Honduran migrant Ariel, 19, who is waiting for his court hearing for asylum seekers returned to Mexico to wait out their legal proceedings under a new policy change by the U.S. government, is pictured after an interview with Reuters in Tijuana, Mexico March 18, 2019. Picture taken March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
March 19, 2019
By Lizbeth Diaz and Mica Rosenberg
TIJUANA/NEW YORK (Reuters) – A group of asylum seekers sent back to Mexico was set to cross the border on Tuesday for their first hearings in U.S. immigration court in an early test of a controversial new policy from the Trump administration.
The U.S. program, known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), turns people seeking protection in the United States around to wait out their U.S. court proceedings in Mexican border towns. Some 240 people – including families – have been returned since late January, according to U.S. officials.
Court officials in San Diego referred questions about the number of hearings being held on Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which did not respond to a request for comment. But attorneys representing a handful of clients were preparing to appear in court.
Migrants like 19-year-old Ariel, who said he left Honduras because of gang death threats against himself and his family, were preparing to line up at the San Ysidro port of entry first thing Tuesday morning.
Ariel, who asked to use only his middle name because of fears of reprisals in his home country, was among the first group of asylum-seeking migrants sent back to Mexico on Jan. 30 and given a notice to appear in U.S. court in San Diego.
“God willing everything will move ahead and I will be able to prove that if I am sent back to Honduras, I’ll be killed,” Ariel said.
While awaiting his U.S. hearing, Ariel said he was unable to get a legal work permit in Mexico but found a job as a restaurant busboy in Tijuana, which does not pay him enough to move out of a shelter.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other advocacy groups are suing in federal court to halt the MPP program, which is part of a series of measures the administration of President Donald Trump has taken to try to curb the flow of mostly Central American migrants trying to enter the United States.
The Trump administration says most asylum claims, especially for Central Americans, are ultimately rejected, but because of crushing immigration court backlogs people are often released pending resolution of their cases and live in the United States for years. The government has said the new program is aimed at ending “the exploitation of our generous immigration laws.”
Critics of the program say it violates U.S. law and international norms since migrants are sent back to often dangerous towns in Mexico in precarious living situations where it is difficult to get notice about changes to U.S. court dates and to find legal help.
Immigration advocates are closely watching how the proceedings will be carried out this week, especially after scheduling glitches created confusion around three hearings last week, according to a report in the San Diego Union Tribune.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which runs U.S. immigration courts under the Department of Justice, said only that it uses its regular court scheduling system for the MPP hearings and did not respond to a question about the reported scheduling problems.
Gregory Chen, director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said there are real concerns about the difficulties of carrying out this major shift in U.S. immigration policy.
“The government did not have its shoes tied when they introduced this program,” he said.
(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana and Mica Rosenberg in New York; Editing by Bill Trott)
David Hookstead | Reporter
Free agent receiver Jordy Nelson has no shortage of suitors.
Nelson was cut from the Oakland Raiders after they paid him $3 million, and it doesn’t sound like he’ll be out of a job for long. According to Adam Schefter, the former Packers star will visit the Seahawks on Tuesday. The Patriots, Titans, Chiefs and Raiders are also all reportedly interested.
Yes, the Raiders, the team that just cut him after paying him might want him back. What a bizarre situation. Notably, the Packers aren’t on the list. (RELATED: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers Says He Won’t Get Surgery On His Knee)
Former Packers’ WR Jordy Nelson is scheduled to visit the Seahawks on Tuesday, per source. They were interested in Nelson last year; GM John Schneider loves Nelson.
Other interested teams at this point include: Patriots, Titans, Chiefs, Raiders.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 18, 2019
The Seahawks and Nelson could be a great fit. Russell Wilson needs a dependable receiver, and that’s exactly what the former Packers star can be.
He might not be the star he once was, but he’s still a workhorse of a dude. The Seahawks would be incredibly wise to get him as quickly as possible.
The exact same can be said of the Patriots. Tom Brady has the rare ability of squeezing the most out of everybody around him, and we all know New England is a premium destination for veterans searching for a ring.
Nelson would probably flourish under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. He would provide a legit receiving threat to go along with Edelman.
It is a little surprising to see the Packers not on the list. You’d think Aaron Rodgers would absolutely want his former star back.
I guess not. It looks like Nelson will have to get paid elsewhere.
Source: The Daily Caller
Amber Athey | White House Correspondent
President Donald Trump retaliated against George Conway for the lawyer’s tweets about his mental health on Tuesday, calling Conway a “total loser.”
Conway, who is married to Kellyanne Conway — one of Trump’s top advisers — has long expressed his anti-Trump sentiments on his personal Twitter account. Over the weekend, Conway’s ire at Trump seemed to reach a fever pitch as he repeatedly accused the president of being mentally ill.
Trump weighed in on the situation Tuesday, quote-tweeting campaign manager Brad Parscale to assert that Conway is “a total loser!”
A total loser! https://t.co/vm3Vv2f9jf
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 19, 2019
Parscale claimed in his tweet that Conway is simply jealous of his wife because “[Trump] turned down Mr. Kellyanne Conway for a job he desperately wanted.” (RELATED: Trump Campaign Manager Says He Knows Why Kellyanne Conway’s Husband Keeps Calling The President Crazy)
“He barely worked [at the Department of Justice] and was either fired/quit, didn’t want the scrutiny? Now he hurts his wife because he is jealous of her success,” Parscale wrote. “POTUS doesn’t even know him!”
We all know that @realDonaldTrump turned down Mr. Kellyanne Conway for a job he desperately wanted. He barely worked @TheJusticeDept and was either fired/quit, didn’t want the scrutiny? Now he hurts his wife because he is jealous of her success. POTUS doesn’t even know him!
— Brad Parscale (@parscale) March 19, 2019
Source: The Daily Caller
Al Noor mosque shooting survivor Farhid Ahmed poses with a photo of his wife Husna, who was killed in the attack, after an interview with Reuters in Christchurch, New Zealand March 18, 2019. Picture taken March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
March 19, 2019
By Charlotte Greenfield and Tom Westbrook
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (Reuters) – Husna Ahmed was 19 when she arrived in New Zealand from Bangladesh on her wedding day. Waiting to meet her was Farid, the man she would marry in a few hours, as their families had agreed.
A quarter of a century later, the life they had built together was torn apart at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch when a gunman walked into the building, firing on worshippers at Friday prayers.
Husna encountered the gunman on his way out of the mosque. He shot her on the footpath. She fell and he fired two more shots, killing her instantly.
Farid, who uses a wheelchair after an earlier accident, was talking to a friend and was delayed from joining worshippers at his usual spot at the front of the mosque, instead praying in a small side room.
He managed to escape when he heard the shooting begin, returning when the gunman left, to find many of his friends and community members dead and comfort those who were dying.
Farid found out about his wife’s death when a detective he knew called his niece as they waited outside the mosque.
She passed the phone: “I don’t want you to wait the whole night, Farid. Go home, she will not come,” Farid said the detective told him.
“At the moment I hear that, my response was I felt numb,” Farid told Reuters. “I had tears but I didn’t break down.” His niece crumbled.
A total of 50 people were killed in the rampage, with as many wounded, as the gunman went from Al Noor to another mosque in the South Island city.
Most victims were migrants or refugees from countries including Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Syria, Turkey, Somalia and Afghanistan.
Husna was one of five members of a growing but tight-knit Bangladeshi community killed, according to the Bangladesh consul in New Zealand, Shafiqur Rahman Bhuiyan. Four others were wounded, one critically, he added.
Members of the Bangladesh cricket team, in town for a test match against New Zealand, narrowly avoided the carnage, turning up at the Al Noor mosque soon after the attack took place.
Based on what eyewitnesses told him, Farid said instead of hiding, Husna helped women and children inside the mosque and ran to the front of the building to look for him.
“She’s such a person who always put other people first and she was even not afraid to give her life saving other people,” Farid said.
Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, has been charged with murder. He entered no plea and police said he is likely to face more charges.
The slaughter has rocked Christchurch, and New Zealand, to its core, blanketing the city in grief and driving Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to promise swift gun law reform.
Farid said he had forgiven his wife’s killer.
“I want to give the message to the person who did this, or if he has any friends who also think like this: I still love you,” Farid said. “I want to hug you and I want to tell him in face that I am talking from my heart. I have no grudge against you, I never hated you, I will never hate you.”
LIKE A MOTHER
A few hours after the massacre as evening fell, the front room of Farid’s home in a sleepy Christchurch suburb where he runs a homeopathy business was full with survivors and friends grieving for a woman many described as like a mother to them.
Husna was born on 12 October in 1974 in Sylhet, a city on the banks the Surma River, in northeastern Bangladesh. She was so fast that Shahzalal Junior High School would only let her run three races, to give her rivals a chance, Farid said.
She moved to New Zealand in 1994.
Thin, nervous and overwhelmed by leaving everyone she knew for a new life in an alien country, she burst into tears when her husband-to-be picked her up from Auckland airport.
He comforted her on the long drive back to Nelson, where he was living, and where she quickly found her feet.
With almost no other Bangladeshis in the small city, Husna made English-speaking friends and learned the language within six months. Farid said she spoke it with more of a Kiwi accent than he did.
When Farid’s workmates at a meatpacking plant agreed to work half an hour longer on Fridays so he could take a break to pray, she cooked them a feast every week in thanks.
And when Farid was partially paralyzed after being run over by a car outside his house, after four years of marriage, she moved with him to Christchurch and became his nurse.
“Our hobby was we used to talk to each other. A lot. And we never felt bored,” he said.
When Christchurch was razed by a deadly earthquake in 2011, Husna helped settle an influx of Bangladeshi migrants – qualified engineers, metalworkers and builders – who came to assist the rebuilding of the shattered city.
Mohammad Omar Faruk, 36, was one of the new arrivals. Faruk was working as a welder in Singapore but leapt at the opportunity to come to New Zealand where working conditions were better and permanent residency was possible.
Faruk was also killed at Al Noor mosque.
His employer, Rob van Peer, said he had allowed his team to leave early last Friday after they finished a job by lunchtime, meaning Faruk could attend Friday prayers.
Van Peer said Faruk was loved by his colleagues for his loyal and friendly personality and fast, precise welds.
Zakaria Bhuiyan, a welder at another engineering firm, also died. Newly married, he was waiting for a visitor visa so his wife could travel from Bangladesh.
Mojammel Haque worked as a dentist in Bangladesh and was studying in New Zealand for an advanced medical qualification when he was killed.
All three men knew Husna, said Mojibur Rahman, a welder and former flatmate of Faruk.
“It’s really hard because we are a little community but everyone’s living here in unity, we know each other, we share everything with each together,” he said. “Now I don’t know what’s going to happen, how we become normal.”
The fifth Bangladeshi victim was Abus Samad, 66, a former faculty member of Bangladesh Agriculture University who had been teaching at Christchurch’s Lincoln University.
CUSTOMS AND CARE
Many new workers to Christchurch brought young families, or were starting them and Husna took it upon herself to care for women through their pregnancies, often waking Farid at all hours so he could drive her to the births.
“We think she’s like a mother…if there’s something we needed, we go to Husna,” said Mohammed Jahangir Alan, another welder.
Husna guided his wife, then 19, to a midwife and a doctor and joined her in the delivery room as she gave birth to a baby girl, Alan said.
A few days later Husna shaved the infant’s head, an Islamic ritual which she did for dozens of children in the community. She was so gentle the baby fell asleep while she pulled the razor over the soft skin.
Husna would also lead the customary washing and prayer ritual for women who died. She was due to lead a workshop the day after her death to teach other women the process.
Now, Husna’s devastated female family members will wash her for her funeral, expected later this week.
“We know she would just want us to be a part of it, to wash her,” said her sister-in-law Ayesha Corner.
After the burial, Farid says he wants to continue the work he and his wife used to do and to care for their 15-year-old daughter.
When the lockdown at her school lifted on Friday, their daughter returned home, knowing only her mother was missing and asking where she was.
“I didn’t miss a second, I said: ‘She is with God,’” Farid said.
“She said: ‘You are lying’. She said: ‘Are you telling me I don’t have a mother?’”
“I said: ‘Yes, but I am your mother now and I am your father…we have to change the roles.”
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield and Tom Westbrook in CHRISTCHURCH; Additional reporting by Ruma Paul in DHAKA; Editing by Lincoln Feast)
FILE PHOTO: Special Counsel Robert Mueller (R) departs after briefing members of the U.S. Senate on his investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
March 19, 2019
By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Special Counsel Robert Mueller, examining potential conspiracy between President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, is leading the latest in a series of U.S. investigations conducted by prosecutors outside usual Justice Department channels in recent decades.
The release of the findings by previous investigators analogous to Mueller has been handled differently over the years, sometimes with voluminous reports and other times with no reports or with key elements kept under wraps for months and even years.
Mueller is preparing to submit a report to U.S. Attorney General William Barr on his findings, including Russia’s role in the election and whether Trump unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe. Trump has denied collusion and obstruction. Russia has denied election interference.
Barr already is coming under pressure from lawmakers to make the entire document public quickly, though he has wide latitude in what to release.
Here is an explanation of some past high-profile U.S. investigations and how their findings were made public.
The Justice Department named a special prosecutor to investigate the Watergate scandal that eventually forced Republican Richard Nixon in 1974 to become the only U.S. president to resign from office. At the time, no specific regulations or laws governed special prosecutors.
Attorney General Elliot Richardson, as a condition of his Senate confirmation, appointed Archibald Cox as a special prosecutor to examine the 1972 break-in by Republican operatives at Democratic headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington.
Cox found himself at odds with Nixon over subpoenas to obtain taped White House conversations. Nixon ultimately ordered the firing of Cox, and several top Justice Department officials resigned in protest including Richardson, in an event dubbed the Saturday Night Massacre.
Leon Jaworski, subsequently named as the new Watergate special prosecutor, prepared a report with his findings, known as the “road map,” to assist Congress with possible impeachment proceedings to remove Nixon from office.
The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee used it as a basis for hearings and passed articles of impeachment, though Nixon quit before the full House could act. The “road map” remained under seal by a federal court for 55 years until it was released by federal archivists in 2018.
The job of independent counsel, with broader powers, was created by Congress after the Watergate scandal. In 1986, Lawrence Walsh was named as independent counsel to investigate the Iran-Contra affair involving illegal arms sales to Iran under Republican President Ronald Reagan, with the proceeds diverted to fund rebels in Nicaragua called Contras.
The probe lasted nearly seven years and led to criminal charges against 14 people. The convictions of some prominent officials – Oliver North and John Poindexter – were overturned on appeal. In 1992, Republican President George H.W. Bush pardoned others.
Walsh submitted his final report to a federal court in 1993, which had the power to release it publicly but was not required to do so. Its release was delayed after people named in the report sued to keep it suppressed. A federal appeals court ruled in 1994 that it should be released in the public interest. Walsh then unveiled it at a news conference.
WHITEWATER AND LEWINSKY SCANDALS
Attorney General Janet Reno in 1994 appointed Robert Fiske as a independent counsel to investigate allegations of impropriety by Democratic President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton regarding real estate investments in the Whitewater Development Corporation. Fiske’s probe was expanded to include reviewing the death of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster, which police had ruled a suicide.
Fiske, who was not subject to the independent counsel law because it had temporarily lapsed, publicly released a 200-page interim report in 1994 clearing White House officials of wrongdoing in the Whitewater affair and confirming that Foster’s death was a suicide unrelated to Whitewater.
On that same day, Clinton signed a law reauthorizing the independent counsel statute, which paved the way for a federal court to replace Fiske as independent counsel with Kenneth Starr. Starr turned in a report on Foster’s death to federal courts in 1997, also finding no foul play. It remained under seal for three months before being released.
Starr’s probe expanded into other areas, including a sexual affair between Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky and alleged improprieties in the White House travel office. His expansive 445-page report, containing explicit details on Clinton’s sexual affair, was sent to Congress in 1998. Two days later, lawmakers voted to release it publicly. Its findings triggered an unsuccessful Republican effort to remove Clinton from office through the impeachment process.
Congress let the independent counsel law expire, with some lawmakers believing Starr went too far. The Justice Department in 1999 wrote regulations creating the new job of special counsel, with more limited powers.
FEDERAL RAID AT WACO
Reno in 1999 appointed John Danforth as special counsel to investigate the 1993 federal raid on the Branch Davidian cult compound in Waco, Texas. The FBI used tear gas and a fire broke out, killing more than 70 people including cult leader David Koresh.
Danforth was the first person appointed under the 1999 regulations, the rules that now apply to Mueller. Under those rules, a special counsel must submit a confidential report to the attorney general, who then has discretion to publicly release some or all of it. The attorney general must weigh the public interest. But he also must consider thorny issues such as secrecy of grand jury testimony, protecting classified information, communications with the White House possibly subject to the principle of executive privilege shielding certain information from disclosure, and safeguarding confidential reasons for why some individuals were not charged.
Reno specifically instructed Danforth to prepare two versions of his report, a confidential one and another for public release. Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department’s No. 2 official, gave no such instruction to Mueller when he appointed him in May 2017.
In 2000, Danforth held a news conference to publicly release his report, exonerating federal agents and Justice Department officials of any wrongdoing.
OUTING OF CIA AGENT PLAME
In 2003, James Comey, then the Justice Department’s No. 2 official, appointed Patrick Fitzgerald as special counsel to investigate how CIA operative Valerie Plame’s cover was blown through media leaks. Fitzgerald was not appointed under the 1999 regulations and was not bound by them.
Fitzgerald held a 2005 news conference to announce that a grand jury had returned a five-count indictment against Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, for obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements. Fitzgerald never published a final report on his findings.
A jury convicted Libby. Republican President George H.W. Bush commuted his sentence in 2007. Trump gave Libby a full pardon in 2018.
(This story has been refiled to insert dropped word in lead paragraph.)
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham)
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks about her policy ideas with Anand Giridharadas at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference and festivals in Austin, Texas, U.S., March 9, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Flores
March 19, 2019
By Amanda Becker
CLEVELAND, Miss. (Reuters) – U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren was walking down a street in the town of Cleveland in the rural Mississippi Delta on Monday when she stopped to examine a small home’s sagging roof.
“You can be sure there’s a lot of love in these homes. They just can’t afford (to fix) it,” state Senator Willie Simmons told Warren during the Democratic presidential candidate’s three-day campaign swing through Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama.
Affordable housing is a chief concern for the senator from Massachusetts, who recently reintroduced a $500 billion housing plan she says will create millions of housing units and reduce rental costs by 10 percent.
But the trip to the deep South, the first extended tour of the region by any of the more than dozen Democrats vying for the party’s 2020 White House nomination, also gave Warren an opportunity to try to set herself apart from the crowded and diverse field.
During meetings with housing advocates in Memphis, Tennessee, and walking tours of small Mississippi towns, Warren, who is white, tested and tailored her central message of combating income inequality to black voters, a critical Democratic voting bloc.
The trip outside the mostly white early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire that are drawing much of the early 2020 campaign focus signaled that Warren, 69, intends to make a play for support in other states that also could prove important to securing the nomination.
“I’m running to be president of all the people, and it’s important to go around the country and have a chance to talk with people face to face,” Warren told reporters after a town hall that drew about 500 people to a high school in Memphis.
Democrats will have to look beyond the traditional early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina for opportunities to pick up voters next year if an obvious front-runner does not immediately emerge.
Alabama and Tennessee are among the states holding their 2020 nominating primaries on the March 3 “Super Tuesday” following South Carolina’s contest. Mississippi is set to host its primary in mid-March. All three states have sizeable black populations.
Being first to those states will not guarantee votes. But it could win local endorsements and help recruit volunteers for Warren, who lags in national 2020 Democratic presidential opinion polls behind Senators Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris.
“Warren’s biggest advantage in making this trip is that she will likely have the attention of a critical mass of African-American Democratic primary voters in a cycle where the black vote will drive the nomination process,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne, who managed African-American advertising for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Clinton beat Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential nominating race in large part because his insurgent campaign failed to gain traction with black voters and flamed out when the contest moved to the South from the early voting states.
In the general election, Clinton’s loss to Republican Donald Trump was partly due to the fact that the black turnout rate declined for the first time in 20 years, according to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
African-American turnout in 2016 dropped 7 points from four years earlier, when Barack Obama, the first black U.S. president, was re-elected.
During her trip, Warren touted how her housing plan was aimed at closing the wealth and housing gap between white and black Americans. Her proposal would give first-time homebuyers who live in low-income, formerly segregated areas grants to use for down payments.
It is specifically tailored to benefit black families whose relatives faced discriminatory housing policies in the years leading up to the U.S. civil rights era.
Many residents said they appreciated Warren taking the time to come and focus on their issues. On Tuesday, she planned to tour historic sites in Selma, Alabama, where the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” march marked a turning point in the civil rights movement.
“Visiting helps. It lets the people down here know that somebody in Washington does care about them,” said the Rev. Alice Crenshaw, 75, whose church marked the start of Warren’s walking tour in Cleveland.
The tour of Cleveland on Monday ended at Senator’s Place, the restaurant owned by Simmons, the Mississippi Democratic state senator. Simmons has not endorsed Warren, but like others she spent time with during the campaign swing, he seemed warm to her candidacy.
Sandra Miller-Foster, 68, arrived at Senator’s Place knowing there would be a special visitor but not who. She liked what she heard from Warren.
Asked to assess the Democratic field, which includes two black U.S. senators vying for the nomination, she said policy, not race, would earn her support.
“All people want is a decent job, to own their own home and be able to send their kids to school. We’ve got to know what you’ll do for Mississippi,” Miller-Foster said.
(Reporting by Amanda Becker; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney)
FILE PHOTO: Outside view of the Deutsche Bank and the Commerzbank headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany, March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski
March 19, 2019
By John O’Donnell and Arno Schuetze
BERLIN/FRANKFURT (Reuters) – German lawmakers on Monday criticized deputy finance minister Joerg Kukies and Goldman Sachs, alleging a conflict of interest in the U.S. investment bank advising state-backed Commerzbank on a possible merger with Deutsche Bank.
Kukies, who was formerly co-head of Goldman Sachs <GS.N> in Germany, left the Wall Street firm a year ago to become deputy German finance minister.
Kukies has since advocated a merger between Commerzbank <CBKG.DE> and Deutsche Bank <DBKGn.DE>, which unions warn could mean up to 30,000 job cuts, people familiar with the matter say.
Goldman Sachs is advising Commerzbank on the $28 billion plus deal deliberations, people familiar with the matter said.
“It’s a conflict of interest,” Fabio De Masi, a prominent leftist lawmaker in the German parliament, said, pointing to the state’s 15 percent stake in Commerzbank.
A spokesman for Kukies told Reuters there was no conflict of interest and that he had worked in the trading department at Goldman Sachs, which was “strictly separated” from bankers who advised on mergers.
Goldman Sachs declined to comment.
“In his 17 years at Goldman Sachs, Joerg Kukies exclusively worked for the sales and trading sector with no responsibility for the advisory/mergers and acquisitions section,” the spokesman for Kukies said.
Although confirmation of merger talks between Germany’s two largest banks, following months of speculation, has boosted their share prices, it has also triggered opposition and concerns over the impact on employment.
The issue is a highly emotive one in Germany and in its Tuesday edition, top-selling tabloid newspaper Bild raised a question mark over Kukie’s future in the government.
“When 30,000 jobs are on the line, the government must avoid the impression of a conflict of interest,” De Masi added.
This was echoed by Danyal Bayaz, a German parliamentarian and finance expert from the country’s Green party.
“In the financial crisis, we saw that government and finance were too interconnected. Ten years later, we don’t want to have the same. We want a strict separation from politics and industry,” Bayaz said.
“It is important to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest,” he added.
(Writing by John O’Donnell; Editing by Alexander Smith)
FILE PHOTO: A Jet Airways plane is parked as another moves to the runway at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International airport in Mumbai, India, February 14, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo
March 19, 2019
By Aftab Ahmed and Aditi Shah
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s government has asked state-run banks to rescue privately held Jet Airways without pushing it into bankruptcy, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to avert thousands of job losses weeks before a general election, two people within the administration told Reuters.
The finance ministry has in the past year sought regular updates from the banks, led by State Bank of India (SBI), on Jet’s financial health, the people said. In recent months, the banks have provided weekly updates about a revival plan and also sought government advice, the people added.
“Top officials at the finance ministry seek regular updates on the issue,” said an official at one of Jet’s lenders, who did not want to be identified as discussions are private.
Details of the discussion between the finance ministry and bankers on bailing out Jet have not been previously reported.
New Delhi has urged state-run banks to convert debt into equity and take a stake in Jet in a rare move in India to use taxpayer money to save a struggling private-sector company from bankruptcy. The two people plus one more source, however, said this would be “transitory” and lenders could sell the stakes once Jet revives.
The government has also nudged its 49 percent-owned National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) – created to invest in stalled and new infrastructure projects – to buy a stake in Jet, a separate government source said.
Saddled with more than 1 billion dollars of debt, Jet is struggling to stay aloft. It has delayed payments to banks, suppliers, employees and aircraft lessors – some of which have begun terminating lease deals.
The world’s biggest democracy is gearing up for an election next month and its booming aviation sector, which employs close to a million people, has been one of the job-creation success stories that Modi can point to as he seeks a second term.
It is crucial for India that Jet revives as the fall of its second-largest airline could have “disastrous consequences for the investment climate” in the sector, a top government official told Reuters.
The official is concerned that if Jet collapses it could drive up airfare in a fast-growing market, wiping out efforts to bring low-cost air travel to India’s hinterland.
A chaotic end could also make it more difficult for the government to sell a stake in Air India, at least in the short run. Last year, it failed to sell part of its stake in the indebted carrier which currently relies on taxpayer money.
If the government’s plan for Jet succeeds, then state-run banks including SBI and Punjab National Bank (PNB) as well as NIIF would together own at least a third of the airline until they find a new buyer.
Currently, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways is Jet’s largest shareholder with a 24 percent stake.
India’s finance ministry, SBI, PNB and Jet Airways did not respond to requests for comment.
Most companies in Jet’s financial condition would be placed by creditors into India’s new bankruptcy process, two bankers said. However, memories of the chaos sparked by Kingfisher Airlines’ demise in 2012 have prompted the government to seek a more sober road to rescue, they said.
Kingfisher’s bankruptcy caused job losses, lessors lost millions of dollars and banks took massive writedowns.
Putting what is essentially a services provider like Jet through the bankruptcy process would diminish its value because it owns no major assets, unlike a manufacturing company, as most of its planes are leased, said another government official.
If it is pushed into bankruptcy and lessors start pulling even more planes out of service, there would be nothing left for any potential investors, the official said. Already 41 planes have been grounded by lessors in the past three months, leading to flight cancellations.
While on the surface Jet’s future still hangs in the balance with its main shareholder Etihad at loggerheads over the final terms of any deal, behind-the-scenes support from the government means there is likely to be a bailout.
But there are no easy options, one of the sources said, adding that the lenders do not have the expertise to run an airline so they have to decide what to do once they convert their debt into equity.
New Delhi is also backing a proposal for Jet’s founder and Chairman Naresh Goyal to step down if it means saving the airline, another official said.
“Saving Jet is not equivalent to saving Goyal,” the official said.
Jet, with its fleet of 119 planes, once controlled a sixth of India’s domestic aviation market. The 25-year-old airline is also one of only two full-service carriers that flies to international destinations. The other is Air India.
The government ideally wants four to six major airlines to ensure fares are competitive and passengers have greater choice, according to the top government source.
India plans to build 100 new airports costing about $60 billion which would need a steady stream of flights to sustain them, and that is possible only if there are enough airlines, a separate official said.
“The investment in these airports will solely depend on operators willing to have regular flights at affordable prices and one operator going bankrupt does not help,” he said.
(Reporting by Aftab Ahmed and Aditi Shah; Editing by Martin Howell and Christopher Cushing)