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Greek PM says may seek sanctions against Turkey in gas row

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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras arrives at the Auberge de Castille for the Southern EU Countries Summit in Valletta, Malta June 14, 2019. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece and Cyprus will push their EU partners to penalize Turkey, including the possible option of sanctions, if Ankara is verified to have started drilling for gas west of Cyprus, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Sunday.

The discovery of lucrative energy reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has drawn into sharper focus long-standing tensions between Turkey and the Greek Cypriot government.

A Turkish drill ship has been anchored west of Cyprus since May. Cyprus and Greece say the vessel is encroaching into Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – an area which Cyprus can use for commercial exploitation. Turkey says the area is on its continental shelf.

“We have agreed .. to prepare the ground in the coming week that the (European Union) summit take the relevant decisions, even sanctions against Turkey, if it is verified that there has been a drill (by Turkey) in the Cypriot EEZ,” Tsipras told reporters.

Greece is a close ally of the government in Nicosia and also has its own decades-old disputes with neighboring Turkey on issues relating to airspace in the Aegean Sea, and mineral rights in the same region.

Cyprus first discovered offshore gas reserves in 2011, which led to other discoveries. Turkey says any natural resources around the ethnically-split island also belong to Turkish Cypriots. They proclaimed their own independent state in 1983, but were founding partners of the Cypriot republic established after independence from Britain in 1960.

The east Mediterranean island was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief coup orchestrated by the military junta then ruling Greece. Relations between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities have festered since 1963, when a power-sharing agreement crumbled amid violence.

Reporting by Renee Maltezou, writing by Michele Kambas; editing by John Stonestreet

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Ramaphosa adds to public protector’s report review woes | News | National

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NEWS ANALYSIS

Despite his measured tone and refusal to be drawn into personal recriminations, President Cyril Ramaphosa signalled clearly on Sunday evening that he was ready for a fight with Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

The president announced that he would be urgently approaching court to review the damning report against him — released on Friday.
The report found Ramaphosa had deliberately misled Parliament when he answered a parliamentary question about a payment received by the CR17 campaign from African Global Operations, formerly known as Bosasa.
Mkhwebane also found that he had breached the Executive Ethics Code by not disclosing the donations to the campaign.

READ MORE: ‘Fundamentally and irretrievably flawed’: Ramaphosa takes PP report on review

She added that there was “merit” in the suspicion of money laundering, because the Bosasa payment passed through “several intermediaries, instead of a straight donation towards the CR17 campaign”, and has referred this to the National Prosecuting Authority for further investigation.

Mkhwebane now faces four separate and highly political court cases on three of her reports: the report into the early pension pay-out of former Sars deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay, the report on the so-called “rogue unit” at the South African Revenue Service, which has been challenged by Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, and the most recent Bosasa report.

Today (Monday) the Constitutional Court will also hand down a crucial judgment on whether she should be personally liable for some of the costs of setting aside parts of her report into the ABSA/Bankorp bail-out in the 1980s.

Even if the Constitutional Court does not hold her personally liable, an adverse finding on her honesty or competence will support the cases of the president, Gordhan and Pillay. On the other hand, if the highest court clears her, it will be a boost to her claim that there is a political campaign to have her removed.   

While Gordhan’s court papers have directly accused Mkhwebane of allowing her office to be used as part of a political campaign against him, on Sunday Ramaphosa carefully steered clear of those kinds of statements. However, he said she had made findings that were not based on fact. Her findings were irrational, they did not have a sound legal basis and they were not arrived at through a fair, impartial and lawful process, he said.

“Furthermore, in failing to provide me with an opportunity to comment on proposed remedial action, the Public Protector has violated provisions of the Public Protector Act, the Constitution and principles of common law,” said the President.

The president also sought to pre-empt the argument that by going to court he was undermining her office. He said while the president was not above the law, neither was the public protector above the law; both were bound by the prescripts of the Constitution. Involving the courts – the appropriate arbiter of this dispute – would strengthen the Office of the Public Protector, he said. 

A consistent complaint in many of the review cases against the public protector relates to how she dealt with evidence: that she did not allow the subjects of her investigations to properly interrogate the evidence she relied on and that she did not properly consider the evidence put before her by them.

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian, Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Khusela Diko said the president had never been shown the “evidence adduced in a form of e-mails, invitations and instructions”, which Mkhwebane said showed that the president was “constantly informed of the activities” of CR17, suggesting that he knew more of what was going on in the campaign then he said.

He and members of the CR17 campaign team had said he was deliberately not told about donors. On Sunday, Ramaphosa repeated what his team had told Mkhwebane in her investigation. He knew that money was being raised and went to the fundraising dinners, “but I was never informed about the intricate details”.

The most startling part of Mkhwebane’s report was how she laid bare the CR17 campaign’s financial affairs. Having used her extensive powers of subpoena to access bank records and other documents, Mkhwebane revealed that millions were raised and spent in the campaign to deliver the ANC presidency to Ramaphosa.

READ MORE: Public Protector finds Ramaphosa misled Parliament on Bosasa donation

Mkhwebane said: “Out of all the donations received for the campaign, records reflect that there were three single largest donations of thirty million rand … on 9 March 2017; more than 39-million rand … on 29 September 2017 and over fifty one million rand … on the same date into the EFG2 ABSA trust account, which came from the same donor.”

The amounts of money involved, and who donated them, have dominated public discussion since Friday. The exact number of millions is disputed between Ramaphosa and the Public Protector. But on Sunday evening Ramaphosa acknowledged that “quite a bit of money was raised” but this was not out of the ordinary.

“This happens with all campaigns when people campaign for office, inside their own parties and as we campaign to be elected as public representatives. The money is used for a variety of activities,” he said.

“Others also raised quite a bit of money. We may never really know. The only one we know of now is the CR17 one.”

In her remedial action, Mkhwebane said the Speaker of Parliament should “demand publication of all donations received by President Ramaphosa”. Diko said that there was no law currently that required the disclosure Mkhwebane insisted on. However the president was open to a discussion on a principled change to this position. In that event, and provided the same rules applied to everyone, he was open to disclosing his donors.

She said Ramaphosa still did not know who the donor was of the “three single largest donations”.

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ConCourt to rule on personal cost order against Public Protector

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The Constitutional Court is set to rule on Monday morning on whether Public Protector Busiswe Mkhwebane should be held personally liable for a portion of the legal costs that the SA Reserve Bank incurred to overturn the findings of her Absa/Bankorp report.

Judgment is set to be delivered at 10:00 in Johannesburg. 

The matter relates to the scathing judgement delivered in mid-February 2018 by the North Gauteng High Court, which set aside the findings and remedial action of Mkhwebane’s Absa/Bankorp report. 

The public protector, in report published on June 19 2017, had tasked the Special Investigating Unit with recovering R1.125bn in “misappropriated public funds”, describing the funds as an “illegal gift” given to Bankorp by the SA Reserve Bank in the 1980s. As Bankorp and other banks were later subsumed into Absa, Mkhwebane ruled that the funds be recovered from Absa.

In her remedial action, she also ruled that Parliament should introduce a motion to amend the Constitution to change the SA Reserve Bank’s mandate to focus on economic growth. This caused the rand to fall as investors feared it would limit the central bank’s independence. This section of her report was already set aside in August 2017. 

Following the publication of her report, the SARB, the minister of finance, Absa and National Treasury instituted review applications set aside her directive that the SIU recover funds from Absa. These applications were later consolidated. 

The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria set aside Mkhwebane’s findings in February 2018, citing a “reasonable apprehension of bias” in her work. Mkhwebane was also ordered to personally repay 15% of the SA Reserve Bank’s legal costs, while the office of the Public Protector was ordered to pay the remaining 85%. The court stated this was “necessary to show our displeasure with the unacceptable way in which she conducted her investigation as well as her persistence to oppose all three applications to the end”.

Legal challenges  

Mkhwebane’s applications for leave to appeal the judgment in the High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal were refused.   

The public protector then sought leave to appeal the section of the ruling relating to her personal liability for the legal costs in the Constitutional Court.

The case was heard in November 2018. Mkhwebane’s legal team argued that a personal costs order could prevent the office of the Public Protector and other Chapter 9 Institutions from operating effectively, as they will be concerned about being penalised. 

In court papers lawyers for the SA Reserve Bank, meanwhile, argued that the court should declare that Mkhwebane abused her office during the investigation that led to her report. The central bank has also asked that its costs in Constitutional Court should be
paid by the Public Protector personally. 

Monday’s judgment will be relevant to another pending legal fees case against Mkhwebane. Her report into the Vrede dairy farm was set aside by the Pretoria High Court in May this year as unconstitutional and invalid. The court’s ruling on legal fees was reserved, awaiting the Constitutional Court’s decision in the Absa/Bankorp case.

Fitness to hold office

The apex court’s ruling comes at a time when Parliament is dealing with calls to probe Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office.

In June Speaker of the National Assembly Thandi Modise referred a DA request for an inquiry into the public protector to Parliament’s oversight committee on justice and correctional services. According to a report in the Sunday Times at the weekend, Mkhwebane has written to Modise threatening her with legal action if Parliament tries to remove her. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa, meanwhile, in a televised address on Sunday evening called Mkhwebane’s finding that he violated the executive ethics code “fundamentally and irretrievably flawed”. The president announced he would be taking taking the report on urgent review.

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Triad gangster attack in Hong Kong after night of viole…

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HONG KONG, July 22 (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s opposition Democratic Party is investigating attacks by suspected triad gangsters on train passengers on Sunday, after a night of violence opened new fronts in the political crisis now deepening across city.

Screams rang out when men, clad in white t-shirts and some armed with poles, flooded into the rural Yuen Long station and stormed a train, attacking passengers, according to footage taken by commuters and Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting.

Some passengers had been at an earlier anti-government march and the attack came after several thousand activists surrounded China’s representative office in the city, later clashing with police.

Lam, who was injured in the attack, said he was angry about a slow police response after he alerted them to the trouble, government-funded broadcaster RTHK reported.

Lam said the police action had failed to protect the public, allowing the triads to run rampant. The party is now investigating.

“Is Hong Kong now allowing triads to do what they want, beating up people on the street with weapons?,” he asked reporters.

Hong Kong has been rocked by a series of sometimes violent protests for more than two months in its most serious crisis since Britain handed the freewheeling city back to Chinese rule in 1997.

Protesters are demanding the full withdrawal of a bill to allow people to be extradited to mainland China for trial, where the courts are controlled by the Communist Party, and independent inquiries into the use of police force against protesters.

On Sunday police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse crowds of activists on the edge of Hong Kong’s glittering financial district after they had fled China’s Liaison Office.

The Chinese government has condemned the action, which saw signs and a state symbol daubed with graffiti.

The continuing unrest in Hong Kong marks the greatest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

The Hospital Authority said 45 people were injured in the Yuen Long attack, with one in a critical condition. Some 13 people were injured after the clashes in Hong Kong island, one seriously, the authority said.

In a statement early on Monday, police “strongly condemned” both violent incidents and were investigating both cases.

Some police had been injured in the clashes after protesters hurled bricks, smoke grenades and petrol bombs, the statement said. (Reporting by Donny Kwok, Vimvam Tong and Greg Torode.)

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