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'Most IMPORTANT deliberations' May ready to keep Cabinet up ALL NIGHT to thrash out Brexit

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THERESA May is threatening to force her Cabinet ministers to work through the night to thrash out a plan for the Brexit negotiations with Brussels, it emerged today.

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Biden picks Rohit Chopra to lead consumer protection agency

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WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Rohit Chopra to be the next director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, two sources told NBC News.

Chopra, a member of the Federal Trade Commission, helped launch the agency in 2011 and previously served as its assistant director.

He is an ally of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who proposed and built the consumer-focused agency. He is also backed by progressive groups. Bloomberg first reported Chopra’s selection.

Among those who applauded the move Sunday were Randi Weingarten, leader of the American Federation of Teachers, and the consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen, which called him a “fantastic pick who will return the agency to its days of actually fighting for consumers.”

At the CFPB, Chopra worked on student loan issues and helped secure funding for people unlawfully targeted by debt collectors, for-profit colleges and others, according to his agency biography.

At the FTC, he “pushed for aggressive remedies against lawbreaking companies, especially repeat offenders, and has worked to reverse the FTC’s reliance on no-money, no-fault settlements,” his biography says.

Geoff Bennett reported from Washington and Tim Stelloh from California.



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'Bring it on!' Britons back Boris to make UK the 'Singapore of Europe' with new freedom

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BORIS JOHNSON has been urged to make Britain the “Singapore of Europe” with its new-found freedom after Brexit, according to the results of an Express.co.uk poll.

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Iran jails U.S. businessman, possibly jeopardizing Biden’s plans for diplomacy with Tehran

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WASHINGTON — Only weeks after the U.S, election, and three days after an Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated, Iranian authorities convicted an American businessman on spying charges, a family friend told NBC News.

The case threatens to complicate plans by the next administration to pursue diplomacy with Iran, as President-elect Joe Biden has said he would be open to easing sanctions on Tehran if the regime returned to compliance with a 2015 nuclear agreement.

Iranian-American Emad Shargi, 56, was summoned to a Tehran court on Nov. 30 and told he had been convicted of espionage without a trial and sentenced to 10 years, a family friend told NBC News.

Shargi’s family has not heard from him for more than six weeks, the family said in a statement.

Only a year earlier, in December 2019, an Iranian court had cleared Shargi of any wrongdoing, but the regime withheld his Iranian and U.S. passports.

The about-face by the Iranian authorities took place only weeks after Biden won the U.S. presidential election and three days after the killing of a leading nuclear scientist and senior defense official, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, east of Tehran. Iran blamed Israel for the assassination, but Israel has declined to comment on the incident.

Iranian media and Farsi-language outlets had earlier reported Shargi’s conviction but did not mention his American citizenship. After his sentencing, Shargi was not taken into custody but Iranian media reported Shargi was arrested on Dec. 6 in the West Azerbaijan province of Iran, near the northern border with Iraq.

Shargi has been held incommunicado since then, according to his family.

“Emad is the heart and soul of our family,” Shargi’s family said in a statement obtained by NBC News.

“We just pray for his health and safety. It’s been more than six weeks since he was taken and we have no idea where he is or who has him. Out of caution for his well-being, we’ve never spoken publicly about his case and don’t wish to now. Please pray for Emad and for his safe return home.”

Iran’s U.N. mission did not respond to a request for comment.

The White House National Security Council and the Biden transition team did not respond to requests for comment.

Apart from Shargi, there are three other Iranian-Americans under detention in Iran: Siamak Namazi, who has been behind bars since 2015, his elderly father, Baquer, who is on medical furlough, and Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian-American environmental activist, who also holds British citizenship.

Iranian-American consultant Siamak Namazi in San Francisco in 2006.Ahmad Kiarostami / via Reuters file

The timing of Shargi’s conviction and imprisonment could put at risk planned efforts by the incoming Biden administration to pursue diplomacy with Iran to revive a 2015 nuclear agreement and reduce tensions between the two countries.

President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the multinational JCPOA nuclear deal two years ago and reimposed punishing economic sanctions on Iran. Tehran in turn has gradually violated the terms of the accord that had placed limits on its nuclear work. Biden has said he would be ready to ease the sanctions if Iran returned to compliance with the agreement, which was backed by European powers, Russia and China.

Hardline elements in Iran have remained skeptical of diplomatic overtures to Washington and in the past have backed provocative actions, including the imprisonment of foreign nationals, as a way of undermining any rapprochement with the West, according to regional analysts, human rights groups and former senior U.S. officials.

Shargi was born in Iran and educated in the U.S., earning an undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from George Washington University. He and his wife had moved back to Iran in 2016 to reacquaint themselves with the country, the family friend said.

He had worked in the plastics materials industry while in the U.S., for an aviation brokerage firm in Abu Dhabi and, at the time of his arrest, he was working for an investment company called Sarava Holding focused on the tech industry. The family friend said an Iranian media report that suggested he was the number two-ranking executive at the firm was inaccurate and that he was not a major shareholder. He had only been working for the company for a number of months when he was imprisoned in 2018.

Iranian Judge Abolqasem Salavati attends a hearing for Iranian opposition detainees in Tehran on Aug. 8, 2009.Ali Rafiei / AFP via Getty Images file

The family friend described Shargi as a gentle, caring man who was devoted to his family and had no history or interest in political activity.

Shargi was first arrested in April 2018 and held at Evin Prison in Tehran until December 2018, when he was released on bail. While he was behind bars, he was subjected to repeated interrogations, and was blindfolded and placed in the corner of the room facing the wall, the family friend said.

During the first 44 days of his detention, Shargi had no contact with or access to the outside world, including his family, the family friend said.

Shargi’s conviction and sentencing in November 2020 was handled by Judge Abolqasem Salavati of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Court, the family friend said. The judge is known for meting out harsh punishments and has been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department. Salavati has “sentenced more than 100 political prisoners, human rights activists, media workers and others seeking to exercise freedom of assembly,” according to the Treasury Department.

Human rights groups have accused Iran of arbitrarily imprisoning foreign nationals, violating their rights to due process and using the cases as potential bargaining chips with other governments.

Iran denies the allegations and has rejected accounts that inmates are subject to inhuman treatment or abuse.

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