Australians embroiled in global laundering probe

Swiss bank Credit Suisse has been dragged into yet more tax evasion and money laundering investigations, after a tip-off to Dutch prosecutors about tens of thousands of suspect accounts triggered raids in five countries.

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Coordinated raids began on Thursday in the Netherlands, Britain, Germany, France and Australia, the Dutch office for financial crimes prosecution (FIOD) said on Friday, with two arrests confirmed so far.

The Dutch are “investigating dozens of people who are suspected of tax fraud and money laundering”, the prosecutors said, adding that suspects had deposited money in a Swiss bank without disclosing that to authorities.

British tax authorities said they had opened a criminal investigation into suspected tax evasion and money laundering by “a global financial institution” and would be focusing initially on “senior employees”, along with an unspecified number of customers.

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Prosecutors in the German city of Cologne said they were also working with the Dutch. “We have launched an investigation against clients of a bank,” a spokesman said.

None of the authorities disclosed the name of the bank involved. However, Credit Suisse, Switzerland’s second-biggest bank, said local authorities had visited its offices in Amsterdam, London and Paris “concerning client tax matters” and it was cooperating.

The Dutch FIOD seized administrative records as well as the contents of bank accounts, real estate, jewellery, a luxury car, expensive paintings and a gold bar from houses in four Dutch towns and cities.

The people arrested, one in The Hague and one in the town of Hoofddorp, were not identified.

The actions angered Switzerland’s Office of the Attorney General, which said it was “disconcerted” by the way Dutch authorities had handled the matter and would demand an explanation.

Dutch prosecutors responded that Swiss authorities had been left out of the investigation because none of the suspects were Swiss – they were just linked to secret Swiss bank accounts.

Australia’s minister for revenue and financial services, Kelly O’Dwyer, said the country’s financial crime investigator was looking at 340 Australians linked to Swiss bank accounts, which she said were only identified by number.

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South Africa’s Zuma cops backlash over sacking

President Jacob Zuma’s midnight sacking of his finance minister has shaken South African markets and threatens to split the African National Congress (ANC) that has governed since the end of apartheid.

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Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is one of the leading candidates to replace Zuma as ANC president, described the decision to remove respected finance minister Pravin Gordhan as “totally, totally unacceptable”.

However, Zuma’s reshuffle rallied support among powerful sections of the party that are hostile to banking interests they see Gordhan as representing.

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The Women’s League and the influential ANC youth wing welcomed the reshuffle, citing hopes for land redistribution for poor black farmers, free education and more black involvement in state financial institutions.

“Younger ministers will mean more transformation,” Youth Wing leader Collen Maine said.

Ramaphosa said Zuma removed Gordhan on the basis of a “spurious” intelligence report that accused him and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas of plotting with banks in London to undermine the South African economy.

Jonas was also sacked by Zuma.

Opposition parties and ANC sources say Zuma removed Gordhan because he was obstructing Zuma’s allies’ access to state funds.

Zuma and his followers have been accused of corruption and links with the wealthy Indian Gupta family.

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A report by a constitutionally mandated watchdog last year said the Guptas influenced Zuma in making government appointments.

The Guptas and Zuma deny the allegations.

ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe also openly criticised Zuma, in what analysts believe is a sign he will back Ramaphosa.

Rumours Zuma was to replace Gordhan have unsettled markets all week and ANC members urged the president to reconsider.

The rand has fallen five per cent against the US dollar since its highest point before the reshuffle and is set for its biggest weekly decline since December 2015.

Banking stocks were down more than five per cent on Friday and bond yields climbed sharply.

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Legal bid for Brexit reversibility filed

Campaigners mounting a legal challenge to determine whether Britain’s divorce from the European Union can be reversed say they’ve filed their written legal case.

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On Friday, two days after British Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, formally notifying Brussels of Britain’s intent to leave the EU, the Good Law Project said it had submitted the case to a court in Dublin.

Their statement added that the campaigners would on Monday serve a motion to request a hearing, which would contain a draft of the queries that they are seeking the High Court in Dublin to refer to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

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Tax specialist Jolyon Maugham, the lawyer behind the challenge, wants the case to be sent to the ECJ in Luxembourg this summer to establish whether Britain can reverse the exit process without requiring permission from the other 27 EU members.

Maugham said he hoped the ECJ would consider the case in the next four to eight months. He has said Ireland was chosen as the case had to be brought in the EU but outside the UK, and its legal system was similar to Britain’s.

Maugham said Britons should have the right to change their minds about remaining in the EU at a later stage. Britons voted by 52-48 per cent in favour of Brexit in the June 2016 referendum.

The legal question of whether Britain could change its mind and revoke Article 50 is still open. The European Parliament said on Wednesday that Brexit could be reversed with the consent of the remaining EU members.

British government lawyers have said the process cannot now be stopped, but even David Davis, the cabinet minister in charge of leaving, has said he was unsure.

May has said that she will put the final deal she reaches at the end of two years of negotiations to parliament for a vote. If lawmakers rejected it, Britain would have no choice but to leave the EU anyway, without any trade deal with the bloc.

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Women die as floods rise in NSW, Qld

At least two people are dead and about 20,000 people have been ordered to evacuate homes in northern NSW while in southeast Queensland, more than 300 properties were at risk of being swamped by “unprecedented” floodwaters.

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The tail end of cyclone Debbie has brought unprecendented rainfalls, flooding wide swathes of the region.

Low-lying areas of the Brisbane metropolitan area of Logan is expected to be among the worst affected as the Albert and Logan Rivers swell to never-before-seen levels.

“The mayor will tell you that we’ve never seen the heights of the floodwaters down here before ,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters in Beenleigh.

The area’s much-loved Yatala Pie Shop fell victim to the rising water, while the new $15 million John Muntz Bridge was ripped apart by the raging Coomera River.

In the NSW Hunter region, a 64-year-old woman died after her and her husband’s car was swept off a causeway at Gungal, west of Muswellbrook.

Another woman’s body was found by a family member on Friday morning after she disappeared overnight in floodwaters at the rural property at Upper Burringbar, 20 kilometres south of Murwillumbah in northern NSW.

Meanwhile further south, the main streets of Lismore were under water.

There are fears more victims will be discovered in the floodwaters, with state emergency volunteers still trying to complete dozens of rescues in northern NSW.

As night fell on Friday, about 1500 residents of the Tweed Shire town of Banora Point were cut off by rising water.

“Some are on the roofs of houses and trying to get to higher ground,” an SES spokeswoman told AAP.

“The area is expected to be isolated for the next 24 to 36 hours.”

It’s the worst flooding in decades, and five local areas have been declared natural disaster zones – Ballina, Byron, Kyogle, Lismore, Richmond Valley and Tweed.

About 628 millimetres of rain has fallen over the Wilsons River valley since Thursday after ex-tropical Cyclone Debbie collided with a cold front from the south.

At Lismore on Friday afternoon the river came within a metre of the record 1974 flood peak, while at Murwillumbah the Tweed River peaked slightly higher than the 1954 flood.

While hundreds of rescues were being carried out, NSW SES acting deputy commissioner Mark Morrow hit out at “disgusting” footage on social media showing people surfing the floodwaters.

“Thinking it is fun … it is not,” Mr Morrow said in Sydney on Friday.

“You can die – it is that serious.”

Premier to head back to Debbie-hit north

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk will travel to north Queensland to see the destruction wrought by Cyclone Debbie, after wild weather caused widespread damage across the state.

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Despite the focus turning to southeast Queensland and northern NSW following the tropical cyclone, Ms Palaszczuk on Friday insisted isolated north Queensland communities had not been forgotten.

“We are trying to get in there as quickly as possible. Let me make it very clear – help is on its way,” she said.

On Saturday, she will chair a disaster management meeting in Brisbane before heading to the Mackay and Whitsunday region, which was severely battered by the storm.

The restoration of electricity is of particular concern, with 50,000 properties in the Bowen, Mackay and Whitsunday regions still without electricity days after Debbie crossed the coast.

It is slowly being restored to petrol stations and other essential services at Airlie Beach, after generators were brought in on trucks on Friday.

The Mackay district’s sugar crops have also been hit hard by the cyclone’s wrath, with industry figures estimating $150 million damage had been done to local canegrowers’ operations in the area.

Meanwhile, Ms Palaszczuk said southeast Queensland had seen unprecedented rainfall in the days after the cyclone made landfall as the Bureau of Meteorology put out major flood warnings for the Logan and Albert Rivers.

Beenleigh’s train station and the Yatala Pie Shop were two victims of the rising water levels, while the John Muntz Bridge, built in the past five years at a cost of $15 million to connect the Gold Coast to Mt Tamborine, was ripped apart by the raging Coomera River.

Trump says Flynn should seek immunity

President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has discussed giving testimony in investigations of potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, his lawyer says.

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Robert Kelner says the former national security adviser is in discussions with House and Senate intelligence committees on receiving immunity from “unfair prosecution” in exchange for questioning.

He says no “reasonable person” with legal counsel would answer questions without assurances.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Flynn had sought immunity from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the House and Senate intelligence panels in exchange for his testimony. The newspaper said he had so far found no takers.

The House of Representatives panel denied the Journal report and the FBI declined to comment. The Senate committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Flynn was fired in February as national security adviser for failing to disclose talks with Russia’s ambassador about US sanctions on Moscow. The talks occurred before Trump took office in January.

Flynn’s lawyer, Robert Kelner, confirmed in a statement that his client had held discussions with the House and Senate intelligence committees. His statement did not mention the FBI.

He said Flynn would not “submit to questioning in such a highly politicised, witch hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution.”

The FBI and the House and Senate intelligence committees are investigating allegations that Russians hacked Democratic Party computers and publicly disclosed the information in a bid to tip the November presidential election in favour of Trump, whose views were seen as more in line with the Moscow’s.

They are also looking into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russians.

Independent Senator Angus King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN he could not confirm the Journal report, but “if that turns out to be the case, that’s a significant development I believe because it indicates that he has something important to say.”

China plays down US trade tensions

Beijing has played down tensions with the US after the American administration slammed China on a range of business issues before President Xi Jinping’s first meeting with President Donald Trump.

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Trump set the tone for what could be a tense meeting at his Mar-a-Lago retreat next week by tweeting on Thursday the US could no longer tolerate massive trade deficits and job losses.

Trump said his first face-to-face meeting with Xi, which is also expected to cover differences over North Korea and China’s strategic ambitions in the South China Sea, “will be a very difficult one”.

Before the meeting, Trump will sign executive orders on Friday aimed at identifying abuses that are causing massive US trade deficits and clamping down on non-payment of anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties on imports.

Seeking to downplay the rift, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang repeated a desire for co-operation on trade.

“With regard to the problems existing between China and the United States in trade relations, both sides should in a mutual respectful and mutual beneficial way find appropriate resolutions, and ensure the stable development of Sino-US trade relations,” he told a daily news briefing.

Speaking earlier at a briefing on the Xi-Trump meeting, Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang acknowledged the trade imbalance but said it was mostly due to differences in their two economic structures and noted that China had a trade deficit in services.

“China does not deliberately seek a trade surplus. We also have no intention of carrying out competitive currency devaluation to stimulate exports. This is not our policy,” Zheng said.

Assange is ‘very sexy’: Pamela Anderson

Actress Pamela Anderson is being coy about a rumoured romance with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, saying his being holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London made dating “a little bit difficult”.

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Speaking to a Swedish television talk show, the former Baywatch actress and animal rights activist said she had probably spent more time with Assange than with any other man lately but would not be drawn on details.

British media have reported Anderson has been spotted visiting the Australian at the central London embassy, where he took refuge in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations that he committed rape in 2010, which he denies.

In a clip of the interview which airs on Friday evening, Anderson is asked whether their relationship was romantic and if they are dating. The 49-year-old actress laughs before saying: “Well, he’s imprisoned, that would make it a little bit difficult.”

She is then pressed further.

“Let’s see what happens when he’s free. But you know I spend probably more time with him than any other man socially, which is very odd,” Anderson said.

In a post on her pamelaandersonfoundation长沙楼凤, website on Thursday, Anderson referred to Assange as “one of my favourite people”.

“He might be the most famous, most politicised refugee of our time. Famous for being persecuted. Famous for being persecuted is not a position of power but a position of vulnerability. I am concerned,” she wrote.

“Julian is a human being who is extremely empathetic and cares deeply about the world. And because of his work. He has made some powerful enemies in a few countries – America especially by exposing them. Julian is trying to free the world by educating it. It is a romantic struggle–I love him for this.”

British media have printed photos of Anderson outside the embassy, with one picture showing her carrying takeaway food.

“It has brought some attention to maybe people who didn’t realise a lot about him,” Anderson says in the clip.

“So I guess in a way that’s been a little bit helpful but I don’t want to go into any private details. But I don’t know.”

She can then be heard saying: “He’s very sexy”.

Cowboys beat Rabbitohs 20-6 in NRL

North Queensland’s impressive start to the 2017 NRL season continued in Townsville on Friday as a composed Cowboys accounted for South Sydney 20-6.

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The battle between the 2014 and 2015 premiers never reached any great heights but North Queensland were by far the better side and improved to 4-1 on the season, with a solid performance against a sluggish Rabbitohs.

Damien Cook made a game-high 53 tackles after starting at hooker in place of NSW State of Origin No.9 Robbie Farah, who played just eight minutes after being relegated to the bench.

Souths went toe-to-toe with the Cowboys in the early exchanges but never seriously threatened after trailing 14-0 at the half way mark.

Returning fullback Lachlan Coote wasted no time in making his mark on the game as he nailed a 40-20 with his first kick. Although North Queensland were unable to capitalise there was no shortage of action early as both sides attacked at a breakneck pace.

The Rabbitohs peppered the Cowboys goal line but the hosts went on to open the scoring with a Johnathan Thurston penalty goal after 20 minutes.

Souths second-rower John Sutton was within inches of the game’s opening try minutes later before being denied by some desperate Michael Morgan defence and the Cowboys five-eighth made it a double blow when he crashed over for a four-pointer from short range.

The pain continued for Souths when rookie winger Gideon Gela-Mosby finished off a slick backline movement from the home side, with Thurston’s conversion sending the Cowboys in to the break 14-0 up.

A spell from the sapping Townsville heat seemed to do the Bunnies the world of good and they hit back soon after half time when centre Robert Jennings caught the Cowboys left edge napping for a classy try.

Unfortunately for Souths fans the visitors’ revival proved to be short-lived with utility John Asiata hitting Shaun Fensom with a great short ball to allow the former Canberra Raider to power over for his first try in Cowboys colours.

Jakarta protesters undeterred by arrests

Undeterred by the arrest of hard-line protest leaders, thousands of Muslims have marched in Indonesia’s capital, repeating calls for the jailing of the city’s minority Christian governor.

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Following Friday prayers, the protesters marched from Istiqlal Mosque in central Jakarta to the nearby presidential palace, which was under heavy police guard.

The turnout for Friday’s protest was small compared with the hundreds of thousands who answered the call of hard-line Islamic groups to flood central Jakarta for demonstrations in November, December and February.

Jakarta police’s director of traffic Ermayudi Sumarsono estimated the crowd at 13,000 to 15,000.

Protests against Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama have snowballed since September when he was accused of blaspheming the Quran in connection with remarks he made about how people should vote.

His trial is still under way and he denies wrongdoing.

Earlier on Friday, Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono said five people had been arrested, including Muhammad Al Khaththath, a leader of the Islamic People’s Forum (FUI), a hardline group that organised the rally.

“We are charging them with conspiring to commit treason,” Yuwono told broadcaster TVOne.

“There were several findings, including a plan to occupy the Indonesian parliament.”

Friday’s rally was the latest in a series that have tested religious and ethnic tolerance in Indonesia, a secular nation with the world’s largest Muslim population.

Vice-President Jusuf Kalla called on the protesters to respect the legal process and said they would not be allowed to dictate the agenda.

“No matter how much pressure there is, we will not follow it. The government is firm against this kind of pressure,” Kalla said in an interview with Reuters, referring to the rallies.

“Wait for the court’s final decision (on Purnama),” he said.