Lockerbie bombing: New suspect soon to be charged – US media

The US is due to unseal charges against a Libyan man suspected of making the bomb that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988, US media say.

They say US prosecutors will soon press for the extradition of Abu Agila Mohammad to stand trial in the US.

He is currently being held in Libya, according to the Wall Street Journal. This has not been confirmed by the Libyan authorities.

The terrorist attack killed 270 people over the Scottish town.

Most of the victims on board the flight from London to New York were American citizens.

Libyan national Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was the only man convicted over the bombing in 2001.

Megrahi, who always proclaimed his innocence, unsuccessfully appealed against his conviction.

But he was subsequently allowed to return home after it emerged that he had terminal cancer. He died in 2012.

The US Department of Justice is expected to unseal a criminal complaint against Mr Masud in the coming days, the Wall Street Journal is reporting quoting senior department officials.

It says this will open a new chapter in one of the world’s longest and most sprawling terrorism investigations.

Meanwhile, the New York Times says Mr Masud’s exact whereabouts are unknown. But it adds that he was jailed in Libya at one point for unrelated crimes.

Mr Masud is alleged to have been a top bomb-maker for late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Neither the US justice department nor the Libyan authorities have publicly commented on the issue.

US and British investigators indicted Megrahi in 1991 but he was not handed over by the Libyans until April 1999.

May 2000 – A special trial under Scots law starts on neutral ground at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands.

31 January 2001 – Former Libyan intelligence officer Megrahi is found guilty of mass murder and jailed for life with a minimum term of 27 years.

March 2002 – Megrahi loses an appeal against his conviction.

September 2003 – The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) is asked to investigate Megrahi’s conviction.

June 2007 – The SCCRC recommends that Megrahi is granted a second appeal against his conviction.

18 August 2009 – Megrahi’s move to drop his second appeal is accepted by judges at The High Court in Edinburgh.

20 August 2009 – Megrahi, who has terminal prostate cancer, is released from prison on compassionate grounds.

May 2012 – Megrahi dies at his home in Tripoli, aged 60.

July 2015 – Scottish judges rule that relatives of the Lockerbie bombing victims should not be allowed to pursue an appeal on Megrahi’s behalf. Courts had previously ruled that only next of kin could proceed with a posthumous application.

July 2017 – Megrahi’s family launched a new bid to appeal against his conviction.

March 2020 – The Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission said Megrahi’s conviction can be taken to a fresh appeal.

Boohoo boss promises to make Leicester right

Executives of the online fashion chain Boohoo have said they are “fixing” things at the firm, which has come under fire over workers’ pay and conditions and its ultra-low pricing.

The firm’s co-founder, Mahmud Kamani, who rarely speaks publicly, said he wanted to “make everything better”.

“I want to make Leicester right, I promise you’,” he said.

Mr Kamani was being questioned by MPs looking into the environmental impact of “fast fashion”.

The term is used to describe companies selling clothes very cheaply, that are often disposed of quickly as trends change, causing pollution and waste.

But as well as facing questions around the environmental impact of its business model, Boohoo has been accused of tolerating widespread abuses of employment law at some of its suppliers in Leicester. Investigations earlier this year suggested workers were being paid below the minimum wage.

In September, an independent review of the claims, by Alison Levitt QC, found a series of failings. It concluded that although Boohoo didn’t intentionally profit from the poor working practices, the firm’s monitoring of these factories was ‘inadequate”.

Mr Kamani told MPs on Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee that the last 12 months had been “very difficult” and that he was as concerned as everyone else about what had been uncovered.

“We are fixing this,” he said. “We will make a better Boohoo.”

Boohoo’s Responsible Sourcing and Product Operations Director, Andrew Reeney, told the committee that the company had exited arrangements with 64 suppliers and factories after finding violations of its code of conduct.

Mr Kamani said he supported complete transparency, but that Boohoo couldn’t fix all the problems on its own. A collaborative effort was needed, he said.

Asked whether he would meet with the shopworkers’ union, Usdaw, Mr Kamani refused, although he said unions were free to campaign outside Boohoo’s sites and workers were free to join them.

Mr Kamani pointed out that it would be very easy for Boohoo to move its production offshore.

“We are here to support the industry,” he told MPs. “Sometimes we feel we’re getting punished for it.”

Boohoo executives were also asked about textile waste and the company’s recent “Black Friday” promotions, which included a crop top for 6p and a bikini selling for 8p.

They defended the “99% off” deals, describing it as a one-off sale in an unprecedented year.

Boohoo’s commercial director Kelly Byrne said everyone knew it was loss-leading and a marketing strategy.

Facebook pours fuel on Apple privacy row

Facebook has launched a public offensive against Apple, dragging a long-simmering row between the two tech giants into the public sphere.

Earlier this year, Apple announced it planned to ask users if they want their data to be shared for targeted, personalised advertising.

The move is likely to hurt Facebook, which has warned it could cut the money earned through its ad network by half.

But Facebook is portraying itself as “speaking up for small businesses”.

A blog post from Dan Levy, vice-president of ads, suggested that Facebook needs it to be possible to track users’ activities across other apps and websites, in order to help its advertisers target their posts at those people who would most likely be responsive.

As a result, he said, preventing this from happening “truly impacts” not Facebook, but local businesses – like a coffee shop, small retail, or a start-up event planner – because they would not be able to afford campaigns that would need to be seen by more people to generate the same amount of sales.

“Yes, there will be an impact to Facebook’s diversified ads business, but it will be much less than what will befall small businesses,” Mr Levy wrote.

The tech giant took out full-page adverts in some print newspapers as part of its PR blitz. It also hosted a news conference in which it presented small business owners making its case.

Facebook alleged Apple’s move is about forcing people to use Apple’s own advertising platform, which it claims is exempt from the new rules – something Apple denies.

It also argues that digital content like apps will need to move to payments and subscriptions instead of advertising – which Apple takes a 30% cut of on iPhones.

Apple refutes such allegations, and believes Facebook is trying to deflect attention from scrutiny of its own businesses practices.

“Some companies are going to do everything they can to stop the App Tracking Transparency feature… or any innovation like it, and to maintain their unfettered access to people’s data,” said the firm’s software chief Craig Federighi in a recent speech.

“To say that we’re sceptical of those claims would be an understatement.”

But one expert warned both businesses were taking a risk by making this row public.

“Both companies may be playing with fire here,” commented Stephanie Hare, author of the forthcoming book Technology Ethics.

“Facebook is already being sued by the Federal Trade Commission, 46 states and two jurisdictions for antitrust, and so is trying to play the victim here.

“But if it can make a case that Apple is also abusing its position, we could see another Big Tech company in the regulators’ crosshairs.”

Apple has, for years, promoted privacy as one of the key features of its phones and other products, making small adjustments and bringing in new features it says improve user privacy.

The latest of these are notices in its App Store that list what data each product collects, which in Facebook’s case has led to a very lengthy list.

But its decision to ban one type of tracking has the potential to upend a part of the advertising market when it arrives early next year.

In testing earlier this year, Facebook said it found that revenue for publishers dropped 50% when personalisation was not an option in ad campaigns.

And as part of its campaign against Apple, Facebook enlisted a series of small business owners as case studies, claiming the ability to run personalised ads had been key to their business success.

Full page ads in newspapers and a press conference featuring heartrending stories from small business owners saying they would not have got through the pandemic without using Facebook’s targeted ads – the social media giant obviously means business in its battle with Apple.

“This is about control of the internet,” said a Facebook executive at the press conference, referring to Apple’s motives for putting enhanced privacy controls in its latest operating system. But many will see this as the social media giant battling to preserve a business model for the internet that favours its bottom line at the expense of users.

“Save our personalised ads” may be a battle cry for small businesses but it won’t have much resonance for the millions of Facebook users who worry about just how their data is used – or for the newspapers whose classified ad business has vanished since Mark Zuckerberg came up with a bright idea to connect people.

Whether Apple’s motives are pure in its battle to make our online activities more private is questionable – its App Store makes vast revenues from commission on in-app purchases rather than ads. But in the court of public opinion, a war between a social media company with a major trust deficit and a business promising to put people back in charge of their data is only likely to end one way.

Bentley v Bentley: Car firm loses appeal against trademark ruling

A luxury car manufacturer has lost its appeal against a ruling which said it infringed the copyright of a family-fun clothing company.

In November 2019, the High Court ruled Bentley Motors (BM) had infringed the copyright of Manchester-based Bentley Clothing (BC).

It meant the car firm could not use the name Bentley on its UK clothing range.

Dismissing BM’s case, judges at the Court of Appeal said there was “no basis” for interfering with the ruling.

The 2019 ruling meant BM would no longer be able to use the name, either on its own or in conjunction with its famous “wings” logo, on its clothing range in the UK and would have to limit its range in future to “jackets, silk ties, caps and scarves”.

BC director Chris Lees said the car firm had “forced us into a costly legal battle that has been ruinous in many ways”.

“We’ll be very glad when we can finally put a stop to Bentley Motors’ infringements and begin to grow our business to what it once was,” he added.

The dispute began when the clothing company, founded in 1962, approached the Volkswagen-owned car firm in 1998 about the branding clash.

The High Court action was launched in 2017 after years of negotiations.

BM also made unsuccessful attempts to cancel the clothing firm’s Bentley trademark, which it has held since 1982, at the UK Intellectual Property Office.

BC’s solicitor Simon Bennett said it had been a true “David and Goliath battle” which showed “the law protects brand owners from infringements, even in situations where there is no equality of arms”.

US labels Switzerland a currency manipulator

The US has labelled Switzerland and Vietnam “currency manipulators”, accusing the countries of intervening to limit the rise of their currencies against the dollar.

It said Vietnam wanted to keep the cost of its exports low, while Switzerland’s designation was due in part to its response to financial turmoil from the pandemic.

Switzerland rejected the label.

It said it remained “willing to intervene more strongly” in the market.

“Foreign exchange market interventions are necessary in Switzerland’s monetary policy to ensure appropriate monetary conditions and therefore price stability,” the country added.

The designations came in the US Treasury Department’s semi-annual report, which examines currency practices of major US trade partners.

The US said 10 other countries also warranted monitoring, including China, Japan, South Korea and Germany. It further added Taiwan, Thailand and India to the watch list.

In making a determination, the US looks at how much a country intervenes in currency markets, the size of its trade surplus with the US, as well as a broader measure of trade that includes financial flows.

In the case of Switzerland, the US said the country’s trade surplus with the US surged over the 12 months through June, in part due to a rush of gold exports in the first half of 2020, as American investors spooked by the pandemic bought up what is considered to be a less risky asset.

Swiss efforts to offset a spike in demand for the Swiss franc, likewise considered a “safe haven currency”, also led to intervention in currency markets amounting to 14% of the country’s economic output, the US said.

The intervention was “significantly larger than in previous periods,” it added.

The Swiss have maintained that a sudden spike in the value of the franc would hurt the country’s economy, expressing commitment to their practices, which include buying large amounts of US stocks.

But the US said Switzerland should use “a more balanced” policy mix to achieve its goals.

The US said Vietnam – where many firms relocated to avoid tariffs the US put on Chinese goods in 2018 and 2019 – had stepped up its intervention in foreign currency markets over the 12 months through June 2020.

It said officials wanted to limit appreciation of the dong as its trade with the US increased, thereby “gaining unfair competitive advantage in international trade”.

Vietnam did not comment.

The US rarely names countries currency manipulators.

When it hit China with the label last year at the urging of President Donald Trump – a determination it quickly reversed – it was the first time it had made such a determination since the early 1990s.

The finding, in theory, triggers talks mediated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It also allows the US to limit access to certain funds, such as procurement contracts.

Under Mr Trump, US trade negotiators had already raised concerns about about the issue in talks with Vietnam, raising the prospect of tariffs.

It is not clear how president-elect Joe Biden will approach the issue.

In a statement, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the US would push Vietnam and Switzerland to change their practices, arguing that they threatened to hurt American businesses and workers.

“The Treasury Department has taken a strong step today to safeguard economic growth and opportunity for American workers and businesses,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin added.

“Treasury will follow up on its findings with respect to Vietnam and Switzerland to work toward eliminating practices that create unfair advantages for foreign competitors.”

Man who drove at co-workers after Christmas party jailed

A sweet factory worker who drove his car at a group of colleagues after he was punched at a Christmas party has been jailed for 30 years.

Andrew Wrigglesworth ran into six co-workers “knocking them over like bowling pins”, Leeds Crown Court heard.

The 50-year-old targeted the men following a fight outside a members’ club on Bradford Road, Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, on 22 December 2019.

He was found guilty of six counts of attempted murder in August.

Leeds Crown Court previously heard he mounted the pavement in his red Audi A4 before fleeing in the heavily damaged car.

A 43-year-old Cleckheaton man, who was the most seriously injured of the six victims, sustained life-changing injuries as a result of the attack.

Det Insp Andrew Cass said: “It is barely conceivable that someone would attempt to carry out such an outrageous and brutal act, especially against their own colleagues.

“His actions resulted in six men being literally mown down with one man receiving injuries which will stay with him for the rest of his life.”

Wrigglesworth, of Shirley Avenue, Birstall, was also disqualified from driving for 30 years.

Brexit trade talks: Could the UK and the EU keep negotiating?

The post-Brexit trade talks may be inching towards an agreement – but it is still possible the two sides will run out of time.

The current transition period, during which the UK continues to follow EU rules, began when the UK left the EU, on 31 January, and it ends on New Year’s Eve.

If there is no agreement by then, the UK would have no deal with the EU on trade, or on other issues such as security cooperation and fishing.

But could there be a legal fix to allow both sides to keep talking if necessary?

And what would happen if a deal was agreed only at the very last minute?

The transition period was designed to preserve current arrangements temporarily and avoid disruption, to allow for negotiations.

But there is no legal basis for extending it.

It’s part of an international treaty, the Brexit withdrawal agreement, that said any extension would have to be agreed before 1 July 2020.

And the UK decided not to ask for an extension.

If they wanted to, EU governments and the UK could, in theory, come up with an international agreement outside EU law to give them a temporary extension.

Some international lawyers have also suggested it might be possible to reuse Article 50, the legal basis for the UK’s exit from the EU.

But EU lawyers have rejected that.

Any plan for a further brief extension would probably be challenged in the courts.

But it could buy a few extra weeks before that challenge was heard.

Again in theory, that could allow the two sides to complete negotiations not quite finished or give more time for parliaments on both sides to examine a deal properly.

The UK has said in the past it will not consider any kind of extension.

But it wouldn’t be the first time the impossible suddenly becomes possible in negotiations involving the EU, once creative lawyers sit down at the table.

“It’s legally tricky,” Catherine Barnard, professor of EU law, at the University of Cambridge, says.

“But you should never underestimate the ingenuity of lawyers, particularly when their backs are up against the wall.”

Any agreement would need to be vetted by lawyers on both sides – they call it “legal scrubbing” – and translated.

Most of that has probably already been done – there are only a few areas of disagreement left.

But the deal would still have to be scrutinised and approved – or ratified – by parliamentarians.

And the time to go through hundreds of pages of dense legal text with any degree of thoroughness is fast running out.

If there were to be awkward compromises hidden within the text – and there would be – there are politicians who would like to find them.

An agreement would, after all, form the basis of EU-UK relations for years to come.

In the UK, that scrutiny would happen at Westminster, where the government has a big majority in the House of Commons.

The devolved parliaments and assemblies would not have a separate vote.

Normally, a treaty can be ratified only at least 21 sitting – or working – days after it has first been presented to Parliament.

But in exceptional circumstances, the government has the power to push ratification through in a single day.

The process on the EU side would be more complicated because 27 countries are involved.

Agreements are described as either “EU only”, which means they involve changing things which are the exclusive responsibility of the EU as a whole, or “mixed”, which means they also include things which are the exclusive responsibility of individual member states.

Mixed agreements usually need to be ratified by national and in some cases regional parliaments – but not always.

The recent EU-Japan free trade agreement, for example, contained some mixed provisions but it was decided ratification was necessary at EU level only.

And it is widely assumed the same thing would happen with an EU-UK deal.

In those circumstances a deal would need the written agreement of the Council of the European Union, which could be signed off by government ministers or even ambassadors from each of the member states, and the consent of members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

“Both could give their approval as late as 31 December,” Georgina Wright, an associate at the Institute for Government, says.

“Though ideally MEPs would schedule their vote a few days before then.

The second option would be to provisionally apply the agreement, either in part or in full.”

EU law (Article 218 paragraph 5 of the EU treaty) allows the council to give the go-ahead for an agreement to be signed and applied provisionally, without formally consulting the European Parliament.

That means things such as tariff-free trade – with no taxes to pay on imports – could continue without parliamentary consent.

But that’s never happened with an EU trade deal before.

And it would be very controversial with some MEPs.

But plenty of MEPs say they need more time to examine an agreement properly.

And this would be another way to give them that time.

The alternative would be to have a brief no-deal period in January before a delayed agreement came into force.

But that would mean added disruption.

A provisional arrangement would also be in line with Article XXIV of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (Gatt), a piece of international trade law that allows countries to reach “interim” agreements, so they can offer preferential trade terms to each other before they have signed off a full trade deal.

We’ve talked about Article XXIV before.

Earlier in the Brexit process, it was incorrectly put forward as a solution to allow free trade even if no agreement was in place.

For now, everything rests on intense negotiations behind the scenes.

“The clock puts us all in a very difficult situation,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told MEPs on 16 December, “not least this parliament and its right to exercise democratic scrutiny and ratification.”

The process is unlikely to be straightforward over the next few weeks, partly because this is all uncharted territory.

But if no-deal is the end result, it won’t be the process that is responsible.

It will be politics.

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Heathrow expansion: What is the third runway plan?

The Supreme Court has reversed a decision to block plans for a controversial third runway at Heathrow Airport.

It means that developers can now seek planning permission for the project, which faces opposition from environmentalists and local residents.

Heathrow is already the UK’s busiest airport, serving about 80 million passengers per year. The airport currently has four terminals and two runways.

Supporters of a new runway say it would boost international trade and provide many new jobs.

Building the new runway would involve diverting rivers, moving roads and rerouting the M25 through a tunnel under the new runway.

The proposal also includes upgrades to existing terminals two and five and plans to build new car parks.

Heathrow Airport has said the project would be funded privately.

The expansion would benefit passengers, boost the wider economy by up to £61bn and create up to 77,000 local jobs by 2030, according to the Department for Transport.

More than 40% of the UK’s exports to non-EU countries now go through Heathrow, according to its chief executive John Holland-Kaye. He said a third runway was vital in order to strengthen international trade links.

“If we don’t expand our only hub airport, then we’re going to be flying through Paris to get to global markets,” he said.

Heathrow Airport also says it would introduce legally-binding environmental targets – including on noise, air quality and carbon emissions.

Local and environmental groups have dismissed Heathrow Airport’s assurances and have argued that a new runway would mean unacceptable levels of noise and pollution, as well as adding to the UK’s carbon emissions from the increased number of flights.

The proposal also “makes a mockery” of the government’s 2050 carbon neutral strategy, according to Green MP Caroline Lucas.

Rupa Huq – the Labour MP for neighbouring Ealing Central and Acton – has labelled the plan “completely nuts”, saying: “Heathrow is the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in Europe.”

Campaign groups have also voiced opposition.

“The impact on local people could be severe for many years to come,” said John Stewart, who chairs the Hacan group.

“Disruption from construction, the demolition of homes, the reality of more than 700 extra planes a day.”

In all, 761 homes are expected to go, including the entire village of Longford.

Heathrow has said it would pay the full market value plus 25% for properties in its compulsory purchase zone, as well as for some houses in the surrounding areas.

The third runway plan has been talked about for many years.

The Labour government approved a third runway in 2009, with former Prime Minister Gordon Brown saying it was needed for economic reasons.

But the plan was later scrapped by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government in 2010. David Cameron, who became prime minister after Mr Brown, ruled out a Heathrow expansion “no ifs, no buts”.

In 2015 an Airports Commission, set up to look at London’s airport capacity problems, recommended Heathrow as the preferred site for a new runway – a plan which was approved under Theresa May’s leadership.

The decision was opposed by several local MPs, including Boris Johnson, whose Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat is next to Heathrow.

He offered to lie down in front of bulldozers to stop the runway’s construction. However, when MPs voted in favour of the third runway in 2018, Mr Johnson – then foreign secretary – was away in Afghanistan.

On 27 February 2020, the Court of Appeal ruled the decision to allow the expansion was unlawful because it did not take climate commitments into account.

However, the Supreme Court’s decision has ruled the strategy was legitimately based on previous, less stringent, climate targets at the time it was agreed.

The airport can now make a planning application, although this could take more than a year.

It still has to persuade a public inquiry that there is a case for expansion, and the government will have the final say.

Meanwhile environmentalists are expected to continue challenging the project at every stage in the courts – including the European Court of Human Rights.

Manchester Arena Inquiry: Bombers friend refuses to appear as witness

A friend of the Manchester Arena bomber is refusing to appear as a witness at the public inquiry into the attack.

Ahmed Taghdi, who was due to appear earlier, is citing health issues and concerns about possible questioning after hearing some of the evidence.

Inquiry chairman Sir John Saunders is intending to enforce his requirement to attend, subject to any medical reports, the inquiry heard.

The issue has been adjourned and will be dealt with in the new year.

Mr Taghdi, from Manchester, was served with a notice to attend as a witness under the Inquiries Act 2005.

The legislation provides public inquiries with the power to “require a person to attend at a time and place stated in the notice”.

He was due to appear to be questioned about his relationship with the Abedi brothers, the inquiry heard.

During the inquiry’s opening in September, Mr Taghdi was described as a “close friend of Salman Abedi”.

The inquiry, which is sitting at Manchester Magistrates’ Court, heard Mr Taghdi, who was arrested during the police investigation, was present with Salman and Hashem Abedi when they purchased a car which the brothers used to store explosives.

He went to look at the Nissan Micra the day after the bombing and was in contact with other suspects that day, the inquiry was told.

Mr Taghdi was not charged with any offence and his statement was read during the trial of Hashem Abedi earlier this year.

The inquiry has previously heard Ismail Abedi, the elder brother of Salman and Hashem Abedi, is refusing to cooperate with the inquiry, as is a former terrorist prisoner called Abdalraouf Abdallah, who was close to Salman Abedi.

Both men have cited a claimed privilege against self-incrimination as a reason for not assisting.

Khalid Balaam, a friend of the Taghdi family, told the inquiry how he was “shocked” when he discovered Mr Taghdi was a contact of Salman Abedi.

Mr Balaam denied that he advised Mr Taghdi against contacting police in the aftermath of the attack – a claim made by Mr Taghdi in his police statement.

He also denied Mr Taghdi had told him about calling Salman Abedi in Libya, deleting text conversations with him or knowing anything about the Nissan Micra.

The inquiry, which could last until November, has now been adjourned until 11 January.

It is hoped the first inquiry report into the arena’s security arrangements will be published before 22 May next year, with two further interim reports to follow.

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