More prisoners pardoned
President Then Sein yesterday pardoned 69 more political prisoners, part of a promise to free all who remain behind bars by the end of the year. Most were members of ethnic minorities, said Ye Aung, who sits on the government’s political prisoner scrutiny committee, but the list also included two grandchildren of former dictator General Ne Win. Both have been on death row since 2002 for allegedly attempting to stage a coup against the then-military regime of senior General Than Shwe. Ye Aung said that at least 60 political prisoners remain in jail. Dozens of those released yesterday had been charged under Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law for staging protests without getting prior permission, he said.
Tourism chief resigns
Tourism chief Charm Lee yesterday announced his resignation amid allegations that he visited a lewd massage parlor in Japan last year. Lee dismissed the allegations as groundless, but said he found it impossible to carry on as CEO of the state Korea Tourism Organization in its aftermath. He said he wanted to restore his honor through a lawsuit. Lee made the announcement three days after a local TV station reported that he had visited a “soapland” massage parlor in Yoshiwara, a red-light district in Tokyo. Lee, whose German name is Bernhard Quandt, became a South Korean citizen in 1986.
Playboy model extradited
Former Playboy model Brandi Brandt has been extradited from Los Angeles to Sydney to face cocaine conspiracy charges. The 45-year-old actress and Playmate of the Month for October 1987 appeared in a Sydney court after her arrival yesterday on a flight from the US. The former wife of Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx did not apply for bail or enter pleas. She was remanded in custody to appear in court in December. She is accused of being involved with a cocaine importation syndicate that hid packages of the drug on Qantas and United Airlines passenger planes that flew from California to Sydney.
US surgeon acquitted
Prosecutors have dropped manslaughter charges against a US surgeon following a protracted legal wrangle. Prosecutor Peter Davis yesterday told the Brisbane District Court that criminal negligence charges against Indian-born US citizen Jayant Patel have been dropped in the interests of justice. However, Patel yesterday pleaded guilty to four fraud charges stemming from his medical registration and employment as chief surgeon at Bundaberg Base Hospital from 2003 to 2005. The 63-year-old will be sentenced on these charges next week. With credit for more than two years already served in prison, Patel could soon be sent home to the US without spending any more time in custody.
CIA collecting data on money
The Central Intelligence Agency is collecting records of international money transfers under the same law that the National Security Agency (NSA) uses to collect Americans’ phone and Internet records, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The data, which includes records from companies such as Western Union Co, is part of a database of financial and personal information authorized under the Patriot Act, the newspapers reported, citing unnamed current and former government officials. The scope of data collection by the government became public earlier this year after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents describing how the government collects far more Internet and telephone data than previously known.
Somalian men sentenced
The last of the Somalians convicted of killing four Americans aboard a yacht sailing off the Horn of Africa in 2011 have been sentenced in federal court to multiple life sentences, authorities said on Thursday. Prosecutors originally sought the death penalty, but the jury that found the men guilty in July of piracy, hijacking and murder recommended life sentences instead. The victims were retiree Scott Adam, 70, of Marina del Rey, California, with his wife, Jean Adam, and two friends, Phyllis Macay and Robert Riggle of Seattle. They were sailing around the world distributing Bibles. The Somalians boarded the yacht on Feb. 18, 2011. In the District Court, Abukar Osman Beyle, 33, Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar, 31, and Ahmed Muse Salad, 27, were each given 21 life prison sentences, plus 30 years, this week, according to a statement from acting Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Dana Boente.
Seized ivory crushed
Officials on Thursday destroyed more than 6 tonnes of confiscated ivory tusks, carvings and jewelry — the bulk of the US “blood ivory” stockpile — and urged other nations to follow suit to fight a US$10 billion global trade that slaughters tens of thousands of elephants each year. Thousands of ivory items accumulated over the past 25 years were piled into a large pyramid-shaped mound, then dumped into a steel rock crusher that pulverized it all into dust and tiny chips at the National Wildlife Property Repository just north of Denver. The items were seized from smugglers, traders and tourists at ports of entry after a global ban on the ivory trade took effect in 1989.
Teacher to plead guilty
A former Los Angeles teacher charged with blindfolding students and spoon-feeding them cookies laced with his semen has agreed to plead no contest to all charges, an attorney for some of the victims said on Thursday. Mark Berndt planned to enter the legal equivalent of guilty pleas to 23 charges at a hearing yesterday, said John Manly, an attorney who represents 30 students and their parents. Berndt taught at the South Los Angeles school for more than 30 years. The allegations against him came to light when a drugstore photo technician noticed dozens of odd photos of blindfolded third-graders and reported them to authorities. Investigators said they discovered a plastic spoon in Berndt’s classroom trash bin. Tests found traces of semen on it. Dozens of lawsuits and claims were filed on behalf of victims. School district spokesman Sean Rossall said 63 cases have been settled for a total of US$29.5 million, and 71 are pending.