Facebook Hit With Antitrust Investigation

Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers his speech during the VivaTech (Viva Technology) trade fair in Paris.  GERARD JULIEN / AFP

 

A coalition of US states unveiled on Friday an antitrust investigation of Facebook, the first of what is expected to be a wave of action against dominant technology firms.

New York state Attorney General Letitia James announced the action on behalf of seven other states and the District of Columbia to probe “whether Facebook has stifled competition and put users at risk.”

The case may be the first in a series of antitrust actions against Big Tech firms and highlights growing “techlash,” based on worries about platforms which control the flow of online information and dominate key economic sectors.

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“We will use every investigative tool at our disposal to determine whether Facebook’s actions may have endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, or increased the price of advertising,” James said.

Joining the action were attorneys general of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee, said James.

Earlier this year the US Department of Justice said it would launch a “review” of major online platforms to determine if they have stifled innovation or reduced competition.

It was not immediately clear if the states would be working in coordination with federal officials.

 Rising fears 

Facebook offered no immediate comment, but in the past it has claimed it is not a monopoly and that consumers have many choices for how to connect with people online.

The new probe “shows how unease with large tech companies is spreading beyond Congress and the federal government agencies to the states,” said Michael Carrier, professor of antitrust law at Rutgers University.

“With each passing day, there are greater fears about these companies controlling our online lives.”

Yet the legal basis for an antitrust action remains unclear, said Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University.

“It remains to be seen if the (attorneys general) have any merit to their complaints or if they will be conducting a fishing expedition hoping to find some damning evidence,” Goldman said.

“Companies as large as Google or Facebook probably have minor problematic practices the AGs could target, but I’m still waiting for any evidence that would support more structural challenges to the internet giants’ practices.”

 More on Monday 

A separate coalition of states was set to launch another antitrust initiative, with Google reportedly a target.

The office of the Texas attorney general scheduled an event Monday in Washington with a “broad coalition of states” to unveil a probe into “whether large tech companies have engaged in anticompetitive behavior that stifled competition, restricted access, and harmed consumers.”

Google confirmed Friday that the Department of Justice had asked for its records on previous antitrust probes.

“The DOJ has asked us to provide information about these past investigations, and we expect state attorneys general will ask similar questions,” Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs, said in a blog post.

He stressed that Google was “one of America’s top spenders on research and development, making investments that spur innovation” and pledged to work constructively with regulators.

What’s the remedy? 

Maurice Stucke, a University of Tennessee law professor, said he expects one of the areas being investigated will be online advertising markets, which are dominated by Google and Facebook.

“This is a great area to look at because the market has been criticized as being opaque,” Stucke said.

Stucke said the investigations may go further by looking at how tech platforms control data, potentially examining “the intersection between competition law and privacy.”

Amazon and Apple may also be in the crosshairs. Critics have complained that Amazon wields too much power in online retail, and that Apple may disadvantage rivals offering services in its app store.

In the European Union, Google has faced a series of antitrust actions and Amazon is now being targeted by enforcers.

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has made a breakup of the big tech firms a part of her campaign platform.

But some analysts say the case against the tech firms faces challenges because the companies have in many cases provided services for free and brought prices down, making it hard to prove they harmed “consumer welfare,” a longstanding judicial precedent.

Jessica Melugin of the Competitive Enterprise Institute said the state officials are stretching the limits of antitrust.

“This sort of high-profile activism may benefit state AGs’ political ambitions, but impose harmful costs on consumers, businesses, and the economy,” she said in a statement.

But Stucke said it would be wrong to view antitrust law as solely focused on consumer prices, and that it may be applied to questions of competition and innovation.

The probes could end up with a variety of outcomes including fines, restrictions on conduct or a breakup, Stucke maintained.

“You’d have to show how the remedy would address the concerns,” he said.

AFP

Bayern Defender Boateng Under Investigation For Assault

Bayern Munich’s defender Jerome Boateng is pictured prior to the Audi Cup final football match between FC Bayern Munich and Tottenham Hotspur in Munich, southern Germany.  Christof STACHE / AFP

 

Bayern Munich and former German national team football star Jerome Boateng, 31, has been charged with assault after allegedly attacking his former partner, German prosecutors confirmed Tuesday.

“The Munich prosecutor’s office has had proceedings open against Jerome Boateng for dangerous assault since autumn 2018. Following extensive investigations, charges were brought on February 11, 2019,” chief prosecutor Anne Leiding told AFP-subsidiary SID, confirming reports in German media outlets Sueddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) and WDR.

Leiding added that the court was yet to open the case, but had accepted an accessory prosecution from the alleged victim, named only as ‘S.’.

According to the SZ and WDR reports, ‘S.’ is Boateng’s former partner of ten years and the mother of two of his three children.

Prosecutors also confirmed that Boateng was the subject of a separate police investigation into assault.

Former Germany central defender Boateng is one of the country’s most successful players, having won the World Cup with Germany in 2014 and the Champions League with Bayern in 2013.

His career has declined in recent months, after he was dropped from the national squad earlier this year.

Boateng’s relationship with his club has also suffered after he slipped down the defensive pecking order at German league champions Bayern.

In May, club president Uli Hoeness advised the 31-year-old to “find a new club”, but a mooted transfer to Italian giants Juventus fell through at the last minute on the final day of the European transfer window on Monday.

AFP

Police Investigate Extra Judicial Killing In Abia

Abia State Commissioner of Police, Ene Okon

 

The Abia State Police Command has launched a manhunt for a police officer, Sergeant Collins Apugo, who allegedly shot and killed a young man, Chibuike Onuoha in Umuahia North Local Government Area of the state.

The 24-year-old man was reportedly shot dead by Sergeant Apugo in the Okwulagha Afara community in Umuahia, the state capital on Monday night, during an argument.

The policeman allegedly took to his heels and abandoned his patrol vehicle, after the shooting, and angry residents of the area immediately set it ablaze in protest.

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Reacting to the incident, the Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr Ene Okon said a five-man committee including an Assistant Commissioner of Police, the Area Commander, and the Security Adviser to State Government, has been set up to prevent a breakdown of law and order.

While condemning the action of the policeman, Okon admitted that the officer failed to adhere to the rules of engagement and vowed to leave no stone unturned to apprehend the culprit.

Mueller’s Office Disputes Explosive Report On Trump

A former FBI Director Robert Mueller, special counsel on the Russia investigation, leaves following a meeting with members of the US Senate Judiciary Committee at the US Capitol in Washington. 
SAUL LOEB / AFP

 

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office took the rare step Friday of disputing a news report on his Russia investigation, saying a BuzzFeed article alleging that US President Donald Trump directed his former lawyer to lie to Congress is “not accurate.”

Trump’s lieutenants had already strongly pushed back against the report, which said that the president ordered Michael Cohen to lie about a Russian skyscraper project they pursued during the 2016 election.

“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate,” spokesman Peter Carr said in a statement.

Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 vote and possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow is the subject of frequent articles and even more frequent speculation.

But it is extremely rare — if not unprecedented — for Mueller’s office to issue such a statement.

BuzzFeed’s editor-in chief, however, said the news organization stood by its work.

“We stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it, and we urge the Special Counsel to make clear what he’s disputing,” Ben Smith tweeted.

The statement was nevertheless a cause for celebration for the president, who retweeted numerous supporters slamming BuzzFeed and later wrote it was “A very sad day for journalism, but a great day for our Country!”

“Fake News is truly the ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” he added, a now familiar refrain when talking about critical media.

Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani had earlier called the allegation in the BuzzFeed report “categorically false” in a comment sent to several White House reporters, while Deputy White House Spokesman Hogan Gidley labelled the report “ridiculous.” He said Cohen is someone “who now quite frankly has been proven to be a liar.”

Democrats in Congress had pledged to investigate the report to see if the president had committed an impeachable felony.

“These allegations may prove unfounded, but, if true, they would constitute both the subornation of perjury as well as obstruction of justice,” said Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

BuzzFeed reported late Thursday that Cohen, who worked for Trump for more than a decade, has told investigators that the president personally instructed him to lie about the Moscow Trump Tower plan in testimony in 2017 to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

The BuzzFeed article was based on interviews with two anonymous “federal law enforcement officials” who are familiar with Cohen’s testimony to the investigation led by Mueller.

“Any suggestion — from any source — that the president counselled Michael Cohen to lie is categorically false. Michael Cohen is a convicted criminal and a liar,” Giuliani said in a statement quoted by New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman.

“Lying to reduce his jail time!” Trump said on Twitter of Cohen, who was convicted last year of fraud and perjury.

A plea deal 

No other media have confirmed BuzzFeed’s reporting.

It came two months after Cohen pleaded guilty in a New York court to making “false, fictitious and fraudulent” written testimony to the House and Senate intelligence committees in August 2017 in connection with the Moscow project.

A statement of the facts in his November 29 plea deal with Mueller’s prosecutors suggested that his testimony had been prepared in consultation with unnamed people in the White House.

Cohen had told the two committees that the Moscow project talks ended in January 2016, when in fact, as he later admitted, they went on at least six months longer, to June 2016 when Trump had already secured the Republican nomination for president.

Cohen had also testified that others in the campaign, including Trump, were not informed about the project.

But in the November plea deal, Cohen also admitted the project had been discussed with Trump — designated “Individual 1” in court documents — several times in early 2016.

“Cohen made the false statements to minimize links between the Moscow project and Individual 1… in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations,” prosecutors wrote.

Trump’s right-hand man 

Cohen was the president’s right-hand man for years at the Trump Organization, the umbrella company, often relied upon to quietly fix difficult problems and negotiate deals for the real estate mogul.

But he turned on his former boss after he was charged with giving hush money to women alleging affairs with Trump ahead of the 2016 election — payments that violated campaign finance laws.

Cohen, who has been sentenced to three years in jail, said Trump ordered him to make the payments, and now says he regrets his work for the president.

While Democrats could not confirm the BuzzFeed report, they said they were poised to further probe the allegations.

“Our committee is already working to secure additional witness testimony and documents related to the Trump Tower Moscow deal and other investigative matters,” said Intelligence Committee chairman Schiff.

AFP

France Demands ‘Exhaustive Investigation’ Into Khashoggi’s Case

If Africa Doesn’t Succeed, France And Europe Will Never Succeed – Macron
France President, Emmanuel Macron 

 

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Saturday demanded an “exhaustive and diligent investigation” into the death of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi who Riyadh now admits was killed inside its Istanbul consulate.

“Many questions remain… unanswered. They require an exhaustive and diligent investigation to establish exactly who was responsible and ensure that those guilty of the murder of Mr Jamal Khashoggi answer for their actions,” Le Drian said in a statement.

AFP

Judge Orders Jay-Z To Testify In Rocawear Brand Investigation

In this file photo taken on September 15, 2017, JAY-Z performs onstage during the Meadows Music And Arts Festival – Day 1 at Citi Field in New York City. PHOTO: Nicholas Hunt / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

 

A US judge has ordered hip-hop megastar Jay-Z to testify in an investigation into the sale of his Rocawear apparel brand after he repeatedly refused to show up for questioning.

US market regulators are investigating possible securities law violations by the Iconix Brand Group, which markets apparel brands including Joe Boxer and London Fog.

Iconix paid Jay-Z more than $200 million for Rocawear assets. But in March 2016, the company announced a $169 million write-down of Rocawear, followed by a $34 million write-down this March, the Securities and Exchange Commission said.

Paul Gardephe, a federal judge in Manhattan, signed a written order requiring Jay-Z, real name Shawn Carter, to appear for testimony on May 15 at 9:00 am at a mutually agreed location.

“The court expects the parties to proceed in good faith, and that all reasonable efforts will be made to complete respondent’s testimony in a single day,” Gardephe said in the written order, dated Tuesday.

The SEC asked a federal judge to intervene last week, saying the repeat Grammy winner should be compelled to testify in the investigation after he ignored subpoenas in November and again in February after he hired new lawyers.

In a statement issued through Jay-Z’s attorneys last week, a representative said the star “had no role” in Iconix’s actions as a public company, and was “a private citizen who should not be involved in this matter.”

The SEC says it is seeking Jay-Z’s testimony about his joint ventures with Iconix among other matters. There is no indication he has violated securities laws.

AFP

Italy Investigates Astori’s Death

FILE PHOTO Fiorentina’s Italian defender Davide Astori (C) fights for the ball with Napoli’s Argentinian forward Gonzalo Higuain during the Italian Serie A football match between Acf Fiorentina and Napoli at the Artemio Franchi stadium in Florence.
ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP

 

A judicial inquiry had been launched following the death of 31-year-old Italian footballer Davide Astori, whose autopsy is expected to be carried out later in the day.

Italy was in shock following the sudden death of the captain of Fiorentina who played for his country 14 times.

“We have opened a manslaughter investigation, against X for the moment,” Antonio de Nicolo, a magistrate in the northeastern city of Udine, told Rai radio, adding that such a procedure was “mandatory”.

He also said arrangements were in place to perform an autopsy, which according to Italian media, including Gazzetta dello Sport, will be done later on Monday.

Astori was found dead in a hotel room on Sunday in Udine, where his team was due to play Udinese in a Serie A match.

De Nicolo was quoted Sunday as saying Astori died of “natural causes” after a “cardiac circulatory collapse” — a type of heart attack.

All seven matches in Italy’s top flight on Sunday were postponed following the news of Astori’s death.

AFP

Russia Probes Church Shooting For ‘Extremist’ Links

Putin Orders Alternative Olympic Games For Banned Athletes
Russian President Vladimir Putin                                                                                                              Alexey NIKOLSKY / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

Russia is investigating whether the gunman behind a deadly attack on an Orthodox church in the North Caucasus had extremist ties, the Kremlin said Monday after Islamic State claimed the shooting.

“There is an investigation into whether the attacker was linked to extremist organisations,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists a day after five women were shot dead near an Orthodox church in Kizlyar, a town in the Dagestan region.

The attack was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group who referred to the gunman, who was shot dead by police, as “a soldier of Islam” in a post on the Telegram messaging app.

Peskov did not mention the IS explicitly, saying only “there are indeed several organisations, including those tied to international terrorism, who are continuing their destructive activities.”

The Investigative Committee said Sunday the assailant was a local resident born in 1995. It launched a murder probe but not an official terrorism investigation.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill condemned the attack, saying it aimed to sow discord between religious groups in the Caucasus.

The Mufti of Dagestan, the North Caucasus region’s official Muslim institution, also condemned the attack in a statement saying those who used “pseudo-Islam as cover (for violence) have nothing to do with Islam.”

The church in Kizlyar on Monday held a service in memory of the victims while all Orthodox churches in Dagestan boosted security.

“We must think of how to educate our youth, because the attacker was a very young person but already deeply confused in his views,” said Orthodox Archbishop Varlaam, a top-ranking cleric in the region who led the service.

“Clearly somebody used him, somebody who wants to sow discord between Orthodox and Muslim people,” he told the worshippers Monday.

Four people remained in hospital after Sunday’s attack, including two women in serious condition, the regional health ministry said.

 

AFP

Canadian Police Probes ‘Suspicious’ Deaths Of Rich Couple

Canadian couple, Barry and Honey

Toronto’s homicide unit has taken over an investigation into the “suspicious” deaths of Canadian pharmaceutical billionaire Barry Sherman and his wife Honey, police said Sunday after finding they died of strangulation.

“The cause of death for both deceased was ligature neck compression,” Toronto police said in a statement after post-mortem examinations of the bodies of the 75-year-old Apotex chairman and his 70-year-old wife.

“Toronto Police Service Homicide has taken the lead in this suspicious death investigation,” the police said, without further details.

At 11:44 am on Friday, officers responded to an emergency call at the couple’s home on Old Colony Road, in a tony neighborhood of Toronto.

Local media cited a police source as saying the Shermans’ bodies were found hanging from a railing around a basement pool, the theory being that the Apotex chairman killed his wife Honey, hung her body and then hanged himself by the pool’s edge.

But their family strongly refuted that version of the events.

“Our parents shared an enthusiasm for life and commitment to their family and community totally inconsistent with the rumors regrettably circulated in the media as to the circumstances surrounding their deaths,” the family said in a statement.

“We are shocked and think it’s irresponsible that police sources have reportedly advised the media of a theory which neither their family, their friends nor their colleagues believe to be true.”

They called for a “thorough, intensive and objective criminal investigation,” urging the media to refrain from reporting until the investigation is complete.

– Philanthropic legacy –
There were apparently no signs that the deaths were premeditated or that either of the Shermans was suffering from depression. The couple had planned to spend the year-end holidays with friends in Florida.

Linda Frum, a member of the Canadian Senate and friend of the couple, dismissed the idea that Barry Sherman could have harmed his wife.

“He adored her… He was a gentle, good man,” she was quoted as saying in The New York Times.

The newspaper reported that, despite their wealth, they flew economy class and their home was relatively modest, while Barry Sherman drove an old car.

Apotex, which Sherman founded in 1974, confirmed the deaths. Local media outlets reported that he was not seen at the company’s offices on Thursday.

The company made its name producing generic drugs, and grew to employ more than 11,000 people worldwide in an expansion that included legal battles with the world’s biggest brand-name drug makers.

According to Forbes, Sherman had an estimated worth of $3.2 billion (4 billion Canadian dollars) at the time of his death, and was the 12th-richest person in Canada.

Canadian media said the Shermans had recently put their home up for sale with a price of around 7 million Canadian dollars.

The deaths sparked an outpouring of sympathy from the country’s political elite, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who posted on Twitter that he was “saddened” by the news, noting the “vision and spirit” of the couple known for their philanthropy.

Apotex said they had made significant donations to universities, with their foundation giving more than 50 million Canadian dollars over the past decade.

AFP

France Arrests 10 Over Suspected Plot Targeting Politicians

 

Ten people were arrested in France on Tuesday over a suspected plot to target mosques and politicians, including a government spokesman, a source close to the investigation told AFP.

The arrests by anti-terror police of suspects aged 17-25 were part of an investigation into far-right activists, the source said.

The nine men and one woman are suspected of links to Logan Alexandre Nisin, a former militant of the far-right group Action Francaise Provence who was arrested in June, the source said.

Another source named the targeted politicians as government spokesman Christophe Castaner and radical left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon.

The suspects, taken into custody for “association with terrorist wrongdoers”, were also thought to be plotting to target migrants as well as mosques.

“They were only in the earliest planning stages,” one source said.

A 21-year-old former Action Francaise member was charged in July after making threatening posts on social networks against migrants and jihadists, the sources said.

Nisin was arrested near Marseille on June 28 after posting that he planned to attack blacks, jihadists, migrants and “scum”.

Local prosecutors took up the case initially before the anti-terror prosecutors took it over.

One of the probe sources said investigators had determined that Nisin, who possessed arms and practised shooting, had the intention of following through with his threats.

AFP

FCT Minister Promises Investigation Into Abuja Attacks

muhammed-belloThe Federal Capital Territory, (FCT), Minister, Muhammed Bello, has promised to commence thorough investigation into the attacks on two communities that led to the death of one person and kidnap of 10 others.

He made this known to pressmen after an emergency and security meeting with stakeholders of communities in his office in Abuja on Friday.

A 28-year-old man, Zakariyya Nuhu, was killed, while 10 persons were kidnapped, in the attacks on Darka and Huni-Gade communities on Sunday and Thursday, respectively.

Mr Bello called for calm over the recent attacks in the territory, with the assurance that security agencies were on top of the situation.

The Minister said that the FCT administration and the security agencies had been following the development in the communities and had put measures in place to tackle the problem headlong.

He advised the residents not to give any ethnic coloration to the attacks, stating that killing and kidnapping of the innocent residents were purely criminal and that the culprits would be treated as such.

He assured them that the administration and the security agencies had outlined ways of handling the unpleasant situation and that all those involved would surely be arrested and prosecuted.

He commiserated with the communities as well as the families of those affected in the unfortunate incidents after which he encouraged residents to go about their normal businesses.

To further allay their apprehension, he said security agencies had been deployed to all parts of the territory, especially the affected places, to ensure the security of lives and property.

Mr Bello urged residents to pass any useful information to relevant agencies nearest to them, as well as to traditional and community leaders.

NJC Bars Judges Under Probe From Sitting

Judges, NJC, NBA, investigationThe National Judicial Council (NJC) has barred judges who are under investigation for various offences from sitting until the cases against them are concluded.

This is according to a statement signed by its Acting Director, Information, Mr. Soji Oye, on Thursday.

The Council explained in the statement “that Judicial Officers shall not be standing trial for alleged corruption related offences and be performing judicial functions at the same time”.

The decision, taken at its 79th meeting, appears to be a U-turn from its earlier position on the alleged corruption case against the judges.

Some of the judges are those arrested few weeks ago by operatives of the DSS over allegation of corruption and misconduct.

The NJC had resisted the call for the affected judges to be suspended, saying “that position breaches the 2014 revised judicial discipline regulations formulated by NJC pursuant to section 160 of the 1999 constitution”.

Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) was one of the major groups demanding that the judges under investigation should proceed on compulsory leave until their innocence is fully and completely established or until the conclusion of all judicial or disciplinary proceedings.

But the NJC insisted that it shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or person while exercising its disciplinary power of control over judicial officers in the federation.

In addition to its latest decision, the NJC has also set up what it called a Transparency and Anti-Corruption Policy Implementation Committee.

This is based on Section 6 of the National Judicial Policy, which “aims at putting in place multifaceted strategies and guidelines that will ensure transparency and eliminate corruption in the Judiciary.

“It seeks, amongst other measures, to provide a platform and opportunity to citizens who profess factual and credible knowledge of information on the nature and modalities of corruption in the judicial system to ventilate such.”

The committee has as its chairman, Justice E. O. Ayoola, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court.

Members are the Chief Judge of Borno State, Justice Kashim Zannah, and the President of the Nigeria Bar Association, A. B. Mahmoud, SAN.