Washington: United States President Donald Trump’s former campaign chief Paul Manafort was sentenced to nearly four years in prison by a federal judge for tax crimes and bank fraud in the highest profile case yet stemming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Judge T.S. Lewis immediately came under fire from Democratic lawmakers for imposing what they described as a relatively light sentence on the 69-year-old Republican political consultant and lobbyist.
Prosecutors from the special counsel’s office had argued for a stiff prison term for Manafort, the first target of the Mueller probe to be convicted in a criminal trial.
Ellis said that while Manafort had committed “very serious crimes,” he had previously led an “otherwise blameless life” and the advisory sentencing guidelines calling for 19 to 24 years behind bars were “excessive” and disproportionate to sentences for similar offenses.
“The government cannot sweep away the history of all these previous sentences,” the judge said.
Manafort was convicted by a jury in August of five counts of filing false income tax returns, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to report a foreign bank account.
He is one of a half-dozen former Trump associates and senior aides charged by Mueller, who has been investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
The charges against Manafort were not connected to his role in the Trump campaign, which he headed for two months in 2016, but were related to lucrative consulting work he did for Russian-backed Ukrainian politicians from 2004 to 2014.
Prosecutors alleged that Manafort used offshore bank accounts to hide more than $55 million he earned working for the Ukrainians.
The money was used to support a lavish lifestyle which included purchases of luxury homes and cars, antique rugs, and expensive clothes, including an $18,500 python jacket.
His conviction was a stunning downfall for a man who also worked on the White House bids of Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole.
Speaking from a wheelchair and wearing a green prison jumpsuit with the words “Alexandria Inmate” on the back, Manafort told the court that his “life, professionally and personally, is in a shambles.”
I feel the pain and shame,” said Manafort, who the defense says suffers from gout. “To say that I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement,” he said.
Judge Ellis said he did not hear Manafort express regret or remorse but he said the sentencing guidelines were “way out of whack”.
“I think what I’ve done is punitive,” Ellis said. He sentenced Manafort to a total of 47 months in prison for the eight counts and credited him with nine months of time served.
Manafort was ordered to pay $24 million in restitution and a $50,000 fine. Manafort still faces sentencing in a money laundering and witness tampering case in Washington next week, where the maximum penalty is 10 years and the judge has appeared more sympathetic to prosecutors.
India-Pak set to fight it out over Kashmir at UNHRC session
India and Pakistan are set to battle it out over Kashmir during the ongoing 42nd UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session here on Tuesday. Both the countries have deployed their big guns for the “diplomatic offensive.”
The Indian delegation is led by Ajay Bisaria, the India High Commissioner to Pakistan who was sent back after Pakistan unilaterally downgraded ties, and Vijay Thakur Singh, Secretary East. The delegation had recently met the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, and briefed her about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir since after the abrogation of Article 370.
On Monday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi embarked on a three-day visit to Geneva. He is expected to lead the Pakistani charge over Kashmir issue at the UNHRC session. On Monday, Qureshi in a tweet said Pakistan will speak “definitively” at UNHRC sessions over the Kashmir issue.
“Pakistan will speak definitively at the UNHRC Session in Geneva on the continued Indian atrocities in #Kashmir. As High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said: The People of Kashmir must be consulted and engaged in any decision-making processes,” he said in a tweet. During her address to the Human Rights Council, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Monday said that she was “deeply concerned” over the “impact of recent actions” by the Indian government on the “human rights of Kashmiris” including the detention of political leaders and activists in Jammu and Kashmir.. (ANI)
Trump cancels peace talks with Taliban after Kabul bombing
Washington/Islamabad, September 8: US President Donald Trump on Saturday said he cancelled peace talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders after the insurgent group said it was behind an attack in Kabul that killed an American soldier and 11 other people.
Trump said he had planned a secret meeting with the Taliban’s “major leaders” on Sunday at a presidential compound in Camp David, Maryland. Trump said he also planned to meet with Afghanistan’s President.
But Trump said he immediately called the talks off when the insurgents said they were behind the attack.
“If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway,” Trump said on Twitter.
Taliban fighters, who now control more territory than at any time since 2001, launched fresh assaults on the northern cities of Kunduz and Pul-e-Khumri over the past week and carried out two major suicide bombings in the capital Kabul.
One of the blasts, a suicide attack in Kabul on Thursday, took the life of US Army Sergeant 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, 34, from Puerto Rico, bringing the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan this year to 16.
A spike in attacks by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan has been “particularly unhelpful” to peace efforts there, a senior US military commander said on Saturday as he visited neighbouring Pakistan, where many Taliban militants are based.
US Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, who oversees American troops in the region, declined to comment on the diplomatic negotiations themselves.
Earlier this week, US and Taliban negotiators struck a draft peace deal which could lead to a drawdown in US troops from America’s longest war. But a wave of Taliban violence has cast a long shadow over the deal.
“It is particularly unhelpful at this moment in Afghanistan’s history for the Taliban to ramp up violence,” McKenzie, head of US Central Command, told reporters travelling with him.
McKenzie said for the peace process to move forward, “all parties should be committed to an eventual political settlement” which, in turn, should result in reduced violence.
“If we can’t get that going in, then it is difficult to see the parties are going to be able to carry out the terms of the agreement, whatever they might or might not be,” McKenzie said.
Under the draft accord, thousands of U.S. troops would be withdrawn over the coming months in exchange for guarantees Afghanistan would not be used as a base for militant attacks on the United States and its allies.
However, a full peace agreement to end more than 18 years of war would depend on subsequent “intra Afghan” talks. The Taliban have rejected calls for a ceasefire and instead stepped up operations across the country.
333 Pak Twitter accounts suspended over Kashmir content
Islamabad, Sep 5 : Pakistan has admitted that 333 Twitter accounts have been suspended for writing on Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370.
The handles were suspended by Twitter following the objection by the Indian authorities in view of false and provocative content being disseminated through the accounts.
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) raised the issue of suspension of tweets and blocking of Twitter accounts with the Twitter administration on Wednesday, reported Dawn news.
The PTA has termed the Twitter administration’s approach as biased. According to the statement issued by the regulator, it has also requested Pakistani social media users to report any Twitter account suspension on the pretext of posting Kashmir content to the PTA.
The PTA has already received 333 such complaints which were sent then to Twitter to be restored, however, only 67 accounts were restored, reported Dwn news.
The PTA said Twitter has not responded officially nor given any reason for the suspension of these accounts.
The regulator said it is already making efforts to engage with Twitter to ensure freedom of expression for social media users in Pakistan.
It said it has invited Twitter’s administration for a meeting in Pakistan or anywhere they prefer in order to have meaningful discussions and devise a workable arrangement. But Twitter is yet to respond, PTA said.
Dawn reported in August that some 200 Twitter accounts were suspended for apparently posting about Kashmir. The claim came from journalists, activists, government officials and fans of the military tweeting.
Director-General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor had then said the authorities had taken up with Twitter and Facebook regarding the suspension of Pakistani social media accounts.
Under The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016, PTA is the sole body that can officially block access to unlawful online content on the internet and take it up with relevant platforms in cases where the PTA is unable to block them because of technical grounds.
The telecom sector regulator has also asked the users of the microblogging site to register their concerns about the suspension of their tweets or blocking of their accounts at the email address [email protected] (IANS)