Friday, December 19, 2008

Nobel prize committees accused of bribery

Nobel Medals

Several Nobel science prize committees in Sweden are being investigated for possible bribery, a special corruption prosecutor told AFP on Thursday.

The first case involves several members from the prestigious Nobel committees for medicine, physics and chemistry who visited China at the expense of the Chinese authorities.

Special corruption prosecutor Nils Erik Schultz said he had launched a preliminary investigation.

He said he was looking into "the cost, who went on the trip, where they went, what position they held and I want to see their itinerary too."

In addition, he was examining "why the Chinese wanted to invite these people to China, was there the possibility they thought they could influence them in any way."

The investigation is not currently examining any people specifically, but looking into the trip itself to begin with, he said.

No Chinese citizen has won a Nobel Prize for the past three years.

The Medicine Prize is awarded by the Nobel committee at the Karolinska Institute, while the Physics and Chemistry prizes are awarded by separate committees at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

The second corruption case involves Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which earlier this year signed a sponsor agreement with two Nobel companies with close ties to the Nobel Foundation: Nobel Web and Nobel Media.

Half of this year's Nobel Medicine Prize went to Harald zur Hausen of Germany for his discovery of the human papilloma virus (HPV) that causes cervical cancer.

AstraZeneca receives royalties for the two available vaccines against HPV.

Schultz said he was gathering information on the case to determine whether the pharmaceutical company had any influence over the Medicine Prize committee's choice of this year's winners.

However, he has not yet decided to formally launch a preliminary investigation.

Each October, the winners of the Nobel prizes for medicine, physics, chemistry, economics and literature are announced in Stockholm while the winner of the Peace Prize is announced in Oslo.

The formal ceremonies take place on December 10.

© 2008 AFP

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Over 20 Iraq officials detained over conspiracy

By Aseel Kami and Waleed Ibrahim

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Twenty-three officers from Iraq's Interior Ministry have been arrested on suspicion of trying to rebuild former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's Baath party, a ministry spokesman said on Thursday.

Major-General Abdul Karim Khalaf said the officers were arrested under suspicion of being part of the al-Awda ("Return") party, seen as a new incarnation of the once omnipotent Baath party that was outlawed following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

"They are now being interrogated under the supervision of the Iraqi judiciary," Khalaf told Reuters. He said being a member of al-Awda was equivalent to being a Baath member.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that an elite counterterrorism force, reporting directly to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, arrested up to 35 officials, some of whom were accused of plotting a coup against the government.

Asked whether those arrested were suspected of plotting a coup, Khalaf repeated they were suspected of being members of the al-Awda party.

He said no special forces were involved in the arrest of the officials, who ranked as high as brigadier general.

Brigadier-General Alaa al-Taei, the ministry's head of public relations, said those arrested were not accused of plotting a coup, but instead were suspected of planning to burn down the ministry, possibly to destroy evidence against them.

The report of an alleged coup plot made instant ripples in Iraq, where leaders have come to power in military coups at least three times in less than a century of history as a nation.

Fears of a coup are partly fed by growing assertiveness from Maliki, a Shi'ite Arab politician who heads a fragile and often fractious coalition government including Sunni Arabs and Kurds.

Maliki has sought to consolidate his power as violence drops and the United States begins to narrow its role in Iraq and some rivals resent or are suspicious about his growing stature.

Political tension is sharpening ahead of local elections in January that will be a proving ground for rival factions.

U.S. officials say that Iraq's Interior Ministry is making strides in purging corrupt officials and militia members that once controlled the ministry, but note that politically motivated arrests still occur even within the ministry.


Being a member of the Baath party has been a politically charged issue since U.S. authorities made disbanding the party their first official act in Iraq in 2003.

Iraq has slowly reversed some of the deep purges of Baath party members, which decimated Iraqi bureaucracy, but the party is still prohibited.

A brigadier general at the Interior Ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, noted that charging people with being Baathists was the simplest way to remove them as a threat.

Both analysts and politicians cast doubt on whether a coup had truly been in the offing.

"A coup at this time would need to be done in full view of the Americans," Wafeeq al-Samarraie, former security adviser to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, told Al Jazeera television.

"There are obviously still people who are very disaffected by the current situation and the current regime, (but) I think it is very unlikely they would have any short-term plans to carry out a coup. There is no way they could succeed," said Joost Hiltermann, an analyst at the International Crisis Group.

The Times report cited a high-ranking Interior Ministry official as saying those affiliated with al-Awda had paid bribes to other officers to recruit them and that huge amounts of money had been found in the raids.

A third source within the Interior Ministry said the arrests were related to accusations of corruption, and said most of them were members of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, a rival Shi'ite member of Maliki's coalition government.

(Reporting by Joanne Allen in Washington and Aseel Kami and Wisam Mohammed in Baghdad; Writing by Missy Ryan and Joanne Allen; Editing by Michael Christie)

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Career Army Specialist sues Rumsfeld, Cheney, saying no evacuation order given on 9/11

Stephen C. Webster

A career Army specialist who survived the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, claims that no evacuation was ordered inside the Pentagon, despite flight controllers calling in warnings of approaching hijacked aircraft nearly 20 minutes before the building was struck.

According to a time-line of the attacks, the Federal Aviation Administration notified NORAD that American Airlines Flight 77 had been hijacked at 9:24 a.m. The Pentagon was not struck until 9:43 a.m.

On behalf of Spc. April Gallop, who served in the Network Infrastructure Services Agency as an administrative specialist, California attorney William Veale has filed a civil suit against former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and former US Air Force General Richard Myers, who was acting chairman of the joint chiefs on 9/11. It alleges they engaged in conspiracy to facilitate the terrorist attacks and purposefully failed to warn those inside the Pentagon, contributing to injuries she and her two-month-old son incurred.

"The ex-G.I. plaintiff alleges she has been denied government support since then, because she raised 'painful questions' about the inexplicable failure of military defenses at the Pentagon that day, and especially the failure of officials to warn and evacuate the occupants of the building when they knew the attack was imminent" said Veale in a media advisory.

Spc. Gallop also says she heard two loud explosions, and does not believe that a Boeing 757 hit the building. Her son sustained a serious brain injury, and Gallop herself was knocked unconscious after the roof collapsed onto her office.

The suit also named additional, unknown persons who had foreknowledge of the attacks.

"What they don't want is for this to go into discovery," said Gallop's attorney, Mr. Veale, speaking to RAW STORY. "If we can make it past their initial motion to dismiss these claims, and we get the power of subpoena, then we've got a real shot at getting to the bottom of this. We've got the law on our side."

The lawsuit's full text follows.

An earlier version of this story erroneously identified Spc. Gallop as an 'officer.'

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Opec agrees record oil output cut

Opec President Chakib Khelil says the cut will stabilise the price of oil

The oil producers' cartel Opec has agreed to make a record cut in output, slashing 2.2 million barrels per day (bpd) from its current supply.

Opec has made two other cuts since September, meaning it has cut a total of 4.2 million bpd in four months.

Despite the record cut, oil prices continued to fall as US data provided fresh evidence of falling demand.

US light, sweet crude for January fell as low as $39.94 a barrel, its first time been below $40 since July 2004.

The falls were blamed on US inventories figures, which showed that demand for petrol in the four weeks to 12 December was down 2.7% from the same period last year.

The price later recovered slightly to trade on the New York Mercantile Exchange at $40.31, which was down $3.29 from Tuesday's close.

Demand risks

Opec said that it hoped the record cut would boost prices but that it had no formal price target.

The cut means that the target for production for the 12 member states is now 24.845 million bpd.

The cut is effective from 1 January, but the big question with Opec production cuts is always whether the member states will actually make the cuts they have agreed to.

Graph of oil prices

"Given the still-substantial risks to demand and ongoing scepticism on Opec compliance, it could take some time before prices recover materially above $50 to $55 per barrel," said Gordon Gray from Collins Stewart.

Oil prices fell following the agreement, because weekly US inventories figures provided further evidence that motorists were cutting back on their consumption.

'Bigger problems'

There was some doubt among analysts about whether the cut would be enough to push prices higher, even if members did comply with it.

"Historically Opec has had to remove around five million barrels from the market in previous slumps, and they're facing bigger problems now than they have done before," said Michael Lewis, head of commodity research at Deutsche Bank.

Oil prices have fallen by more than $100 a barrel from the peak above $147 that they reached in July.

Prices have been falling amid concern that the recession will reduce demand for oil.

Falling consumption means that industrialised nations currently have stockpiles of oil equivalent to 57 days of consumption - supplies that would typically be about 52 days at this time of year.

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