House Democrats ask IRS for Trump’s tax returns BENJAMIN SIEGEL•House Democrats ask IRS for Trump’s tax returns House Democrats ask IRS for Trump’s tax returns originally appeared on abcnews.go.comHouse Democrats have sent their long-anticipated request for six years of President Donald Trump‘s tax returns to the Internal Revenue Service, the opening salvo in what could prove an explosive battle between Democrats and the Trump administration over the president’s personal finances that is expected to wind up in the courts.In a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., requested six years of Trump’s personal and business tax information from 2013-2018, including individual tax returns and returns from eight businesses linked to Trump. He also asked whether any of them are or have been under audit – and for all the information to be delivered to Capitol Hill within a week.”This request is about policy, not politics; my preparations were made on my own track and timeline, entirely independent of other activities in Congress and the Administration,” Neal said in a statement.PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks at an event focused on infrastructure at the Edgar Hoover Dike on Lake Okeechobee in Florida, March 29, 2019. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)Neal said that the decision to request the returns was in the interest of ensuring „the accountability of our government and elected officials. To maintain trust in our democracy, the American people must be assured that their government is operating properly, as laws intend.”Democrats have said they would use Trump’s tax returns to inform their investigations into allegations of corruption and wrongdoing in the administration and the president’s family business.(MORE: In pursuit of Trump’s tax returns, Democrats face legal, political hurdles)The IRS declined to comment.Speaking to reporters at the White House Wednesday, Trump signaled opposition to Democrats’ request.“Until such time until I’m not under audit I would not be inclined to do that,” he said.Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told lawmakers last month that the Treasury will “follow the law” and review any request. Trump, who has long considered any examination of his personal finances a red line for investigators, is expected to aggressively challenge Democrats’ request in court.Trump broke with modern precedent as a White House candidate in 2016 when he refused to release his returns, and has continued to do so while in office. Most presidents since Richard Nixon have voluntarily released their tax returns over the past 40 years, which is not required by law.(MORE: Treasury Secretary Mnuchin on turning over Trump’s tax returns: ‘We will follow the law’)Trump has said he continues to be under audit from the Internal Revenue Service, which the agency will not confirm or deny.Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow, who worked at the IRS shortly after law school, argued that Democrats would have to demonstrate a “legitimate legislative purpose” for obtaining the president’s returns, and predicted the request “probably gets litigated” in an interview with ABC News podcast “The Investigation.”(MORE: Trump lawyer talks potential presidential pardons, tax returns and NY probes)Democrats requested Trump’s personal tax returns under a 1924 provision of the tax code requiring the Treasury secretary to “furnish” any individual’s tax return information to the chairs of three congressional committees “upon written request.”Republicans have accused Democrats of weaponizing the tax code to target Trump, and said the move would set a dangerous precedent.House Democrats have unsuccessfully tried to pass a measure requiring presidential and vice presidential candidates to release ten years of personal tax returns as part of a larger government reform package, which has stalled in the Senate.Rep. Richard Neal Letter to… by on Scribd
Trump vows to close US-Mexico border despite admitting economy will sufferJim Tankersley, Ana Swanson•Trump vows to close US-Mexico border despite admitting economy will sufferPresident Donald Trump acknowledged on Tuesday that closing the southern border with Mexico could damage the United States economy, but said protecting America’s security was more important than trade.In remarks from the Oval Office, Trump reiterated his threat to shut the border if Mexico, America’s third largest trading partner, cannot restrict a flow of asylum-seekers trying to cross into the United States.
But the president’s economic team, concerned about the damage from such a move, said it was looking for ways to limit the fallout if Trump does do so.
“Sure, it’s going to have a negative impact on the economy,” Mr Trump said, adding, “but security is most important.”
“Security is more important to me than trade,” he said.
Republican lawmakers, economists and business groups largely disagree with that assessment and warned this week that closing the border could cripple the flow of goods and workers and devastate US car manufacturers and farmers, as well as other industries that depend on Mexico for sales and goods.
“Closing down the border would have a potentially catastrophic economic impact on our country,” Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said. “I would hope that we would not be doing that sort of thing.”
Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said that “a full shutdown of the US-Mexican border of more than several weeks would be the fodder for recessions in both Mexico and the US”.
Mr Trump’s economic advisers have briefed him on the potential financial damage from a border shutdown and started looking for ways to mitigate it, including possibly keeping certain trading avenues open.
Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, said in a brief interview on Tuesday that the Trump administration was trying to secure the border without harming the economy.
“The question is,” he said, “can we deal with that and not have any economic damage? I think the answer is we can. People are looking at different options.”
Mr Kudlow added that the administration was “looking for ways to allow the freight passage – some people call it truck roads”.
“There are ways you can do that, which would ameliorate the breakdown in supply chains,” he said.
But business leaders say there is no way to contain the damage from even a partial shutdown of the 2,000-mile border that the United States shares with Mexico.
Nearly $1.7 billion (£1.29 billion) of goods and services flow across the border daily, as well as nearly half a million legal workers, students, shoppers and tourists, the US Chamber of Commerce said on Monday.
On Tuesday, officials with the chamber called a partial border shutdown “uncharted territory” and said such a policy would have negative economic consequences, particularly for communities along the border.
“We don’t know whether that is feasible or not,” said Neil Bradley, the chamber’s executive vice president and chief policy officer.
Even if it is possible, a partial shutdown would still cause significant disruptions for industries that are highly integrated across the border, including automobiles, machinery and electronic equipment.
“The North American auto industry will be crippled” in a week, Kristin Dziczek, a vice president for the Centre for Automotive Research, an industry research group, said in a tweet.
Mr Trump’s pledge to close the border comes in response to what officials with the Department of Homeland Security say is an increase in migrant families who are flooding America’s immigration system, leading to overflowing detention centres and mass releases of migrants.
The president told reporters that if Mexico cannot restrict the flow of asylum-seekers trying to cross into the United States, and if Congress cannot agree to several immigration restrictions that Mr Trump has long pushed for, “the border is going to be closed”.
While 76,000 migrants crossed the border in February, that number is nowhere near the migration levels seen in the early 2000s. And a majority of the migrants crossing the border now are Central American families looking for asylum, as opposed to Mexican individuals looking for work.
Homeland security officials could quickly deport Mexican individuals seeking employment, but, by law, they cannot swiftly deport Central American families or unaccompanied children.
Homeland security officials have said they expect the number of crossings to surpass 100,000 this month.
And a senior department official said those travelling in and out of ports of entry were already feeling an effect: there was a three-hour wait at the port of entry in Brownsville, Texas, according to the official, and there were around 150 trucks backed up and waiting to cross at Otay Mesa, in California.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of Mr Trump’s external advisers, has urged the president to ease off the threat. On Tuesday, Mr Graham portrayed Trump’s latest broadside as less an eventuality and more a calculated bargaining position.
“You are taking a bad problem and, by closing the ports of entry, you are creating another problem,” he said.
“To the extent that he wants to redeploy resources to the points of entry to deal with the ungoverned spaces – that will create economic upheaval, but that will hopefully lead to a solution.”
Border activity makes up a relatively larger share of Mexico’s economy than the United States’, meaning Mexico would most likely have more economic damage from a border closing, Mr Zandi said.
But that does not mean the United States would be in a winning position.
Communities across the country would probably see supply chain disruptions, product shortages, seizures in stock and bond markets and a plunge in already-fragile business confidence, Zandi said.
The disruption would be especially sharp in the border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, which all have Mexico as their number one export market.
Any closure could have far-ranging implications for a wide range of industries – including automotive, electronics and apparel – that source small components and deliver their products on a just-in-time basis on both sides of the border.
It could also be devastating for the agriculture industry.
Since the North American Free Trade Agreement began in 1994, US farmers have moved towards specialising in corn, soybeans, chicken, dairy, pork and beef to supply to Mexico, while Mexican farmers have specialised in fresh fruits and vegetables to send to the United States.
Any delays in deliveries of these products could lead to near immediate price hikes and empty supermarket shelves, which would hit low-income Mexicans and Americans the hardest.
(Bloomberg) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is maintaining a friendly tone toward China, even after defense officials raised concerns over an increased Chinese presence around a disputed island in the South China Sea.
China isn’t after Philippine territory and hasn’t asked for anything in exchange for the weapons and aid it’s given the Philippines, Duterte said in a campaign speech in Manila late Tuesday.
“You know, Red China or Communist China just wants to be friends with us,” Duterte said. He added that he wouldn’t confront China over the two countries’ competing territorial claims in the South China Sea because it would result in war.
Read more: Chinese Ships Near Disputed Island Prompts Philippine Protest
More than 200 Chinese ships have been spotted near the Philippine-occupied Thitu Island in the South China Sea since the start of the year, triggering a diplomatic protest from the Philippines.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier this week voiced alarm over China’s actions in the sea, describing Beijing’s island-building activity in waters claimed by Manila as “very concerning” after meeting with acting U.S. counterpart Patrick Shanahan at the Pentagon, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.
Diplomats from the Philippines and China held their regular biannual meeting in Manila, where they raised recent issues on the South China Sea, according to a joint statement issued Wednesday.
Both nations reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting regional peace and stability as well as freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea. They also committed to address disputes and discuss oil and gas development, the statement read.
(Updates with statement on China-Philippines meeting in sixth paragraph.)
To contact the reporter on this story: Andreo Calonzo in Manila at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Cecilia Yap at firstname.lastname@example.org, Karen Leigh
For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com
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The British pound rose against the dollar Wednesday after Prime Minister Theresa May offered cross-party talks with the leader of the opposition Labour Party in a political gamble aimed at resolving the Brexit impasse.
Sterling won a boost after Conservative leader May declared late Tuesday that she would look for another Brexit delay and softened her position to try and avert a messy no-deal divorce from the European Union next week.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has consistently called for Britain to remain in a customs union with the bloc, while the government has so far ruled this out saying Britain should have an independent trade policy after Brexit.
„The announcement was win-win for the pound,” Oanda analyst Craig Erlam told AFP.
„Not only did May re-affirm her opposition to no deal, she’s technically opened the door to a softer Brexit. I say technically because a lot now has to happen for that to be delivered, including the Conservatives and Labour working together towards an uncharacteristic compromise.”
However, he added: „If this fails, I struggle to see how she recovers; it very much feels like a last-ditch, desperate gamble.”
– ‘Last throw of dice’ –
AxiTrader analyst James Hughes meanwhile questioned why May had waited this long to hold discussions with Corbyn.
„This feels very much like the last throw of the dice, with the argument being that cross-party talks should have been the first throw of the dice,” Hughes told AFP.
„The deadlock, political infighting and MPs’ inability to make a decision has led to both the process and the country to a certain degree becoming a laughing stock.
„Continuous votes on outcomes that the majority know will be rejected by the EU anyway are wasting time, and it’s only now that we are taking the prospect of no deal seriously enough.”
However, sterling’s gains were capped Wednesday by a gloomy survey showing that Britain’s vital services sector shrank in March for the first time in almost three years, with activity slammed by Brexit turmoil and flat economic growth.
– ‘Glass-is-half-full mentality’ –
Trading on Wall Street opened higher on Wednesday, despite new data showing that hiring in the US private sector slowed for the second month in a row in March — hitting its slowest pace in 18 months.
The monthly data from payrolls firm ADP comes two days before a more closely watched government report on employment.
„Businesses are hiring cautiously as the economy is struggling with fading fiscal stimulus, the trade uncertainty, and the lagged impact of Fed tightening,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, which jointly produces the report.
Meanwhile, European and Asian stock markets advanced Wednesday as a report said China and the US were closing in on a deal to end their long-running trade row.
Frankfurt’s DAX 30 index in particular charged forward, up more than 1.3 percent on the day in afternoon trading after investor optimism was given an extra boost by a report in the Financial Times saying Beijing and Washington were on course for a historic agreement.
Expectations that the world’s top two economies will eventually sign a deal has been a key driver of a global equities rally this year, and the FT article adds to the general sense of hope.
„Clearly, the stock market continues to look at those negotiations with a glass-is-half-full mentality,” said Briefing.com analyst Patrick O’Hare.
– Key figures around 1335 GMT –
Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3149 from $1.3128 at 2100 GMT on Tuesday
Euro/pound: UP at 85.43 pence from 85.31 pence
Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1232 from $1.1204
Dollar/yen: UP at 111.43 yen from 111.32 yen
London – FTSE 100: UP 0.2 at 7,403.97 points
Frankfurt – DAX 30: UP 1.3 percent at 11,907.45
Paris – CAC 40: UP 0.6 percent at 5,455.46
EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.9 percent at 3,425.75
Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 1.0 percent at 21,713.21 (close)
Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 1.2 percent at 29,986.39 (close)
Shanghai – Composite: UP 1.2 percent at 3,216.30 (close)
New York – Dow: UP 0.1 percent at 26,215.70
Oil – Brent Crude: UP nine cents at $69.48 per barrel
Oil – West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 12 cents at $62.46
People walk past by AK Party billboards with pictures of Turkish President Erdogan and mayoral candidate Yildirim in Istanbul
By Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu
ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s main opposition candidate in Istanbul urged the High Election Board (YSK) on Wednesday to confirm him as the elected mayor after it ruled in favour of a partial recount of votes in 18 of the city’s 39 districts.
Initial results from Sunday’s mayoral elections showed the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) had narrowly won control of Turkey’s two biggest cities, Istanbul and Ankara, in a shock upset for President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party.
If those results are confirmed in the coming days, the CHP will gain control of municipal budgets with an estimated total value of 32.6 billion liras ($5.79 billion) for 2019 in Istanbul, Turkey’s commercial hub, and the capital Ankara.
Erdogan – who campaigned hard for the AKP ahead of the vote – would likely lose some oversight for local contracts in the two cities, possibly complicating his efforts to drag the Turkish economy out of recession.
However the AKP submitted objections to election results in all districts of Istanbul and Ankara, saying the results had been impacted by invalid votes and voting irregularities.
In Istanbul, CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu, and his AKP rival, ex-prime minister Binali Yildirim, both said on Monday that Imamoglu was about 25,000 votes ahead, a relatively slim margin in a city of some 15 million people.
The chairman of the Election Board (YSK), Sadi Guven, said on Wednesday it had ruled that the recount of what had been marked as invalid votes should go ahead in eight Istanbul districts, some of them AKP strongholds, but added that appeals were still underway.
The state-run Anadolu news agency later said the YSK decided to recount invalid votes in 15 districts and all votes in three other districts as a result of the appeals. The AKP had said previously there were more than 300,000 invalid votes.
Six of the 18 districts being recounted were initially won by the CHP, one by the nationalist MHP, and the rest by the AKP, according to Anadolu.
Imamoglu called on the YSK to „do its job” and name him mayor, accusing the AKP of disrespecting the people of Istanbul.
„We want justice. We demand our mandate from the YSK, which has given the numbers, as the elected mayor of this city… The world is watching us,” he told reporters.
After Imamoglu spoke, the hashtag #MazbatamiziVerin (Give our Mandate) was the top trending topic on Twitter in Turkey.
AKP Deputy Chairman Ali Ihsan Yavuz said his party was not doing anything illegal and added that the vote difference between Imamoglu and Yildirim had fallen to below 20,000 votes.
„We believe the reality will emerge tonight and we will all accept the results,” Yavuz told reporters.
LOCAL PURSE STRINGS
Pro-government newspapers on Wednesday said there had been a conspiracy against Turkey in the local elections, with the Star newspaper likening this to an attempted military coup in 2016 and nationwide protests in 2013.
Yeni Safak newspaper editor Ibrahim Karagul called for a second vote after what he termed a „coup via elections”, adding without providing evidence that supporters of the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen – blamed by Ankara for the 2016 coup attempt – were involved.
In Ankara, opposition candidate Mansur Yavas received 50.9 percent of votes on Sunday, nearly 4 percentage points ahead of his AKP rival. Recounts were planned in 11 Ankara districts due to AKP appeals, Anadolu said.
In some 100 rallies during his election campaign, Erdogan had described the opposition alliance as terrorist supporters linked to Gulen’s network and Kurdish militants.
Erdogan’s political success has rested on years of stellar economic growth in Turkey, but a recession that has brought surging inflation and unemployment and a plunging lira have taken their toll on the president’s popularity.
While Erdogan’s ruling alliance won a nationwide majority of just under 52 percent of all votes, losing Ankara and Istanbul – where he started his political life – would significantly dent his dominance.
„It is by controlling the municipality that you keep your support happy because it is at the municipal level that you give away lots of things to your core base,” said Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo political risk advisers.
While official results have not yet been announced, Erdogan has said his alliance had won the majority of municipal councils across Istanbul and Ankara. The AKP has said this was a sign of irregularity in the vote count.
Uncertainty generated by the local elections has added to volatility in the Turkish lira, which sold off sharply nearly two weeks ago, reflecting waning confidence among both Turks and international investors.
The lira was flat on Wednesday but slipped 2 percent on Tuesday after relations with Washington soured following a U.S. decision to halt delivery to Turkey of equipment related to the F-35 fighter aircraft.
Adding to investor concerns over fraying diplomatic ties and possible U.S. sanctions over the F-35 aircraft and missile defence, the U.S. State Department urged Ankara to respect the „legitimate election results.”
Ankara responded by warning against foreign interference and „any steps that may be construed as meddling in Turkey’s internal affairs.”
(Additional reporting by Can Sezer, Daren Butler, Ali Kucukgocmen, and Dominic Evans in Istanbul; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Gareth Jones)
President Andrej Kiska said he wanted to ‘unite decent and willing people’ in a new party
Bratislava (AFP) – Slovakia’s outgoing president Andrej Kiska announced plans Wednesday to launch a new political party once his term ends in June, in an apparent bid to challenge the country’s populist government.
The move comes days after anti-corruption campaigner Zuzana Caputova, a fellow liberal and vocal government critic, won the weekend’s elections to become Slovakia’s first female president.
Kiska, whose progressive values are at odds with the populist government, backed the presidential campaign of Caputova, a liberal community lawyer and political novice.
„We’ve won these elections,” Kiska said in a video posted on his Facebook page Wednesday. „We have to win the parliamentary elections as well.
„That’s why I’m going to set up a political party,” said Kiska, a self-made millionaire who earned his fortune in the US before taking office in 2014.
„I want to unite decent and willing people and change our country for the better,” added Kiska, who a recent poll rated as Slovakia’s most popular politician.
In the March 30 presidential run-off, Caputova won 58.4 percent of the vote, beating the government-backed contender, EU commissioner Maros Sefcovic, who scored 41.6 percent.
Kiska refused to disclose further details about his new party before mid-June, insisting that he must remain non-partisan until the end of his term.
Like Caputova, Kiska owed his own presidential victory to his image as an untainted political newcomer able to capitalise on voter dissatisfaction over perceived corruption in government.
– ‘Voter volatility’ –
Despite Kiska’s personal popularity however, analysts in Bratislava were cautious Wednesday about the his new party’s prospects.
„Given the relatively high volatility of the Slovak voters, it’s hard to foresee the effect of this new party on preferences,” political analyst Aneta Vilagi told AFP.
Robert Fico, a former prime minister and leader of the governing Smer-SD, ranks as Slovakia’s least trusted politician.
He has often clashed with Kiska, most recently in the political crisis triggered by the February 2018 murder of Jan Kuciak, an investigative journalist probing high-level corruption in this eurozone country of 5.4 million people.
Kuciak was gunned down as he was about to publish an explosive report on alleged contacts between top Slovak politicians and Italy’s notorious ‘Ndrangheta mafia.
Weekly mass protests triggered by his murder brought down Fico’s government in March 2018.
But the new government retains most members of Fico’s previous administration and, as party leader, he is widely seen as still pulling the strings.
Although Smer-SD, winner of the 2016 general election, has reached historic lows in popularity of around 20 percent in various polls, it remains Slovakia’s most popular party.
Behind it is a coalition of centrist non-parliamentary parties including Progressive Slovakia, which Caputova left before the presidential run-off.
Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) – Hamas leader Ismail Haniya said Tuesday the rocket from Gaza that hit a house in Israel last week launched due to a technical error, his first official statement on the strike.
The rocket that was fired from the Gaza Strip on March 25 destroyed a house north of Tel Aviv and injured seven Israelis.
Israel responded by striking a series of Hamas targets in the Palestinian enclave, including flattening Haniya’s office, before Egypt brokered a ceasefire that prevented a full conflict.
In his comments on Tuesday, Haniya said the rocket was „due to a technical defect, but was a mini demonstration if (Israel) thought to commit folly against the Palestinian people.”
The statement from his office said he made the remarks during a meeting with political analysts.
He did not provide further details on what type of technical defect could have caused the launch.
Previously only unnamed officials from Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza, have said the rocket was fired due to a technical error.
Following the latest ceasefire, Hamas said Egypt had brokered a truce that would see Israel ease its crippling blockade of the enclave in exchange for calm.
Israel has not publicly commented on the reported agreement.
On Monday, Israel expanded the fishing zone around Gaza, increasing it in one area to the largest distance in years, in what Hamas officials said was the first step.
An Egyptian security delegation visited Gaza late Monday and met with Hamas.
Haniya said the delegation brought a timetable from the Israeli side for implementing the agreements.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the middle of a gruelling election campaign and faces a strong challenge from centrist former military chief Benny Gantz.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.
BEIRUT (AP) — Venezuela’s foreign minister, meeting with anti-U.S. allies in the Middle East, said Wednesday that opposition leader Juan Guaidó is in breach of the constitution and that the judiciary has to „take care” of it.
Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly, loyal to President Nicolas Maduro, has stripped Guaidó of his immunity, putting him at risk of arrest for supposedly violating the constitution when he declared himself interim president in January.
„He is in breach of most part of the constitution, so the judiciary has to take care of those who violated the Venezuelan law,” Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told reporters in Beirut.
The United States and roughly 50 other nations recognize Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim leader, asserting that Maduro’s re-election last year was illegitimate.
Arreaza met with Lebanon’s president and foreign minister in Beirut. He is expected to meet with an official from the Hezbollah militant group before traveling onward to Syria.
Maduro’s government has warm relations with Syria and its allies in Lebanon, all of which are opposed to U.S. policies.
Russia, a major backer of Syria, and China, which has invested heavily in Venezuela’s oil industry, back Maduro.
Last weekend, a Russian aircraft carrying military officials and equipment arrived in Caracas and is believed to have flown via Syria, according to Flightradar24, a flight-tracking site. Russian officials have scoffed at U.S. demands to withdraw military personnel, saying their presence in Venezuela is fully legitimate.
In December, Russia sent two Tu-160 strategic bombers to Venezuela for several days in a demonstration of support for Maduro, who has rejected demands from the United States and dozens of other countries that he resign.
„We have had cooperation, military and technical cooperation with Russia for almost 17 years, and it’s just developing as it should,” Arreaza said. „The only interference we have had for 20 years, every day of every week of every month of every year, is from the United States.”
The New York Times
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union launched legal action against Poland on Wednesday that alleges recent justice laws undermine the independence of the country’s judges and comes amid concern the rule of law is being increasingly abused around the bloc.
The EU’s executive commission sent a letter of formal notice — the first step in legal action — to the nationalist government in Warsaw and wants a reply addressing its concerns within two months.
Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said disciplinary measures for judges contained in a 2017 law on the Supreme Court of Poland seem designed „to systematically subject judges to the political control of the executive.”
Timmermans said investigations that were opened since the rule change have „an obvious, chilling effect on the activities of judges, and this is incompatible with the requirements of judicial independence.”
He said the letter gives Poland a chance to explain or change its mind about the laws.
Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court established under the 2017 law is necessary to ensure the justice system applies in „equal measure to all citizens,” including judges accused of wrongdoing.
As evidence of the problem the chamber is meant to address, Ziobro cited a case in which the Supreme Court acquitted a judge who had been seen on CCTV appropriating a 50 zloty ($13) banknote.
Poland’s government argues that the deep changes it has made to the judiciary were needed to eliminate corruption and inefficiency left over from the country’s communist era. Critics say the government has used it to install ruling party loyalists in key positions.
The EU’s move was the latest in a series of procedures launched against Poland that the commission insists is meant to safeguard the rule of law there. The commission has also launched similar action against Hungary.
Timmermans said Brussels believes it is time for a broader reflection on what can be done to protect democracy, personal freedoms and the justice systems of some EU member countries.
„There is a growing consensus that further action to protect the rule of law into the whole of the European Union is needed,” he told reporters. Asked whether he is worried about the rule of law in Italy, Timmermans said: „I do not see at this stage a systemic problem.”
But he did express concerns about possible back-sliding on reform in Romania, particularly in the fight against corruption.
„I want to warn against any government action that would disrupt the Romanian judicial system by creating a systemic, de-facto impunity for high office holders who were sentenced for corruption,” he said. „Such a move would compel the commission to act swiftly.”
Wednesday’s legal action and warnings have been announced in the run-up to the May 23-26 EU elections. Timmermans is running as a candidate to take over from Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the commission.
Monika Scislowska contributed from Warsaw.
Bucharest (AFP) – Romania’s High Court on Wednesday revoked special measures introduced against magistrate Laura Codruta Kovesi, a hot favourite to become EU’s first-ever top prosecutor, who last week was indicted on corruption charges.
„My appeal was admitted. I can now leave Romania”, Kovesi told reporters after the court’s decision overturning special judicial measures, including a ban on leaving the country without prosecutors’ consent.
The measures had been imposed for 60 days by a new panel charged with investigating magistrates, which last week indicted Kovesi on counts of bribery, abuse of office and false testimony.
As well as the travel ban, during this time she would have been prevented from working in her current post at the General Prosecutor’s office.
The travel restrictions would have prevented her from taking part in further stages of the application process for the EU prosecutor post, if she were required to attend in person.
„There are some other prosecutors attacked on a daily basis. We’re all going through these campaigns because there are some who want to steal undisturbed and we are not letting them”, Kovesi said on Wednesday, before the decision on her appeal was announced.
„We have nothing to be afraid of. It will be proven that all these accusations against us, prosecutors and judges, are groundless”, she added.
Kovesi became a household name as head of Romania’s National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA), which she led from 2013 to 2018 before being controversially removed at the government’s behest.
Kovesi has been backed by the European Parliament for the position and on Wednesday her candidacy was praised by Frans Timmermans, first vice-president of the European Commission.
„She is a very good prosecutor, a top quality prosecutor and I admire her for her courage,” Timmermans said.
During Kovesi’s time as head of the DNA, hundreds of elected officials were convicted of corruption offences, earning her the enmity of many in Romania’s political class and criticism that she had overstepped her mandate.
Many Romanians retain a positive view of her as a champion in the fight to rid the country of endemic corruption.
The government has repeatedly clashed with the EU over the ruling Social Democratic Party’s proposed judicial reforms, which the EU Commission believes will hamper the fight against corruption.
The rows have overshadowed Romania’s first-ever term as president of the European Union, with the government in Bucharest also making clear its opposition to Kovesi taking the new job in Brussels.
By Marianna Parraga
(Reuters) – Venezuela’s state-run energy company, PDVSA, kept oil exports near 1 million barrels per day in March despite U.S. sanctions and ongoing power outages that crippled its main export terminal, according to PDVSA documents and Refinitiv Eikon data.
The OPEC member stabilized exports in March after shipments fell about 40 percent in February from the month before, in the immediate aftermath of the United States announcing it would impose sanctions on oil sales to choke off main source of revenue for the government of socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
The United States and many Western governments have recognised Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s rightful leader, after Maduro won an election last year that was widely considered a sham.
March’s exports of 980,355 barrels per day (bpd) of crude and fuel were only slightly less than February’s shipments of 990,215 bpd, according to the documents seen by Reuters and the Refinitiv Eikon data.
U.S. restrictions on Venezuelan exports will tighten further in May, when the grace period for winding down purchases expires for importers of Venezuelan oil who use U.S. subsidiaries or the U.S. financial system for transactions.
U.S. President Donald Trump is considering imposition of sanctions on companies from other countries that do business with Venezuela, White House national security adviser John Bolton told Reuters TV on Friday.
Most oil shipments in February and March were destined for Asia. Until the sanctions, the United States was Venezuela’s largest crude buyer.
„Given the new set of challenges that landed on PDVSA’s lap, we were surprised to see a rebound in exports amid the nationwide power blackouts,” said Samir Madani, co-founder of TankerTrackers.com, a service that tracks oil shipments and storage.
Exports dipped below 650,000 bpd during the blackouts, TankerTrackers estimates.
Two massive power outages in March caused Jose port, the country’s largest crude terminal, to shut for at least six full days, according to the Eikon data.
PDVSA was able, however, to offset delays caused by blackouts by loading larger vessels bound for Asia. Shipping data shows the company plans to do the same again in April.
Cargoes sent to India, China and Singapore – a hub for storage and re-exports – made up 74 percent of total exports in March, compared with almost 70 percent in February.
Exports to Europe accounted for 17 percent of the total, versus 22 percent the previous month.
PDVSA also continued exporting oil to Maduro’s ally Cuba. At least seven small cargoes were sent from its ports in March, totalling 65,520 bpd of crude and fuel, according to the data.
Guaido last month said shipments to Cuba should be halted. But PDVSA, controlled by a military leadership loyal to Maduro, has continued exports to the island.
The state-run company did not respond to a request for comment.
Venezuela’s oil production once surpassed 3 million bpd, but years of mismanagement and corruption caused that output to dwindle to barely 1 million bpd. The reduction in oil revenue has led the once-prosperous nation of 30 million into years of recession and created conditions that led to hyperinflation. Millions have fled the country and many who remained cannot afford food or basic goods.
Sanctions have made it difficult for PDVSA to take payment for its exports, said a PDVSA source, who did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation.
„The largest problem is not to load and ship the vessels,” the source said, declining to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter. „It is to get paid.”
INDIA REMAINS TOP DESTINATION
India was once again Venezuela’s main destination for exports in March with a third of total cargoes sent to refineries operated by Reliance Industries and Nayara Energy.
U.S. imports of Venezuelan oil have dropped to zero since mid-March due to sanctions, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The largest individual recipient of Venezuelan barrels last month was China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) and its subsidiaries with some 234,000 bpd, followed by Russia’s Rosneft, which received 214,000 bpd, according to the data. New customers including trading firms Sahara Energy and MS International also received access to Venezuelan crude.
Rosneft has increased its share of Venezuelan oil shipments since sanctions mainly for reselling to refiners. Venezuela’s oil minister, Manuel Quevedo, last month travelled to Moscow to negotiate larger sales of Venezuelan oil to Russian companies.
The Russian company has also boosted fuel supplies to Venezuela, according to the data. Venezuela imported 184,500 bpd of fuel last month, with the largest portion provided by Rosneft, followed by cargoes sent by Reliance and Spain’s Repsol.
Following U.S. pressure, Reliance turned to selling fuel to Venezuela from India and Europe to circumvent sanctions. Repsol in March swapped gasoline and other fuel for Venezuelan crude as part of an agreement to collect on dividends owed it by PDVSA.
(Reporting by Marianna Parraga; Editing by David Gaffen, Simon Webb and Steve Orlofsky)