Payment of Rs4.5bn to Broadsheet: MPs panel summons NAB chairman

ISLAMABAD – A parliamentary panel has taken notice of the payment of Rs 4.5 billion to British assets recovery firm Broadsheet and sent a notice to the NAB chairman.

It is pertinent to mention here that Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Assembly (NA)is poised to look into the payment of Rs4.5 billion to assets recovery firm Broadsheet LLC by Pakistan as a penalty imposed by a London arbitrator.

According to details, the Foreign Affairs Committee has sent a notice to NAB Chairman Javed Iqbal on the matter and summoned him on January 18 at Parliament House.

The 21-member National Assembly standing committee on foreign affairs, headed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) member Ehsanullah Tiwana, will hold an in-camera meeting on January 18 to get briefings from the NAB chairman and several other relevant figures.

Apart from the NAB chairman, the law and justice secretary, controller general of accounts and auditor general of Pakistan have been asked to personally attend the meeting. They have been urged to forward a soft copy of their respective briefs by email and 45 hard copies by regular mail, each in English and Urdu, for advance study of the members of the forum.

According to the officially announced agenda of the meeting, the panel will get a briefing on the British court’s order to debit Rs450 crores (Rs4.5bn) from the accounts of the Pakistan High Commission in London over the non-payment of the penalty by NAB to the foreign asset recovery firm, Broadsheet LLC.

 Besides getting Rs4.5bn from Pakistan, Broadsheet has also written to the NAB lawyers in London seeking an additional sum of US$1,180,799.66, while confirming that it is in receipt of funds from United National Bank’s London branch for the sum of US$28,706,533.34 in accordance with the terms of Deputy Master Lay’s order of December 17.


Govt decides to resume Classes 1-8 on Feb 1 instead of Jan 25

ISLAMABAD – Federal Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood announced on Friday that classes one to eight will resume from Feb 1 instead of Jan 25.

Briefing media persons about the decisions taken at the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) after chairing a meeting to review the COVID-19 situation, the minister informed that classes nine to 12 and universities will resume on Jan 18 (Monday) and Feb 1, respectively, as per previous decision.

Ahead of phase-wise reopening of educational institutions from next week, Shafqat Mehmood said that matric and intermediate classes will resume on January 18 and all higher education institutions including colleges and universities will reopen from February 1 as per the previous schedule.

He , however, said the closure of class one to eight has been extended for a week. He said these classes will now resume from the 1st of next month as against the earlier decision of January 25. He said the institutions of higher education will also reopen from the 1st of next month.

The education minister said it has also been decided that the NCOC will review the coronavirus situation next week and adopt a smart approach under which there is a possibility to keep the schools shut in those cities where the infection rate is comparatively high.

Shafqat Mahmood said it has also been decided that the students will not be promoted to the next class without examination.

He further said the COVID-19 has badly affected the education of our children over the last eight to nine months. He said we have tried to create a balance ensuring that the education activities continue whilst protecting the health of children.


Accountability process cannot be stopped, no NRO to be given: Babar

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) senior leader Dr Babar Awan on Friday has clarified that the accountability process cannot be stopped and no National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) will be given to anyone at any forum.

Speaking in the Senate, the PTI leader said that the government is ready to hold reforms and amendments on every matter expect pardoning the corrupt elements. “No NRO will be given to anyone who plundered the country’s wealth,” he added.

Babar Awan maintained that the government offered two conditions and invited the opposition to discuss institutional reforms. He insisted on surrendering those facing corruption charges before the courts. “In the past, the institutions of accountability were not allowed to be strengthened deliberately,” he added.

The former law minister said that the Parliament cannot pass any judgment, however, Public Accounts Committee (APC) can hold inquiry or check official accounts. He mentioned that the national institutions in Pakistan have never been allowed to work according to the system.


Visibility drops to zero as Motorways closed for traffic

LAHORE – The dense fog has engulfed different areas of Punjab as Motorways closed for traffic due to zero visibility on Friday morning.

According to the details garnered, the fog has affected road transport in the city as well. Motorways M-3 from Lahore to Darkhan and M-4 from Pindi Bhattian to Shorkot have been closed for traffic.

The motorway police have requested people to avoid travel unless absolutely necessary and use fog lights while driving.

It is pertinent to mention here that more than 18 flights to and from Lahore were delayed after dense fog enveloped the city. According to the spokesperson of the Allama Iqbal International Airport, three domestic flights landing and six taking off from the city have been delayed.

Meanwhile, six international flights flying from Lahore and five arriving flights faced a delay. On Friday morning, fog was reported in Pattoki, Sahiwal, Okara, Khanewal and other plain areas of Punjab. Following this, visibility dropped to zero.


PIA plane seized in Malaysia for non-payment of aircraft lease dues

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysian authorities on Friday seized a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Boeing-777 at the Kuala Lumpur Airport for non-payment of aircraft lease dues.

According to the details garnered, Malaysian authorities seized PIA plane on the on the orders of a local Malaysian court over being defaulter of lease payment.

It is noteworthy here that the PIA had leased two aircraft, including the Boeing-777,  from a Vietnamese company in 2015.

The plane was seized after passengers had already boarded the aircraft. The aircraft’s 18-member staff also become stranded in Kuala Lumpur due to the seizure, and will now quarantine for 14 days as per protocols.

The national flag carrier’s spokesman said that the matter is under hearing at British court. “We are trying to resolve the issue at government level,” he assured.

“The passengers are being looked after and alternate arrangements for their travel have been finalised,” read a tweet shared by PIA on its official account.


Senate deputy chairman tells NAB chief to inform Senate on ‘blackmail’

ISLAMABAD – Reacting to NAB Chairman Javed Iqbal’s statement that he was being blackmailed, Senate Deputy Chairman Saleem Mandviwalla urged him to come before the parliamentary panel and appraise them of the who was behind the blackmail.

NAB took centre stage in the debate during today’s Senate session as Saleem Mandviwalla sought accountability of the anti graft watchdog. “Notices are being sent to humiliate people and the NAB should be stopped from the mistakes that it is making.

Saleem Mandviwalla said what will happen to a common man if even the Parliament is scared. He vowed to continue his struggle and said PTI Dr Babar Awan also supported his stance.

The deputy chairman emphasised that NAB was making doing business in the country difficult by going after everyone’s accounts.  “We stopped the Federal Board of Revenue from going into people’s accounts, but now NAB is doing the same thing. The State Bank of Pakistan is a hostage to NAB’s antics. This is a dangerous precedent.”

Saleem Manviwalla claimed that he had been receiving messages threatening more inquiries if he did not stop speaking out. “You can initiate as many inquiries, I will speak out even more. I will hold a press conference every week with other NAB affectees,” he said, urging the Parliament to meet people who have been ‘targeted’ by the anti-graft watchdog.


Andy Murray tests positive for COVID-19

LONDON (Reuters) – Scottish tennis player Andy Murray has tested positive for COVID-19, STV said on Thursday, adding that he is still in good health.

The Scottish broadcaster said Murray was self-isolating and still had hopes of competing in the Australian Open next month.

Murray is a former world number one and three-times Grand Slam champion who has slipped in the rankings in recent years following hip surgery.


NTSB to hold Feb 9 hearing to determine probable cause of Kobe Bryant fatal crash

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said on Wednesday it would hold a hearing on Feb. 9 to determine the probable cause of the January 2020 helicopter crash that killed retired NBA star Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others.

The board said in June the pilot of the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter that crashed outside Los Angeles into hilly terrain likely became disoriented in the fog.

Pilot Ara Zobayan told air traffic controllers that his chopper was climbing out of heavy clouds when in fact it was descending immediately before slamming into a hillside near the town of Calabasas, the NTSB said in June.

The board said pilots can become confused about an aircraft’s attitude and acceleration when they cannot see the sky or landscape around them, causing “spatial disorientation.” “Without outside references or attention to the helicopter’s attitude display, the actual pitch and bank angles have the potential to be misperceived,” the NTSB said in June. Zobayan was killed in the wreck.

An attitude indicator is an instrument used to reference the helicopter’s pitch and orientation relative to the Earth’s horizon.

An NTSB board member told reporters in the days after the Jan. 26 crash that clouds and fog causing limited visibility in the foothills north of Los Angeles would likely be a key focus of the investigation. In February, the board said an examination of the helicopter’s engines and rotors found no evidence of “catastrophic mechanical failure” that could explain why the airship would have plunged into the terrain.

A series of charts released by the NTSB in June shows the aircraft gaining speed, banking sharply to the left and plummeting just seconds after Zobayan told air traffic controllers he was “climbing to 4,000” feet to fly above the cloud layer.

Bryant, 41, an 18-time National Basketball Association all-star with the Los Angeles Lakers, was traveling with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, two other girls and several friends to a youth basketball tournament at the time of the crash, which prompted an outpouring of shock and grief from sports fans worldwide.


NASA scientist pleads guilty to lying about China ties

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A senior NASA scientist pleaded guilty on Wednesday to lying about his ties to a program that encourages researchers to develop relationships with China in exchange for grants, the US Department of Justice said on Wednesday.

Meyya Meyyappan, 66, of Pacifica, California, entered his plea before US District Judge Kevin Castel in Manhattan.

Prosecutors said Meyyappan participated in the Thousand Talents Program, a Chinese government program to recruit people familiar with foreign technology and intellectual property, and held professorships at universities in China, South Korea and Japan.

Meyyappan concealed this work from NASA and the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, and falsely told investigators in an Oct. 27 interview he was not a member of the Thousand Talents Program and did not hold the professorship in China, prosecutors said.

A lawyer for Meyyappan did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The defendant faces up to six months in prison under recommended federal guidelines at his scheduled June 16 sentencing, according to his plea agreement.

NASA, or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, oversees the U.S. civilian space program and space research. It had no immediate comment.

Prosecutors said Meyyappan joined NASA in 1996, and has since 2006 been chief scientist for exploration technology at its Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. The Justice Department has tried to clamp down on perceived Chinese influence over U.S. academia and researchers, including through alleged spying and intellectual property theft, as part of the Trump administration’s broader hard line toward China.

Last January, the department charged Charles Lieber, the former chairman of Harvard University’s chemistry department, with lying about his involvement in the Thousand Talents Program and research funding that China awarded him.

Lieber has pleaded not guilty.


Italy thrown into political crisis as Renzi sinks government

ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s former premier Matteo Renzi pulled his small party out of government on Wednesday, stripping the ruling coalition of its parliamentary majority and triggering political chaos even as the nation battles a resurgent COVID-19.

Renzi lambasted Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s style of leadership, saying he was trying to hoard power, but he left open the possibility of rejoining the cabinet if his demands for a policy revamp and greater accountability were acted on.

“Being responsible is about facing up to problems, not hiding them,” said Renzi, who has been accused by critics of playing politics in an effort to revive the fortunes of his tiny Italia Viva party, which is floundering in the polls.

His coalition partners said his decision would hurt the country, which is mired in the worst recession since World War Two as a result of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 80,000 Italians — the second highest toll in Europe.

Conte made a last-ditch appeal to Renzi to stay within the four-party coalition, which took office in August 2019, saying he was convinced unity could be restored if there was goodwill from all sides. He made no immediate comment after his olive branch was rebuffed. It was not immediately clear what he, or his remaining allies, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and leftist LEU party, would do.

One possible scenario would be for the coalition parties to try to renegotiate a new pact with Italia Viva, which would almost certainly open the way for a major cabinet reshuffle, with or without Conte at the helm.

“Can a new Conte government be made? We do not have vetoes on anyone, nor prejudices, nor do we presume to tell the prime minister what to do,” Renzi said at the news conference where he announced his decision to pull out. If the coalition cannot agree on a way forward, President Sergio Mattarella would almost certainly try to put together a government of national unity to deal with the health emergency.

If that failed, the only option would be a national vote.

The opposition bloc, led by Matteo Salvini’s far-right League, issued a statement calling for Conte to resign and saying the best way to guarantee stable government would be elections, some two years ahead of schedule.

Salvini hooked up with 5-Star after inconclusive elections in 2018 and formed a government headed by Conte, who is a lawyer with no party affiliation. Salvini quit a year later, hoping to force early elections, but he was outwitted by Renzi who unexpectedly backed the creation of an alternative coalition. However, Renzi had bad relations with Conte from the start and regularly attacked his decision-making.

His latest complaints focused on Conte’s plans for how to spend billions of euros promised by the European Union to relaunch the battered economy. On Tuesday, he raised other policy grievances and insisted Italy should apply for a loan from the euro zone’s bailout fund, known as the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), to help its health service.

The 5-Star Movement, the largest ruling party, is hostile to this idea, making it a non-starter for Conte.