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Netanyahu’s wife admits criminal wrongdoing in meals catering case

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Monday, June 17th, 2019

Sara Netanyahu | Courtesy : Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, appeared in court on Sunday (June 16) to admit criminal wrongdoing over the misuse of state funds to order catered meals, in a plea bargain carrying no jail time.

“Mrs. Netanyahu was convicted today after pleading guilty in a criminal offense using 175,000 shekels (48,570 USD) of public money for private expenses, and all this happened in the prime minister’s house. This result was achieved through a plea bargain in which she admits and pays a fine of 55,000 shekels (15,265 USD),” said prosecutor Erez Padan.

Under the agreement, a fraud charge was reduced to a lesser offense and she will pay the state 45,000 shekels ($12,490) in reimbursement and a 10,000 shekel ($2,775) fine.

According to the original indictment, Sara Netanyahu, along with a government employee, fraudulently obtained from the state more than $100,000 for hundreds of meals supplied by restaurants, bypassing regulations that prohibit the practice if a cook is employed at home.

Smiling broadly, Netanyahu faced a phalanx of cameras in the courthouse before the session got underway.

At the hearing, a judge ratified the plea deal, convicting her of the criminal charge of intentionally exploiting another person’s mishandling of state money for her own benefit, after prosecutors dropped the more serious offense of fraud.

“The verdict means that a person with access to the public funds, regardless of how senior they are, cannot treat them as its own. Taking public funds in significant amounts, throughout several years, against the rules and instructions, is a criminal offense that carries conviction and concrete financial punishment,” said prosecutor Jenny Avni. (REUTERS)

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Cristiano Ronaldo will not face rape charges in Las Vegas

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

Ronaldo posing for team photo during Real Madrid’s champions league celebrations at the Bernabeu. Courtesy: Reuters

Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo will face no charges in Las Vegas in connection with a sexual assault allegation because the case cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, prosecutors said on Monday.

Ronaldo, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest soccer players of all time and plays for the Italian club Juventus, has maintained he is innocent of rape.

The allegation made headlines last year after Las Vegas police said they were investigating it.

The case stems from a June 13, 2009 call from a woman to Las Vegas police. She reported that she had been sexually assaulted and police took her to the hospital for an examination, the Clark County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement on Monday (July 22).

But she declined to identify the person who she said assaulted her.

The woman and Ronaldo reached a civil settlement in 2010 and law enforcement did not hear again from her until August 28, 2018, when she asked police to reopen the investigation. She said Ronaldo was the person who sexually assaulted her, prosecutors said.

“Based upon a review of the information presented at this time, the allegations of sexual assault against Cristiano Ronaldo cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” the District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

Ronaldo’s attorney, Peter Christiansen, and a representative for his sports agents could not immediately be reached for comment. (REUTERS)

(Production: Kurt Michael Hall)

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SONA 2019 Highlights: Towards a ‘better’ Philippines

by Marje Pelayo   |   Posted on Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

No surprises, no fiascos. President Rodrigo Duterte’s fourth state of the nation address (SONA) has been smooth despite the more than one hour delay due to sudden rains.

Nevertheless, the annual event pushed through with the President starting his speech at 5:14 p.m. and ending it at 6:47 p.m., an almost expletive-free 93-minute talk.

President Duterte opened his fourth SONA with the usual pleasantries and his expression of gratitude “to all who kept faith with me in our most trying times.”

He noted that the landslide victory of administration candidates in the May 2019 polls as well as recent survey results just proved the Filipino people’s support to his presidency as compared to the only 3% disapproval rating, which he joked about with the members of Congress.

“I hope that the members of Congress – sana hindi kayo included sa 3%,” he said earning laughter from the audience.

This amount of support, the President said, inspires him with determination to pursue relentlessly what the government has started even at the beginning of his term as the highest leader of the country.

No matter how controversial, the President said his policies on the fight against illegal drugs and corruption will remain “whatever be the opposition.”

“For it is not the eagle in the fight but the fight in the eagle that matters,” he said.

“Believe me, I will end my term fighting,” the President said strongly to start his SONA.

For those who did not have the time to sit and watch the President’s SONA, here are some of the highlights.

Illegal Drugs, Corruption, Death Penalty

The President acknowledged that the government still has a long way to go to fight the social menace that is illegal drugs, which he believes is a by-product of corruption.

 “The drugs will not be crushed unless we continue to eliminate corruption that allows this social monster to survive,” he noted.

This is the reason, he said, why he advocates on the reinstatement of death penalty.

“I respectfully request Congress to reinstate the death penalty for heinous crimes related to drugs, as well as plunder,” the President said.

Ease of Doing Business

The President, likewise, emphasized the necessity to ensure a responsive government to the needs of the people.

Even after signing the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act, he said, much has yet to be done.

Thus, he ordered specific government agencies to simplify their transactions and impose the law “to improve service delivery and fight corruption.”

The agencies mentioned were the Land Transportation Office (LTO), the Social Security System (SSS), the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), Land Registration Authority (LRA), and the Pag-IBIG Fund.

He also called the attention of local government units (LGU) to do the same.

“My directive to the government and instrumentalities, including the LGUs and the government corporations: simplify,” he said warning those concerned to suffer sanctions if they again fail.

“Simplify and make your services responsive to — client-friendly. Your client is the Filipino, our employer — from where the money in our pockets come from, from our salaries,” he stressed.

Priority Legislation

Aside from the revival of death penalty, the President directed Congress to pass the creation of new agencies vital to the accomplishments of the administration’s programs for development.

Noting natural disasters as ‘poverty creators,’ the President asked Congress to fast track the establishment of a Department of Disaster Resilience that would focus on programs that would mitigate the impact of natural hazards and climate change.

Recognizing the damaging effect of El Niño to the country’s agriculture sector and the inconveniences it caused brought about by water crisis, he urged lawmakers to pass a bill creating the Department of Water Resources and Water Regulatory Commission.

Similar to his appeal last year, the President called Congress to establish the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers to ensure Filipino workers abroad access to government services as well as protection from abuse in foreign lands.

The Chief Executive also urged lawmakers to enact the Magna Carta for Barangays and to postpone the May 2020 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections to October 2022 to provide sitting barangay officials ample time to finish their programs and projects.

To encourage the country’s MSME sector, the President urged Congress to immediately pass Package 2 of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program also known as Trabaho bill which he said would create more jobs for Filipinos.

In addition to these priority bills, President Duterte also asked Congress to pass a new Salary Standardization Law to increase salary for government workers, including public school teachers and public hospital nurses.

He also asked Congress to approve the National Defense Act, Uniformed Separation and Retirement Pension Bill, and the revival of the mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).

“Very important,” the President said referring to military training to re-instill the spirit of patriotism among Filipino students.

 “Kapag mag giyera, 10 out of 10 hindi marunong maghawak ng baril (If war breaks out, 10 out of 10 do not even know how to hold a gun) to defend even his father and mother and brothers and sisters. Itong mga bata ngayon (youth nowadays,) they are bereft of the patriotism and the love of country. Balik sila dito (Let’s encourage them on this),” he said.

Traffic woes

President Duterte specifically directed Interior Secretary Eduardo Año to suspend mayors or governors who refuse to heed his order to “reclaim all public roads that are being used for private ends.”

With the help of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the President wants immediate action “to ensure speedy and smooth flow of vehicular traffic” in Metro Manila.

On China

True to his promise, the President did ‘educate’ the Filipinos regarding the West Philippine Sea issue, how it started and why his administration cannot drive away China from Philippine waters.

Again, he reiterated that war is not an option as it leaves “widows and orphans in its wake.”

“More and better results can be reached in the privacy of a conference room than in a squabble in public. That is why I will do in the peaceful way,” he said.

Amid criticisms, the President still promised that he would assert the country’s sovereign rights over West Philippine Sea “in due time.”

A better Philippines ahead

Through the end of his SONA, the President assured the Filipino people that his government will continue to propel towards a better Philippines.

“Our goal for the next three years is clear: a comfortable life for everybody, all Filipinos,” he promised.

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World’s longest electric vehicle trip ends in New Zealand

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Sunday, July 21st, 2019

Dutch adventurer Wiebe Wakker posing beside his vehicle the ‘Blue Bandit’, to celebrate the completion of his three-year drive across more than 30 countries in an electric vehicle. | Courtesy: Reuters

A Dutch sustainability advocate completed the longest ever journey in an electric vehicle in New Zealand on Friday (July 19) after a three-year drive that took him through more than 30 countries.

Wiebe Wakker set off from the Netherlands in March 2016 in his “Blue Bandit” to showcase the potential of sustainable transport, funded by donations from those following his trip on social media.

“So I wanted to do my bit to promote this technology and show that sustainability is a viable way of transport. So I wanted really to do something that really speaks to the imagination which is driving an electric car from Amsterdam to literally the other side of the world to show that it can be done,” he said.

The 101,000 kilometers (62,800 miles) trip took Wakker through Eastern Europe, Iran, India, Southeast Asia, before traveling around much of Australia and across to New Zealand.

Wakker gave regular updates on his blog and social media throughout the journey, detailing visiting Iran’s biggest car manufacturer in Tehran, a breakdown on the Indonesian island of Java and visits to Australia’s outback and world-famous Uluru.

The drive had relied on the support of strangers across the globe who offered the traveler food, a place to stay and the essential means to charge his car along the way. (REUTERS)

(Production: James Redmayne)

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