The Guardian 2024-05-21 10:05:49


Australia respects ICC’s independence after Netanyahu arrest warrant request, government says

Government rejects suggestions it should criticise the court, which has sought arrest warrants for the Israeli PM and Hamas officials for war crimes

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The Albanese government says it respects the international criminal court’s “important” and “independent” role in upholding the law after its chief prosecutor requested arrest warrants for Hamas and Israeli officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

A foreign affairs spokesperson said it was not appropriate to comment on matters before the court but added that Israel must comply with international laws, noting “every country is bound by the same fundamental rules” while defending itself.

“Australia respects the ICC and the important role it has in upholding international law,” the spokesperson said. “The decision on whether to issue arrest warrants is a matter for the Court in the independent exercise of its functions.”

The Labor cabinet minister Chris Bowen made the point more bluntly on Tuesday, telling reporters “international law must always be observed and nobody gets a free pass for that”.

The Coalition on Tuesday criticised the Albanese government for not backing comments from the US president, Joe Biden, who said he rejected claims that Israel was committing genocide.

Bowen described the criticism from Peter Dutton as “highly irresponsible”, saying the opposition leader was seeking to “drag this through a domestic political debate”.

It comes as the British ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said on Monday his office had applied to the world court’s pre-trial chamber for the arrest warrants for Netanyahu, his defence minister, Yoav Gallant, along with the senior Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh. A panel of three judges would consider the evidence and determine if the proceedings can move forward.

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Anthony Albanese would not be drawn on the development on Tuesday morning, saying he does not comment on court proceedings.

But Dutton told reporters in Melbourne that “Australia should stand shoulder to shoulder with President Biden” in standing against a moral “equivalence” he claimed had been drawn by the ICC.

The opposition leader said it was “utterly repugnant to compare the Israeli prime minister to a terrorist organisation leader”.

“The prime minister squibbed it today when he was asked about this issue,” Dutton said.

“I very strongly support the comments of President Biden today in relation to the ICC, it’s an abomination and it needs to be ceased.”

The former prime minister Scott Morrison was similarly critical of the ICC chief prosecutor’s decision, accusing the court of surrendering “its legitimacy in creating a moral equivalence between terrorists and a nation”.

“The ICC has defined the victim as the perpetrator. That is not justice,” Morrison posted on X.

The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, said Labor should actively support the decision to issue warrants.

Khan’s official statement said Israel had a right to defend its population but it did not “absolve Israel or any state of its obligation to comply with international humanitarian law”.

There is no imminent likelihood of prosecution, since Israel is not a member of the court, but ICC warrants could put Israeli officials at risk of arrest abroad.

Palestinian authorities reported last week that 35,000 people had been killed in Gaza since Israel began its military response to the 7 October Hamas attack.

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade noted the request for arrest warrants and reiterated calls for a humanitarian ceasefire, the release of hostages and increased humanitarian access.

“There is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organisation. It is proscribed as such in Australia. Australia has been clear and unequivocal in our condemnation of its terrorist actions. We continue to call for the release of hostages immediately and unconditionally,” the spokesperson said.

“Any country under attack by Hamas would defend itself. And in defending itself, every country is bound by the same fundamental rules. Israel must comply with international humanitarian law.”

Australia’s peak Jewish representative group, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, called the ICC’s announcement a “dangerous politicisation” of the international tribunal and urged Albanese to rebuke it.

Rawan Arraf, the head of the Australian Centre for International Justice, said it was a “welcome step to end Israel’s entrenched impunity and to hold those responsible for the commission of international crimes accountable and to bring them to justice”.

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We are wrapping up the blog for tonight. Here’s what made the news:

  • Telstra has announced it plans to cut 2,800 jobs from its workforce as part of changes to its enterprise business.

  • The foreign minister, Penny Wong, has confirmed the government has received clearance for two government assisted-departure flights to New Caledonia, where at least 300 Australians are stranded.

  • Queensland’s chief health officer declared a public health alert over the mental wellbeing of teenagers.

  • The prime minister weighed in on ICC prosecutor seeking arrest warrants, reiterating previously outlined government positions. Peter Dutton said Australia should “stand shoulder to shoulder with President Biden” who condemned the warrants.

  • A high court decision in Britain to allow Julian Assange to appeal his extradition to the US is a “small win” for the WikiLeaks founder but he should be freed now, the union for Australia’s journalists said.

  • The government announced the launch of a new network that will link cancer services across Australia, called the Australian comprehensive cancer network (ACCN).

  • Two Australian Palestinian men have been arrested after occupying the roof of a University of Queensland building yesterday afternoon.

  • The shadow education minister, Sarah Henderson, has said universities should ‘bring in the police’ to end pro-Palestine protests at campuses.

  • The competition watchdog has urged the Albanese government to support new airlines to enter Australia’s aviation market and help existing smaller operators expand, as it rues the likelihood that budget carrier Bonza will collapse.

  • NDIS minister Bill Shorten stoushed with premiers over the NDIS, saying “they’re wrong” about proposed changes to the legislation.

  • ANZ said it was investigating an issue affecting some customers unable to access their ANZ app or online banking.

  • About 7,500 staff and students have been caught up in a cyber-attack at Western Sydney University.

Greg Lynn trial: Russell Hill given ultimatum to tell wife of Carol Clay affair years before their deaths, court told

Former Jetstar pilot has pleaded not guilty to murdering Hill and Clay, who court hears were having an affair

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Russell Hill told his family he was no longer seeing Carol Clay after being given an ultimatum in 2006 by a neighbour to tell his wife about the affair he was having, a murder trial has heard.

Hill’s wife of more than 50 years, Robyn Hill, also told the double murder trial of former airline pilot Gregory Stuart Lynn that her husband was killed not far from where his uncle died in a deer-hunting accident more than two decades earlier.

Lynn, 57, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Hill and Clay in the state’s alpine region in March 2020.

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Robyn Hill told the Victorian supreme court on Tuesday that her husband told her he was camping alone when he left their Drouin home about 7.30am on the morning of 19 March 2020.

He said he would be camping in the Wonnangatta Valley, a place the couple had previously camped in together and which he knew well and enjoyed visiting. She helped her husband pack, and gave him $20-$30 cash for lunch so he did not have to use his credit card, the court heard.

Hill tuned in to high frequency radio almost every night at 6pm to speak with other radio enthusiasts and friends, but Robyn Hill said he told her he would not do so that night as he would be unable to set up his antenna in time once he arrived.

She heard his voice on the radio the next night. She told police he was missing on 25 March, after he failed to tune in to any other radio meetings.

Robyn Hill told the court that a neighbour had given Hill an ultimatum in 2006 to come forward to his wife about an affair with Clay, otherwise the neighbour would. After the ultimatum, Robyn Hill believed her husband had stopped seeing Clay.

She had previously thought it “strange” when Hill and Clay twice went walking alone together during holidays that she and Hill had taken with Clay and her husband to Cowes, on Phillip Island.

Hill had also previously told Robyn Hill that Clay was his first cousin, but she said that she later discovered that was not the case.

Their eldest daughter, Deborah Hill, told the court that she understood her father had given a commitment to have ended his relationship with Clay, and would have no further contact with her.

Deborah Hill also said her father told her he would be camping alone on the trip to the Wonnangatta Valley.

Robyn Hill said that while her 74-year-old husband was fit and active, he had started to slow by the time of his disappearance.

“He walked slow, and he would think slow,” she said

“I just thought he was getting old.”

Hill had taken antidepressants for several decades, she said.

She confirmed that Hill did not like hunting, though he had friends who were deer hunters, and he had previously owned two firearms despite not having a licence.

Robyn Hill said she believed she handed the guns in during a police amnesty, but could not recall when.

The guns had been given to Hill by his father when he moved off a farm, she told the court.

Robyn Hill confirmed her husband’s uncle, Gary Hill, had been accidentally shot by a nephew in 1994, and that a plaque had been erected at a place called Hilly’s Camp, not far from where Hill was killed.

“Not every stag under a … tree is a deer,” the plaque reads in part, the court was told.

Deborah Hill said that she had a memory of her father once shooting dead a duck on a property they lived on around 1984, but she could remember little else about the firearms.

She said her father’s attitude towards them was that they were unsafe.

Lynn’s lawyer, Dermot Dann KC, previously told the court that the deaths were the result of a tragic accident, in part spurred by an argument Lynn had with Hill about hunting in the area.

The prosecutor, Daniel Porceddu, has said police do not know the circumstances or motive behind the alleged double murder.

On Tuesday morning, justice Michael Croucher informed the jury on Tuesday morning that a juror had been discharged after falling ill. He said he felt it was better for the trial to continue rather than to wait and see if they felt better.

A jury of 15 were empanelled in the case last week, in part to protect against the risk of illness during a trial which could stretch for six weeks, but only 12 jurors are required to rule on a verdict.

The hearing continues.

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Israel’s defence minister has again issued criticism of the international criminal court (ICC) decision to seek arrest warrants for senior Israeli and Hamas figures involved in the conflict in Gaza, saying that the move was an “attempt to deny the state of Israel the right to defend itself”.

In a lengthy post on social media, Yoav Gallant, one of those named by the IIC chief prosecutor, said

The state of Israel has been fighting since 7 October a murderous and bloodthirsty enemy, who has committed atrocities against Israeli women, children and men, and now uses its his own people as a human shield. The IDF fights in accordance with the rules of international law, taking unique humanitarian efforts the likes of which have not been taken in any armed conflict.

The [ICC] prosecutor’s parallel between the terrorist organization Hamas and the state of Israel is despicable and disgusting. The state of Israel is not a party to the court and does not recognise its authority. Prosecutor Karim Khan’s attempt to deny the state of Israel the right to defend itself and release its abductees must be rejected outright.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Gallant are accused of extermination, causing starvation as a method of war, the denial of humanitarian relief supplies and deliberately targeting civilians. Hamas leaders and officials Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh were named by the court as being wanted for crimes of extermination, murder, hostage taking, rape, sexual assault and torture. Israel’s president Isaac Herzog yesterday described the court’s action as “one-sided” and in “bad faith”.

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ICC’s Karim Khan: a prosecutor in a hurry to effect international law

Swift pursuit of arrest warrants against war leaders in Ukraine and now Gaza is a bold show of legal rule without fear or favour

  • ICC seeks arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders for war crimes

The international criminal court’s Karim Khan has quickly made a reputation for himself as a formidable prosecutor.

In an international court that had a reputation for glacial slowness of process, he has moved rapidly against the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, over alleged war crimes in Ukraine, and now against Hamas and Israeli officials over the war in Gaza.

And while it had long been speculated, not least in comments from the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, himself, that international criminal court arrest warrants might be imminent, Khan’s decision to apply to ICC judges to issue them marks a new and significant moment for the court.

Khan’s decision to seek the warrants, in such a highly politicised context, and in the face of opposition from the US (which is not a signatory to the ICC) and other western states, appears in line with his determination to persuade a sceptical global community – not least those in the global south – that the ICC will pursue alleged war criminals outside places such as African countries where so many of its cases have been focused.

That was made explicit in the ICC’s statement announcing it was seeking arrest warrants against both Hamas and Israeli leaders, including Netanyahu, the Israeli defence minister, Yoav Gallant, and three top Hamas officials, including Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif.

“Let us today be clear on one core issue: if we do not demonstrate our willingness to apply the law equally, if it is seen as being applied selectively, we will be creating the conditions for its collapse,” the statement said.

“In doing so, we will be loosening the remaining bonds that hold us together, the stabilising connections between all communities and individuals, the safety net to which all victims look in times of suffering. This is the true risk we face in this moment.”

Khan, 50, was appointed as the ICC prosecutor in 2021. In a secret ballot process, the Briton beat candidates from Ireland, Spain and Italy to win on a second round of voting with support from 72 nations – 10 more than the 62 needed.

Reading law at King’s College London, Khan demonstrated an early interest in international justice and human rights, something he has partly credited to his background of voluntary work with the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, a persecuted sect of Islam, of which he is a member.

The community moved its headquarters to the UK in the 1980s after the Pakistani government passed a law forbidding Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslims, and curbing their religious practices. Khan said his experience with them “helped me gravitate to this area [of human rights]”.

He was called to the bar in 1992 and cut his teeth with the Crown Prosecution Service. In his first published interview after becoming the ICC prosecutor, Khan told Counsel magazine that seeing the horrors of the Balkans war on television made him aspire to work at the international criminal tribunal for former Yugoslavia, a goal he would realise.

He had not been on the original shortlist for the ICC role and was added partly at the insistence of the Kenyan government after acting as defence counsel for the Kenyan vice-president, William Ruto, when he was charged with crimes against humanity after post-election violence in 2007 that led to 1,200 people being killed.

Those charges were dropped in 2016 by the ICC after what was described as a “troubling incidence of witness interference and intolerable political meddling”. One key witness was killed in December 2014.

Before the ICC election, Khan addressed this in an open letter detailing how he did everything possible to prevent intimidation by ensuring the individual was put under witness protection, and then seeking an inquiry.

Speaking at the time of Khan’s appointment as ICC prosecutor, Philippe Sands KC, who has known Khan since teaching him international law at King’s, said his former student had had “an extremely impressive career as an advocate. He’s got huge experience and brings to that job real knowledge and experience of what it means to prepare, conduct and litigate an international criminal trial”.

His suitability for the ICC role was also questioned by some, given that he defended Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president who was convicted of war crimes at a special court for Sierra Leone.

Khan’s determination as a prosecutor to pursue alleged war crimes has led to him being placed on a wanted list by Russia, and more recently threatened by Republican senators in the US Congress over his pursuit of his investigations around Gaza.

That, in turn, led the ICC to issue a statement warning against attempts to impede, intimidate or improperly influence its officials.

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Amal Clooney advised ICC prosecutor who seeks arrest of Israel and Hamas leaders

Human rights lawyer was a special adviser on investigation into alleged war crimes in Israel and Gaza

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Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney served as a special adviser in the international criminal court prosecutor’s investigation that led him to seek arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, it has emerged.

The court’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, thanked Clooney in his statement announcing the move, describing her as part of “a panel of experts in international law” whom he had turned to for advice and to review the evidence in the case. Many of the named experts are British.

“The panel is composed of experts of immense standing in international humanitarian law and international criminal law,” Khan wrote.

In a statement put out by her Clooney Foundation for Justice, the lawyer elaborated on how she came to be involved in the ICC case, which has triggered arrest warrant requests for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his defence minister, Yoav Gallant, as well as Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh and Mohammad Deif for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“More than four months ago, the prosecutor of the international criminal court asked me to assist him with evaluating evidence of suspected war crimes and crimes against humanity in Israel and Gaza. I agreed and joined a panel of international legal experts to undertake this task. Together we have engaged in an extensive process of evidence review and legal analysis including at the international criminal court in The Hague,” she said.

“Despite our diverse personal backgrounds, our legal findings are unanimous. We have unanimously determined that the court has jurisdiction over crimes committed in Palestine and by Palestinian nationals. We unanimously conclude that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, including hostage-taking, murder and crimes of sexual violence. We unanimously conclude that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israeli defence minister, Yoav Gallant, have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity including starvation as a method of warfare, murder, persecution and extermination.”

Clooney, who has faced criticism on social media for not speaking publicly about the war in Gaza, also elaborated on why she accepted the court’s invitation to advise on the case.

“I served on this panel because I believe in the rule of law and the need to protect civilian lives. The law that protects civilians in war was developed more than 100 years ago and it applies in every country in the world regardless of the reasons for a conflict.

“As a human rights lawyer, I will never accept that one child’s life has less value than another’s. I do not accept that any conflict should be beyond the reach of the law, nor that any perpetrator should be above the law. So I support the historic step that the prosecutor of the international criminal court has taken to bring justice to victims of atrocities in Israel and Palestine.”

The lawyer, who is married to actor George Clooney, is a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers in London and has worked on a string of high-profile cases relating to international law.

In an op-ed for the Financial Times, she and other members of the advisory panel hailed Khan’s decision to issue the arrest warrants as “a milestone in the history of international criminal law”.

They added: “The warrant applications announced today are just the first step. We hope that the prosecutor will continue to conduct focused investigations including in relation to the extensive harm suffered by civilians as a result of the bombing campaign in Gaza and evidence of sexual violence committed against Israelis on 7 October.”

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Trump trial continues after key defense witness admonished by judge

Judge Juan Merchan asks Robert Costello, called by defense to try to discredit Michael Cohen, ‘Are you staring me down right now?’

Donald Trump’s criminal hush-money trial is to enter its 20th day on Tuesday with continued cross-examination of Robert Costello, whom the defense has used to try to discredit the ex-president’s one-time consigliere, Michael Cohen.

The former president, who is all but guaranteed to be the Republican presidential nominee, is charged with falsifying business records related to paying the adult film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 for her silence about an alleged sexual liaison.

Manhattan prosecutors allege that Trump plotted in summer 2015 with then fixer Cohen and former tabloid honcho David Pecker to keep any damaging information under wraps in an effort to protect his candidacy in the 2016 election.

Cohen told jurors he coordinated the payment to Daniels weeks before election day, and footed the bill himself. The campaign was gravely concerned that Daniels’ account could deal a deadly blow to Trump’s presidential run, as an embarrassing hot mic recording – in which he bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy” without their consent – had emerged weeks prior.

Cohen, who testified for four days, claimed at one point that an angry Trump instructed him to bury Daniels’ account, telling him to “just take care of it”.

“This was a disaster, a fucking disaster,” Cohen said he remembered Trump saying. “Women will hate me.”

Cohen told the jury he had kept Daniels’s account off the radar in 2011, coordinating with her then lawyer to remove a story about their alleged encounter off of a gossip website.

“He was really angry with me,” Cohen said of Trump’s reaction after he informed him about Daniels’ potentially coming forward before election day. Trump allegedly said: “I thought you had this under control? I thought you took care of this.”

The prosecution maintains Trump’s repayment of Cohen in 2017 constituted illegal behavior because he described disbursements as legal expenses in financial documents. Cohen’s testimony is integral to prosecutors’ argument that Trump was well aware that these repayments would be described in an illicit way.

On cross-examination, Trump’s legal team failed to land hard blows. The closest Blanche got was getting Cohen to effectively admit over-billing the Trump organization for reimbursement for a payment to a tech company called Red Finch to help make a poll about famous business figures more favorable to Donald Trump.

Cohen said he had paid the tech company $50,000, but in reality he had paid $20,000. Blanche asked Cohen whether he pocketed the $30,000. “So you stole from the Trump Organization?” Blanche said. “Yes sir,” Cohen replied.

On Monday, the prosecution rested its case and Trump’s defense started theirs, with the day ending on Costello, a lawyer whom Cohen discussed during his four days on the stand. Cohen said he met with Costello after officers raided his hotel room and home in April 2018, but was wary of having him as legal representation, given his relationship with Rudy Giuliani.

Cohen said he worried that Costello would tell Giuliani about their conversations, and that the former New York City mayor would then disclose this information to Trump. Costello claimed that during their first meeting, Cohen said he did not know about Trump doing anything illegal; the raid came in the wake of Cohen admitting that he had paid Daniels.

“I explained to Michael Cohen that this entire legal problem he was facing would be resolved by the end of the week if he had truthful information about Donald Trump and cooperated with the southern district of New York,” Costello testified. Costello claimed that Cohen allegedly said: “I swear to God, Bob, I don’t have anything on Donald Trump.”

Costello’s behavior on the stand, including commentary, almost spun the courtroom into chaos, and prompted a rebuke from Judge Juan Merchan, who is presiding over the trial. Costello said “jeez” at one point during his testimony and instructed someone to strike a question, which is something only judges – not witnesses – have the power to do.

Following this episode, Merchan told the jurors that there would be a brief break and after they were gone, warned Costello against acting in such a way. Merchan then asked, “Are you staring me down right now?” and ordered court officers to “clear the courtroom”.

The press was kicked out of the proceedings for several minutes. Under the US constitution, New York state, and common law, there is a presumption of access, meaning court proceedings are supposed to be open to the press and public except in extremely rare circumstances. Merchan did not permit a media attorney to address the court about the access issue.

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Trump trial continues after key defense witness admonished by judge

Judge Juan Merchan asks Robert Costello, called by defense to try to discredit Michael Cohen, ‘Are you staring me down right now?’

Donald Trump’s criminal hush-money trial is to enter its 20th day on Tuesday with continued cross-examination of Robert Costello, whom the defense has used to try to discredit the ex-president’s one-time consigliere, Michael Cohen.

The former president, who is all but guaranteed to be the Republican presidential nominee, is charged with falsifying business records related to paying the adult film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 for her silence about an alleged sexual liaison.

Manhattan prosecutors allege that Trump plotted in summer 2015 with then fixer Cohen and former tabloid honcho David Pecker to keep any damaging information under wraps in an effort to protect his candidacy in the 2016 election.

Cohen told jurors he coordinated the payment to Daniels weeks before election day, and footed the bill himself. The campaign was gravely concerned that Daniels’ account could deal a deadly blow to Trump’s presidential run, as an embarrassing hot mic recording – in which he bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy” without their consent – had emerged weeks prior.

Cohen, who testified for four days, claimed at one point that an angry Trump instructed him to bury Daniels’ account, telling him to “just take care of it”.

“This was a disaster, a fucking disaster,” Cohen said he remembered Trump saying. “Women will hate me.”

Cohen told the jury he had kept Daniels’s account off the radar in 2011, coordinating with her then lawyer to remove a story about their alleged encounter off of a gossip website.

“He was really angry with me,” Cohen said of Trump’s reaction after he informed him about Daniels’ potentially coming forward before election day. Trump allegedly said: “I thought you had this under control? I thought you took care of this.”

The prosecution maintains Trump’s repayment of Cohen in 2017 constituted illegal behavior because he described disbursements as legal expenses in financial documents. Cohen’s testimony is integral to prosecutors’ argument that Trump was well aware that these repayments would be described in an illicit way.

On cross-examination, Trump’s legal team failed to land hard blows. The closest Blanche got was getting Cohen to effectively admit over-billing the Trump organization for reimbursement for a payment to a tech company called Red Finch to help make a poll about famous business figures more favorable to Donald Trump.

Cohen said he had paid the tech company $50,000, but in reality he had paid $20,000. Blanche asked Cohen whether he pocketed the $30,000. “So you stole from the Trump Organization?” Blanche said. “Yes sir,” Cohen replied.

On Monday, the prosecution rested its case and Trump’s defense started theirs, with the day ending on Costello, a lawyer whom Cohen discussed during his four days on the stand. Cohen said he met with Costello after officers raided his hotel room and home in April 2018, but was wary of having him as legal representation, given his relationship with Rudy Giuliani.

Cohen said he worried that Costello would tell Giuliani about their conversations, and that the former New York City mayor would then disclose this information to Trump. Costello claimed that during their first meeting, Cohen said he did not know about Trump doing anything illegal; the raid came in the wake of Cohen admitting that he had paid Daniels.

“I explained to Michael Cohen that this entire legal problem he was facing would be resolved by the end of the week if he had truthful information about Donald Trump and cooperated with the southern district of New York,” Costello testified. Costello claimed that Cohen allegedly said: “I swear to God, Bob, I don’t have anything on Donald Trump.”

Costello’s behavior on the stand, including commentary, almost spun the courtroom into chaos, and prompted a rebuke from Judge Juan Merchan, who is presiding over the trial. Costello said “jeez” at one point during his testimony and instructed someone to strike a question, which is something only judges – not witnesses – have the power to do.

Following this episode, Merchan told the jurors that there would be a brief break and after they were gone, warned Costello against acting in such a way. Merchan then asked, “Are you staring me down right now?” and ordered court officers to “clear the courtroom”.

The press was kicked out of the proceedings for several minutes. Under the US constitution, New York state, and common law, there is a presumption of access, meaning court proceedings are supposed to be open to the press and public except in extremely rare circumstances. Merchan did not permit a media attorney to address the court about the access issue.

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Centrepay scandal: Labor to reform debit scheme to combat ‘predatory behaviour’

Review follows Guardian Australia investigation identifying deep and ongoing failures with voluntary bill-paying service for Centrelink recipients

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The Albanese government has pledged to reform the Centrepay debit system and has referred three energy companies to the regulator for using the system to wrongly take money from welfare recipients.

The announcement on Tuesday afternoon follows a Guardian Australia investigation identifying deep and ongoing failures with the Centrepay system, including its use by the major energy retailers AGL and Origin to wrongly take money from the welfare payments of former customers.

In other cases, Guardian Australia has revealed how unscrupulous rent-to-buy household appliance retailers have used the system to charge exorbitant amounts to vulnerable Australians, particularly in remote Indigenous communities, and how an extreme and disgraced Christian rehabilitation service used Centrepay to prop itself up financially.

The government services minister, Bill Shorten, described Centrepay as a usually “excellent” service that is being undermined by what he described as “predatory behaviour”.

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“We want to send a message to businesses that predatory behaviour is unacceptable, and we’ll continue to work with regulators and put greater safeguards in place to ensure vulnerable people are protected,” he said.

Shorten announced a review would take public submissions from Centrepay users and speak with businesses, consumer advocates and others. The review’s focus has been shaped by several government departments, Anglicare, Mob Strong Debt Help, the Australian Council of Social Service and Economic Justice Australia.

Meanwhile, the government has also announced it has referred three energy retailers to the Australian Energy Regulator over their use of Centrepay. The government did not reveal which retailers have been referred, but it follows the Guardian’s revelations that Origin and another energy retailer, Ergon, were in talks with Services Australia to return money wrongly taken from welfare recipients using the system.

AGL is already before the federal court on an allegation it wrongly took $700,000 from about 500 former customers using Centrepay over a period of years. The money has since been returned. Freedom of information documents obtained by Guardian Australia show its use of Centrepay hasn’t been audited by the government for two years, despite the widespread overpayment allegations.

Shorten said the government would implement a range of “immediate changes” to the system prior to the review process. That included “increased scrutiny, accountability and consequences” for companies that use Centrepay to overcharge people.

It is also providing increased specialist support for customers who may owe significant overpayments and is improving communications with customers about any business that has been restricted from using Centrepay by the corporate regulator Asic.

“Our firm focus is on the people,” Shorten said. “We want Centrepay to remain as a safe and useful financial tool for people on income support, but we must work across government to stamp out predatory behaviour.”

The government says submissions to the review will close on 2 July and the review’s report will be made public once complete.

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Linda Reynolds says failed mediation with Brittany Higgins disappointing for those ‘damaged and wounded by this saga’

Defamation case now likely to head to trial, with the former defence minister saying it’s time for ‘us all to find a way to move on’

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A pair of high-profile defamation cases pitting the Liberal senator Linda Reynolds against her former political staffer Brittany Higgins and her fiance are likely to head to trial after mediation talks were unsuccessful.

The former defence minister, who plans to retire from politics at the next election, is suing Higgins and David Sharaz over a series of social media posts she says have damaged her reputation.

Reynolds said she was disappointed the talks did not resolve the matter “for all of those who have been damaged and wounded by this saga for the last over three years now”.

“I think it’s time for the truth, as Justice Lee … found in relation to this matter … for all parties to accept all of his findings and for us all to find a way to move on,” she told reporters outside the Western Australian supreme court in Perth on Tuesday.

“Too many people have been damaged irreparably by this.”

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When she arrived at the court for the talks, Reynolds said it was time for her opponents “to admit they got it wrong”.

Reynolds also said the finance minister, Katy Gallagher, and attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, should accept Lee’s findings in the federal court.

Lee’s judgment in Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation case against Network Ten and the journalist Lisa Wilkinson found that on the balance of probabilities he did rape Higgins, but the allegation of a political cover-up “was objectively short on facts but long on speculation”.

The parties in the WA case in March attended closed-door mediation but it was also not successful.

Sharaz in April tweeted he would no longer fight the case because he could not afford to pay the legal cost associated with going to trial in July.

Reynolds is suing him over tweets he made and a Facebook comment in 2022.

One defamatory imputation claimed against Sharaz’s tweets was that Reynolds put pressure on Higgins not to proceed with a genuine complaint to police about being raped in her ministerial office.

Other claimed imputations were that the senator “is a hypocrite in her advocacy for women’s interests and empowerment”, interfered in Lehrmann’s trial and bullied Higgins.

Higgins is accused of posting defamatory material on her Instagram and X (formerly Twitter) accounts.

Lehrmann has always denied the sexual assault allegation. His criminal trial was aborted due to juror misconduct and Higgins’ mental health was cited as the reason for no retrial.

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Delhi orders schools to close early for holidays as temperatures hit 47.4C

Authorities cut short school term as weather bureau warns of severe heatwave conditions this week

Authorities in the Indian capital, have ordered schools to shut early for the summer holiday, after temperatures in Delhi hit 47.4C (117F).

City officials told schools to shut with “immediate effect” due to the blistering heat, according to a government order quoted by the Hindustan Times on Tuesday, cutting the term by a few days.

India’s weather bureau has warned of “severe heatwave conditions” this week, reaching a peak of 47.4C in Delhi’s Najafgarh suburb on Monday – the hottest temperature countrywide.

Authorities in other states – including Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan – have also ordered schools to close, India Today reported.

India is used to searing summer temperatures, but years of scientific research have found the climate crisis is causing heatwaves to become longer, more frequent and more intense.

The Indian Meteorological Department warned of the impact of the heat on health, especially for infants, elderly people and those with chronic diseases.

In May 2022, parts of Delhi hit 49.2C (120.5F), Indian media reported at the time.

The next round of voting in India’s six-week-long election takes place on Saturday, including in Delhi. Turnout has dipped, with analysts suggesting the hotter-than-average weather is a factor – as well as the widespread expectation that the prime minister, Narendra Modi, will easily win a third term.

India’s election commission has formed a taskforce to review the impact of heatwaves and humidity before each round of voting.

At the same time, India’s southern states including Tamil Nadu and Kerala have been lashed by heavy rains over the past few days.

Severe storms hit other parts of the country last week, including the financial capital, Mumbai, where strong winds flattened a billboard that killed 16 people and left dozens more trapped.

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Delhi orders schools to close early for holidays as temperatures hit 47.4C

Authorities cut short school term as weather bureau warns of severe heatwave conditions this week

Authorities in the Indian capital, have ordered schools to shut early for the summer holiday, after temperatures in Delhi hit 47.4C (117F).

City officials told schools to shut with “immediate effect” due to the blistering heat, according to a government order quoted by the Hindustan Times on Tuesday, cutting the term by a few days.

India’s weather bureau has warned of “severe heatwave conditions” this week, reaching a peak of 47.4C in Delhi’s Najafgarh suburb on Monday – the hottest temperature countrywide.

Authorities in other states – including Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan – have also ordered schools to close, India Today reported.

India is used to searing summer temperatures, but years of scientific research have found the climate crisis is causing heatwaves to become longer, more frequent and more intense.

The Indian Meteorological Department warned of the impact of the heat on health, especially for infants, elderly people and those with chronic diseases.

In May 2022, parts of Delhi hit 49.2C (120.5F), Indian media reported at the time.

The next round of voting in India’s six-week-long election takes place on Saturday, including in Delhi. Turnout has dipped, with analysts suggesting the hotter-than-average weather is a factor – as well as the widespread expectation that the prime minister, Narendra Modi, will easily win a third term.

India’s election commission has formed a taskforce to review the impact of heatwaves and humidity before each round of voting.

At the same time, India’s southern states including Tamil Nadu and Kerala have been lashed by heavy rains over the past few days.

Severe storms hit other parts of the country last week, including the financial capital, Mumbai, where strong winds flattened a billboard that killed 16 people and left dozens more trapped.

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Young child reportedly found locked in ‘cage’ at NT industrial site

Authorities investigating after reports a child was put in makeshift enclosure at work site

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A child has reportedly been found locked in a cage at a Northern Territory industrial site.

Authorities are investigating the incident, which is understood to have occurred at a work site on the Stuart Highway.

“NT WorkSafe can confirm NT police has raised a safety concern after receiving reports a young child had been secured in inappropriate conditions at a work site,” the agency said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Inspectors have commenced an enquiry into the incident.”

Police alerted the safety watchdog on Thursday.

It is alleged the child was about two years old and was placed in a makeshift secure enclosure, described by witnesses as a “cage”, NT News reports.

Territory Families is also looking into the matter.

“The safety of children is our top priority and we take seriously any allegation of child harm,” the agency said in a statement.

“We are aware of this matter and are looking into it.”

NT police declined to comment on the incident.

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Charlise Mutten murder accused claimed nine-year-old screamed out his name after mum shot her, court told

Corrections officer says Justin Stein told her ‘I’m not going down for this’, trial hears

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After being charged with murdering his fiancee’s daughter, Justin Laurens Stein told a corrections officer it was actually the girl’s mother who had killed the nine-year-old during an ice binge.

Stein, 33, is standing trial for murder in the New South Wales supreme court over the death of schoolgirl Charlise Mutten, whose body was found in a barrel by the Colo River in the Blue Mountains on 18 January 2022. He has pleaded not guilty.

On Tuesday, a corrections officer gave evidence and told the jury that, while being processed into Sydney’s Silverwater jail the day after the body was recovered, she asked Stein: “Did you do it?”

An emotional Stein claimed to be innocent and said he had witnessed the girl’s mother, Kallista Mutten, shoot her daughter, the jury heard.

“Her mum was on ice all week,” Stein said, according to the officer.

“I heard a shot and then I heard her screaming out for me. Then I ran back and she shot her again.

“I keep having flashbacks. I’m not going down for this.

“I’ve been trying to tell people this for days and no one would listen. Thank you for letting me vent.”

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Mutten was in a relationship with Stein at the time and the pair had planned to get married, the jury previously heard.

The corrections officer, Stacey Sweeney, told the trial on Tuesday that “nine out of 10” inmates she met pleaded their innocence.

Police approached Sweeney afterwards to ask if Stein had said anything to her during the interview, which she described as highly unusual.

Stein gave his mother Annemie the same account in phone calls from prison, which were recorded and played for the jury.

“The last thing she screamed was my name and then you heard ‘mummy no’ and then the second gunshot,” he told his mother.

Annemie Stein said she believed her son, but she questioned why he did not call police and why he was later tracked driving to several locations across Sydney, allegedly with the barrel containing Charlise’s remains on the back of his ute.

“I just can’t work out the barrel,” she said.

Stein claimed in the recorded phone call that Mutten had put the barrel with the remains on the back of the ute without his knowledge and only informed him of it later while he was out driving the vehicle.

“Is that why you drove around for five hours?” Annemie Stein asked.

“Yes, I fucking panicked,” he said.

The trial continues.

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Dozens of cormorants shot by Tasmanian salmon farm operator

Tassal staff legally killed 53 of the native birds with permission from the Department of Natural Resources and Environment

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The Tasmanian government approved the shooting of dozens of cormorants after substandard netting allowed hundreds of the birds to enter fish cages at a salmon farm near Hobart.

Right to Information documents released to Tasmanian Inquirer revealed that an estimated 641 cormorants entered fish cages at the Sheppards salmon lease near Coningham in November and December 2023.

Thirty-six great cormorants died after becoming entangled in bird netting, and 53 were legally shot by Tassal staff, who had been granted permits by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

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The president of the Killora Community Association on Bruny Island, Gerard Castles, said shooting cormorants was “outrageous”.

“It seems like Orwellian doublespeak that Tassal claims they kill cormorants out of concern for animal welfare,” he said.

Dr Eric Woehler, an independent Tasmanian ecologist who was awarded an Order of Australia medal for 40 years of research on seabirds, said being entangled in netting prevented a cormorant from feeding or drinking and could cause “pain and suffering”.

“It is incumbent on any company to respond as quickly as possible with people used to handling birds to avoid damaging feathers or causing injuries,” he said.

Woehler said great cormorants could live for about 20 years and generally mated for life. “From a social licence point of view, it is not a good look to be shooting birds,” he said.

Lethal control

According to the documents released under RT, the problem at Tassal’s salmon farm began on 10 November, when five cormorants entered one cage. Later that month, another 121 cormorants were found across four of the cages.

The first the department knew of the issue was on 6 December, when Tassal submitted a monthly wildlife interactions report. The company’s report said that there had “been no changes in the exclusion infrastructure that could have led to this increased interaction”, but an attached spreadsheet noted that 20 cormorants had entered one cage through a hole in the netting.

Two days later, Tassal applied for a permit to shoot up to 50 cormorants as large numbers of the birds were squeezing through the 100mm bird netting or weighing down the nets to gain access to the salmon. Tassal estimated that it was losing between $10,000 and $20,000 of salmon a day.

According to the documents, a department officer wrote in a file note on Tassal’s permit application that Tassal wanted to “shoot to scare” the cormorants away and discussed “the need for lethal control on a small number to deter the rest from settling”.

A later file note reported that a Tassal representative had said the “shoot and scare” tactic was ineffective. “They noted that a cormorant would not move away even if the cormorant sitting next to it was shot,” it said.

Woehler said he was not surprised that attempts to scare the birds, including shooting neighbouring birds, were ineffective. “Many birds have become used to loud noises and flashes and have learned that there is no threat. So gunfire may not scare them at all,” he said.

The department granted the permit but stressed to a Tassal executive that “lethal control of these birds is a last resort”, according to the documents.

Within nine days of being granted the permit, Tassal reported that 36 cormorants had died from entanglement in bird netting. In the week before Christmas, the department granted Tassal a second permit to shoot up to another 30 cormorants. Tassal later reported that 53 cormorants “were humanely culled” at the lease.

In its application for the second permit, a Tassal executive said the company was “installing the correct upgraded exclusion infrastructure”. But they noted that some nets were second-hand, and the company was continuing the “tensioning and repair process”. The records say Tassal replaced the original 100mm mesh netting with 70mm mesh nets.

Could it happen again?

Woehler wonders whether the problems at the site were caused by a lack of maintenance or design flaws. “If the issue is the mesh size of the bird nets, is this problem more widespread and occurs at other fish farms?” Woehler asked.

Tassal’s 2022 sustainability report reveals there were 104 bird deaths at the company’s salmon farms in the five years to June 2022. A further 1,599 birds were released from inside salmon cages.

Tassal was asked whether it had reviewed its other leases for use of oversized bird netting and other infrastructure flaws, but did not respond.

Tasmanian Inquirer sought copies of department records indicating assessments of risks to birds at other fish farms after the deaths. The department said it found no documents.

Castles said Tassal appeared to treat native bird deaths as a cost of doing business. “It’s unacceptable for modern consumers. The department should do a complete, transparent and public audit of all Tassal operations to ensure they use appropriate materials to prevent the deaths of more birds,” he said.

  • This article was republished with permission from the Tasmanian Inquirer

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