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Mueller made the indictments, can he now prove them in court?

Mueller is having to face the music about having lied to the American public

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As Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian collusion investigation continued to turn up scanty or no evidence, he thought it might be a good idea to cook it up himself. In mid February, he released indictments against 13 Russian citizens and three Russian companies, charging them with ‘conspiracy to defraud the United States’ through ‘information warfare’, allegedly conducted through funding Russian ‘trolls’ to capitalize on polarizing political issues to promote Trump’s presidential candidacy while detracting that of Hillary’s, thus interfering in the 2016 US presidential elections. .

The Russian nationals included in the indictment, of course, come ‘suspected’ of ties to the Kremlin, and of being ‘Putin’s allies’, which, if the indictments are true, and their connection to Putin also being accurate, would serve up some evidence that Putin, or at least the Russian government, was actually behind a legitimate attempt to influence the outcome of the election, justifying America’s retaliatory sanctions and diplomatic response.

However, being physically located in Russia, Mueller was confident that this cooked up accusations would never face the light of day, however, on Monday, he was called to own his accusations and prove their accuracy – in court.

‘Putin’s chef’ as he is called in American media, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who runs the indicted and sanctioned Russian companies Concord Management and Consulting, LLC and Concord Catering, has retained a pair of attorneys to represent his companies in court, presenting a not guilty plea and demanding a speedy trial, which would force Mueller to bring his ‘evidence’ to light in order to prove his accusations.

Mueller’s attorneys have so far brought up a hand-full of technicalities in order to postpone the trial, but to no avail, as U.S. Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey rejected them, allowing the case to move forward in a timely manner. Politico reports:

A Russian company tied to a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin entered a not-guilty plea Wednesday in a U.S. criminal case charging that it funded internet trolls and polarizing social media advertisements in a bid to boost Donald Trump’s chances of winning the 2016 presidential election.

Prosecutors from special counsel Robert Mueller’s office allege that the firm, Concord Management and Consulting LLC, was controlled by a Russian oligarch known as Putin’s chef, Yevgeniy Prigozhin. He is one of the 13 individuals charged in the case.

Neither Prigozhin nor any officer or owner of Concord Management showed up at the U.S. district court in Washington for the brief arraignment hearing. However, two U.S. attorneys, Eric Dubelier and Kate Seikaly of law firm Reed Smith, represented the company.

“We waive formal reading of the indictment and enter a plea of not guilty and exercise our right to a speedy trial,” Dubelier told U.S. Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey.

Prosecutors had raised concerns about whether the lawyers could appear for the firm without accepting a formal summons in the case, but Harvey said federal court rules permit a corporation to appear through a lawyer.

The U.S. court appearance by Concord Management seems to be a legal gambit to force Mueller to turn over reams of evidence in the case without being able to lay hands on the individual defendants including Prigozhin. Some lawyers believe prosecutors could drop the case against that firm and two other companies in order to avoid disclosing sensitive information about how the investigation unfolded.

Prosecutors last week asked that the arraignment be delayed by more than a month, but U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich rejected that request.

During the hearing Wednesday, prosecutor Jeannie Rhee said her office obtained information from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control that Dubelier’s firm was representing both Concord Management and a related company known as Concord Catering, raising questions about whether he was appearing in court for both businesses.

Harvey suggested he found that interesting, but not particularly relevant to Wednesday’s arraignment.

“OK, what would you like me to do with that?” the magistrate asked Rhee.

Dubelier said he wasn’t authorized to appear in court for Concord Catering, a firm which he contended should never have been listed in the indictment returned in February.

“The government indicted a proverbial ham sandwich — somebody that didn’t exist … at the time period alleged by the government,” the defense attorney said.

Later in the hearing, Dubelier mustered some outrage at Rhee’s disclosure that prosecutors had seen the paperwork he filed with Treasury to obtain formal authorization to provide legal services to the companies, which are subject to U.S. sanctions as a result of the same election-related conduct alleged in the indictment.

“We now know [prosecutors accessed] a confidential filing of OFAC, which in and of itself is a disturbing fact,” he said.

Harvey formally advised Dubelier that the company could face a fine of up to $500,000 or up to twice the financial damage involved if convicted on the single felony count it faces: conspiracy to defraud the United States. The magistrate also said the company has the right to remain silent.

When the case was filed in February, many legal experts viewed it as a so-called “name-and-shame” indictment, filed to call public attention to the alleged crimes and to make international travel more difficult for the defendants, but with no real expectation that any defendant was likely to show up in court. The Russian firm’s appearance could be seen as an effort to call prosecutors’ bluff by forcing them to proceed to a trial they never expected to have to put on.

Harvey asked Wednesday whether any of the 13 individuals or the two other companies named as defendants were in the courtroom.

“They’re not here. I believe they’re not here,” the magistrate said.

“Alas, they are not here,” Rhee responded. “The government would be thrilled if they were here.”

Harvey set a May 16 hearing for lawyers on both sides to appear before Friedrich, a Trump appointee who is the newest jurist on the bench of the U.S. district court in Washington.

The indictment claims that a St. Petersburg-based firm long suspected of ties to the Kremlin, the Internet Research Agency, used social media, email and other means to manipulate “unwitting” American citizens and Trump campaign officials into protests, demonstrations and the recirculation of media messages. Most of the interventions were intended to benefit Trump or demean his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, prosecutors said, with many seeking to exacerbate racial or religious divisions.

Mueller, much like Boris Johnson, has produced allegations that he knows he can’t defend and that have no substantive basis in reality, is having to face the music about having lied to the public. Without the means to the postpone the trial, his ability to string out the investigation and his bogus allegations as part of a basis for it, are being called to the fore.

The outcome of a trial that may likely prove the Mueller investigation to be baseless not only impacts his own legitimacy, but also that of sanctions imposed against Russian nationals and companies over a political conspiracy theory, which, together with the lack of substance for other pretexts, casts doubt on the entirety of multiple rounds of sanctions imposed on Russia by the US government under the Trump administration.

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Theresa May’s soft Brexit plan continues to fail, as EU now pushing for UK to leave (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 138.

Alex Christoforou

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Theresa May’s soft Brexit strategy has been such a monumental failure that even Brussels negotiators are now pushing for the UK to simply leave the union, in what has becoming a British debacle, and a thorn in the Conservative Party’s side.

Many media pundits and analysts are now asking if the latest impasse in Brexit talks means that we are indeed seeing the last days of Theresa May?

While much of the mess the Conservative Party finds themselves in because of Brexit is squarely Theresa May’s fault, much of the damage done by May’s inability to close the deal on Brexit will not go away, even if she does.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s continued failure to obtain her soft Brexit dream, placing herself (and her Conservative Party) in such an embarrassing position, that European Union negotiators, tired of never ending talks, are eager to see Britain go away, in what will be an inevitable hard Brexit.

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“Are these the last days of Theresa May?”, authored by Stephen Bush via The New Statesman:


Are these the last days of Theresa May? This morning’s papers are full of stories of plots and ultimatums to the Prime Minister unless she changes her Brexit strategy, whether from her Scottish MPs over any extension of the transition period due to concerns over fisheries policy, from her Brexiteer MPs over the backstop or from her Cabinet over practically everything.

All this before the Budget next Monday, when Philip Hammond is going to have to find some way to pay for the extra cash for the NHS and Universal Credit all while keeping to May’s pledge that debt will continue to fall as a share of GDP. So added to all May’s Brexit woes, a row over tax rises could be coming down the track.

Of course, the PM’s position has been perilous for a very long time – in fact, when you remember that her period of hegemony ran from July 2016 to June 2017, she’s actually been under threat for more of her premiership than she hasn’t. But just because you roll heads 36 times in a row doesn’t mean your chances of rolling tails aren’t 50/50 on roll 37, and May’s luck could well be running out.

But while May shares a good size of the blame for the mess that the Conservative Party are in, it’s not all her fault by any means and none of those problems will go away if May is replaced or changes tack to win over her internal opponents in the European Research Group.

Ireland has a veto over the end state and only an indefinite and legally binding backstop for the island of Ireland will do if any deal is to be signed off. It’s true to say that no deal also means a hard border on the island of Ireland, but it’s also true that it will always been in the political interests of whoever is in office in Ireland for a hard border to be imposed as a result of no deal rather than for the Irish government to acquiesce in the creation of one through a EU-UK treaty.

The DUP can bring the Conservative government to an early end so they, too, have a de facto veto over any deal that creates barriers between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. But the only UK-wide solution – for the backstop to encompass the whole of the United Kingdom – is nothing doing with pro-Brexit Conservative MPs who don’t want an indefinite backstop. It’s also politically tricky with many EU member states, who don’t want the default outcome of the talks to be a UK-wide backstop, which many regard as a threat to the sanctity of single market. (The only reason why it is acceptable on the Irish border is because Ireland is still a member state and because the Irish border was both the location and the cause of political violence within living memory.)

Added to that, the Conservative parliamentary party seems to be undergoing a similar psychological journey to the one that Steve van Riel described during the 2015 Labour leadership election: that groups of any kind tend to reach a more extreme position the longer an issue is debated. Brexiteers who spent 20 years saying they wanted a Norway style deal now talk of Norway as a betrayal. Leavers who cheerily talked about making Northern Ireland into its own customs area before Brexit now talk of the backstop as a constitutional betrayal. And Conservative Remainers who only reluctantly backed an In vote to avoid the political upheaval of negotiating Brexit, or the loss of David Cameron, now call for a referendum re-run and privately flirt with the idea of a new party.

Some of that is May’s fault, yes. But none of it is going to go away if she does and all of it makes the prospect of reaching a Brexit deal considerably less likely.

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Saudi Crown Prince Spoke To Khashoggi By Phone Moments Before He Was Killed: Report

The shifting Saudi narrative of the killing has been met with scepticism and condemnation from the international community.

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Via Zerohedge


In the latest bombshell report involving the Khashoggi murder, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly spoke on the phone with journalist Jamal Khashoggi moments before he was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish pro-government daily Yeni Safak disclosed the new alleged details of the case in a report on Sunday, contradicting claims by Saudi authorities that Prince Mohammed played no part in Khashoggi’s murder.

“Khashoggi was detained by the Saudi team inside the consulate building. Then Prince Mohammed contacted Khashoggi by phone and tried to convince him to return to Riyadh,” the report said.

“Khashoggi refused Prince Mohammed’s offer out of fear he would be arrested and killed if he returned. The assassination team then killed Khashoggi after the conversation ended,” it added.

While the report is so far unconfirmed, the New Arab reports that so far Turkish pro-government media have been receiving a steady stream of leaks many of which turned out to be accurate, including pictures of the hit team as they entered Turkey and reports of audio recordings of the murder said to be in the possession of Turkish authorities.

Meanwhile, the Saudi version of events has been changing significantly over the past two weeks with authorities conceded Saturday that Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist and a Riyadh critic, was killed inside the kingdom’s Istanbul diplomatic compound following a “brawl”. The admission came after a fortnight of denials with the insistence that the journalist left the consulate alive, starting on October 5, when Crown Prince MBS told Bloomberg that Khashoggi was not inside the consulate and “we are ready to welcome the Turkish government to go and search our premises”.

On Saturday, the kingdom announced it had fired five top officials and arrested 18 others in an investigation into the killing – a move that has widely been viewed as an attempt to cover up the crown prince’s role in the murder.

The shifting Saudi narrative of the killing has been met with scepticism and condemnation from the international community, and has left the U.S. and other allies struggling for a response on Sunday. As Bloomberg reports, France demanded more information, Germany put arms sales to Riyadh on hold and the Trump administration stressed the vital importance of the kingdom and its economy to the U.S.

In Sunday radio and TV interviews, Dominic Raab, the U.K. politician in charge of negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union, described the latest Saudi account as not credible; French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called for “the truth’’; and Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his government would approve no arms sales so long as the investigation was ongoing.

Earlier on Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir acknowledged a cover-up attempt. The dramatic reversal, after Saudi officials had previously said the columnist left the building alive, has only complicated the issue for allies.

Saudi Arabia’s al-Jubeir told Fox News on Sunday that the journalist’s death was an “aberration.”

“There obviously was a tremendous mistake made and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to cover up,” he said, promising that “those responsible will be punished for it.”

More importantly, he said that Prince Mohammed had no knowledge of the events, although if the Turkish report is confirmed, it will be yet another major flaw with the official narrative.

Several senior members of US President Donald Trump’s Republican Party said they believed Prince Mohammed was linked to the killing, and one called for a “collective” Western response if a link is proved. In an interview with The Washington Post, President Trump, too, said the Saudi narrative had been marked by “deception and lies.’’ Yet he also defended Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a “strong person,’’ and said there was no proof of his involvement in Khashoggi’s death. Some members of Congress have questioned his willingness to exonerate the prince.

“Obviously there’s been deception and there’s been lies,” Trump said on the shifting accounts offered by Riyadh.

On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to disclose details about the case at a meeting of his AK Party’s parliamentary faction on Tuesday, Haberturk newspaper reported.

Meanwhile, as Western firms and high-ranked officials scramble to avoid any Saudi involvement, Russia is more than happy to step in and fill the power vacuum void left by the US. As a result, Russian businesses are flocking to attend the investment forum in Saudi Arabia, as Western counterparts pull out.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has had considerable success boosting Moscow’s influence in the Middle East at U.S. expense, by standing by regimes that fall afoul of the West, including in Syria and Iran. Last week Putin signed a strategic and partnership agreement with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, backed by $25 billion in loans to build nuclear reactors. Until El-Sisi came to power, Egypt had been closely allied to the U.S.

Meanwhile, all eyes are fixed squarely on the Crown Prince whose position of power is looking increasingly perilous. Congressional leaders on Sunday dismissed the story proffered earlier by the Saudis, with Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bob Corker of Tennessee saying they believed the crown prince was likely involved in Khashoggi’s death.

Lawmakers said they believe the U.S. must impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia or take other action if the crown prince is shown to have been involved. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, said the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. should be formally expelled until a third-party investigation is done. He said the U.S. should call on its allies to do the same.

“Unless the Saudi kingdom understands that civilized countries around the world are going to reject this conduct and make sure that they pay a price for it, they’ll continue doing it,”’ Durbin said.

The obvious question is what happens and how the Saudi royal family will respond if it is pushed too far, and whether the worst case scenario, a sharp cut in oil exports, could be on the table if MBS feels like he has little to lose from escalating the situation beyond a point of no return.

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The Biggest Winners In The Mediterranean Energy War

Energy companies are flocking to the Mediterranean after oil and gas discoveries in the territorial waters of Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt.

The Duran

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Authored by Vanand Meliksetian via Oilprice.com:


Former Vice-President of the United States Dick Cheney once said: “the good lord didn’t see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratically elected states… Occasionally we have to operate in places where, all considered, one would not normally choose to go. But we go where the business is.” Europe is surrounded by states with abundant energy resources, but supply from these countries is not always as reliable. Russia, for example, is regularly accused of using energy as a weapon. However, major discoveries of gas in the Eastern Mediterranean could mitigate dependence on Russian gas.

The discovery of a gas field named Tamar near the coast of Israel in 2009 set off a wave of investments in the energy sector. After 9 years, companies are flocking to the region after other discoveries in the territorial waters of Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt. Ever larger finds in the Mediterranean Sea’s Levant Basin such as the Leviathan gas field in 2010 and Zohr in 2015, have the potential to transform the strategic importance of the region.

Turkey’s energy hub ambitions

Few states in the world are geographically so well positioned as Turkey. The country controls Russia’s only warm water port in the Black Sea and serves as a bridge between east and west. Therefore, during the Cold War Ankara was an indispensable member of NATO. More recently, Turkey has the ambition to become an energy hub for Middle Eastern and Caspian energy. Ankara has had mixed successes in attracting investors and maintaining political stability.

After Israel’s significant discoveries, a U.S. backed initiative presented Turkey as an energy hub. Although a land pipeline is the cheapest option to transport gas from the Mediterranean to Europe, political developments have stalled construction. President Erdogan’s escalating public denunciations of Israel have made Jerusalem look for other options. Furthermore, relations with Europe have also been damaged which would be dependent on Turkey as a transit country.

Egypt as the regional gas hub

Egypt’s has the third largest gas reserves in Africa. Therefore, its export-oriented LNG industry came on-stream in 2004 but was shut mid-2013 due to a lack of resources. The growth of the domestic market demanded ever larger volumes, which went at the expense of exports. Instead, Egypt started importing LNG. However, the discovery of the massive Zohr gas field, the largest in the Eastern Mediterranean, has turned around the situation. Egypt imported its last shipment of LNG in September 2018.

Although relations between Egypt and Israel are far from normal, privately held companies have been able to strike a deal. Starting from the first quarter of 2019, in 10 years 64 bcm worth $10 billion will be delivered. The agreement has stirred controversy in Egypt, which until recently was exporting to Israel. However, with this deal, Cairo comes closer in becoming an energy hub.

The recent signing of another agreement, this time with Nicosia to develop a subsea pipeline from Cyprus’ Aphrodite gas field, has been another important step. Cypriot gas will be pumped 400 miles (645 kilometers) to the south to Egypt’s LNG facilities. Difficult relations with Nicosia’s northern neighbors make a pipeline to the north highly unlikely.

Cairo has been able to act pragmatically concerning its relations with its neighbors such as Israel while taking advantage of the limited amount of options for exporting gas. The obvious winner in this context has been Egypt and its LNG industry. Its chances of becoming the regional energy hub instead of Turkey have significantly increased.

Turkey’s hope for luck

All littoral states of the Eastern Mediterranean struck ‘gold’ in the shape of natural gas except for Turkey. Ankara strongly opposes the exploitation of the gas resources in the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Cyprus without a sharing agreement with Northern Cyprus’ Turkish inhabitants. The Turkish Navy prevented ships from Italy’s Eni from performing exploratory drilling off the coast of the Republic of Cyprus.

In search of its own luck, Ankara has set up a project to start looking for gas in the EEZ of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is only recognized by Turkey. Kudret Özersay, TRNC deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, proclaimed the desire to turn the TRNC into an energy and electricity hub. However, it seems unlikely that investors will be willing to participate due to political and legal reasons.

The legal situation of the TRNC is an impediment to any major decision involving a longtime commitment worth billions. From an international point of view, the region is de jure part of the Republic of Cyprus, despite holding no control over the region. The TRNC holds no seat in the WTO.

Large investments require solid legal and political support for companies to earn back their investments. The current economic situation of Turkey makes it dependent on foreign money. However, stringent due diligence rules could impede some international banks in lending the necessary funds.

The Eastern Mediterranean Sea basin promises great rewards, but the risks are also high. With Turkey potentially being the only country that doesn’t profit from the gas bonanza, Ankara has acted aggressively to get what it regards as its fair share. However, it faces a united front from the other littoral states of the Eastern Mediterranean. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Turkey will be able to profit in the same way as Cyprus, Egypt or Israel.

By Vanand Meliksetian for Oilprice.com

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