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Actress once kidnapped to Pyongyang dies at 91

SEOUL — A South Korean actress who was once kidnapped by the North’s agents on the orders of leader Kim Jong-un’s late father and forced to make movies for the regime has died aged 91, her family said.

Choi Eun-hee was the South’s most famous actress for decades before being brazenly abducted by North Korean spies in Hong Kong in 1978 at the request of the North’s then leader-in-waiting Kim Jong-il, an avid film fan.

During her visit to Hong Kong to meet a potential investor in her arts school, she was reportedly lured onto a boat by her guide before being transferred against her will to a cargo ship destined for North Korea.

Her husband Shin Sang-ok, a top director, was taken to the North soon after, although circumstances over his alleged abduction remain unclear.

Choi remained trapped in the North for eight years, where the two made more than 10 films together under the instruction of Kim Jong-il.

In a 2011 interview, Choi said Kim “respected us as artists and fully supported us”, but that she could never forgive him for the “outrageous and unforgivable” kidnapping.

They were allowed to make “films with artistic values, instead of just propaganda films extolling the regime”, Choi said, but always longed for their freedom.

During their ordeal, the couple travelled overseas extensively for movie production missions and to attend film festivals — always under heavy surveillance by the North’s agents.

Choi even won the best actress award at the Moscow International Film Festival in 1985 for her role in Salt — a film about Korean guerillas fighting against the 1910-45 Japanese colonial rule.

The couple — who had divorced in 1976, before their abductions — remarried during a trip to Hungary at Kim’s urging.

But they finally staged a daring escape to the US embassy in Vienna after attending the Berlinale film festival in 1986, and sought asylum in the US due to fear for their personal security.

The couple returned to the South in 1999 after spending more than a decade in the US. They remained married until Shin’s death in 2006.

Their dramatic life inspired several books and movies.

Choi, who made her cinematic debut in 1942, had risen to stardom in the wake of the 1950-53 Korean War that sealed the division between the communist North and the capitalist South.

She was called the “queen” of South Korean cinema from the 1950s to the 1970s while appearing in more than 100 movies — many made by Shin.

North Korea abducted hundreds of South Koreans under a state-sanctioned policy in the decades following the Korean War.

Choi’s funeral will be held in Seoul tomorrow. — AFP

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S’pore MP attacked at meeting with people

SINGAPORE — Singapore MP Tan Wu Meng was attacked by a young man during his regular meet-the-people session (MPS) on Monday night, but managed to escape with light injuries on his arm and neck.

Confirming the incident, which was first reported by Channel NewsAsia, Tan said the assailant was not a familiar figure at his MPS, but records showed the man had sought his help for a case last year.

The Jurong Group Representation Constituency (GRC) MP declined to discuss the case, citing confidentiality reasons.

Tan added in a Facebook post yesterday: “The young man who attacked me had given a preliminary indication about his troubles during registration, and had brought some documentation about the problems he faced. I wrote an appeal for him last night, too.

“Police are investigating. But whatever the outcome under the law, I hope he can get back on track and will try to help him do so.”

The last such incident that came to light publicly was in 2009, when a disgruntled resident poured thinner on then-Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Seng Han Thong and set him on fire. Seng survived the attack but required skin grafts. He has since retired from politics.

Recounting Monday’s incident, Tan said the attack took place at about 10pm at Block 334 Clementi Avenue 2, where he holds his MPS.

The man rushed into an interview room where Tan was speaking with another resident, and started hitting the MP with his fists.

Tan said he fell to the floor and tried to shield his face. The attack left bruises on his arm and abrasions on his neck.

“I didn’t see him coming,” Tan said. “At first I didn’t know what was happening but my first instinct was (to ensure) the safety of the other residents and volunteers.”

Several people managed to restrain the assailant, who was later led away by the police.

Tan said he was keen to finish seeing the other residents waiting to see him, but was advised to go to the National University Hospital for a check-up.

He said he returned to his Clementi MPS venue at about midnight to finish writing some appeal letters, as the doctors had told him his injuries were minor.

Commenting on the incident, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said it was, while unfortunate, “completely unacceptable”.

“But as Wu Meng says, we will find a way to help this young man get back in life eventually,” added Shanmugaratnam, anchor-minister for Jurong GRC.

“I know Wu Meng puts much personal effort into every individual case, every resident who needs support. He will not be deterred.”
— Today

Tutor guilty of exam cheating plot

SINGAPORE — A private tutor here has been convicted over an elaborate scheme to help Chinese secondary school students cheat in an examination using mobile phones and wireless devices, prosecutors said yesterday.

Tan Jia Yan, 32, pleaded guilty on Monday to her part in the plot in which answers to O-Level examinations were relayed to at least six students via mobile phones concealed under their clothing and connected wirelessly to skin-coloured earpieces, they said.

Tan, who will be sentenced next month, faces a jail term of up to three years and a fine.

Academic excellence is highly valued in Singapore which often tops international education rankings, although the system has been criticised for putting children under too much pressure at a young age.

The Chinese nationals who took the exams in October 2016 were students at a tuition centre where Tan was a teacher.

Students in the city-state often go for extra tuition in order to have better chances of passing key exams such as O-Levels, which determine if they can qualify for junior college, a direct path to university.

Details of the case provided by the Attorney General’s Chambers said Tan conspired with three accomplices to cheat the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board.

On the test days, the students were made to conceal mobile phones and Bluetooth devices under their clothing and wear an earpiece, according to the prosecutors.

Tan, who was also among those taking the exams, had an iPhone taped on her chest area and she concealed the device by wearing a jacket.

Once the tests started, Tan used the iPhone’s video chat app FaceTime to connect with her three accomplices and provided a “live feed of the exam papers” she was answering, according to the prosecutors.

The accomplices — who have pleaded not guilty — would find the answers to the questions and call the students individually to relay the answers.

“Investigations revealed the cheating ran uninterrupted from 19 Oct until 24 Oct, 2016,” the prosecutors said.

The cheating was exposed on the final day when one of the students was caught after an invigilator heard “unusual electronic transmission sounds emitting from him,” they said. — AFP

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Driverless shuttle service for university by 2019

SINGAPORE — By the end of next year, the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) will have an autonomous shuttle service serving the entire campus.

The fully automated Group Rapid Transit (GRT) will operate a minibus service route that connects the halls of residences with the main academic areas, and targeted to serve 200 to 300 passengers daily.

The service, which is currently on trial, is expected to be tested further in phases from the last quarter of this year.

NTU made the announcement jointly with transport operator SMRT and Netherlands-based automated-vehicles company 2getthere on Monday, when they signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

The MoU paves the way for the GRT minibuses, developed by the Dutch company, to be “integrated into NTU’s transport network”, the three parties said in a statement. The buses will run alongside other autonomous vehicles that have already been undergoing tests on campus since 2012.

Each bus on the bi-directional route uses magnetic pellets embedded in the road for navigation, has a range of sensors onboard to prevent collision, and can ferry 24 passengers with seating space for eight.

During a demonstration to the press on Monday, the vehicle slowed to a crawl whenever it sensed there was someone on the road near it, or came to a complete halt if there was an obstacle ahead.

For the test runs, as an added safety precaution, each of the fully electric bus will have an engineer onboard to take control of the vehicles should the need arises.

While the minibus has a maximum cruising speed of 60kph, it will travel at about 10kph during the trial period.

The vehicles were introduced to NTU last September as part of a “mobility-as-a-service” test-bed, which is a collaboration between NTU, SMRT and industrial property developer JTC. The project aims to integrate multiple modes of transport, including shuttle buses, bike-sharing systems, e-scooters and e-bikes, and the autonomous GRT into a single mobility platform called “Jalan-jalan”.

NTU’s president Subra Suresh said the university is “no stranger” to research and development projects, and the “entire campus is a hotbed for research innovations with multiple ongoing projects being tested.”
— Today

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‘Sex coaches’ plead for US help at hearing

PATTAYA — A Belarusian model and Russian “sex coach” pleaded for US help as they arrived for a court hearing yesterday, in a case that has grabbed widespread attention after the model claimed to have revelations about alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US election.

Anastasia Vashukevich, known by her pen name Nastya Rybka, and self-styled sex guru Alexander Kirillov have been detained since they and eight other foreigners were arrested in February by Thai police who raided their “sex training course” in the seaside city of Pattaya.

They were initially charged with lacking a work permit but are now facing additional charges of soliciting prostitution and criminal association, according to Apichai Krobpetch, Pattaya’s police chief.

The pair, who are embroiled in a political scandal back in Russia, made international headlines after Vashukevich offered to reveal secrets to American journalists in a video posted on Instagram shortly after their arrest in Pattaya.

“They are trying to put us behind bars… That is why I am ready to tell you about all those missing puzzle pieces that you lacked … regarding a link between our esteemed lawmakers and (Paul) Manafort, Trump and all this brouhaha, the US elections,” she said in the video.

The model, who has written a book about seducing oligarchs, has not substantiated her claims but does have links to Russia’s elite.

She and Kirillov are facing a lawsuit in Russia over footage which Vashukevich filmed purporting to show an influential deputy prime minister, Sergei Prikhodko, enjoying lavish hospitality on a yacht owned by billionaire Oleg Deripaska.

The video went viral after it was published by top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in February.

Deripaska, one of several Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the US this month, denied any wrongdoing and later sued the pair for invasion of privacy.

“We will not go back to Russia because they opened a new criminal case for us,” Vashukevich said from a police van yesterday before she and other defendants were whisked into the Pattaya courtroom for the plea hearing.

Asked if he had a message for the US, Kirillov responded: “Help us anyway, because we don’t know what is happening.”

The US embassy in Bangkok has repeatedly declined to comment on
the case.

Deripaska, an aluminium tycoon whom Washington has accused of operating for the Russian government, was once an associate of US President Donald Trump’s ex-campaign manager Manafort.

Manafort has been indicted on money-laundering and tax-related charges as part of the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

The Russian embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment. — AFP

Trump’s lawyer in courtroom showdown

NEW YORK — Donald Trump’s legal battle with his own Justice Department led to an extraordinary courtroom showdown on Monday between his personal lawyer, one of America’s most prestigious prosecution offices and a lavender-clad porn star fuelling the media circus.

The high-stakes hearing before a federal judge in downtown Manhattan, centered on a technicality, almost descended into a farce when the name of Trump’s favourite Fox News anchor was suddenly revealed as another purported client of Michael Cohen.

Cohen, the president’s long-time personal lawyer and fixer, is under criminal investigation by the FBI. Last week, agents confiscated documents in a raid on his home, hotel room, office and a safety deposit box. They also seized two cellphones.

His legal team and Trump — who denounced the raid as a “witch hunt” — sought a restraining order that would prevent prosecutors from reviewing the material until the president can decide if any of it should be protected by attorney-client privilege.

US district judge Kimba Wood denied the request, but agreed that Cohen’s legal team should have access to the documents, instructing prosecutors to scan any material not already in electronic form into an accessible database.

How long that will take is not immediately clear. Wood also asked lawyers for both Cohen and Trump to come up with names for a “special master” who she could potentially appoint to comb through the documents first.

For now, the US attorney’s office in Manhattan agreed not to examine any of the material, pending a final decision from the judge.

Wood otherwise forced Cohen’s lawyer to reveal the name of a previously undisclosed client, who could also be affected by attorney-client privilege concerns.

Sean Hannity was said to be that client — the Fox News host Trump is known to admire and speak with by telephone, and whose television show is currently the most watched in US cable news.

The revelation was met with gasps and laughter in court, but Hannity himself furiously denied any such relationship.

“Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees. I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective,” he tweeted.

“I have no personal interest in this proceeding, and, in fact, asked that my de minimis discussions with Michael Cohen, which dealt almost exclusively about real estate, not be made a part of this proceeding.”

Some of the documents seized by the FBI reportedly relate to a payment of US$130,000 (RM505,400) that Cohen admits making to Stormy Daniels, who claims she had a one-night stand with Trump a decade ago.

The president has denied any knowledge of the payment to secure Daniels’ October 2016 signature on a hush agreement preventing her from talking about the liaison.

The porn star, real name Stephanie Clifford, is fighting to quash the agreement.

She was whisked into court past an enormous media scrum, squeezing into a spot in the back at the last minute.

“For years, Mr Cohen has acted like he is above the law,” she told reporters, dressed in a pale purple skirt suit and black blouse, after the two-and-a-half hour hearing.

“That ends now. My attorney and I are committed to making sure that everyone finds out the truth and the facts of what happened.” — AFP

US, Britain blame Russia for global cyber attack

LONDON — The US and Britain on Monday accused Russia of launching cyber attacks on computer routers, firewalls and other networking equipment used by government agencies, businesses and critical infrastructure operators around the globe.

Washington and London issued a joint alert saying the campaign by Russian government-backed hackers was intended to advance spying, intellectual property theft and other “malicious” activities, and could be escalated to launch offensive attacks.

It followed a series of warnings by Western governments Moscow is behind a string of cyber attacks. The US, Britain and other nations in February accused Russia of releasing the “NotPetya” virus, which last year crippled parts of Ukraine’s infrastructure and damaged computers across the globe, costing companies billions of dollars.

The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Russia’s embassy in London issued a statement citing British accusations of cyber threats from Moscow as “striking examples of a reckless, provocative and unfounded policy against Russia.”

Moscow has denied previous accusations that it carried out cyber attacks on the US and other countries.

US intelligence agencies last year accused Russia of interfering in the 2016 election with a hacking and propaganda campaign supporting Donald Trump’s campaign for president. Last month the Trump administration blamed Russia for a campaign of cyber attacks that targeted the US power grid.

American and British officials said the attacks disclosed on Monday affected a wide range of organisations including internet service providers, private businesses and critical infrastructure providers. They did not identify victims or provide details on the impact of the attacks.

“When we see malicious cyber activity, whether it be from the Kremlin or other malicious nation-state actors, we are going to push back,” said Rob Joyce, the White House cyber security coordinator.

Relations between Russia and Britain were already on edge after Prime Minister Theresa May blamed Moscow for the March 4 nerve agent poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the city of Salisbury.

“This is yet another example of Russia’s disregard for international norms and global order — this time through a campaign of cyber espionage and aggression, which attempts to disrupt governments and destabilise business,” a British government spokesman said in London.

Britain and the US said they issued the new alert to help targets protect themselves and persuade victims to share information with government investigators so they can better understand the threat.

“We don’t have full insight into the scope of the compromise,” said US Department of Homeland Security cyber security official Jeanette Manfra.

The alert is not related to the suspected chemical weapons attack in a town in Syria that prompted a US-led military strike over the weekend targeting facilities of the Russian-backed Syrian government, Joyce said.

Shortly after the announcement, the White House said Joyce would leave his post and return to the US National Security Agency.

US and British officials warned infected routers could be used to launch future offensive cyber operations.

“They could be pre-positioning for use in times of tension,” said Ciaran Martin, chief executive of the British government’s National Cyber Security Centre cyber defence agency, who added “millions of machines” were targeted. — AFP

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Syrians down missiles over two air bases

AMMAN — Syrian anti-aircraft defences shot down missiles fired at the Syrian air base of Shayrat in Homs province late on Monday and another base northeast of the capital Damascus, Syria’s state television and pro-Iranian Hezbollah media said.

State television showed pictures of a missile that was shot in the air above the air base only days after a US, British and French attack on Syrian targets in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack on the city of Douma on the outskirts of Damascus.

State television did not mention three missiles that were fired at Dumair military airport, northeast of Damascus, that pro-Iranian Hezbollah’s media service reported were intercepted by Syrian air defences.

Opposition sources say Dumair airport is a major air base used in a large-scale military campaign waged by the Syrian army with Russian fire-power that regained eastern Ghouta, a rebel enclave on the outskirts of Damascus.

A Pentagon spokesman said there was no US military activity in that area at this time.

Asked about the missile attack, an Israeli military spokesman said: “We don’t comment on such reports.”

Shayrat air base was targeted last year in a US cruise missile attack in response to a chemical attack that killed at least 70 people, including children, on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Israel has struck Syrian army locations many times in the course of the conflict, hitting convoys and bases of Iranian-backed militias that fight alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Israel has long said Iran was expanding its influence in a belt of territory that stretches from the Iraqi border to the Lebanese border, where Israel says Iran supplies Hezbollah with arms.

Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias have a large military presence in Syria and are well entrenched in central and eastern areas near the Iraqi border.

Deputy Hezbollah leader Sheikh Naim Qassem told pro-Syrian government television channel al Maydeen he expected a reaction to the death of at least seven Iranian military personnel during a missile strike earlier this month on the T-4 airfield near Homs, which Iran blamed on Israel

“The deliberate Israeli slaying of Iranians in the T4 base will have a response but we don’t know its nature or its details,” Qassem said in the television interview.

The heavily armed and Tehran-backed Shi’ite movement has been a vital military ally of Assad in the seven-year-old Syrian war.

Hezbollah, which last fought a major war with Israel in 2006, has however said it would not open a new front against its arch-foe from Lebanon.

Qassem said the powerful militia did not fight in all the main battles in Syria but was present in any area that was needed. He did not elaborate.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after the US, British, and French strikes his country will continue “to move against Iran in Syria.” — Reuters

Changes in Khazanah senior leadership

KUALA LUMPUR — Khazanah Nasional Bhd announced new appointments and changes to its senior leadership team.

Amran Hafiz Affifudin, director, Investments has been promoted to executive director, Investments while Bryan Lim, director, Investments, has been promoted executive director, Investments.

Both appointments took effect on April 1.

“Lim will continue in his current role as head of Khazanah’s regional office in Beijing. As announced previously, he is also leading Khazanah’s overall North Asia coverage, taking over from Datuk Ben Chan, executive director, Investments, who is leaving Khazanah at the end of April,” it said.

Khazanah said Datuk Charon Mokhzani, executive director, managing director’s office and managing director of Khazanah Research Institute (KRI), would be leaving Khazanah and the institute in mid-May, after serving for nearly five years.

“The new appointments and changes are part of Khazanah’s periodic strengthening of the senior management team, in line with its ongoing leadership succession initiative,” it said.
— Bernama

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Indonesian seizure of yacht declared invalid

JAKARTA The seizure of a luxury yacht linked to a US investigation into businessman Low Taek Jho, more popularly known as Jho Low, was deemed invalid and without legal basis.

“We declare the confiscation by police as invalid and legally baseless,” Justice Ratmoho told a hearing at the South Jakarta District Court yesterday.

On Feb 28, Indonesian police confiscated the 92m, Cayman Islands-registered “Equanimity” yacht off Bali as part of a joint operation with the US Federal Bureau
of Investigation.

The US court documents say Low had no formal role in 1MDB.

Early last month, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun, citing ongoing investigations, said Low never worked for 1MDB and he did not make any business decision for the company.

Singapore’s Straits Times reported police in Bali had planned to hand over the confiscated yacht to the US authorities after the Feb 28 seizure, but the company claiming legal ownership of the yacht took the matter to the Indonesian court.

Andi Simangunsong, a lawyer representing Equanimity Cayman Ltd, told reporters two weeks ago the yacht was not linked to any criminal case in Indonesia, and therefore the police had no authority to seize the vessel.

He said a reciprocal legal assistance arrangement between Indonesia and a foreign country is possible but it must go through the law and human rights ministry, not through the police. He argued the handing over of the yacht to US authorities would constitute a breach of legal procedures.

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