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Italy’s League party faces investigation over claims of Russian oil deal | World News



Italy’s ruling party is facing an investigation into claims it tried to funnel money into its coffers from Moscow via a secret oil deal.

Public prosecutors in Milan launched the probe after a leaked recording emerged of a meeting between a close aide to the deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, and Russian businessmen.

According to BuzzFeed, they discussed a Russian energy giant selling $1.5bn (£1.2bn) of oil to an Italian oil firm, buying and selling through intermediaries, to divert a sum worth $65m to Mr Salvini’s far-right League party.

Mr Salvini, who is the interior minister in a coalition-government with the populist 5-Star Movement, has denied his party received any money from Moscow.

His former spokesman, Gianluca Savoini, admitted to meeting a group of unnamed businessmen in Moscow last October but denied the League had received any funds.

Two sources with knowledge of the case told Reuters that magistrates have now opened a probe into the allegation of international corruption.

Italian law forbids political parties from accepting donations from foreign entities.

Mr Salvini is facing calls from the opposition centre-left Democratic Party to appear in parliament to address the allegations.

The speaker of the Senate, who is a member of the League’s longstanding political ally, Forza Italia, refused to summon Mr Salvini.

She has dismissed the controversy as “journalistic gossip”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in Rome
Vladimir Putin said he was in ‘constant contact’ with the League

Vladimir Putin visited Rome last week and praised Mr Salvini, telling the Corriere della Sera newspaper he was “in constant contact” with the League.

“Salvini has a welcoming attitude towards our country,” the Russian president said.

Tough financing laws in Italy aimed at stamping out years of corruption have left parties struggling to fill their bank accounts.

An Italian court last year gave the League 75 years to pay back some €49m it owes the state following a trial.

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Grace Millane murder trial: CCTV shows accused ‘taking backpacker’s body to woods’ | World News



A jury has been shown CCTV of Grace Millane’s body being taken to woodland where she was buried.

The footage was shown at Auckland High Court in New Zealand, where a 27-year-old man is on trial accused of murdering the British backpacker.

Ms Millane, from Wickford in Essex, died the night before her 22nd birthday during a Tinder date with the man at the beginning of December last year.

Prosecutors say he strangled her before burying her naked body in a suitcase in the Waitakere Ranges, near Auckland.

Police found Grace Millane buried in a suitcase in the Waitakere Ranges, near Auckland, New Zealand
Forensic officers where the suitcase was found in the Waitakere Ranges, near Auckland

The man, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, denies murdering her, claiming her death was an accident after she asked him to choke her during sex.

The jury was shown how cameras captured the man buying a suitcase and shovel and transporting her body in a rented red Toyota hatchback.

The powerfully built man was seen wheeling a luggage trolley into a lift at the CityLife hotel in central Auckland where he lived and going up to his £190-a-week room.

Shortly afterwards, he returned with the trolley laden with two suitcases, one of which he has since admitted contained university graduate Grace’s naked body folded into a foetal position.

Grace’s parents – David and Gill Millane – wept as the court was shown the CCTV footage.

The jury also watched footage of the suspect’s first police interview.

For more than an hour, he gave an account packed with details of how he said he had spent the night of his Tinder date with Grace five days before.

The suspect cannot be identified for legal reasons
The suspect cannot be identified for legal reasons

With a photograph of the young university graduate, then being treated as a missing person, on the table in front of him, he told them he had said goodbye to Grace with “a hug and a kiss on the cheek”, hoping to see her the next day to celebrate her 22nd birthday.

Then, he told Detective Sergeant Ewen Settle he had gone to meet a work colleague but ended up drinking himself into a stupor in a pub and waking up in his apartment the next day believing he had been carried in by the concierge.

He was a heavy drinker at weekends, he said, when he tended to “go crazy”, and after sharing cocktails with Grace he had gone to a bar and drunk 10 glasses of Tui beer, paid for in cash, and treated 20 other people to drinks.

He said he woke up the next morning, had “a bit of a vomit” looked at his phone and saw it was 10am. He had tried to text Grace on Tinder the next day but she had unmatched him.

Later that morning he had gone for “a scotch fillet, medium rare, with mushrooms, chips and salad” for breakfast before having a nap and going to meet a friend from work.

The detective told him the search for Grace, whose parents had reported her missing the previous day, was ongoing. He asked the accused if he would provide a voluntary DNA sample.

“100 per cent,” said the man. “I know I haven’t done anything wrong so I’m happy to do it.”

Grace Millane's parents David and Gillian arrive at Auckland High Court
Grace Millane’s parents David and Gillian have been watching the trial in Auckland

The jury of seven women and five men watched, however, as instead of proceeding with the DNA sample, DS Settle told him minutes later: “We have reached a point where we have to advise you of your rights.”

He showed the man a photograph of him entering the CityLife hotel, where he lived, at 8.15am on the Sunday with a suitcase he had bought that morning and told him: “You haven’t told the truth. You’ve told a lie.”

The man said: “I’m being truthfully honest with you, I’ve still got that bag in in my room.

“I might have got the times wrong but if you are assuming I was using that suitcase for something, I’ve still got it in my room and you guys can have it.

“It came from The Warehouse [a chain store]. I bought it that day because I was having to move all the stuff out of my room.”

But the jury has heard he used the suitcase to take Grace’s body in a hire car to remote, dense woodland where he buried it in a shallow grave early on Monday morning.

The Crown say he bought a second, identical suitcase which was left in his room at CityLife.

The trial continues.

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George Pell: Disgraced cardinal granted final appeal against sex abuse convictions | World News



The most senior Catholic to be found guilty of sexually abusing children has been granted leave to appeal by Australia’s highest court.

The decision by the High Court of Australia comes nearly a year after Cardinal George Pell was convicted of molesting two 13-year-old choirboys in Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in the late 1990s.

Pell, 78, was sentenced to six years in prison in March and is no longer a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals or a Vatican official.

Victoria state Court of Appeal rejected his appeal in August.

Cardinal George Pell pictured on 27 February
Pell was jailed for six years in March

Pell, a former finance minister for Pope Francis, is in a Melbourne prison and did not attend the court in Canberra to hear the decision on Wednesday.

In a 12-page application, his lawyers argued that two state appeals court judges made an error in dismissing his appeal in August.

They claimed that requiring Pell to prove that the abuse was impossible, rather than putting the onus of proof on prosecutors, was a mistake.

His lawyers also argued the two judges were wrong to find the jury’s unanimous guilty verdict was reasonable, claiming there was reasonable doubt over whether opportunity existed for the crimes to have occurred.

They say Pell should be acquitted of all charges for a number of reasons, including inconsistencies in the accusers’ version of events.

In their written submission to the High Court, prosecutors argued there is no basis for an appeal.

Pell was largely convicted on the testimony of one victim. The second victim died from an accidental heroin overdose in 2014 when he was 31, and had not alleged that he had been abused.

He must serve at least three years and eight months in jail before he becomes eligible for parole.

As a convicted paedophile, he is provided with extra protection in prison and spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement.

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Donald Trump: What you need to know about the impeachment proceedings | US News



Impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump are moving on to the next stage. This is what you need to know.

What is impeachment?

Impeachment is when a legislative body formally levels charges – which have to be very serious – against a high official of government, including the president.

It does not mean automatic removal from office and is only the first step towards removal.

It is not a criminal trial but a process to remove a high-level official, usually only a president in the US.

What’s happening this week?

Today the curtain goes up on the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump and his dealings with Ukraine. This week we will hear from three witnesses – career public servants who have privately testified that Mr Trump withheld military aid to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rival Joe Biden.

First up: William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine. He has told investigators that shortly after being approached for the job he learned of a sub foreign policy channel that he believed was undermining US national security interests.

Next up will be George Kent – the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. In his testimony he detailed how Mr Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, defied the conventional bipartisan approach toward US support for Ukraine in his effort to push for political investigations.

On Friday it’s the turn of Marie Yovanovitch, former US ambassador to Ukraine. Mr Giuliani successfully pushed for her to be removed from this role in May after criticising her performance and accusing her of failing to support Mr Trump’s policies.

She testified that she was told to “watch my back” because Mr Giuliani and his associates saw her as an obstacle in achieving their own business interests. These hearings are part of the process of formally charging the president.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) leaves the floor after the close of a vote by the U.S. House of Representatives on a resolution formalising the impeachment inquiry centred on U.S. President Donald Trump October 31, 2019 in Washington, DC
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

How did we get here?

A vocal minority has been calling for Mr Trump’s impeachment pretty much since he took office. Those calls grew during Robert Mueller‘s investigation into Russian interference and waned at its conclusion. Now cylinders are firing up again.

Why? It all centres around a phone call Mr Trump had with the Ukrainian president in July. One intelligence official was so alarmed by what Mr Trump said that they turned whistleblower and filed a formal complaint.

Since then numerous testimonies have corroborated a narrative that Mr Trump pushed for the Ukrainian president to open an investigation into his 2020 rival Joe Biden. If true, Democrats say it would mean the US president abused the power of his office to influence a foreign country to meddle in the 2020 election.

The view among Democrats is that amounts to an impeachable offence. Mr Trump has admitted speaking about Mr Biden with Ukraine’s leader but insists he acted appropriately.

What next?

Once the intelligence committee has wrapped up its investigations and hearings, it will send a report and recommendations to the house judiciary committee, which will then draft any possible articles of impeachment.

That panel would then vote on them and present them to the full House. A full House vote would likely happen quickly with the aim of wrapping up the House side of proceedings before the end of the year.

Trump impeachment one step closer

Any impeachment resolution adopted by the House would have to be watertight to survive in the majority Republican Senate.

The Senate trial is where things would really ignite with dramatic testimony that could ultimately remove Mr Trump from office. But that’s unlikely because nearly all Senate Republicans are firmly behind the president.

Proceedings are governed by an eight-page manual that says the Senate needs to hear articles of impeachment shortly after the House reports them. Members of the House of Representatives present the prosecution case and Mr Trump’s defence would be argued by his own lawyers.

Two thirds of the senate would need to vote against Mr Trump in order to remove him from office. This would be unprecedented.

At this point, only 16 of 47 Senate Democrats and independents publicly support impeaching the president. There is every chance that Mr Trump could be impeached and go on to win a second term in office.

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What’s the political strategy?

Republicans have changed their tune recently. They started off focusing on criticising the process. Now they’re looking a little more at substance.

In the face of a mountain of damaging facts expected in these first public hearings, some have started acknowledging there may have been a quid pro quo, but insisting that it doesn’t establish an impeachable offence.

Donald Trump denies whistleblower claims

Trump: ‘It was a perfect call’

According to an 18-page leaked staff memo, House Republicans plan to focus on Mr Trump’s mindset (his intent and motive) and intangibles like impeachability, rather than trying to challenge a story that has been supported by multiple witnesses. The memo suggests they will focus on “four key pieces of evidence”.

  • That the best evidence of the 25 July call shows no “conditionality or evidence of pressure”
  • President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and President Trump have both said there was no pressure on the call
  • The Ukrainian government was not aware of a hold on US security assistance at the time of the 25 July call
  • President Trump met with President Zelenskiy and the US supplied assistance without Ukraine investigating Mr Trump’s political rivals

What that memo doesn’t acknowledge is that senior officials like Mr Taylor and EU ambassador Gordon Sondland were under the impression a quid pro quo involving aid did exist and they spoke with their Ukrainian counterparts about that.

Democrats by contrast, are banking on these televised hearings being so shocking to the public, that viewers will be quickly convinced the president should be impeached. They know public feeling matters greatly.

House intelligence chair Adam Schiff has picked Mr Taylor, Mr Kent and Ms Yavanonvitch because he thinks they are indisputably compelling, trustworthy and apolitical. He hopes Mr Kent and Mr Taylor will provide a powerful opening and Ms Yavanonvitch, who was the first alleged victim of Rudy Giuliani’s “scheme”, will illicit sympathy.

We’re told Mr Schiff will be keeping quiet, avoiding media and expecting others to do the same. They want to be seen to be taking this incredibly seriously and to find understated ways to counter Republican theatrics.

They also want it dealt with as quickly as possible and in a very focused way, where arguments and evidence is laid out in a way voters can easily understand it. An impeachment process that drags on could seriously backfire.

The front page of a White House memorandum describing President Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy
A White House memorandum describing President Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during a bilateral meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York City, New York, U.S., September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy with Donald Trump

Does the public want impeachment?

Washington is consumed by impeachment. But very often, what Capitol Hill is obsessed with is not what voters care most about.

There is some indication this time though that people at home are watching what happens closely. Let’s face it, Congress has the potential to oust the man the public chose to put in office.

Some recent polls show President Donald Trump has a loyal core. In most surveys, opposition to impeachment among Republicans remains above 90%. His most ardent followers are white evangelicals.

Rudy Giuliani

Giuliani: ‘Trump didn’t do a darn thing wrong’

But in the places that matter the most, he’s looking a lot more vulnerable. According to a Times and Siena College poll, where voters in the six closest states carried by the president in 2016, 50% of registered voters supported the impeachment investigation and 45% opposed it.

Impeachment, even if it was to happen, certainly doesn’t equal removal. In that Times/Sienna poll of swing states, a majority also opposed removing Mr Trump from office – 53% to 43%.

Ultimately, the public look as divided as Congress.

Is there anything in the Joe Biden claims?

After Ukraine’s 2014 revolution, then vice president Biden became Barack Obama’s point man visiting frequently – tasked with tackling corruption.

Around that time his son Hunter took a lucrative position on the board of the country’s largest private gas company, Burisma. At the time it raised concerns of a possible conflict of interest.

Mr Biden argued that his son was a private citizen who made his own decisions. The Obama administration actually supported an investigation into Burisma because the owner had close ties to the recently ousted president.

Separately Mr Biden threatened to cut off US aid if a top prosecutor who was seen as failing to investigate corruption was not removed from office. Mr Trump’s supporters say Mr Biden was actually doing this so that his son would not be investigated.

No evidence has been offered to back this claim which has been called “baseless” by the Biden camp.

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