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UK whistleblower receives $500k payout after Kosovo corruption claims



KYIV/KONSTYANTYNIVKA, Ukraine: Fighting intensified on Saturday for Lysychansk, Ukraine’s last bastion in the strategic eastern province of Luhansk, while blasts shook a southern city after the civilian toll from Russian strikes climbed in towns well behind the front lines.
Rodion Miroshnik, ambassador to Russia of the pro-Moscow self-styled Luhansk People’s Republic, told Russian television that “Lysychansk has been brought under control,” but added: “Unfortunately, it is not yet liberated.”
Russian media showed videos of Luhansk militia parading in Lysychansk streets waving flags and cheering, but Ukraine National Guard spokesman Ruslan Muzychuk told Ukrainian national television the city remained in Ukrainian hands.
“Now there are fierce battles near Lysychansk, however, fortunately, the city is not surrounded and is under the control of the Ukrainian army,” Muzychuk said.
He said the situations in the Lysychansk and Bakhmut areas, as well as in Kharkiv region, were the most difficult on the entire front line.
“The goal of the enemy here remains access to the administrative border of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Also, in the Sloviansk direction, the enemy is attempting assault actions,” he said.

Oleksandr Senkevych, mayor of the southern region of Mykolaiv, which borders the vital Black Sea port of Odesa, reported powerful explosions in the city.
“Stay in shelters!” he wrote on the Telegram messaging app as air raid sirens sounded.
The cause of the blasts was not immediately clear, although Russia later said it had hit army command posts in the area.
Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports.
Authorities said a missile slammed into an apartment block near Odesa on Friday, killing at least 21 people. A shopping mall was hit on Monday in the central city of Kremenchuk, leaving at least 19 dead.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced the strikes on Friday as “conscious, deliberately targeted Russian terror and not some sort of error or a coincidental missile strike.”
In his nightly television address on Saturday, he said it would be a “very difficult path” to victory but it was necessary for Ukrainians to maintain their resolve and inflict losses on the “aggressor … so that every Russian remembers that Ukraine cannot be broken.”
“In many areas from the front, there is a sense of easing up, but the war is not over,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is intensifying in different places and we musn’t forget that. We must help the army, the volunteers, help those who are left on their own at this time.”
Kyiv says Moscow has intensified missile attacks on cities far from the main eastern battlefields and that it deliberately hit civilian sites. Ukrainian troops on the eastern front lines meanwhile describe intense artillery barrages that have pummelled residential areas.

Thousands of civilians have been killed and cities levelled since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov repeated Russian denials that its forces targeted civilians.
The Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov, inspected Russian troops involved in what Moscow calls its “special military operation,” Russia’s defense ministry said, although it was not clear if he was in Ukraine.
The inspection followed slow but steady gains by Russian forces with the help of relentless artillery in east Ukraine, a focus for Moscow after it narrowed its broader war goals of toppling the government following fierce Ukrainian resistance.
Russia is seeking to drive Ukrainian forces out of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces in the industrialized eastern Donbas region where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Kyiv since Russia’s first military intervention in Ukraine in 2014.
“Definitely they are trying to demoralize us. Maybe some people are affected by that, but for us it only brings more hatred and determination,” said a Ukrainian soldier returning from Lysychansk.

Russian forces seized Lysychansk’s sister city Sievierodonetsk last month, after some of the heaviest fighting of the war that pounded whole districts into rubble. Other settlements now face similar bombardment.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Telegram shelling had stopped Lysychansk residents dousing fires and added: “Private houses in attacked villages are burning down one by one.”
Ukraine has appealed for more weapons from the West, saying its forces are heavily outgunned by the Russian military.

A war crimes prosecutor (C) and a rescuer (R) and a civil, look at a destroyed building after being hit by a missile strike in the Ukrainian town of Sergiyvka , near Odessa, killing at least 18 people and injuring 30, on July 1, 2022. (AFP)

Troops on a break from the fighting and speaking in Konstyantynivka, a market town about 115 km (72 miles) west of Lysychansk, said they had managed to keep the supply road to the embattled city open, for now, despite Russian bombardment.
“We still use the road because we have to, but it’s within artillery range of the Russians,” said one soldier, who usually lives in Kyiv and asked not to be named, as comrades relaxed nearby, munching on sandwiches or eating ice cream.
“The Russian tactic right now is to just shell any building we could locate ourselves at. When they’ve destroyed it, they move on to the next one,” the soldier said.
Reuters reporters saw an unexploded missile lodged into the ground in a residential neighborhood on the outskirts of the Donbas city of Kramatorsk on Saturday evening.
The missile fell in a wooded area between residential tower blocks. Police and military cordoned off an area a few meters around the missile and told onlookers to stand back. Outgoing artillery fire and several large explosions were heard in central Kramatorsk earlier in the evening.
Despite being battered in the east, Ukrainian forces have made some advances elsewhere, including forcing Russia to withdraw from Snake Island, a Black Sea outcrop southeast of Odesa that Moscow captured at the start of the war.
Russia had used Snake Island to impose a blockade on Ukraine, one of the world’s biggest grain exporters and a major producer of seed for vegetable oils. The disruptions have helped fuel a surge in global grain and food prices.
Russia, also a big grain producer, denies it has caused the food crisis, blaming Western sanctions for hurting its exports.

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The Other Americans: Guatemala’s Attacks on Press Have Reached New Heights




In the late afternoon of July 29, Guatemalan National Police raided the home and office of the founder of one of Guatemala’s daily newspapers under orders from the country’s public prosecutor’s office. In the raids, El Periódico’s founder, internationally renowned journalist José Rubén Zamora, was arrested. 

At least eight members of the staff of El Periódico were also detained for more than sixteen hours by police and investigators from the Public Prosecutor’s office as they searched the facilities just outside of Guatemala City. Staff were denied the ability to use the bathroom, eat, sleep, or take medication during their detention. 

The paper did not publish its Saturday edition the following day. But Zamora’s arrest, along with the search of El Periódico’s offices, had already generated concern among press and human rights organizations.

“This is a strong blow,” Claudia Samoyoa, founder of the Guatemalan human rights organization UDEFEGUA, tells The Progressive. “This [case is meant] to tell all independent journalists and independent media that they cannot really speak.” 

The United States Department of State also decried Zamora’s detention. 

“Safeguarding Press Freedom is essential to Democracy,” tweeted Brian A. Nichols, the assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs within the U.S. State Department. “The United States urges full respect of due process under [Guatemalan] law and protection of personal safety for El Periódico, José Ruben Zamora, and FECI prosecutor Samari Gómez.”

“All of these attacks on journalists have to do with coverage of corrupt actions of mayors and congressional representatives and companies.”

The same day, Samari Gómez Díaz, an assistant prosecutor with Guatemala’s Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI), was also arrested and incarcerated on an accusation of the leaking of documents related to the case against Zamora. Her case currently awaits trial.

FECI head Rafael Curruchiche said in a statement that the arrest and search were not related to El Periódico’s reporting. Rather, according to Curruchiche, Zamora was arrested for influence peddling, money laundering, and blackmail, charges that a judge later accepted. Curruchiche himself was sanctioned after being included on the Engel List in July 2022 by the U.S. Department of State for his part in corruption and anti-democratic actions. 

Despite the assertion that the raid was unrelated to any news reporting, the newspaper’s bank accounts were embargoed by FECI on August 1, leaving the paper without the means to pay staff. 

“What we have here is the [public prosecutor] saying one thing, but doing another,” Marielos Chang, an independent political analyst, tells The Progressive. “These damages that they are carrying out against Zamora end up limiting the freedom of expression that the newspaper has.”

“This is worrying,” she adds, “because we have already seen this in other cases in the region.”

The attacks on the press come as Guatemala’s legislature has consolidated into an anti-democratic and pro-impunity majority alliance, popularly known as the “corruption pact.” It is made up of a majority of congressional representatives who have been accused of corruption or of undermining anti-corruption efforts—an especially worrying trend as Guatemala approaches the 2023 election cycle. 

“[Zamora] is not the first and I do not think he will be the last journalist who will be persecuted,” Chang says. “It is to limit the political participation of the opposition.” 

The Guatemalan media rallied to Zamora’s defense, holding protests on July 30 and August 1 outside of the Tribunal Tower, the central court building. During both protests, the Guatemalan National Civilian Police remained vigilant, taking photos of those protesting and contributing to the sense of unease. 

The details of the case are being withheld by the Public Prosecutor’s office. But what is currently known is that they stem from a denouncement by the Foundation Against Terrorism, a far-right organization with ties to the country’s military that the U.S. State Department has sanctioned for its anti-democratic activities. 

The information related to the case that is available has been provided by government-sponsored misinformation social media accounts, known as “net-centers.” Guatemala’s Attorney General María Consuelo Porras has declined to comment on how these net-centers have gained access to this information.  

El Periódico has regularly reported on and denounced the rampant corruption in Guatemala. Zamora’s arrest is just the latest in a series of attacks against the paper that date back decades, which have included cyber-attacks, abductions, and death threats.

After El Periódico published a report on former dictator Efrain Ríos Montt’s ties to mafia groups in 2003, Zamora and his family were held hostage in their home by a group of masked people, who beat him and his children. He was later abducted in 2008, beaten, and left half naked over twenty-five miles outside of Guatemala City. In 2016, he briefly went into exile. 

Over the past two years, attacks on the press have steadily increased in a country where the harassment, incarceration, and exile of journalists is already systemic. In 2022, prior to Zamora’s July arrest, El Periódico’s Juan Luis Font was forced to flee the country due to the outlet’s reporting. UDEFEGUA estimates that there are currently at least five Guatemalan journalists in exile.

This intensifying political pressure has placed independent and community journalists particularly at risk. 

“There are various journalists who have been criminalized,” Samoyoa says. “All of these attacks on journalists have to do with coverage of corrupt actions of mayors and congressional representatives and companies.”

Sonny Figueroa and Marvin del Cid, both of whom work for the independent news site VoxPopuli, have faced attacks, harassment, and criminalization for their investigative work. Figueroa was arbitrarily detained by police in September 2020 and later released. Other journalists have shared their experiences of repression and intimidation through the country’s  net-centers. 

Indigenous journalists have been particularly singled out and targeted. Anastasia Mejía was arrested and later freed for her coverage of a protest that led to the burning of the municipal building of Joyabaj, Quiche, in 2020; Francisco Chox was attacked in 2020 for his coverage of protests in Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan, Sololá; and Carlos Choc has faced criminal prosecution and regular harassment for his work covering the impacts of the Fenix mining project in El Estor, Izabal.

“Choc reported on the death of one of the protesters who was demonstrating against the mine in the region,” Chang says. “He currently has an arrest warrant against him.”

These are only a few of the attacks on journalists in the last few years. Repression tactics have also expanded online. 

The independent investigative media outlet No-Ficción saw its followers erased on Twitter overnight in a July 2022 cyber attack. The incident followed the outlet’s publication of a report on Alejandro Sinibaldi, the former Minister of Communication, Infrastructure, and Housing, that detailed kickbacks he had received while commissioning infrastructure projects in the country. 

“In the last three years of this government [their goal] has been to ensure impunity, over building roads, schools, and hospitals,” Chang says. “And to do that, they are attacking those who have carried out investigations into corruption that make us realize that things are not being done well.”

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Palm oil tycoon surrenders to Indonesian police over huge corruption case — BenarNews




An Indonesian businessman suspected of converting forests into palm oil plantations as part of a mega corruption case was arrested upon arrival from overseas as he turned himself in on Monday after being on the run for eight years, the attorney general’s office said.  

Corruption involving the Duta Palma Group, a palm oil company belonging to Surya Darmadi, the suspect, allegedly cost the state 78 trillion rupiah (U.S. $5.2 billion) in potential losses, making it the largest corruption case in the country’s history, authorities said.  

Investigators interrogated Surya and took him into custody immediately after he arrived in Jakarta on a China Airlines flight from Taiwan, Attorney General Sanitiar Burhanuddin said. 

“Two weeks ago [Surya] wrote to us that he was turning himself in,” Burhanuddin told reporters. 

“Our team picked up the suspect, questioned him and will detain him for 20 days.” 

On Aug. 1, Burhanuddin announced that Surya, one of Indonesia’s richest men, was a suspect in a corruption case surrounding the conversion of 37,000 hectares of forests in Riau, a province on Sumatra island, into palm oil plantations. 

The regent of Indragiri Hulu at the time, Raja Thamsir Rachman, issued a permit to five companies belonging to Surya, but they did not obtain land-use rights before converting the forests into plantations, according to Burhanuddin. 

Thamsir, whose second term as regent ran from 2005 to 2008, is serving an eight-year sentence in a separate corruption case. 

The attorney general’s office had sent Surya three summons, but he failed to show up for questioning. 

Surya’s attorney, Juniver Girsang, said his client had been undergoing treatment abroad and his decision to come back to Indonesia was proof that he was not running away. 

“Reports that he had run away are not true. Our client is very cooperative and will follow all processes,” Juniver told reporters. 

In 2014, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) named Surya a suspect for allegedly paying 3 billion rupiah ($200,000) in kickbacks to then-Riau Gov. Annas Maamun to pave the way for changes to local forestry regulations in favor of his company. 

But Surya managed to evade questioning by staying overseas, authorities alleged. 

The KPK said it was coordinating with the attorney general’s office to question the suspect. 

“KPK has met with the attorney general’s office to discuss the handling of the case in question,” said Ali Fikri, the commission’s spokesman. 

The estimated 78 trillion rupiah loss to the state included potential gains, from which local communities could have benefited had the company complied with rules that required it to allocate 20 percent of areas it controlled to farmers, said Ketut Sumedana, spokesman for the attorney general. 

Ketut said investigators had confiscated eight plantations managed by a subsidiary of Duta Palma and froze their bank accounts. 

The attorney general’s office also confiscated 15 properties linked to the company and its executives in South Jakarta, he said. 

In a 2009 report, the Rainforest Action Network said the Indonesian military had a 30 percent ownership stake in Duta Palma. Officials with the company could not be reached immediately for comment. 

Boyamin Saiman, an activist at the Indonesian Anti-Corruption Society (MAKI), praised the attorney general’s office for its “progressiveness” by taking into account the loss of potential benefits to the local population. 

“The attorney general’s office didn’t just come up with a number. There is a value in forest use. This is a new method in calculating state losses,” Boyamin told BenarNews. 

He contrasted that with the loss of 3 billion rupiah estimated by the anti-corruption commission as a result of Surya’s alleged actions. 

Meanwhile, Wawan Suyatmiko, deputy secretary general of Transparency International Indonesia, questioned the KPK’s competence. 

“In 2019 they issued a travel ban for him, but [Surya] managed to escape and refused to return. Now the attorney general’s office had summoned him and he was willing to return. This says a lot about the KPK’s performance,” he told BenarNews.

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Don’t claim to support law enforcement if you demonize the FBI and IRS





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Don’t claim to support law enforcement if you demonize the FBI and IRS

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