Malaysia out of top 10 global electronics exporters

PETALING JAYA — Malaysia has dropped out of the top 10 list of global electronics exporters as of 2015, and shed US$1.1 billion (RM4.9 billion) in electronics exports from 2005 to 2015, according to HSBC Global Research.

The electrical and electronics (E&E) sector has long been one of the bastions of Malaysian trade, together with palm oil, petroleum products, and oil and gas, but in the past decade Vietnam has flourished in the electronics sphere.

“In the electronics sector, Vietnam — which saw 2015 exports of US$38 billion — exploded onto the scene, while Malaysia — 2015 exports of US$59 billion — dropped out of the list of top 10 global exporters. Overall Asean is lagging here.

“Over the 2005 to 2015 period, Asean overall has seen electronics exports grow 30% with Vietnam being the best performer (up US$37 billion) and Malaysia the worst (down US$1.1 billion). This is compared to global export growth of electronics products of 44% over the same period,” senior trade economist Douglas Lippoldt told reporters over a conference call on HSBC’s Asia trade outlook yesterday.

From January through October last year, E&E exports accounted for RM234.5 billion or 36.8% of total Malaysian exports, according to figures from the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade).

This is compared to RM277.9 billion or 35.6% of total Malaysian exports in 2015 and RM256.2 billion or 33.4% of total exports in 2014, Matrade figures show.

Lippoldt said Malaysia and other Asean countries could stand to benefit from the World Trade Organization (WTO) Information Technology Agreement (ITA) expansion to eliminate tariffs on an additional 201 information technology products.

The WTO estimates that the ITA expansion will eliminate tariffs on approximately US$1.3 trillion in annual global exports of information and communications technology products, which industry estimates will increase annual global gross domestic product by an estimated US$190 billion.

Negotiations were conducted by over 50 WTO members but all 162 WTO members will enjoy duty-free market access to the markets of the members eliminating tariffs on these products.

The first set of tariff cuts were implemented on July 1, 2016 and the second set will kick in no later than July 1, 2017, with successive reductions taking place on July 1, 2018 and effective elimination no later than July 1, 2019

The ITA expansion agreement is the first major tariff-cutting deal at the WTO in 19 years.

(US$1 = RM4.48)

LBS MD Lim Hock San Azneal

LBS targets RM1.5b sales on OBOR deals

KUALA LUMPUR — LBS Bina Group Bhd (LBS) has set a higher sales target of RM1.5 billion for 2017, up from RM1.2 billion for 2016, as the property developer looks to leverage the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative spearheaded by the Chinese government.

The initiative — proposed in 2013 by China President Xi Jinping — led Malaysia to sign 14 major agreements worth RM143 billion last year, and LBS managing director Tan Sri Lim Hock San is confident that the group can leverage on these.

“I am confident the property market will rebound in the third and fourth quarter of the year especially with the projected boost in Chinese tourists and investors from the OBOR initiative,” he told reporters at the company’s 2017 outlook briefing here yesterday.

Despite the boost from foreign buyers and investors, he said the group remains focused on its affordable housing range, with 70% of the total group sales of RM1.24 billion last year contributed by the sales of residential units below RM500,000 each.

Moving forward, Lim said the group will be targeting the Chinese market, having been approached by several Chinese developers for joint ventures with LBS here.

“We have been approached by a few parties but we are still in the discussion stage. However, with our targeting the Chinese market, we will appoint a Chinese agent to capture the market there,” he added.

LBS aims to sell residential units priced over RM1 million to this target market, with its development in Likas, Sabah and the joint development with Hotel Rasa Sayang Sdn Bhd in Johor to develop service apartments in focus for Chinese investors.

“In Johor, we have also been approached by several foreign developers but we will wait and see before deciding anything,” Lim said.

He reiterated that with the OBOR initiative kicking in, a huge sum of money would be flowing into the country and more is expected to come.

“The housing market in China is very expensive and very much controlled by the government. During my recent visit to China, Malaysia was heavily promoted on their public broadcasting station and I believe that the Malaysian market is very appealing to the Chinese,” the LBS boss recounted.

He said the joint venture with Chinese developers will not be done in haste but LBS would consider the terms and conditions brought forward.

“We can carry out our developments ourselves but if the terms are right, we will consider joint ventures.”

This year, the company’s major challenge is staving off competition from other developers in the affordable housing sphere, he noted.

“Despite that, our focus will be on the affordable range with Bandar Saujana Putra as the main contributor to our sales,” Lim said.

He also mooted for the government to lift development charges imposed on affordable housing developments.

“There must be some sort of incentive provided for developers as we have built homes that are priced between RM150,000 to RM180,000 in both Selangor and Johor. We are still building affordable homes and still trying to break even,” Lim said.

In 2016, LBS delivered a total of 1,971 residential and non-residential units. This year, 92% of its projects will be residential.

“We have planned 13 new launches this year with a gross development value amounting to RM2.35 billion,” Lim said.

Among the projects slated are Bandar Saujana Putra in Puchong comprising of D’Island Residence, Langit and Lake and Desiran Bayu as well as Bukit Jalil, Alam Perdana and Cybersouth.

Projects outside the Klang Valley include Cameron Centrum and Cameron Golden Hills in Cameron Highlands as well as Bandar Putera Indah in Batu Pahat, Johor.

duterte2

‘You can’t be president if you’re afraid to kill’

RODRIGO DUTERTE became mayor in 1988, two years after the fall of President Ferdinand Marcos. The coastal city was at the centre of a communist insurgency which had erupted against the Marcos regime.

New People’s Army rebels were using the city as a testing ground for urban guerilla warfare — assassinations, bombings and disappearances were common. In a vicious war of attrition, the rebels targeted police, the military and local officials, while the authorities hit back at suspected communist sympathisers.

Some locals say when Duterte came to power, he proved to be more effective in the use of violence than the rebels or criminals.

Alongside the crime crackdown, Duterte built support with his man-of-the-people persona. He is perceived as frugal and plain-living. The home where he still lives when in Davao is an unassuming two-story property behind a green metal gate. He eats at unpretentious restaurants and is fond of durian.

As mayor, he also slashed red tape. Applications for most permits and approvals must be decided within three days, local officials say. Many of the service windows at the city tax office are open through the lunch hour. The schedule is meant to minimise waiting time. Duterte says he hates seeing citizens queuing.

Rules and regulations were strictly enforced. Firecrackers, dangerous but very popular in the Philippines, are outlawed, a policy Duterte promises to enforce nationwide next year. Smoking in public is banned. Jaywalkers face US$4 (RM17) fines and orders to perform community service. Bars and restaurants must stop serving alcohol at 1am. There is a 10pm curfew on unaccompanied minors.

Despite the strictness of these restrictions, Duterte is no prude. Prostitution is tolerated with registered sex workers required to undergo regular health checks, according to a city official. The authorities check to ensure they are not working under coercion or threat. And the city holds a Christmas party for sex workers, the official said.

Personality cult

The mayor enhanced his image with a weekly radio-and-television talk show, Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa — From the Masses, For the Masses. Here, Duterte would take complaints from residents and issue peremptory corrective orders. It became a must for city officials, including the local police, to listen and watch his Sunday programme: They would not want to miss his on-the-spot instructions, usually delivered with curses and rebukes.

Everywhere in the city there is evidence of the personality cult he fostered. At one of the more popular restaurants, Marina Tuna, which specialises in the fish for which the city is known, a Duterte cut-out greets guests on the entry stair. The markets are full of Duterte memorabilia and T-shirts.

With echoes of Maoist China, a national “learn from Davao” movement is under way. Delegations of visitors from around the country fly in to study the city’s blueprint for order, growth and development, local officials say. Overwhelmed with up to 22 groups visiting a day, a United States-style 911 emergency response centre built by Duterte was forced to restrict access, according to operators at the centre.

Poverty levels in the Davao region, which includes the city, are down, and in 2014 the region grew 9.3 per cent – a statistic Duterte often cites when he boasts of his hometown. He usually follows this with a reminder it is safe to walk the streets at night. This security, he says, created the conditions for investment and growth.

The city hosts a thriving business process outsourcing industry providing call centres, telemarketing and online language tutoring for local and foreign companies. Local outsourcing-business owners give Duterte credit for providing the environment
for growth.

“We need parents to be comfortable young people can go out at 10pm and come home early in the morning,” growing outsource service provider Six Eleven Global Teleservices chief executive officer Michael Bian says.

Davao business people and officials also credit Duterte with having the confidence to delegate to experts. He has adopted the same approach as president, business leaders say, appointing experienced economic managers.

“He has surrounded himself with a very good team. They are doers,” says American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines executive director Ebb Hinchliffe.

Security threat

Apart from a few gleaming modern malls, most of the commercial areas and residential neighbourhoods in Davao are full of ramshackle buildings packed along narrow, bumpy roads. Tin shacks on stilts line fetid waterways. Public transport is limited and the drainage system is widely acknowledged to be inadequate, according to local business people and international development agencies.

Public security inside the city limits is dramatically improved compared with the 1980s. But Davao still ranks first among 15 Philippine cities for murder and second for rape, according to police crime data from 2010 to 2015. And a dire security climate across most of the rest of Mindanao, where separatist and terrorist groups remain active, poses a serious threat to efforts for further development.

A bomb detonated in a crowded night market in Davao on Sept 2, killed 15 people and injured dozens. Authorities say the suspects arrested for the bombing belonged to a radical faction of a Muslim rebel group.

In an interview with Reuters during the election campaign, Duterte explained his vision for how law and order are essential to prosperity.

He arrived in his trademark jeans, open-necked shirt and shoes without socks. Unlike many politicians, he didn’t ask for questions in advance. When he was not able to answer queries about taxes or the budget, he said so. He took no offence when asked about reports of his rumoured romances: The government’s “bible” is the constitution, he said, and it says nothing about womanising.

Enhanced security, he said, was the only way to build a stable economy. When asked why people should vote for him, he pointed to his achievements in Davao as “exhibit A”.

“It’s not for the faint-hearted,” he said. “If you are a president and you are afraid of criminals, or you are afraid to kill criminals, then you have no business being a president.” — Reuters

KL17_251216_TINJAUAN

Jom naik MRT!

I MUST have spent several days’ worth of being underground in the various lines of London’s Tube. I’ve been to over 100 of the 270 stations, and in the majority of cases no other form of transport was contemplated in reaching my destination.

London has the oldest subterranean railway system in the world (dating back to 1863) and it has become a vital and iconic component of the city. No doubt some of the stations are dirty and cramped, but more problematic were the seemingly perennial strikes (though they provided an unimpeachable excuse to skive lectures).

By comparison, I found the Metro in Washington DC bland and slow. New York’s Subway has character; more so than the other American or European mass transit systems I’ve tried. Closer to home, I found the MRT in Singapore entirely adequate but was impressed by the Bangkok Skytrain: it’s quite wondrous to be able to complete a journey by boat and elevated train.

In Malaysia I used to take the LRT occasionally from Ampang, and also the KTM Komuter from KL to Seremban when I first returned, but the most frequent train journey for me these days is the KLIA Ekspres.

Thus armed with experiences of mass transit systems in other cities and previous Malaysian services, it was with great excitement that I joined several friends who wanted to try a hipster cafe in Sungai Buloh by boarding our first MRT train at Pusat Bandar Damansara.

After the long escalator up to the platform, my Touch N Go card opened the barrier (free of charge for the time being, but future ticket prices weren’t yet published). The transparent wall separating the platform and train is not full height (potentially enabling “service interruptions”), but since the trains have to stop at a specific place travellers are able to wait right outside the doors (though unlike Singapore, there are no lines mandating which way the queues should form). Trains were running at six minute intervals: okay for a public holiday.

First impressions of the train were good. The cars are open-ended, meaning that it is possible to walk from the front window to the back — there is no driver on board. (This should enable efficient commuters to memorise which doors are near to the platform escalators.) The lighting is bright, the air conditioning not too Arctic, the seats (plastic rather than metallic as on the LRT) are decent and standing space and handles are plentiful.

Bilingual announcements usefully indicate which side the doors will open, though the continuously looping television advertisement quickly got annoying during the half-hour journey. The route map is oddly represented as an oval: a straight line would avoid any geographical misassumptions of the 51km line. The trains could probably do with more maps of the entire system, which could be enhanced with a representation of the Klang and Gombak rivers and a boundary marking the federal territory.

The view from the train is gorgeous. Golf courses, shop facades and landmark buildings are seen from new angles, and the sunset journey back was stunning; I had to compete with excited children (of all races) for the best spot to record a
time-lapse.

At Sungai Buloh station, the security control room featuring dozens of CCTV feeds is reassuringly transparent (so you can watch those watching you) and several cafes awaited customers, many of whom went to the KTM platform to continue their journeys. There was no feeder bus to our destination so we used a taxi, which charged RM15 without using the meter (the Uber back cost RM3).

That was a black spot on an otherwise enjoyable journey. Looking at the connectivity and efficiency of the service so far, I think it will make a much bigger impact on KL’s economic and social life compared to previous services.

It will no doubt take a long time to wean off the driving and chauffeured classes and from their cars, but as long as the destinations are convenient and the service clean and secure, I’m confident it can be done.

In London, peers of the realm join MPs, investment bankers and impoverished students in the Tube, providing interactions (however fleeting) that also contribute to a sense of civic belonging.

There are political questions about the cost of the MRT, and rightly so. Big infrastructure projects involving many contractors provide opportunities for the creative and corrupt to hide kickbacks and markups. No matter how good a public service is, policymakers have a duty to ensure good use of taxpayers money, and wastage should be exposed and wrongdoers punished.

The more people who say “jom naik MRT”, the greater that check and balance will be.

Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin is Founding President of IDEAS

JAPAN-LIFESTYLE-FOOD-AUCTION-ENVIRONMENT-20170105-065511

‘Tuna King’ pays RM2.7m for single fish

TOKYO — Japan’s self-styled “Tuna King” has done it again — paying more than US$600,000 (RM2.7 million) for a single fish.

Sushi entrepreneur Kiyoshi Kimura paid top price at the first auction of the new year at Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market yesterday, bagging a prized bluefin tuna for an eye-watering 74.2 million yen.

The head of the Sushizanmai chain is now the proud — if temporary — owner of a 212kg fish.

At that price a single piece of fatty tuna sushi would cost roughly US$85 (RM381), or 25 times the US$3.40 (RM15.25) that Kimura charges for the product at his 51 stores across Japan.

“I feel it was a bit expensive, but I am happy that I was able to successfully win at auction a tuna of good shape and size,” Kimura said.

Later in the day, Kimura and his fellow sushi chefs sliced up the giant fish with special knives resembling a Japanese sword at its main restaurant near the market, as hundreds of sushi lovers waited for a taste or two.

“As always, I want to buy the best one so that our customers can have it. That’s all,” Kimura said when asked about the auction result.

He has built his successful chain into a national brand by paying big money at Tsukiji’s first auction every year — he has now won for six straight years — essentially using the event for publicity.

He paid a record US$1.8 million (RM8.1 million) for a bluefin — a threatened species — at the New Year auction in 2013, outbidding a rival bidder from Hong Kong.

Last year, he faced no formidable rival and paid a bargain US$117,000 (RM524,745) for a 200kg tuna.

The prices may seem enormous, but Kimura makes sure to get the most out of his money.

Japan consumes a large portion of the global bluefin catch, a highly prized sushi ingredient known in Japan as kuro maguro (black tuna) and dubbed by sushi connoisseurs as the “black diamond” because of its scarcity. — AFP

Australia denies trying to ‘recruit’ Indonesian soldiers

SYDNEY — Australia yesterday rejected claims it tried to “recruit” Indonesia’s best soldiers as it worked to mend relations with Jakarta after military ties were suspended.

The two neighbours revealed on Wednesday military cooperation had been put on ice last month after teaching materials deemed offensive to Jakarta were found at an Australian army base.

Cooperation including joint exercises and education and exchange programmes was halted after a visiting Indonesian officer raised concerns about the materials.

Authorities did not say what caused offence but the Australian Broadcasting Corporation said it related to posters of West Papua, an eastern Indonesian province where a low-level insurgency has been simmering for decades.

The ABC also broadcast footage yesterday of Indonesia’s military chief General Gatot Nurmantyo giving a lecture in November, voicing fears Canberra was trying to recruit soldiers sent to Australia for training.

“Every time there is a training programme — like recently — the best five or 10 students would be sent to Australia. That happened before I was chief so I let that happen,” he said in translated remarks, according to the broadcaster.

“Once I became chief commander of the national forces, it (the students being sent) did not happen again. They will certainly be recruited.”

Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne denied Canberra had targeted Indonesian soldiers to be potential agents.

“No, that is not the case and it is something which we would not countenance of course,” she said.

Payne said an investigation into the teaching materials that sparked the spat was almost complete and the government took the concerns seriously.

“We are working closely with our counterparts both at the military and at the political level to rectify any concerns, to address any concerns and to resume the relationship in its entirety as soon as possible,” she said. — AFP

Thai road deaths soar despite junta vow

BANGKOK — Nearly 480 people died on Thailand’s roads over the New Year holiday, official figures showed yesterday, a 25 per cent rise over the so-called “seven dangerous days” despite the junta’s tough talk on drink driving.

The kingdom has some of the world’s most lethal roads, with the carnage spiking over the New Year as millions of city workers return to their country homes.

Thailand’s junta government has launched repeated crackdowns on drink driving since its 2014 power grab, including approving harsher penalties for offenders and forcing drivers to visit mortuaries holding the bodies of accident victims.

But the toll over the last week still soared to 478 — up from the 380 recorded during the same period in 2016, according to the Interior Ministry’s disaster prevention department.

“The main reason was drunk driving and speeding,” said deputy Interior Minister Suthee Markboon, adding that a majority of the 3,919 crashes involved motorcyclists.

The army said officials arrested nearly 67,000 people for drink driving and seized more than 4,000 cars between Dec 29 and Wednesday.

The deadliest accident saw 25 people killed on Monday when a packed minivan and pickup truck collided in eastern Chonburi province.

Experts say a lack of helmet-wearing among motorcyclists is a major factor for the high death rate.

The kingdom’s traffic cops are also notorious for bribe-taking and letting wealthy, well-connected drivers off the hook for offences.

Speaking to reporters at the end of the seven days, junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha conceded his government had lost this year’s battle.

“We did the best we could, we had more checkpoints, more authorities, we seized tens of thousands of vehicles, but still we had more casualties,” he said.

Nevertheless he vowed to double-down on safety checks before Songkran, Thailand’s traditional New Year holiday in April — the other week the Thai press tags as the “seven dangerous days”.
— AFP

SKOREA-POLITICS-SCANDAL-20170105-063910

No evidence to impeach Park, says lawyer

SEOUL — The impeachment trial of South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye got under way yesterday, with her lawyers arguing there is no evidence to back the corruption allegations that threaten to force her from office.

Parliament voted to impeach Park last month over an influence-peddling scandal that has brought hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets every week demanding her removal.

Park is accused of colluding with a longtime friend, Choi Soon-il, to strong-arm donations worth tens of millions of dollars from top firms which were then funnelled to dubious foundations.

The president is also accused of using her influence to ensure the merger of two Samsung units in 2015 to help facilitate a father-to-son power succession of Samsung’s founding family, allegedly in return for bribes given to Choi.

The National Assembly, which must have its vote upheld by the Constitutional Court, accused Park of a “serious breach of the constitution” during the first full hearing in the impeachment case.

“The court is requested to fire the president so that impaired constitutional order can be restored,” said Kwon Seong-dong, representing the parliament.

“The president has betrayed the trust and mandate from the people,” he said.

The Constitutional Court’s initial hearing on Tuesday was curtailed after Park failed to attend. It decided to proceed yesterday regardless of whether she was present.

Park’s lawyers said there was no proof the president had issued any directive, oral or written, to tell her aides to ensure the National Pension Fund — the largest shareholder of one of the two Samsung units — voted for the merger.

They urged the court to overturn the impeachment vote, saying the motion had been based on “likelihood at best”.

“There is no solid evidence to back the impeachment,” Park’s lawyer Lee Jung-hwan told the court.

Park is also accused of ordering aides to leak state documents to Choi, who has no official title or security clearance, and allowing her to meddle in state affairs including the appointment of top officials.

Park also allegedly failed to carry out her official duties as the head of state during her response to the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster that claimed more than 300 lives, mostly schoolchildren.

The court has asked Park’s lawyers to clarify the mystery surrounding her seven-hour absence at the time of the disastrous sinking.

Unconfirmed media reports have suggested a wide range of theories about Park’s whereabouts, including a romantic liaison, participation in a shamanistic ritual, cosmetic surgery or a 90-minute haircut.

At a separate criminal court trial yesterday, Choi also repeated her denial of all charges levelled against her.

She said she was victimised by groundless allegations.

Her lawyers have denied allegations Choi was involved in peddling influence or extortion. — AFP

Head of pro-IS Philippine militant group slain

MANILA — Philippine security forces yesterday killed the leader of a Muslim militant group that has carried out deadly attacks on civilians to win support from Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria.

Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, founder and leader of Ansarul Khilafa Philippines, was tracked down and shot at a beach resort on the southern island of Mindanao shortly after midnight, while three “cohorts” were arrested, police said.

Ansarul Khilafa is one of several violent Islamic militant groups on Mindanao, homeland of a large Filipino Muslim minority where a decades-old separatist rebellion has claimed more than 120,000 lives.

“He’s wanted for bombing incidents. They use improvised explosive devices, killing people at town festivals,” Chief Superintendent Cedric Train, the regional police chief, said.

“They fly the ISIS flag in their camps. They want to be recognised by the ISIS,” Train added, referring to the Islamic State group by one of its acronyms.

The military killed eight Ansarul Khilafa members in a clash in November 2015 at Maguid’s Mindanao hometown of Palimbang, 1,000km south of Manila.

Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno warned of potential violent repercussions from the death of Maguid, more widely known by his nickname of Commander Tokboy.

“They might retaliate so we have to double our preparations,” Sueno said, citing large Catholic religious festivals in the Philippines this month.

Ansarul Khilafa was behind an attack that left two civilians dead on Mindanao in 2008 as well as a series of robberies and other crimes, according to Sidney Jones, director of the Indonesia-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.

Maguid was arrested in 2009 but escaped eight months later, Jones said in a research paper published in October last year.

Train said the authorities had also been looking into Ansarul Khilafa’s role in a bombing in Davao, Mindanao’s largest city, in September last year that killed 15 people and injured dozens of others.

Maguid, who Train said was aged 32, appeared in a video circulated on social media networks last year with the leaders of other local militant groups pledging allegiance to IS. — AFP

PHILIPPINES-UNREST-PRISON-20170104-141809

110 inmates on run after biggest jailbreak

MANILA — Philippine authorities said yesterday they had captured 34 inmates who escaped in the nation’s biggest jailbreak but more than 110 remained on the run in vast farmlands and isolated villages of the nation’s strife-torn south.

Suspected Muslim guerillas stormed a decrepit jail in one of the major southern cities on Wednesday, freeing 158 inmates and killing a guard, in what authorities said was a bid to free fellow rebels.

Thirty-four of the inmates had been recaptured by yesterday morning, adding to five who were killed on Wednesday, jail authorities said, but they emphasised there were many obstacles in the manhunt.

“This is a very wide area. Aside from sugar, rubber and coconut plantations, there are areas and camps held by rebels that we cannot easily enter,” jail warden Peter Bongngat said.

The southern Philippines is home to a decades-old Muslim separatist insurgency, as well as extremist gangs that have recently declared allegiance to the Islamic State.

The badly overcrowded jail in Kidapawan, 950km south of Manila, contained rebels from the various groups as well as members of criminal gangs that thrive in the corruption and poverty of the south.

The jail, which housed about 1,500 inmates, is a run-down former school building that militants have targeted repeatedly over the past 15 years.

Wednesday’s jailbreak was the biggest in the nation’s history, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology spokesman Xavier Solda said.

Bongngat said the attackers were believed to be militants who had broken away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the nation’s largest Muslim rebel organisation which is in peace talks with the government.

The MILF, which has about 10,000 armed followers, has been fighting since the 1970s for independence or autonomy.

In Brasilia, Brazil, Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes said local authorities in the Amazon region knew about the risk of a mass escape from two prisons where 184 inmates fled amid a deadly riot.

As police launched a huge manhunt for 126 escaped convicts still at large, de Moraes suggested there may be more than meets the eye to the headline-grabbing prison riot.

“There was an escape plan already in place. So we need to investigate whether in reality all the unrest and the deaths happened so that (drug gang) leaders could escape,” he said at a press conference.

Amazonas state officials say fighting between rival gangs triggered the riot, which lasted 17 hours and ended on Monday morning with 56 inmates dead, many of them beheaded.

But the justice minister indicated the gory violence may also have been a smokescreen for gang leaders to escape. — AFP

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