Duterte divorces US, hitches his wagon to Beijing
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he wants to cut the cord with the US and pivot to China and Russia, words that signal a deepening split with his country’s biggest military ally. Duterte made the pronouncement during a state visit to Beijing, several weeks after he told President Barack Obama to “go to hell”. Since taking office in June, the brash 71-year-old leader has repeatedly questioned his nation’s links with the US, echoing the sentiments of many Filipinos who feel they’re being used by their former colonial ruler. “I announce my separation from the US,” Duterte said to a packed room of business leaders in the Chinese capital after meeting President Xi Jinping. Duterte also said he might go to Russian President Vladimir Putin and tell him “there’s three of us against the world”.
What next? State Department spokesman John Kirby described the US as “baffled” by Duterte’s rhetoric and said his comments are “inexplicably at odds with the very close relationship that we have with the Filipino people, as well as the government there, on many different levels, not just from a security perspective”. Duterte’s own government also seemed confused. Presidential Communications Office (PCO) Assistant Secretary Ana Marie Banaag said, “There is no rush for us to interpret the speech of the president.” Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez insisted the Philippines will retain its economic partnership with the US. “We are not stopping trade investment with America,” he said. Duterte’s next stop is Japan, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to try to keep him onside with US-led efforts to contain China.
DiCaprio promises to return 1MDB cash
Leonardo DiCaprio is helping the investigation into Malaysia’s 1MDB embezzlement, which allegedly paid for his film about financial market fraud, The Wolf of Wall Street. The actor contacted the US Justice Department in July just after it filed a lawsuit to seize more than US$1 billion in allegedly ill-gotten assets tied to 1MDB, including rights to the film, DiCaprio’s spokesperson said. The 2013 film was financed by Red Granite Pictures, co-founded by Riza Aziz, stepson of the Malaysian prime minister. DiCaprio was said to be friends with Aziz associate Jho Low, also named in the lawsuit.
What next? A Swiss rainforest charity demanded DiCaprio disclose his ties to 1MDB or else end his relations with the UN. “We can’t save the environment if we fail to stop corruption,” Lukas Straumann, director of Bruno Manser Fonds, said. A DiCaprio spokesperson said the star would see whether he received any “gifts or charitable donations directly or indirectly related to these parties”, and if so, return them. “DiCaprio’s public statement leaves key questions open,” said Straumann. “How much money did Leonardo DiCaprio and his foundation get … and why didn’t he conduct due diligence?” The organisation questioned whether DiCaprio would pay back the estimated US$25 million he received for the film.
US extradites Chinese-Mexican businessman linked to drugs
The US has extradited to Mexico a Chinese-Mexican businessman accused of working with drug cartels after US$205 million in cash was found at his Mexico City home. Zhenli Ye Gon, who was arrested in the US in 2007 after the discovery of the money, faces charges of organised crime, drug trafficking, firearms and money laundering in Mexico. Ye Gon was the owner of now-defunct Mexican pharmaceutical wholesaler Unimed Pharm Chem, which imported chemicals prosecutors alleged were used to make methamphetamine. The cash seizure at Ye Gon’s mansion played a role in US money laundering investigations at HSBC and the Las Vegas Sands Corp casino company.
What next? Ye Gon’s attorney, Gregory Smith, said: “The Mexican people should understand that Mr Ye Gon has not yet received any trial, or been convicted of anything,” said Smith, adding that Ye Gon had already spent nearly a decade in jail in the US. Prosecutors brought charges against Ye Gon after his arrest, but their case against him collapsed in 2009 after key witnesses recanted or refused to testify. Ye Gon, who remained in custody, had since been fighting his extradition to Mexico, arguing he could face torture or even death if sent back.
Bollywood held hostage by politics in India-Pakistan row
Bollywood director Karan Johar has been slammed by social media users for promising not to work with Pakistani actors, amid growing tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad over Kashmir. His announcement, in a video posted online that went viral, came after a right-wing group threatened to attack cinemas showing his new film, which stars Pakistani actor Fawad Khan. Johar insisted that when he made the film, “circumstances were completely different” but after a militant attack in Kashmir killing 18 soldiers, for which Pakistan was blamed, he will “not engage with talent from the neighbouring country given the circumstance”.
What next? Social media users slammed Johar, accusing him of being bullied into proving his nationalism. It’s also a major flip-flop from the director, who initially said banning Pakistani talent “would not stop terrorism”. Critics fear far wider repercussions, as buying a ticket to see a film could be seen as a show of disrespect for the fallen soldiers. Veteran Indian director Shyam Benegal said politics should not influence film. “Some political interests question how you can use actors from what they call ‘an enemy state’ and release the film in India when the relationship is so bad between the countries … But what connection does it have? Film actors are not political beings. They are entertainers. It’s completely without reason.”
Refugees on Nauru tortured and driven to suicide, says Amnesty
Rights group Amnesty International said this week that conditions at an Australian-run refugee camp on the Pacific Island of Nauru “amount to torture” and detainees were being driven to suicide. In a new report titled Island of Despair, Amnesty alleged that many of the asylum seekers on Nauru are being driven to attempt suicide to escape the prison-like conditions they face in indefinite detention. Canberra denied the claims.
What next? A day after Amnesty released its report, another concern group, Doctors for Refugees, announced the Australian government had quietly lifted the threat of jailing doctors who speak out against child abuse and neglect of refugees in detention. The group’s lawyers found out after challenging secrecy provisions within the Border Force Act that previously applied to doctors. Doctors argue the provisions gagged them from speaking publicly about conditions at camps like Nauru.
Lotte chairman indicted for embezzlement
South Korean prosecutors have indicted the head of Lotte Group for alleged embezzlement and breach of fiduciary duty after investigators conducted one of the country’s biggest corruption probes in years. Chairman Shin Dong-bin’s actions cost Lotte more than 175 billion won (US$156 million), the prosecutors’ office said in a statement in Seoul on Wednesday. They also indicted Shin’s older brother and his father, who founded the group, for alleged financial crimes.
What next? Lotte said most of the allegations against the chairman aren’t directly linked to him as they involve events during the time his father was running the group. Lotte also said it will explain itself in trial and will continue to strive to become a good enterprise. Lotte is the fifth largest of the nation’s family-run conglomerates, known as the chaebol, which dominate Korea’s business landscape, but is preparing to unveil a group-wide reform plan, a company official said.