Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s ex-campaign chair, may be going to prison for the rest of his life

Paul Manafort, the one-time chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, could spend more than 19 years in prison on tax and bank fraud charges, prosecutors said Friday.

Court documents filed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office reveal that Manafort faces possibly the lengthiest prison term in the Russia investigation. The 69-year-old Manafort is also at serious risk of spending the rest of his life in prison if a federal judge imposes a sentence within federal guidelines.

The potential sentence stems from Manafort’s conviction last year on eight felony counts related to an elaborate scheme to conceal from tax authorities the millions of dollars he earned overseas from Ukrainian political consulting. It is one of two criminal cases pending against Manafort in which he faces prison time.

Manafort, who led Trump’s campaign for months during the 2016 presidential campaign, is not charged with any crimes directly related to Russian election interference, the thrust of Mueller’s probe. But prosecutors have recently revealed that they remain deeply interested in his contacts during and after the campaign with an associate the FBI says has ties to Russian intelligence.

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In a 27-page court filing Friday, prosecutors did not recommend a precise sentence for Manafort, but they agreed with a calculation by federal probation officials that his crimes deserve a punishment of between 19.5 and 24.5 years. They also lay out in great detail for U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III how they say Manafort’s greed drove him to disregard American law.

“In the end, Manafort acted for more than a decade as if he were above the law, and deprived the federal government and various financial institutions of millions of dollars,” the prosecutors wrote. “The sentence here should reflect the seriousness of these crimes, and serve to both deter Manafort and others from engaging in such conduct.”

Manafort has been jailed for months as he awaits his formal sentencing. His lawyers have said the incarceration has created a mental and physical strain on Manafort, who has recently used a wheelchair in court appearances and will turn 70 in April.

But Mueller’s team made clear that Manafort’s age should not be a consideration, nor does it eliminate the risk that he could still commit new crimes.

“Nothing about the defendant’s age is unusual,” they wrote. “Tax offenders are often older and often, like the defendant, wealthy, but they nonetheless receive substantial terms of incarceration notwithstanding age and health issues.”

Prosecutors often acknowledge mitigating factors that a judge may consider on a defendant’s behalf in favour of a more lenient sentence. But none exist here, prosecutors said.

They note that “his pattern of criminal activity” lasted more than a decade, that he conspired to tamper with witnesses despite facing indictments in two different districts and that he repeatedly lied to the government and to a grand jury even after he agreed to co-operate and plead guilty.

They also argued that Manafort deserved a sentencing enhancement reserved for defendants who lead or organize others in criminal activity.

“Manafort controlled the money at issue, he recruited others to facilitate these crimes, and he claimed a larger share of the proceeds,” they said.

“Further, Manafort was plainly the leader. He involved numerous individuals who were both knowing and unknowing participants in the criminal scheme.”

The filing by prosecutors came just days after a judge in Manafort’s other criminal case ruled that he breached his plea agreement by lying to investigators and a federal grand jury about several topics, including his discussions of a Russia-Ukraine peace plan with the associate the FBI says has ties to Russian intelligence.

That plea-agreement dispute has revealed that Mueller’s team considers Manafort’s contacts with the associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, to go to the “heart ” of the ongoing investigation into any links between Russian election interference and Trump associates.

Manafort faces up to five years in prison in that separate case in Washington, where he admitted to illegally lobbying on behalf of Ukrainian political interests.

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Jacob Zuma resigns as South Africa's president

Embattled South African president announces decision to step down before scheduled no-confidence vote against him.

    Durban, South Africa – Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s embattled and controversial president, has announced his resignation in a televised address to the nation. 

    “I have to come to a decision to resign with immediate effect,” he said late on Wednesday in Pretoria.

    Zuma’s resignation followed weeks of intense public pressure to step down amid long-standing corruption allegations.

    The ruling African National Congress (ANC) formally asked Zuma, 75, to resign on Tuesday. He initially refused, saying he did not understand why he was being told to step down.

    The party later announced plans to hold a vote of no confidence against him on Thursday in parliament.

    “It is my party that placed me the representative of the people. It is my party that availed me,” Zuma said in his speech from Union Buildings.

    “Make no mistake, no leader should stay beyond the time the people they serve. No leader should seek an easy way out because they could face a life without the perks of political office.”

    Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is also the newly elected head of ANC, is expected to become acting president on Thursday.

    A new president must be elected within 30 days but the cabinet and presidency continues.

    Corruption allegations

    Zuma, who served as the country’s president since 2009, joined the ANC in 1958.

    He is considered one of the party stalwarts, having served for 10 years on the Robben Island prison alongside freedom fighter Nelson Mandela and living in exile before returning to South Africa in 1990. 

    Despite being known for being an astute political operator, Zuma’s presidency was characterised by scandal and corruption allegations, making him the most controversial president since the end of apartheid.

    Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh, author

    “South Africa will look back and wonder how we allowed a president so reprehensible to last so long in office,” Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh, author of Democracy and Delusion: 10 Myths in South African Politics, told Al Jazeera.

    South Africa’s Constitutional Court ruled last December that parliament had failed to hold Zuma accountable over the alleged use of state funds to upgrade his rural home in Nkandla.

    That followed an earlier court decision in April 2016 that found Zuma had “failed to uphold, defend and respect the Constitution”.

    It resulted in an impeachment vote that same month, but the motion failed to pass when parliament, where the ANC holds a majority, voted 233 to 143 in Zuma’s favour.

    Zuma was also found to have given favour to an Indian immigrant family known as the Guptas, in what became known as the state capture scandal.

    It was reported that the family wielded such influence over Zuma that they were able to decide who got appointed to the cabinet.

    Zuma has always claimed his innocence and some South Africans still defend him, saying he was targeted unfairly in a system that is underpinned by corruption.

    When it comes to the allegations of state capture, the state was captured a long time ago. And here we are focusing only on Zuma. There is a broader perspective one needs to take when looking at state capture,” Wandile Giwa, a 26-year-old student, told Al Jazeera.

    Joyful response expected

    But most South Africans are expected to be overjoyed by Zuma’s resignation.

    The call for Zuma to step down reached a crescendo in early February when the Nelson Mandela Foundation released a statement calling for him to go immediately. 

    “President Zuma has abused the trust of South Africans. He must go, sooner rather than later. Time is of the essence,” the foundation said. 

    The court rulings heightened pressure on Ramaphosa, who was elected ANC leader in December 2017, to force Zuma to step down as the party looks to repair its reputation.

    But Zuma had survived several no-confidence votes in parliament and until early February believed he would survive another.

    The tide changed, however, and several of his allies abandoned him.

    Ramaphosa has been clear that he had no intention of humiliating Zuma and the ANC itself reportedly wanted him to bow out on his own, rather than drag out the process.

    Still, Zuma leaves the ANC deeply divided and analysts say the party faces a serious challenge to repair its reputation in his wake.

    “Ramaphosa will have a hard time fixing a party that faces indecision and disagreement over its values at every level,” said Ebrahim Fakir, an independent political analyst. 

    Follow Azad Essa on Twitter: @AzadEssa

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    'I couldn't believe my eyes' – chef turns up for work hours after winning €4.8m jackpot in online slot game

    A chef turned up for work hours after scooping a €4.8m online jackpot.

    Sean Doyle from Newcastle, Co Down, picked up the biggest online win in the history of Paddy Power from a €10 stake.

    He placed his bet at 10pm on Wednesday on an online slot game called Mars Attacks and won the Jackpot King Deluxe.

    The 33-year-old reported for work at The Artisan Cookhouse in Downpatrick at 9am on Valentine’s Day, one of the restaurant’s busiest days of the year.

    Mr Doyle said he could not believe the amount he won.

    “I watched it until it reached about €1m on the count thing and I switched off my phone. I couldn’t look. When I got home I couldn’t believe my eyes after I saw the final amount,” he said.

    “My sister is a single parent in New Zealand with three kids so I’m delighted because this means I will be able to help her out. I also have three brothers, my parents and a few aunts and uncles too.”

    Mr Doyle, who is single, said he was considering opening his own business after the unexpected windfall.

    “Ah, I’m sure the expected things will come too, after helping the family out. I might set up my own shop, probably a café, which would mean I can down scale and relax more.”

    Speaking about the win, Paddy Power said that he didn’t see Sean remaining single for long after clinching the jackpot.

    “Roses are red, violets are blue, we found out Sean is single, so get in the queue. We’re used to being down a few quid after Valentine’s Day but this record-breaking win takes the biscuit,” the gambling firm’s boss said.

    “We’re absolutely thrilled for Sean and the fact that he was sound enough to turn up for work for his bosses, Alister his son Cormack Evans, the next morning makes the thought of his success all the sweeter.”

    Mr Doyle’s win comes months after Northern Ireland couple Patrick and Frances Connolly scooped a €131m EuroMillions jackpot.

    The pair, who live in Moira, Co Down, have vowed to give away most of the money to their friends and family.

    • Read more: ‘We celebrated with tea and a hug’ – couple who scooped €130m EuroMillions win

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    White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders says she was interviewed in Russia probe

    WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Friday (Feb 15) she had been interviewed by the special counsel investigating Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

    “The president urged me, like he has everyone in the administration, to fully cooperate with the special counsel. I was happy to voluntarily sit down with him,” Sanders said in a statement provided to Reuters.

    The statement was first reported by CNN.

    US intelligence agencies have said Moscow interfered in the election in an effort to tip it to Republican Donald Trump and away from his Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton.

    Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the allegations and whether anyone in Trump’s campaign may have colluded with Russia.

    He is also looking into whether Trump may have tried to obstruct the investigation.

    Moscow has denied meddling in the campaign.

    Trump, who has frequently derided Mueller’s probe as a “witch hunt,” has denied any wrongdoing.

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    Opinion | Few Are Inspired to Follow America’s Lead on Iran

    Nearly 30 years ago, the United States used its diplomatic clout to persuade Israel and its Arab neighbors to meet publicly for the first time, at the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, which opened the door to greater Arab acceptance of Israel.

    On Wednesday and Thursday, leaders of Israel and Arab states met publicly again, at an international conference in Warsaw staged by the Trump administration. But the goal of this meeting, drawing officials of some 60 nations, was not peacemaking. It was to rally support for economic and political war with Iran, for which the United States has found little enthusiasm among allies since withdrawing from the 2015 deal that restricts Iran’s nuclear program.

    Administration officials initially tried to promote their agenda under an amorphous “seeking peace in the Middle East” rubric. But there was no denying the real purpose, especially when Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s militantly anti-Iran prime minister, sent out a since-deleted tweet that proclaimed “an open meeting with representatives of leading Arab countries, that are sitting down together with Israel in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran.”

    Mr. Netanyahu’s office on Thursday released a video of a closed meeting in which senior Arab officials played down concerns about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and defended Israel’s right to defend itself, while denouncing Iran as the greatest threat to regional peace.

    While the Trump administration, Mr. Netanyahu and Sunni Arab leaders in the Persian Gulf may have enjoyed this anti-mullah pep rally, it highlighted how few major powers are cheering along. France, Germany and Britain, along with Russia and China, still support the agreement they helped the Obama administration negotiate with Iran. Iran itself continues to uphold it, according to American intelligence agencies.

    Britain sent its foreign minister to the conference, but France and Germany, apparently reluctant to be part of such a bellicose bashing, sent lower level diplomats. China sent no one, nor did Russia, which was busy conducting a meeting on Syria with Turkey and Iran. Even Poland, which hosted the Warsaw conference at the request of the administration, believes in the Iran nuclear agreement.

    Major European companies left the Iranian market after President Trump withdrew from the pact and reinstated American sanctions. But European governments, struggling to keep the deal alive in defiance of Mr. Trump, last week began a barter system that could enable some smaller companies to continue to do business with Iran. That drew an aggressive response at the conference from Vice President Mike Pence, who denounced the Europeans for trying to “break American sanctions against Iran’s murderous revolutionary regime.”

    Mr. Trump denounces Iran for its ballistic missile program, support for terrorism, jailing American and Iranian political prisoners, its involvement in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq, and 40 years of repression at home. As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a television interviewer, the administration is counting on Iranians, under growing economic pressure, to “rise up” and change their regime.

    Yet Iran is not alone in destabilizing the region. The administration undercuts its credibility when one of its chief allies in its campaign against Iran is Saudi Arabia, whose de facto ruler is believed to have ordered the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and has directed a war in Yemen that Congress has denounced for its toll in innocent lives.

    If the administration wants to stand up to the challenges posed by Iran, it will only be able to do so with global support, particularly from its longstanding democratic allies in Europe.

    The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].

    Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

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    Japan to recognise indigenous Ainu people for first time

    TOKYO (AFP) – Japan’s government introduced a Bill on Friday (Feb 15) to recognise the country’s ethnic Ainu minority as an “indigenous” people for the first time, after decades of discrimination against the group.

    The Ainu people – many of whom live in northern Hokkaido – have long suffered the effects of a policy of forced assimilation. While discrimination has receded gradually, income and education gaps with the rest of Japan persist.

    “It is important to protect the honour and dignity of the Ainu people and to hand those down to the next generation to realise a vibrant society with diverse values,” top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

    “Today, we made a Cabinet decision on a Bill to proceed with policies to preserve the Ainu people’s pride.”

    The Bill is the first to recognise the Ainu as “indigenous people” and calls for the government to make “forward-looking policies”, including measures to support communities and boost local economies and tourism.

    The Ainu have long suffered oppression and exploitation, and the modern Japanese government in the late 19th century banned them from practising their customs and using their language.

    The Ainu traditionally observed an animist faith, with men wearing full beards and women adorning themselves with facial tattoos before marriage.

    But like many indigenous people around the world, most of Japan’s Ainu have lost touch with their traditional lifestyle after decades of forced assimilation policies.

    The Ainu population is estimated to be at least 12,300, according to a 2017 survey, but the real figure is unknown as many have integrated into mainstream society and some have hidden their cultural roots.

    “It is the first step for ensuring equality under the law,” Ms Mikiko Maruko, who represents a group of Ainu people in eastern Japan near Tokyo, told AFP.

    “There are lots of things to be done, for example, creating a scholarship for families who struggle to send their children to high schools,” she added. This system is currently available only to Ainu in Hokkaido.

    Under the new plan, the government will also allow the Ainu to cut down trees in nationally owned forests for use in traditional rituals.

    “It is a major step forward on policies towards the Ainu people,” said Mr Masashi Nagaura, chief of the Ainu policy bureau of the Hokkaido prefectural government that has spearheaded policies for the ethnic minority.

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    Two skiers escape Avalanche unscathed at Castle Mountain Resort

    Two people escaped an in-bounds avalanche Friday morning at Castle Mountain Resort completely unscathed.

    Officials with Castle Mountain Resort confirmed the avalanche took place on the Red Chair hill Friday morning, with snow fully burying one skier and partially covering another.

    Ski Patrols with Castle Mountain were sent to aid the skiers and were able to successfully rescue both, returning them to the bottom of the hill where EMS assessed them for injuries.

    It was determined unnecessary to escort the skiers to hospital as neither sustained any injuries from the avalanche.

    The Red Chair hill was temporarily closed, so crews could use explosives on the area to prevent further risk of avalanches. It was soon reopened for the public for use.

    Global News

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    US/China trade war talks to continue next week after ‘progress’

    The US and China are to hold further trade war peace talks in Washington next week after both sides hailed “progress”.

    A week of negotiations in China’s capital, which latterly included a banquet for US trade representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, were aimed at securing enough progress to avert an escalation.

    US tariffs on $200bn worth of Chinese imports are due to rise to 25% from 10% by 1 March without sufficient progress.

    The US is demanding China curb forced technology transfers and better enforce intellectual property rights.

    As the clock ticks down to the deadline, officials held a week of talks in the Chinese capital – with top level talks over Thursday and Friday.

    Mr Mnuchin said in a Twitter post that they had held “productive meetings” with President Xi’s top economic adviser.

    Chinese state TV quoted Xi Jinping as saying: “The consultations between the two sides’ teams achieved important step-by-step progress.”

    He added that China was willing to take a “cooperative approach”.

    White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the focus would now return to Washington.

    “The United States looks forward to these further talks and hopes to see additional progress,” she said.

    “Both sides will continue working on all outstanding issues in advance of the 1 March 2019 deadline for an increase in the 10 percent tariff on certain imported Chinese goods.”

    The trade war has had an impact on not only the US and Chinese economies but damaged global growth and the outlook too.

    Stock markets fell sharply last year as investors digested the potential impact on corporate earnings, particularly in the tech sector – at the heart of US complaints against Chinese behaviour and their trade imbalance.

    Any signs of hope for a truce have been seized on since.

    Values rose in Europe on Friday on renewed hopes a truce will be agreed.

    However, gains were tempered by continued worries over far weaker than expected retail sales data for the world’s largest economy, released on Thursday.

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    Sri Lanka vote: New law sees more women standing

    A record number of 17,000 women contest local elections as law requires a quarter of all seats to be filled by women.

      Voters in Sri Lanka are choosing representatives in more than 300 local polls, with more female candidates than ever standing for election.

      A change in the law requires women to fill a quarter of all seats elected in Saturday’s vote – more than 12 times the current number.

      Rosy Senanayake, a diplomat and parliamentarian, is aiming to become the mayor of the capital, Colombo.

      She is the first woman to try.

      “I strongly believe that we cannot have democracy if we do not interest the needs of the majority of the population,” said Senanayake, a former Mrs World.

      “The majority of the population in Sri Lanka are women.”

      She is just one of 17,000 women contesting local government elections – a record number.

      Samanmalee Gunasinghe, a candidate of the Marxist People’s Liberation Front (JVP), says the changes will give more deserving women a chance.

      “In our country, it was a minister’s daughter, siblings or those from political families that could enter politics. But we think honest, talented women should come into politics where laws are made. This election can do that,” she said.

      The stakes are high for all political parties, with local issues such as roads, streets lights and rubbish disposal are taking on the intensity of a national fight.

      Crucial test

      The vote is seen as is seen as a crucial mid-term test for the uneasy coalition of President Maithripala Sirisena.

      The election heightened tensions between the president and his senior coalition partner, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, as they campaigned separately for their respective parties amid a growing rift between the two men.

      The vote, the first to be conducted by the newly established independent Election Commission, was the most peaceful in decades, private monitors said.

      Sirisena was backed by Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) in January 2015 to topple the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse.

      But since then their alliance has fractured, with Sirisena publicly accusing the UNP of being more corrupt than the former Rajapakse regime.

      The UNP has, in turn, accused Sirisena of backstabbing and indicated it may go it alone in the next general election in 2020.

      The UNP is expected to claim the lead in Saturday’s poll for 340 local government bodies while the parties led by Sirisena and Rajapakse are expected to battle it out for the second place.

      More than 8,300 members are due to be elected under a complex hybrid voting system that combines first-past-the-post and proportional representation systems.

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      Farmers warned of dangers of taking videos and selfies of freshly calved cows –

      CALVING season is in full swing on Irish farms.

      FarmIreland reported last year on a new trend on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram of photos of cows and newly-born calves being shared, and in some cases ‘selfies’ of the farmer with the animals.

      This continues this year and short videos have also started being posted on social media.

      Farmers are understandably proud of their herd’s offspring but safety comes first. It is only a matter of time before a farmer is seriously injured by a protective cow while they wave as their phone is poised.

      Even the quietest animal can turn in a flash if they think their calf is in danger. Cow attacks around calving time have increased in recent years, and now surpass bull attacks as the number one livestock-related cause of deaths, says Teagasc. Taking photos or videos from behind a gate or barrier is fine but many want to get up close for a better shot.

      Chairperson of Limerick ICMSA, Tom Blackburn said last year that it could be “very dangerous indeed” to get close to a calf while the mother was in the vicinity. And he repeats the warning this calving season.

      While not an avid user of social media the dairy man from Effin said he was aware of the practice

      “I would just remind people that they must be very careful around calves where the cows are present. I really don’t want to appear to be a killjoy but I wonder sometimes whether people appreciate the kind of threat that a protective cow represents when she feels her calf is in danger?

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      6 ways to build resilience and adapt to the stresses in farming 

      A key focus in this year’s Positive Farmers conference was mental resilience towards the inevitable stressors that each farmer is subject throughout the year.

      “I said this last year when people were posting ‘selfies’ on social media platforms of themselves posing with calves and all I’ll say is that we now seem to have progressed along to people posting short videos of themselves with new calves.

      “That has to mean longer besides the calf, that has to mean a little bit more anxiety in the calf and that, in turn, has to mean a lot more anxiety in the cow and a lot more of a threat unless people are very careful.  I’ll say it again: I only hope that people have the awareness and handling experience to know what they are doing,” said Mr Blackburn.

      He says he understands people’s pride and enjoyment in their livestock but human safety must be paramount.

      Thankfully fatal farm accidents showed a reduction in 2018 with 17 deaths. This is five fewer than the average for the previous five years. No farm fatality was recorded in the final quarter of 2018.

      Fifty three per cent (9) of fatalities in 2018 were associated with farm vehicles and machinery while a further 29 per cent (5) were linked to livestock. The remaining 18 per cent of deaths (3) were from a fall from height, slurry drowning and timber cutting.

      Fifty nine per cent (10) of fatalities occurred to persons aged 65 years or older, with half of those deaths happening to persons aged 75 or older.

      Teagasc health and safety specialist, Dr John McNamara, from Dooradoyle, called on farmers to give safety first priority during the busy spring period.  He said that the risk of farm accidents rises with increased work activity and prevention is strongly associated with implementing behavioural practices.

      Being struck with a moving vehicle is the most frequent cause of farm deaths on Irish farms, so particular vigilance is needed when they are operating, he stated. A vehicle moving at fast walking pace covers about two metres per second so it gives a person in its path little chance to avoid impact.  Elderly farmers are at particular risk, he added.

      Vigilance is also needed when handling livestock, particularly cows around calving. Mr McNamara advised that a freshly calved cow be securely restrained before administering a treatment to their calf.

      The Teagasc health and safety specialist also advised farmers to be watching out for unstable loads around the farm.  As barns empty out, it is really important to watch out for unstable stacks of hay or straw which could collapse and cause injury.  

      A newly revised legal Farm Safety Risk Assessment (green cover) has replaced the previous version (white cover) since January 1. Completion of the revised document is a requirement for Food Assurance schemes. Completion of a half-day training course on risk assessment, or completion of the green certificate within the last five years, is a mandatory requirement for TAMS11 grant drawdown.

      Further information can be obtained from Teagasc offices or agricultural consultants.   

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