India slaps cases against critics of plan to grant citizenship to non-Muslims

GUWAHATI, India (Reuters) – Indian police on Friday said they are investigating an academic, a journalist and a peasant leader for possible sedition for publicly opposing a proposal to grant citizenship to non-Muslims from neighboring Muslim-majority countries.

Critics have called the proposal blatantly anti-Muslim and an attempt by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to boost its Hindu voter base ahead of a general election due by May.

The cases have been filed amid a wave of protests in the BJP-governed northeastern state of Assam. A small regional party in India quit the ruling coalition on Monday in protest against the plan.

The Modi government is facing growing criticism for stifling criticism, including in the media. A television journalist in the region was jailed last month for criticizing the government on social media.

“We have registered a case against a few people based on certain statements that they made at a public rally in Guwahati,” Deepak Kumar, a police official from Guwahati in Assam, told Reuters.

The three have not been charged.

Many people fear such a move could change the demographic profile of Assam, where residents have for years complained that immigrants from Bangladesh have put a big strain on resources.

Hiren Gohain, an 80-year-old academic, peasant leader Akhil Gogoi and journalist Manjit Mahanta have been accused of criminal conspiracy and attempting to wage a war against the government, Kumar said.

The bill, which seeks to give citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, has been passed by the lower house of the parliament.

The bill will be tabled for approval in the upper house in the next session, where it is expected to face resistance from the opposition Congress party. The BJP does not have a majority in the upper house of the parliament.

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What the bankers already know about you and how to change what they see

Do you know what the bankers see – and think – when they take a look at your credit record?

If the answer’s no, then it’s time to get hold of the latest copy of your credit file – it will be one of the smartest financial moves you make this year.

Because getting to grips with your credit record could mean you can bag the best financial deals.

Ignore it, and you risk paying thousands of pounds more to borrow – or at worst being turned down for a mortgage, loan or credit card.

Don’t worry – you are not alone if you haven’t checked your credit file. Less than 10% of us have ever done it. So here we explain what your credit score is and why it’s a key element of your life when it comes to money.

And we give you six simple steps to help you get your head around it.

Why is it important?

You might not think it’s a big deal, but you’d be wrong. Your credit score and record have a major impact on your money.

It’s the basis of your entire finances, the thing all lenders use to decide whether they will give you access to credit and what rate of interest they will charge you.

It can also help you spot early signs of fraud, before crooks leave you deep in debt.

A decent credit record could easily save you £8,000 or more in mortgage costs over five years – that’s more than £130 every month.

And, importantly, it’s totally free for you to access, so there’s no excuse not to keep an eye on it.

Although most of us spend time trying to budget, ensure our bills get paid and keep a close eye on our bank balance, we don’t know what our credit score is.

What is my credit record?

There are three main credit reference agencies in the UK – Equifax, Experian and Callcredit. Each maintains details of how you manage your money on your Credit Record.

It shows any borrowing you have now, your repayment record, levels of debt on credit cards and overdrafts, and how you have managed your money in the past. This all creates a report on the state of your finances past and present.

For example, it will detail all your credit card and loan balances and will flag up if you’ve missed repayments in the last six years.

It also shows if you’ve made any applications for finance – credit cards, loans, hire purchase or even a mobile phone contract.

It’s important you read through your own record to ensure all the information is correct as it’s possible for inaccurate details to be recorded which could have a major impact on whether you get approved for a loan and the amount of interest you will be charged.

The interest rate on a £150,000 mortgage for someone with a good credit record is just 1.96% over five years with Yorkshire Building Society and costs £633 per month.

But if you have a poor credit record you could easily pay rates of 3.6% or more with monthly payments costing more than £760 per month – a difference of £7,700 over the five years.

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What is my credit score?

This is a three digit number calculated using the information on your credit report.

The range of scores depends on which credit reference agency you use but typically it’s from 0-700 or 0-1000. The higher the number, the better.

Lots of factors affect your score including missed bill payments, unauthorised overdrafts and being rejected for credit applications.

Each credit reference firm will have slightly different categories but they are broadly similar. For example with Totally Money your score will fall into one of four categories as follows:

  • 0–120: Poor – You are unlikely to be accepted for credit, but there are ways you can improve your score.
  • 121-420: Fair – You are likely to be accepted for a range of credit offers.
  • 421-825: Good – You are likely to be approved for credit at good rates.
  • 826-1000: Excellent – You are likely to be accepted for credit at the best rates.

It’s worth pointing out that lenders don’t make their decision solely based on your credit score – they will have their own separate checks they make too (often referred to as a scorecard).

However, a high score usually means you’ve got a much better chance of getting your application agreed.

Here are six ways to boost your score:

1. Sign up

There are a number of options to choose from. We’d suggest signing up with at least two of the following for their free services:

  • (or the full report free from or
  • (free)
  • (or free from

Some credit reference providers will try to tempt you into an enhanced service alerting you about potential fraud on your account.

This may appeal, but it can cost you about £15 a month.

2. Check for errors in your details

One in three people who have checked their credit report have found errors from lenders on their file, according to research from Amigo Loans.

If you find anything inaccurate get in touch with the credit reference agency and either get them to dispute the mistake for you or contact the lender direct and get them to correct things.

This is vital as mistakes could cost your dearly. Ensure you are registered on the Electoral Roll at your current address. Some lenders may turn you down flat if they can’t confirm where you live.

If you have had credit problems through special circumstances such as losing your job, family bereavement etc, you have the right to explain this on your report by adding a notice of correction to any late payments from this period.

3. Note your score and understand what it means

Once you’ve got your score, what does it mean?

Make sure you understand your current situation and how it can impact your chance of borrowing money – take steps to improve it as follows…

4. Take action immediately

Close accounts you no longer use. A lot of unused credit (eg high credit card limits you haven’t used for ages or cards you had forgotten you even had) may negatively affect your rating. It can also make you more vulnerable to fraud.

If you had financial links to other people which are no longer relevant (such as an ex-partner) ask for them to be removed from your records.

Financial ties, such as a joint mortgage or a bank account with a partner, will appear on your credit report as an ‘association’ to your other half – and being tied to someone else means their credit rating could affect yours.

Try to keep the balance on each credit card at less than 25% of your credit limit.

5. Ways to improve your score

You may have a low score because you haven’t taken out any credit or have had money issues in the past. One way to improve it is to take out a credit card and make regular repayments.

It may sound strange, but lenders are looking for proof you are a good bet and can make repayment on time and clear debts in full.

There are credit builder cards that can help, but the rates are high. You must ensure you pay the statement off in full every month – that way it won’t cost you a penny.

Don’t spend beyond your means – put a couple of regular payments, say for petrol, on it each month. Managing the card responsibly will gradually improve your credit score.

6. Check regularly

Once you’ve made the effort to check your credit report and are working to improve your credit score, keep up the good work.

Many providers will email you your report and/or score every month. Keep an eye on it – it’s a good habit to adopt and should become part of your money management.

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One country’s push to ban ‘gay cures’

Thousands of Canadians have rallied behind two petitions calling for a nationwide ban of conversion therapy. It’s part of a wider global trend condemning the practice.

Peter Gajdics came out as gay to his family when he was 23. His staunchly Catholic parents rejected his homosexuality, and he left home.

But Gajdics found himself struggling with deep depression and with feeling alienated and estranged, and his doctor referred him to a psychiatrist.

That psychiatrist centred on Gajdics’ sexuality as the problem, telling him that abuse he suffered as a child created a “false notion” that he was homosexual.

“So the goal in my therapy would be to work through my ‘trauma’ and therefore I would revert to my innate heterosexuality,” says Gajdics. “Everything about my therapy became focused to do that.”

The treatments grew increasingly intense. He was prescribed a cocktail of psychiatric medications – antidepressants, a sedative and more – and told they were necessary “to silence the noise” of his homosexuality.

The young Canadian man spent six years under the psychiatrist’s care, eventually moving into a house with other patients, “isolated from the world, definitely not talking to family or former friends, which was prohibited”.

He finally left the treatment, got off the medications, and sued the doctor for medical malpractice.

One of the grounds for his lawsuit, which was settled out of court in 2003, was that the psychiatrist had tried to treat Gajdics’ homosexuality as a disease.

For Gajdics, part of the process of reclaiming his life after that experience was to speak out against conversion therapy – sometimes also called “sexual reorientation”, “reparative”, or “gay cure” therapy.

He recognises what he went through was an extreme form of the practice, but the intended goal of any form of conversion therapy is the same: to attempt to change an LGBT person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Conversion therapy has been widely discredited by major psychotherapy and medical associations in many countries, including Canada, the US and the UK, and is opposed by the World Health Organisation and the United Nations.

Gajdics eventually wrote a memoir – The Inheritance of Shame – about his experience, and shortly before its release approached the city of Vancouver, where he lives, to lobby for a ban on the practice there.

A motion to prohibit businesses from providing conversion therapy to minors passed in June.

Two provinces in Canada – Ontario and Manitoba – have also taken steps to limit conversion therapy within their jurisdictions.

Now, there’s a growing push for a nationwide ban.

Two separate petitions have racked up tens of thousands signatures since being posted earlier this year.

“In 2018, there’s no reason that Canada, which considers itself a forerunner in human rights, to be allowing the practice,” Devon Hargreaves, who helped launch one of those campaigns, tells the BBC.

The petition, which has more than 11,200 signatures so far, calls on Canadian legislators to ban conversion therapy for minors and to prohibit taking minors outside of the country for such purposes.

The second petition, started by It Gets Better Canada, an affiliate of the US-based non-profit organisation that supports LGBT youth, has over 58,400 signatures.

That petition calls on the federal government to clearly state that Canada “opposes the use of conversion therapy and other related treatments” and to develop policies to prevent anyone from attempting to alter a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

It Gets Better Canada’s Chris Gudgeon says people have two reactions when they hear about the group’s efforts to ban the practice: “‘I can’t believe this is happening in Canada’, or ‘this happened to me and it’s time we ban it”.

Only three countries in the world – Ecuador, Brazil, and Malta – ban conversion therapy.

But a number of factors have brought the issue into the open in recent years.

“There was this strange moment where all of a sudden conversion therapy caught people’s attention,” says Gudgeon.

Three years ago, former US President Barack Obama spoke out against the practice after the suicide of a transgender teenager who posted online about religious therapists trying to turn her back into a boy.

This year saw Hollywood release two films that centre on conversion therapy.

Boy Erased is based on American writer Garrard Conley’s personal experience with conversion therapy in Bible belt southern US.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which took home one of the top prizes at the latest Sundance film festival, tells the fictional tale of a gay teenage girl sent to a conversion camp in the 1990s.

Lucas Ramon Mendos, who researches conversion therapy legislation worldwide for The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, says he has seen a shift in the debate over the past year.

“There’s a lot happening, it’s taking various forms, not just bills,” he tells the BBC.

He points to efforts in Australia and Spain, and to China, where last year a court ruled against a hospital that had forced a gay man into conversion therapy, ordering a public apology and compensation.

In the US, a record number of states have tabled proposed legislation to tackle the issue amid a national “50 Bills, 50 States” campaign to ensure protections across the country.

Nineteen states have proposed legislation to protect LGBT youth from conversion therapy and 14 states, as well as DC, prohibit the practice.

In July, the UK announced plans to bring forward proposals to end conversion therapy, which it called a “harmful practice”.

Mendos says that “for the first time victims have had the courage and the tools and the space to come out and speak about this”.

“This is one of the issues in which victims were forced into a scheme of shame, were harmed through these techniques, of questioning the self-identity of a person.”

There are no current statistics on the practice in Canada, but a 2017 UK government survey of LGBT citizens indicated that 2% of respondents had undergone conversion therapy and a further 5% had been offered it.

Faith organisations were by far the most likely to have carried out the practice, according to the report.

In the US, an estimated 700,000 LGBT adults have received conversion therapy, about half when they were in their teens, according to research out of the University of California at Los Angeles.

Researchers also estimated that some 20,000 LGBT teens between 13 and 17 will receive some form of the therapy from a medical professional and another 57,000 from a religious adviser.

Those who monitor conversion therapy say they’ve noticed a shift in recent years away from organisations promising a “cure” to offering instead the ability to suppress any expression of an LGBT individual’s sexuality.

Gudgeon says he thinks that those who offer some form of conversion therapy often believe they are trying to help youth struggling with their identity.

Many LGBT youth coming to terms with their sexuality “want to stop feeling conflicted”, he says.

Having support can be vital, he says, but “the fact is, that going to a therapy that tries to talk you into being somebody you’re not isn’t going to help you. It doesn’t solve the conflict”.

Both Hargreaves and Gudgeon are hopeful for a positive response on their respective campaigns from Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, which has made efforts to support LGBT Canadians in the past.

Hargreaves’ petition, filed on the parliamentary e-petition site, is guaranteed a formal response since it surpassed the 500 signature benchmark for a government response the night it was posted.

Gajdics, who has been campaigning against the practice for some 20 years, says he is ” thrilled” at the growing international scrutiny.

“It’s been a long, long time coming,” he says.

“It’s such a deep, deep transgression and violation of the gay person, of the lesbian person, of the trans person, it cuts to such a deep level psychically, emotionally.”

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Judge halts Trump’s asylum ban

A US federal judge has blocked an order issued by President Trump to deny the possibility of asylum to migrants crossing the southern border illegally.

US District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco issued the temporary restraining order after hearing arguments by civil rights groups.

Mr Trump signed the order earlier this month as thousands of migrants made their way towards the US border.

He cited national interest concerns but was opposed by civil rights groups.

Migrants from across Central America have been travelling north for weeks towards the US-Mexico border. Mr Trump has described the group as a “large caravan of people”.

They say they are fleeing persecution, poverty and violence in their home countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

In the run-up to the US mid-term elections, President Trump said many of the migrants were criminals, called the caravan an invasion, and ordered troops to the border. He also repeatedly suggested it was politically motivated.

Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Katie Waldman and Justice Department spokesman Steven Stafford called the asylum system “broken” in a joint statement, noting their departments will continue “to defend” the policy.

They said the current system is “being abused by tens of thousands of meritless claims every year”, and supported Mr Trump’s actions as “legitimate and well-reasoned”.

“It is absurd that a set of advocacy groups can be found to have standing to sue to stop the entire federal government from acting so that illegal aliens can receive a government benefit to which they are not entitled.”

What did the judge say?

Judge Tigar, in his ruling, said current legislation made it clear that any foreigner arriving in the US “whether or not at a designated port of arrival” could apply for asylum.

He said Mr Trump’s proclamation on 9 November was an “extreme departure” from prior practice.

“Whatever the scope of the president’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden,” Judge Tigar added.

He was responding in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

They argued that Mr Trump’s ruling was illegal.

The judge’s restraining order comes into immediate effect and remains in place until a court hearing in December to decide on the case.

What is President Trump’s order?

The proclamation on 9 November says that anyone who wants to claim asylum in the US has to come in through official points of entry – and their cases will not be heard if they enter illegally.

The ban was to last 90 days or until the US reached an agreement with Mexico to turn back asylum-seekers.

Under US law, there is a legal obligation to hear asylum claims from migrants if they say they fear violence in their home countries – regardless of how they have entered the country.

But the Trump administration invoked the same executive power he used to justify his travel ban on people from several Muslim-majority nations last year.

It said the president had the power to “suspend the entry of all aliens” and to impose “any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate on them” if they were judged to be “detrimental” to US interests under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

A statement at the time said: “We are using the authority granted to us by Congress to bar aliens who violate a presidential suspension of entry or other restriction from asylum eligibility.”

There has been no response yet to the San Francisco ruling.

What is the situation on the US-Mexico border?

The US website Politico reports that 5,800 troops sent to bolster defences on the border will be home for Christmas. It quotes Army Lt Gen Jeffrey Buchanan as saying they have an “end date” of 15 December.

The decision to send troops came at the height of President Trump’s dire warnings about the caravan during campaigning for the mid-term elections – and he was accused of deploying active troops for political purposes.

About 3,000 members of the caravan have so far arrived in Tijuana, the Mexican city bordering the US.

The city’s authorities expect numbers to reach 10,000 in coming weeks.

The US temporarily closed the San Ysidro border point, its busiest crossing with Mexico, on Monday to install new movable wire-topped barriers.

How hard is it to win US asylum?

Claiming asylum is a long and difficult process, and people need to prove they are fleeing, or fear prosecution or torture in their country. Economic migrants do not qualify for asylum.

Most of them go through a process called “credible fear”, in which an asylum officer examines their case. If the fear is determined to be credible, the individuals are referred to immigration courts. In negative cases, they are ordered to be removed.

Between October 2016 and September 2017, officials found 60,566 people to have credible fear among 79,710 cases, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Many of them remain detained during the process.

After that, it can take years until a decision is reached. In March, the USCIS had 318,624 pending cases.

Some 20,455 people were given asylum in 2016, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

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German shelters ban Christmas adoption

A dog is for life, not just for Christmas – so the famous slogan goes.

It’s certainly the case in Germany, where a temporary ban on new adoptions aims to cut short any plans to give an animal as a Christmas gift.

Dozens of shelters have told potential pet owners that no animals will be handed over in the run-up to Christmas.

Berlin’s shelter, the largest in Europe, is among them. It says the ban reduces unwanted animals being dumped back after the holiday period.

“Animals are living beings with needs and feelings,” it said. “They are not suitable as surprise gifts.”

In Bremen, none of 500 animals will be re-homed after 18 December.

Regional news outlets are reporting similar decisions in other towns and cities, including dozens of shelters in a united decision in Lower Saxony.

The problem, according to the ban’s supporters, is that pets are often bought impulsively at the last minute.

“The decision to keep an animal must not be taken lightly – the whole family must be involved in the decision-making process,” said Claudia Hämmerling from Berlin’s animal protection association.

Most shelters will still be open for viewings – but families will have to come back in January after they’ve had time to consider.

Not everyone agrees with an outright ban.

In the UK, animal protection group RSPCA says the person receiving the pet should be known to be willing and ready – and highlights the extra noise, hustle and bustle at Christmas that “can make it difficult for any pet to settle into their new homes”.

“However, for some people, the festive period is a calm, quiet time and may well be a good opportunity to introduce an animal into the home as families tend to be around the house with more time to spend with them,” it says.

Their US counterpart, the ASPCA, largely agrees.

End of Youtube post by Dogs Trust

But the Dog’s Trust – author of the famous slogan about dogs being “not just for Christmas” – is still running adverts to that affect nearly 40 years after it first coined the phrase.

“Christmas presents aren’t dogs, and dogs aren’t Christmas presents. It’s that simple!” the charity said when launching this year’s advert.

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How Norway-EU relationship really works as support grows for UK to follow model

I am standing astride a shabby white line that puts one of my feet in the EU and one outside it.

The marking on the Svinesund Bridge shows the border between Norway and Sweden.

And the UK effectively has one foot out of the EU now too – but where it is heading is far from clear.

With Theresa May’s Brexit plans at risk of defeat in next week’s vote, all eyes are on what comes next.

The two extreme options – a no-deal Brexit or a second referendum – would be highly divisive.

But one gaining support is following Norway’s lead, so we visited to see what it might mean.

Norway is a big export market for British goods and supplies 25% of our gas. The Norway option can seem complicated but would essentially mean us being part of the European Economic Area through the European Free Trade Association.

The EEA is made up of all EU countries, plus three EFTA states: Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

All EEA members have full single market access and with it accept the free movement of goods, services, capital and people.

Under the Norway option, the post-Brexit UK would join EFTA and a big plus is that the EU seems up for the idea. Other EFTA ­countries also seem keen, while not discussing it formally.

Norway’s trade minister, Torbjorn Roe Isaksen, said: “Our goal always is to maintain as much of a well-functioning, no-hassle relationship with the UK as possible.”

Yet he admitted Norway’s set-up was not ideal – and Prime Minister Erna Solberg recently warned we would lose trade “bargaining power” outside the EU.

“The main advantage is we have full single market access,” said Mr Isaksen. “The disadvantage is we are part of so much EU regulation but don’t have a seat at the table.” This switch to being a “rule taker” is concerning for those who fear its impact on our financial sector.

However, it is estimated EFTA countries have to abide by 30% of EU rules and are not bound by the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy.

Norway claims by controlling its own waters, it better manages fish stock levels. But the EU charges import duties.

Another criticism is Norway has to pay into the EU budget – £140 per head, compared with £220 for us as a full member. The Norway route could cut our bill 12% to 25%, depending on who you believe.

Another big issue for critics of the option is freedom of workers. Supporters say the EEA Treaty has opt-outs that could limit EU immigration. And one argument for ditching the EU is escaping the European Court of Justice, as disputes could be dealt with by an EFTA Court.

But EFTA members are not part of the Customs Union, meaning border checks. Norway says it uses technology to avoid long hold-ups.

When we crossed the border by car, we had no checks. But holding areas contained large numbers of lorries.

Doing these at a busy port like Dover could be a big headache, which is one reason why some argue for a “Norway for now” route until we ­negotiate a long-term trade deal with Brussels. But any resolution would need to address the key issue of the Irish border, which is why ministers are talking about Norway Plus, which involves staying in the customs union.

Staying in the single market would mean firms retain free access to the EU, which makes up 43% of our exports. We would not benefit from the EU’s trading bloc clout but could – unless we opted for the customs union in addition – strike new deals with countries like India.

The ultimate truth is the Norway option will keep neither Remainers nor Brexiteers happy. Former Labour PM Tony Blair said: “Norway’s not going to work. It’s going to be subject to an even greater degree of attack from people who voted Brexit. It’s very hard to look at that Brexit vote and say they mandated Norway.”

Norway voted against EU membership and people we spoke to in fishing port Alesund backed us getting out.

Waitress Khawla Al-Sahli said: “We feel we are fine the way we are.”

Taxi driver Borre Haljelsvik said: “Together the UK and Norway would be better at standing up to the EU.”

And Professor Carl Baudenbacher, a former president of the EFTA Court, said: “If you compare Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EEA, you are better off with the EEA.”

The Bank of England rates the Norway option one of the best and it may have enough support for us to avoid a no-deal exit. It must therefore be taken seriously.

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Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank picks Barclays to advise on merger: sources

ABU DHABI/DUBAI (Reuters) – Barclays (BARC.L) has been appointed by Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB) ADCB.AD to advise on a potential merger plan involving Union National Bank (UNB) UNB.AD and Al Hilal Bank, banking sources told Reuters.

The merger, announced by the banks in September, is the latest consolidation among state-owned companies in the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) capital.

ADCB, majority owned by the Abu Dhabi government and the second largest bank in the emirate after First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB) FAB.AD, declined to comment. Barclays also declined to comment.

If it goes ahead, a merger of the trio could create an entity with around $113 billion in assets, according to Refinitiv data, and the UAE’s third-biggest lender after FAB and Emirates NBD ENBD.DU.

A separate source said two banks could be created out of the consolidation, with the conventional banking units of ADCB and UNB merging to create one lender.

Another could be formed through combining the Islamic banking units of ADCB and UNB, along with Al Hilal.

AlKhaleej newspaper reported the same arrangement was being considered last month, citing sources.

The tie-up was at an early stage, UAE Central Bank governor Mubarak Rashed al-Mansoori told reporters last week on the sidelines of a conference, adding he expected more consolidation in the future.

FAB was created by last year’s merger between National Bank of Abu Dhabi and First Gulf Bank.

The emirate of Sharjah is weighing a merger between three of its banks – Bank of Sharjah BOS.AD, Invest Bank INVB.AD and United Arab Bank UAB.AD, Reuters reported in September, citing sources.

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'Shameful' ban on company criticising PM after Grenfell Tower fire

Under the terms of a contract to look at cladding used on government buildings, engineering company WSP was told it must not create “adverse publicity” about the Cabinet Office or other Crown bodies, according to The Times.

This group of organisations includes the prime minister’s office.

The newspaper said WSP experts were hired 12 days after the Grenfell Tower tragedy on 14 June last year, which killed 72 people and saw Mrs May come in for heavy criticism for her initial response to the disaster.

The £100,000 contract reportedly stated WSP should make sure that neither it nor anyone working for it should “embarrass” or be “in any way connected to material adverse publicity” relating to the Cabinet Office or other Crown bodies.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said the revelation of the terms of the contract was “shameful”.

“To save face the government places gagging orders on experts trying to get to the truth of the Grenfell Tower fire,” she tweeted.

Fellow Labour MP David Lammy accused Mrs May of “unforgivable cowardice”, adding: “If you respected the 72 that died, you would have let firms follow the truth wherever it led.”

Liberal Democrat housing spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said: “Grenfell was a tragedy that should never have happened.

“Rather than gagging experts and prioritising reputational damage, this Conservative government should be doing everything in its power to ensure that it never happens again.”

And the Grenfell United campaign group said: “The focus at every level of government must be to get to the truth about how and why Grenfell happened. No one should be deterred from speaking out.”

An investigation by The Times revealed cabinet ministers had banned 40 charities and more than 300 companies from publicly criticising them, their departments or the prime minister, as part of deals costing the taxpayer £25bn.

But the government stressed such contracts do not stop people from speaking out.

A spokesperson said: “Standard contracts in the public and the private sector contain provisions to protect the commercial interests of government and its suppliers in a reasonable way.

“These contracts do not prevent individuals from campaigning on specific issues, acting as whistleblowers or raising concerns about policy.”

A spokesman for WSP said: “We helped the Cabinet Office’s government property unit understand which types of cladding used across the UK government’s estate are unlikely to comply with building regulations so that the tragedy at Grenfell doesn’t ever happen again.”

Source: Read Full Article

Goldman Sachs CEO: I feel horrible ex-bankers broke law in 1MDB case

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Goldman Sachs Chief Executive David Solomon said on Wednesday he felt “horrible” that two former employees “blatantly broke the law” in their dealings with Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

U.S. prosecutors filed criminal charges against the two former Goldman bankers and a Malaysian financier linked to the alleged theft of billions of dollars from the fund.

An investigation into where 1MDB’s money went became the largest carried out by the Department of Justice under its anti-kleptocracy program, and the scandal was a major reason why Malaysian voters rejected Najib Razak, their prime minister for nearly a decade, in an election earlier this year.

“It is obviously very distressing to see two former Goldman Sachs employees went so blatantly around our policies and so blatantly broke the law,” Solomon said in an interview with Bloomberg TV in Singapore.

“I feel horrible about the fact that people who worked at Goldman Sachs, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a partner or it’s an entry level employee, would go around our policies and break the law,” Solomon said.

U.S. prosecutors announced last week that Tim Leissner, former partner for Goldman Sachs in Asia, had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and agreed to forfeit $43.7 million.

Roger Ng, the other charged former Goldman banker, was arrested in Malaysia and is expected to be extradited.

Reuters was not immediately able to contact Ng’s lawyer on Wednesday. His lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment after U.S. prosecutors unveiled the charges last Thursday.

Goldman has also placed its former co-head of Asia investment banking, Andrea Vella, on leave over his role in the firm’s involvement with the case, pending a review of allegations, according to a person familiar with the decision.

The Wall Street bank said in a securities filing on Friday that it may also face penalties from dealings with 1MDB.

Asked if he could provide assurances that neither he, former CEO Lloyd Blankfein or any of the senior management team suspected illegality or compliance breaches in dealings with 1MDB, Solomon said:

“We take compliance and control in our firm extremely seriously, we always have…We are going to continue to cooperate with the authorities and there’s a process in place and that process will proceed.”

According to prosecutors, the investment bank generated about $600 million in fees for its work with 1MDB, which included three bond offerings in 2012 and 2013 that raised $6.5 billion. Leissner, Ng and others received large bonuses in connection with that revenue.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng told Reuters in June that the government will be looking at the possibility of seeking claims from Goldman Sachs.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Malaysia will look into why Goldman was paid around $600 million in fees, an amount that critics say exceeds normal levels.

Goldman has maintained that the outsized fees related to the additional risks it took on – it bought the un-rated bonds while it sought investors and, in the case of the 2013 deal which raised $2.7 billion, 1MDB wanted the funds in a hurry for a planned investment.

The new Malaysian government has barred Najib and his wife from leaving the country, and the former premier faces multiple charges of corruption, money laundering and abuse of power, though he has consistently denied any wrongdoing related to 1MDB.

In another interview with Bloomberg on Tuesday, Malaysia’s Prime Minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim said it would be “inexcusable” if Goldman Sachs was complicit in the scandal.

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