German prosecutor arrests head of Wirecard’s Dubai unit

BERLIN/MUNICH (Reuters) – German prosecutors said on Monday they had arrested the head of a Dubai-based subsidiary of Wirecard, widening the circle of suspects in a multi-billion-dollar fraud investigation into the collapse of the payments company.

The Munich prosecutor’s office said in a statement it had questioned the chief executive of Cardsystems Middle East FZ-LLC earlier in the day and arrested him on the basis of a warrant.

The executive had traveled from Dubai and turned himself in, prosecutors said, without naming him. Unless defendants are publicly known, their identity can be protected under German law to avoid prejudicing legal proceedings.

The arrest was made on suspicion of conspiracy to commit fraud, attempted fraud and aiding and abetting other crimes, prosecutors said. Prosecutors fear there was a risk that he would flee or tamper with evidence.

Wirecard filed for insolvency last month owing creditors almost $4 billion after disclosing a 1.9 billion euro ($2.1 billion) hole in its accounts that its auditor EY said was the result of a sophisticated global fraud.

Investigative journalists, researchers and speculators had long highlighted Wirecard’s reliance on an obscure trio of third-party acquiring partners – one of which was Cardsystems – to generate the bulk of its reported revenue and profit.

The latest arrest came after police and public prosecutors raided Wirecard’s headquarters in Munich and four properties in Germany and Austria last Wednesday as they widened their investigation.

Prosecutors are treating Wirecard’s Chief Financial Officer Alexander von Knoop and Chief Product Officer Susanne Steidl as suspects, in addition to former Chief Executive Markus Braun and chief operating officer Jan Marsalek.

Braun, who was arrested and released after posting 5 million euros bail, remains a suspect. Marsalek’s whereabouts are unknown and his lawyer is declining requests for comment.

(Reporting by Douglas Busvine and Joern Poltz; Editing by Arno Schuetze and Edward Taylor)

Dubai’s ruler abducted daughters and threatened former wife, UK judge rules

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) – Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum ordered the abduction of two of his daughters and orchestrated a campaign of intimidation against his former wife, a British judge has ruled.

Judge Andrew McFarlane said he accepted as proved a series of allegations made by Mohammed’s former wife, Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, 45, half-sister of Jordan’s King Abdullah, during a custody battle over their two children at London’s High Court.

Haya fled to London on April 15 last year with the children, Jalila, 12, and Zayed, 8, fearing for her safety amid suspicions that she had an affair with one of her British bodyguards.

Her lawyers argued that Mohammed’s treatment of two of his older daughters by another marriage showed her children were at risk of being abducted too.

As part of the custody case, Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Court division in England and Wales, made a series of “findings of fact” about allegations raised by Haya during hearings over the last nine months.

McFarlane said he accepted her claim that Mohammed arranged for his daughter Shamsa, then aged 18, to be kidnapped off the streets of Cambridge in central England in 2000, and had her flown back to Dubai.

He also ruled it was proved that the sheikh had arranged for Shamsa’s younger sister Latifa to be snatched from a boat in international waters off India by Indian forces in 2018 and returned to the emirate in what was her second failed escape attempt.

Both remained there “deprived of their liberty”, McFarlane said.

After the ruling became public on Thursday, Mohammed said it only represented “one side of the story”.

“As a Head of Government, I was not able to participate in the court’s fact-finding process, this has resulted in the release of a ‘fact-finding’ judgment which inevitably tells only one side of the story,” he said in a statement issued by his lawyers.

He said a decision to allow the judgments to be made public did not protect his children “from media attention in the way that other children in family proceedings in the UK are protected”.

In the judgments, McFarlane accepted that the sheikh subjected Haya to a campaign of intimidation which made her fear for her life.

He said the sheikh, who married Haya in 2004, had divorced her on the 20th anniversary of the death of her father King Hussein of Jordan, timing she said was deliberate.

“I have … concluded that, save for some limited exceptions, the mother has proved her case with respect to the factual allegations she has made,” McFarlane said.

The sheikh, 70, vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, did not appear himself during the court case and instructed his lawyers not to put forward a challenge to the claims, which his lawyers said he rejected.

The judgment does not amount to a determination of criminal guilt but it is likely to deal a reputational blow to the sheikh, regarded globally as the visionary force behind Dubai’s leap on the international stage.

RESTRICTIONS LIFTED

The judge’s conclusions were made in December but could only be reported after restrictions were lifted after the UK Supreme Court earlier rejected Mohammed’s request for permission to appeal against their publication.

McFarlane said the allegations made by Haya about the abduction and torture of Shamsa and Latifa and the threats made against her were proved, with the exception of her claim that an arranged marriage was being sought between Jalila and Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Last July, the judge had issued a temporary forced marriage protection order in respect of Jalila over Haya’s fears but said these were only based on hearsay evidence.

“The allegations that the father ordered and orchestrated the kidnap and rendition to Dubai of his daughters Shamsa and Latifa are of a very high order of seriousness,” said McFarlane.

“They may well involve findings, albeit on the civil standard, of behavior which is contrary to the criminal law of England and Wales, international law, international maritime law, and internationally accepted human rights norms.”

McFarlane said the sheikh had denied all the allegations, but said of his account relating to Shamsa and Latifa that “he has not been open and honest with the court”.

“I have found that he continues to maintain a regime whereby both of these two young women are deprived of their liberty, albeit within family accommodation in Dubai,” he said.

The sheikh married Haya, believed to be his sixth wife, in 2004. McFarlane said in his judgment that at some stage in 2017 or 2018, she had an affair with one her bodyguards and her relationship with her husband had deteriorated by early 2019 when she left Dubai.

Mohammed’s lawyer told the court Haya had closed the children’s bank accounts and withdrawn about $32 million before arriving in Britain.

FRIENDS OF UK ROYALS

Haya and Mohammed are both on friendly terms with members of the British royal family and in the past the sheikh, one of the founders of the Godolphin horse racing stable, has been pictured with Queen Elizabeth at Britain’s Royal Ascot horse races.

Haya, who shares his love of horses and competed in equestrian jumping in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, was schooled in Britain and is now living with their children in the couple’s luxury mansion near Kensington Palace in west London.

McFarlane said the case had been unique.

Outside the austere wood-panneled courtroom of the Royal Courts of Justice, four or five bodyguards wearing earpieces patrolled, with only lawyers and a small number of journalists, including Reuters, allowed to be present.

The lawyers’ benches were filled with some of Britain’s most senior legal operators including David Pannick, who successfully represented anti-Brexit campaigners in two high-profile court victories over the government and was drafted in by Mohammed to lead his team during the case.

Haya herself attended all the hearings, accompanied by her legal team which included Fiona Shackleton who represented British heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles in his divorce from his late first wife Princess Diana.

Giving evidence in person last November, she told McFarlane she feared the sheikh would abduct her two children, take them back to the Gulf Arab state and she would never see them again.

“I have seen what has happened to their sisters and I can’t face the fact that the same might happen to them,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

More coronavirus cases in Iran’s Qom; religious gatherings under threat

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian health officials urged all religious gatherings to be suspended in Qom, news agency ISNA said on Thursday, after two more people tested positive for the coronavirus in the holy city, where two died of it this week.

In all, three more people had tested positive for the virus, an Iranian health ministry spokesman said.

“Two people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Qom and one person in Arak, bringing the total of confirmed cases to five in Iran,” spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said in a tweet.

Jahanpur said all patients were Iranian and the person in the central city of Arak was a doctor from Qom, the semi-official news agency ISNA reported.

Jahanpur said health officials had called for the suspension of all religious gatherings in Qom, a Shi’ite Muslim holy city about 120 km (75 miles) south of the capital Tehran, according to ISNA.

Two Iranians died in hospital after testing positive in Qom, the head of the city’s University of Medical Sciences said on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Dubai Newsroom; editing by John Stonestreet)

Emirates plane quarantined in New York with sick passengers: airline

The emergency services are seen, after the passengers were taken ill on a flight from New York to Dubai, on JFK Airport, New York, U.S., September 05, 2018 in this still image obtained from from social media. Larry Coben/via REUTERS

NEW YORK (Reuters) – An Emirates airline flight from Dubai was quarantined at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Wednesday morning after passengers became ill during the flight, the airline and New York news media said.

Emirates flight 203, a double-deck Airbus A388 carrying about 500 passengers, landed shortly after 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT), according to an airlines spokeswoman.

The emergency services are seen, after the passengers were taken ill on a flight from New York to Dubai, on JFK Airport, New York, U.S., September 05, 2018 in this still image obtained from from social media. Larry Coben/via REUTERS

The emergency services are seen, after the passengers were taken ill on a flight from New York to Dubai, on JFK Airport, New York, U.S., September 05, 2018 in this still image obtained from from social media. Larry Coben/via REUTERS

The spokeswoman said 10 passengers fell ill on the flight from Dubai to New York. New York media outlets had earlier put the number at about 100 passengers.

“Emirates can confirm that about 10 passengers on board flight EK203 from Dubai to New York were taken ill,” the spokeswoman said. “On arrival at JFK, as a precaution, they were immediately checked by local health authorities and those needing medical attention will be attended to.” She said all other passengers would be allowed to leave the plane shortly.

Officials from the Port Authority Police Department and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were on scene, according to news station WNBC, but did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The mayor’s office also did not respond to requests for comment.

Larry Cohen, who identified himself as one of the passengers aboard the plane, uploaded photos on Twitter showing dozens of police and emergency vehicles waiting outside the plane on the tarmac.

“All we have been told is that there are some sick passengers and that we need to remain on board,” Cohen told Reuters via Twitter messaging.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus and Alexander Cornwell in Dubai; editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Middle East tensions loom over Dubai aerospace pageant

Al Fursan, the UAE Air Force performs during Dubai Airshow November 8, 2015. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/File Photo

By Alexander Cornwell and Tim Hepher

DUBAI (Reuters) – Rising Middle East tensions and a corruption crackdown in Saudi Arabia will cast a shadow over next week’s Dubai Airshow, as military and aerospace leaders try to gauge whether they might prolong a weapons-buying spree in the region.

Fraying business confidence since the summer, when a sudden rift emerged between Arab powers, means the recent rapid growth of major Gulf airlines will also be under scrutiny when the Middle East’s largest industry showcase opens on Sunday.

The biennial gathering has produced a frenzy of deals in the past, especially four years ago when Dubai’s Emirates and Qatar Airways opened the show with a display of unity as they unveiled a headline-grabbing order for passenger jets.

But highlighting the current rift between Qatar and Arab nations including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar Airways’ outspoken chief executive will not be at the show, which has also been overshadowed by political upheaval in Saudi Arabia.

Distrust between Arab Gulf states, on top of escalating tensions between regional arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, is likely to keep defense spending high on the agenda at the Nov 12-16 event, to be attended by dozens of military delegates.

Saudi Arabia and allies are exploring increases in missile defenses following ballistic missile tests in Iran, which have been heavily criticized by Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Iran views its ballistic missile program as an essential precautionary defense.

“The hot area for the Middle East has been air defense,” said Sash Tusa, aerospace analyst at UK-based Agency Partners.

“While the issue of Iran’s missile tests is new, demand from the Emirates and Saudi Arabia already reflects the fact that they have been at war, in some cases on two fronts, for over two years.”

Saudi Arabia and Iran are facing off in proxy wars in Yemen and Syria. Saudi Arabia, which recently committed to tens of billions of dollars of U.S. equipment, says it has intercepted a missile fired from Yemen over Saudi capital Riyadh.

 

SAUDI CRACKDOWN

Few defense deals get signed at the show itself, but it is seen as a major opportunity to test the mood of arms buyers and their mainly Western suppliers.

But analysts say the way of doing business is up for discussion after an unprecedented crackdown on corruption in Saudi Arabia that erupted days before the show’s opening.

“The big question on many multinational company minds now … {is} will they will change the way in which decision making works when it comes to purchases of their equipment and services,” said Sorana Parvulescu, partner at Control Risks in Dubai.

Those detained in the crackdown include billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, whose Kingdom Holding part owns Saudi Arabia’s second biggest airline flynas, and Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, head of the country’s elite internal security forces.

“There will be questions around how does this impact their (foreign firms) model of operations in the country and their market share and their market position,” Parvulescu said.

Airbus and Boeing will be pushing hard for new deals on the civil side of the show at Dubai’s future mega-airport, after a pause for breath at the last edition in 2015. Boeing goes into the event with a wide lead in this year’s order race.

Emirates, the region’s biggest carrier, is expected to finalize an additional order for Airbus A380s, which if secured could be crucial to extending the costly superjumbo program.

After years of expansion, some analysts are questioning the viability of the Gulf hub model, which has seen three airlines, Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways, emerge as some of the world’s most influential after taking advantage of their geographic location of connecting east and west.

Leasing executives have also raised doubts over whether the Big Three will take delivery of all of the more than 500 wide-body jets currently on order from Airbus and Boeing.

In September, Middle Eastern carriers saw their slowest rate of international demand growth in over eight years.

 

(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell and Tim Hepher; Editing by Mark Potter)

 

Powerful Saudi prince sees no chance for dialogue with Iran

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s powerful deputy crown prince has ruled out any dialogue with Iran, a country he said was busy plotting to control the Muslim world.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi defense minister, said in a TV interview to be broadcast later on Tuesday his country could crush Iran-aligned fighters in Yemen where Saudi forces head a coalition of Gulf Arab states intervening in a civil war.

Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran compete for influence in the Middle East, supporting rival groups in Syria’s civil war. In Yemen, Iran denies providing financial or military support to the Houthis who are fighting government forces allied with Saudi Arabia.

Asked if Saudi Arabia was ready to open a direct dialogue with Tehran, Mohammed said it was impossible to talk with a power that was planning for the return of the Imam Mahdi – whom Shi’ites believe was a descendent of the Prophet who went into hiding 1,000 years ago and will return to establish global Islamic rule before the end of the world.

“How do you have a dialogue with this (Iran)?” Mohammed said in clips of the interview posted on social media.

“Its (Iran’s) logic is that the Imam Mahdi will come and they must prepare the fertile environment for the arrival of the awaited Mahdi and they must control the Muslim world.”

Under Iran’s constitution since the 1979 revolution, the country’s supreme leader is the earthly representative of the Imam until his return.

Asked to respond to reports that after two years of war and Saudi’s military intervention the Houthis, aligned to ex-Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, still control large swathes of Yemen and large quantities of weapons, Prince Mohammed said:

“We can uproot the Houthis and Saleh in a matter of days.”

In the clips available in advance of the broadcast he did not elaborate on the Saudi strategy for Yemen.

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Dubai opens world’s first functioning 3D-printed office building

A view of the world's first functional 3D printed offices are seen in Dubai

DUBAI (Reuters) – Dubai has opened what it said was the world’s first functioning 3D-printed office building, part of a drive by the Gulf’s main tourism and business hub to develop technology that cuts costs and saves time.

The printers – used industrially and also on a smaller scale to make digitally designed, three-dimensional objects from plastic – have not been used much for building.

This one used a special mixture of cement, a Dubai government statement said, and reliability tests were done in Britain and China.

The one-storey prototype building, with floorspace of about 250 square meters (2,700 square feet), used a 20-foot (6-metre)by 120-foot by 40-foot printer, the government said.

“This is the first 3D-printed building in the world, and it’s not just a building, it has fully functional offices and staff,” the United Arab Emirates Minister of Cabinet Affairs, Mohamed Al Gergawi, said.

“We believe this is just the beginning. The world will change,” he said.

The arc-shaped office, built in 17 days and costing about $140,000, will be the temporary headquarters of Dubai Future Foundation – the company behind the project – is in the center of the city, near the Dubai International Financial Center.

Gergawi said studies estimated the technique could cut building time by 50-70 percent and labor costs by 50-80 percent. Dubai’s strategy was to have 25 percent of the buildings in the emirate printed by 2030, he said.

(Reporting by Lara Sukhtian; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Louise Ireland)

Yemeni government forces kill 800 plus al Qaeda fighters

People inspect damage at a site hit by Saudi-led air strikes in the al Qaeda-held port of Mukalla city in southern Yemen

DUBAI (Reuters) – Yemeni government forces and their allies killed more than 800 al Qaeda fighters when they advanced into the port city of Mukalla, the Saudi-led pro-government coalition said.

Yemeni and Emirati soldiers seized the seaport on Sunday, depriving the group of the stronghold that has enabled it to amass a fortune during the country’s civil war.

“In its first hours, the operation resulted in killing more than 800 members of al Qaeda and a number of their leaders while the rest fled,” the coalition said in a statement carried by Saudi state news agency SPA late on Sunday.

Local Yemeni officials and residents said on Sunday that some 2,000 Yemeni and Emirati troops advanced into Mukalla, taking control of its maritime port and airport and setting up checkpoints throughout the southern coastal city.

They also said they had witnessed little fighting during the offensive.

(Reporting by Ahmed Tolba in Cairo, writing by Sami Aboudi; editing by John Stonestreet)