accountability on Iran for serial violations of international law? Quite the opposite. In fact, the level of accountability on Iran has diminished instead of — decreased, while the risk has increased.

In connection with the Iranian regime’s engagement in nuclear talks, and at the Obama administration’s urging, the Security Council replaced Resolution 1929 with Resolution 2231. Resolution 2231 “calls upon” Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Notwithstanding that change in language, the world’s concerns remain.

When we collectively “call upon” Iran to cease its ballistic missile activity, we must agree to stop it now. But Iran is as defiant of the world’s insistence as ever. Because here we are, for the 12th year in a row, meeting about Iran’s ballistic missiles, addressing an incredibly problematic data set.

Iran’s pace of missile activity, including missile launches and tests, did not diminish since the JCPOA. In fact, Iran’s missile testing and missile proliferation is growing. Today Iran has the largest ballistic missile force in the Middle East. It has more than 10 ballistic missile systems in its inventory or in development. It has hundreds of missiles which pose a threat to our partners in the region.

From more recent times: In 2016, during the time of the JCPOA, Iran unveiled two new short-range ballistic missiles, which it claims are capable of striking targets between 500 and 700 kilometers. In January of 2017, during the time of the JCPOA, Iran launched a medium-range missile designed to carry a payload greater than 500 kilograms, and which could be used to carry nuclear warheads. Its suspected range also approaches 2,000 kilometers, which is far enough to target Athens, Sofia, Bucharest, and other major European cities. If the IRGC airspace commander is telling the truth, and Iran has capabilities beyond 2,000 kilometers, other European capitals are at risk as well.

In July of 2017, while the United States was still in the JCPOA, Iran tested a Simorgh space launch vehicle. The United States, France, Germany, and the UK all assessed that the launch was inconsistent with 2231, because space launch vehicle use – uses a similar technology as intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Iran has exported ballistic missile systems as well, most recently to Yemen. We have hard evidence that Iran is providing missiles, training, and support to the Houthis, and the Iranian-Houthi missile force is fully engaged. This poses a threat to innocent civilians – including Americans – living in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, as well as people of all nationalities who travel on civilian aircraft in that region.

Iran is also transferring ballistic missile systems to Shia militias in Iraq.
 
Firing Qader Missile from a truck launcher (2)
 
And just look at the last two weeks. The Iranian regime test-fired a medium range ballistic missile that is capable of carrying multiple warheads.

Our goodwill gestures have been futile, futile in correcting the Iranian regime’s reckless missile activity and its destructive behaviors. No nation can dispute that Iran is in open defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 2231.

The United States is not alone in raising these concerns. I’d like to thank France and Germany and the United Kingdom for raising concerns about Iranian missile proliferation to the secretariat.

I would also like to thank our partners from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who are working with UN inspectors in recovering material debris of Iranian-supplied missiles, rockets, and UAVs launched into their countries by Houthi forces in Yemen.

Our Israeli allies have brought further evidence to the Security Council about Iran’s continued launches of ballistic missiles that are inherently capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Israel has also given evidence to the secretariat of Iran’s transfer of weapon systems to its proxies all around the Middle East, and in defiance of what we have insisted that they do.

So the question – the question now: What steps ought we take to confront this Iranian malign activity? We risk the security of our people if Iran continues stocking up on ballistic missiles. We risk escalation of conflict in the region if we fail to restore deterrence. And we convey to all other malign actors that they too can defy the Security Council with impunity if we do nothing.

The United Nations Charter, as you all know well, calls the primary – gives – bestows upon the Security Council “the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.” We all take this responsibility seriously. The United States seeks to work with all other members of the Council to reimpose on Iran the ballistic missiles restrictions outlined in 1929.

Beyond addressing Iran’s ballistic missile activities, the Council should not lift the arms embargo in 2020 on Iran. This is a country in noncompliance with multiple UN Security Council resolutions, including those related to al-Qaida, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Yemen, and Somalia. Iran is harboring al-Qaida, supporting Taliban militants in Afghanistan, arming terrorists in Lebanon, facilitating illicit trade in Somali charcoal benefiting al-Shabaab, and training and equipping Shia militias in Iraq, even as we sit here today.

It is also stoking conflict in Syria and Yemen. The Council must address these malign activities. It cannot reward Iran by lifting the arms embargo.

We also call on the Council to establish inspection and interdiction measures, in ports and on the high seas, to thwart Iran’s continuing efforts to circumvent the existing arms restrictions.

Some have questioned our decision to withdraw from the JCPOA. We reply that it is self-evident why we did so based upon the very conversation we’re having here today. Prior to the deal, Western leaders made grand claims of how the JCPOA would usher in a new era of moderation from the Iranian regime.

Indeed, America’s own president said, quote, “Ideally, we would see a situation in which Iran, seeing sanctions reduced, would start focusing on its economy, on training its people, on re-entering the world community, to lessening its provocative activities in the region.” But what do we actually see?

The JCPOA has without a doubt, to date, shielded the Islamic Republic of Iran from the accountability to the risks it presents to the world.

The Iranian regime is pursuing the same destructive, revolutionary goals that it has for the past 39 years – except now it has more money to achieve them, thanks to the nuclear deal.

I’m here today first and foremost as my capacity as the Secretary of State of the United States of America. Under President Trump, the security of our people and our allies comes first.

But in the finest traditions of American leadership, the United States will continue to unite sovereign nations in their responsibility to work for the peace and security of their own people and a stable international order.

The United States is going to continue to be relentless in building a coalition of responsible nations who are serious in confronting the Iranian regime’s reckless ballistic missile activity.

This includes the treatment of its own people as well. That type of malign activity is something that the United States will keep standing side by side with the people of Iran. They have been the worst victims of the regime for nearly 40 years and they have the unwavering support of the United States.

Finally, The Trump administration clearly defined in May the 12 areas in which we are demanding change from Iran.

If Iran makes a fundamental strategic shift and honors these demands, we are prepared to ease our pressure campaign and support the modernization and reintegration of the Iranian economy into the international economic system.

But relief – relief from our efforts will come only when we see tangible, demonstrated, and sustained shifts in Tehran’s policies.

Thank you
 
Mike Pompeo Official Portrait 112th Congress
 

[Source: U.S. Department of State -/- Media Relations]
[Photo Credits: Photos inserted by Openeyesopinion.com (credits embedded)]
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Do Kids Have A Future In The United States?

Most parents – and many non-parents – don’t expect to have kids in the future

About seven-in-ten U.S. parents younger than 50 (71%) say it’s unlikely they will have more children in the future – and among childless adults in the same age group, about four-in-ten (37%) say they don’t ever expect to become parents, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in July and August.

Among parents under 50, four-in-ten say they’re not likely to have more kids in the future because they just don’t want to, while 30% point to some other reason for not expecting to have more kids, according to the survey. Among childless adults under 50, meanwhile, around a quarter (23%) say they’re unlikely to have children in the future because they just don’t want to, while 14% name some other reason for not expecting to have kids.

Parents ages 40 to 49 stand out as being far more likely than those under 40 to say they don’t expect to have more children. About nine-in-ten parents ages 40 to 49 (91%) say they are unlikely to have more children in the future, compared with 56% of parents younger than 40. Three-in-ten childless adults in this younger age group say they are unlikely to become parents someday (there are too few childless adults ages 40 to 49 in the sample to analyze them separately).

The survey asked those who say there is some other reason why they don’t expect to have more children or to have children at all to elaborate on those reasons. The responses of childless adults cannot be analyzed due to the small number of respondents in this category, but among parents who don’t expect to have more kids, the most common response is that either they or their partner is unable to have children due to a medical reason (41% of parents ages 18 to 49 say this). Age is the second-most cited reason, given by 25% of these respondents. A small share (6%) cites financial reasons, such as the cost of child care, and 3% say they either don’t have a partner or that their partner doesn’t want to have more children.
 
Baby möwe
 
Mothers and fathers ages 18 to 49 who don’t expect to have more children are about equally likely to say this is because they don’t want more kids: 58% of mothers and 55% of fathers say this.

Among parents younger than 40 who say they are unlikely to expand their families, more say this is because they don’t want more kids (64%) than say there is some other reason (36%). In contrast, 49% of parents ages 40 to 49 who don’t expect to have more children say there’s another reason for this other than simply not wanting more.

Continue Reading… HERE
 
Lifesize8weekfetus
 
 
[Source: BY GRETCHEN LIVINGSTON AND JULIANA MENASCE HOROWITZ / Pew Research Center | Pewresearch.org -/- Media Relations]
 is a senior researcher focusing on fertility and family demographics at Pew Research Center.

 is an associate director of research at Pew Research Center.

[Photo Credits: Photos inserted by Openeyesopinion.com (credits embedded)]

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The EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement Will Boost Trade In Goods And Services

Key elements of the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement

The EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement will boost trade in goods and services as well as create opportunities for investment.

The agreement will further improve the position of EU exporters and investors on Japan’s large market, while including strong guarantees for the protection of EU standards and values. It will help cement Europe’s leadership in setting global trade rules and send a powerful signal that cooperation, not protectionism, is the way to tackle global challenges.

This Agreement, as other agreements concluded recently by the EU, goes beyond trade issues only. It represents a significant strengthening of our partnership with Japan, as reflected in the name of the agreement.
 

What is the Economic Partnership Agreement about?

1. Elimination of customs duties – more than 90% of the EU’s exports to Japan will be duty free at entry into force of the agreement. Once the agreement is fully implemented, Japan will have scrapped customs duties on 97% of goods imported from the EU (in tariff lines), with the remaining tariff lines being subject to partial liberalisation through tariff rate quotas or tariff reductions. This, in turn, will save EU exporters around €1 billion in customs duties per year.

2. Agriculture and food products – Japan is a highly valuable export market for European farmers and food producers. With annual exports worth over €5.7 billion, Japan is already the EU’s fourth biggest market for agricultural exports. Over time around 85% of EU agri- food products (in tariff lines) will be allowed to enter Japan entirely duty-free. This corresponds to 87% of current agri-food exports by value.

The agreement will eliminate or sharply reduce duties on agricultural products in which the EU has a major export interest, such as pork, the EU’s main agricultural export to Japan, ensuring duty-free trade with processed pork meat and almost duty-free trade for fresh pork meat exports. Tariffs on beef will be cut from 38.5% to 9% over 15 years for a significant volume of beef products.

EU wine exports to Japan are already worth around €1 billion and represent the EU’s second biggest agricultural export to Japan by value. The 15% tariff on wine will be scrapped from day one, as will tariffs for other alcoholic drinks.

As regards cheese exports, where the EU is already the main player on the Japanese market, high duties on many hard cheeses such as Gouda and Cheddar (which currently are at 29.8%) will be eliminated, and a duty-free quota will be established for fresh cheeses such as Mozzarella. The EU-Japan agreement will also scrap today’s customs duties (with a transitional period) for processed agricultural productssuch as pasta, chocolates, cocoa powder, candies, confectionary, biscuits, starch derivatives, prepared tomatoes and tomato sauce. There will also be significant quotas for EU exports (duty-free or with reduced duty) of malt, potato starch, skimmed milk powder, butter and whey.

3. Geographical Indications – the EU-Japan agreement recognises the special status and offers protection on the Japanese market to more than 200 European agricultural products from a specific European geographical origin, known as Geographical Indications (GIs) – for instance Roquefort, Aceto Balsamico di Modena, Prosecco, Jambon d’Ardenne, Tiroler Speck, Polska Wódka, Queso Manchego, Lübecker Marzipan and Irish Whiskey. These products will be given the same level of protection in Japan as they experience in the EU today.

4. Industrial products – tariffs on industrial products will be fully abolished, for instance in sectors where the EU is very competitive, such as chemicals, plastics, cosmetics as well as textiles and clothing. For leather and shoes, the existing quota system that has been significantly hampering EU exports will be abolished at the agreement’s entry into force. Tariffs on shoes will go down from 30% to 21% at entry into force, with the rest of the duties being eliminated over 10 years. Tariffs on EU exports of leather products, such as handbags, will go down to zero over 10 years, as will be those on products that are traditionally highly protected by Japan, such as sports shoes and ski boots.

5. Fisheries – import quotas will no longer be applied and all tariffs will be eliminated on both sides, meaning better prices for EU consumers and big export opportunities for EU industry.

6. Forestry – tariffs on all wood products will be fully eliminated, with seven years staging for the most important priorities. Most tariffs on wood products will be dropped immediately, with some less important tariff lines being scrapped after 10 years.

7. Non-tariff barriers – The EU-Japan negotiations addressed many non-tariff measures that had constituted a concern for EU companies, as some Japanese technical requirements and certification procedures often make it difficult to export safe European products to Japan. The agreement will make it easier for EU companies to access the highly regulated Japanese market. Examples of such barriers addressed include:

  • Motor vehicles – the agreement ensures that both Japan and the EU will fully align themselves to the same international standards on product safety and the protection of the environment, meaning that European cars will be subject to the same requirements in the EU and Japan, and will not need to be tested and certified again when exported to Japan. With Japan now committing itself to international car standards, EU exports of cars to Japan will become significantly simpler. This also paves the way for even stronger cooperation between the EU and Japan in international standard setting fora. It includes an accelerated dispute settlement between the two sides specifically for motor vehicles, similar to the one agreed under the EU-South Korea trade agreement. It also includes a safeguard and a clause allowing the EU to reintroduce tariffs in the event that Japan would (re)introduce non-tariff barriers to EU exports of vehicles. The agreement will also mean that hydrogen-fuelled cars that approved in the EU can be exported to Japan without further alterations.
  • Medical devices – In November 2014, Japan adopted the international standard on quality management systems (QMS), on which the EU QMS system for medical devices is based. This reduces the costs of certification of European products exported to Japan considerably.
  • Textiles labelling – In March 2015, Japan adopted the international textiles labelling system similar to the one used in the EU. Textiles labels therefore do no longer need to be changed on every single garment exported to Japan, as was the case before.
  • “Quasi drugs”, medical devices and cosmetics – a complicated and duplicative notification system that hampered the marketing of many European pharmaceuticals, medical devices and cosmetics in Japan was finally abolished on 1 January 2016.
  • Beer – From 2018 onwards, European beers can be exported as beers and not as “alcoholic soft drinks”. This will also lead to similar taxation, thus doing away with differences between different beers.

In addition, the Economic Partnership Agreement also contains general rules on certain types of non-tariff barriers, which will help level the playing field for European products exported to Japan, and increase transparency and predictability:

  • Technical barriers to trade – the agreement puts the focus on Japan and the EU’s mutual commitment to ensure that their standards and technical regulations are based on international standards to the greatest possible extent. Combined with the provisions on non-tariff measures, this is good news for European exporters of electronics, pharmaceuticals, textiles and chemicals. For instance, reliance on international standards will be helpful for easier and less costly compliance of food products with Japanese labelling rules.
  • Sanitary and phytosanitary measures – the agreement creates a more predictable regulatory environment for EU products exported to Japan. The EU and Japan have agreed to simplify approval and clearance processes and that import procedures are completed without undue delays, making sure that undue bureaucracy does not put a spanner in the works for exporters. The agreement will not lower safety standards or require parties to change their domestic policy choices on matters such as the use of hormones or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

8. Trade in services

The EU exports some €28 billion of services to Japan each year. The agreement will make it easier for EU firms to provide services on the highly lucrative Japanese market. The agreement contains a number of provisions that apply horizontally to all trade in services, such as a provision to reaffirm the Parties’ right to regulate. It maintains the right of EU Member States’ authorities to keep public services public and it will not force governments to privatise or deregulate any public service at national or local level. Likewise, Member States’ authorities retain the right to bring back to the public sector any privately provided services. Europeans will continue to decide for themselves how they want, for example, their healthcare, education and water delivered.

  • Postal and courier services – the agreement includes provisions on universal service obligations, border procedures, licences and the independence of the regulators. The agreement will also ensure a level-playing field between EU suppliers of postal and courier services and their Japanese competitors, such as Japan Post.
  • Telecommunications – the agreement includes provisions focused on establishing a level playing field for telecommunications services providers and on issues such as universal service obligations, number portability, mobile roaming and confidentiality of communications.
  • International maritime transport services – the agreement contains obligations to maintain open and non-discriminatory access to international maritime services (transport and related services) as well as access to ports and port services.
  • Financial services – the agreement contains specific definitions, exceptions and disciplines on new financial services, self-regulating organisations, payment and clearing systems and transparency, and rules on insurance services provided by postal entities. Many of these are based on rules developed under the World Trade Organisation, while addressing specificities of the financial services sector.
  • Temporary movement of company personnel – the agreement includes the most advanced provisions on movement of people for business purposes (otherwise known as “mode 4”) that the EU has negotiated so far. They cover all traditional categories such as intra-corporate transferees, business visitors for investment purposes, contractual service suppliers, and independent professionals, as well as newer categories such as short-term business visitors and investors. The EU and Japan have also agreed to allow spouses and children to accompany those who are either service suppliers or who work for a service supplier (covered by “mode 4” provisions). This will, in turn, support investment in both directions.

9. State owned enterprises – state-owned enterprises will not be allowed to treat EU companies, services or products differently to their Japanese counterparts when buying and selling on commercial markets.

10. Public procurement – EU companies will be able to participate on an equal footing with Japanese companies in bids for procurement tenders in the 54 so-called ‘core cities’ of Japan (i.e. cities with around 300.000 to 500.00 inhabitants or more). The agreement also removes existing obstacles to procurement in the railway sector.

11. Investment – The agreement aims to promote investment between the EU and Japan. At the same time, the text explicitly reaffirms the right of each party to regulate to pursue legitimate policy objectives, highlighted in a non- exhaustive list. The agreement does not cover the protection of investment, on which negotiations are ongoing between the two sides for a potential agreement on the protection of investments. The EU has also tabled to Japan its reformed proposal on the Investment Court System. For the EU, it is clear that there can be no return to the old-style Investor to State Dispute Settlement System (ISDS).

12. Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) – the agreement builds on and reinforces the commitments that both sides have taken in the World Trade Organization (WTO), in line with the EU’s own rules. The agreement sets out provisions on protection of trade secrets, trademarks, copyright protection, patents, minimum common rules for regulatory test data protection for pharmaceuticals, and civil enforcement provisions.

13. Data protection – Data protection is a fundamental right in the European Union and is not up for negotiation. Privacy is not a commodity to be traded. Since January 2017, the European Union and Japan engaged in a dialogue to facilitate the transfers of personal data for commercial exchanges, while ensuring the highest level of data protection. With the EU General Data Protection Regulation that entered into force last year and the new Japanese privacy law that entered into force in May, the EU and Japan have modernised and strengthened their respective data protection regimes. In July 2018, the Commission and the Japanese government reached a satisfactory conclusion on the robustness each other’s data protection rules, and hence they intend to move forward with the adoption of a so-called “mutual adequacy” arrangement, which will create the world’s largest area of safe transfers of data based on a high level of protection for personal data.

14. Sustainable development – the agreement includes all the key elements of the EU approach on sustainable development and is in line with other recent EU trade agreements. The EU and Japan commit themselves to implementing the core labour standards of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and international environmental agreements, including the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, as well as the Paris climate agreement. The EU and Japan commit not to lower domestic labour and environmental laws to attract trade and investment. The parties also commit to the conservation and sustainable management of natural resources, and to addressing biodiversity, forestry, and fisheries issues. The parties agree to promote Corporate Social Responsibility and other trade and investment practices supporting sustainable development. The agreement sets up mechanisms for giving civil society oversight over commitments taken in the field of Trade and Sustainable Development. The agreement will have a dedicated, binding mechanism for resolving disputes in this area, which includes governmental consultations and recourse to an independent panel of experts.

Whaling and illegal logging – The EU has banned all imports of whale products for more than 35 years, and this will not change with the Economic Partnership Agreement. The EU and its Member States are committed to the conservation and protection of whales and have consistently expressed strong reservations about whaling for scientific purposes. Whales receive special protection under EU law and the EU strictly enforces the ban on trade under the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The EU addresses whaling by all third countries, including Japan, both in bilateral relations and in the international fora that are best suited to deal with this issue – for example, at the International Whaling Commission, where we work with like-minded partners to address whaling with Japan. The sustainable development chapter of the EU-Japan economic partnership agreement will provide an additional platform to foster dialogue and joint work between the EU and Japan on environmental issues of relevance in a trade context.

The EU and Japan share a common commitment to combat illegal logging and related trade. Trade in illegal timber is not an issue between the EU and Japan. The EU has a very clear legislation on illegal logging, just like Japan, which applies to imports from any country of origin. Both partners have surveillance and certification systems in place to prevent the import of illegal timber. The two partners also work closely with third countries to support them in setting up efficient mechanisms to address the problem. The agreement includes a legal provision committing both partners to the prevention of illegal logging and related trade.

15. Corporate governance – for the first time in an EU trade agreement, there will be a specific chapter on corporate governance. It is based on the G20/OECD’s Principles on Corporate Governance and reflects the EU’s and Japan’s best practices and rules in this area. The EU and Japan commit themselves to adhere to key principles and objectives, such as transparency and disclosure of information on publicly listed companies; accountability of the management towards shareholders; responsible decision-making based on an objective and independent standpoint; effective and fair exercise of shareholders’ rights; and transparency and fairness in takeover transactions.

16. Competition – the agreement contains important principles that ensure that both sides commit themselves to maintaining comprehensive competition rules and implementing these rules in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner.

17. State-to-State dispute settlement mechanism – the agreement ensures that rights and obligations under the agreement are fully observed. It provides an effective, efficient and transparent mechanism with a pre-established list of qualified and experienced panellists for avoiding and solving disputes between the EU and Japan.

18. Anti-Fraud – The EU and Japan will include an anti-fraud clause in the economic partnership agreement. The anti-fraud clause is a condition for the EU to grant tariff preferences to any third country. It makes it possible for the EU to withdraw tariff preferences in cases of fraud and refusal to co-operate, while ensuring that legitimate traders are not adversely affected. The aim is to prevent abuse of preferential tariff treatment. 

At the same time, negotiations with Japan continue on investment protection standards and investment protection dispute resolution.

More Information: Dedicated website including thematic factsheetstext of the trade agreementexporter testimonies and an interactive map of EU businesses exporting to Japan
 
Port of Algeciras-Juan Carlos I dock
 
[Source: European Commission -/- Media Relations]
[Photo Credits: Photos inserted by Openeyesopinion.com (credits embedded)]

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Hungarian Minister Says Brussels Is Trying To Silence Anti-Immigration Views

Brussels is making attempts to silence anti-immigration views

On Wednesday (12 December) in Brussels Hungary’s ‘Minister of State for International Communications and Relations’ Zoltán Kovács said Brussels is making attempts to silence anti-immigration views.

The mobile hoarding installed onto a van which came from Hungary to Brussels – featuring the image of Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the EP, with the caption in English  “Hundreds have died in terrorist attacks since 2015… but Guy Verhofstadt says ’We don’t have a migration crisis’. This is insane” – was present at the venue of Mr Kovács’s press conference held outside the headquarters of the European Parliament.

 
 
 
 

Mr Kovács reported citing “reliable sources” that while the European liberals did not ask for and did not receive permission for driving around Brussels a similar hoarding displaying a message intended for the Hungarian government, the local authorities stopped the Hungarian van earlier and had the hoarding removed. In his view, this is a perfect example of double standards and the attempts which are aimed at silencing anti-immigration views.

 
Kovács Zoltán
 
The van sent by the Hungarian government will be driven around the streets of the Belgian capital until Friday.

The Minister of State later held a background discussion with Brussels journalists where he also spoke about the adoption of the UN’s migration compact. He said, stating his view, that the world organisation is making the same mistakes that the European Union has made in the past three years.

He added that we are experiencing a migration crisis, rather than a refugee crisis, but Hungary has made its proposals for the management of the situation. “The Hungarian position which was also confirmed by this year’s elections is clear.”

He stressed that every year the Hungarian authorities grant refugee status to hundreds of people who are genuinely eligible for asylum because they are indeed exposed to the threat of persecution for political or religious reasons. However, the vast majority of migrants coming to the continent are economic immigrants.

In answer to a question regarding the EU’s economic sanctions against Russia, Mr Kovács said the Hungarian economy has sustained major losses due to Russia’s counter-sanctions. The government believes these restrictions are not appropriate for managing the problems related to Russia, but will not break the EU’s unity.
 
Migrants in Hungary 2015 Aug 003
 
[Source: Hungary- Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister/(MTI / kormany.hu) -/-Media Relations]
[Photo Credits: Photos inserted by Openeyesopinion.com (credits embedded)]

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The European Commission Is Striving To Deliver Results On A ‘Security Union’

A Europe that Protects: Commission calls for more efforts to ensure adoption of security proposals

Strasbourg, 11 December 2018

The Commission is today reporting on progress made in building a genuine and effective Security Union since the October European Council.

Good progress is being achieved on a number of security initiatives, including the proposals to remove terrorist content online and to reinforce the European Border and Coast Guard, but more efforts are needed from the European Parliament and the Council to deliver results on all pending security proposals ahead of the European Parliament elections in May 2019.

 
 
 

Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “We have already made enormous strides in our efforts to build a Security Union. We are now in the final mile of this legislature and we need to redouble our efforts to finish the job we started. Our citizens expect us to deliver a Europe that protects.”

Commissioner for the Security Union Julian King said: “Following the decision by Member States on tackling terrorist content online, we’re ready to pursue an agreement with the European Parliament. We are also looking to finalise an agreement with the Parliament in the coming days on modernising EU-wide law enforcement databases. And we’re strengthening our collective efforts on tackling disinformation and other threats to the forthcoming European elections. Building the Security Union is a top priority.”

In today’s report, the Commission focuses on three main aspects crucial to complete a genuine and effective Security Union, including (1) completing legislative processes on priority security files; (2) enforcing new security laws across the EU; and (3) building resilience to evolving security threats.

  • Delivering on security initiatives: There are a number of priority security files still awaiting adoption by the European Parliament and the Council. This includes the proposals to make the EU’s security, migration and border management information systems interoperable, while the proposals to strengthen the European Border and Coast Guard, remove terrorist content off the web and improve cross-border access to electronic evidence – crucial for internal security – should be adopted as a priority.
  • Enforcing new rules: New security laws are only as good as their implementation. With this in mind, the Commission calls on Member States to implement as a matter of priority the agreed rules on: passenger name records, countering terrorism, cybersecurity, access to weapons, money-laundering and data protection law enforcement.
  • Building resilience: The EU has set out concrete measures to counter disinformation in Europe and beyond, calling on online platforms to deliver on their responsibility to ensure free and fair elections. Steps have also been taken to further protect public spaces, including preparation of guidance material for public space protection and barrier systems, and to research new security solutions.

In addition, the Commission continues to work with internet companies to fight terrorist content online in the context of the EU Internet Forum. The Commission has also made available an additional €5 million under the Internal Security Fund (ISF) to counter radicalisation through community and youth engagement (more information here) and €12 million under the Civil Society Empowerment Programme launched via the EU Internet Forum to strengthen counter-terrorist narratives online.

Finally, European security at home is linked to our actions beyond EU borders. To this end, the Commission is continuing negotiations with Canada on a Passenger Name Records Agreement. The Commission will also propose, jointly and as soon as possible, mandates to start negotiations with the U.S. and with the Council of Europe on obtaining cross border electronic evidence. On data exchange agreements within the Europol framework, the first round of negotiations with Turkey took place on 30 November and first discussions are ongoing with Israel, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia.
 
Cybercrime - keyboard and handcuffs
 

Background

Security has been a political priority since the beginning of the Juncker Commission’s mandate – from President Juncker’s Political Guidelinesof July 2014 to the latest State of the Union Address on 12 September 2018.

On 14 December 2017, the presidents of the European Parliament, the rotating Presidency of the Council and the European Commission signed a Joint Declaration on the EU’s legislative priorities for 2018-2019, which underlined the central importance of better protecting the security of citizens by placing it at the heart of the Union’s legislative work. Priority was given to initiatives designed to ensure that Member States’ authorities know who is crossing the common EU external border, to establishing interoperable EU information systems for security, border and migration management, and to reinforcing the instruments in the fight against terrorism and against money laundering.

The European Agenda on Security guides the Commission’s work in this area, setting out the main actions to ensure an effective EU response to terrorism and security threats, including countering radicalisation, boosting cybersecurity, cutting terrorist financing as well as improving information exchange. Since the adoption of the Agenda, significant progress has been made in its implementation, paving the way towards an effective and genuine Security Union. This progress is reflected in the Commission’s reports published on a regular basis.

For More Information

Factsheet: A Europe that protects

Communication: 17th Progress Report toward an effective and genuine Security Union

– Annex
 
Lamoascii
 
[Source: European Commission -/- Media Relations]
[Photo Credits: Photos inserted by Openeyesopinion.com (credits embedded)]

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