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Scores missing, 13 dead in Congo boat accident: president

FILE PHOTO: Democratic Republic of Congo's Felix Tshisekedi swears into office during an inauguration ceremony as the new president of the Democratic Republic of Congo at the Palais de la Nation in Kinshasa
Democratic Republic of Congo's Felix Tshisekedi swears into office during an inauguration ceremony as the new president of the Democratic Republic of Congo at the Palais de la Nation in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo January 24, 2019. REUTERS/ Olivia Acland/File Photo

April 18, 2019

KALEHE, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – Thirteen people are dead and 142 still missing from a passenger boat that sank this week on Lake Kivu in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the president said on Thursday.

Deadly boat accidents are common in Congo, which has few tarred roads across its vast, forested interior and where vessels are frequently loaded well beyond their capacity.

“We are going to do everything to make sure that this type of tragedy doesn’t happen again,” President Felix Tshisekedi said. “It’s because of certain economic operators who use rundown boats because of their greed.”

On his first tour of eastern Congo since taking office in January, Tshisekedi told reporters near the site of the accident in South Kivu province that 37 passengers had been rescued.

Local fishermen were searching for the missing.

The boat, a smaller type known as a pirogue, had set out from neighbouring North Kivu province on Monday and foundered on the lake near South Kivu’s Kalehe territory.

It was unclear who operated the boat and exactly how it sank, though overcrowding is often a cause.

“We understand the boat was in a deplorable state,” said local transport official Jacqueline Ngengele.

In one of the worst boat disasters, an overloaded vessel capsized in the Congo River in 2010, killing 138 people.

(Reporting by Stanis Bujakera; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Edward McAllister and Andrew Cawthorne)

Source: OANN

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Michael Cohen vows to fill in Mueller report’s redactions, ‘tell it myself’

Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen on Thursday promised to fill in the blanks on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, hours before a redacted version of his report was due to be made public.

“Soon I will be ready to address the American people again...tell it all...and tell it myself!” Cohen tweeted.

MICHAEL COHEN ASKS HOUSE DEMOCRATS TO HELP KEEP HIM OUT OF PRISON

That tweet came after his attorney Lanny Davis, tweeted that Cohen “knows and can fill in the bulk of the redactions.”

“We will tell it all,” he promised.

Cohen is scheduled to report to jail next month to begin serving a three-year prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to tax evasion, fraud, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations.

He testified to Congress in February, branding Trump a “racist….a conman….a cheat” and expressing regret for having worked for Trump. In that testimony, he said he had “suspicions” that Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with Russia -- though the special counsel apparently did not find such evidence.

COHEN LOBS BOMBS AT TRUMP DURING FIERY HEARING, STOPS SHORT OF COLLUSION CLAIM AS GOP BASHES CREDIBILITY

Cohen’s legal team sent a letter to House Democrats this month saying he was still sorting through documents that might be of interest to House Democrats investigating President Trump, including emails, voice recordings, images and other documents on a hard drive. The lawyers said if Cohen reports to prison May 6 as scheduled, he won't be able to finish reviewing the material.

They asked the lawmakers to write letters saying that Cohen was cooperating and that "the substantial trove of new information, documents, recordings, and other evidence he can provide requires substantial time with him and ready access to him by congressional committees and staff to complete their investigations and to fulfill their oversight responsibilities."

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Cohen's lawyers said they were still holding out hope that federal prosecutors in New York not only would back another delay in the start of his prison term, but also would agree to reopen his case and advocate for a lighter sentence.

"It is our hope that the authorities in the Southern District of New York will consider this total picture of cooperation by Mr. Cohen, verified by your letter and the important new evidence he has made available or could make available to assist the government, and the particular facts involved here to grant Mr. Cohen a reduced term following the rules and procedures of the Southern District of New York."

Fox News' Gregg Re contributed to this report.

Source: Fox News Politics

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Tod’s e-commerce surge shows turnaround is working, CEO says

Milan Fashion Week Spring 2019
FILE PHOTO: A model presents a creation at the Tod's show during Milan Fashion Week Spring 2019 in Milan, Italy, September 21, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

April 18, 2019

By Claudia Cristoferi

SANT’ELPIDIO A MARE, Italy (Reuters) – Turnaround efforts at Italian luxury group Tod’s are starting to bear fruit with e-commerce sales growing at a “high-double digit” pace, owner and Chief Executive Diego Della Valle told shareholders on Thursday.

The shoes and leather goods company, famous for its Gommino loafers, has been struggling to revive the appeal of its brands to attract younger luxury shoppers, focusing on digital and more frequent collections and collaborations.

“Our recipe is known and unchanged. We want to keep our long-standing consumers and attract millennials,” Della Valle, who is also Tod’s chairman, said.

“We’ve got to the operational stage on some fronts and this gives us a little more confidence that the road taken is the right one.”

He added the company, which launched a new business model in late 2017 to reverse falling sales and refresh its namesake brand, could have moved earlier to tackle issues.

“But we’re doing what is needed”, he said listing among actions taken a management reshuffle that led to the appointment of a joint-CEO which Della Valle said was working out well.

Online sales, which account for 7 percent of total revenue, are growing at a “high double digit” pace and the firm hopes they will keep expanding at this rhythm in one or 1-1/2 years’ time so that the contribution to group sales can become more sizeable, Della Valle said.

To complement the online expansion in line with current multi-channel consumer trends, Tod’s is also planning to open a new flagship store on Milan’s famed Montenapoleone fashion street in a month.

Della Valle said disappointing quarterly earnings were the result of a push to “achieve sustainable results quite quickly”.

The company, which has fallen short of market expectations in recent years, has said 2019 will be another “year of transition” in terms of profitability.

The Della Valle family has been gradually increasing its stake in Tod’s as a sign of confidence in the company of which it now owns 63 percent.

“I’m happy where I am,” Della Valle said when asked about his role at the company.

(Reporting by Claudia Cristoferi, editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

Source: OANN

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Airbus sells longer-range A321s, sees quick end to Boeing crisis

The Airbus logo is pictured at Airbus headquarters in Blagnac near Toulouse
FILE PHOTO: The Airbus logo is pictured at Airbus headquarters in Blagnac near Toulouse, France, March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

April 18, 2019

TOULOUSE, France (Reuters) – The new sales chief at Europe’s Airbus hinted at orders for an unannounced new version of its A321 jet, while softening market rhetoric and predicting rival Boeing will emerge quickly from a crisis over the grounded 737 MAX.

Airbus is seeing more demand for longer-range versions of roughly 200-seat planes previously used for medium-haul routes, blurring boundaries with bigger jets, Christian Scherer said.

“We are selling increased range on the A321. People are telling us this is a great module, give me more range. We will give you the maximum range we can on the A321: how many would you like? That is what we are doing,” he told Reuters in the first substantial interview he has given since being appointed to his new role last September.

The remarks are the strongest indication yet that Airbus has quietly launched the A321XLR, a keenly awaited new version of its single-aisle franchise that competes with the Boeing 737 MAX and could brush up against a proposed new Boeing mid-market jet.

The effort to expand Airbus’ lead in the market for its cash cow predates last month’s grounding of the MAX and Scherer said he ruled out Airbus trying to exploit the 737 MAX crisis, adding that Boeing would quickly emerge from the turmoil.

Sources say Airbus has signed up several customers for the A321XLR. Airbus and Boeing compete ferociously for sales of single aisle jets like the MAX and A320 or A321.

Airbus plans to increase total single-aisle output from 57 to 63 a month from next year but recently halted plans to go as high as 70 due to objections from overstretched engine makers.

Industrial issues aside, Scherer cited single-aisle demand beyond 63 a month. Asked if the market could absorb 70, he said: “That number has been used before and I see the logic of it.”

(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)

Source: OANN

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Wall Street set for higher open after upbeat retail sales data

Traders work on the floor at the NYSE in New York
FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

April 18, 2019

By Amy Caren Daniel

(Reuters) – Wall Street was set to open slightly higher on Thursday, ahead of a long Easter weekend, supported by robust retail sales data, with investors eying the release of a long-awaited Mueller report.

U.S. retail sales increased by the most in 1-1/2 years in March, the latest indication that economic growth picked up in the first quarter after a false start.

Adding to sentiment, a Labor Department showed the number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits fell to more than a 49-1/2-year low last week.

“Retail sales really came back roaring. It looks like the consumer made up for the government shutdown and there were good numbers in jobless claims,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities in New York.

The robust data helped blunt weak manufacturing data out of France and Germany that showed activity in the euro zone’s two biggest economies continued to contract.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election will provide the first public look at the findings of an inquiry that has cast a shadow over Donald Trump’s presidency.

Attorney General William Barr will hold a news conference at 9:30 a.m. ET to discuss the report, ahead of its release.

“I think the markets are going to focus on how damaging the Mueller report is going to be for Trump’s re-election chances,” said Rick Meckler, partner at Cherry Lane Investments, in New Vernon, New Jersey.

“But as with everything with Trump, it probably won’t have a big impact long term.”

At 8:46 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were up 26 points, or 0.1%. S&P 500 e-minis were up 4 points, or 0.14% and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 4.75 points, or 0.06%.

On trade, Washington and Beijing set a tentative timeline for a fresh round of face-to-face meetings ahead of a possible signing ceremony in late May or early June, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Of the 54 S&P 500 companies that have posted earnings so far, 79.6% have beaten consensus, according to Refinitiv data.

Analysts now expect first-quarter profits for S&P 500 companies to have dropped 1.8% year-on-year, an improvement from recent estimates, but would still be the first earnings decline since 2016.

Among stocks, Honeywell International Inc shares rose 1% in premarket trading after its quarterly profit beat estimates and the industrial conglomerate raised its annual forecast.

American Express Co fell 1% after credit-card issuer’s quarterly revenue missed estimates.

Investors are also awaiting the hotly-anticipated debut of online scrapbook company Pinterest Inc, the first high-profile initial public offering of a “tech unicorn” after Lyft Inc’s struggles.

(Reporting by Amy Caren Daniel and Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

Source: OANN

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North Korean leader Kim to meet Russia’s Putin this month: Kremlin

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the 4th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the 4th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang in this April 10, 2019 photo released on April 11, 2019 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS/File Photo

April 18, 2019

By Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will travel to Russia in the second half of this month and meet President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin said on Thursday.

The announcement coincided with a moment of discord in efforts by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to reach a deal with Kim to end nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea said on Thursday it no longer wanted to deal with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and called for him to be replaced in talks by somebody more mature. That demand came hours after Pyongyang announced its first weapons test since the last summit between Trump and Kim in Vietnam in February broke down with no agreement.

The pro-Kremlin Izvestia newspaper cited a diplomatic source on Wednesday as saying the Putin-Kim meeting would likely take place next week in Russia’s Far Eastern city of Vladivostok before Putin flies on to an April 26-27 summit in China.

It added though that a sudden change of plan by the leader of the secretive North Korean state could not be ruled out.

The Kremlin gave no further details in a statement on its website, but Moscow has been saying for months that it was working on such a meeting.

It was not clear how Kim might travel to the summit.

A North Korean official, Kim Chang Son, traveled to Vladivostok this week and was seen on Wednesday inspecting the Pacific city’s train station and making security checks, Russia’s RIA news agency reported on Thursday.

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun was due in Moscow on Wednesday and Thursday to meet Russian officials to discuss ways to advance a “final, fully verified denuclearisation of North Korea”, Washington said on Tuesday.

The Trump-Kim meeting in Vietnam, the second summit between the two leaders, broke down over conflicting demands by North Korea for sanctions relief and by the United States for North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. The following month Washington imposed a new round of sanctions on Pyongyang.

Trump administration officials have floated the possibility of a third summit.

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Christian Lowe and Frances Kerry)

Source: OANN

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Dems will try to ‘connect the dots’ to push back against ‘ultimate trump card’ in Mueller report: Brody

President Trump's supporters can expect to hear the same liberal talking points of collusion and obstruction following the release of the redacted Mueller report, a political analyst told Fox News.

David Brody, Christian Broadcasting Network chief political correspondent, appeared on "Fox & Friends" and broke down the Democrat narrative of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign Thursday ahead of the report's release.

"Donald Trump has the ultimate trump card, right?" Brody told Fox News chief national correspondent Ed Henry. "No collusion."

IN MUELLER REPORT'S RELEASE TRUMP LOOKS FOR VINDICATION, BUT NEW FIGHTS LOOM

He added: "I think what we are going to see with Democrats today is... they're going to try to connect the dots and Adam Schiff is going to have some sort of collusion diagram going on."

Democrats, Brody charged, could end up contradicting themselves by questioning what Mueller found -- despite previously praising him.

"Democrats can't have it both ways, here. They wanted a special counsel, they got it. They said Mueller is a fair guy, and now all of a sudden, Mueller doesn't know what he is talking about. That doesn't work."

Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer put out a statement ahead of the Barr news conference saying they want Mueller to testify, which Brody calls the "nook and cranny strategy" to figure out a way to put Mueller in front of Congress.

He then took aim at those in the media critical of Barr's news conference, slated for 9:30 a.m. ET.

"The media complaining about a press conference. Let me get this straight -- Bill Barr is going to have a press conference and you can ask him questions about a process. No, no, no, no. We don't want to do it. We don't want that press conference? What in the world? It's upside down," Brody said.

Nearly two years of fevered speculation surrounding the Russia probe, though, will come to a head in a dramatic television finale-like moment on Thursday morning, when Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein are set to hold a press conference to discuss the Mueller report's public release.

It was not immediately clear exactly when on Thursday the DOJ would release the redacted version of the nearly 400-page investigation into Russian election meddling, but the document was expected to be delivered to lawmakers and posted online by noon.

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Barr has said redactions in the report's release are legally mandated.to protect four broad areas of concern: sensitive grand jury-related matters, classified information, ongoing investigations and the privacy or reputation of uncharged "peripheral" people.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Democrat New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, has said he is prepared to issue subpoenas "very quickly" for the full report if it is released with blacked-out sections, likely setting in motion a major legal battle.

Source: Fox News Politics

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FILE PHOTO: US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke arrives at the US Capitol prior to the service for former President George H. W. Bush in Washington, DC, USA
FILE PHOTO: US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke arrives at the US Capitol prior to the service for former President George H. W. Bush in Washington, DC, USA, 03 December 2018. Shawn Thew/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

April 16, 2019

By Valerie Volcovici

(Reuters) – Former U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who stepped down in December amid ethics investigations, has joined the board of junior mining exploration company U.S. Gold Corp, the company said on Tuesday.

Zinke, who ran the Interior Department, which oversees America’s vast public lands, aggressively pursued President Donald Trump’s agenda to promote oil drilling and coal mining by expanding federal leasing, cutting royalty rates, and easing land protections despite environmental protests.

“Zinke has a lot of credibility in the mining industry. We think his credibility and gravitas will give us visibility, which we need to advance the company and benefit our shareholders,” U.S. Gold Corp CEO Edward Karr told Reuters.

The company has a gold exploration project on Wyoming state land at the Copper King deposit and is going through state environmental reviews and regulations. It also has the Keystone project, which has 650 mining claims on a major gold trend on federal land managed by Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Nevada.

Karr said the company wants to prove that there is a world class deposit there to attract interest from mining company Barrick Gold, which owns property to the north of the Keystone project.

“Where Zinke could provide value is being on the ground and interacting with BLM’s Nevada office,” he said.

In a statement, Zinke said his work at Interior “can add tremendous value to the company.”

“I am excited to work closely with management and the Board to help make mining great again in America,” he said.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Susan Thomas and Alistair Bell)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Businessman Bill Browder speaks after the coroner ruled that Russian businessman Alexander Perepilichnyy probably died of natural causes outside his home in 2012, after the inquest concluded at the Old Bailey, in London
FILE PHOTO: Businessman Bill Browder speaks after the coroner ruled that Russian businessman Alexander Perepilichnyy probably died of natural causes outside his home in 2012, after the inquest concluded at the Old Bailey, in London, Britain, December 19, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo

April 17, 2019

By Esha Vaish and Gederts Gelzis

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Bill Browder, an investor who campaigns to expose corruption, has taken a criminal complaint against Swedbank to Latvian authorities, alleging it was involved in a Russian money laundering scandal.

Swedbank is being investigated by Swedish and Baltic financial watchdogs after broadcaster SVT reported it processed gross transactions worth up to 20 billion euros ($22.6 billion) a year from high-risk, non-resident clients, mostly Russians, through its Estonian branch between 2010 and 2016.

These inquiries follow a fast-growing money laundering scandal centered on Danske Bank, which said last year that its Estonian branch had been used to move 230 billion euros ($260 billion) of suspicious payments from 2007 to 2015.

Browder, once the biggest foreign money manager in Russia, had already taken the complaint against Swedbank to Swedish and Estonian authorities, alleging that the Swedish bank’s accounts were used to launder $176 million from 2006 to 2012.

The bulk of this, $117 million, went through Swedbank’s Estonian branch and Browder’s complaint lodged with Latvian authorities, dated April 5 and seen by Reuters on Wednesday, showed some $41 million had passed through Latvia.

“We cooperate with the authorities in all our home markets in order to resolve current issues. However, we have no comment on the specific cases that Bill Browder now points to,” a Swedbank spokeswoman said in an emailed response.

Browder’s complaint, filed by his Hermitage Capital Management, called on Latvian authorities to look into the allegations alongside their ongoing broader probe into Russian money laundering links.

Latvian authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

MAGNITSKY CASE

Browder has pushed for banks to be held accountable over links to a money laundering and tax fraud exposed by his former lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian jail in 2009.

He had previously brought cases against Swedbank’s rivals Nordea and Danske Bank, which is now the subject of investigations in the United States, France, Denmark, Estonia and Britain.

Estonia is including Browder’s Swedbank complaint in its Danske Bank inquiry, but Sweden dropped its investigation saying there were limited transfers involving Swedish accounts and that the statute of limitations had expired.

Sweden, along with authorities in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, is set to conclude its investigation into Swedbank later this year, while a separate Swedish economic crime agency inquiry into the bank’s conduct was expanded last month.

($1 = 0.8838 euros)

(Reporting by Esha Vaish in Stockholm and Gederts Gelzis in Riga; Editing by Alexander Smith)

Source: OANN

Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers Kevin Hassett claims President Trump’s tax overhaul helped promote job growth saying, “The question I would ask a critic of the tax cuts, if it wasn’t the tax cuts and it wasn’t our deregulation, then what was it? Was it the Martians?”

Hassett asked the question on “America’s Newsroom” on Tuesday in response to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ comments during a Fox News town hall Monday, when the 2020 presidential hopeful urged President Trump to release his tax returns on the same day he released 10 years of his own tax information.

At the fiery town hall in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, sparks flew almost immediately, as the Vermont senator defiantly refused to explain why he would not voluntarily pay the massive new 52 percent “wealth tax” that he advocated imposing on the nation’s richest individuals.

SANDERS RELEASES TAX RETURNS — WHAT DO THEY SHOW?

For his part, Hassett said, “The thing that I would actually, if I had been at a town hall meeting with anyone who is a critic of our policies… the thing that I would remind folks, and I think it’s important to remind folks now, is that if you go back to 2016, The Congressional Budget Office, it’s nonpartisan, it forecasted what 2018, last year, would look like and they said that the economy that President Trump inherited would create 58,000 jobs a month. If you look at what we did last year, we created about 206,000 jobs a month and so there’s a big, big increase in growth and job creation and wages that must be explained by something.”

He then asked if “Martians” or “Magic Sauce” were responsible for the dramatic increase in job creation.

TRUMP TOUTS TAX CUTS SUCCESSES IN TRIP TO MINNESOTA, KEY VOTING STATE IN 2020 ELECTION

President Trump spent his tax filing day in Minnesota, where he touted the $1.5 trillion package of corporate and individual tax cuts he signed into law in 2017.

When asked if he thinks the president will ever release his tax returns, Hassett said the “president will make that decision on his own.”

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He added, “It goes back to the election and I think if the American people were concerned about it, he wouldn’t be president.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Source: Fox News Politics

Egypt President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen during a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Abidjan
Egypt President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen during a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

April 16, 2019

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s parliament on Tuesday approved amendments to the constitution that could keep President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in power until 2030.

The 596-member parliament, which is dominated by Sisi supporters, voted 531 to 22 in favor of the amendments.

(Writing by Lena Masri; Editing by Alison Williams)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: South Korean singer Jung Joon-young arrives for questioning on accusations of illicitly taping and sharing sex videos on social media, at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency in Seoul
FILE PHOTO: South Korean singer Jung Joon-young arrives for questioning on accusations of illicitly taping and sharing sex videos on social media, at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency in Seoul, South Korea, March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

April 14, 2019

By Joyce Lee and Joori Roh

SEOUL (Reuters) – On a recent weekend night, the dance floor at one of the hottest clubs in Seoul’s swanky Gangnam district held only a few dozen people surrounded by mostly empty tables.

A few months ago, the nightclub would have been packed with hundreds of gyrating men and women, and full tables, many costing 650,000 won ($570) or more for a night of drinking and dancing.

The world was introduced to Gangnam by the 2012 K-pop hit “Gangnam Style,” a parody of the South Korean highlife with a viral tune and amusing dancing that became the first video to reach a billion views on YouTube.

But a wave of sex crimes and other illegal activity has revealed a dark underbelly in the district, driving club-goers and celebrities away.

According to police investigators, a network of pop stars, businessmen and cops are alleged to have colluded and enabled tax evasion, bribery, and prostitution at some of Gangnam’s glitziest clubs.

Most seriously, some are being investigated over the use of date rape drugs to incapacitate women and assault them, sometimes filmed by hidden cameras.

“There aren’t many people coming to Gangnam (clubs) right now,” a worker told Reuters at a club that was relatively quiet, despite not being implicated in any of the allegations. “There’s an investigation on.”

The scandals have already led to the resignation of four K-pop stars, the closure of one of Gangnam’s most lucrative club, and investigations into at least six police officers suspected of colluding with club operators.

President Moon Jae-in called for a thorough investigation, saying the Gangnam club cases suggest possible collusion between police, tax authorities and a new privileged class including celebrities to engage in illegal operations.

More than 500 people have been investigated for drug use and sexual assault and more than 200 arrested in a nationwide roundup since Feb. 25.

Tax authorities have launched investigations into 21 clubs and host bars for possible evasion.

“If we don’t set this right, we cannot call this a just society,” Moon said.

SEX CRIME CONCERNS

The investigations, revolving around two Gangnam clubs, Burning Sun and Arena, began late last year when 29-year-old film art director Kim Sang-kyo says he tried to stop an incident of sexual harassment and was attacked by Burning Sun staff, and then abused by police who instead arrested him.

A government commission concluded that police in Gangnam violated Kim’s rights during his arrest, but Kim is still being investigated for sexual harassment and defamation. He denies any wrongdoing.

Calls to Burning Sun, which closed down after the scandal broke, were not answered, while a man who answered the number listed for Arena hung up when asked for comment. Arena has also been closed since early March for what it said were renovations. Gangnam police declined to comment.

Kim said once he shared his story he began to receive messages from other people who said they had been victimized in Gangnam clubs, and he realized the scope of the problem.

“When people saw me raising questions, they said ‘why you? Why now?’” Kim said. “‘This has been going on for 10 years, 15 years, and you can’t touch it. You can’t win.’ I’ve heard a lot of people say this, and I think it’s really scary.”

The string of scandals gained wider attention when several K-pop stars who had ties to some of the clubs were implicated in crimes unrelated to Kim’s arrest.

Singer Lee Seung-hyun, 28, better known by the stage name Seungri, is under investigation for paying for prostitutes in return for favors from foreign businessmen at Arena.

He is also accused of embezzlement at another club he was involved with until last year.

Lee has denied all wrong doing, but resigned from his position as a member of the boy band BIGBANG. Lee’s lawyer told Reuters this week his client maintains his innocence.

At least three other K-pop stars resigned after they were accused by police of sharing illicitly filmed sex tapes. It is not yet clear whether any of the shared videos and photos were taken at either nightclub.

One singer, Jung Joon-young admitted to having shared videos he took secretly while having sex with women.

“I am truly sorry. I committed a crime that cannot be forgiven,” Jung read from a handwritten statement on March 21.

WEB OF CONNECTIONS

Besides Seungri, who was an internal director at Burning Sun and previously helped run the club, police are investigating two of the club’s co-presidents and an operating director for various crimes including distributing drugs, assaulting a customer, and bribing police.

Investigators have also questioned 15 people and arrested four people with links to Burning Sun on drug charges. At least one club promoter was arrested for distributing illegal sex videos.

A man identified as the de facto owner of Arena, surnamed Kang, was arrested in late March, a Seoul Central District Court spokesman said.

Kang and other Arena executives are accused of tax evasion by avoiding paying 16.2 billion won ($14.31 million) in taxes between 2014-2017. Kang refused to answer questions on March 25 as he emerged from court. He could not be reached for comment.

Authorities are also investigating allegations that club officials provided bribes to police officers.

Six officers are now under investigation for possible collusion with the clubs, including a senior superintendent, lawmakers briefed by Police Commissioner General Min Gab-ryong said.

The superintendent, surnamed Yoon, admitted playing golf and sharing meals with a man known to be Seungri’s business partner, but denies all allegations of corruption.

He is accused of leaking confidential information and accepting bribes, including K-pop concert tickets from singer Seungri, an official at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said.

In Gangnam, former patrons and workers lament the impact the scandals have had on the clubs and the broader entertainment industry, a key identity and export for South Korea.

Kim Se-rim, 27, said she no longer goes to clubs.

“People are like, why would you go when you know there are so much drugs, GHB, rape going on?,” she said, referring to a known date-rape drug. “And they have a point.”

($1 = 1,134.5200 won)

(Additional reporting and writing by Josh Smith.; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

Source: OANN



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